Friday, February 26, 2010

10 Myths about Steroids in Baseball

Myth 1) Steroids were not against the rules. 

Using steroids to enhance performance has been illegal in the United States for a very long time. This is like arguing there was no rule against knee-capping your opponent in skating so Tanya Harding boyfriend's knee-capping of Nancy Kerrigan was within the rules.

Myth 2) Steroids don't really help performance, at least not in baseball

Of course no one makes this argument any more. But it was a favorite for a while. Occasionally it gets resurrected in arguments about admitting Mark McGwire to the HOF.  Of course steroids by themselves don't have any effect, but used in the context of an exercise program they can and do have a dramatic effect.

Myth 3) Steroid use started in the late 90's

While we have no idea who first used steroids in baseball, their use in sports started at least in the 1970's. Given there are hundreds of players who see their dream of being a major league player disappearing and the difference in salary between being a AAAA player and  major league regular, you have to assume they started getting used in baseball pretty early. In the 1980's guys had started to show up in major league camps with 30 pounds of additional muscle from "hitting the weights" in the off-season. We started hearing about the benefits of "modern weight training". Its not clear that any of those terms were more than euphemisms for body-building techniques using drugs to enhance performance.

Myth 4) Steroid users are obvious, because they will immediately pop up to look like Arnold Swarznegger

While Swarznegger and other body builders made steroids popular, the effect they have depends on what exercises go along with them. Roger Clemens never really had that "steroid build", but his workouts were focused primarily on building leg strength.  The fact that a guy doesn't look like Hulk Hogan does not mean he isn't using steroids. On the other hand, if he does look like Hulk Hogan its not unlikely he is.  

Myth 5) Jose Canseco's accounts couldn't be trusted

This is arguable I suppose. Maybe there are other reasons to mistrust Canseco. But all sorts of people who attacked Canseco have turned out to be liars themselves. While not every one of Canseco's accounts have been confirmed, there aren't any that have been credibly disproved either. 

Myth 6) The ball was juiced

This was a claim made repeatedly during the steroid era to explain the sudden power surge. We now know there was another explanation. Its time to put the juiced ball myth to bed. 

Myth 7) Steroids only help hitters

Roger Clemens is the poster boy for why this isn't true. But it is doubtful that he was the only pitcher who used. There are people who argue steroids have an even bigger impact on pitchers than hitters. Although the physical signs may not be there. All those aging pitchers who "kept themselves in shape" may have been doing more than eating right and getting proper exercise.

Myth 8) Sudden jumps in production are common in players over 30

Most players have had their most productive offensive year before age 27-28. If you look at the average numbers there is a sharp improvement in performance up until that point, a leveling off and then a decline after age 30-32. Of course averages don't apply here. Some players age more gracefully than others and outstanding players have maintained high levels of production into their late 30's. But the jumps we saw in guys like McGwire and Bonds are extraordinary, not only in the size of the increase but the time of their career when it happened. 

Myth 9) Lots of players develop from singles hitters to home run hitters as they mature and put on muscle. So big jumps in home runs are to be expected.

There is no doubt that home run power develops later as players put on their "man muscles", as Torii Hunter refers to them. We saw that again with Joe Mauer. But that power potential is usually obvious. The players have the frame and gap power that projects to home run power. When a player hits 25-30 more home runs in one year than they ever have in the past, that is not a normal development pattern. It may have happened without the help of drugs, but not very often.

Myth 10) Baseball has cleaned up its act

While there is now steroid testing, it is not 100% effective at catching people who use steroids. In addition, there is no test for HGH (which, like steroids, some people now claim doesn't actually help performance). 

The larger problem is that baseball has not really rejected steroids the way they did gambling after the Black Sox episode. The players who were associated with that scandal were barred from baseball for life - in fact even after they died. Players who used steroids have been allowed to continue to play as if nothing happened. Admitted steroid abusers like Mark McGwire are hired to coach young players and  held up as role models for the next generation. While apologizing for using steroids, McGwire talks about how they helped extend his career.  Tony LaRussa and Mark McGwire keep blaming everybody but  Mark McGwire for his problems.The most recent person to "victimize" McGwire is his brother. McGwire claims his brother is lying too. 

For baseball, steroids is a PR problem. The clear message to players - don't get caught and if you do, apologize and it won't damage your career. If you expose your teammate's use, you will be ostracized and publicly defamed as a liar like Jose Canseco. The goal is to sweep the problem under the rug and hope it will disappear from public view. But that is dangerous both for the sport, and for young players faced with their career ending who hear the siren song of Mark McGwire, "at least it extended my career".

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Was Puckett on Steroids?

We hear about the side effects of steroid use, but mostly we see the positive ones. Mark McGwire destroys the historic home run mark and Barry Bonds destroys McGwire's new record. The negative side-effects are described as abstract "possibile side effects". But they are not only possible, they actually happen. But, like Bonds, McGwire and other players steroid use, openly discussing those impacts will not promote the game of baseball. The result is a "conspiracy" of silence that leaves many young people unaware of the real impact steroids can have.

The story of Kirby Puckett's career is that it ended "tragically" when he developed glaucoma. But there is an elephant in the room. Here is just one of many links that discuss the connection between steroid use and glacuoma and cataracts:

"With long-term use of steroids, cataracts or glaucoma may develop."

Moreover, Puckett ultimately died of a stroke. Strokes are another known potential side effect of abuse of steroids.

So is there evidence in Puckett's career of the kind of jolt in productivity that we now see as evidence of potential steroid use? The answer is yes - in spades.After hitting a total of  4 home runs in his first two full seasons ( and 41 doubles) in 1300 plate appearances, in 1986 at the age of 26 Puckett power suddenly "emerged" with 31 home runs and 37 doubles in 723 plate appearances. His strikeouts increased, his walks declined, but his batting average improved by 40 points from 1985. Puckett had gone from a 5'8" singles hitter to the next Hack Wilson in a single season.

Of course that doesn't "prove" Puckett was using steroids, any more than Bonds and McGwires power surge proved they used steroids. And Puckett's fans will use that as a defense, just as Bonds and McGwire fans did when the obvious signs of steroid abuse were pointed out to them. But there is plenty of evidence that Puckett's career end and death were both the elements of a classic greek tragedy, that which makes you great will bring you down.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Twins Rotation

This is going to be short because the rotation battle is pretty clearly defined:

Certain barring injury:

All but certain:
Until he shows he is healthy and able to pitch, last years injury leaves some questions. No one expects that to be a problem, but he has said he still has some pain and that is never a good sign.

Fifth Spot:

Everyone wants Liriano to take this spot by demonstrating he is back to his 2006 form. The other two primary candidates are Perkins and Duensing and neither one can compete with a 2006 Liriano. Assuming Liriano is something more than last ear but less than 2006, Perkins is probably next in line based on experience. But the more Gardy talks, the less I think he is really ready to put last year behind him. Duensing pitched well in the rotation last year. But its not clear if he can do that over a full season. The other two candidates, Swarzak and Manship, are longshots. Swarzak got the rotation call before Duensing last year, so a good spring training and continued struggles by the lefties could put him in contention. Manship is probably more showcasing himself for an early callup, but if the others all stumble he is a very longshot if he steps up his game. 

Sixth Spot: Obviously this is one of the losers in the group above. But it is important to remember that getting through the season with five starters would be very unusual. Whether the Twins hang onto Perkins may depend on whether one of the other pitchers is clearly ready to step in. If there is stiff competition for the fifth spot in the rotation, then Perkins may be gone. But if the 5th spot is filled by default, they may hang onto Perkins as the only guy who has shown he can pitch successfully in the major leagues, even if he isn't their first choice. That is also true, if Liriano takes the job, but Duensing and Swarzak struggle.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Top 20 Prospects in Twins Camp

The Twins catchers and pitchers start workouts Monday, so spring training is finally here. In addition to the issues of who will make the roster there are a number of prospects in camp. Most may not have much chance at a roster spot but are trying to show they are close enough to get called on if someone is hurt or fails. So here is a list, based on how likely they are to contribute this year. Obviously to contribute, they first need to get the opportunity, but they also need to be ready t take it.

1. Jose Morales - I think he is almost a lock to be the second catcher if healthy.

2. Brian Duensing - He is going to be in the competition with Perkins and Liriano for the fourth rotation spot and the seventh spot in the bullpen. He looked ready at the end of last year and will likely be the first guy called up if someone goes down even if he fails to make the staff out of spring training.

3. Drew Butera - I think he only needs an opportunity. The roto folks will never consider him a contributor because of his lack of offense. But his defense will make him a contributor as the second catcher.

4. Ben Revere - This may be a stretch, but I think by the end of the season Revere is going to be ready to contribute at the major league level. With the Twins thin in the outfield, especially center field, I think Revere has a shot at contributing in September even if there are no openings before then. By mid-season he may be the first choice if Span goes down.

5. Anthony Swarzak - After Duensing, I think Swarzak is the guy closest to being ready to help if there is an opening on the pitching staff. That could be as a starter or a reliever.

6. Alex Burnett - I think its likely Burnett will see time in the bullpen by the end of the season. He is close to ready and a season at AAA is going to put him over the top by September.

7. Jeff Manship - Manship may be ahead of Burnett on the opportunity list, but behind him in his chances to contribute if given the opportunity.

8. Rene Tosoni - He is ahead of Revere in his development and the thin outfield gives him a chance of helping early in the year. The bigger question is whether he can take any opportunity he gets.

9. Wilson Ramos - I think he is fourth on the depth chart and probably not quite ready, but if Mauer went down he might be the guy with the combination of defense/offense the Twins need. If it is later in the year he may be ready to step up and take the opportunity.

10. Luke Hughes - Hughes has one tool, a right-handed bat with developing power. He is getting to the age where that power could be enough to give him a shot if something happens to Thome.

11. Danny Valencia - He could win a roster spot out of spring training. He could also continue his AAA and winter ball struggles. I am skeptical he can contribute this year even with the opportunity.

12. Rob Delaney - Like Valencia, I am not sure Delaney can take the opportunity but he is likely to get a shot at some point.

13. Trevor Plouffe - Unless JJ Hardy gets hurt or his defense fails completely, Plouffe doesn't have much chance. He might get a callup in September but is not likely to be a contributor.

On roster, but no real chance, Estarlin de Los Santos, Loek Van Mil and Delios Guerra are protected on the roster but both would need tremendous breakouts to get to the big leagues, much less be ready to contribute.

14. Anthony Slama - Slama has a shot at getting a callup in the bullpen, but again his actually contributing is less likely.

15. Kyle Waldrop - Not ready yet, but could be by the end of the season.

16. Brock Peterson - he may get a callup, but he is unlikely to be able to contribute much

17. Juan Portes - a long shot to get a chance, his bat might contribute if he is given one.

18. Jose Lugo - a lefthander who could contribute to the bullpen in that role

19. Mike Maroth - another lefthander

There are several additional players in camp who are there to fill out spring training rosters. I think the remaining catchers, Daniel Lehman, Danny Rams and Jair Fernandez fit that role. Likewise Toby Gardenhire, Brian Dinkelman and Steve Singleton.

20. Chris Parmelee is unlikely to be ready to help in the major leagues this year but he could break out and, like Hughes, his power is the kind of tool that can contribute at the major league level for a short period.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How Old Are They?

I am often surprised by the relative age of players. I think of guys like Rauch being old while Guerrier as young. Here is a list of the Twins roster sorted by date or birth, oldest to youngest. Joe Mauer is still in the younger half of the 40 player roster. Delmon Young would live up to his name even if he was still a prospect  fighting for a roster spot. It makes you realize just how much better this team can still get.

Jim Thome 08/27/70
Joe Nathan 11/22/74
Clay Condrey 11/19/75
Carl Pavano 01/08/76
Nick Punto 11/08/77
Orlando Hudson 12/12/77
Matt Guerrier 08/02/78
Jon Rauch 09/27/78
Michael Cuddyer 03/27/79
Brendan Harris 08/26/80
Pat Neshek 09/04/80
Justin Morneau 05/15/81
Jesse Crain 07/05/81
Scott Baker 09/19/81
Nick Blackburn 02/24/82
Matt Tolbert 05/04/82
Jason Kubel 05/25/82
J.J. Hardy 08/19/82
Jose Morales 02/20/83
Brian Duensing 02/22/83
Glen Perkins 03/02/83
Joe Mauer 04/19/83
Drew Butera 08/09/83
Francisco Liriano 10/26/83
Denard Span 02/27/84
Kevin Slowey 05/04/84
Alexi Casilla 07/20/84
Luke Hughes 08/02/84
Rob Delaney 09/08/84
Loek Van Mil 09/15/84
Danny Valencia 09/19/84
Jose Mijares 10/29/84
Jeff Manship 01/16/85
Anthony Swarzak 09/10/85
Delmon Young 09/14/85
Trevor Plouffe 06/15/86
Estarlin De Los Santos 01/20/87
Alex Burnett 07/26/87
Wilson Ramos 08/10/87
Deolis Guerra 04/17/89

What does K/9 Measure

You will sometimes see the statistic k/9 (strikeouts/nine innings) called a pitcher's "strikeout rate". People will talk about this as "how often" a pitcher strikes batters out. The idea is that innings are a measure of opportunities a pitcher has to strike out batters and the strikeouts are how often they are successful. But, in fact, innings measure how many outs a pitcher got whether he had the opportunity to strike out 10 batters or 3. So k/9 actually measures the percentage of outs a pitcher gets  that are by strikeout. This makes the idea of it as "strikeout rate"  a little odd. We don't, for instance, divide a batter's home runs by their hits to determine their 'home run rate".

Does this matter? I think it does. Because there are two things that effect k/9. It goes up when a pitcher strikes a batter out and it goes down when they induce an out. A high k/9 may be caused by the ability to strike batters out or by the inability to induce batters to make feeble hits. The average ball in play  goes for a hit (minus home runs) about 30% of the time - for statheads the major league BABIP is about .300. If you are below average in that regard, as Randy Johnson was, you will need to strike out a higher percentage of the batters you face to be successful. But Johnson is a rarity, most successful pitchers are above average at inducing outs and the best pitchers are usually good at both. If you have a pitcher with a high K/9 you need to look at the hits they are giving up to determine whether that reflects a great strikeout artist or just an inability to get people out any other way.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Wishful Thinking

The claim made often is that, on paper, the Twins look like favorites in the AL central. But that is not only "on paper", it seems to be based on optimistic projections for almost every player in the lineup. Who are the players most likely to disappoint? Here is a semi-pessmistic list of players who could disappoint. Of course injuries and high expectations could make any player a disappointment, but these are players who seem to be most likely to not to quite live up to Twins fans hopes:

JJ Hardy. Almost every evaluation of the Twins has Hardy hitting and fielding the way he did a couple years ago.  But last year Hardy really struggled offensively and there are reports his defense has slipped as he has matured. He no longer has the range to be a plus at shortstop. Even Hardy's lose season averages last year may be optimistic, inflated by one hot month. If he continues to struggle the Twins will have a huge hole at shortstop.

Delmon Young: The Twins outfield looks solid, but it depends on Delmon Young hitting the way he ended the season, not the way he started out. That is a reasonable hope, but again until Young shows he can use his potential over a full season it is not a certainty. If he doesn't, with Gomez gone there are not a lot of options available to fill the hole. We may see Kubel in left and Thome at DH more than we want.

Jim Thome: Thome is old. He faded at the end of last season and didn't do very well in a pinch hit role. Its possible he will not be able to find his swing with irregular playing time for the first time in his career. Its also possible that fade was not a fluke, that pitchers found they could challenge him in ways they avoided to start the year.

Orlando Hudson:. Its not clear whether Hudson slipped and lost his job or if Joe Torre just decided to ride the hot bat in the playoffs. But it is a bit suspicious when an all-star,  gold glove defensive infielder is replaced in mid-season no matter how hot the other player's bat. Hudson is slow and his "gold glove" defense may not be what it was. If his OBP slips, the excitement about him in the number two spot in the order could fade to disappointment at a base blogging runner who fails to score even when he gets on base.

Kevin Slowey: Slowey is being counted on to fill a spot in the rotation, but reported his wrist was still sore form his surgery which had two screws put in it. Its possible that will change his delivery or effect his control.

Francisco Liriano The spring hype about Liriano's return to his 2006 form could turn out to be just that and Liriano will struggle the same as last year.

Michael Cuddyer  Cuddyer really stepped up when Morneau was hurt. Its not clear he can sustain that over an entire season. He could contribute to a disappointing outfield.

Carl Pavano. Pavano's arrival really transformed the pitching staff last year. Or maybe it didn't, but it coincided with improvement in the rest of the staff. Pavono may not be quite the pitcher some people have projected and he could easily follow a long line of disappointing veterans. He is not really an "inning eater". Instead he is a solid mid to back rotation starter. If he is asked to step up to the number two or three spot in the rotation he may not be up to it.

Joe Nathan  Nathan is going to start slipping at some point. This could be the year and the Twins don't really have anyone to take his place.

The rest of the bullpen:  The Twins bullpen looks solid, but ... any or all of its members could disappoint. Relief pitching is always high risk and the Twins are counting on a number of players who have had their ups and downs.

Of course there are also some players who could step up and surprise us. If you look at that list there is good reason for Twins fans optimism. Except for Hardy and Young, the downside for most of these players is either unlikely or not catastrophic.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Nick Punto

Nick Punto has been a very good player for the Twins. He has contributed to their long run of success since he arrived in 2004, handling three different positions with exceptional defense. Because he is so flexible, the Twins have been able to fill out an infield with the best available players at the other positions, knowing Punto can fill in wherever needed.

While his defense is outstanding, on offense Punto has had his ups and downs. He lacks any power, so his already low batting averages some years have been even emptier. Where he makes up for that is by working pitchers. There were several times last year that the top of the order benefited from a pitcher who was cruising along until worn down by Punto. He is not an easy out and that is reflected in his decent on base percentages even when his batting average is down.

He has not been particularly durable. When asked to play 150 games in 2007, he had his worst offensive year. Bad enough that even his stellar defense didn't make up for his lack of offense. That is largely the basis of all the abuse he gets. But he recovered with a lighter work load in 2008 and 2009. Still his durability is something to keep in mind this year when he will likely share third base with Brendan Harris.

Some people would call Punto the quintessential utility player. But he is really better than that. He is not Cesar Tovar, but he's not Al Newman either to name a couple of past Twins payers with similar versatility. Utility players don't get 400+ at bats year after year.

This may well be Punto's last year with the Twins. He is losing some of his defensive prowess as he ages and the Twins have Matt Tolbert ready to replace some of what he brings to the table. But he has served the Twins and their fans well up until now. It would be great if he could leave with a World Series ring.

The Infield

The first question about the Twins infield is how many will there be - five or six? Five places appear set, Morneau, Hudson, Punto, Harris and Hardy. The question then is whether they will keep Tolbert or Casilla or neither. Complicating that decision is that Casilla is out of options, which means he can't be sent to the minor leagues without passing through waivers. It is highly unlikely that would happen. Tolber still has options, so he can be sent to the minor leagues. The other complication, is that they likely need for at least one of these guys to be able to spell Denard Span. The alternative is to have Michael Cuddyer playing center field.

One of the key questions in spring training is which JJ Hardy shows up, the emerging star of a couple years ago or the guy who was sent to the minors last season. If it looks at all likely that last year was not a fluke, the Twins are going to want a lot of flexibility in the infield.  Hardy suffered on offense and , reportedly, on defense as well last year. That means Thome may get more pinch hitting opportunities and a backup shortstop may be a bigger part of the Twins plans.

The second question is how third base is split between Punto and Harris. Punto is a better defender and more flexible than Harris. If Harris is on the bench, the Twins are probably going to want a second guy who can play second base and run a little. Punto can fill those roles.

The final question is Alexi Casilla. Its not really that he needs to emerge this spring, if the Twins expected that they wouldn't have dealt for Hudson. Its whether they are ready to give up on him and/or can't find anyone willing to give them something in return. Casilla can play second and shortstop - although he has no real experience at short in the major leagues. Third base or the outfield would be wholly new experiences. It will be interesting to see if he is taking balls at those positions in spring training. If not, I suspect they are showcasing him for a trade, rather than considering him for a roster spot. They do have Harris and Punto who can play at those positions, so Casilla will likely not be a first choice in any case.

Tolbert can play second, third and short. He has played the outfield, but would need to do a lot more to get ready to play center field. But he really is the quintessential utility guy in a way Casilla isn't.

Given the decision to let Pridie go, I think the Twins are preparing to start the year with six guys in the infield. Unless they can make a trade, I think Casilla is the most likely choice with Tolbert at AAA. But there are still a lot of questions to be answered.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Second Catcher

The Twins spring training is not likely to be very eventful. There are only a handful of roster spots really in play. The first is the second catcher. There are some people who see this as a backup position, but its not. Mauer will likely start about three quarters of the games if he remains healthy. The second catcher will be in the lineup for the remaining quarter. That is about as much as a starting pitcher. Of course the catcher has less impact on the game than the pitcher, but it is still a lot more impact than a backup at other positions will have unless there is an injury.

Defense is the first priority in choosing a catcher. That is because it is the most important defensive position on the field after the pitcher. Like the pitcher, the catcher is involved with every pitch. The mental aspects, the ability to call a game and work with pitchers, are probably the most important parts of this job and almost impossible for fans to really evaluate. Along with that are the physical challenges like blocking pitches and throwing out base runners. And, perhaps most importantly, the catcher has to be durable, capable of performing with lots of minor aches and pains over an entire season. Obviously the latter is less an issue for a guy who only catches every fourth day. Of course the guys who aren't durable are going to get weeded out in the minor leagues and moved to another position. But it is important to remember durability is an issue when people talk about Wilson Ramos. He has not really shown he can do the job over an entire season.

The three realistic candidates for the second catcher job are Morales, Butera and, maybe, Ramos. Each brings something a little different to the job.

I think many people saw Morales as having the job at the end of last year. Mike Redmond was allowed to leave, in part, because the Twins had confidence Morales was ready to step in. Unfortunately, Morales had wrist surgery and may not be ready at the start of the season. The Twins seem to think he will be, Morales sounds skeptical. Morales has had a series of injuries over the last couple years that have set him back. But I am not sure that is really a sign of fragility, it may just be bad luck. Morales bat is pretty solid, although his career numbers are probably misleading. His defense is more in question, but it appears the Twins think it is at least adequate to the task now that he is fully recovered from his ankle injury from a couple years ago.

Even before Morales was hurt, Butera was his main competition for the second catcher position. Butera is a "catch and throw" guy who is valued for his defense. His bat is highly questionable and the only real question is whether it is so bad as to prevent him from playing in the major leagues. If he can hit .225-.250, his defense will probably allow him to make a career for himself as a second catcher. Certainly for a team like the Twins that tend to always rely on young pitchers to play key roles, a quality defensive catcher is going to be valued.  Ideally you would want Butera's defense with Morales bat, which brings us to Wilson Ramos.

There is no question Ramos has a combination of offensive and defensive that are the makings of a major league starting catcher. In any other organization, teams would be looking ahead to the day when he was ready to play in the big leagues. For obvious reasons, the Twins aren't. The problem is not Ramos tools, but whether he is really ready for the big leagues and whether his development would be strunted by spending 3/4 of the year on a major league  bench instead of catching every day in the minors. Ramos has barely over 300 at bats above A-ball. Given the Twins have two other catchers with major league skills, I think it is unlikely they are going to rush Ramos to the big leagues. In fact, its likely he will start the year back at AA if Morales is ready to catch at the start of the season. 

There are several other catchers, not on the roster, who are in camp. That is mostly because they need catchers to work with all the pitchers during spring training. Danny Lehman is the only one of these guys who may have a shot at the big leagues this year. He is probably next in line if Morales and Butera were both hurt and Ramos is deemed not yet ready. But I suspect the Twins would be looking to make a trade if that situation lasted very long. Lehman is really an organization player who would have to be in the right place at the right time to get a major league job even for a short period.

Which  brings us to a final comment. Because of his limited bat, there are people who think Butera has little value. Some even suggested the Twins release him to make room for Orlando Hudson or Jim Thome. The reality is that major league quality defensive catchers are hard to find. In 2004, when Joe Mauer got hurt, it was Henry Blanco a catch and throw guy that was behind the plate as they went to the playoffs. He hit only .206 and the Twins were very happy to have him. He disappointed them when he signed elsewhere after the season. Catching is a defensive position.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Who goes to provide roster space for Hudson?

The signing of Orlando Hudson means the Twins need to open another roster spot. When Jim Thome signed, Steven Tolleson was taken off the roster and claimed on waivers by Oakland. Now it looks like the Twins will likely lose another player. The ideal way to avoid that is with a trade.  The Twins have some surplus in a couple places, the major league infield and pitching. Of course, almost anyone could be traded if there is a team that is looking to make a deal but here are the likely trade candidates:

Glen Perkins - The Twins seem to have soured on Perkins and the only thing that has held up a trade is the unwillingness of other teams to give full value. If they could move Perkins for real value, I think he would be tops on their list. But that hasn't happened yet and it seems unlikely to happen in a couple days unless they already had a deal in the works.

Alexi Casilla - Casilla is out of options and the Twins infield is full of players. He won't get through waivers, so he can't just be taken off the roster without losing him. I don't think the Twins have given up on him yet, but if they could get something in return they would probably do a deal for him.

Matt Tolbert - Tolbert is not out of options, which means he can be used to provide depth at Rochester, much as he was last year. He is also the sort of player someone who needs a utility infielder might deal a prospect for. I think it is unlikely, but not out of the question.

Jesse Crain
- The Twins have some depth in their bullpen and Crain has not been consistent. I think it is a real longshot that they would deal him, but again not impossible. In truth, you could add most of the bullpen to the list with that caveat, not impossible.  But I don't think its likely the Twins are going to reduce their pitching depth unless, like Perkins, they are really disenchanted with a player.

If they can't make a deal, the Twins will have to take someone off their roster. I think this is the most likely outcome and the candidates are almost all minor league players. Here is how I see them in order of likelihood with Hughes very much the most likely candidate if they have to go this route:

Luke Hughes - Hughes is a guy without a position. He isn't really an infielder and his bat doesn't play at a corner outfield spot. He has played several positions in the minors, but has really never developed at any of them. He does have some power and giving that up is difficult. Its that power that would make him a target on the waiver wire.

Trevor Plouffe - I think Plouffe has a future, but its not clear the Twins do and their opinion is the one that counts. I wonder if he has some makeup problems, because he seemed to make a lot of progress at the end of last year. And then the Twins went out and committed to JD Hardy. It seems doubtful they would let a former number one prospect go, but they have limited options.

Jason Pridie
- Pridie is the Twins fourth outfielder and really the only guy who can play center if Denard Span is out for an extended period. That said, the Twins have made noises about going with three outfielders and Jason Kubel as the backup. They would use Cuddyer, Punto and/or Tolbert as emergency backups. But if Pridie is taken on waivers, its not clear there is anyone in the minors ready to step into the center field role if Span went down for an extended period. The idea of Cuddyer out in center field every day is scary.

There are some other highly unlikely candidates:

Joe Mauer - if they can't sign him, they might just release him to avoid the distraction. They would still have Drew Butera, who is a good defensive catcher, healthy and ready to step in.

Justin Morneau - Thome can play first

Orlando Hudson - This would be an oops we goofed moment.

Brendan Harris - Another oops we goofed moment.

Nick Punto - Smith may be really tired of Gardy and releasing Punto might get him to quit.

JD Hardy - Another oops, we goofed moment.

Michael Cuddyer - Unlikely, they need someone who can play center field.

Denard Span - This would open a spot so Michael Cuddyer can play center, or maybe Delmon Young.

Delmon Young - Smith may really want the whole Garza trade to just go away and get rid of this reminder that he ever made it.

Jason Kubel - Thome can DH

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