Sunday, May 29, 2011

Front Office Failures

I'm not one to blast the front office. Because usually they make good moves to better our team moving forward. But this past offseason, and even during spring training, this front office has pulled off a horrible string of moves that has severely affected, and most likely crippled, the Twins 2011 season.

Go back to November, the team watched Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Brian Fuentes, and Jon Rauch all hit the free agent market. This was one of the best bullpen's in baseball, and the Twins never were legit contenders for any of these pitchers. Over time they all signed with new teams (Crain-CWS, Guerrier-LAD, Fuentes-OAK, Rauch-TOR), leaving Matt Capps, Joe Nathan (who missed all of 2010 with Tommy John Surgery), and Jose Mijares in the Twins bullpen. It was believed that the Twins payroll was already near its ceiling then, which is why they never got in on any one of those pitchers.

Then flash forward to early December and the Winter Meetings. On the final day, the front office traded SS JJ Hardy and INF Brendan Harris and $500,000 to Baltimore for minor league P's Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. Hardy was an above average shortstop on both sides of the field. But he was due $6 million in 2011, and the Twins felt they'd rather free up some salary room and get rid of him. And this season, all we have seen is a revolving door of players at the shortstop position with no foreseeable end in sight. Jim Hoey has been up and down with the Twins and has shown poor command of his pitches. Brett Jacobson has a 2.93 ERA at AA, but has 22 walks in 27 innings. So a solid shortstop was sacrificed for two pitchers with command problems.

In late December, the Twins signed Japanese middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka to a 3 year/$9 million deal. He was put at second base to start the season, and 7 games in he suffered a broken fibula and is very close to returning to the field. The jury is out on this move still, but I thought I'd acknowledge it as well.

Mid January, the Twins outbid themselves and inked righty starter Carl Pavano to a 2 year/$16.5 million deal. They had been believed to be the front runner the entire offseason for Pavano. The closest offer was Pittsburgh for 2 years/$12-13 million. All other teams that called were only offering one year deals. Why just one or two year deals? Because of his age. Pavano had a career year in 2010 (17-11, 3.75 ERA, 221.0 IP) despite being 34 years old. I understand him wanting a two year deal, and I had no problem with the Twins giving him a two year deal. But the front office felt they were getting nowhere with him, so they upped their offer (essentially outbidding themselves) and got Pavano to resign. A few more dollars that could of been better spent on some effective late inning relief.

Back in the Winter Meetings, the Twins had selected SP Scott Diamond from Atlanta. For those who don't know how the rule 5 draft works, you pick a player and you have to keep them on the MLB roster for the following season. If you want to send them down to AAA you have to offer them back to their original team or work out a trade. Diamond didn't have the greatest spring so the conventional thinking had him going back to the Braves. But instead, the Twins sent minor league lefty Billy Bullock to Atlanta so they could keep Diamond. Bullock projects as someone who can be a good lefty specialist for an MLB team one day. Diamond projects as someone who can be a back end of the rotation starter. And all he has done so far is put in one abysmal season, going 2-4, with a 5.40 ERA in 9 starts for AAA-Rochester. This move has little affect on the 2011 team, but could affect them in the future.

Then toward the end of Spring, one of the pitchers battling for a bullpen spot was placed on waivers. That pitcher was Pat Neshek. He was claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres. So essentially, the front office gave him away for nothing. Yes, Neshek did have a stint at AAA, but in 11 games with San Diego, he has posted a 1.54 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and a .200 opp AVG. I'm almost positive that Neshek would be a better relief option for Ron Gardenhire in the later innings than the likes of Jim Hoey, Phil Dumatrait, or Alex Burnett.

As you can see, this was not a banner offseason for the Twins. Essentially, these moves crippled their bullpen (which was one of the best in baseball, now one of the worst), kept a revolving door on a position (SS) that has been difficult to fill, and acquired a pitcher who realistically has no chance to make this team as a starter anytime soon for a pitcher who could of been coming out of the bullpen for the Twins in 2013.

As I said, I'm not one to throw the front office under the bus. But when moves backfire this much, it needs to be addressed. And frankly going forward, I have zero confidence in Bill Smith if he chooses to be a seller at the trade deadline. Look at his past trades involving prospects that have come to the Twins...its not pretty. So all I can hope for is for this team to magically flip a switch and start playing better and making a charge for another division crown. But we all know that the likelihood of that happening is moving into the 0-10% chance range. This is going to be a long summer....

Friday, May 20, 2011

How Lucky Were We

In more recent years, you read of athletes who make headlines because of their off field issues. Or you will sometimes see the athlete get run out of town because of their poor attitude on the field. And now you have the athletes (i.e. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), who's career is long over, and is making headlines because they feel mistreated by their former team. It has been a rarity to find a professional athlete, who can hold himself to high standards both on and off the field.

My point to this is this: How lucky were we to have had Harmon Killebrew. Harmon held himself to the utmost of highest standards both on the field and off. He never had a bad thing to say about anyone. He almost certainly enjoyed meeting all the fans he had. He would never turn down a autograph request. And, going back to the Kareem story, if Harmon had ever felt mistreated, I'm sure he would of settled it in person, rather than use the media to voice his concerns.

Harmon always took the positive in everything. If the team was in a slump, he had something positive to say. And even in his final days, he issued a statement as he entered hospice, and he still found a positive in that. It was the fact, he would be surrounded by his family and friends as he spent his final days here. Even those who saw him said he was still himself, despite the amount of pain he was in.

Harmon Killebrew was truly one of a kind. Perhaps the most classiest of all the baseball players to ever play the game. From his home run to swing to his infamous signature, there was no bad quality in Harmon Killebrew. And I truly hope that others follow in his footsteps. The saying goes: You never truly appreciate something, until its gone. But I think its a safe bet, that everyone truly appreciated Harmon while he was here. He was a model athlete in a time when athletes are making headlines for the wrong reasons. I surely appreciated him. And I hope you did too. RIP Mr. Killebrew. Twins Territory, and the entire baseball world was a better place because of you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Harmon Killebrew: 1936-2011

This morning, the Twins announced the their hall of fame slugger Harmon Killebrew died after a battle with esophageal cancer. Killebrew had spent 21 seasons in the Senators/Twins organization before spending his final season in the majors with Kansas City. Harmon finished his career with 573 home runs, which at the time, was second in American League history (Babe Ruth-714). Last week I did a post on Harmon, when it was announced that he entered hospice. That post shares how I felt about Harmon, so I'll let you read that one as well. For now, I leave you with a statement from Twins president Dave St. Peter on Harmon Killebrew.

"No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of fans across Twins Territory than Harmon Killebrew. Harmon will long be remembered as one of the most prolific home run hitters in the history of the game and the leader of a group of players who helped lay the foundation for the long-term success of the Twins franchise and Major League Baseball in the Upper Midwest. However, more importantly Harmon's legacy will be the class, dignity and humility he demonstrated each and every day as a Hall of Fame-quality husband, father, friend, teammate and man. The Twins extend heartfelt sympathies and prayers to the Killebrew family at this difficult time."-Dave St. Peter, Twins President

Friday, May 13, 2011

Harmon Killebrew Enters Hospice

Today, the Minnesota Twins, Harmon Killebrew, and his family announced the the hall of fame slugger would be entering hospice care. This after learning that his treatments for esophageal cancer had not gone the way he, and everyone in Twins Territory, had hoped. He had appeared briefly at Spring Training in mid March, and was scheduled to attend the Twins' home opener, but was unable to due to his treatment schedule. You kinda had to get the feeling that when he missed that, things were not going well. Here was Harmon's statement from today:

"It is with profound sadness that I share with you that my continued battle with esophageal cancer is coming to an end. With the continued love and support of my wife, Nita, I have exhausted all options with respect to controlling this awful disease. My illness has progressed beyond my doctors' expectation of cure.

I have spent the past decade of my life promoting hospice care and educating people on its benefits. I am very comfortable taking this next step and experiencing the compassionate care that hospice provides.

I am comforted by the fact that I am surrounded by my family and friends. I thank you for the outpouring of concern, prayers and encouragement that you have shown me. I look forward to spending my final days in comfort and peace with Nita by my side."

This is a devastating blow to not only the Twins organization, but to baseball. Harmon carried a hall of fame career, and also carries a hall of fame personality. There was never a person he met that he did not genuinely care about. He always carried a positive outlook on life, including today when life dealt him a seemingly huge blow.

The sight to see with Harmon was in recent years when he would make his annual Spring Training visit. He would hang out on the field and the players would hang around him. He would give advice to those players, who were 40-50 years younger than him. And I'd be willing to bet, those players would tell you its the best advice they ever received.

I personally got to meet Harmon once at TwinsFest about 4 or 5 years ago in the photo line. I only got roughly 1 minute around him. I walked up and he said "Hi, whats your name?". He then followed with "Hows your day been?". In the meantime he put his arm around me, we smiled and took the picture. Its the same picture that you see atop this blog now. As I left he got in one last thing saying "Have a good rest of your day now!". That is one of my all time favorite Twins memories. And I think I can safely say that I may not ever meet someone as likeable as Harmon was in that one minute I shared with him.

It was hard to take in the news about Harmon this morning. I can't even fathom taking the worse news that has yet to come about him. Harmon was the first generation of Twins fan's hero. When the flocks would go out to the ol' Met, they went to see Harmon homer. Its one of those things I wish I could go back in time to see. Because he was one hell of a ballplayer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dark Times, Dark Moves, What Will Bill Smith Do?

Somewhere right now, Bill Smith has to be thinking of ways to make his team better. And I'm sure most of those ways involve players coming off the disabled list and staying healthy. Maybe he is working the phones trying to work out a trade. Who knows? But somewhere, he also has to be thinking about what to do in case his team can't turn that corner and continues to be the AL Central cellar dwellers.

The plan I am about to propose is very similar to the one that Emperor Palpatine carried out in Star Wars III called "order 66". It was a dark, horrible plan (I know, I'm a nerd). It rid his Empire of all unwanted people (In his case, the Jedi). Now take Bill Smith and his team. If they can't get it together, its time he considered a same plan. It would rid his team of unwanted players and/or contracts while bringing in players to help the team in 2012 and beyond.

So lets elaborate on this plan a bit. There will be untouchable players, tradeable players who should bring in good prospects, players who are so bad you can't trade them (so waivers or minor leagues are in their future), and the in-between players (meaning you don't know what to do with them). Then of course, you have some players in the minor leagues who will be ready to get a shot at the big club too, so they will factor in to these decisions as well. So lets dive in to this one:

The Untouchable Players
Joe Mauer C: Face of the Franchise. $23 mil/yr makes him untouchable
Justin Morneau 1B: Despite bad stats, still is a franchise cornerstone
Denard Span CF: Solid leadoff hitter. Good speed. Plays well in CF
Tsuyoshi Nishioka 2B/SS: Twins have a lot invested in him.
Joe Nathan RP: Still recovering from TJ surgery. Don't bail on him yet.

The Tradeable Players
Jason Kubel OF/DH: Very good hitter with good power. Could bring nice return.
Matt Capps RP: If given a 9th inning lead. He gets the job done.
Michael Cuddyer RF/INF: Twins might have to eat some money to move him.
Scott Baker SP: Pitching great this year. Trade him while value is high and contract is low.
Francisco Liriano SP: When healthy, he is nasty. Twins don't seem committed to him.
Jim Thome DH: Could be a nice bat off the bench for a contending team.
Kevin Slowey SP: Under team control through 2014. Great command pitcher.
Carl Pavano SP: Innings eater. Twins might have to eat money if they wish to move him.

In-Between Players
Danny Valencia 3B: Not hitting as well in 2011. Should pan out well.
Delmon Young OF: Lets see what he does when he returns from the DL
Brian Duensing SP: Has hit or miss starts. Needs more consistency.
Nick Blackburn SP: When sinker sinks, he's good. When sinker is flat, he stinks.

The Players You Can't Trade

Alexi Casilla 2B/SS: Don't know where to start with him.
Drew Butera C: Makes Tim Laudner look like a saint
Matt Tolbert 2B/SS: Comparable to Nick Punto, only his defense isn't as good.
Jason Repko OF: Plays a decent OF, but can't hit well

Minor Leaguers For 2012
Kyle Gibson SP: Groundball pitcher with electric stuff.
Trevor Plouffe 2B/SS: Decent hitter. Should get a shot at short
Ben Revere OF: Good average hitter. Great speed. Defense is ok.
Rene Tosoni OF: Could be a decent hitter/4th OF option

The 8 players in the tradeable category contribute $45.9 million to the Twins $110+ million payroll this season. Kubel, Capps, Cuddyer, and Thome are free agents after this season so that does give them a little more trade value. Baker, Slowey, Liriano, and Pavano are under team control through either 2012 or 2013 and they combine for an estimated $24 million on the 2012 payroll (Slowey and Liriano are arbitration eligible and their 2012 salaries were estimated).

So Bill Smith has plenty of options if his team can't get it together in 2011. If he did decide to trade some players, he could fill some holes on this team going into 2012 (middle infield, bullpen, right handed power bat, an ace). I don't want to see that happen. But, I would like to see the Twins have continued success in the future years rather then see them go through some rebuilding years. The Twins like to promote from within, which is why I mentioned some minor leaguers who could be regular starters in 2012. It's how they've operated before and that's how they will operate going forward too.

Again, this is what I believe should happen IF the Twins can't turn it around. This is in no way a concession on my behalf on the Twins season. There is still much baseball left to be played. But we have to be prepared for the worst in case it can't come together.

I pity Bill Smith in these dark times. Because he has some dark decisions to make. Lets hope he makes the right ones...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Frankie Throws A No-No

I'm a little tardy to the party, but I had to take a few and post something on Francisco Liriano's performance tonight. So I'll give you some thoughts/notes on tonight and what that means for the Twins going forward.

  • This is the first no hitter of the 2011 season. There were 6 no hitters tossed in the 2010 season.
  • Liriano joins Jack Kralick (8/26/62), Dean Chance (8/6/67 & 8/25/67), Scott Erickson (4/27/94), and Eric Milton (9/11/99) as the only men in Twins history to toss a no hitter. Kralick's no hitter was also a 1-0 game, but his was against Kansas City. In Chance's second no hitter, he also allowed 6 baserunners like Liriano did.
  • Liriano only struck out 2, while walking 6. He certainly didn't have his best stuff tonight. Many pitches were left up. He ran into a very cold hitting team, kinda like the one hitting for him too.
  • And as the case in most no hitters, Liriano had superb defense behind him. Without Denard Span's great running catch in the fourth, Danny Valencia's great backhand stop and throw at third, or Justin Morneau's great scoop on Matt Tolbert's throw in the ninth, there would be no no-hitter. Frankie should be taking his fielders out for dinner sometime soon.
  • I believe this is a positive step in the right direction for this team. But the injuries are still racking up for the Twins as Jim Thome and Jason Repko are headed to the DL. With that said, I don't believe the team will just take off from here. Once they get players (i.e. Mauer, Young, Nishioka, Thome) back, then they should start their ascent from the AL Central basement.
  • This was a moment this team needed. The team was shelled in their last 6 games with Tampa Bay and Kansas City. The season, seemingly had seen very little go right. Winning has been a rarity. And after the final out was recorded, it was like the team won the division. They mobbed Liriano on the mound and everyone was relieved to be back in the win column.
Man it was great to someone in a Twins uniform throwing a no hitter.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)