July 16, 2012

“Gleeman and The Geek” #50: Waving the White Flag

Topics for this week's episode of Gleeman and The Geek included once again rooting for the worst team in the league, why Francisco Liriano is like religion, what defines an "A" or "B" prospect in trade talks, how passing on Mark Appel makes even more sense now, celebrating our 50th episode, Matt Capps' return, Carl Pavano's non-return, my refined drinking habits, and a whole bunch of mailbag questions from listeners via Twitter.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 50

In addition to the direct download link above you can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Ballplayer: Pelotero, a controversial new documentary about baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic starring Miguel Sano as a 16-year-old.

July 13, 2012

Link-O-Rama

• August 1 will be the 10-year anniversary of this blog and it seems like I should do something special to celebrate, but so far I'm drawing a blank. If you have any ideas besides "announce your retirement" I'd love to hear them, but please keep in mind my usual level of laziness.

Glen Perkins outed himself as a stat-head with interesting thoughts about how knowing the numbers can help pitchers and how advanced metrics might underrate relievers like him.

• Finally, my working from bed while lying down emerges as a brilliant way to beat the system.

• This almost makes up for all the parents who threw their kids' baseball card collections away.

• All you need to know about my appearance on KFAN with Paul Allen yesterday: It was three segments long and after listening my mom said: "Now you have two Jewish mothers."

• Making fun of Jonah Hill would be easy, except the best-case scenario for my current weight loss involves spending the rest of my life in constant fear of following in his footsteps.

• And at the opposite end of the spectrum there's Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Mila Kunis.

• Should the Twins trade Denard Span, Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau, and Francisco Liriano? I'm glad you asked.

• Amazon's plan for taking over the world would guarantee that I never leave the house.

• Eight years, one marriage, and two children later former Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Jessica Alba is still getting the job done.

Larry Bird had a very sensible take on the current Olympic team vs. Dream Team "debate."

Ballplayer: Pelotero is a new documentary about teenage prospects in the Dominican Republic that's made headlines because Bud Selig is angry about how it portrays the allegedly corrupt system in which they sign with MLB teams. Twins fans should be particularly interested in the film because it tells the behind-the-scenes story of two players who signed as 16-year-olds in 2009 and one of them is Miguel Sano. Here's a preview:

Sano is now the Twins' top prospect and one of the best prospects in baseball, and the movie opens today. I'll have a review early next week, but in the meantime I'd encourage anyone in the Twin Cities to see it locally at St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis, where Ballplayer: Pelotero is showing from July 13-19 as part of The Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul. For show times and further details, click here.

• As someone totally obsessed with the Food Network show Chopped this is pretty great.

• When he's done counting his $18.3 million Antonio Esfandiari can say he won the richest poker tournament of all time.

• One out of every eight MLB regulars was an All-Star this season and even that might be stretching the definition of "regulars" a little bit.

Adrian Peterson hired Roger Clemens' lawyer following his arrest in Houston.

Kyrie Irving does things with a basketball that shouldn't be possible and it's only a practice.

Zach Lowe's blog on SI.com has become an hourly must-read during the NBA offseason.

• I'm way too excited that this show is coming back on the air next week.

• Minnesotans complain a lot about Joe Mauer's contract, but it could be much, much worse.

• I saw Moonrise Kingdom and definitely enjoyed parts of it, but mostly came to the conclusion that I just don't get Wes Anderson.

• If you're interested in a movie that's still quirky, but in a less annoying, more compelling way I rented Death of a Superhero and highly recommend it.

Dov Davidoff's appearance on You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes was full of really deep, interesting conversation with some comedy sprinkled in.

• As always, the combination of Chelsea Peretti and Harris Wittels on the same podcast can't be beat, especially when you add in Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman.

• Netflix instant recommendation: The Swell Season is such a well-done documentary that I loved it despite only barely being familiar with Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.

• This week's Gleeman and The Geek episode mostly featured me obsessing about unknowingly wearing a shirt that John Bonnes owns too, but there's also a look back at how our winter over/under predictions for the Twins have fared.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "For You" by Angus and Julia Stone:

July 12, 2012

Who should the Twins be selling and for how much? (Part 2: Hitters)

With the league's second-worst record at 36-49 and an 11-game deficit in the AL Central at the All-Star break the Twins have made it clear that they should be sellers leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. Determining which players they should be willing to sell and how much they should expect to get in return is a more complicated question, so yesterday I broke down the pros and cons of pitchers potentially being shopped and today I'll do the same for hitters.


Denard Span, 28-year-old center fielder

Why trade him? He's a 28-year-old center fielder with solid defense, good on-base skills, and a reasonable contract that has him under team control through 2015. Ideally that would make him a building block, but it also potentially makes him the Twins' most valuable trade piece and if the reports about the Nationals' interest in Span last year at this time are any indication he's one of the organization's few veteran assets who would bring back a hefty return.

If it takes the Twins another two seasons to build a legitimate contender Span would be 31 years old at that point, with just one season and $9.5 million remaining on his contract, so the idea of building around him is somewhat flawed. Toss in Ben Revere's presence as an obvious center field replacement and there's certainly a strong argument to be made for Span having more value as a means to further the rebuilding effort than as part of the rebuilding effort.

Why not trade him? Just because Span might be over 30, expensive, and close to free agency by the time the Twins put a consistent winner on the field doesn't mean they're forced to trade him now. It's possible his market will be even stronger this offseason or leading up to next year's trade deadline. And while Revere has played well there are still questions about him as an everyday center fielder and leadoff man. If they trade Span they need to get great value.


Josh Willingham, 33-year-old left fielder

Why trade him? It seems odd that teams would be willing to give up significant value to trade for Willingham now when they could have simply out-bid the Twins to sign him as reasonably priced free agent this offseason, but that appears to be the case. Willingham is 33 years old, has yet to spend any time on the disabled list after a career filled with minor injuries, and is hitting better than ever, so his perceived value may very well be at an all-time high.

His value to the Twins shouldn't be overlooked since his deal runs through 2014, but as much as I loved the signing at the time it would be a nifty trick to bring in a 33-year-old free agent without forfeiting a draft pick, pay him a modest salary for a great half-season, and then flip him for a quality prospect or two. It's not crazy to imagine the prospects and $14 million saved having more value to a rebuilding team than Willingham's age-34 and age-35 seasons.

Why not trade him? From a "players are also people" standpoint trading him six months into a three-year deal would probably ruffle some feathers and potentially cause future free agents to think twice about coming to Minnesota. And while Willingham is old, injury prone, and unlikely to maintain his current level of production he's been a damn good hitter for entire career, fits Target Field perfectly, and should maintain substantial trade value past July 31.


Justin Morneau, 31-year-old first baseman

Why trade him? Aside from a short disabled list stint due to soreness in his surgically repaired wrist Morneau has been mostly healthy and his lack of concussion-related issues is especially encouraging, but he's been a shell of his former. Dating back to the concussion on July 7, 2010 he's hit .236/.298/.386 with 15 homers in 134 games, although he's at least shown signs of life this season with some hot streaks and vintage production versus righties.

Morneau has hit .313/.389/.571 off righties, but his overall numbers are below average for a first baseman thanks to a putrid .124/.160/.202 mark and 27-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio off lefties. Contenders in need of left-handed thump may still be interested in gambling on a former MVP and with 2013 being the final season of his six-year, $80 million contract the Twins will likely have moved on from Morneau in 2014 whether he's traded or leaves as a free agent.

Why not trade him? Even if teams are willing to take on the $14 million Morneau is owed next season it's unlikely they'd be desperate enough to do that and give up a decent prospect for a 31-year-old first baseman hitting .246/.312/.440 after missing most of the past two seasons with serious injuries. Simply unloading his salary would have value, but if the Twins believe he's still capable of big-time pop then moving him at next year's deadline is more appealing.


Jamey Carroll, 38-year-old second baseman

Why trade him? Carroll's defensive versatility, solid glove, and excellent on-base skills have been as advertised at age 38, but unfortunately so has his lack of power and he's hitting just .234 after four straight seasons above .275. Some of that can be blamed on a .272 batting average on balls in play that's 50 points below his career norm and with a little better luck he's still a very passable stop-gap starter at second base, third base, or even shortstop.

There isn't really a strong need for that on a rebuilding team even if his continued presence won't be a bad thing, but contenders looking to plug an infield hole cheaply could give Carroll a look and he'd fit on plenty of teams as a utility man. Whether teams view him as a starter or a utility man obviously the Twins aren't going to get much for a 38-year-old hitting .234/.318/.278, but clearing his $3.75 million salary from next season's books would have some value.

Why not trade him? It'd be one thing to dump Carroll if his departure cleared room for a top middle prospect ready for an extended opportunity, but as usual the Twins are short on those. Brian Dozier's arrival in the majors already pushed Carroll from shortstop to second base two months ago, 2011 first-round pick Levi Michael is struggling at high Single-A, and the rest of the middle infield cupboard is bare. Dumping him just to dump him wouldn't accomplish much.


Danny Valencia, 27-year-old third baseman

Why trade him? Valencia earned his mid-May demotion to Triple-A by playing horribly on both sides of the ball and has since been equally terrible in Rochester, hitting .244/.281/.404 with a 34-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55 games. That alone is more than enough to push him out of the Twins' plans and whatever slim chance he had of reclaiming the starting job at third base has vanished with each Trevor Plouffe homer.

He's not as awful as he looked this season, but as a 27-year-old career .263/.303/.391 hitter in the majors and .275/.310/.418 hitter at Triple-A there's little to suggest Valencia has any kind of offensive upside worth waiting for and he's never been much of a defender. It would be delusional to think the Twins could get more than a marginal prospect in return for Valencia, but if a team thinks he'd benefit from a change of scenery they should pull the trigger.

Why not trade him? If you set aside the back story and failure to meet inflated expectations to simply focus on Valencia's skill set he'd have some value as a part-time player. Valencia has flailed away against right-handers, but he's a career .325/.374/.485 hitter versus left-handers and won't top a minimum salary until at least 2015. That makes him useful enough as a cheap platoon player and backup third baseman/first baseman to keep around if there's zero market.


Alexi Casilla, 27-year-old second baseman

Why trade him? Much like Luis Rivas before him Casilla has gone from young and supposedly promising to 27 years old and simply not very good, all while the Twins waited and waited for an upside based more on faith than evidence. They've invested six seasons and more than 1,600 plate appearances into the notion that Casilla is capable of being a quality everyday second baseman, but he's a career .250/.306/.333 hitter who's shown zero signs of improving.

This year he went from Opening Day second baseman to little-used utility man despite being paid $1.4 million and it's tough to imagine the Twins retaining Casilla for a third and final year of arbitration at a similar price. It's possible, however, that another team still believes in his speed and athleticism, so if he's not playing now and he's not in the Twins' plans for 2013 and beyond trading Casilla for even a marginal prospect would beat non-tendering him this winter.

Why not trade him? It's also possible every other team has given up on Casilla being more than a decent backup too, in which case he won't fetch anything via trade and the question is whether he's worth keeping around for 2013. I'd say no, in part since iffy defensive shortstops make poor utility men and in part because enough is enough, but if the Twins still aren't ready for a clean breakup at least $1.5 million or so wouldn't put much of a dent in the payroll.


July 11, 2012

Who should the Twins be selling and for how much? (Part 1: Pitchers)

With the league's second-worst record at 36-49 and an 11-game deficit in the AL Central at the All-Star break the Twins have made it clear that they should be sellers leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. Determining which players they should be willing to sell and how much they should expect to get in return is a more complicated question, so today I'll break down the pros and cons of pitchers potentially being shopped and later I'll do the same for hitters.


Francisco Liriano, 28-year-old starting pitcher

Why trade him? Liriano is an impending free agent with a maddeningly inconsistent track record that now includes following up an unexpectedly brief mid-May demotion to the bullpen with an extremely impressive eight-start stretch in which he held opponents to a .175 batting average with just one homer in 202 plate appearances and logged 49 innings with a 2.74 ERA and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

Two months ago he was all but out of the Twins' plans and two months from now he'll be on the open market, so if a contender wants to trust that Liriano is again among the league's top starters and pay accordingly ... well, let them. Maybe the Twins actually trust Liriano's rebirth, but there's no guarantee he'd sign long term with free agency around the corner and if his asking price was, say, four years and $35 million that's an awfully scary commitment anyway.

Why not trade him? If the Twins' only options were to let Liriano walk for nothing, deal him for something, or make a risky long-term investment to keep him the trade route would likely be my choice, but under the new collective bargaining agreement they can also make a one-year, $12 million qualifying tender. If he accepts, they keep him for 2013 without a multi-year deal. If he declines, they get two draft picks as compensation when he signs elsewhere.


Jared Burton, 31-year-old relief pitcher

Why trade him? Essentially found money, Burton has been one of MLB's top relievers after the Twins plucked him off the scrap heap on a minor-league contract this offseason. It was a smart pickup, as Burton was an effective setup man for the Reds from 2007-2009 before arm injuries derailed his career, but no one could have expected him to be this good after back-to-back lost seasons and a 31-year-old with a history of arm problems isn't the safest bet going forward.

As the Twins sadly showed with Matt Capps every once in a while a contender is willing to vastly overpay for bullpen help at the trade deadline and turning a minor-league signing in November into a quality prospect in July would be quite a feat. He's been excellent, but 35 innings are still only 35 innings and selling high on a scrap-heap find and then diving back into the scrap heap in search of the next Burton makes plenty of sense.

Why not trade him? Because the Reds cut Burton loose before he reached free agency the Twins have him under team control via arbitration for next year at a relatively cheap salary. If he were an impending free agent trying to cash Burton in for whatever they can get might be smart, but with one-and-a-half more seasons at their disposal there's no rush to trade him and little reason to do so unless there's legitimately good value coming back in the deal.


Matt Capps, 28-year-old relief pitcher

Why trade him? Capps has actually been decent for the Twins, throwing 119 innings with a 3.55 ERA and 71-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio since they acquired him from the Nationals for Wilson Ramos in mid-2010, but the problem is that he's a setup-caliber reliever miscast as a closer, they inexplicably gave up a top prospect at a premium position to get him, and have vastly overpaid to keep him at $13 million for those 119 innings.

Some of that is Capps' fault, but most of that is former general manager Bill Smith's fault and the situation as a whole is an example of why focusing on "proven closer" instead of "good reliever" is so silly. With that said, when healthy Capps is a perfectly reasonable 28-year-old setup man who could help plenty of contending teams in a non-closer role and presumably even the Twins aren't crazy enough to pick up his $6 million option for next season.

Why not trade him? There aren't really any reasons for the Twins not to trade Capps, but there are reasons why Capps might not be traded. For starters he's currently on the disabled list with a sore shoulder that has sidelined him since mid-June. Beyond that he's owed about $2 million for the second half, plus a $250,000 buyout of his $6 million option for 2013, and the Twins might have to eat all of that money just to get a marginal prospect in return.


Carl Pavano, 36-year-old starting pitcher

Why trade him? Trading marginal prospect Yohan Pino to the Indians for Pavano in 2009 was a shrewd move and re-signing him for $7 million in 2010 was equally sound, but re-signing him a second time last offseason has proven to be a mistake. Pavano's age, injury history, and declining strikeout rate suggested a two-year, $16.5 million commitment was overkill and sure enough he's given them 285 innings of a 4.67 ERA for that money and is now injured.

Before unsuccessfully pitching through a shoulder injury Pavano was still a useful fourth or fifth starter and contenders that miss out on big-name trade targets often look to plug rotation holes with an innings-eating veteran. That's basically what the Twins were doing when they acquired Pavano in mid-2009, and as an impending free agent with no hope for draft-pick compensation he'd be a cheap, no-frills fallback option.

Why not trade him? Much like with Capps there's no reason not to trade Pavano but plenty of reason why he might not be traded. For one thing he's on the DL with a shoulder injury that dates back to May and could still be there on July 31. That makes it tough and perhaps even impossible to sell him, let alone sell him as an innings-eater, and the Twins would have to eat the remaining $4 million he's owed to even start a conversation for a low-level prospect.


Nick Blackburn, 30-year-old starting pitcher

Why trade him? Blackburn has been bad, hurt, or bad and hurt since the Twins mistakenly handed him a four-year contract in 2010. They erred simply making a long-term investment in a mediocre pitcher with a miniscule strikeout rate and overstated ground ball-inducing ability, but the other issue is that Blackburn was already under team control via arbitration through 2013. Had they smartly gone year-to-year with Blackburn he'd have been cut long ago.

Instead he's being paid $4.75 million to pitch at Triple-A and is owed another $5.5 million next year, although at least his $8 million option for 2014 can be declined without a buyout. Since signing the deal Blackburn has a 5.51 ERA in 65 starts and ranks dead last among all starters in strikeouts per nine innings (4.2), batting average against (.309), and slugging percentage against (.500). And if they don't trade him, you know he'll be back in the rotation eventually.

Why not trade him? Well, it's not like they'll get anything for him. It's possible they could find a taker if they ate his entire deal, but that won't save any money and certainly won't fetch any kind of useful prospect. Admitting that he's a sunk cost and wiping the slate clean might be addition by subtraction, but with next year's rotation wide open they'll need someone to start games and why dump Blackburn only to spend more signing another washed-up veteran?


July 9, 2012

“Gleeman and The Geek” #49: Overs, Unders, and Mailbag

Topics for this week's episode of Gleeman and The Geek included the Twins' endless game of musical pitchers, revisiting our winter over/under predictions at the All-Star break, answering Twitter questions from listeners, trying to decide who comes off worse owning the same shirt, wondering if Nick Blackburn is worth having in the 2013 plans, reviewing Samuel Deduno's first start, and trying to keep me from coughing up a lung.

Gleeman and The Geek: Episode 49

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