November 2008


Live from Chicago

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

I’m in the Windy City for Thanksgiving and want to wish all of you a Happy Turkey Day.

It was a year ago during my final stage of tapering for Thanksgiving dinner when we all found out that Torii Hunter had agreed to sign with the Angels. Ugh. I remember scrambling to get reaction from Twins players. Michael Cuddyer was the first one to call back.

“Hey, this is Cuddy,” he said. “First of all, you better give Torii a lot of grief for making you work on a holiday.”

I’m crossing my fingers that there won’t be another shocker this year. All the signals point toward most teams waiting for the big money to be spent so the squeeze on the second-tier free agents can begin. We’ll see. All it takes is for one or two teams to dive in to get everyone spending.

Joe C. is monitoring Twins news. I’ll jump back in just before the winter meetings begin. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving!

Finally, for your consumption: I know President-elect Barack Obama is a big White Sox fan but this is taking it a little too far.

A look at the 2004 draft

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

The Twins on Wednesday revealed the eight players they added to their 40-man roster.

But it’s always interesting to see who was left exposed to next month’s Rule 5 draft. And this is a great time to evaluate the Twins’ 2004 draft.

They had five of the first 39 picks that year and selected Trevor Plouffe (20th overall), Glen Perkins (22), Kyle Waldrop (25), Matt Fox (35) and Jay Rainville (39).

Right now, Perkins and Matt Tolbert (taken in the 16th round) have made the biggest impact so far. Anthony Swarzak (second), Portes (15th) and Tim Lahey (20th) also were drafted that year.

This year’s list of unprotected players represents several disappointing high draft picks — maybe a couple too many for an organization that relies on its farm system.

Some things were out of the Twins’ control.  Rainville, a kid with good size and a good fastball, missed all of 2006 with nerve problems in his shoulder. The Twins were happy just to see him on a mound in 2007, but he was 9-9 with a 5-plus ERA this year at New Britain.

Fox went four spots ahead of Rainville but he, too, missed a whole year (2005) because of an injury. Fox spent this year at Class A Fort Myers.

Two other first rounders who are unprotected – Matt Moses and Kyle Waldrop – stand out.

Moses should be the Twins starting third baseman right now. He came out of high school  in 2003 as one of the best prep hitters in the draft.  He had some early health issues, as he battled a sore back and a heart defect that required a patch to be placed on that all-important muscle.

I actually saw Moses play in 2005 when he, Perkins and Denard Span played for Class A Fort Myers. Moses hit a game-tying homer in the top of the ninth inning that led to extra innings. The swing was nice. He wasn’t very fluid at third but the Twins loved his bat and felt his defense would improve.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told Moses before a spring game in 2006 that third base in the majors was there for the taking. Moses even showed up to 2007 spring training down 40 pounds and looking serious. But Moses hasn’t turned the corner. Now Moses, and David Winfree, another third base prospect who has disappointed, have been shifted to the outfield.

Waldrop was the 25th overall pick in 2004. Some teams backed off him because he seemed destined to pitch at Vanderbilt.  The Twins took a chance, drafted him and received kudos all over baseball for being able to sign him. Waldrop could change speeds coming out of high school and was considered to have a very good feel for pitching.

Four years into his pro career, Waldrop is still looking for his breakout season. He just turned 22, so it’s too early to give up on him. But it’s time for him to step up.

Other players I’ve heard the Twins speak highly of over the years who are not protected include Erik Lis, Juan Portes, Yohan Pino and Ryan Mullins.

Any of these players can turn their pro careers around. But one or two of them might have to do it with another team next season.

So what are your thoughts about the 2004 draft? Some of you might have seen Rainville or Fox or Waldrop pitch in the minors.

Morneau second, Mauer fourth in AL MVP voting

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Boston’s Dustin Pedroia has been voted AL MVP, outpointing the Twins’ Justin Morneau 317-257.

Twins catcher Joe Mauer finished fourth, receiving two first-place votes. It’s the highest he’s finished in MVP voting. He was sixth in 2006.

Five different players received first place votes, a reflection of how many voters struggled with the decision – and a reflection of the different criteria used to determined what’s an MVP.

Pedroia received 16 first-place votes, 6 second-place votes and 4 third-place votes. Morneau received seven first place votes.

Here’s how the voting went (it’s the number of first-place votes, followed by second place, and so on):

Player 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th 9th 10th Points
Dustin Pedroia 16 6 4 1 317
Justin Morneau 7 7 6 3 3 1 1 257
Kevin Youkilis 2 4 4 9 2 4 1 2 201
Joe Mauer 2 8 1 3 4 3 3 2 1 188
Carlos Quentin 1 4 8 4 4 4 1 1 160
Francisco Rodriguez 1 2 6 1 6 3 2 2 143
Josh Hamilton 2 2 3 7 3 2 4 3 112
Alex Rodriguez 1 1 4 1 4 7 45
Carlos Pena 1 2 2 3 2 3 44
Grady Sizemore 2 1 5 6 1 42
Evan Longoria 2 2 5 2 1 38
Cliff Lee 1 1 1 1 1 24
Miguel Cabrera 1 1 4 1 17
Vladimir Guerrero 2 2 1 16
Jermaine Dye 1 2 2 14
Aubrey Huff 1 2 3 12
Milton Bradley 1 1 9
Jason Bartlett 1 6
Mike Mussina 1 3
Raul Ibanez 1 1
Ian Kinsler 1 1
Ichiro Suzuki 1 1
Mark Teixeira 1 1

If the season had ended on Sept. 13, Morneau probably would have won his second MVP award in three years. But he batted .146 over the final 16 games and failed to come through in some really big situations.

I really struggled with Morneau vs. Pedroia down the stretch. I looked at all kinds of numbers and even reached out to a couple local stat mavens (they know who they are). And there was Joe C.’s awesome post

In the end, I just couldn’t ignore how Morneau finished.

Looking back, I should have voted Mauer a little higher.

My top five included Pedroia first, Morneau second, Kevin Youkilis third and Mauer fifth. You can vote for Mauer anywhere in the top five and feel O.K. about it because of his production at such a demanding position.  But you can argue that he’s a top-three pick. I think I got wound up about RBI at the end, looked at what Morneau did and allowed that to influence where I placed Mauer. I second-guess myself on this vote every year….

By the way, I was the one who gave Aubrey Huff the sixth place vote. Every time I looked up numbers, or asked the Twins to run numbers of league leaders in various categories, Huff was right around Morneau. He quietly had a strong season.

Update: Here’s the Boston Globe story on the award.

Neshek update, and other notes

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Twins reliever Pat Neshek will have surgery tomorrow in the Twin Cities to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in this right elbow. Twins team physicians Dr. John Steubs and Dr. Dan Buss will conduct the surgery.

Neshek tore the ligament earlier this month while throwing at the Twins’ headquarters in Fort Myers. Fla., and is expected to miss the entire 2009 season. 

 Here are a bunch of other notes collected throughout the day….

RANTZ WINS AWARD

I just found out that Twins director of minor leagues Jim Rantz has won the inaugural Chief Bender Award for distinguished service in player development. Rantz, who has been with the Twins since Day One in 1961, will be honored next month during MLB’s winter meetings in Las Vegas.

I called Rantz earlier today to yak about minor leaguers and was unaware of the award until I clicked on the minor league baseball website and saw his picture on the homepage. I called back and pretended to be outraged that he didn’t say anything about it. Congrats, sir.

MANSHIP TO START TITLE GAME

Last year, Nick Blackburn was the starter and winning pitcher in the championship game of the Arizona Fall League. Jeff Manship will have a chance to follow Blackburn’s path. The Phoenix Desert Dogs have qualified for Saturday’s title game, and Manship has been named the starter in that game.

Manship is 2-1 with a 4,91 ERA in seven starts.

SOME GOOD, SOME BAD AT THE AFL

The Twins are generally pleased with how their lads are doing in the AFL – although some of them aren’t putting up great numbers.

Infielder Steven Tolleson, however, is among the league leaders with a .383 batting average and has added two homers and 20 RBI. “He’s had a good run,” Rantz said. “ but he’s missed a few games with some nagging injuries.”

As you can see, Danny Valencia has been terrible at the plate – but he’s committed just one error. “His defense has really tightened up,” Rantz said. “He’s worked hard at it and it is paying off.”

Dustin Martin? “He’s done O.K. He’s getting playing time against better competition.”

I don’t know what to make of Tim Lahey, Anthony Slama and Rob Delaney’s numbers. Someone told me last week that they were showing signs of wearing down but one bad outing by a reliever in a short season league can ruin numbers.

WINTER RETREAT WATCH 

Winter ball has been going on for awhile now. Luke Hughes already has 79 at-bats for Tigres in the Venezuelan league and is making the most of them, batting .304 with three doubles, two triples, two homers and 13 RBI in 23 games. This is a big offseason for Hughes, who has been moved to third base and could debut sometime during 2009.

Jose Mijares has allowed one earned run in 11.1 innings for Tigres.

Carlos Gomez has played four games for Escogido of the Dominican league, going 4 for 15.

I can’t wait until spring training to see some of the younger players – which leads me to my next note.

40-MAN DECISIONS LOOM

Thursday is the deadline for teams to submit their 40-man rosters. The Twins current have 31 spaces filled on theirs. I guess players like Valencia, Hughes and Delaney – if required, see thrylos’ post below  - would be added to the roster. And others should be invited to camp.

Can’t remember if Joe C. had this or not, but the Twins did re-sign infielder Alejandro Machado and lefthanders Jose Lugo and Ben Julianel to minor league deals. Julianel was the pitcher I ranted about last season because he was 27 and pitching at New Britain when Slama was stuck at Fort Myers with nothing left to prove. Julianel should be at Rochester next year now that Carmen Cali and Ricky Barrett are gone. So Slama, a fine relief prospect, should open the season at New Britain.

Was told that Machado, Lugo (who has a good fastball) and Julianel will be in the major league spring training camp.

WHAT ABOUT FREE AGENTS?

Don’t have any updates on the Casey Blake front. I still expect the Twins to present him a contract offer this week. It sounds like the sides have had a few discussions about a merger.

Some of you have wondered about righthander Juan Cruz  drawing interest from the Twins. I have too, after eyeing his 71 strikeouts in 51 innings last season (lot of walks, however). I spoke with someone familliar with Cruz’s situation over the weekend.

Cruz is getting some nibbles from teams that don’t want to spend K-Rod money for a closer. If he’s not a closer, there’s a good chance his deal will include provisions for any games he saves. So it looks like Cruz will look for opportunities to close. Since Joe Nathan is the Twins’ closer, there might not be a match here. The situation could change if Cruz can’t find the right fit and is willing to sign as a set-up man. For now, I don’t see the Twins signing him. 

Update: Cruz also is a Type A free agent, so the chances that the Twins would sign him and give up their first round draft choice is waaaaaaaaaay below zero.

Offer to Blake in the offing?

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Heard some rumblings today that the Twins might make a contract proposal to free agent third baseman Casey Blake as soon as next week.

The Twins have remained in contact with Blake’s agent in recent days. While teams couldn’t make contract offers until 11:01 p.m. Friday, they could talk about general parameters of deals – and indications are that the Twins have discussed parameters with Blake’s guy.

The big question: What does Blake, who hit .274 with 21 homers and 81 RBI last season, want?

He made $6.1 million last season and there are hints that he might want a three year deal. Is it a wise move to give a 35-year old that many years? Could the Twins talk Blake into two years and an option at $4-5 million per? He’s a solid player from this neck of the woods (Iowa) and has pounded the Twins in the past.

I’m trying to figure out if adding Blake is better than fighting through Dan O’Dowd’s and Doug Melvin’s posturing about Garret Atkins and James Jerry Hardy. And remember, it might take a package that includes one of the current starters to get a deal done – especially for a shortstop who can  hit 25 homers, is 26 and not making big bucks yet.

Do the Twins buy Blake now so they have resources to trade for relief help? The only good FA arm out there belongs to Juan Cruz  - and I haven’t heard his name mentioned as a possibility. 

Stay tuned….