Sunday, January 13, 2008

An Early Spring Invitation

Twins sign RHP-Zach Day to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
Twins sign LHP-Randy Keisler to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

You gotta love being a Twins blogger.

For most teams, being a blogger is a grind in the offseason. Sure, they might have some big free agent signings that we don't get to enjoy, but mostly they need to wait until spring training to warm up those mental muscles.

Not us. We've already had one enormous trade completed. And we've lost a giant part of our recent history. Of course, Santana trade talk has kept us all busy. And now, just when things look a little staid, the Twins give us this unexpected present - a pair of signings that seem designed to launch us into spring training mode.

They are literally begging me to write an article that could as easily be published at the end of March as in the middle of January. Because these signings are a fantastic example of a strength and weakness that this organization has displayed repeatedly for the last half dozen years. And the signing indicates that we'll likely see them again.

The signing of Zach Day is the scary one, but the problem with signing Day isn't Day's play, per se. (Or his pay. In fact, you may say their way to pay Day is OK. Hmmm, I might like having Day on this team more than I thought.) No, the problem is that Day is another in the line of pitchers like Ramon Ortiz or Rick Helling. He could be perceived as a veteran by a coaching staff whose salivation glands activate when the words "veteran pitching" are uttered. It's very likely that Day ends up pitching way more innings than he should in this organization. I would estimate the number of rants about this topic in various blogs at the end of March to be 97.5.

In reality, Day is a pitcher who hasn't thrown even 100 innings in the major leagues since 2004. He's also only thrown 372.2 innings in his major league career. As you've likely already heard, he's coming back from rotator cuff surgery, which is damn hard surgery to ever come back from. And even at his "peak", he was only striking out half as many batters as he pitched innings. Which wouldn't be terrible if he didn't walk almost as many.

So let's recap - he was never particularly good, and the last time he was used regularly was four years ago. And he's trying to recapture that "magic" after a surgery that has ended more than one career. Oh, and given the coaching staff's predisposition towards protecting their young, there's a better than 50% chance he'll be on the starting staff on Opening Day. Really, the only good news is that his presence will likely goad Bat Girl to come out of retirement for some Dr. Seuss rhymes.

Well, that's not the only good news, because the Twins also signed Randy Keisler. Again, this isn't so much about Keisler as it is how he will be used. Keisler is also a veteran (31 years old), but really hasn't done much starting since he bounced in and out of the back end of the Yankees rotation back in 2001. And yes, I know saying s0meone bounced in and out of the back end of anything probably isn't especially flattering.

But this really is good news, because Keisler looks like a piece that could fit nicely into the Twins bullpen, and the Twins are genrally objective and logical about their bullpen. Keisler is left-handed, and his strikeout rate approaches the league average and sometimes exceeds it. In his major league career he's also struggled with control, but that hasn't been much of a problem recently in mostly full seasons in AAA.

The Twins bullpen looks pretty full right now, but there are all kinds of questions surrounding various participants, from Pat Neshek's late season fatigue to Dennys Reyes' control to Juan Rincon's health. Keisler slots in as another left-handed option with Carmen Cali, only he appears usable against right-handers and in long stints. Plus, he simultaneously provides insurance for Glen Perkins, who is basically providing insurance for Francisco Liriano.

All of which might make you believe that Keisler is a better player than Day. He's not, or at least it's not obvious that he is. But he still represents a better signing, because this organization holds their relievers especially accountable while doing almost exactly the opposite with their veteran starting pitchers.

It's a nice reminder. And it's nice that they provided it in mid-January, so we can remember who we'll again be rooting for, and grumbling about, in March.


Diggity Dino said...

Of course, Day's signing is significantly closer to Helling's than to Ortiz's, given the minor league contract. And if Day is another Helling, which he probably will be, that means that he will provide less than 40 total innings, all in the minors, before getting released. 50% chance of making the rotation??? You've got to be kidding. Both Ortiz and Ponson were signed to major league contracts, which clearly is a huge distinction and makes the comparison much different.

Nick N. said...

Both Ortiz and Ponson were signed to major league contracts, which clearly is a huge distinction and makes the comparison much different.

Ponson was signed to a minor-league contract. I'm not too worried about Day; I strongly doubt he'll be a member of the Twins' 25-man roster on Opening Day.

John said...

We'll see, I guess. Sometime around Twinsfest weekend, Gardy will be asked who his starting rotation will be. And the chances of him including Day in that list are approximately 135%.

John said...

I think the chances of Day making the opening day roster are very low. It's standard practice to invite these minor league signs to Spring Training, in large part because they are new to the organization and the coaching staff needs an opportunity to evaluate them, should injury replacements be required during the season.

Now, the case of Ponson clearly must give Twins fans pause. However, Day is coming off injury and has an even worse recent track record than Ponson did. Another distinction is that the other rotation options already have MLB experience- Slowey particularly and Perkins to a lesser extent.

The Twins of course will say Day is competing for a rotation spot, but the odds of him winning that spot aren't good unless Santana is dealt, no MLB-ready pitcher comes back, and Liriano isn't ready (or another pitcher gets hurt). Otherwise:


After that, Blackburn and Duensing, and possibly Bass, would probably have the edge on Day unless he shows he is healthy and can get AAA batters out.

Kyle Eliason said...

You'll have to downgrade your projected rant total slightly. I like me some failed prospects, even if their long since gone potential was almost completely wiped out by injury. I refuse to pay any mind to realtiy with respect to Day. 2008 is the new 2000!

JimCrikket said...

I doubt either of these guys will ever see the Minneapolis airport. I just don't see them as comparable to Ortiz and Ponson as neither comes close to having had MLB careers comparable to those two pitchers.

There's another reason teams sign reclamation projects like this to minor league "invites". Starting in March, the teams start playing baseball games and while those games are 9 innings just like regular season games, pitchers are not asked to throw more than a couple of innings per game, which means you need at least 4-5 arms to send out there every day. In other words, you need guys you know have almost no chance to make the club.

If you happen to catch lightning in a bottle with such a signing, that's a bonus. Otherwise, you release them as pitchers stretch out their innings or use them as fillers for your AAA staff.

The Ortiz and Ponson experience certainly gives Twins fans cause to pause... but I just don't see this as the same thing. I hope I'm not proven wrong.