Results tagged ‘ crappy relief pitchers ’

Mired in Mediocrity

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At 43-43 44-43, this team is exactly average.  I’m certainly not the first person to notice this, nor am I the first to point out
that it’s mostly because all of the great talent on this team is
balanced by players who have no business on a major-league roster.  The
awesomeness of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau is balanced by the
suckitude of well, the entire second half of the lineup.  Nick
Blackburn is putting up the best numbers of his career, while Scott
Baker and Francisco Liriano are putting up the worst.  The comparison
between the best and worst players on the team is stark:

Hitters:

Joe Mauer:          .389/.461/.651/1.112 OPS  4.3 WAR
Justin Morneau:   .313/.390/.582/.971 OPS  2.8 WAR
Jason Kubel:    .306/.364/.540/.904 OPS  1.3 WAR
Denard Span:  .288/.375/.377/.752 OPS  1.7 WAR

Matt Tolbert:  .178/.272/.225/.497 OPS  -0.9 WAR
Nick Punto:   .211/.322/.234/.556 OPS  -0.2 WAR
Carlos Gomez:  .218/.277/.318/.595 OPS  -0.3 WAR
Delmon Young:  .270/.296/.349/.646 OPS  -1.2 WAR

The pitching is a slightly different story:

Pitchers:

Nick Blackburn:  2.94 ERA   4.94 xFIP  1.272 WHIP  1.82 K/BB  2.0 WAR
Kevin Slowey:  4.86 ERA   4.38 xFIP  1.412 WHIP  5.00 K/BB  1.4 WAR
Joe Nathan:  1.35 ERA   2.42 xFIP   0.750 WHIP  6.14 K/BB  1.4 WAR

Scott Baker:  5.31 ERA  4.24 xFIP  1.221 WHIP  3.90 K/BB  1.3 WAR
Francisco Liriano:  5.47 ERA  4.53 xFIP  1.490 WHIP  2.02 K/BB  1.3 WAR

Obviously
guys like Luis Ayala (0.1 WAR), Sean Henn (-0.2 WAR), and Jesse Crain
(-0.2 WAR) haven’t been helping much, either.  The good news is that
none of these guys are in the bullpen right now.  The bad news is that
they were here long enough to cost the team wins.

There
are a couple of things worth noting here.  First of which is that, as
much as both Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano have struggled this
season, both are still above replacement-level (that is, both are more
valuable than some scrub picked up off the waiver wire), and both
obviously have tremendous upside.  So, unless the Twins are absolutely
blown away with an offer for either one, it would be wise to hang onto
them for now (and no, Jon Garland and his 5.28 xFIP is not that guy). 
Secondly, despite his .270 batting average, Delmon Young is still one
of the worst hitters in the lineup.  His .349 slugging percentage is
anemic, his 58/6 K/BB ratio is the worst on the team, besides providing
crappy defense in left (-9.1 UZR).  No wonder the Rays were so eager to
get rid of him.

Of course, this is
pretty much the way the Twins have operated for the past decade, so
none of this comes as a surprise.  The likes of Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, and Rick Reed have rounded out a rotation fronted by Johan Santana and Brad RadkeDustan Mohr, Michael Restovich, and Michael Ryan have all patrolled the outfield alongside Torii Hunter.  After Corey Koskie left, guys like Tony Batista and Mike Lamb were manning third base until Joe Crede came along.  Jason Tyner, he of the one major league home run, was the DH for 31 games in three seasons with the Twins (when Rondell White and Ruben Sierra weren’t available, of course).  Tyner, by the way, was featured on the “Best Persons in the World” awhile back when his current (former?) team traded him away for nothing.  And then there was the Luis Rodriguez-Juan Castro-Luis Rivas infield, with Terry Tiffee on the bench.  And these weren’t even the worst Twins teams.

Obviously
there was a lot of talk about the Yankees’ payroll during the series at
the Dome, and it’s true that having a larger payroll gives a team more
flexibility. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “Woe is us, how can we
ever keep up
with the Yankees and Red Sox?” post.  Simply spending a lot of money
doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a team will even make the playoffs
let alone win a championship, and there is much more parity baseball
(especially the AL) than pretty much any other major professional sport
in this country.  It’s just that a smaller payroll
gives a franchise a much smaller margin-for-error when making trades,
signing free agents, and even in the draft, since a bad move can
hamstring such an organization for decades. 

The Nick Swisher trade is a very good
example.  Now, the Yankees
acquired him from the White Sox for next to nothing, but even if he
doesn’t work out, the team isn’t completely sunk.  The Yankees
technically have six outfielders since acquiring Eric Hinske from the
Pirates, so they don’t really need Swisher and could easily trade him if
he starts to decline. 
Compare that to the Delmon Young trade (I know, I know, they’re not
really the same since the Young deal had a much higher risk, but bear
with me).  The Twins gave up a lot to
acquire Young and he has yet to live up to his potential.  To be fair,
Young isn’t the only terrible hitter on this team (and he hasn’t even
entered the prime of his career yet), but he needs to put up better
power numbers to make the trade worthwhile (and to justify giving him
so much playing time).  At this point, though, it’s hard to argue that
the Twins wouldn’t be a better team
with Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett.  Worse yet, his poor performance
and perceived attitude problems mean the Twins would have a tough time
getting anything of value for him should they consider themselves
buyers the trade deadline.  Like it or not, they’re pretty much stuck
and simply have to hope that Young will eventually start to develop
some power.

By the way, I tend to consider the
Young trade karmic retribution for the A.J. Pierzynski trade. 
Although, when you think about it, the Young trade is even worse. 
Pierzynski was at least competent both at the plate and in the field,
and Giants fans only had to put up with him for one season.  Delmon, on
the other hand, is the gift that keeps on giving.
 

Oddest Game Ever

  • Twins ground into five double plays, still beat Pirates 8-2

beardo_perk.jpgWell, not really.  But this was a statistically strange game for the Twins.  I mean, how in the hell do you ground into five double plays and still manage to score eight runs?  Obviously a good number of those came with a runner on third and nobody out.  I guess if you’re going to ground into a lot of double-plays, it should always be with less than one out.  And a runner on third.  While it’s certainly an unusual occurrence, it isn’t unheard of and isn’t any kind of record or anything.  The Tigers also grounded into 5 double plays on the way to a 13-8 victory over the Blue Jays on April 16, 1996.

Joe Mauer went 4-for-4 with an RBI double, but no home runs.  Slacker.  Although, he was robbed of his last chance to hit one when Brendan Harris grounded into an inning-ending double play in the eighth.  Right now, Mauer is batting .429/.497/.756 with 13 home runs.  While it’s unlikely that Mauer will finish the season batting over .400 (he is a catcher, after all), he will most certainly be in contention for his third batting title as long as he remains healthy.  Which is important because the Twins are probably going to try to sign him to a long-term deal, and obviously his numbers are going to have a significant effect on his value.  The front office is obviously aware of the PR nightmare that would ensue if they failed to re-sign their native son, not to mention that they can’t seriously expect to contend for a World Series title if they keep letting their top talent go. 

Glen Perkins was pretty effective, if not exactly dominant, in his first start since coming off the DL with elbow inflammation.  He surrendered seven hits, but only two runs, and struck out four through six innings.  His one mistake was to Nyjer Morgan, who blasted a two-run homer that cut the Twins’ lead in half.  Paul Maholm wasn’t exactly sharp, but he also got a lot of tough breaks.  Delwyn Young lost a Joe Crede fly ball in the lights for a Dome double that scored a run.  And then there was that bizarre stikezone.

One of the things I hate the most about the Twins’ broadcast team (both radio and tv) is their obsession with pitch counts.  Well, that and their inability to pronounce Muhollam Mahalo Maholm’s name correctly.  Obviously they had to bring it up last night, since Perk was on a relatively short leash.  This has been the subject of heated debate for years, and Rob Neyer wrote an interesting piece that sort of defends the concept behind the pitch count.  I actually agree that pitch counts are unnecessary, but not for the same reasons as Bert Blyleven.  Yes, they’re arbitrary and probably don’t really help prevent injury (it’s a lot more important to avoid a dramatic increase in workload, but that’s for another post), but they’re also, well, arbitrary.  That is, unless they’re dealing with a rookie, most managers don’t really adhere to them too strictly and tend to let the starter pitch as long as he feels comfortable.  If it’s the eighth inning and a starter is near 100 pitches, he’ll probably be allowed to go over that limit as long as he doesn’t feel fatigued.  If it’s the fifth inning and a starter is near 100 pitches, then he’s probably laboring and should be taken out anyway.  So the furor over pitch counts is a little overblown.

  • Speaking of injures

Thumbnail image for pridie.jpgDenard Span was placed on the 15-day DL.  He has vestibular neuritis, which if I understand correctly, is essentially inflammation of a nerve in the middle ear caused by some sort of infection.  Apparently it isn’t serious and he is expected to make a full recovery, but he’ll need to be out at least the next few games.  In the meantime, Jason Pridie has been recalled from AAA and there’s a pretty good scouting report on him here.  Most Twins fans probably remember Pridie as the guy who blew the save for Joe Nathan against Toronto last year, when he misplayed a single into a triple.  Pridie came over as part of the Delmon Young trade, and doesn’t project to be anything more than a fourth outfielder at best.  It isn’t likely that he’ll see much playing time, and will probably just be used as a defensive substitute in later innings.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Jesse Crain has been optioned to AAA Rochester.  He hasn’t pitched in the minor leagues in nearly five years, and was obviously stunned by the news.  Crain hasn’t even been marginally effective since May and the Twins really couldn’t afford to wait and hope he would work through his issues any longer.  It was either that or release him, and obviously the organization isn’t ready to give up on him just yet.  The Twins will go with only eleven pitchers for now, since they need to carry extra bench players at least as long as Denard Span is on the DL.  The starters have been averaging about six innings per start this season, so it might not be necessary to carry more than six relievers.  The only real issue is that Matt Guerrier, who’s already overworked, might have to carry an even heavier workload with fewer relievers in the ‘pen.  However, it isn’t as though Crain was taking a lot of work away from Matty G. in the first place and the Twins may decide to call up another pitcher once Span is activated. 

Griffey Hearts the Dome

843-831222.standalone.prod_affiliate.5.jpgThe last time the Mariners were in town, Ken Griffey Jr. hit the eighth Opening Day home run of his career, tying him with Frank Robinson for the league record.  This time, he hit a two-run bomb that tied the game and sparked a Seattle rally against the Twins’ relief corpse that stopped the Mariners’ six-game losing streak.  Griffey has always hit Twins’ pitching well, and loves to hit in the Metrodome, where he’s a lifetime .287/.358/.581  with a career .968 OPS.  His 26 home runs in the Dome are far and away the most he’s hit in any visiting ballpark, and his career total of 42 homers against the Twins are the most he’s hit against any opponent.  While the pitching staff has done a pretty good job of keeping Junior off the base paths so far this year (he’s batting an anemic .154/315/.385), the two homers they’ve surrendered have turned out to be kind of important.

Poor Nick Blackburn.  He baffled the Mariners for seven innings, matching a career-high sixmedium_blackburn.jpg strikeouts.  He exited the game in the seventh, after having thrown 99 pitches, with a 2-0 lead and was on his way to earning his third victory of the season.  Unfortunately, the bullpen had other ideas.  Lefty Jose Mijares walked Jose Lopez (who almost never walks) on four pitches before throwing a fastball low and inside, right where Griffey likes it.  He was then lifted in favor of Jesse Crain, who failed to retire any of the hitters he faced.  When it was all over, what had been a 2-0 shutout became a 4-2 deficit.  Craig Breslow surrendered another homer in the ninth, a solo shot to that pesky Jose Lopez, just to ensure the game would be out of reach.  The offense tried to rally in the bottom of the ninth, when Joe Mauer poked a single up the middle to put the Twins within two runs and Brandon Morrow proceeded to walk the bases full, but Brendan Harris grounded out to third and killed any hopes of pulling off a sweep.  I suppose it was too much to ask for the Twins to win three games in a row and to finally return to the .500 mark.  But before the bullpen blew up they were well on their way to doing exactly that.  The decision to pull Blackburn after seven innings is a bit puzzling, he was still a bit shy of the 100 pitch mark and didn’t appear to be tiring.  I’m sure that Gardy probably didn’t want a repeat of last Sunday’s performance against the Royals, when he left Scott Baker in a little too long and squandered a four-run lead.  Still, unless Blackburn himself felt he was done for the night, he probably should have been allowed to at least try to pitch one more inning.  It’s the only way to ensure that at least the bullpen won’t screw things up.

Further proof, as if any were needed, that the win is an overrated stat:  Frenchy Liriano was awful on Saturday, surrendering five runs on six hits in five innings, but the offense provided a large enough margin of error that he picked up the win.  Blackburn pitched one of the best games of his career, but got a measly two runs in support, and therefore got the shaft.

Good Riddance to the Boo Jays

FireFlameBurst.jpg.w560h747.jpgSorry, Jays fans, but you would feel the same way if your team had been so completely and thoroughly embarrassed by one pesky team over the years.  I can’t say I expected the Twins to actually win this game, since they have never beaten Roy Halladay.  Ever.  But things were much, much closer than the final score would indicate.  Francisco Liriano has started to pitch like the old Frankie (or at least the one who came up in August last year), giving up one earned run in six innings, though the earned run was sort of questionable as Brendan Harris wasn’t playing deeply enough to catch the relay throw from Denard Span, allowing Jose Bautista to easily advance to third on a deep fly ball by Marco Scutaro and then score on a single.  Other than a couple of doubles and a walk, Frankie was nearly spotless and struck out five Blue Jays before exiting the game after the sixth. 

Unfortunately, the bullpen brought gas cans to the mound in the seventh.  Three different relievers combined for seven runs on six hits in that inning, including a grand slam to Kevin Millar given up by R.A. Dickey (on the very first pitch, nonetheless).  Matt Guerrier started things off with a two-run homer to Marco Scutaro.  When he gave up a single to Vernon Wells, lefty Craig Breslow was brought in to face Adam Lind.  Breslow proceeded to allow another run on a wild pitch and walk two more batters, loading the bases. He was then lifted in favor of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (who had just pitched nearly three innings in relief the night before) who promptly hung a knuckleball, and there went the ballgame.

The pitching staff has been roughed up a bit in the first few weeks of the season, but I still think it’s too early to panic just yet.  The starting rotation has at least shown signs that they will recover from their early struggles.  Glen Perkins has been the lone bright spot in the rotation so far this season, Francisco Liriano has rebounded nicely from his first two rough starts, and righties Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker will probably bounce back as well.  Nick Blackburn, well, he is what he is, though he hasn’t exactly been terrible this season, either.  He pitches to contact and will probably always give up a lot of runs (he’s a lot like Carlos Silva), but he should at least pitch a solid 6-7 innings per game.  The bullpen, however, gives me cause for concern.  The Twins do have a reliable set-up man in Jesse Crain and a decent seventh-inning guy in Matt Guerrier, but the rest of the ‘pen is kind of a mess.  Neither Philip Humber nor Luis Ayala have shown much this year, and Ayala will probably be released sometime by June (if not before then).  R.A. Dickey was effective as a reliever for the Mariners last year, but a knuckleballer probably isn’t the best choice in tight situations.  Lefty Craig Breslow was a pleasant surprise last year, holding lefties to a .183/.230/.323 line and righties to .221/.230/.233, but has struggled to even find the plate in his five relief appearances so far this season.  There isn’t a large sample size to draw from, but Breslow hasn’t shown a penchant for wildness thus far in his career, so this might just be a bit of a hiccup.

Update: apparently the Twins have gotten sick of Humber and his penchant for leaving his curveball up over the plate and have designated him for assignment.  They have picked up Juan Morillo from Colorado to take Humber’s spot in the bullpen.  Morillo hasn’t fared much better than Humber so far (he has an ERA of 11.42 in 8.2 innings), but his 96 mph fastball is very intriguing.  He throws very hard, but has issues with his command (he had an 80 walk season in 2006).  Maybe pitching coach Rick Anderson will be able to work his magic and get him to throw strikes.  At the very least, Morillo will keep a spot warm for either Jose Mijares or Anthony Swarzak.

Is Pitching Effectively Really So Much to Ask?

slowey-fail.jpgRemember all that stuff I said about Kevin Slowey earlier?  That he is the new Brad Radke and will be a dark horse candidate for the AL Cy Young this year?  Well, never mind (And thanks for making me look like a complete idiot there, Kev.  Lord knows I don’t need any help with that!).  As Joe Christensen has helpfully pointed out, Kevin Slowey is looking a lot more like Livan Hernandez than Brad Radke.  He gave up five runs on thirteen hits in five innings against Toronto last night, and has given up ten runs in twenty-two hits in his two starts thus far.  At this rate, he’ll surpass Livo’s grand total of 257 hits surrendered last season sometime around August.    

The bullpen wasn’t exactly spectacular last night, either.  Even though Slowey struggled, he did exit the game with a very slim lead. Which the bullpen (specifically Luis Ayala) promptly coughed up.  Ayala has been doing his best Juan Rincon impression this year, and by that I mean he sucks.  He’s given up four runs on ten hits in five appearances so far, one of which was a two-run bomb to Lyle Overbay in the eighth that put the Jays on top for good.  I have to wonder what he was doing pitching the eighth in the first place, though, especially since Jesse Crain is starting to look like the dominant reliever he was before having shoulder surgery in 2007.  Ayala gave up a run in the seventh that was charged to Matt Guerrier (since he put the runner on in the first place) and was being hit pretty hard.  And yet for some reason Ron Gardenhire thought it was a good idea to put him out there again, even though he had just threatened to cough up the lead one batter ago.  Unfortunately, he made good on that threat in the eighth, and the Twins ended up losing a game they really should have won.  

Last night’s game, as painful as it was to watch, did have a little bit of a silver lining.  Jason Kubel hit his first home run of the season, a bomb off of Jesse Litsch in the second inning.  Denard Span seems to be putting his awful ST campaign behind him, as he went 2-for-4 with a walk and a stolen base and is now hitting .310/.444/.448 in the lead off spot.  And R.A. Dickey managed to retire all four Jays he faced, which is something the entire pitching staff had failed to do up to that point.  So the Twins might actually have one reliable reliever in the bullpen after all. 

And, in honor of outgoing Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire (and because I need cheering up), here is a collection of his best quotes:

My personal favorite?  When asked if he was worried about his team getting lazy against non-playoff bound opponents down the stretch, Lemaire responded: “Worry is part of our life.  We wake up, we worry.  We go to bed, we worry.  And when we dream, we dream about being worried.”  And that is exactly how the pitching staff (and Gardy’s mismanagement of it) is making me feel right now.

Sometimes it’s good to be a fan of a small-market team

alex-rodriguez-estates-a-rod.jpg
The uproar over Alex Rodriguez and his bum hip has made me realize how nice it is to cheer for a team nobody cares about.  Joe Mauer, Joe Nathan, and Boof Bonser have all had their share of ailments so far (some of them devastating), and yet the mainstream media has barely even noticed.  While ESPN has been covering the A-Rod drama nearly 24/7 and obsessing over what Brian Cashman needs to do to ensure that the Yankees make the playoffs, we here in Twins Territory have had to keep up with the progress of our injured players through the local papers (both of them).  The injuries to all of these players, like the injury to A-Rod, could potentially cost the Twins the season.  But at least I don’t have to hear about it.

There is one other benefit to having little media coverage of your team:  nobody cares if they lose.  It’s true; the Twins could go on a 20-game losing streak (God forbid) and ESPN would barely even mention it.  Could you imagine what it would be like if that were the Yankees or the Red Sox?  tWWL would be in full-on panic mode, with all of their analysts talking nonstop about what kind of fire sale the team needs to have.  They would spend hours agonizing over what went wrong, and calling for the firing of everyone in the front office.  In some ways I kind of felt bad for Yankee fans last year.  Every time I turned on the television, I had to hear about how they weren’t going to make the playoffs and that they were a laughingstock because they spent so much money to finish in third place.  I can’t imagine Yankee fans really enjoyed having that thrown up in their faces all the time.      

Oh, sometimes it can be difficult to be a Twins fan.  You often have to watch your favorite players walk away once they become too expensive.  But when you realize that Torii Hunter is getting paid $90 million to hit about 25 homers a season for the Angels, you appreciate the $7.2 million Jason Kubel even more.  After awhile you tend to think of your favorite players as your children.  It’s fun to watch them come up through the system and develop into well-rounded individuals, but eventually they have to grow up and leave the nest.  You wish them well, but you know that it’s in the best interests of everyone involved if you just let them go.

Besides, you always have more babies at home to worry about.

mp_main_wide_CarlosGomez452.jpgI am not trying to disparage large-market teams in any way.  Nor do I think the fans of such franchises should abandon their beloved teams and become Twins fans (though that would be nice.  The Twins could always use more fans).  I just don’t really want the Twins to ever have the sort of media coverage those other teams endure.  I realize that the sort of unlimited financial resources these franchises enjoy comes from overexposure by the mainstream media, and I admit that sometimes I wish the Twins had that kind of money.  Still, I don’t think I could take it if I had to hear about my teams’ shortcomings every time I turn on the friggin’ television.  Obviously I don’t need any help getting all worked up over nothing. 

  • Twins shutout Reds 3-0

Perk.jpgThis game wasn’t all that interesting, either, except for the fact that Glen Perkins has been pitching well.  I realize that it’s only spring training, but this is still good news.  Perk was very inconsistent last year, to say the least, with September being his worst month by far.  He didn’t make it past the fifth inning in any of his starts and was having trouble locating his pitches.  Considering that he is projected to be the fourth starter (Blackburn has knee issues and the Twins want to take a conservative approach), he’ll have to start pitching more like he did in August.

And Jason Kubel had an RBI single, extending the good spring he’s been having so far.

  • Joe Nathan Aching Shoulder Watch:

Nathan threw a full bullpen session the other day and reportedly feels fine, so I’m calling off the watch for now.  He even said it himself:   “I haven’t felt this good in four years”, whatever that means.  Also, Nick Blackburn’s sore knee apparently isn’t bothering him anymore.  The starting rotation doesn’t have much depth so this is obviously very good news.  While Philip Humber or R. A. Dickey could potentially fill out a spot if necessary, whether or not they could do so competently is another matter.  Anthony Swarzak and Rob Delaney look like very promising prospects, but the organization feels like they need more seasoning in the minors.  The same could be said about Jason Jones (who will probably end up being a reliever, anyway).  While I initially thought the Twins could probably get away with an eleven-man pitching staff, maybe there’s a need to carry twelve pitchers after alll.

Oooooh, I almost forgot.  Our old friend Dennys Reyes, aka the Big Sweat, has signed with the Cardinals for two years and $3 million, plus incentives.  Reyes was mostly used as a situational lefty during his time with the Twins, and he’s been a very good one at that.  The Cardinals had one of the worst bullpens in the league last season (or so I’ve been told), and this signing gives them some much-needed depth at a reasonable price.  He isn’t going to solve all their problems, though, since he tends to be shaky against righties and probably wouldn’t make a good closer.  

  • Wild defeat Sharks in OT, 4-3

This game is worth
mentioning because it is going to go down as one of the greatest in
franchise history.  The Wild were down 3-0 in the middle of the second
period, after playing so terribly throughout the first.  It looked as
though they were going to lose their fifth straight game and fall
completely out of the Western Conference playoff picture.  I was about
to change the channel when captain Mikko Koivu deflected a shot into the net for the first goal, which ignited the unbelievable rally.  Minutes later, defenseman Kim Johnsson found Pierre-Marc Bouchard all alone a the blue line, and he beat Brian Boucher over the shoulder for the second Wild goal.  There was no stopping the Wild after that, as they kept pressuring the Sharks until they finally gave in.

Of course, Boucher inadvertently helped them out with some sloppy goaltending (and bad ice):

Zidlicky was simply trying to clear the puck into the offensive zone and head off to the bench for a change.  He had no idea he’d scored until he saw his goal on the jumbotron.  I doubt the Wild would’ve been able to stage such a comeback if Evgeni Nabokov were between the pipes, but I don’t care.  This team hasn’t won a game since they beat the Blackhawks on Feburary 22nd at United Center.  I will take a win of any kind at this point.

The Captain saved the best for last, though, when he scored the game-winning goal with a mere 20 seconds left in overtime:

http://wild.nhl.tv/team/embed.jsp?hlg=20082009,2,963&event=S.J816

Yep, that’s about how I reacted, too.

The Wild are now one point away from making the playoffs, with about 19 games left to play.  I still don’t think they’re going to make it, but I’ll be happy if they just finish the season with a winning record.

More Spring Training Notes: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  • The bad news is…

boof.jpgThe Star Tribune is reporting that Boof Bonser is going to be out for the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery today. Apparently doctors found a torn labrum and rotator cuff, which is odd since two different MRIs showed no structural damage.  More details will be released once a formal announcement is made.  This is a major setback for a guy who has the potential to be a dominant reliever (yes, you read that right).  Yes, Boof has had his problems, which I’ve documented here, but he does have that 96-mph heater.  And that nasty curve.  At least he did, we shall see how his arm recovers after the surgery.

Update:  It’s official, Bonser will be out for six months to eight months following surgery to repair a partially torn labrum and rotator cuff.  And the Twins have apparently ended their pursuit of Juan Cruz, so just ignore the paragraph below.  I guess you can’t have everything.

So where does this leave the bullpen?  Well, the Twins might step up their efforts to acquirejuan_cruz.jpg Juan Cruz in a sign-then-trade deal with the Diamondbacks.  Cruz would be a worthwhile investment anyway, even if the Twins had to sacrifice a draft pick by signing him as a free agent.  The farm system is pretty well stocked anyway, and they are going to receive a supplemental pick when Dennys Reyes signs with another team.  The hard-throwing righty is a strikeout machine, and he’s put up very good numbers everywhere he’s pitched. *sigh* They’ll probably go out and get Odalis Perez instead. 

Otherwise, it gives Philip Humber, R. A. Dickey and Jason Jones the chance to compete for the final spot.  Humber probably has the best stuff of the three and therefore has the best chance of earning the job.  Dickey is a knuckleballer, and although Ron Gardenhire has expressed a desire to have such a pitcher in the Dome, I would be extremely surprised to see Dickey make the active roster.  The catching staff doesn’t have much (if any) experience with knuckleballers, and have had trouble handling him.  Jason Jones is an interesting prospect who was plucked from the Yankees organization during the Rule V draft, but he isn’t quite major-league ready (the Yankees don’t seem very interested in him so he’ll probably remain a Twin even if he doesn’t make the team).  Jones is a soft-tossing righty who is supposed to be a control pitcher, but walks way too many batters to earn that designation.  He would benefit from more seasoning in the minor leagues, where the coaching staff works closely with young pitchers to develop pinpoint control. 

  • The good news is…

joe_mauer.jpgJoe Mauer took light batting practice yesterday and didn’t feel any pain in his back or abdominals afterwards.  And by ‘batting practice’ I mean he hit 25 balls off a tee.  Mauer’s recovery has been slow so far, but has been progressing steadily so it’s very likely that he’ll be ready for Opening Day.  This is obviously great news, since his bat is so valuable in the lineup.

By the way, the most unintentionally funny quote about Joe comes from his buddy, Justin Morneau. When asked about the prospect of the catcher being signed to a long-term deal, the other half of the M&M boys said: “I told Joe if he ever leaves me, I’ll never speak to him again.” 

The Twins play their first exhibition game tonight against the Red Sox, and Glen Perkins is supposed to start.  The lineups are posted here.  I’m not going to be able to see it, since I don’t have MLB.tv or the MLB Network, but I’ll get to listen to it on the radio.  Whatever, I’m just glad that baseball is back.

  • Get excited, Vikings fans

Your long search for a decent quarterback is finally over.  The Wilfs’ solution to the problem is to bring in…wait for it… Sage Rosenfels.  Yay.  Sadly, he probably would be the second-best QB in the division, behind the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers.  Unless of course, the Lions’ brain trust decides to do something crazy like draft Matthew Stafford or something. 

Enjoy your new football team, Los Angeles.

Spring Training Link Bonanza

DSC04932.JPGSpring is here!  Although you wouldn’t know it here in Southern Canada Minny.  Pitchers and catchers officially reported to Fort Myers yesterday, but most of the players on the 40-man roster have already shown up.  The few stragglers still have until Friday to report to camp.  It might not be as exciting as the news coming out of the Yankees’ camp, but here’s what’s been reported so far:

Joe Nathan isn’t happy with Alex Rodriguez.  Or any of the other admitted ‘roiders for that matter.

The bullpen is determined to not suck this year.

Boof Bonser has tendinitis in his shoulder, and is still feeling pain despite having a cortisone shot.  This is bad news for someone whose spot in the bullpen is already in jeopardy.

Francisco Liriano apparently has decided not to pitch in the World Baseball Classic. He was supposed to pitch for the  Dominican Republic, but would rather focus on getting ready for the upcoming season. 

Brian Buscher is ready to compete for the starting third base job.

Corey Koskie is trying to make a comeback.  He’s hoping to win a spot on the roster for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic and draw interest from major league teams.  I wish him the best.  

Joe Mauer has been working out, but he hasn’t participated in any baseball activities yet. He’s still feeling some lingering soreness from his operation to remove a kidney obstruction.  He’ll probably miss some spring training games, but is still projected to be ready by Opening Day.

Meanwhile,  Jose Morales is hoping that Mauer’s recovery opens a spot for him on the roster.  He’s struggled with injuries of his own after tearing the ligaments in his ankle while running the bases in his first major league game.  He’s not the catcher of the future, that would be Wilson Ramos, but he could serve as a competent backup should the Twins part with Mike Redmond after the season.

And sadly, former outfielder Ted Uhlaender passed away from a heart attack last Thursday.  He was 68.  Uhlaender made his big-league debut for the Twins in 1965, and played with them for four seasons until being traded to the Indians in 1969. He once led the Pacific League in hitting, and played in the 1972 World Series for the Cincinnati Reds.  Most recently he was working as a scout for the San Francisco Giants, until he fell ill with multiple myeloma. He is survived by his wife Karen, daughter Katie, and son Will.

Maybe the Twins need to get in on this PED thing

mp_main_wide_CarlosGomez452.jpgOk, maybe not, but clearly the offense needs a little help.  Baseball prospectus has recently projected the Twins to finish with a 79-83 record, second in the division behind the Cleveland Indians.  Their reasoning is pretty sound, as historically teams that have had a great deal of success based on a statistical anomaly (such as the Twins’ high BA with RISP last season) tend to fall to the norm the next season.  It’s not likely that the Twins are going to repeat last year’s offensive production, in which they scored 829 runs on 111 home runs.  However, if some of their young talent begins to show its potential to hit for power (particularly Delmon Young and Jason Kubel), then the Twins will likely win 90 games.  Otherwise, 79 wins sounds about right.

The front office hasn’t made any moves to upgrade offensively, and it appears that they’re gambling on the fact that the young talent will improve rather than regress.  For once, I’m actually not going to criticize Bill Smith for this, since there hasn’t been much out on the market that looked like it would be a good fit.  There were rumors that the Twins were going to trade for either Garrett Atkins or Kevin Kouzmanoff, but neither would be a significant enough upgrade at third to be worth the cost (reported to be Kevin Slowey AND Denard Span, plus a top prospect).  Casey Blake wanted too much money, and also wasn’t enough of an upgrade over the Harris/Buscher platoon.  Joe Crede would have been a great fit, since he would provide the right-handed power bat the Twins need as well as Gold-Glove caliber defense.   However, his health is a major concern, and considering that he is seeking a one-year deal worth $7 million the Twins are probably wise to pass.

rondell_white.jpgCome to think of it, certain Twins players have experimented with banned substances in the past.  And failed miserably at it, too. Suspected doper Bret Boone was acquired down the stretch in 2005, and batted an anemic .170 in 14 games before being released.  Howie Clark and Rondell White were both known HGH users, and both were busts during their tenure with the team.  Obviously the performance-enhancing substances these guys were using weren’t  having the desired effect.  But then again, all of these guys were suspected users while they were on other teams and had probably stopped by the time they signed with the Twins. 

Apparently the front office has it backwards: they need to get these guys while they’re still using and then release them after they get caught.

Actually, the only player who was busted for using banned substances while he was with thejuan_rincon.jpg team was relief pitcher Juan Rincon.  Rincon was one of the league’s premier set-up men, until he tested positive for a banned substance in 2005.  Of course, he denied that he was taking anything stronger than a supplement he bought over-the-counter at GNC.  But considering that he really hasn’t been the same pitcher since serving his suspension, I’m not so sure. He was released by the Twins last season, after posting an awful 66 ERA+ in 24 appearances.  Now, he is the Detroit Tigers’ problem, having signed a minor-league deal with the ballclub during the offseason.

Well, I’m not going to throw in the towel on the season just yet, especially since it hasn’t even begun!  And who knows, maybe our guys will exceed everyone’s expectations and win another World Series title.  After all, baseball is a crazy game and anything can (and will) happen.  The Twins weren’t projected to win more than 79 games last season, and they won 88 (and nearly made the playoffs, too).  Maybe they can do it again, even without any umm…help.

The Mets just can’t catch a break

  • Will there ever be a rainbow?

First, there was the collapse at the end of the season in which they squandered a 3.5 game lead over the Phillies with only seventeen games left to play.  Then, owner Fred Wilpon got taken for a ride by a smooth-talking conman (not named Luis Castillo for once).  If that wasn’t bad enough, Citigroup is mulling pulling out of its $400 million deal for the naming rights to their new ballpark due to public outrage over all of the government bailout money they have received.

And then there is the hideous new logo of said ballpark:

citi-field-logo.gif

Yuck.

And now Ambiorix Burgos is apparently making a name for himself as the worst human ever.  Between all of the injuries and legal problems, one wonders if Burgos will ever set foot on the pitching rubber again.  The Royals’ front office took a lot of heat when they traded him to the Mets for Brian Bannister.  Usually it’s the other way around: a team gets criticized for trading a middle reliever for a starting pitcher.  But Burgos had a filthy, 98-mph split-fingered fastball that made the AL’s best hitters look like fools.  Most scouts weren’t too impressed with Bannister’s stuff, and thought the Royals were making a huge mistake.  Nobody could understand why they were so eager to get rid of Burgos.  Well, now we know:  clearly the man is insane.  This is also why I’m not so quick to criticize the moves Dayton Moore has made this year.  On paper. the deals for Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs look horrible.  But who knows?  Maybe there’s something we don’t know about Leo Nunez and Ramon Ramirez; maybe they’re both injury-prone and/or crazy, too.  Only time will tell if we will be laughing with the Royals, or at them.

  • Twins reach agreement with Matt Guerrier, avoid arbitration

Matt_Guerrier.jpgMatt Guerrier and the Twins organization have reached an agreement on a one-year, $1.475 million deal and will avoid an arbitration hearing.  Now that Guerrier has signed, the Twins have once again avoided going into arbitration with any of their players (Jason Kubel was the only other arbitration-eligible player they had).  This is probably more money than Guerrier is actually worth considering the season he had last year, but he’s been reliable for the most part and is worth keeping around.

I think Guerrier is certainly a better pitcher than his numbers last year would indicate. Although at 31 he isn’t likely to repeat the stellar numbers he had in 2007, he will probably bounce back from his mediocre 2008 campaign in which he posted an ERA+ of 78 and an FIP of 5.08 (and had 4 blown saves on top of it). Fatigue definitely played a role in his decline, as he was much better before the All-Star break than after.  Another part of the problem is that he tends to struggle in big spots, and just isn’t cut out to be the set-up man.  When Pat Neshek went down with an elbow injury, Guerrier was kind of thrust into the eighth-inning role and he struggled mightily down the stretch.  However, it looks as though other options for the set-up job are starting to emerge from inside the organization, so I don’t think Guerrier will have to shoulder so much of the burden.  If this is the case, Matt Guerrier should bounce back nicely and will probably put up numbers similar to those in 2005 & 2006.

  • Ok, so maybe Bill Smith isn’t that dumb after all

Yeah, remember that trade for Jarrod Washburn that I was so upset aboutNever mind.  It looks like Bill Smith actually has some sense after all.  But I had a good reason to be concerned:Ponson.jpg  the trades Smith has made haven’t been very impressive so far.  And all the talk that the Twins were interested in acquiring a veteran presence on the mound worried me; apparently they hadn’t learned their lessons from Sidney Ponson, Ramon Ortiz and Livan Hernandez. I know that it’s unrealistic to expect that all of the kids are going to perform as well as they did last year, and at least a couple of them are going to come back down to earth.  Still, the Twins already have a number of cheaper, and better, options within the organization should one of the starters fail.  Boof Bonser and Philip Humber, who are both out of options, could fill out a spot at the bottom of the rotation if necessary.  Heck, calling up Anthony Slama or Rob Delaney would even make more sense than acquiring yet another washed-up veteran pitcher.

Livo.jpgThere is a misguided tendency for a lot of organizations, not just the Twins, who have a very young team to go out and get cheap veteran players for the sake of having a veteran presence in the clubhouse. Unless these veterans are any good, though, this is simply a waste of valuable resources.  The Twins wasted a combined $17 million on the likes of Livan Hernandez, Mike Lamb, Adam Everett, and Craig Monroe last season.  None of them, with the exception of Everett who had to replace an injured Alexi Casilla, were with the team anymore by the end of August.  That money could have been better spent upgrading the injury-plagued bullpen, or even on long-term deals for some of their young talent.  An organization that has limited financial resources like the Twins cannot afford to fritter them away on players who offer little else other than “leadership” or a “veteran presence”. 

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