January 2009

Weekend update: Crede, Tolbert, White Sox, Super Bowl

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

The Twins plan to check Joe Crede’s progress again next week after having two scouts at his 45-minute session Wednesday. Crede’s program calls for baseball activities every other day, with core training on the other days.

I’ll admit, I got a little carried away Friday, touching base with scouts in search of another Crede update. “What is anybody supposed to glean from a guy who is 75 percent taking BP?” one replied.

Fair point. I’ll check back again in a few days.

(*) Twins infielder Matt Tolbert hit a three-run homer Friday night, helping lead Tigres de Aragua to a 7-3 victory over Caracas in the decisive Game 7 of the Venezuelan Winter League finals.

Tolbert wasn’t playing much earlier in the playoffs, and the Twins actually checked to see if he wanted to come home. No thanks, he said. He wanted to see this through.

He wound up starting at third base in the final five games of the championship series. He was batting .176, entering Game 7, but went 1-for-2 with two walks, with that big home run coming in the second inning.

Next comes the Caribbean Series, and Aragua can remake its roster into a virtual Venezuelan All-Star team. No word yet on whether Tolbert will be included.

If Game 7 marks the end of his winter league season, he’ll be heading to spring training on a high note, as he looks to compete for a utility spot on the Twins’ Opening Day roster.

(*) The White Sox are holding their annual SoxFest this weekend, and it’s interesting following the coverage. Their fans seem restless too, as the defending AL Central champs have yet to make an offseason move to leave people overly excited.

Sound familiar? A quick Sox refresher:

Gone from 2008: Crede, Orlando Cabrera, Javier Vazquez, Nick Swisher, Juan Uribe, Toby Hall and Ken Griffey, Jr.

New for 2009: RHP Bartolo Colon, INF Wilson Betemit, INF Brent Lillibridge, INF Jayson Nix, INF Dayan Viciedo.

Today, White Sox GM Kenny Williams told the Associated Press he’s not chasing any high-priced free agents.

“We have learned some tough lessons … throwing as much talent against the wall is not necessarily the answer,” he said. “Things have to fit in place. Players have to complement one another and they have to be in that clubhouse pulling for the same goal.”

The White Sox are trying to get younger and more athletic. In this economy, they’re also getting cheaper.

(*) Finally, as you watch the Super Bowl on Sunday (or at least the commercials), be on the lookout for the new Twins ad.

The “Twins Territory” campaign has won numerous awards over the years, and they seem pretty fired up about this commercial.

It’s titled “Trucks” and features several players (GoGo, Mauer, Morneau & Co.) pulling up to deliver materials to the Target Field construction site.

Insert your own punch lines below.

A closer look at the Mijares situation

Friday, January 30th, 2009

The Twins had seen flashes of brilliance from Jose Mijares before promoting him from Class AA to the big leagues last September. But as he reeled off those 10 impressive outings, posting a 0.87 ERA, insiders cautioned that the young lefthander needed to remain focused.

Mijares, 24, has struggled with his weight in the past. The Twins can remember when Rich Garces posted a 1.59 ERA in September 1990, at age 19. He seemed a lock to make the Opening Day roster the following spring, but came to camp overweight and didn’t return to the big leagues until 1993.

Last winter, Mijares got into a car accident and fractured his pitching elbow. From all accounts, it was an innocent mistake — a one-car accident with no alcohol involved, but it did happen in the wee hours of the night.

After opening the 2008 season on the 60-day disabled list, Mijares wound up becoming the eighth-inning force the Twins had been searching for since Pat Neshek got injured in May.

He maintained that focus through the regular season in the Venezuelan Winter League, going 4-1 with a 1.40 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 12 walks in 25 2/3 innings pitched. He helped lead Tigres de Aragua to the playoffs.

He opened the postseason with a one-inning, three strikeout performance on Jan. 2, but took a loss on Jan. 4. After a scoreless appearance on Jan. 5, Mijares had a particularly brutal outing on Jan. 7, facing four batters without getting an out as Lara roared back from an 3-0 deficit to win 4-3.

From there, the details are fuzzy. Depends on who you talk to, Twins officials say. But Mijares had a feud with Aragua manager Buddy Bailey, a no-nonsense skipper who has butted heads with players in the past.

Mijares left the team and didn’t return for a couple days. Bailey didn’t use him in another game and cut him from the playoff roster. (One of the pitchers Aragua added for its playoff run was former Twin Juan Rincon. De Tigres will play Game 7 of the VWL championship series tonight.)

“We’re happy he pitched winter ball; he had a good regular season,” Twins General Manager Bill Smith said.

But one measure of an athlete is the way he handles adversity. Mijares has a history of letting things spiral after they start to go wrong.

It’s one thing to cruise through a great month with the Twins, making a surprising impact as they fight for a playoff berth. But it’s another to bounce back when things go bad, the way they did for Matt Guerrier and even Joe Nathan at times in the second half.

During November and December, the reports on Mijares were glowing. He was throwing hard, getting the work he needed after missing all that time in April and May. He had good control, and he was keeping his weight in check.

Now, the Twins are taking a wait-and-see approach, wondering what kind of shape Mijares will be in when he reports to spring training.

As for walking out on the Aragua team, Smith said, “I’m not sure [Mijares] handled it as well as anyone would have liked.”

Then Smith was asked if Mijares is a lock to make the Twins’ Opening Day roster.

“No he’s not,” he said. “If he comes to camp thinking he’s a lock for our bullpen, he’ll probably be in [Class AAA] Rochester after our first cuts. If he pitches the way he did in September, he has a good chance of making our club.”

Clearly, the Twins are trying to send a message here. They see great promise in Mijares, and they don’t want to him to turn into another Rich Garces.

Thursday evening update: Ayala, Crede, Mijares

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

After breaking off their negotiations with free agent reliever Eric Gagne earlier this week, the Twins continue to explore relief options on the trade and free agent market.

I’ve heard no specifics on their trade pursuits, but I was told they’ve had discussions about free agent reliever Luis Ayala, who posted a 5.71 ERA last year in 81 appearances for the Nationals and Mets.

Ayala, a 31-year-old righthander, did post a 2.66 ERA and 3.19 ERA in his previous two seasons with the Nationals and made $1.7 million in 2008.

(*) The Twins actually had two scouts watching Joe Crede’s workout on Wednesday in Arizona — West supervisor Sean Johnson and area scout Ted Williams. The Twins’ Williams is no relation to The Splendid Splinter.

Spoke to several Twins officials about Crede, and it sounds like they need to see him more times before they’ll feel safe investing millions of guaranteed money. Crede made $5.1 million last year, and is looking for a base at least that high with incentives. Other players have taken pay cuts this offseason, but he made the All-Star team last year for the White Sox.

I’m putting the odds of the Twins signing Crede at 3-to-1 (they get lower, the more I think about it). The Giants or Rangers could snatch him first, though the Giants added to their infield today by signing Juan Uribe.

(*) I’ll have more on these and other items in tonight’s first editions.

Update: The notebook has been posted, with a new twist in the curious case of Jose Mijares.

Kubel signs two-year, $7.2 million deal with option for 2011

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

The Twins just announced that they have signed Jason Kubel to a two-year contract with an option for 2011. They agreed to the terms last week and were simply awaiting the results of a physical.

Update: The deal is worth $7.2 million. Kubel will make $2.75 million this year, $4.1 million in 2010, and his 2011 salary would be $5.1 million, with a $350,000 buyout.

The Twins avoided arbitration with Kubel, so their lone remaining arbitation-eligible player is Matt Guerrier.

Crede drawing new offers; Twins on hold

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Free agent third baseman Joe Crede looked good in Wednesday’s workout in Arizona, triggering some new contract offers, but none so far from the Twins, an insider told the Star Tribune today.

The Twins had Sean Johnson, their Western Scouting Supervisor, at the workout, but no word yet on how they graded Crede’s performance. Crede took 75 swings and fielded 50-60 ground balls.

Another team reportedly interested in Crede is the Giants. Like Eric Gagne, Crede is represented by Scott Boras.

Crede, 30, batted .248/.314/.460 in 97 games for the White Sox last season, with 17 home runs and 55 RBI. He had a herniated disk in his back in 2007, limiting him to 47 games, and basically the corrective surgery didn’t take.

So Crede had the procedure done again, and this time there is hope he can regain his All-Star form. Crede is believed to be seeking a one-year deal with a base salary above the $5.1 million he made last season, along with incentives.