Terry Ryan News

I’ve been eagerly waiting for any news from the Twins, anticipating more changes to the roster, but today the news from Twins’ headquarters is not good.

I hope Terry Ryan and his medical team will be successful at getting rid of the cancer. From the brief reports in the media today, there appears to be optimism that he caught it early enough and the treatments will be effective.

Best wishes to him and his family.

Shortage of Baseball News

This time of year can be frustrating for baseball fans. For us the season begins the first day pitchers and catchers take the field. In spite of that being just a dozen days away, there is not much real baseball news lately.

Local media have been posting new stories with less frequency than an eager fan is ready to read. And, those stories are mostly on topics that are essentially player profiles and feel good perspectives. I will hasten to say, I appreciate all of the sports writers no matter what they produce. Many of the recent stories are interesting for giving us some insights into what players are thinking and what goes on in the clubhouse. And, it is not the press’ fault there is very little hard news to report.

My guess is everyone – fans, sports writers, players – would love to see a little more action on the roster building front, but that requires more than one individual to get done. Whether Terry Ryan wants to add players or effect trades or not, there needs to be at least one other agreeable party. Right now with so little going on in all major league baseball, it is clear there is still some sort of log-jam that is holding up a sequence of signings. There are too many quality free agents still available for me to believe the action is done.

I thought it was the international pitchers holding up the market, but that does not now seem to be the case with the Yankees signing of the primary target and little else happening subsequently.

What else is going on? Right now, I’m baffled.

Maybe the rumors of some hitters being close to signing will break things open. There is, after all, not much time left before spring training begins. One would think it would be best to have all players in camp from the beginning rather than joining late and having to fit in to a network already established.

I am still of the opinion the Twins need to make some more moves to strengthen the regular lineup as well as maybe one more starting pitcher to compete for a spot.

And so, we wait. Impatiently.

Rotation Roulette

The starting rotation for the first few games has now been set. Vance Worley gets opening day followed by Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey. Most likely Cole De Vries and Liam Hendriks will fill out the group at least until Scott Diamond is ready to return. No matter how one looks at this array of starting pitchers, it is not a World Series image that comes into view. Fifth place in the division is a more realistic picture.

With the whole off-season and ample payroll room to work out solutions, it is more than a little disappointing that this rotation is the best Terry Ryan could assemble for 2013. Was he counting on Kyle Gibson making the big league roster? Does he really believe the three former National Leaguers comprising the front end of this rotation are going to get the job done to be competitive this year? Did he miscalculate and lose other free agents he thought would bite on his offers? From my vantage point, these questions are unanswerable. I can only speculate, but it appears to me Terry Ryan knows this year is a place holder for the future and he was just trying to get some innings eaters – basically 4th and 5th slot starters – to bide time until younger arms are ready.

While I think Diamond paid his dues and pitched quite well for much of the year last year, the latter part of last season does not give me high confidence that he can sustain his performance level of last year. He is definitely a regression candidate for 2013, primed for a sophomore slump. I hope I’m wrong and he comes on strong right out of the chute whenever he is finally activated, but it does not seem like a good bet to me. At best, he is much more likely to be a future back of the rotation guy.

Beginning in just a few days, we’ll have the opportunity to start watching how it all will play out. Today Correia looked like he might be coming around (in his final spring start against Boston) and that is at least one reason for encouragement. Whether he and the others can make a positive adjustment to the American League is going to be one of the intriguing story lines to follow this year. My bet is Correia and possibly Pelfrey will be in the bullpen or gone by mid-season with Sam Deduno, Gibson, Rich Harden and/or possibly one or two of the young power arms acquired in the off-season moving into the rotation to gain experience for 2014 and 2015.

In spite of all the pessimism in this post, I am excited for the season to begin. It will be interesting to watch so many new faces, some young future stars, develop even if the won-lost record leaves something to be desired. If the Twins play better defensively and show improvement in consistency of good at-bats, that will be enough to return to a more optimistic outlook for 2014 and beyond.

Post-Winter Meeting Thoughts

With the winter meetings now history, this is as good a time as any to put together some thoughts about how much progress has been made so far this off-season. I’ve been more than a little lethargic the last couple of months when it comes to thinking about the Twins. It has been difficult to get too excited because the roster has so many needs of upgrades and my confidence in their willingness to address enough of them to field a competitive team in 2013 has so far been low.

Activity at the winter meetings has changed that. Realistic or not, the moves made by Terry Ryan this past week have been exciting enough to recharge the enthusiasm at least a little bit. Trading Denard Span was not unexpected, but I must admit I was a little disappointed in the return – prospect Alex Meyer – not because he is not a very good prospect, but because I was hoping for the first move by Ryan to be a signal that he was putting together a respectable starting rotation for 2013 and not just beyond. Trading Ben Revere did come as a surprise because I have been speculating that he would be the starting center fielder for the Twins for a year or possibly more while we waited for Aaron Hicks to be ready. The more I think about and and review what was received in return, the more I really like the move. One slot in the rotation is now filled with the acquisition of Vance Worley. Another excellent pitching prospect, who will likely start the season at Rochester, in Trevor May, sweetens the deal if he progresses as hoped for. And finally, the Rule 5 selection of Ryan Pressly may prove to be a good choice if he makes the 25-man roster upgrading one slot in the bullpen.

There was only one dark spot in the Rule 5 process and that was the loss of recently acquired pitcher, Tom Boleska, in the AAA Rule 5 draft. It remains to be seen just how large a loss that will be, but the fact that he was a free agent when he was signed November 20, means he was not highly valued by his previous franchise.

It is clear the Twins are not finished yet with off-season moves. Rumors have Justin Morneau as the next possible trade bait and that may well happen if Ryan can secure more major league ready starting pitching in the process. With some offers out to free agent starting pitchers, according to Twin Cities media reports, one or more starters may be acquired that way. It will certainly be interesting to see how that all turns out in the next few weeks.

Even as early as it is in the off-season, I am going to go out on a limb and project Darin Mastroianni as the opening day center fielder. I was impressed with him this past season and think he will be a very good fourth outfielder eventually, but an adequate fill-in until Hicks is ready – most likely mid-season 2013. Mastroianni is very similar to Revere in many respects, but with a better arm. If Revere was going to be an adequate outfielder for the short term, Mastroianni will be also. I’m expecting him to win the battle for opening day starter over Joe Benson and Aaron Hicks, although if Benson has a hot spring, he may make the opening day roster at least as the fourth outfielder. Hicks needs to play every day so will almost certainly start the season in Rochester.

I’m going to wait a little while before posting too many projections for 2013, but at least the roster actions of the past week have stirred some interest again.

Off-Season Day Two

The dust is beginning to settle a little after the tumultuous day of changes on the Twins staff. Terry Ryan, along with Dave St. Peter and Jim Pohlad, met with media this afternoon to talk about the changes in the coaching staff and head trainer.

It is clear that two years of last place in the American League finishes are unacceptable. Whether or not these changes and the coming search for pitching will be enough to produce a winning season in 2013 remains to be seen, but for now, the Twins appear to be ready to make significant changes in order to win.

The Twins organization has not been known for knee-jerk reactions. Loyalty has been a hallmark of the Pohlad era. Changes in so many positions are a signal of that changing. The Target Field era is different. There are no revenue excuses anymore. It also appears that the Pohlad sons, particularly Jim, are much more interested in winning or at least not fielding an embarrassing team anymore, than their father, Carl, was. Loyalty is no longer the dominant theme. Accountability is.

Ron Gardenhire has been retained – he has one more year on his contract – but he has not been offered an extension. Now all of the coaches are on one-year contracts. 2013 must be a turn around year, or there will be even more changes at the helm.

With the shuffling of roles (Vavra & Ullger) and retention of Gardenhire and Rick Anderson, three of the allowable six major league coaching positions are filled. That leaves three positions (as well as head trainer) to be filled. Much local media and blogger speculation is going on right now and Gene Glynn, Tom Brunanski and Bobby Cuellar are identified as the likely candidates. Paul Molitor, though he indicated interest, is not going to be in the mix.

I suspect within a couple of weeks, perhaps sooner, these positions will be announced and the promotion of current organization coaches are going to be the choice. With no inside information at all to bolster my view, I believe the staff will be settled before the organizational meetings so the focus can be on planning rather than filling of positions.

We shall see.

Off-Season Day One

Today is the first day of the 2012-13 off-season and it started out with a bang for the Twins. Terry Ryan is doing what he hinted not long ago in interviews and the meeting with the season ticket holders – making changes that are designed to put the team in a better position for future success.

Significant changes in the major league coaching staff were announced today. Details are available on the various Twins Cities media sites, so I will not reiterate any of that here, but what I will say is the moves are both expected and surprising. They are expected because the Twins cannot afford to continue another year as if all is well and Ryan and Ron Gardenhire said there might be changes in the coaching staff. The are surprising in the number of changes and in some cases individuals that many observers would not have identified as problems.

Tomorrow there will be a meeting where more detail and perhaps more changes will be announced.  I look forward to hearing more as the media reports today are rather sketchy.

The Twins Web site already reflects the changes announced today. Interestingly, Scott Ullger and Joe Vavra were listed as minor league assignments which contradicts what local media have reported so far.

Attracting less attention than the major coaching changes is the release (non-renewal?) of the head trainer. I see that as a significant event in that the Twins have had several issues with injuries and apparent dissatisfaction of some players related to injury diagnoses the past two years. It remains to be seen if they promote from within or hire from outside the organization, but I am encouraged by this situation be addressed.

Day Two, tomorrow, promises to be as interesting as Day One.

Core of 2013 Roster

As the month of August winds down when a team is out of playoff competition it is almost inevitable that fan focus shifts to the next year. In the case of the Twins, it is too late for there to be any hope for a miracle finish, as if that hope was not already dashed in April, and the way the team has played in recent weeks, waiting for September call-ups to bring new fan interest in watching the games is getting old.

As my first post about 2013, I am going to look at the current set of players and project which ones are most likely to be the core for the coming year. Two factors will be primary in my selecting these players – current/past performance and whether or not they are under contract already for next year. I’ll also consider Ron Gardenhire’s known predilections because, like it or not, they will influence Terry Ryan’s decisions.

Several weeks have passed since the Twins signed Ryan Doumit to an extension, but at the time I saw that as a key move for the 2013 roster. Obviously, Joe Mauer is a given. With his extension, so is Doumit. What may not be as obvious, but I think there is a good case to be made for it, is I believe that signing also all but assures a spot for Drew Butera. I can hear the boos and derision from Twins fans already, but here is the case. Both Mauer and Doumit in recent years have missed a good deal a time due to injuries. Both Mauer (1B and DH) and Doumit (DH and mostly LF) have been in this year’s lineup for many more games than they would have been had they been the number one C with just days off at DH. That has been good for the Twins’ offense. Having Butera as backup and occasionally catching full games has made Gardenhire (here is one of his predilections) feel good about using both of his hitting catchers regularly and not run the risk of giving up the DH in any given ballgame. Keeping only two of these catchers would make them both less productive and Butera is not exactly blocking any other catchers from making the roster. He is not going to get worse as a hitter sitting on the bench and playing rarely. He is a good defensive catcher who calls a good game. Having his weak bat taking up a spot on the bench limiting pinch-hitting options is not enough of a detriment to not keep Butera because of the production of Mauer and Doumit all year. It makes sense to go into 2013 with the same plan. In future years, if better hitting catchers in the system are ready for the major league level, this plan can be altered.

Among the pitchers, very few are what I consider to be core players now. Scott Diamond is the only starter who deserves a guaranteed spot in the rotation. In the bullpen, I see only Glen Perkins and Jared Burton as having spots locked up. That doesn’t mean other current roster members won’t make the team and contribute in positive ways, but it does mean no guarantees for them.

Other position players in the core for 2013 are Josh Willingham, Ben Revere and Jamey Carroll. I list only these three because I see Denard Span and Justin Morneau as important trade bait during the off-season. If they are not traded, they become members of the core group. Perhaps the most controversial choice is Carroll. I name him not because I see him in a starting role, but because he is under contract and serves as an excellent utility player whose veteran leadership/mentoring will be needed if the Twins go with young players as starters in the middle infield.

That is the core for 2013. If others want to become part of that core, they are going to have to earn the spot between now and the end of the season.

Twins and Trade Deadline

Now that the hullabaloo of the non-waiver trade deadline has passed without the Twins making any deals, other than the trade this past weekend of Francisco Liriano to the White Sox, it might be time to enjoy a little baseball again.

Following the various speculations and rumors of trades via Twitter this year was at times almost hilarious. The hyperventilation of some fans and bloggers/commenters, unseemly as it was, provided a window into what the baseball world in conjunction with social media looks like.

Although my first reaction was a bit of disappointment for how little the Twins got in return for Liriano, after more thought remembering he was going to be too expensive to keep under any circumstances and understanding the new CBA rules regarding compensatory picks, etc., I think the Twins got about the best they could get. Unlike a number of sports writers and bloggers, I do not think Terry Ryan blew this one. The market for a very inconsistent pitcher – despite his talent – is not very high when his salary is about to become outrageous. No matter how well he does with the White Sox, I expect him to test the free agent market and I do not think he will get anything near the $12.4 million the qualifying offer would have to have been. Right now my bet is he will get a two-year deal with some team for less than $12 million per year.

Likewise, I am not at all disturbed the Twins were unable to work out any deals approaching the deadline today. All of the players who were in some sort of demand are under contract for at least one more year. The Twins did not have to sell low as they did with Liriano. Judging from my cursory review of the flurry of trades, the Twins were not offered enough for what they would have to give up. The Twins need major-league or major-league ready starting pitching. Most teams do not have enough of that themselves, so their asking price is going to be high. I think the Twins will have a better chance for a good, balanced deal during the off-season than pulling the trigger now.

Meanwhile, tonight we get the intriguing match-up of Liriano vs. Nick Blackburn – two pitchers who have been wildly inconsistent and highly disappointing this year.

First Look At 2014

The game tonight (July 4) marks the midway point (game 81) in the season for the Twins. It also is the third game of the four-game series in Detroit to be followed by a three-game series in Texas to wind up the traditional first half of the season before the all-star break.

The Twins’ record is not good enough to realistically expect them to contend for the division title this year, but they remain close enough to the top (8 games back) to not rule them out completely. For many of the Twins fans who have consoled themselves by looking forward to a pre-trade deadline selling spree, this position is the worst one could hope for. Not close enough (not to mention too weak a rotation) to have real hope for a miracle finish, and not far enough out to trigger the full rebuild most of us believe is going to be necessary for the Twins to be competitive in the future.

Right now, 2013 looks like a bleak year mostly because the starting rotation is a disaster with little on the horizon in the upper minors to make one feel like there are reasonable options. We will know more in the next three to four weeks which direction the Twins are going to go the rest of this year. Most likely, it will be during the off-season that Terry Ryan gets serious about fixing the rotation for next year. That is of course assuming that Ryan remains the GM. All bets are off on that if the Twins collapse the way they did last year.

Just for the fun of it, I’m going to look ahead – beyond next year – and see what 2014 might look like, based on the players currently in the Twins organization who are either under contract extending through 2014 or likely to still be with the Twins. Where I see no close to worthy alternatives, I’ve indicated the need for acquisition via trade or free agency to fill the hole.

  • C Joe Mauer, Chris Hermann
  • 1B Chris Parmelee
  • 2B Brian Dozier
  • SS Pedro Florimon
  • 3B Trevor Plouffe
  • LF Josh Willingham
  • CF Ben Revere
  • RF Oswaldo Arcia
  • DH Ryan Doumit
  • Bench: Alexi Casilla, Darin Mastroianni, utility player
  • Starters: Scott  Diamond, Kyle Gibson, (Liam Hendriks), two or three via trade or free agency
  • Relievers: Glen Perkins (CL), Jared Burton, Alex Burnett, Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak, Lester Oliveros, several internal options (Tyler Robertson, Kyle Waldrop, Deolis Guerra, Anthony Slama, Esmerling Vasquez, Jeff Manship, Matt Maloney)

24 Games In

With a day off on their current west coast swing, it is a decent time for an early season assessment. Having completed 24 games with a record of 6-18 and on now on a three game losing streak following the sweep by the Angels, the Twins are the worst team in the majors by far. To add insult to injury, the Twins were no-hit by Jered Weaver.

Is this team really that bad?

Short answer: yes.

While the dearth of hitting the last couple of games has been obvious, that is not the primary problem. Starting pitching is the real culprit and it is very difficult to believe it is going to get any better soon. Francisco Liriano showed a few signs of improvement in his start against the Angels, but he is going to have to continue to improve and demonstrate some kind of consistency to remain in the rotation. Carl Pavano may improve some as the weather warms up, but he is not a top of the rotation pitcher anymore. Nick Blackburn is also not a top of rotation guy, and if he cannot get his sinker working consistently, he should be moved to the bullpen as the long-man/mop guy. Liam Hendricks may have some potential to be decent, but he is likely to take a few more lumps as he learns. He would definitely have benefited from some more time at Rochester, but for various reasons he has been needed.  Jason Marquis looks to be a Pavano clone – ok for the back of the rotation, but not reliable enough to be a stopper. And there you have it. By far the worst rotation in the major leagues.

That being the case, the question that comes to mind is: how long will it be before Terry Ryan declares the season lost and starts the rebuilding effort in earnest.

My best guess is he has already started working on it, testing other GM’s to determine what interest there may be in which players, but not much will actually happen until June when contending teams start to seriously explore to fill their needs for the stretch run.