Saturday, June 16, 2007


I didn't get to see a ton of tonight's game, but you don't need to see much more than the expression on Baker's face as he left the mound to figure out what's next. That was the face of someon who is frustrated beyond belief, who is so tired of failing that he isn't sure he wants to try again. It's the face of someone who would be better served in AAA, working on his confidence. Again.

You know the drill - I'm not a Twins insider, this is purely speculative, blah, blah, blah....but this team watches body language, and it especially watches it on prospects, and Baker's said "I just hate where I am right now." And frankly, I don't blame him. I still believe in the kid, but this isn't his time.

The natural question is whether it's Garza's time, and it appears it must be, because it sure isn't Ortiz's time again yet. Garza has been good, but not great in AAA, and let's not forget that he has some baggage from last year that he still hasn't shed.

Even trickier is that the Twins next starter is supposed to pitch on Wednesday against the Mets. A road start is usually a good thing for a youg pitcher, but Garza's next turn in the rotation is supposed to be tomorrow (Saturday) night. If the Twins want him to pitch on Tuesday, they'll need to cancel that start, which means they'll need to make a decision tomorrow morning. That might be a little faster than they want to move.

But they probably should, and I think they will. Judging by nothing more than the stunned look on Baker's prepubescent face, it's the right move.

edit (6/16/07): In today's Strib Twins recap, Gardenhire hints that Baker will get one more start. This makes complete sense given the schedule that Garza is on. Garza pitches on Tuesday (in Rochester). Baker will pitch on Wednesday. Thursday is an off day, which meant the Twins have some flexibility with their other starters for the next time through the rotation. That would allow Garza to pitch on Sunday (after a full four days rest) and it would make his first start on the road (which is generally preferred for younger pitchers.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

All Kinds of Notes

The Big Trade(TM)
The lead story on the news last night was TBT the Timberwolves made yesterday, trading pointish guard Mike James for powerish forward Juwan Howard. For Wolves fans there is some good news in that it's not a clear step backwards.

On the other hand, it's not necessarily a clear step forward, either. It makes room for Randy Foye, but James was never really in his way, in the same way that Howard won't ever really be in the way of Craig Smith. It also gives the Wolves one less year of a guaranteed contract, but not until the 2009-10 season. By that time, KG's contract is over, and I assume he would be gone.

But really, short of a miracle, there isn't a lot more that can be done. Next year, the Wolves would need to trade away at least two, and maybe three of their ridiculous non-KG contracts s to make their way below the salary cap. The year after that, they'll likely still be over the cap unless they move at least one of them. And then in 2009-2010, they'll be under the cap and flush with trading chits, as several contracts will be desirable as expiring contracts. And as KG plays for some other team.

What can be done in the short term? The easy answer is that Wolves need to hope they catch fire with that 7th pick. Short of that, the only other (non-KG) tradable commodity they have to improve the team is Ricky Davis, a talented but enigmatic player who could help a contending team OR just provide an expiring contract. Those two factors make him desirable to any number of teams. Whether the current Wolves management trades him might be a litmus test on whether they've learned anything from their current mismanagement of all things contractual.

Matt Tolbert
So Matt Tolbert is moving to third base, huh?

You won't find Tolbert on any prospect list for the Twins, which makes his hot start at Rochester more amazing. He's 25, which is pretty old for a breakout season, and he's also only carried this hot streak for 140 at-bats, so it might be a little early to start licking each other's popcicles.

Looking at his minor league stats so far, there's some stuff to like, provided you're not looking for big time power. He struggled mightily in 2005 in his first full yearin professional baseball, but last year he showed a fairly solid batting eyer and decent gap power, though his batting average in New Britain over the second half of the season didn't demonstrate much in the way of progress.

If he keeps up this kind of hitting (and by keep up, I don't mean hitting .379, but maybe closer to .310) you could make a case that he needs to be considered as a possible major league starting position player. But even then, I'm not sure you can project him to be a major league starter at third base unless your current third baseman is slugging .298.

What's that? Really? Um, forget I said anything.

Allocating Funds
The Twins announced yesterday that they have reached a quick agreement with Ben Revere, their first round pick in this years's draft. Revere signed for $800,000, a small amount given his first round status, possibly because he wasn't considered first round talent by at least one baseball publication.

Over at the GameDay's Writers blog, Kyle Eliason wasn't afraid to rip the Twins for their pick, in part because there were more many more highly touted prospects available, partly because Revere fits a small and speedy stereotype, and partly because he thought the Twins drafted him because he was cheap. I replied in the comments section that I thought he was overreacting a bit, but this signing seems to confirm at least the last point.

I've been critical of those writers who want to point to the millions of dollars the Twins spent on veteran pitchers this offseason, half of which now seems to be relatively wasted. My point was that the money was always a gamble, some of it (Silva's money) has paid off well, and that there wasn't much available for $3-4 million over one year that was any better.

But Kyle also commented and pointed at the draft as a place where that money CAN be used and used well. If the Twins are going to gamble on a player, why not on a player that can impact the organization for years at a time, rather than a 60 inning patch for April and May? I'm sure someone will point out that the money is likely in a seperate budget, but whose fault is that? When the Twins are drafting late, wouldn't it make sense to reserve some payroll dollars in the hope that a high-ceiling Scott Boras client might scare some other teams off?

For a competetive team, the current year always needs to be the priority. But it smelled like overkill at the time, and that seems to have been confirmed. Now it smells like that overkill may have affected this year's draft, which may affect the Twins several years down the road. None of this can be confirmed - maybe the Twins just really liked Revere and thought the other guys were overrated - but Kyle's right that this doesn't feel quite right.

Lew's Home Run
Did anyone else notice that while Lew Ford was rouding the bases last night, the PA system was pounding out the Victory March from Star Wars? Just like shooting womp-rats in Beggars Canyon back home, eh Lewk?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Wrong Lesson Learned

Twins fans knew that last year’s incredible late season surge was dangerous. It wasn’t something that this team or any team can count on, and there were plenty of warnings about it as we watched last year’s offensive lineup fail to put up last year’s numbers. We were prepared to not see the lineup transform to an offensive juggernaut just because June rolled around.

But we may have missed the real danger. Last year, we thought we learned that patience produces results - that we just needed to wait for the minor leaguers to overtake the offseason’s rent-a-veterans and raise this team to a higher level. Indeed, that’s what happened last year as Francisco Liriano, Jason Bartlett and Boof Bonser led the team’s turnaround.

Unfortunately, the cavalry is mostly here for the Twins, and they haven’t made much of an impact. The Twins began the season with four aces waiting in Rochester, and three of them have been played:
  • Glen Perkins came up within the first week, but hasn’t outperformed the role he was placed in – second lefty in the bullpen. His ERA is just 3.80, but he’s also given up 32 base runners in 23.2 innings, and only struck out 16. Plus, he’s now injured, with a strained muscle in his throwing shoulder, just beginning a throwing program on Tuesday.
  • Scott Baker came up to replace Sidney Ponson, whose 6.93 ERA earned him his release. Baker’s ERA after four starts is 6.45, and his turn in the rotation will be skipped this week.
  • Ramon Ortiz was demoted to the bullpen after he followed up five straight quality starts with five straight non-quality starts. He was replaced by Kevin Slowey, who followed up his first quality start with a non-quality start last week. His 4.09 ERA looks fine, but five strikeouts in eleven innings means he’s not missing many bats. In fact that strikeout rate is eerily similar to Ortiz’s.

That leaves one card left to trump the AL Central. Matt Garza continues to toil in Rochester, putting up numbers less impressive than Slowey or Baker, but he’s still considered the pitcher with the highest upside. With the struggles of some other members of the pitching staff, it would be shocking if he didn’t get his (second, by the way) chance by the All-Star break. Twins fans will be crossing their fingers, hoping that Garza can do what the rest of the minor leaguers have not yet done – provide a needed boost.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


It’s getting a little redundant, this talk about the offense not working. But there’s no escaping that the June swoon the Twins are in right now is mostly related to the offense, and when you look at each players numbers, that’s the obvious problem.

NOBODY is hitting right now. That’s not an exaggeration. The only regular who has been productive offensively in the month of June is Jason Kubel, and he’s day-to-day with a strained knee. As a team, the Twins are hitting .216 in the month of June, and that includes facing the Nationals’ quadruple-A rotation.

Oh, heck, if we’re gonna wallow in this thing, we might as well go all the way. This team’s OPS (On-base Plus Slugging percentage) is 600. For those of you not familiar with OPS, I tried to find a comparable bad ex-Twin with an OPS of 600 – and couldn’t find one. Luis Rivas? His career OPS is 690. Denny Hocking? Career OPS of 654. Last year Tony Batista had an OPS of 691 when the Twins released him. Even Juan Castro has a career OPS of 694. That’s where we’re at right now – the Twins lineup is hitting much worse than a lineup full of Juan Castros. Heck, they might be worse than a lineup full of Fidel Castros.

In fact, you can’t find many Twins who are individually outhitting Castro’s 694 benchmark thsi month. There are, in fact, just four, and two of them aren’t regulars (Lew Ford and Luis Rodriguez). Besides Kubel, only Michael Cuddyer (just a 710 OPS, .233 BA, 1 HR) has been better than Castro-phic. As for the rest of the team…
  • Luis Castillo is hitting .294 in June, but is still getting on-base less than the league average because he’s drawn only one walk (versus four strikeouts)
  • Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau, who have been as good a twosome as there was in the American league, are hitting .183 combined this month. Each also has one home run, but no doubles.
  • After hitting .239 in April, and .243 in May, we expected Jason Bartlett to get on track in June. Instead, he’s jumped them, hitting just .143 so far this month.
  • And he’s STILL out-hitting Nick Punto, whose batting just .130.
  • And they’re both out-producing each of the Twins catchers. Mike Redmond did a decent impression of Joe Mauer in the month of May, but has hit just .182 in June, with just one walk, no extra-base hits, and only one RBI. Mauer returned to the lineup this weekend, and had one hit and zero walks in his nine plate appearances.

So, at least they’re being consistent.

For several weeks Twins fans have lobbied for adding a significant bat to the lineup, but it’s fair to say that the futility we’ve seen this month goes far beyond that. This is just an offensive slump, one that is affecting the whole team.