Sunday, January 31, 2010


According to this article in the STRIB the Twins have some doubts about Crede. A lot of people, including me, have expected the Twins to look at Crede as an alternative to Harris at third base. But, on consideration, the addition Jim Thome makes that a lot less likely. The Twins are rightly concerned about Crede's inability last year to stay in the lineup. These were aches and pains of age and minor injuries, in addition to the time he spent on the disabled list. With only one backup infielder, if Crede is unavailable you can't use Thome to pinch hit for any of the infielders including the backup. Unlike last year,  the Twins don't have the flexibility to adjust to a part time player if Crede again is plagued by minor injuries. Given that, its not surprising they are backing away from him as an option.

The story also reports Liriano feels ready to go. It makes the point, however, that past velocity reports out of the Dominican about Liriano have been exaggerated. Obviously if Liriano is back to his form of few years ago the Twins are much better team both during the season and for the playoffs. The excitement, and optimism, of spring training's approach is starting to grow.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Twins Treatment of Perkins Showed Lack of Class

Perkins finally told his side of the story about his demotion this fall in an interview with Joe Christiansen at the STRIB. There is nothing really new there, but it caused me to put together all we know and it does not make the Twins management look good.

Perkins was put on the DL after complaining about arm problems. He went down to Fort Myers for rehab and then pitched in a couple minor league games there. From all appearances he was trying to get himself ready to help the Twins in the stretch run. (Whether he would have actually helped can be debated - the Twins didn't thinks so.) The Twins doctors told him his arm was healthy and Perkins prepared to go to Rochester for a tuneup. Suddenly Perkins discovered that instead of getting him healthy to help his team, the Twins were trying to get him healthy so they could take him off the DL and then off the major league active roster. By doing that they avoided paying him a major league salary in September and they prevented him from qualifying for arbitration.

Not surprisingly, Perkins was upset and he didn't trust the judgments he had been given by the Twins medical staff.  Was his arm really healthy, or just healthy enough to get him off the DL long enough to send him to Rochester? So Perkins demanded and got another medical opinion. The Twins management portrayed this as more problems with Perkins. As they did his filing a grievance over the affair.

Bill Smith says every thing they did was within the rules. And I believe him. But one reason I am a Twins fan is that it is not only a good baseball organization, but has been a classy baseball organization that treated people fairly. I am not sure that is true any more. They didn't show much class here.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What does Twins Arbitration Spending Say

Many Twins fans have been frustrated over the years by the team's unwillingness to invest in high-priced free agents. Since the mid-90's, when they gave multi-year contracts to favorite sons like Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Terry Steinbach, the Twins have not signed a free agent to a large multi-year contract (Mike Lamb doesn't count).

Many people have anticipated that the opening of the new stadium and increased revenue would finally make it possible for the Twins to add a premiere free agent. I think the recent decisions on arbitration, along with the investment in international signing bonuses, indicates that is not going to happen. Instead of going into the free agent market, it appears the Twins are going to use the extra revenue to extend the stay of their own veterans. In the past, several of the veterans, like Crain and Harris, would have been allowed to quietly leave. Now the Twins are willing to invest in keeping them around a couple more years. That may not be as dramatic as signing a celebrity player, but it will make the Twins a much better team in the long run. Especially with their increased commitment to prospect signing bonuses.

Joe Mauer is going to get a huge long term contract. That approach, keeping its good young players around longer, rather pulling in people from outside, looks like the direction the team is headed. No one else is going to get a Mauer-like contract, but the Twins are likely to give longer commitments to players who have proved themselves. That might not have meant signing Santana or Hunter when their contracts expired, but it might have meant adding a year of two to those contracts or extending their contracts for a couple years before they expired.

In the long run, the Twins are going to remain a team that puts together its core of players internally and by dealing for young players who have not fulfilled their potential. The free agent market is going to continue to be used to plug in players around that core, not add stars to it. That will disappoint some people, but we will get the benefits that come from focusing on building the team for the long run rather than making a big, immediate splash.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why Joe Mauer is not a Number Two Hitter

As it has become more apparent that the Twins are unlikely to add a number two hitter from the free agent pool, there has been some speculation that Joe Mauer would be moved into that role. Its hard for me to believe that Gardy would seriously consider that, but his alternatives right now are Hardy, Punto and Harris. Hardy has been a number two hitter most of his career, but he didn't really have the bat (or OBP) for it last year. My guess is he is the default, but it will depend on spring training performance once the coaching staff has had a good look at him. Both Punto and Harris have been tried in the number two spot. In some ways, Punto's OBP, speed and ability to work pitchers makes him the ideal number two guy. But it seems he is not comfortable in that role. Harris likewise has not really shown much there and lacks any of the normal skills you look for.

The result is that some in the blogsphere are speculating about moving Mauer up to number two. The common way that works seems to be that everyone else moves up a spot behind him so Morneau is the number three hitter and Kubel or Cuddyer are in the cleanup and number five spots. For purposes of this article, I am going to assume that is the way the rest of the order will go. Obviously there are other alternatives.

The primary argument for this idea is that Mauer will get more at bats and would get on base more often than anyone else. Part of this is the mistaken impression people have that how often a player gets on base is the most important factor in determining how often a player scores. But the actual data shows a wide variation in how often players score once they are on base. There are two factors in that. One is that some runners will advance themselves further than others, either by hitting for power or by better base running. The second factor, not surprisingly, is who is hitting behind them.

The argument against Mauer results from that second factor. Mauer's combination of average and power make him one of the Twins key players in bringing other runners around the bases. The number two and three hitters will have 162 plate appearances in the first inning, about one quarter of their total. If the guy batting second has an average OBP of .340, in the first inning Mauer will have 55 more runners on base when hitting third - 48+ runners with an OBP over .300. And the problem doesn't end with Mauer. Morneau batting third is also going to have fewer runners on base when he comes to bat than he would in the number 4 spot. The player in the cleanup role, whether Cuddyer or Kubel, may see more base runners since the cleanup hitter gets to hit in the first inning whenever even one of the first three guys gets on base. In the fifth spot and lower they will miss some of those opportunities.

The Twins number two hitters had 16 more plate appearances than the number three hitter over the course of last season, so Mauer would get on base about 6 more times in the number two spot compared to 5 times by an average number two hitter. You see similar result for Morneau, but the bulk of the plate appearances the alternative number two hitter would have had in that spot end up going to the 5th and 6th hitters - i.e. Delmon Young - assuming the alternative hitter does not appear in the order until after them.

So moving Mauer and Morneau to the number two and three spots shifts a lot of the RBI opportunities from Mauer and Morneau to Cuddyer, Kubel and Young. And, overall, you get only a handful of extra base runners. That tradeoff does not seem likely to improve the Twins run production.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Evaluating Baseball America's Top Ten Twins Prospects

Here is Baseball America's top ten from this coming year.

1. Aaron Hicks, of
2. Wilson Ramos, c
3. Kyle Gibson, rhp
4. Miguel Sano, ss/3b
5. Ben Revere, of
6. Danny Valencia, 3b
7. Carlos Gutierrez, rhp
8. Angel Morales, of
9. David Bromberg, rhp
10. Max Kepler, of

There are three players on this list who have yet to appear in a professional game, Gibson, Sano and Kepler. I am extremely skeptical of this kind of evaluation, especially Kepler and Sano  who are both under 18, are from Europe and the Dominican respectively and therefore have been seen by only a very few professional scouts. No one is even entirely certain how old Sano is. Gibson is a college pitcher.The story is that he dropped to the Twins in the draft as a result of an injury he spent last summer recovering from. The Twins are very high on him and expect him to move fast, but again this is a projection from his college play, not as a pro.

The rest of the list is also largely unproven.  Hicks, Revere, Morales and Bromberg have not played above A ball. Valencia, Ramos and Guttierez all spent part or all of last season at AA. Valencia is the only player on the list who is expected to be ready to help the Twins this season. But Valencia really struggled at AAA last year, both offensively and defensively and his upside is probably pretty limited. Ramos is close to ready to help, but the Twins have a guy named Mauer blocking him. Guttierez could move quickly if the Twins give up on the experiment with him as a starter and move him back to the bullpen as BBA anticipates. But he will need a full season to develop if he is going to be a rotation candidate and there is a pretty long list of pitchers ahead of him in that role 

The other question is who is missing. I would add former first rounder Trevor Plouffe, but I seem to be the only one still high on him. If he gets a chance he could surprise people the same way Denard Span did. Rene Tosoni and Chris Parmelee would also be candidates. On the pitching side, Delios Guerra should be in the top ten. And I think Duensing, Swarzak and Manship would be considered if they are still eligible by BBA standards.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Is the "Steroids Era" really over?

Mark McGwire has admitted the obvious - he was juicing when he broke Roger Maris home run record. At this point most of the media ought to be apologizing for questioning Jose Canseco's honesty and declaring him a hero for breaking the story wide open. Of course they won't. Not any more than Republicans  are going to honor Deep Throat for ratting out Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal.

But there is a second part to McGwire's statement that really needs to be challenged. He says, "Baseball is really different now -- it's been cleaned up. The Commissioner and the Players Association implemented testing and they cracked down, and I'm glad they did."  That, of course, is baseball's media-narrative of the moment, not Jose Canseco's heroism. But it is no more true than the narrative that Canseco was a dishonorable liar.

The fact is there are no tests of Human Growth Hormone. And, while HGH is not a steroid, there is a lot of evidence it is extremely effective as a performance enhancing substance. The basic underlying motives for using performance enhancing drugs remain. Those boil down to a huge gap between what a major league player makes and what a minor league player takes home. And a huge gap between a major league star and a journeyman.  Given those gaps, it is likely that some players are going to take whatever risks are necessary to jump across.

I don't really have a solution, but we shouldn't kid ourselves that the era drug abuse is finished. Baseball and the media have just stuck their heads firmly back in the sand.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Would Washburn Help the Twins?

There are two parts to the controversy over Twins making an offer, and potentially signing, Jarrod Washburn. The first is whether the Twins can use another veteran starting pitcher. The second is whether Washburn has value in that role.

Right now the Twins appear to have four starters who are set,  Pavano, Baker, Blackburn and Slowey. Barring injuries or a spring training meltdown, those four are going to be in the rotation. Of course it is possible the Twins would trade one of them, but that seems unlikely. That leaves one opening - presumably the one Washburn would fill.

The other folks currently under consideration for that spot are Liriano, Perkins, Duensing, Manship and Swarzak. Liriano and Perkins are the most proven of that list and both struggled mightily at the end of last season. It appears the Twins have all but given up on Perkins and are looking to move him somewhere else. Liriano has never been the same since coming back from injury. He certainly has a tremendous upside, but there is a reason he lost his spot in the rotation at the end of last season.  Swarzak and Manship also both struggled last year and have yet to show they belong in the big leagues, much less in a championship team's rotation. Only several failures and/or injuries would give them serious chances. That leaves Duensing who pitched very well for a brief period last summer. A lot of fans are hanging their hat on Duensing and there hopes on Liriano, but adding Washburn would provide a lot more certainty.

Of course the question is certainty of what. Which brings us to the second part of this discussion. If the Twins want/need another veteran is Washburn the guy. He had a good year last year at Seattle that ended badly in Detroit. Its obvious that Safeco is a pitchers park, so you can't expect the same results at Target Field. But Washburn had good success even when compared to other Mariner pitchers. There is not much reason to think he won't be a serviceable starter in the 5th spot in the rotation. As the saying goes, you can't have too much pitching. Adding Washburn gives the Twins the depth to choose the best pitcher available instead of the last guy standing, which is where they ended up toward the end of last season.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Do the Twins Need to Sign Mauer?

The obvious answer to the question of whether the Twins need to sign Joe Mauer before the season starts is yes. The shorter and correct answer is no.

Joe Mauer is in a position to decide whether he wants to finish his career in Minnesota. He will still be in that position once the season starts. He will still be in that position once the season is over. In short, it is really up to him to decide if and when he signs. It may make Twins fans and management uncomfortable, but is there really ANY advantage to Mauer in signing right now? He could have a career ending injury next year. He could be killed in a car accident. I am not sure any of us plan our lives around those kinds of possibilities. The other reason to sign is because he just wants to get it over with and not have the distraction.

On the other hand, wouldn't you want to know how much money you were leaving on the table in order to play in your home town? The only way to find that out is to go through free agency next year. No matter what other teams offer, Mauer can still decide he wants to finish his career as a Twin. If Mauer isn't signed by opening day, it isn't Twins management who is at fault. It isn't anyone who is at fault. It just means Twins fans will have to spend a little longer on needles while Joe Mauer makes up his mind.

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