December 6, 2011

Twins forfeit compensatory draft pick to re-sign Matt Capps for $4.75 million

Day 1 of the winter meetings saw the Twins complete a move that has seemed inevitable for a few weeks, as they re-signed Matt Capps to a one-year, $4.5 million contract with a $6 million option or $250,000 buyout for 2013. Capps' return is far more complex than the average $4.75 million deal because it involves so many strong emotions, conjures up so much frustration, and extends a series of extremely questionable decisions.

By trading Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for Capps in July of 2010 the Twins made a massive blunder, parting with a 22-year-old top prospect for a non-elite reliever they vastly overvalued because he was a so-called "proven closer." Capps pitched well down the stretch in 2010, but then received $7.15 million via the arbitration process this year and had a poor season while Ramos established himself as one of baseball's best all-around catchers at age 23.

Capps' poor pitching combined with Ramos' continued development in Washington led to many fans being strongly opposed to Capps' return under any circumstances, but general manager Terry Ryan, pitching coach Rick Anderson, and manager Ron Gardenhire repeatedly made it very clear that they think he's likely to bounce back in a big way. And for the most part they're right, at least to an extent.

Capps revealed after the season that he pitched through arm problems, which while far from a positive thing does help explain his diminished velocity, vanishing strikeout totals, and overall struggles. Beyond that his 4.25 ERA and 34-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 66 innings equaled a 4.49 xFIP that's within shouting distance of his 4.01 career mark and fairly close to palatable for, say, a seventh-inning setup man making a couple million bucks.

Unfortunately unless the Twins beef up the bullpen with a trade Capps looks destined to pitch in a higher-leverage role than the seventh inning, with closing again a very real possibility, and $4.75 million is considerably more than a mediocre setup man should be worth to a team with multiple holes to fill and limited room in a payroll dropping $10-15 million. And perhaps worst of all by re-signing Capps the Twins forfeited a valuable asset for their ongoing rebuilding effort.

Thanks to changes within the new collective bargaining agreement the Twins no longer had to offer Capps arbitration in order to receive their compensation for the Type B free agent signing elsewhere. That meant the Twins were essentially handed a free supplemental first-round pick for Capps and they handed it right back, giving up a top-75 pick for the right to pay him $4.75 million instead of simply letting him walk and signing a different mediocre veteran reliever.

Re-signing Capps for $4.75 million is certainly questionable enough on its own, especially given the Twins' self-imposed payroll crunch, but re-signing Capps for $4.75 million and tossing away a supplemental first-round pick makes little sense. Why not let Capps walk, invest that same money in one of numerous other similarly mediocre veteran relievers available as free agents, and at least pocket what would be a valuable pick that he'll no longer fetch after this year?

Under different circumstances Capps is, was, and can still be a perfectly decent setup man. If the Twins had acquired him for a mid-level prospect, paid him modest salaries, and used him in the seventh inning the perception of his performance would have been dramatically different. Unfortunately they gave up a top catching prospect to get him, paid $7.15 million to keep him, and have forfeited a draft pick to re-sign him for $4.75 million. I'm baffled, then and now.

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November 28, 2011

Twins Notes: Capps, Perkins, Cuddyer, Kubel, Glynn, Valencia, and Chen

• Changes in the new collective bargaining agreement inked last week benefit the Twins in the short term, as offering Matt Capps arbitration is no longer required to receive a compensatory draft pick for the free agent. Under the old system they wouldn't have risked offering Capps arbitration because he could have simply accepted and locked the Twins into a one-year deal for around $8 million, but the changes basically equal a free, no-risk draft pick for the reliever.

Assuming, of course, that the Twins don't re-sign Capps themselves. Not only has Terry Ryan already ruled out Glen Perkins replacing Joe Nathan as closer, he's repeatedly talked about wanting the role filled by someone with previous closing experience and the Twins have made no secret about attempts to re-sign Capps. For the right price and the right role Capps would be fine, but re-signing him makes much less sense now that his leaving would net a draft pick.

Perkins can potentially be more valuable as an all-purpose setup man, so not handing him the closer job is fine, but Ryan's quotes about searching for an experienced closer bring back bad memories of the Twins talking up Capps as a "proven closer." I noted last week that the three best closers in team history each had zero experience before taking over as Twins closer, so you'd hope that and Capps' failure would have taught them to value ability over experience.

Nathan, who has the most saves in Twins history, was 29 years old and had one career save when they made him a closer. Rick Aguilera, who has the second-most saves in Twins history, was 27 years old and had seven career saves when they made him a closer. Eddie Guardado, who has the third-most saves in Twins history, was 30 years old and had never saved even 10 games in a season when they made him a closer. Closers are created, not born.

Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel also saw their free agent statuses change slightly as part of the new collective bargaining agreement, but unlike with Capps the end result is basically the same. If they sign elsewhere the Twins get two draft picks for Cuddyer and one draft pick for Kubel, and in both cases arbitration still had to be offered to be eligible for compensation. They'd gladly welcome Cuddyer or Kubel back on one-year deals, so the Twins happily offered.

Cuddyer's leverage is even stronger under the new system, because teams no longer have to forfeit their first-round pick to sign the Type A free agent. Instead the Twins would receive the same first-round pick and supplemental first-round pick for his leaving, but the first-rounder is now created from scratch rather than taken from a signing team. That should lead to an even stronger market for Cuddyer, but his odds of re-signing already seemed pretty slim.

Gene Glynn, a 55-year-old Minnesota native who spent the past five years as a scout for the Rays, is the Twins' new Triple-A manager. He hasn't managed anywhere since 1992 and never managed above rookie-ball, but Glynn spent 13 years on major-league coaching staffs under managers Don Baylor and Felipe Alou. Glynn also grew up a Twins fan, was Minnesota's first "Mr. Basketball" in 1975, went to Mankato State, and played seven seasons in the minors.

Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that Glynn scouting Twins players for the Rays played a big part in the trade that sent Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young, and minor league director Jim Rantz revealed that the Twins tried to hire him multiple times in the past. Toss in all the glowing reviews from various big names he's worked with over the years and on paper at least Glynn is an ideal fit.

Rochester fired manager Tom Nieto and hitting coach Floyd Rayford after going 102-186 over the past two seasons, losing 90-plus games in back-to-back years for the first time since 1904. Pitching coach Bobby Cuellar held onto his job and will join new hitting coach Tom Brunansky on Glynn's staff. They won't have many top prospects to work with next season, but the Twins have signed a slew of minor-league veterans in an effort to make Rochester competitive again.

Daryl Thompson is the latest of those Triple-A pickups, agreeing to a minor-league deal with the Twins after spending the past six seasons in the Reds' system. Thompson was originally the then-Expos' eighth-round pick in 2003 and was sent to the Reds as part of an eight-player swap in 2006. Cincinnati's general manager at the time was Wayne Krivsky, who rejoined the Twins' front office as a special assistant and has brought in several of his former players.

Thompson is a 26-year-old right-hander with 17 innings in the big leagues and 711 innings in the minors, primarily as a starter. He was never considered a particularly good prospect and fits the Twins' mold as an extreme fly-ball pitcher with a low-90s fastball and good control. This year between Double-A and Triple-A he had a 123-to-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 4.26 ERA in 137 innings, allowing 18 homers and a .280 batting average.

• Deadspin posted a lengthy and not-safe-for-work article on Dan Lozano that included many unsavory allegations about the agent whose client list includes Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, and other big names. Buried near the bottom of the piece was this Twins-related tidbit, which seems downright quaint compared to the various other details:

When Rodriguez signed with Lozano in May, it raised questions: Rodriguez's contract runs through 2017, and his endorsement deals are handled by another agency, so there's little a new agent could do for him. But Rodriguez is reportedly doing plenty for Lozano. According to agents familiar with the South Florida baseball scene, Lozano has repeatedly used Rodriguez as a recruiter for young talent.

Over the winter, even before Rodriguez made it official with Lozano, he was seen hanging out with a trio of highly ranked Miami-based prospects: the Orioles' Manny Machado, the Reds' Yonder Alonso, and the Twins' Danny Valencia. A South Florida-based agent says Rodriguez was the elder statesmen showing the kids a good time: parties, events, and just chilling at his condo. In February, all three left their current agencies and signed with Dan Lozano.

Deadspin alleges that Rodriguez got a piece of Lozano's agency in exchange for helping recruit Danny Valencia and others. None of which suggests Valencia did anything wrong, of course. Well, other than choosing an agent who's now being called "the king of sleaze mountain."

• Kansas City re-signed Bruce Chen to a two-year, $9 million deal, which seemed funny until Jon Heyman of SI.com reported that the Twins and Cubs "were the main other teams showing interest" in the 34-year-old southpaw. If true the Twins dodged a bullet and the fact that they even targeted Chen is disappointing. He posted some decent-looking ERAs, but throws in the mid-80s with poor secondary numbers, including xFIPs of 5.22, 4.79, and 4.68 from 2009-2011.

Javier Maymi of ESPN.com notes that Ivan Rodriguez and Dereck Rodriguez "became the first father-son tandem in history to play for the same team in the Puerto Rico winter league." Dereck was the Twins' sixth-round pick this year and Maymi reports that they're thinking about switching the 18-year-old from outfielder to pitcher. He debuted in rookie-ball and hit just .156 with zero homers and a 35-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 29 games.

November 15, 2011

Offseason shopping on a budget: Relievers

For the second straight offseason the Twins need relief help. Last winter they ignored the free agent market, trusted various in-house options, and wound up with a fire-starting bullpen that had the worst ERA in baseball. Joe Nathan and Matt Capps are free agents and Glen Perkins is the only reliable holdover, so here are 14 worthwhile bullpen targets who figure to be cheap enough to fit into the Twins' budget assuming they don't bust it on Nathan or another closer.

Frank Francisco: If other teams pursue Francisco as a closer the Twins should bow out, but if he's available for setup man money it could be a nice fit. He can't be counted on for more than 50 or 60 innings, but over the past four seasons Francisco has a 3.54 ERA, 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings, and a .226 opponents' batting average while averaging 94.1 miles per hour with his fastball. If the Twins are serious about adding power arms, he's an obvious target.

Jonathan Broxton: After a four-year run as one of baseball's most dominant relievers Broxton began struggling in mid-2010 and fell apart this season, missing the final five months with an elbow injury. He underwent minor surgery in September, but is expected to be fully recovered by spring training and is still just 28 years old. Broxton had a 2.92 ERA with 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings through his first five years. He's a big risk, but the reward could be just as huge.

Mike Gonzalez: After a long history of arm problems Gonzalez is recovering from knee surgery, but if healthy he's an elite left-handed reliever. Gonzalez had 51 strikeouts in 53 innings this season and has averaged 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings for his career, which ranks second among all active lefties. His control can be shaky and offering more than a one-year deal would be a mistake, but Gonzalez is capable of getting high-leverage outs versus lefties and righties.

LaTroy Hawkins: At age 38 and eight years after leaving the Twins as a free agent Hawkins posted a 2.42 ERA and 28/10 K/BB ratio in 48 innings for the Brewers, giving him a 3.43 ERA in 444 total innings since exiting Minnesota. He's lost fastball velocity, but Hawkins still averaged 92.6 miles per hour this season and served up just one home run while inducing more than 60 percent ground balls for the second time in his career.

Brad Lidge: Once an elite closer with a devastating mid-90s fastball and high-80s slider, Lidge averaged just 88.9 mph on his fastball and 80.9 mph on his slider this year while being limited to 19 innings following elbow surgery. At age 35 his velocity likely isn't coming back, but Lidge still racked up 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings throwing in the high-80s and his slider remains one of the best pitches in baseball. If the price is right he'd be a nice boom-or-bust pickup.

Octavio Dotel: I suggested signing Dotel last offseason, when he got a one-year, $3.5 million deal and logged 54 innings with a 3.50 ERA and 62/17 K/BB ratio. He has the highest strikeout rate of all time among right-handers with 800-plus innings and even at age 37 got more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings for the fifth straight season. Dotel struggles against left-handed power hitters, but if spotted mostly versus righties he can be a major late-inning weapon.

Joel Peralta: Another of my suggested signings last winter, Peralta got a one-year, $925,000 deal from the Rays and tossed 68 innings with a 2.93 ERA and 61/18 K/BB ratio. His raw stuff has never been particularly impressive and Peralta is a 35-year-old extreme fly-ball pitcher, but his secondary numbers have always been excellent and he's got 110 strikeouts versus just 20 non-intentional walks in 117 innings since the beginning of 2010.

Takashi Saito: Saito is 41 years old and missed nearly the entire first half with hamstring and back injuries, but was his usual unhittable self after returning in July with a 1.46 ERA and .186 opponents' batting average in 25 innings. After a brilliant career in Japan he's played six years in the majors, posting ERAs of 2.07, 1.40, 2.49, 2.43, 2.83, and 2.09. Aging and injuries make him a risk, but Saito remains incredibly effective and would surely accept a one-year contract.

Jon Rauch: Rauch pitched much better than he got credit for as Nathan's replacement in 2010, converting 21 saves in 25 chances before the misguided deal for Capps bumped him back into a setup role. He left as a free agent last winter and had a mediocre season for the Blue Jays on a one-year, $3.5 million contract, but Rauch posted a 2.82 ERA and 60/20 K/BB ratio in 73 innings during one-and-a-half years for the Twins and remains a capable setup man.

Chad Qualls: Also on my list of suggested bullpen targets last winter, Qualls inked a one-year, $2.55 million deal with the Padres and threw 74 innings with a 3.51 ERA and 43/20 K/BB ratio. Because he called pitcher-friendly Petco Park home that ERA isn't as impressive as it appears and Qualls' strikeout rate was the worst of his career at age 32, but aside from a fluky 2010 season his annual ERAs are 3.55, 3.28, 3.76, 3.05, 2.81, 3.63, and 3.51 dating back to 2004.

Dan Wheeler: Yet another reliever I suggested last offseason, Wheeler signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Red Sox and threw 49 innings with a 4.38 ERA and 39/8 K/BB ratio. Much like Dotel he's susceptible to left-handed power hitters, but righties hit just .200/.233/.379 off Wheeler during the past three seasons, producing a 104/18 K/BB ratio. As an extreme fly-ball pitcher Target Field is a good fit and at age 33 he should be available for a one-year deal.

George Sherrill: Before missing the final six weeks of the season with elbow problems Sherrill tossed 36 innings with a 3.00 ERA and 38/12 K/BB ratio, and if healthy the 35-year-old would fit nicely as a left-handed specialist. Combined over the past three seasons lefties hit just .192 with two homers and an 80/17 K/BB ratio off Sherrill, who has a 3.68 ERA and 320 strikeouts in 323 career innings.

Todd Coffey: With his sizable gut and sprint to the mound Coffey seems like a sideshow, but over the past three seasons he posted a 3.68 ERA and 167/64 K/BB ratio in 206 innings. That includes a 3.62 ERA and 46/20 K/BB ratio in 60 innings for the Nationals, who signed him to a one-year, $1.35 million deal after Coffey was non-tendered last offseason. I wanted the Twins to sign him then and he'd make sense again now as a hard-throwing righty setup man.

Michael Wuertz: Wuertz was injured and ineffective this season, convincing the A's to decline their $3.25 million option on the 32-year-old right-hander. When healthy the Minnesota native was an extremely effective setup man from 2004-2010, throwing 381 innings with a 3.45 ERA and 9.7 strikeouts per nine frames. His velocity has declined recently, so anything more than a modest one-year deal would be too risky, but Wuertz's fastball-slider combo is worth a flier.

November 1, 2011

Twins Notes: Maloney, Gray, roster spots, and free agent rankings

• Last week I commended the Twins for trimming a half-dozen replacement-level players from the 40-man roster, but yesterday they filled two of the newly created spots with others teams' replacement-level players. By virtue of a 63-99 record the Twins have the No. 2 waiver position and it makes sense for them to take advantage of that as teams remove players from 40-man rosters and pass them through waivers in bunches to prepare for the offseason.

Unfortunately neither Matt Maloney nor Jeff Gray possesses any kind of significant upside or has a particularly intriguing track record, and for the Twins to give 40-man roster spots to the caliber of talent they could simply sign to minor-league contracts is strange. Last offseason they made similar moves to add Eric Hacker and Dusty Hughes to the 40-man roster and the results were predictably poor based on their underwhelming resumes.

Maloney, who was claimed off waivers from Cincinnati, is a former third-round pick whom the Reds acquired from the Phillies for Kyle Lohse in mid-2007. He's a 27-year-old left-hander with a 5.40 ERA in 80 career innings as a major leaguer and averaged just 87.1 miles per hour with his fastball. Maloney has very good control and some nice-looking ERAs in the minors, but he's an extreme fly-ball pitcher and doesn't miss many bats.

Maloney served up 18 homers through his first 80 innings in the big leagues, which works out to 2.0 homers per nine innings and would be the highest homer rate in Twins history. He also gave up 19 homers per 200 innings at Triple-A, which is a lot for an experienced pitcher in the power-deflating International League. Along with all those homers Maloney also managed just 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings in the majors and 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings at Triple-A.

Gray is a 29-year-old reliever joining his fifth team in two years. He was originally picked by the A's in the 32nd round of the 2004 draft and they traded him to the Cubs in a 2009 deal for Aaron Miles and Jake Fox. He left the Cubs as a minor-league free agent and signed with the White Sox last offseason, only to be claimed off waivers by the Mariners in May of this season. Bouncing around doesn't preclude Gray from having upside, but his track record isn't pretty.

Gray has spent at least some time in the majors during each of the past four seasons, logging 89 total innings with a 4.57 ERA, 50-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .286 opponents' batting average. In theory averaging 93.5 miles per hour with his fastball and 86.7 miles per hour with his slider should allow Gray to miss more bats than Maloney, yet that hasn't been the case in the majors so far and he had just 142 strikeouts in 199 innings at Triple-A (with a 3.94 ERA).

Maloney and Gray aren't totally without value and certainly every team needs pitching depth, but for the Twins to choose them as waiver targets and give them each 40-man roster spots is hard to understand. Maloney is a 27-year-old fly-ball starter with a high-80s fastball and Gray is a 29-year-old journeyman reliever with iffy control and few strikeouts. Every winter dozens of pitchers just like them are available for minor-league deals that don't require 40-man spots.

• MLB Trade Rumors got its hands on the free agent compensation ratings ahead of the official release and the Twins' free agents are ranked as expected. Michael Cuddyer and Matt Capps qualified as Type A and Jason Kubel qualified as Type B. Capps' rating is irrelevant, because in order for the Twins to receive compensation for him leaving they'd have to offer him arbitration first. And if they did that he'd simply accept and force them into a one-year, $8 million deal.

Obviously the Twins would welcome both Cuddyer and Kubel back on one-year deals, so they'll be offered arbitration and will each decline. Any team signing Cuddyer would have to give their first-round pick (or second-round pick, if their first rounder is in the top 15) to the Twins, who'd also receive a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds. Teams are able to sign Kubel without losing a draft pick, but the Twins would receive a supplemental pick if he leaves.

MLB's compensation system has always vastly overrated relievers, which is why Capps is rated Type A while superior players like Kubel, Mark Buehrle, Aramis Ramirez, and Hiroki Kuroda are Type B. Because of the disconnect between ratings and actual value some Type A players have their free agent options limited when teams don't want to forfeit a pick to sign them, but in Cuddyer's case contenders are likely willing to surrender a pick as part of a multi-year deal.

• We're recording this week's episode of "Gleeman and The Geek" a day later than usual, so if you have any questions, comments, or topic ideas for us to cover on the show feel free to post them in the comments section or send them to me via Twitter.

August 3, 2011

Twins Notes: Familiar names, logjams, ugly OBPs, and rotation issues

• It's always difficult to dig through all the rumors and speculation at the trade deadline to get a sense for what actually happened with deals that fell apart, but when it comes to the Twins' talks with the Nationals about Denard Span the various reports form something resembling a consensus. It sounds like the Twins were willing to build a deal for Span around Drew Storen, but the Nationals balked when asked to include infield prospect Stephen Lombardozzi as well.

There are other stray details that appeared in some reports but not others, such as the Twins' interest in outfielder Roger Bernadina or the Nationals trying to substitute Tyler Clippard for Storen as the reliever centerpiece, but ultimately the starting point of the talks was Storen for Span, with Lombardozzi's inclusion proving to be the hurdle that tripped everything up. And if that's true, it should be scary for Twins fans.

Trading a 27-year-old center fielder with good on-base skills, plus defense, and a team-friendly contract that runs through 2015 for a 70-inning reliever is a fundamental mistake in logic--not to mention player evaluation--that you'd think the Twins would've learned to avoid at all costs after last year's Wilson Ramos-for-Matt Capps swap with those same Nationals. Lombardozzi would've tipped the scales a bit back in the Twins' direction, but not that much.

His father, Steve Lombardozzi, played four years with the Twins, hitting .233/.307/.345 in 423 games from 1985-1988. Father and son are both second basemen and occasional shortstops with good strike-zone control, plus speed, and modest power. Stephen has advanced through the minors more quickly than Steve and his numbers project slightly better, but he didn't crack Baseball America's top 10 Nationals prospects and is no sure thing to become a solid regular.

Lombardozzi's performance in the minors is good but not great and built around a .300 batting average. That's obviously a positive thing, but he's managed just 16 homers in 417 games and averaged only 55 walks per 600 plate appearances, including just 28 free passes in 473 trips to the plate between Double-A and Triple-A this season. With minimal power and iffy patience it's tough to project a big impact in the majors from a .298/.370/.412 hitter in the minors.

Storen is a very good, young, and cheap reliever and Lombarozzi is a decent enough prospect who should settle in somewhere between nice utility man and mediocre starter. Together they have plenty of long-term value, but not enough to part with a good, young, and cheap center fielder with a .366 career on-base percentage. I'm relieved the Twins passed on the deal, but also worried the Nationals merely temporarily saved them from again overpaying for saves.

• I'm very curious to see how Ron Gardenhire handles the outfield logjam now that Span has returned from a two-month stint on the disabled list following his June 3 concussion. Last night against a right-handed pitcher Span started in center field and Ben Revere was on the bench, but presumably the Twins won't keep the 23-year-old Revere around in the big leagues unless he's starting at least somewhat regularly.

That could be accomplished pretty easily by platooning Revere and Delmon Young in left field, but Gardenhire has never seen the value of platooning and has yet to see the value of sitting Young versus right-handed pitching, against whom he's hit just .263/.298/.340 this year and .283/.315/.405 for his career. Either way, Span will provide some much-needed on-base skills atop the lineup after Revere got on base at a measly .301 clip in 52 leadoff starts.

Apparently the Twins wanted Span to see some action as a corner outfielder in Rochester, but he refused (or maybe declined, depending on your preferred wording choice). Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that "Span didn't want to play in any games in left or right field during his rehab stint." Or as Gardenhire phrased it: "We talked before, about doing that in the minor leagues, but we didn't get that done. So he's in the big leagues, in center field."

I'm not yet convinced Revere in center field and Span in left field is better than Span in center field and Revere in left field anyway, but it's an interesting situation given how much criticism Joe Mauer took during his rehab assignment for insisting on playing catcher. Young has never played right field for the Twins despite a strong arm being his only asset defensively, so unless Gardenhire changes his mind on that issue we'll see Span or Revere in right field soon enough.

• So far this year 16 hitters have gotten at least 100 plate appearances for the Twins and 10 of them have an on-base percentage of .300 or lower (the AL average is .322):

                     PA      OBP
Danny Valencia      425     .289
Delmon Young        295     .295
Ben Revere          269     .300
Justin Morneau      231     .281
Luke Hughes         198     .296
Drew Butera         168     .210
Tsuyoshi Nishioka   171     .259
Matt Tolbert        159     .250
Trevor Plouffe      117     .291
Jason Repko         111     .287

No other team in Twins history had more than seven position players notch 100 or more plate appearances and a .300 or lower OBP. We're seeing some historic ineptitude when it comes to getting on base. As a whole the current team's .309 on-base percentage is the Twins' lowest since 1981 and their first sub-.320 mark since 1984.

• According to general manager Bill Smith the Twins finished runner-up in the winter bidding for Japanese right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, as the A's easily topped them $19 million to $7.7 million. Contentious negotiations followed and the two sides couldn't agree on a deal, so the A's were refunded and Iwakuma headed back to Japan. And now Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reports that Iwakuma has hired a new agent with an eye toward coming to MLB in 2012.

Crasnick notes that because Iwakuma has now played 10 seasons in Japan he can become an outright free agent without the need for bidding, posting fees, or exclusive negotiating rights. He'll simply hit the open market in November alongside other free agent pitchers, which likely takes the Twins out of the running even if Tsuyoshi Nishioka's extreme struggles following a $15 million investment haven't already soured them on pursuing other Japanese players.

• Last spring I criticized the Twins for handing Nick Blackburn a four-year, $14 million deal, as they already had him under team control via arbitration and minuscule strikeout rates meant it would be hard to sustain his status as a mid-rotation starter. Sure enough, since the signing his 4.2 strikeouts per nine innings is MLB's lowest rate and Blackburn has a 5.00 ERA and .302 opponents' average in 291 innings. He's owed $4.75 million in 2012 and $5.5 million in 2013.

In his last seven starts Blackburn has given up 39 runs on 58 hits and 13 walks in 33 innings, allowing opponents to hit .387 with a .607 slugging percentage. Brian Duensing hasn't been nearly that awful, but his rough patch dates back much further. After last night's loss Duensing has a 5.14 ERA in 92 innings spread over 16 starts since May 1, allowing opponents to hit .290 and slug .458. And just a reminder: Kevin Slowey has a 4.42 career ERA as a starter.

• Capps has quietly strung together seven straight scoreless outings since being stripped of closer duties in mid-July, although recording just two strikeouts in 21 plate appearances during that stretch doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Overall this season Capps has struck out just 12.1 percent of the batters he's faced, compared to 19.3 percent last season and 18.7 percent for his career. He's also allowed more homers (eight) than walks (six). Brad Radke approves.

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