Distant Blogger’s Plight

Several challenges present themselves to any blogger, but in the case of a blog such as this – focus on one sport franchise – the most daunting ones are access to information and reliability of sources.

I am a blogger who lives about two hours away from Target Field. That distance makes it impossible to gather information personally as some Twins bloggers are able to do, so it is almost essential to rely on electronic delivery of information about the Twins. Fortunately, in the age of the Internet, that is not an insurmountable problem.

Most helpful have been three primary sources: the Twins’ MLB.com site, the Minneapolis Star/Tribune, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. I visit their Web sites multiple times each day to find what I can that is new and useful in preparing my own thoughts.

The FSN (Fox Sports North) site is also sometimes a worthy source. So far I have found Tyler Mason’s work to be the best on that site.

Over the past couple of years I have also followed several blogs whose primary topic is the Minnesota Twins. You can find links to some of them on the right side of this page, listed as Favorite Twins Blogs.

In recent months I’ve followed a number of journalists and bloggers (currently 71) via my Twitter account. (@TwinsMusings) In many cases, that leads to stories from a variety of sources that add depth and often new information that is not available in the media of the Twin Cities area. For example, following Jim Mandelaro, sports journalist of the Rochester, NY newspaper, has been essential in getting good information about issues related to the Rochester Redwings.

As time goes on, I’m finding that access to information about the Twins is less of a problem than digging for more good sources. Much is available. It just takes some time to ferret it out online.

Much more difficult is the challenge of determining what sources are consistently reliable. One would like to think that official professional news outlets, such as major newspapers, would be nearly unassailable but in the Internet age, sometimes the rush to be first means less fact-checking and stories come out that are not completely reliable. Also, much as I enjoy and rely on the blogs by individual sports writers, the fact that they are not edited by at least a sports editor means some things slip through that might not make it on the sports pages of a reputable newspaper.

Independent bloggers (including myself) are even less accountable. That does not make us wrong or inaccurate. It does mean care should be taken to read blogs as if they are editorials rather than news stories. I have no problem with that. It is in fact the point of having a blog – to share one’s thoughts and ideas about a subject.

I do find it worth taking a virtual step back after reading blogs to remember that some of what is written may be based on rumor, innuendo, or pure speculation rather than verifiable facts. Again, I have no problem with it unless it leads to libel or slander. It is just good to keep in mind.

Therefore, please be forewarned that most of what I say on this blog is pure speculation.

Readiness of Rookies

When contemplating the 2012 opening day roster, one important consideration is the readiness of some of the younger players to fill everyday slots in the lineup or rotation.

In the cases of Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes, both out of options, the time is now to find out if they can be contributors on a regular basis. Plouffe may have a chance at regular time in one of the corner outfield positions, but Hughes is almost definitely going to be a utility player this coming year if he is not traded.

Ben Revere is one of the more interesting decisions. He spent a good deal of time with the major league club in 2011 largely because of injuries, especially to Denard Span. He demonstrated that he can be a very disruptive force on the base paths, but was far less than adequate in his on-base percentage. He made some spectacular defensive plays, but also showed his inexperience in route to the ball mistakes. And he has a very weak arm, which becomes a liability as demonstrated by several teams taking extra bases on him late in the year.

I believe Revere would be well served to spend some more time at Rochester to work on his hitting, especially his patience and ability to draw walks. With Tom Brunansky now the hitting coach at Rochester, Revere could get extra work in to develop into a better hitter, by being wiser at the plate.

For this to be a possibility, the Twins are going to need to sign at least two outfielders. That is not very likely. Besides, if Gardenhire has a lot of influence, he will want Revere on the opening day roster and will probably have him in left field opening day – center field if Span is not able to return.

Three players who made late season appearances with the Twins all belong on the AAA Rochester Red Wings roster to open the 2012 season.

Rene Tosoni is not ready yet, but if he develops well, he could be an important member of the Twins later in 2012.

Chris Parmelee had a great month of September, but he can also benefit from more development time. The only way I see him in the 2012 picture before September is if Justin Morneau goes down again.

Joe Benson is the most highly rated of the three, but remains the most raw. He will definitely benefit by more work with Brunansky emphasizing plate better selection and reducing the strikeouts. I hope he is not rushed into a starting role with the Twins due to failure to sign another outfielder this off-season.

In addition to those position players, Scott Diamond and Liam Hendriks made starts for the Twins late in the season when so many regular starters were on the DL. Both need more development time and should start the season with the Red Wings. They should continue to work as starters rather than being brought in to fill holes in the bullpen at the major league level.

I like Alex Burnett as a solid middle relief pitcher down the road, but he too could do with a little time to regroup under less pressure at AAA. He was brought up in 2010 directly from AA to fill a spot on the opening day roster intended for Clay Condrey (who never made it back from injury) and had some very good moments both in 2010 and 2011, but he is not yet consistent enough to be the reliable pitcher he needs to be. It would be very wise on the part of the Twins to bring in enough veteran relievers to fill out the bullpen to open the season and then bring up guys like Burnett, Kyle Waldrop, and perhaps Anthony Slama later in the year if they prove themselves worthy at Rochester.

Dog-House Dwellers

As the 2011 season progressed, it became more or less clear from comments by Ron Gardenhire as well as reports by media members with access to the Twins’ clubhouse that several players were in the manager’s dog-house. How much that carried over to the front office then and now is less clear.

Because one has to presume the manager has at least some clout in the organization, now in the off-season it might be reasonable to suspect that some, if not all, of those players are on the trading block.

Who played their way into the dog-house last year?

Danny Valencia seemed to be number one on the list of position players as he was so often named by Gardenhire for some mistake in the field or running the bases. Trevor Plouffe wasn’t too far behind with his weak play at shortstop. Tsuyoshi Nishioka was cut a little more slack being his first year in a new environment, but he almost certainly has worked his way out of a starting spot barring injury to someone else.

Among the pitching corps, Kevin Slowey easily is number one. His apparent balking at pitching out of the bullpen followed by his winless record when he did pitch later in the season earned him the wrath of both Gardenhire and Rick Anderson. Jose Mijares came to training camp out of shape and never really got it going last year opening up speculation about his future with the Twins.

There may be others that are not so publicly discussed, but there is really no way of my knowing that.

In the past, dog-house dwellers have be dealt away or not re-signed. This year I would not be surprised if Valencia, Plouffe or Slowey are traded. Nishioka is too expensive and has not established any value. Mijares might be a throw-in part of a package, but my guess is  his past success (and his left arm) will buy him one more year with the Twins.

Valencia would have to bring a decent enough return – a third baseman with some power potential – for him to be considered unless the package includes other pieces that allow for another trade to fill the vacant third base position. I’m not betting on it. One more year to prove himself or not is most probable.

Plouffe and Slowey are very unlikely to be anything but extra pieces in a larger deal as neither one has enough value to command much in return.

In fact, Slowey is the most likely Twins candidate to be non-tendered, but I do not really expect the Twins to do that. There is still enough up side in him to not give him away. He would have to be expendable due to a starting pitcher acquisition for him to be non-tendered.

Ultimately, if the Twins are to complete any trades this off-season, they are almost surely going to have to be multi-player deals because none of these players have enough individual value to produce what the Twins need.

Moves Needed

Projecting the opening day roster yesterday got me scared. If the Twins wanted to save on payroll, that roster would do it. According to my projection of salaries it would be a total of under $90 million.

If we believe Jim Pohlad really does want to win, that low a payroll in 2012 is highly unlikely. It is obvious that Terry Ryan is not finished yet with his off-season work.

Based on my roster projections, I think the need for upgrades are especially acute in the following positions. Right field, one starting pitcher and at least two bullpen arms, including a closer.

Ryan has already publicly said he is looking for a closer and has hinted that Matt Capps might be the guy. Many Twins fans, myself included, shudder at that idea, but that does not mean it will not happen. Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson both like him and with the recent revelation of the forearm tightness he pitched through last season, there may well be too many within the organization that want to bring him back than can be resisted. My hope is if it happens, it is for $3 million or less for one year and not a longer term contract.

I’d rather see a proven set-up man over a period of at least two or three years be a target for a trade to become the closer for relatively low cost.

Kevin Slowey is not a good option even for the number five starter. His record last year was dreadful and it is clear that neither Gardenhire nor Anderson have a lot of confidence in his ability to do what is needed. I expect him either to be non-tendered or traded. That means the Twins need another proven starting pitcher. Trade is the most likely scenario, but there are some free agents that might be in the price range.

I’ll discuss the bull pen options and another post because there are so many scenarios that include both in house candidates, free agents (already signed and yet to be signed) and players acquired via trades, most probably as part of a multi-player deal.

Right field is the most important position to fill in my opinion. Left field can be adequately manned by Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe in a platoon effort. That would allow for lefty/righty matchups and for Revere to be available often off the bench to pinch run in late inning situations.

My great preference would be to re-sign Jason Kubel, a known quantity and very good hitter. He made the adjustment in 2011 to Target Field and even though his home run totals were not what he has done, that was more likely a result of his foot injury than anything else.

Michael Cuddyer is an option, but he is older than Kubel and not really much more mobile in the field. Both have good strong arms. The concern I have with Cuddyer is that the Twins would overpay for too many years and that is already a problem for the payroll. I also believe the Twins need new leadership in the clubhouse from some other players and that is less likely to happen if Cuddyer is back.

If neither Kubel nor Cuddyer are signed, then another starting outfielder is needed. Some are available in a decent salary range as free agents. Ryan may also work out some kind of trade for a strong right fielder.

Before wrapping up this review of needs, I must say that I think the Twins also need one more utility infielder to replace Nishioka, at least to open the season. He would greatly benefit from some time at AAA Rochester to get more comfortable with the way the game is played in the USA. He should get some time at shortstop and second base. If he progresses well on defense and hits well at Rochester he can be brought up to serve the utility role or replace Alexi Casilla if he flounders again in 2012. Luke Hughes is adequate as a corner infield utility guy, but less so at second base.

With these fixes, and good health for the whole roster, the Twins could be somewhat competitive in the Central Division.

Projecting 2012 Twins

Even though there is plenty of time left in the off-season for more changes to occur, I’m going to make my first projection of what the Twins roster will look like on opening day.

In so doing, I am making a couple of assumptions: 1) Injured players are ready to play, and 2) the 40-man roster will be the same as it is today (November 26).

Everyday lineup:

  • C Joe Mauer
  • 1B Justin Morneau
  • 2B Alexi Casilla
  • SS Jamey Carroll
  • 3B Danny Valencia
  • LF Ben Revere
  • CF Denard Span
  • RF Trevor Plouffe
  • DH Ryan Doumit

Bench:

  • C Drew Butera
  • INF Luke Hughes
  • INF Tsuyoshi Nishioka
  • OF Rene Tosoni

Pitchers:

  • S Carl Pavano
  • S Scott Baker
  • S Francisco Liriano
  • S Nick Blackburn
  • S Kevin Slowey
  • LR Anthony Swarzak
  • CL Glen Perkins
  • LHR Brian Duensing
  • LHR Jose Mijares
  • RHR Alex Burnett
  • RHR Lester Oliveros
  • RHR Jeff Manship
  • * 26th man Liam Hendriks

This little exercise demonstrates the huge holes that remain to be filled if the team is to be anything but an embarrassment again. The roster as outlined above would have very little chance of finishing anything but a distant last place in the Central Division.

As we progress through the off-season, I’ll post new versions of this roster taking into account the trades/free agent signings, as well as any new information we receive about the playing condition of key players, such as Mauer, Morneau and Span.

Needless to say, I will look forward to several changes before opening day so the Twins can at least have the prospect of not finishing last.

* The new CBA has a provision for a 26th player to be active for certain double headers during the year. In the Twins’ case, the player is most likely to be a starter brought up to pitch one of the games.

Red Wings’ New Manager

Gene Glynn will be the 2012 manager of the Rochester Red Wings.

He was a professional scout in the Tampa Bay Rays organization that past five years and has significant big league experience as a 3B coach.

Some comments on Twitter by a few who know him say he is knowledgeable and well liked. Given the difficult media relations of the previous manager, this is a good sign.

He will be taking over leadership of a team that had more than 90 losses each of the last two years. Red Wings management and Rochester area fans were reportedly becoming increasingly disgruntled by what appeared to them to be neglect on the part of the Twins’ front office.

Until we see the roster for the 2012 Red Wings, it is difficult to know whether or not he will be successful in his new role, but he will have some key prospects who played AA ball last year to help. In addition, Tom Brunanski will be the Red Wings’ hitting coach next year.

Glynn and Brunanski may well be the kind of changes that will breathe new life into the Red Wings and ultimately that will be good for the Twins as they need Rochester to be a good experience for their developing talent – Liam Hendriks, Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson and Brian Dozier – to name a few.

Here is the Web story by Jim Mandelaro who is a sports writer for the Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle newspaper.

Doumit Official Backup Catcher

The Twins made it official today in signing Ryan Doumit to a one-year contract. Terry Ryan made it clear he was being signed as a catcher, but would likely see some time in right field, DH and possibly first base.

This is a good signing – a clear step up from Butera offensively. Now the big question is will the Twins keep the third catcher on the roster and my guess is unless they trade him, Butera will open the season on the major league roster. This would allow both Mauer and Doumit to play almost every day.

Only his lost time as a result of injuries concerns me. If he and Mauer both get hurt, we are back to the same issues as last year.

In November I’ll choose to be optimistic about their status in 2012.

If Doumit is in the lineup most days, he will probably be catching or the DH most of the time. I would be very surprised if Doumit plays anything more than sparingly in the outfield. The Twins will still need to settle their starting outfield situation before opening day.

I suspect the only way Doumit will play much at first base is if Morneau is unable to be the regular there. Mauer is most likely the number one backup on days Morneau is resting or the DH while Doumit or Butera catches. Nice to have some flexibility options.

 

Discovering the Philosophical Differences

When the Twins announced the firing of Bill Smith, the reason given was philosophical differences, that great catch-all phrase similar to “wanting to spend more time with the family” as a reason for resignations.

During this off-season one of the on-going themes will be trying to discern just what philosophical differences there might actually be between Smith and Ryan. Each statement or action of Terry Ryan will be more fodder for the feeding frenzy of the bloggers and other sports journalists.

One thread of evidence that has been present more than once in Ryan’s comments is the idea of the need for better communication. In one respect, that by itself may be the primary philosophical difference. Apparently Smith was not good at nor terribly interested in open communication. Already there are stories of efforts made by Ryan to communicate more.

Based on what we have seen so far, Ryan is likely to be more clear about his expectations with everyone than Smith was. There are reports he already has told Gardenhire and the coaches, the players and their agents, and the staff including the medical and training staff exactly what he expects.

A few comments by Gardenhire last season now have more meaning. He referred to having to communicate with injured players, particularly pre-spring training but also when they were on the disabled list, by having to go through the player’s agent. My guess is that will not happen this year.

More evidence: Ryan made direct contact with each of the players who became free agents after the 2011 season. No doubt he (or his surrogate) is in contact with the agents as well, but it is significant that Ryan is making direct contact with players.

As I said in my last post, my memory may be less than stellar, but it does appear to me that Ryan is being more up front with the media on what he intends to accomplish this off-season than Smith was in previous years. Just today in his comments about Joe Nathan’s signing with the Rangers, he was pretty clear about his intent to look to the free agent market or trade to find a closer for 2012. Many Twins fans had anticipated Glen Perkins would get a shot at earning the closer spot, but that seems to be unlikely based on Ryan’s comments.

Don’t look for the Twins to suddenly be an open book at the front office level. They will continue to play it very close to the vest as they have done in the past. Evidence for that is how cautious Ryan was in talking about the Jamey Carroll signing until after the physical was completed. The same is the case on the agreement with Ryan Doumit, who all media outlets have said is coming to the Twins, but no public announcement has been made and will not be made until he passes the physical and the contract is signed.

The one significant bit of information that we all would like more specificity on is whether or not Ryan sees 2012 as a year to compete for a division championship, a rebuilding year, or something in between. So far, he seems to be approaching the year as not quite full rebuild mode, but also not an all in-win strategy.

So, for now at least, I’m concluding that communication style and strategies are the primary philosophical differences. Others may become more apparent as the off-season progresses.

Event-Filled Early Off-Season

Several high profile managerial and general manager changes. Astros final sale and 2013 move to the American League West. Two more wild card teams added to post-season play. Players and owners come to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. And in the Twins’s realm, Bill Smith is fired and replaced by Terry Ryan. Shortly after, Jamey Carroll is signed to a two-year deal to fill one gaping hope in the lineup. Now preliminary reports have Ryan Doumit coming to the Twins on a one-year deal.

It may be just that this year is fresh in memory, but it appears to me that this off-season has much more significant activity than last year and it is not even December yet. I look for more activity to come on the part of the Twins, although it is highly unlikely that they will sign any of the top free agents. As of now, it looks very much like they will not even be signing either Cuddyer or Kubel.

Following are some of my thoughts on the big changes in baseball.

After mulling it over for a while, my early reaction of ambivalence about the Astros move to the AL West has given way to grudging agreement that this will be an improvement over the unbalanced alignment that will still be in effect for 2012. The key is going to be how the schedule is set up. At least there is the possibility (probability?) that teams in the same division are going to play identical schedules.

I’m not all that excited about interleague play every day of the season, but that comes with the odd number of teams per league. I hope before too long a decision is made to either make the DH the rule for both leagues or go back to pitchers hitting for both leagues. That would even the playing field and make daily interleague play less onerous for teams to manage.

Much media discussion has already occurred over the wild card decision. Not surprisingly, passionately expressed opinions vary. I like the change, mostly because it makes winning the division more important. I also like the drama of a single game playoff. The Twins have experienced the euphoria and the agony that comes with the outcome of such a match up. Two sudden death games to open the post-season will provide similar intensity each fall.

What more will this off-season bring? We shall see. Next step, winter meetings in December.

Jamey Carroll Official

Not too surprisingly, the early reports are accurate. After passing his physical yesterday, the Twins today made the official announcement of signing Jamey Carroll. Terry Ryan says he will be given the opportunity to compete for the shortstop job. He also says Nishioka will get a “clean slate” and have a chance to win the shortstop position as well.

Most bloggers are assuming it is Carroll’s position to lose. That is not a bad assumption given the salary he was signed for – 2 years/$6.75 million. That would be too much to pay someone you expect to be in a utility role only.

Right now the presumption is the Twins infield will be Morneau, Casilla, Carroll, Valencia with Luke Hughes and Nishioka the prime candidates for backup roles. Ryan has more than once indicated that Plouffe will have a better chance to play in the outfield or DH.

Based on past performance, especially last year with the Dodgers, Carroll will be an upgrade both in the field and at bat. He will almost certainly be batting second in the lineup given his outstanding on-base percentage in his career. Some have said his on-base success last year was due to his batting 8th in the lineup where pitchers pitched around him or walked him to get to the pitcher. One report indicated that he batted first and second as well and his on-base percentage was even better when he hit in those two slots.

My sense is it is unlikely that he will suddenly be a bust, even at his age. I look forward to seeing him in spring training and to open the year.