December 2008

Mark DeRosa is traded to the Indians….and the Twins couldn’t top THAT deal?

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Jeff Stevens. Chris Archer. Jon Gaub.

Those three pitchers – none of them highly touted – helped Cleveland raise the stakes in the A.L. Central.

They were traded by the Indians to the Cubs for Mark DeRosa, a player the Twins coveted during the winter meetings  but couldn’t find a, `match,’ with Chicago. DeRosa, 33 and in the final year of his contract, joins the Tribe after batting .285 last season with 30 doubles, 21 homers and 87 RBI. Those numbers sure would have looked nice at third base for the Twins.

My first reaction was to grab a copy of Baseball America’s Top 10 A.L. Central prospects. Stevens, Archer and Gaub were not listed among Cleveland’s top ten prospects.

My second reaction was to click onto John Sickels minor league baseball site and look up his list of Cleveland’s top 20 prospects for 2009.  Unless my eyes deceived me – I haven’t begun to ring in the New Year yet – none of those pitchers were listed there, either.

My third reaction was to grab a copy of the 2008 Baseball America prospect handbook, which lists the top 30 prospects for each club. I found Stevens listed at 19. He can touch 95 mph with his fastball and has a good curve. He apparently had a chance to compete for a spot in Cleveland’s 2009 bullpen after going 5-4 with a 3.24 ERA in 36 games between AA and AAA,

The other two pitchers spent 2008 at Low-A Lake County. Archer was 4-8, 4.29 in 27 starts. Gaub – hey, he’s a former Gopher! – was 1-1, 3.38 with 100 strikeouts in 64 innings.

I was  never told what the Twins offered for DeRosa. The belief at the winter meetings was that the Cubs needed a left-handed hitting outfielder, which the Twins don’t have to offer. But it’s hard to believe they couldn’t come up with one AAA pitcher and two A-ball guys to entice the Cubs to move DeRosa.

I can come up with three: Kevin Mulvey or Anthony Swarzak from AAA, and pick two from Santos Arias, Mike McCardell, David Bromberg and Spencer Steedley from Low-A Beloit. Check out Beloit stats here.

Even if it’s for one year, it’s for a player who can hit 20 homers and drive in 80 runs. Even if third base isn’t his best position, the Twins were interested enough go after him earlier this month. Even if you’re taking on salary, you’ve got to give up something. And the Twins could have come up with a competitive package.

I know that Bromberg and McCardell are worth tracking. And I know how the Twins covet their pitching prospects. But notice that I didn’t throw out Jeff Manship, Rob Delaney, Anthony Slama, Tyler Robertson, Brian Duensing Philip Humber, Michael Allen, Cole DeVries or any other pitching prospect I’ve heard good things about. Maybe the Twins just didn’t want DeRosa that much after all – but they sure seemed fired up about him during the winter meetings!

Update: Here are DeRosa’s career stats. Should we look at last year as a power fluke? If DeRosa is more of a 15 homer, 75-RBI guy, maybe the Twins felt it wasn’t enough of an upgrade at third base. I might not be as puzzled as I was when I started writing this – but it still seems like Cleveland didn’t give up much to get him. The prospects I mentioned are clearly better. Again, the Twins seemed fired up about getting him a few weeks ago!

Cleveland has had a good offseason. In addition to DeRosa, they signed Kerry Wood to close and traded for reliever Joe Smith. With Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez coming back after injuries limited them last season – as Cleveland actually played better after trading C.C. Sabathia at midseason – the Indians must be seeded first in the division with spring training about six weeks away.

And there will be 19 times next season when the Twins will get to see what they could have had in DeRosa.

World Baseball Classic and the Twins

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Note: There doesn’t appear to be anything heating up on the acquisition front right now. Some people have scattered for the holidays. One agent of a player the Twins are interested in is out of the country. Twins GM Bill Smith has been attending family functions. And the Twins’ section of the StarTribune parking lot was empty when I pulled in today. It’s the holiday season, so it’s expected.

Meanwhile, we give you alternative programming….

Sometime next month, provisional rosters for the 2009 World Baseball Classic will be released. And Twins players will be sprinkled over a few of them.

Twins closer Joe Nathan spoke with WBC officials during the winter meetings earlier this month and said it’s a foregone conclusion that he will be named to the team.

“I told them that I enjoyed playing the last time and that it fits my schedule perfectly,” Nathan said Monday night.

Nathan already is playing catch and warming up his arm in advance of spring training and the WBC. It’s easy for relievers to get ready because they only have to build up to 30 pitches or so.

Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, responding to an e-mail, sounded fired up to play for Canada again. Canada, if you’ve forgotten, beat Team USA 8-6 in 2006.

“I have officially committed to play for team Canada,” Morneau said. “I look forward to representing my country once again. There is a lot of pride involved in a tournament like this and we look forward to hopefully improving on our last performance.

I’ve heard from other people that Twins catcher Joe Mauer will play in the 2009 Classic (I haven’t confirmed that with him yet). He was asked to play in the 2006 event but declined. He had just completed his first year after knee surgery in 2004 ruined his season and didn’t want to push it.

Francisco Liriano is expected to pitch for the Dominican Republic. He made four starts for Escogido of the Dominican winter league, going 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA. Carlos Gomez, who might make the team, went .243/.351/.364 for Escogido, which failed to make the playoffs. 

A few Australians, including Twins prospect Luke Hughes, could make its national team.

But 7-1 right-handed pitcher Loek Van Mil isn’t expected to make the Netherlands roster. Van Mil strained an elbow ligament during the season and won’t be ready to get back on a mound until March.

Clubs have been asked to not interfere with players who want to take part in the WBC. It would be understandable if the Twins wanted someone like Liriano to save all his bullets for the Major League season. But the Twins have no problem with players who want to participate in the WBC.

“We have always been supportive of winter ball and it’s a pretty good honor for players to be selected to play on national teams.” Twins GM Bill Smith said. “Although it is inconvenient it is a good event and good for growing the game.”

Figuring out the R.A. Dickey signing

Friday, December 26th, 2008

The Twins have reached agreement with R.A. Dickey on a contract, one that apparently is either a major or minor league deal.

I’ve heard the Twins talk for years about getting a knuckleballer because the pitch seems to flutter more inside domed stadiums than outdoors. I remember the Twins making a run at Tim Wakefield after the 2000 season, only to watch him re-sign with Boston, where he now has a perpetual team option in his deal.

I know Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has proposed trying to teach a struggling prospect in the low minors a knuckleball or funky style to try to jumpstart a career or two.

So it’s not surprising that the Twins are going to sign Dickey, 34.

But in an offseason during which finding eighth-inning help is a higher priority, it’s a little bit of a head-scratcher to see the Twins sign someone to be a middle reliever or spot starter. It’s hard to see that when, if they need a spot start during the season, they can turn to Boof Bonser or Philip Humber or call up Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak or even Jeff Manship.

Now it’s fair to come back with the argument that the Twins likely aren’t spending a lot of money here and that teams bring in veteran arms all the time. But the Twins have plenty of options for starters, and we have seen in the past when trying the cagey veteran instead of the kid with more talent has failed.

And, with Humber out of options, the Twins’ bullpen appears full with Humber, Bonser, Jesse Crain, Jose Mijares, Matt Guerrier, Craig Breslow (the smartest man in baseball) and Joe Nathan. You have prospects at Rochester and reliever Rob Delaney on the way at New Britain – and you can always find veteran pitching help to stash at Rochester at the end of spring training when people get cut.

Maybe I’m making too big of a deal about someone they won’t spend a lot of money for. But the bullpen needs a late-inning boost. Juan Cruz is a Type A free agent and Twins will never give up a draft pick. Joe Nelson has been signed. The Twins were interested in Brandon Lyon as of early this week – not sure where they are with that.

There’s always a chance that Jesse Crain’s command sharpens as he gets over a year removed from shoulder surgery. Matt Guerrier, who really should be the middle reliever/spot starter, could see his numbers improve if he’s not in as many pressure situations. My concern: How fans will react if the Twins’ bullpen struggles early with the same old faces.

Twins assistant GM Ron Antony (thank goodness he responded to my text message X-Mas morning when I was panicking for a response) maintains that the Twins are still looking for set-up help: “We will continue to see if we can find upgrades to the pen,” Antony wrote. “We are not looking at him as an eighth-inning guy.” Who goes then?

By the way, read about how Dickey doesn’t have a ligament in his elbow.

And I missed this report that kicked around some players it may take to land Mark DeRosa from the Cubs.

Programming note: I’m filling in at KFAN from Noon to 3 p.m. today. We’ll talk about Christmas gifts, a funny show I watched for the first time last night, hockey with Pat Micheletti at 1 p.m. and Vikings football with Judd Zulgad at 2 p.m.

Oh, I guess we can talk baseball too ;)

Late update: Just booked Clark Griffith for 12:20 to talk about the big spending Yankees and how it affects the rest of the sport.

No slugger or bullpen arm under the Twins’ X-Mas tree this week

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

All indications are that this will be a slow week in Twinsland, as the club doesn’t appear to be close to any moves before Christmas.

They remain one of several teams interested in righthander Brandon Lyon. True, he’s a fly ball pitcher who is not overpowering, but he does have some history as a closer which, the Twins hope, would translate into reliability as a set-up man.

Indications are that the Twins won’t make a run at infielder Ty Wigginton. who is not know for his defense. I still believe he’s worth looking into – if you look beyond last season his home-road splits aren’t that bad – but the Twins appear to be looking elsewhere.

Haven’t heard anything new about their interest in the Cubs’ Mark DeRosa. For the Twins to land DeRosa, they probably would need a third team involved because the Cubs need a left-handed hitting outfielder and the Twins’ aren’t moving Jason Kubel

You look at the remaining free agent market, and it appears the best way for the Twins to upgrade is through a trade. But how would you respond if you asked about Huston Street and are told it would take Kevin Slowey and Denard Span as part of the deal?

The match that’s waiting to happen is the Twins and Brewers. GM Doug Melvin needs starting pitching badly. The Twins have starting pitching and prospects. But the words, “J.J. Hardy,”  haven’t been tossed into the discussion. I still think Bill Hall is decent player but he’s making $6.8M next year and $8.4M in 2010. It’s worth watching how the Brewers navigate through the rest of the offseason.

But it sure is different this offseason. By this time last year, the Twins had traded for Craig Monroe and Delmon Young and signed Mike Lamb and Adam Everett and were headed toward signing Livan Hernandez and trading Johan Santana. Other then the return of Nick Punto, it has been quiet. The Twins will have some explaining to do if they don’t beef up third base and don’t find a bullpen arm.

 It’s like what ES16 posted under Joe C.’s entry today:

Like many here, I’m getting frustrated with the Twins’front office this winter, but I keep telling myself there’s a lot of time yet. Something can still happen. If spring training starts and nothing has happened, then we all have good reason to be frustrated.

As beat writers, we only find out a certain percentage of things teams are working on, so t here’s always a chance the Twins could have a transaction or two up their sleeve before camp opens.

The baseball offseason seems to move slower and slower each year. I was packing for spring training when Santana was dealt. And Mark Teixeira, Brian Fuentes, Manny Ramirez and Derek Lowe are still looking for jobs. So there’s time to get something done.

I’m not sure how many updates there will be this week. Twins officials will begin to scatter for the holidays on Wednesday. There are two outs in the bottom of the ninth for the arrival of Baby C., so Joe Christensen is starting to hunker down with Mrs. Joe C.

If there’s news, we’ll have it here. But I’m going to focus on Christmas. And I hope all of you have a very merry one.

Afternoon notes

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

A couple things for you this afternoon:

The Twins have signed a few minor league free agents.

Outfielder Luis Matos is a former top Orioles prospect who spent last season playing in Mexico.

Righthander Bob Keppel is a former Mets first round pick who has spent some time with the Royals and Rockies.

Lefthander Sean Henn was drafted by the Yankees and spent some time with the Padres last season. Has a big arm but hasn’t figured it out. It will be interesting to see what Rochester pitching coach Bobby Cuellar gets out of him.

Finally, there’s outfielder Joe Gaetti, the G-Man’s kid. The Twins acquired him from Oakland in August and sent him to Class AA New Britain. He homered in his first at-bat for the Rock Cats -then tore his Achilles while rounding the bases and was done for the year.

These players should wind up at Rochester during the season. What it also means is that several minor league free agents – including Garrett Jones, Mariano Gomez, Julio DePaula, Danny Graves, Sergio Santos, Darnell McDonald and Felix Molina – will not return to the organization. I was told the only player with a chance of re-signing is Tommy Watkins.

In case you weren’t able to tune in, Twins assistant GM Rob Antony joined me on KFAN yesterday and mentioned a couple interesting things.

He did confirm that the Twins have been in contact with the agent for a couple free agent Japanese pitchers. My guess is that the pitchers in question are Kenshin Kawakami and Koiji Uehara. Here’s one story linking the Twins to Kawakami, who was 9-5 with a 2.30 ERA last season for the Chunichi Dragons. Uehara was 6-5, 3.81 and had one save for the Yomiuri Giants.

As for free agent infielder Ty Wigginton, Antony described his defense as, “adequate,”  and mentioned that the Twins likely will put in a call on him. But he indicated that the years and dollars might be a little bit of a stretch. I think the Twins should look into him, but it sounds like they are convinced they’ll have Danny Valencia and Luke Hughes ready to take a spot by 2011. 

That’s all for now….