FoxSports.com reported earlier this week that Terry Mulholland will sign a minor-league contract with the Diamondbacks. I was very critical of Mulholland during his two seasons with the Twins and even more critical of the team for signing and playing him. However, he was not quite as horrendous as I expected him to be, although that still meant going 5-11 with a 4.89 ERA in 182.1 innings.
J.C. Romero being traded to Los Angeles and Mulholland officially exiting leaves the Twins without an established left-handed pitcher in the bullpen. I don't really think having a lefty reliever is absolutely necessary (the Angels in recent years being a good example), but my guess is that the Twins do. At this point it looks like the job will be between Dennys Reyes and Gabe White, who have both signed minor-league contracts with the Twins that include invites to spring training.
Neither player excites me much. Reyes has pretty good raw stuff, but he's 29 years old and has never really been able to consistently throw strikes. He has a career ERA of 4.80 and posted a 5.15 ERA and 35-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio while pitching in pitcher-friendly San Diego this year. Meanwhile, White is a strike-throwing machine, but he is also an extreme fly-ball pitcher who gives up an extraordinary number of homers.
I have little doubt that either guy could do a passable job as a true LOOGY, but Ron Gardenhire has shown no indication that he will use someone in that role. Romero faced a ton of right-handed hitters during his time in Minnesota, and while Mulholland surprisingly shut down lefties in 2005, he faced enough righties for it to cancel out. Not messing around with relievers who face only one batter at a time is generally a positive thing for a manager, but the problem is that if Reyes and White are used in the same way they will struggle.
I like how Gardenhire runs a bullpen, but the team's apparent commitment to carrying a lefty at all costs goes against his style. A smart manager will take a good righty over a mediocre lefty just about every time, and the Twins have the correct assortment of right-handed arms in their system to make that work. Rather than mess around with guys like Reyes or White, who might be decent in defined roles but probably won't even be used that way, I'd rather they filled the back of the bullpen with guys like Willie Eyre or Boof Bonser.
Speaking of former Twins signing minor-league contracts, the Corpse Formerly Known as Bret Boonesigned with the Mets the other day. Twins fans will remember Boone as the owner of one of the least successful stints with the team in franchise history. I voice a lot of opinions here and thanks to the law of averages many of them make me look smart, but rarely have I been so right so quickly as when I criticized the trade for Boone.
Over at his blog, John Sickels asked his readers to predict the 2006 American League standings. Of those polled, 43% said that the Indians would win the division and 37% said that the White Sox would win the division. For those of you without calculators, that means the Twins are left with some portion of the remaining 20%, along with the Tigers and Royals.
Former Twins prospect and native Minnesotan Michael Restovichsigned a minor-league deal with the Cubs this week. Restovich is basically all out of chances to become anything more than a guy who shuttles back and forth between Triple-A and the majors at this point, but I'll probably go to my grave thinking that he could have been a useful platoon player for the Twins.
Restovich has hit .254/.333/.408 in 127 career games, including .281/.336/.467 against left-handed pitching. The amusing thing about him signing with Chicago is that he could hypothetically end up platooning with Jacque Jones, which is the role I kept hoping for him to take over while with the Twins. Of course, that would assume that Dusty Baker believes any more in platooning than Gardenhire did, which is pretty doubtful.
Luis Rivas, who is thankfully out of my life now, is reportedly being courted by the Rockies. That's a smart move for Rivas, because at least playing half the time at Coors Field will make his raw numbers look less horrendous. I was looking over some stuff at Baseball Prospectus the other day and saw that over the course of 565 games with the Twins, Rivas was 49 runs below average offensively. Tony Batista, who may very well take over for Rivas as my least favorite player, is 51 runs below average offensively over 1,179 career games.
Nothing will happen as far as Corey Koskie coming back to the Twins until spring training, according to a person who knows what is going on. At that time, if Toronto hasn't dealt Koskie, look for Twins owner Carl Pohlad to go out of his way to get Koskie back here if Toronto will pick up a good share of that big contract.
Of course, as anyone who has read the Minneapolis Star Tribune for any length of time knows all too well, Hartman saying something makes it no more likely to come true than, say, the lottery numbers that can be found within a fortune cookie leading to millions.
It's been amusing watching the ongoing rumors surrounding Corey Koskie's potential return to the Twins. The story changes seemingly every day, and the two major newspapers here can't seem to agree on what's happening. One day someone in one paper writes that the Twins and Blue Jays are in serious talks to bring Koskie back to Minnesota, and the next day someone in the other paper writes that the Twins aren't even interested in Koskie coming back.
The Toronto Blue Jays have offered to trade third baseman Corey Koskie back to the Twins while absorbing a sizeable chunk of his remaining contract, a major league official familiar with the negotiations said Tuesday. But so far, the Twins have been reluctant to make the trade.
Before the Twins let Koskie leave as a free agent, they offered him a two-year deal for about $8.5 million. The Blue Jays apparently have floated that number back to the Twins, making it clear they would absorb at least $3 million, if not more, to make the deal happen.
In return, Toronto is asking the Twins for a minor league prospect. The Twins have refused to move Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker in other deals, but the Blue Jays aren't asking for anyone at that level, the major league official said.
There is some other good stuff in the article, including a hint that Terry Ryan may have promised Tony Batista some sort of a playing-time guarantee, but at some point I've got to stop quoting an article and simply tell you to go read it for yourself.
As for Koskie coming back to Minnesota? I'd be all for it if the price was right. Koskie is extraordinarily injury prone and will probably cease being a quality player very suddenly, but even in a dismal first year with the Blue Jays he managed to hit .265/.365/.437 against right-handed pitching. That's very solid production at third base and significantly better than Batista can ever hope to do.
Koskie can only be counted on for about 100 games a year at this point and needs to be platooned against left-handed pitching. However, if used correctly he can still be a key contributor to a contender both offensively and defensively. Replacing Batista with him at this stage in the game -- when the Twins' lineup appears all but set heading into 2006 -- would be a major upgrade.
The question is whether or not the Twins can expand their payroll to take on Koskie even at a reduced rate or if that would mean having to trade away Kyle Lohse to make room. Much is made of the Twins' inability to sign big-name free agents, but the worst part about being a small-market team is the struggle that comes along with something as minor as adding enough payroll to re-acquire a player like Koskie who was lost in the first place over relatively little money.
The only problem I've had with the Twins' offseason has been the signing of Batista and the indication that he is in the team's plans as the everyday third baseman for 2006. If Ryan is able to pick up Koskie from Toronto for a mid-level prospect while having the Blue Jays eat a large portion of his contract, I would become extremely happy with how the winter has gone.
Not only is Koskie a massive upgrade over Batista (assuming he is anything close to healthy), he would give the Twins another on-base threat while providing a little better balance to the lineup with his left-handed bat. Here's how things might look if Koskie returns:
LF Shannon Stewart R 2B Luis Castillo B C Joe Mauer L DH Rondell White R 1B Justin Morneau L CF Torii Hunter R 3B Corey Koskie L RF Michael Cuddyer R SS Jason Bartlett R
That is a lineup with good balance and little major weakness, even if Jason Bartlett struggles again in 2006. Plus, if Jason Kubel is somehow healthy by Opening Day he can step in for Michael Cuddyer in right field, allowing Cuddyer and Batista to sub for Koskie at third base when the inevitable injuries come. Toss in Lew Ford as the fourth outfielder (plus Cuddyer's ability to play the outfield) and that is a group with plenty of quality and depth.
The Twins were in a very difficult spot with Koskie last offseason. Their concerns about his durability proved correct and in that sense they were right for letting him go. However, their attempts to replace him at third base (first with Cuddyer and now with Batista) have been anything but successful. Now they have a chance to get Koskie back without nearly as much risk, and in doing so can add the final piece to an offense that would be significantly improved.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it'll happen. Christensen followed up his previous report today, writing that the trade talks for Koskie have been "officially pronounced dead." He also quotes Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi as saying, "I don't see a deal happening with Minnesota." Of course, knowing the way this rumor has changed so drastically on a daily basis, Koskie could be back in a Twins uniform by tomorrow.
I've had it sitting on my bedroom floor for a while now, but I finally got around to cracking open The Bill James Handbook 2006 a couple days ago. As always, the book contains a whole slew of interesting tidbits, including the following stuff I stumbled across about the Twins.
The Twins held at least a tie for first place in the AL Central for five days in 2005, which was the second-most days in the division. The White Sox led for 183 days, the Tigers led for three, and both the Indians and Royals led for zero. The last day that the Twins had at least a share of first place was April 17.
For all the talk about the Twins doing horribly in one-run games, they went 27-30 in them. That's just slightly worse than their overall record and why, contrary to what Ron Gardenhire thinks, Luis Castillo won't be worth several billion extra wins just because he's fast and gets on base a lot.
Another common cry is that the team left a massive number of runners on base in 2005. The Twins actually ranked sixth in the league in runners left on base, which is a somewhat disproportionate number considering the team ranked 10th in on-base percentage. Of course, the Red Sox and Yankees left the most runners on base and also scored the most runs.
The Twins won between 12 and 16 games each month, but only had three winning months on the year. Their best month was the first month, April, when they went 15-8. Twenty-four of the team's 83 wins (29 percent) came against Detroit and Kansas City.
Despite scoring the fewest runs in the AL, the Twins ranked third in the league with 49 intentional walks. Despite ranking 10th in the league in on-base percentage, the Twins hit into a league-leading 155 double plays.
Twins pitchers made the second-fewest relief appearances (396) in the league, behind only the Angels (379). In other words, the team had a very strong rotation, the bullpen was excellent, and Gardenhire doesn't like to screw around with relievers who only face one batter.
The Twins made 102 errors in 2005, ranking seventh in the AL. Of those 102 errors, 61 came while fielding and 41 came while throwing.
Thanks to Joe Mauer, Mike Redmond, and the pitching staff, the Twins allowed the fewest stolen bases in the entire league (44) and also led the league by throwing out 45% of the runners who tried to steal a base.
Only 58% of the players in Gardenhire's lineups had a platoon advantage (a left-handed batter versus a right-handed pitcher, for instance) in 2005, which is the lowest total of his already platoon-phobic career. On the other hand, the Twins used 135 different lineups in 2005, which was the second-most in the league behind only the Royals (141).
The Metrodome increased run-scoring by about two percent in 2005, which means the pathetic offense was even worse than it looked. The team didn't have a single hitter among the top 10 in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, singles, doubles, triples, homers, total bases, runs scored, runs batted in, walks or strikeouts.
Mauer and Jacque Jones tied for fourth in the league with 12 intentional walks, while Lew Ford ranked fifth in the league with 16 hit by pitches.
Against right-handed pitching, Mauer ranked sixth in the league with a .323 batting average and fourth with a .411 on-base percentage. He also ranked eighth among left-handed hitters with an .889 OPS against right-handed pitchers and ranked 10th in the league by taking 60.3% of the pitches he saw.
Against left-handed pitching, Matthew LeCroy ranked eighth in the league with a .404 on-base percentage, fifth with a .621 slugging percentage, and fifth with a 1.025 OPS.
Jones (2.24), Mauer (2.11), and Ford (1.82) all ranked among the league's top 10 for ground ball-to-fly ball ratio, and Castillo's 4.13 led the NL while with the Marlins.
Justin Morneau ranked second in the league with an average homer distance of 405 feet, behind only Travis Hafner (407 feet) and right ahead of David Ortiz (404 feet). He also ranked third in the league with an .868 "batting average plus slugging percentage" against curveballs and fifth among 25-and-under hitters with a homer every 22.3 at-bats
Jones ranked eighth in the league by striking out in 20.5% of his plate appearances, ranked fourth by swinging and missing on 20.2% of the pitches he saw, and ranked third with a 1.017 BPS against changeups.
As you might expect, Johan Santana is all over the AL pitching leaders. The mainstream stats he led the league in are strikeouts (238), strikeout rate (9.3/9), Quality Starts (24), opponent's batting average (.210), opponent's on-base percentage (.250), and opponent's slugging percentage (.346).
Santana ranked second in ERA (2.87), innings (231.2), strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.29), and shutouts (2), and also ranked among the top 10 in wins (16), winning percentage (.696), batters faced (910), complete games (3), and pitches per start (101.1). And those are just the run-of-the-mill stats.
Among more obscure categories, he led the league in on-base percentage against leadoff men (.237) and opponent's BPS on changeups (.345), and ranked third with a .200 batting average against right-handed hitters and a .581 opponent's BPS on fastballs.
Jesse Crain led the league with 12 relief wins and ranked fifth with a .706 winning percentage, while Juan Rincon ranked fourth with 25 holds.
Carlos Silva led the league by throwing 65.2% of his pitches for strikes, by using only 3.06 pitches per batter, by striking out 7.89 batters for every walk, and by inducing 35 double plays. He also led the league with 83.0% of his pitches being fastballs, while Santana ranked fourth with 23.7% of his pitches being changeups.
Joe Nathan led the league with 30 "easy saves" and ranked seventh with 13 "regular saves," but had zero "tough saves." He also led the league with a .158 batting average against left-handed hitters and ranked ninth with 361 pitches of at least 95 miles per hour, which is amazing considering he's a reliever who threw a total of only 1,147 pitches.
Unlike the first three years of this blog's existence -- when the Twins took home the division title and advanced to the postseason each time -- 2005 was not a great year for the team that this blog revolves around. The Twins entered the season with high expectations and were considered by most to be the favorites for a fourth straight division title. Instead, they pitched very well, finished dead last in the league in runs scored, and won just 83 games to finish third in the AL Central.
To make matters marginally worse, the rival White Sox started out 16-4, ended up 99-63 to take the division by 16 games, and then won their first World Series title since 1917. All things considered there have been plenty of worse times to be a Twins fan -- everything from 1993 to 2000, for example -- but with the expectations involved it has to at the very least be considered one of the most disappointing seasons in quite a while.
Fortunately, 2005 was a much better year for the person who this blog revolves around. I finished up with college, saw the visitor totals for AG.com miraculously continue to rise, received several great writing opportunities that allow me to actually do this stuff for a living, and watched as my baby, The Hardball Times, got its second book published and widely distributed. And while this doesn't quite fit under the heading of 2005, I turned 23 years old today.
In the year between 22 and 23 I have taken some major strides toward full-fledged adulthood. I'm still living at home, but for the first year in my life I woke up early each morning because of a job and made enough money to start complaining about taxes. In fact, despite not being done with school until May I'm proud to say that I probably made more money in 2005 than most of the people who were in the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism with me will make in any of the next five years.
I don't mean that to sound like bragging, because if you saw my bank account you'd know it's far from something to brag about. Rather, I am simply proud that after failing miserably in numerous attempts to enter the world of newspaper journalism while at the University of Minnesota, I've found a non-traditional way to make a living doing what I love. I don't know how long it'll last or where it'll take me, but that's part of the fun and it beats the hell out of the inverted pyramid.
AG.com generates some income through various ads, but the only reason this blog is entering its fifth year is that I still love doing it. The blog has certainly evolved quite a bit over time as I've been stretched thinner and thinner with other writing gigs. I used to write thousands upon thousands of words here each day about everything I could possibly think of, whereas now this blog is mostly home to slightly less lengthy thoughts on the Twins and non-sports topics.
For the most part I've been able to maintain my goal of writing something new here each weekday regardless of what other stuff I'm working on, but my involvement at The Hardball Times has become far less than what I would like it to be. I think New Year's resolutions are silly, but I do hope to find a better balance between writing for fun and writing for pay in 2006. I'm not sure how to do that and I've found it very difficult to spread my writing between multiple places each day, but that's the goal.
I want to thank the readers of this blog for your continued support. Without the people who have read this blog since its launch on August 1, 2002 I wouldn't have any of those other opportunities, and for that I will always be thankful. Thousands of people stop by here each day, which remains astonishing to me, and the conversations that occur in the comments section on a regular basis please me a great deal. I hope you'll all stay with me in 2006 and beyond, and I hope you'll continue to support my writing wherever it may be.