Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spring Training Notes-2/22

  • Yesterday, Justin Morneau spoke to the media upon his arrival in Fort Myers for Spring Training. He said its been a battle all winter and that he has not yet reached 100 percent health. Morneau, of course, trying to recover from concussion symptoms that he suffered July 7 vs Toronto. He also stated that he has yet to be cleared for game activity. He can participate in the teams workouts, but he will not be in the first few ST games. This raised many red flags across Twins Territory. I, myself, wasn't as shocked as others about the news. But it does puzzle me that the Twins havent gone out and looked at a player to come in and play first if Morneau can't go by Opening Day. Yes, Michael Cuddyer can fill in there, but it would make more sense to bring in a first baseman so Cuddyer could remain in right field and remain to have a somewhat decent outfield defense.
  • Francisco Liriano threw his first bullpen today since suffering shoulder soreness. I personally didn't have any concerns about the injury. It is a common thing to see in Spring Training (See Scott Baker in '09). So unless he had another setback with this, this injury should be a thing of the past. Nick Nelson had an interesting blog on Frankie's work ethic and how that played a part in his shoulder soreness and maybe why the team didn't commit a long term contract to the left hander.
  • Tsuyoshi Nishioka spent the first few days in camp on one of the back fields working out himself. Although today he met with more teammates and will practice with the team tomorrow for their first full squad workout. It will be interesting to see how the team is able to communicate with him on the field, as Nishioka speaks very little english since coming over from Japan. As La Velle noted in his blog today, that Gardy might carry a Japanese dictionary for tomorrow's workout just so he can communicate easy. Gardy has been studying Japanese this offseason and has been seen with some books in his office in Fort Myers. Also, Nishioka's translator will be on the field tomorrow to make sure Tsuyoshi understands what the drills are. Hopefully, this communication irons itself out over the course of the Spring.
  • Today, Head and Shoulders welcomed a new spokesperson to its lineup. Joe Mauer. The campaign featuring Mauer won't come out until July. For the offical H&D press release click here. Under here is a behind the scenes video with Joe.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

5 Spring Things To Watch For

Man this is a great time of year. Those mountainous piles of snow are slowly melting, the heavy jackets are going away, and OH YEAH...TWINS PITCHERS AND CATCHERS REPORT TOMORROW!! Albeit, they are just practices, one can't help but get excited to see pitchers taking fielding practice or players taking swings in the cage down in Fort Myers, Florida. The Twins enter spring training as the two time defending central division champs., and hope to make it three in a row for the second time under Ron Gardenhire. Here are five things I am going to be watching closely this spring:

1. Who will win the closers job? Joe Nathan is returning from Tommy John surgery, that he suffered during 2010 Spring Training. La Velle E Neal of the Star Tribune has been reporting lately, Nathan has been getting 88-91 MPH on his fastball in some recent bullpen sessions (That was his average velocity before TJ surgery, this time of year). But those are just sessions, we won't know how he does until he steps on the mound against some live major league hitters. And if he struggles, Matt Capps is waiting behind him to step in and fill the role. But indications are, that unless Nathan has a setback in his return, he will be the closer on opening day. But don't forget Capps, he won't make Ron Gardenhire's job easy when it comes to picking a closer.

2. How much will Justin Morneau play? Everyone is very anxious to see Justin get back on the field for some Spring Training games. But realistically, I can't see him playing many games. For one, the Twins don't want him to have a setback with his concussion. Second, if he plays in some games and starts feeling good about his swing and timing, why have him play and risk other injuries? And if you remember in 2008, he struggled down the stretch due to fatigue. And the following spring really took a step back with his ST workouts. And he still was putting up great numbers before injuries derailed his seasons. So this spring, you should expect to see less of Morneau in the ST games this year. So don't panic about it.

3. Who can step up and earn their spot in the bullpen? Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, and Jon Rauch. The mainstays in the Twins bullpen in 2010. All now wearing a different uniform. Left to fill their shoes: Eric Hacker, Scott Diamond, Anthony Slama, Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins, Jeff Manship, Alex Burnett, and Jose Mijares. With Capps and Nathan on the back end, and Scott Diamond coming in as a rule 5 draft pick, they are slotted to make the opening day roster. And with Jose Mijares' being a decent lefty specialist, he is certainly a lock to make the roster. So that leaves 6 players battling for 3 bullpen slots. And don't forget that the Twins open camp with 6 starters battling for 5 spots in the rotation. So that could play into the bullpen as well. It is by far the most intriguing storyline this spring.

4. Can Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla communicate effectively up the middle? Last year the Twins were very solid up the middle with veterans Orlando Hudson and JJ Hardy. Now entering 2011, they emphasized more speed up the middle by signing Japanese star Tsuyoshi Nishioka to play opposite Alexi Casilla. Its unclear who will play at second or short. And to me, communication between the two will be huge. But Nishioka speaks very little english, he requires a translator around the clock while he is in the states. Casilla, who is from the DR, can speak decent english. So communication between the two might be difficult at times. Hopefully, they can work it out during the spring. Otherwise its going to be a tough year for the two.

5. Kyle Gibson gets his first invite to big league camp. I know I'm leaving out the 6 starters for 5 slots, but I am very excited to see Kyle Gibson pitch in the big league camp this spring. Last year, in his first season in the minor league system, he was able to get to AAA Rochester by seasons end. His combined stats from 2010 were 11-6, 2.96 ERA, 126 K in 152 IP while jumping from A Fort Myers to AA New Britain to AAA Rochester. I can't see him making the team until late in the year, more likely when September call ups happen. The Twins could use him as a reliever late in the year once he reaches his innings limit like the Rays and David Price in 2008, or the Reds and Aroldis Chapman did in 2010. Certainly by 2012 he should be a starter in the big leagues. So it should be fun to watch him this spring.

As I post this I leave you with a picture of where it all starts. Every Spring for the big league, or every year new minor leaguers get their start right here. On the baseball fields in Fort Myers, Florida.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Twins Open To Trading Liriano

Yesterday, Joe Christensen from the Star Tribune wrote an article about how the Twins are open to trading their left handed starter, Francisco Liriano. And even I'll admit, I instantly became filled with rage. Liriano had a terrific 2010 season going 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA. He also set career highs in 2010 with 191.2 innings pitched and 201 strikeouts. Liriano, of course, had Tommy John surgery in late 2006, forcing him to miss the entire 2007 season. Then upon his return to the Twins, his starts were very inconsisntent. He lacked command and he had issues keeping calm. Things that went away (for the most part) in 2010.

But as time passed following my reading that article, I settled down. Especially after reading Seth Stohs tweet, it sank in. The Twins aren't trading Frankie without getting a great deal in return. Liriano still has a couple of seasons left under team control before he can enter free agency. And right now his value his very high coming off the season he had. And the Twins unwillingness to sign him long term this offseason could show they are looking into it. But it could also say they want to see another year like 2010 first before giving him a long term contract, so he can prove the injury is behind him.

For those of you who say, "Look how the Johan Santana trade ended up," I have to disagree with you, when it comes to trading Liriano. For one, in the offseason between 2007 and 2008, the Twins really had no choice but to trade Santana. He was about to enter the final year of his contract. The Twins did not want to lose him without getting anything in return, via free agency (They would of gotten a couple of compensation draft choices had he walked). And they obviously weren't going to be able to resign him. He was, at that point, the best pitcher in the game. So their desperation to trade him kicked in. And they ended up getting a deal for less than what they should of gotten in return. They recieved OF Carlos Gomez, RHP Phillip Humber, RHP Kevin Mulvey, and RHP Deolis Guerra (All pitchers were starters). All but Guerra are no longer in the Twins system. And it is my opinion that either team got the better of the deal. Santana has been stellar for the Mets, but injuries have derailed his last two seasons and the team has gotten progressively worse since his arrival.

My point with tying Santana and Liriano is the Twins don't have that desperation to trade him right now. If anyone is desperate, it will be the team trading for Liriano. So if he does get traded, the Twins should receive a much better package in return. And i'll admit, its hard to talk about this when less phenomenal pitchers like Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn recieved long term extensions. So for now, we just have to relax about this. And who knows, with a lot of big contracts (Cuddyer, Nathan, Capps) coming off the books, the Twins could very well lock up Liriano. We'll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Michael Young...A Twin?

On Monday, Michael Young came out and said he had enough of the Rangers. And he asked to be traded as his role with the team quickly diminished. Young has a limited no trade clause in his contract. According to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, the eight teams Young can be traded to without his consent are the Cardinals, Yankees, Twins, Astros, Rockies, Dodgers, Angels, and Padres. And of those teams, the ones who could greatly improve by adding Young are the Astros, Angels, Rockies, and Twins. The Rockies have been to believed to inquire on Young a few times this offseason and are the favorites to land him. The Rangers are talking exclusively with those eight teams right now, before they talk to anyone else. And following a Darren Wolfson tweet, that mentioned the Twins as one of those eight teams, a lot of questions arised in Twins Territory abour the possibility of bringing Young to Minnesota.

But lets think about this. Would Twins GM Bill Smith pull the trigger on a trade that brings Michael Young to Twins Territory? One could make the case that they can and that they should. Since his arrival in the Major Leagues in 2001, Young has been one of the best contact hitters in baseball. He carries a .300 career average. He won the AL batting title in 2005, hitting .331 while hammering 221 hits. He was named to the All Star game 6 straight years (2004-09), and in 2006 he was named All Star Game MVP after hitting a two strike, two out, two RBI triple off of Trevor Hoffman in the ninth inning to give the AL a 3-2 lead. He has been the face of the Rangers since Alex Rodriguez's departure following the 2003 season. And Texas finally got to the World Series in 2010. He has been one of the most significant players in their history. But it all hasn't been raining gold for Young in his time there. The Rangers were simply one of the worst teams in baseball up until 2008, when their young talent finally came around. And during Young's time in Texas he has grudgingly changed positions from second base to short stop to third base up until now when he was slated to share time as a DH. hard to believe that Texas would pay him $16 million to SHARE time as the DH.

The Twins could use Michael Young up the middle for 2011. But it would appear that the Twins are committed to Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla as their second base/short stop combo. The team was looking to add more speed at those positions as they parted ways with Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy who do not possess great speed. But if Texas came calling with a good deal would the Twins really say no to upgrading their middle infield? Young does not possess good speed. But he would fill in nicely in the second spot in the batting order behind Denard Span and ahead of Joe Mauer, due to his good batting average over the years.

Texas could use a decent backup infielder, so I could see Alexi Casilla as part of such deal. In my head a deal would probably send Young and cash to the Twins and either Casilla and two prospects or Casilla and either Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, or Kevin Slowey (And maybe a prospect) to Texas. The Rangers will almost certainly have to eat a large sum of Young's salary regardless of who he gets dealt to due to the timing of this trade. And in the Twins case it might need to be a larger sum due to the fact the payroll has certainly reached its cap as it will hit $115 million come opening day. And to me that is the make or break part of the deal.

But does Bill Smith even want to make this trade? It is very unlikely that he will. As before mentioned Colorado is the front runners for Young. And it is not even a given that the Rangers want to trade Young. But if there is some common ground between the Twins and Rangers, would Smith give an honest effort to bring Young here? I would sure hope so. Because he is going into Spring Training with two unproven players up the middle on a team that is expected to defend its back to back AL Central titles. And that does not give me a good feeling.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Summing up the Twins Offseason

Earlier today, Jerry Crasnick from ESPN, graded the AL Central teams on their respective offseasons. This is how we summed up the Twins offseason:

"If you proceed under the assumption that the Twins have the most talent in the division and had the least work to do this winter, they fared OK. They brought back Carl Pavano for a guaranteed two years and $16.5 million -- a reasonable investment for a guy who pitched 217 innings. They also fended off a challenge from the Texas Rangers to re-sign Jim Thome. He's beloved in the clubhouse, and will help sell a few tickets and generate some feel-good vibes on his journey from 589 to 600 home runs.

There's some upheaval up the middle, where the double-play combination of Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy gives way to Alexi Casilla at shortstop and Tsuyoshi Nishioka at second base. Or will Nishioka play short with Casilla at second? That question will play out in spring training in Florida.

Joe Nathan's return as closer will help enormously, and Matt Capps is a capable setup man. But Minnesota's relief contingent ranked fourth in the league with a 3.49 ERA, and the bullpen took a hit with the departure of Guerrier, Crain, Rauch and Fuentes.

Finally, the Twins go to spring training with first baseman Justin Morneau's concussion issues lingering over the team. Michael Cuddyer is available to shift to first and Jason Kubel can slot into right field. But how much does manager Ron Gardenhire want to be leaning a lot on a 40-year-old Thome at DH?"

Crasnick went on to give the Twins offseason grade a C. But I think that is too generous of a grade for Bill Smith. You may recall that at the end of last season I blogged about some team needs for 2011. I said that the Twins need to bring in a power arm (starter or reliever) and a right handed power bat because they fall victim to the Yankees left handed starters come October. Two things they did not do a good job of acquiring.

Yes, Jim Hoey (acquired in the J.J. Hardy trade) is projected to be a power arm. But I was hoping for a more proven power arm out of the bullpen. And the Twins will rely on Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young as their right handed power bats. I can see the case for Delmon Young who is coming off a great 2010. But Cuddyer's power numbers dropped off significantly from 2009 to 2010. And his $10.5 million salary for 2011 probably prevented the Twins from adding another significant right handed bat. So I can't consider him to be a decent right handed bat for 2011.

And as for that bullpen, the Twins now have more needs than they left us in 2010. Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch, and Brian Fuentes all left via free agency. And replacing them will be Hoey, Scott Diamond (Rule 5 draft pick), Eric Hacker (Free agent signee), and Anthony Slama. All bring serious question marks into 2011. And don't forget Joe Nathan returns from Tommy John surgery and his effectiveness is questionable.

So if I had to grade the Twins offseason, they would get a 'D'. They did not add a decent arm to the bullpen, they let them all leave. And they did not add that right handed power bat I felt they needed. Their "big move" was signing Japanese star Tsuyoshi Nishioka to play up the middle. He has serious question marks too. And if you look at what the Tigers and White Sox did, the Twins have serious work cut out for them. The White Sox moves now puts them in a big position to not only be Central favorites, but AL favorites. But the past two years, Bill Smith has made some effective moves mid season to help the club down the stretch. Lets hope he can do that again. And hope for a minor miracle from the bullpen...or else its going to be a long year.

Football is Over...

...which means baseball is right around the corner!! 10 days until pitchers and catchers report!! I'll have an actual post tomorrow.