Posted on: December 16, 2012 3:51 am

No Country for Old Men

The Minnesota Twins don’t seem to be keeping up. In fact, they resemble a grizzled, small-town sheriff reading a weekly newspaper and fighting the drug war with pencil and paper against opposition armed with drones in the air, satellite images of the countryside and encrypted cell phones.

Evidence in favor of the Twins’ front office may have evaporated with the Johan Santana trade to the Mets. No longer can this management team offer its wisdom in flipping AJ Pierzynski into three pitchers, two of whom powered the team through the better part of the 2000s. In fact, one could have traced the Chuck Knoblauch trade to the Yankees through Eric Milton, again through Carlos Silva and Nick Punto. Or explored the beauty of dumping JC Romero for Alexi Casilla, converting a 1997 draft pick into a major league infielder starting through 2012.

But none of these things matter now. All those players are no gone, some of the unceremoniously dumped, such as Casilla being cast off and returning no value following a waiver claim by the Orioles.

The worst of these historical portraits comes straight out of the childhood nightmares of every baseball fan. Johan Santana went to the Mets for Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra. Gomez was flipped for JJ Hardy, who was later flipped for Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. Hoey was waived a year later. Jacobson remained in the system until the 2012 season. Humber became a free agent after two seasons. Mulvey went to Arizona for Jon Rauch. Rauch spent a little more than one year in the Twins bullpen. Guerra is still making his way through the system.

By contrast, the Twins sent Frank Viola to the Mets for Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, David West, Tim Drummond and Jack Savage. The first two were major contributors in the 1991 World Series win. Aguilera spent ten years with the team and, in two outbound trades, fetched Frankie Rodriguez (four years of service), JJ Johnson, Kyle Lohse (five plus years) and Jason Ryan. Tapani gave six plus years and yielded four parts in an outbound trade (including Ron Coomer). In short, Frank Viola was still paying dividends in 2007, and the major parts contributed more than 25 years of major league service time.

By far worse, Minnesota’s formerly acute front office passed on other offers for Santana that might have been far superior and would have yielded distantly greater returns in terms of major league service years. The Yankees offered Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera and one more prospect. The Red Sox offered Jacoby Ellsbury, Justin Masterson and Jed Lowrie. Ian Kennedy, supposedly untouchable for the Yanks, was traded a year later in the three-way deal that brought Curtis Granderson to New York. Anything would have been better than the Santana deal actually made. Ellsbury and Lowrie up the middle would have been years of above average big league parts.

Recent evidence suggests the situation in Minnesota is getting worse for our old-timer sheriff. John Lannan signed with the Phillies for one year at $2.5 million base and an incentive-laden deal. Meanwhile Kevin Correia accepted an offer from Minnesota for two years and $10 million total. Based on Fangraphs data, Lannan is actually the better pitcher by WAR. Ty Wigginton signed in St. Louis. Not only is Minnesota not signing players who represent good value at their budget, the front office is spending more money for the wrong players.

Possibly in the interest of planning his own obituary, our sheriff also made a terrible trade this off-season. Denard Span was sent to Washington for an exciting prospect in Alex Mayer. A proven, multi-year big league outfielder who was exactly what was most desired by the Nationals did not fetch more than one prospect. A solid prospect to be sure, but only one. Not even John Lannan before he was non-tendered, or a second-tier minor leaguer like Sammy Solis. When Billy Beane, who should from this point forward be referred to as Sir William, sent Gio Gonzalez to Capitol Hill, he got projected studs AJ Cole and Brad Peacock plus Derek Norris with Tommy Milone thrown in. Again, based on Fangraphs, Gio Gonzalez’s WAR was 3.6 for the season before the trade, Span’s was 3.9. Put simply, an every-day big league regular who is solidly above average is worth more than one prospect. Just ask the Tampa Bay Rays about Jake Odorizzi or Mike Montgomery.

What emerges from this mosaic of events in the last decade is far more unbecoming than an unfortunate choice of player(s) selected in the Santana windfall, or bad luck from one free agent signing or another. This mosaic instead could be interpreted as the clearest picture yet of a second division emerging in front office understanding of the changing game. Sadly for Twins fans, that Minnesota front office shows no sign of jumping back into the premier league.

Posted on: November 22, 2012 1:23 pm

What Might Be, But Never Will

Happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have A’s season tickets, and to have been through a magical season.

About once a year, I beg the front office of my childhood favorite team, the Minnesota Twins, to do something aggressive. You would think I would’ve learned by now. But I haven’t.

Here I go again. This week, I was seriously disheartened to witness the Twins filling their 40-man roster. Naturally, this wasn’t because the Twins added Kyle Gibson, Aaron Hicks, Danny Santana and other future big leaguers. No. I was disturbed because someone in the front office sees this roster as somehow complete, albeit temporarily, with such potential All-Ordinaries like Pedro Florimon, Casey Fien and Josh Roenicke. I was disturbed because this apparently precludes use of that favored Johan Santana-Scott Diamond vehicle, the Rule 5 Draft.

The Twins have acknowledged that Scott Diamond is in the rotation for 2013. And that’s it. There are four openings. Let’s say for the sake of argument that three starting additions would be necessary to create a competition for the fifth spot. Kyle Gibson and others would theoretically compete for that fifth spot if the prior three were filled by established big leaguers.

Between the Rule 5 Draft and free agency, even given the usual Minnesota constraints, humble approach, and strike-throwing requirements, there are abundant possibilities. No one wants to see the Twins pay Carl Pavano a salary of $8 million again. No one wants to see the Twins fork out $25 non-sense millions to Jeremy Guthrie.

Let’s start with the desire for a front-end stud, in the almost unthinkable event of a playoff appearance. The Twins are not stacked up to make a deep run in the playoffs because their pitching is barely major league in caliber. It just so happens that some unique combinations are available.

The Twins assert that $25 million or so. I’m going to spend it now.

Dan Haren is going to come with an injury discount at some rate significantly less than his $15 million option. Let’s say the medical reports come in on his back that he’s a risk worth taking. That may already be out of the question. If he were medically sound, I’m offering him $10 million, willing to go to $12, for the one-year deal to re-establish himself. Even better if this is an incentive-laden offer, heavily focused on innings, starts, quality starts, and similar benchmarks of his previous durability.

Ryan Dempster is a character. He’s goofy, light, and known around the National League as a clubhouse Blyleven. I’m offering him the last contract of his baseball life, two years with a third year option, at an average annual value of $8 million, with bonuses for all kinds of things including returning to his strikeout-per-nine rate over 8.0, making 28 starts, and so forth. Dempster ends his nicely above average career as a Twin, and the team gets a tremendous influence on the pitching staff.

Next, I want some subprime talent looking for a shot. I want Jonathan Sanchez, who is truly out of control at times. Or Erik Bedard, who is maybe a little mercurial. Or Rich Harden, who will break down after 6 weeks. Or Scott Feldman, who will be motivated to prove himself – but who doesn’t look like these others in that he stands very little chance of missing 150+ bats. Or Shawn Marcum, who is an overachiever in the mold of Brad Radke. Unfortunately, Marcum likely breaks the bank for this plan. These moves would be out of character for the Twins front office.

Now for this commercial message: Dear Twins front office, your pitching approach has not been successful. Dare I say, it has been an outright failure. Where is Shooter Hunt now? How about that Carlos Gutierrez? It’s high time to consider a mix of approaches, so that all five starters don’t resemble the cloned, high-80s heat of a gopherball strike thrower. And how did that Jason Marquis signing pan out? Or even the front end approach with Pavano? For an organization holistically geared to strike throwing, where are the strikeouts? I do understand and agree with Crash Davis’ truism: ground balls are more democratic. But that approach would require pitchers to successfully throw more outs. That doesn’t seem to be happening.

Back to our approach. The combination of Haren, Dempster and Sanchez has a chance at producing more than 550 strikeouts, and is veteran enough not to require years of development. Swap out Sanchez for the injury risks of Bedard or Harden and you have different clubhouse risks. The personality of Bedard, and the seemingly recovered prima donna of Harden. Either way, you still run out to the mound with a shot at 175 Ks. Switch those with Feldman or Marcum, and you are more likely aiming for 500 strikeouts, but with a notably more mature rotation that allows Diamond, Gibson and Company to continue on their normal development path, won’t have to count on rookies in slots 3-5, and makes a statement to fans that will sell more tickets.

With the new ballpark, the Twins face a new reality in the AL Central. They are no longer poor. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ billionaire owner is trying to grab that ring before his end of days. That’s the new reality. Winning will require a different approach. For the passing fan, the Twins simply haven’t shown the ability to break out of their terribly outdated business model.

Instead, we’ll wind up with Joe Saunders and some other Jason Marquis clones like John Maine.

I no longer wake up on Christmas morning hoping for something surprising under the tree in Minnesota. And that’s why I’m so thankful that I live in California now, with all the chances at winning that these teams present.

Posted on: July 29, 2011 2:19 am

Modest Restructuring in Minnesota

Twins GM Bill Smith doesn't think he should consider the Pirates' interest in Jason Kubel approaching the non-waiver trade deadline in Major League Baseball. Incredibly, at seven games under .500 and six games back - in fourth place, where they've been all summer - Smith sees his Twins as a contender entering the dog days.

A cursory glance at trade rumors and their roster leaves an impression that players could be moved. Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Jose Mijares (before he imploded on the mound against the Rangers in a recent 20-6 loss), Kevin Slowey, and Denard Span have come up in trade rumors. 

While I personally think it would be a long-term mistake to move Span, a few others could be added to that roster of ejector-seat candidates.

Francisco Liriano has only hurt his own trade value all season long and the Twins would have likely been better off to have moved him in spring training. Matt Capps could go. Carl Pavano could be sent to a contender in need of a number six or seven starter. Delmon Young becomes eligible for free agency after the 2012 season.

Slowey, Kubel, Cuddyer, Capps, Young. These five could bring a haul of five to ten prospects (or more, with the Twins' legacy of garnering the right players seemingly most of the time) worth considering as a long-term investment by the budget-conscious Twins.

Jim Thome gives the fans in Minnesota something to watch, especially on his push for home run number 600. It's hard to imagine, but even he might understand why the Twins would decide it is finally time to make some changes and allow his bat to go on to a bench for a contender in need of his considerable country-strong power.

This isn't exactly a rebuilding process. The core is solid. The pitching looks like it will keep coming from the minors thanks to some smart drafts and some decent luck.

But this is not going to be a penant year for the Twins. Cut bait now and get that roster refreshed with an injection of new prospects to add to the pool.

Otherwise, good luck, Bill Smith. You'll be staring up at third place in mid-September wondering why you didn't see this coming. 
Posted on: December 16, 2010 1:59 am

My Personal Plea to Twins Management

Although I left Minnesota in 1989, I remain a part-time Twins fan. Call it KirbyPuckettitis. I was once rabid and have fallen back to your regular, ordinary buff. In reality, I truly and deeply love baseball, and the Twins are among the nearer objects of my affection - along with my poor, sad, adopted Oakland Athletics.

When I watch an offseason progress, I care not what four-letter networks report as breaking news in the Northeast. Neither does 90% of the American population, though, so I realize I'm not alone and do the best I can with what little I'm given (come back to the West, Pedro Gomez).

Among the many reasons that I love the Twins is that they are crafty chess players. They have become masters of the parlay. They sometimes get lucky (see AJ Pierzynski for Boof Bonser, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Nathan). Sometimes, they are just dead right about a player who doesn't fit. Matt Garza remains a player with a bad attitude. Rumor has it he'll get moved by the Rays partly because he still Cadillacs it between starts. Grow up, child.

More often, they convert over time player after player in a fashion that would require ages to reveal the genius. Here we note that three regulars in the 2010 Twins lineup were results of the Chuck Knoblauch trade in 1998. Possibly even more brilliant is that they've recently renewed that cycle to net a minor leaguer with years of forward potential still... from Chuck Knoblauch.

Here's how:

Chuck Knoblauch begat Eric Milton, Brian Buchanan, Cristian Guzman, and Danny Mota. Eric Milton begat Carlos Silva and Nick Punto. Brian Buchanan begat Jason Barlett. Cristian Guzman, via free agency, gave the Twins pick 84 of the 2005 draft, resulting in Brian Duensing. Jason Barlett, with Matt Garza, begat Delmon Young, Jason Pridie, and Brendan Harris. Brendan Harris, with JJ Hardy, begat Brett Jacobsen and Jim Hoey.

Brian Duensing, Delmon Young, and Nick Punto all remained contributors on the 25-man roster throughout the 2010 season.


Unfortunately, their recent playoff runs have not been so remarkable. The offense seems to be there. The starting pitching might be the single easiest thing to which a fan could point as a shortcoming. The Twins' rotation is full of contributors. But for a World Series contender, these typical number threes and fours would not be on the frontline, with the possible exception of a recuperated Francisco Liriano.

The Twins need an Ace. The current rotation of Liriano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Brian Duensing might cut it for 162 games, especially with Kyle Gibson waiting in the wings, but it won't mow down the wild card team in round one.

Rumor mills across the hot stove seem to have linked the Twins to Zack Greinke and Brandon Webb, current and former Aces. Here is my twist on this idea, Dearest Mr. Smith.

Get them all, and then some.

Trade Kevin Slowey, Aaron Hicks, and a third (and fourth?) player for Zack Greinke. Sign Brandon Webb to an injury-discounted contract. Push Blackburn back into the bullpen, ready to start at the first sign of a sore shoulder.

Even better, do all of the above and additionally trade with the Mariners for Erik Bedard in another injury-discounted deal.

The window is open. Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, and their supporting cast won't do this forever. Contending pressure from the White Sox and Tigers is sure to rise.

Take a shot at an Ace. Or three. Greinke, Liriano, Webb, Bedard, and Baker looks a heckuva lot scarier than Liriano and Co as they are today.

Please take the shot, Mr. Smith. I'll pay to see that rotation.
Posted on: September 16, 2010 12:38 am

Unrequited Redlegs

I had hoped my business trips would give me one or two more opportunities to see games in other places this season. Sure enough, this week afforded me the chance to stay over in Cincinnati on Monday night.

An evening function threatened the ballgame window. I discretely emailed one of the VIP hosts late last week to ask whether he was a baseball fan. Yes indeed, he answered, and he loved the idea of getting to Great American Ballpark, even if we would be late.

So, sure enough, the business event carried on until just after 7:30pm, leaving us most of the night and only a few blocks' walk away from Reds v. D'Backs. As we prepared to sneak away, another colleague jumped on the bandwagon and we bolted together.

Arrived in time to find two things: (1) premium seats behind home plate were readily available, and (2) Joey Votto has opposite field pop.

Yes, we sat just in time to see Votto blast one. By that time in the game, we'd already missed back-to-back jacks in the first inning (Bruce and Stubbs, I think). We hoped to get a Chapman appearance, but it was not to be. We had to settle for a heavy dose of Bronson Arroyo.

The game turned into a slugfest in favor of the homees. Should have been good news for a team running away with the NL Central, but an unexpected fact confronted and confounded us: there was nobody apparently AT this game. Official attendance was a sliver over 12,000, and I'd still guess they weren't all there.

I just don't get it. You have a first place team, surprising pitching, an MVP candidate, and Cincinnati has relatively affordable seats. The face value of the seats we picked up behind home plate was only a few dollars more than similar seats over the catcher's shoulder in Oaktown.

Granted, it was only a Monday and, probably even worse, it was only the Diamondbacks. Still, wouldn't it be normal to expect a little better turnout for the stretch run as the Reds approach the clinching games?

Get out there, Cincinnati!
Posted on: September 4, 2010 12:47 pm

Baseball Tourism

My favorite part of business travel is the ballpark perks.

This season, I've had the chance to visit Minneapolis, Chicago, and Phoenix on business travel. A Sunday trip to old Wrigley was a perfect way to lead into a convention.

An early start at The Bob, with the Cards in town to play The D'Backs, was also a good way to skip out as quickly as possible after five o'clock.

But the piece de resistance was Target Field. On a hot summer night in August, I experienced outdoor baseball in the Twin Cities. The Angels were in town. Torii Hunter romed an outfield in Minneapolis under a dark night sky. In a moment of pure poetic justice, Juan Rivera dropped a pop fly to left.
The home squad took it, 7-2, powered by a Jason Kubel three-run bomb. In a statistical oddity, Jim Thome hit a triple. He gasped for air for the next week. Brian Duensing was brilliant, and I must admit - homer moment here - the Twinkies new third baseman, Danny Valencia, looks pretty slick.

I may yet be able to squeeze in one or two more business trips before the curtain falls on this season. Any way I look at it, baseball makes all the travel for work so much more enjoyable.

Posted on: April 25, 2010 12:37 pm

Hardly Working

I was on the road this week, developing a relationship with a big partner. The partner paid for me to travel to Phoenix and spend two days with them on big picture planning. I expected an itinerary that loaded us up from sun up to sun down, as they did the last time I visited.

This time, we wrapped on Wednesday at 5:30. I couldn't believe my luck... So checked the schedule and, yes, the Diamondbacks would play a home game at 6:40pm. It was the Cardinals and Chris Carpenter was pitching. I hadn't ever been the Park-Formerly-Known-as-BOB before, and it's always great to add another park to your list - let alone the Albert Pujols v. Justin Upton star quality.

Found my seat in the right field corner (surprised at how empty the Bob was - they aren't selling well right now). Initially, Edwin Jackson seemed to be outpitching Carpenter, not including the two hit bats men in Jackson's first time through the order and Carpenter striking out everyone including the bat boys and PA announcers.

This game turned out to have everything. A catch on the wall to rob a home run. A play at the plate (Upton sailed one way over the catcher's head). A typical, benches-clearing baseball non-fight. Two dingers and a triple by Colby Rasmus. A tie game in the ninth blown by a 5-run Chad Qualls disaster.

I had to go back to the office Thursday morning. Who cares. It won't be the inside of any of those conference rooms I will remember in ten years.
Posted on: March 19, 2010 12:51 pm

Early Returns

Before I got to Phoenix yesterday, the boys went to the Dodgers-Cubs game at Camelback. The Dodgers share this brand new facility with the White Sox.

The boys were part of something - they sat on the lawn with over 13,000 others. The crowd set an attendance record. The boys tell me the talent level was about a 6, but in high volume. It was about 80 degrees.

The pitching matchup was decent - Ryan Dempster and Chad Billingsley. Nice regular season quality there. Reed Johnson hit a homer. Manny added his own dinger. And this was all on their way to collect me at the airport.

Last night, we found a biker bar after dinner. The Dirty Dog. Highly recommended. Never seen anything like this place. Hint: women hanging from rafters. How athletic!
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