Saturday, February 18, 2012

Baseball's Happy Lexicon - 2012

This shortest of phrases makes our hearts soar
Pitchers and catchers report
We limped through last year but come back for more
Pitchers and catchers report
99 losses taught the boys things
We yearn for the clean slate a new season brings
Like Hornsby we stared out the window for spring
Pitchers and catchers report

Four tiny words and hope’s candle’s lit
Pitchers and catchers report
Gardy will make sure they get after it
Pitchers and catchers report
Smith was relieved and Ryan’s the man
He let Cuddy go but got Josh Willingham
We’ll hope that Capps moon shots don’t ruin his plan
Pitchers and catchers report

We love when they hustle and slide in the dirt
Pitchers and catchers report
But please Lord don’t let the boys end up hurt
Pitcher and catchers report
We’ll watch through our fingers when Frankie throws
Obsess on the nogginof Justin Morneau
And the Bilat’ral legs of our catcher Joe
Pitchers and catchers report

Finally you take your turn as poet
Pitchers and catchers report
Channel your winter frustration and show it
Pitchers and catchers report
The comments below are a great place to bleat
Two tens and three ‘levens provide you the beat
(But add words wherever, if like me you cheat)
Pitchers and catchers report

With apologies to Franklin Pierce Adams

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Options Could Limit Twins Options

Don't believe the hype. There might be 66 guys in Twins spring training, but they aren't really competing for roster spots. In fact, there may not be a single roster spot to compete for.

How come? Because of "options." Options are a MLB administrative rule that limits how long a team can keep a player on their 40-man roster but keep them in the minors. Basically, they have three years before they need to commit to bringing that player to the majors. For a little more on it, check out this entry, where I compared it to the amount of time before you move from dating to married.

If a player doesn't have "options" left, they cannot be sent to the minors without being offered to every other major league team. So a team risks losing that player, and that isn't a risk the Twins are usually anxious to take. Thus, a player without options almost always has the inside track to make it to Opening Day. And when you look over the 25 spots the Twins have available, player without options look like they're going to gobble up most of the open spots. Let's run through them.

The Twins entered spring training with their lineup and rotation pretty set, which (barring any injuries) takes care of 14 of the 25 spots on the roster
C - Joe Mauer
1B - Justin Morneau
2B - Alexi Casilla
SS - Jamey Carroll
3B - Danny Valencia
DH - Ryan Doumit
RF - Josh Willingham
CF - Denard Span
LF - Ben Revere
Rotation - Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn & Jason Marquis

That leaves 11 spots, which probably includes four guys off the bench and seven guys in the bullpen. Here are heavy favorites for each of them:
  • Drew Butera is likely the backup catcher unless the Twins are really enamored with newly acquired JR Towles.
  • Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes are both out of options, so they're almost locks to be on the bench.
  • The fourth spot might be the only open spot, but the obvious option is Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who the Twins will be paying $3M whether he plays in the majors or minors.
And there are similar roster crunches in the bullpen. Four of the seven spots will likely go to Matt Capps, Glen Perkins, Joel Zumaya and Brian Duensing, all of whom are slotted for late-inning roles. And the other three spots? It turns out there are three relievers without options:
  • Anthony Swarzak is out of options, is right-handed and did a nice job in the swingman role last year. It seems obvious that he would make it.
  • Jeff Gray is a right-handed reliever who has pitched for several team the last couple of years. The Twins picked him up this offseason off of waivers because he was out of options. The Twins want at least one more right-hander in the bullpen, so he looks like a front-runner.
  • Finally, Matt Maloney is a left-hander that the Twins also picked up this offseason because he was also out of options. He has mostly worked as a starter, but so did Perkins before the Twins moved him to the bullpen. And a third left-handed reliever might make sense given that Perkins won't be used situationally.
Suddenly there are 0 spots left and another 41 guys in camp.

Phoning It In: Options

I just realized that I never posted this story on my own blog, just at the Strib's. Weird. Since it's one of my favorites, and since I want to refer to it fairly often, I'm going to publish it now, even though it's two years old.



By the fourth year together, you better be ready for a commitment. At that point, you’re out of options.

At 27 years old, this was explained to me subtly by my girlfriend ….

OK, subtly might be a little generous. She was not known for her subtlety. To be fair, she was from Philly. And I’m a Minnesota guy. So subtlety was neither going to find the seed nor the fertile ground to thrive. And that worked for us. Let’s try that sentence again.

At 27 years old, this was explained to me demonstratively by my girlfriend in the fourth year of our relationship. During the first year we barely saw each other, both of us clumsily falling into a long-distance relationship. The second year I moved to Philly and we navigated those life-changing rapids. The third year we drifted lazily down life’s river.

And then the fourth year came and all hell broke loose. Because I was out of options. A commitment needed to be made, or she was going to be gone. I had a decision to make.

Baseball options work the same way. A team has three seasons to make up its mind. If it doesn’t commit by the fourth, the player is going to be gone. The Twins have a decision to make.

Once a player is put on the 40-man roster (dating), the ballclub can only keep him off of the 25-man roster (marriage) for three seasons. It doesn’t matter how many times that person is added to or taken off of the 25-man roster during that season – the whole season is an option. So a player can be sent up and down multiple times during the season and it’s still one option. Or they can spend the entire season in the minors, and that’s also one option. The critical point is that they spend some time during that season not on the 25-man roster.

However, unlike our analogy above, those three seasons don’t need to be consecutive. Francisco Liriano would be a good example. Liriano was with the major league club all of last year; he never was sent back to the minors and so he didn’t cost the team an option. Even though he’s been on the 40-man roster for three seasons, he still has options, because the Twins didn’t send him down to the minors during some of those years. It would be like if I went overseas. That likely wouldn’t have counted as a year in our relationship. Though she might not have agreed.

Options are something that major league teams consider as they break spring training. A player who doesn’t make the roster and is out of options can be claimed by another team which has space on its 25-man roster. She finds somebody else who is a little more willing to make a commitment.

Fortunately, this year the Twins only have a few decisions to make.

Alexi Casilla (2B)
Last year’s make-or-break season for Alexi Casilla broke. But he’s still the best middle infield prospect in the Twins system, and with Orlando Hudson only signed for one year, the Twins would sure like to keep him around for 2011. But he’s out of options. The only way to keep him is to put him on the 25-man roster.

That presents a problem. Generally the Twins bring four bench players north plus possibly the 25th guy, who can be a bench or bullpen guy. Assuming Nick Punto plays third base, here is whom those four players need to be:

1. Jim Thome (for pinch-hitting)
2. Brendan Harris (or Punto, if Harris starts at 3B)
3. A backup catcher (Jose Morales if he’s healthy, Drew Butera if he isn’t)
4. A backup center fielder (can this be Jacque Jones?)

That leaves only the 25th spot – maybe – for Casilla. Or manager Ron Gardenhire could decide that he feels comfortable with Punto or Casilla as backup centerfielder (because he’s SO tolerant of questionable defense). My advice to Casilla is: get some time in centerfield during spring training. Major league, split squad, minor league – whatever it takes. He really needs to show that he can handle that spot.

For that matter Alexi, you might want to consider getting to camp early. Criminy! Are you really one of the four guys not there yet? You’re battling for the 25th roster spot and you’re not there yet? Savvy. On second thought, it might not be the biggest loss to lose Alexi.

Clay Condrey (RP)
It appears Clay Condrey, who is also out of options, is safe, but that has an impact on a lot of other pitchers. Generally the bullpen has six pitchers and one more if they successfully battle the bench for that 25th spot. Again, those spots seem to be spoken for (assuming Liriano gets the fifth rotation spot):
1. Joe Nathan
2. Matt Guerrier
3. Jesse Crain
4. Jose Mijares
5. Jon Rauch
6. Condrey (who is out of options).

So that leaves only the 25th spot for another pitcher. But look at all the players who are battling for that spot:
- Pat Neshek – the dominant setup guy coming back from Tommy John surgery
- Glen Perkins – who started last year in the Twins rotation
- Brian Duensing – who served as one of the Twins dependable starters last September
- Liriano – if he loses the fifth rotation spot to Duensing or Perkins
- Anthony Swarzak and Jeff Manship – two starting pitchers from last year who could probably use a little more time in the minors.

If Casilla gets the 25th spot (and everyone remains healthy), none of those guys make the team, despite having significant roles in previous years.

The good news is that all of those pitchers have options. The Twins can stash them in Rochester for a midseason call-up or to take the place of pitchers who leave at the end of the year. So the Twins are in a better position than I was with my girlfriend.

I also had a decision to make. So I went on a summer trip, had an experience that deserves its own column (where it can be used as an overreaching baseball analogy), and married her four years to the day after we met. In two more months, The Voice of Reason™ and I will have stretched that to twenty years.

(And I’ve never wanted another option.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Gleeman & The Geek Ep 28: My Twins The Car

Aaron's car finally kicked, so we take this opportunity to go through each of the Twins players and talk about our expectations, including which car we would compare them to. (It's better than it sounds.) Here are:
Or click on the image below to listen. Thanks!