Friday, October 12, 2007
My guess is that we'll see lots of teams making similar offers in the future, because it gives the media members something interesting and unique to cover while likely giving the team some less-critical coverage for a while. It'd be endlessly amusing if Ron Gardenhire followed in Izzo's footsteps and put the media members covering the Twins through some drills on the Metrodome turf, if only for the chance to see Patrick Reusse and Sid Hartman turn a double play.
Could Joe Buck be the next name to enter the late-night world? Fox is considering a weekly, half-hour late-night show hosted by its lead sports personality. The network's entertainment division just quietly completed a pilot for the show in New York. The format currently under consideration would include both interviews and comedy and be set in front of a small studio audience.Right, because no one knows late-night comedy like a man who absolutely freaked out when Randy Moss pretended to moon the crowd at Lambeau Field following a touchdown a few years ago. Assume for a moment that someone was able to come up with a list of all the funny, charming, smart, and interesting people who could potentially host a late-night talk show. Now try to imagine how long that list would have to be in order to include Buck's name. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Two alarm clocks jolt Dawn Davis out of slumber in the countryside south of Mora at 4:15 a.m. One she winds by hand, just in case an overnight storm snuffs out her power. For an hour, padding about in a fraying robe, sipping coffee from a bucket-sized mug, she forces herself awake. Then, in thick country darkness, she climbs into her miniature red Ford and heads south, racing 70 miles to her job in downtown Minneapolis.I've been getting up by 7:00 a.m. every weekday for several years now thanks to my Rotoworld gig, but the idea of essentially wasting multiple hours each day driving to and from work has always seemed insane to me. Of course, that's easy for me to say given that I'm lucky enough to have a "commute" that literally involves waking up, sitting up in bed, and turning on a laptop. When you can be doing your job within 30 seconds of opening your eyes, it makes life a lot easier. I recommend it.
Most print publications have websites and most of those websites have blogs on them, and bloggers are featured prominently on mainstream, online-only sites like ESPN.com. In other words, the lines are blurring between different forms of media and the labels being applied are increasingly useless. For someone who reads a newspaper over breakfast, Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune is very different than Seth Stohs of Seth Speaks, but they compete for my readership on the same computer screen.
Yet when it comes to things like credentials, 50,000-reader blogs take a clear backseat to 5,000-reader newspapers. Are all bloggers deserving of access? Of course not, but neither are all print publications. If you print a blog and throw it onto doorsteps each morning, is it more legitimate? Instead of letting bloggers sit at a special table like a novelty, why not evaluate their worthiness for access the same way you do every other writer? When that begins to happen, then you know real progress has been made.
Plus, as someone who recently started up another weight-loss effort following some time off after shedding 90 pounds, I can sympathize.
Because of that, it comes as little surprise that the Star Tribune has gone through yet another makeover, this time dividing itself into four "zones" that aim to provide specialized coverage to each metro area. I've been saying for a while now that the newspaper business must adapt to the changed environment by becoming more niche-oriented, and that's seemingly what's happening. As editor Nancy Barnes put it: "These are stories you couldn't get anywhere else."
Like with most niches, the upside is that you gain an audience that is much more hardcore and the downside is that you lose a portion of the audience that isn't interested in in-depth coverage of the subjects that you've now chosen to focus on. For instance, I have absolutely zero interest in reading about what's happening in Burnsville or Anoka or Woodbury. Of course, I also don't subscribe to the print version of the newspaper, so the Star Tribune probably views people like me as lost causes.
While the decision-makers at the Star Tribune might not admit it, the changes are seemingly aimed at trading quantity for quality. Rather than try to provide large-scale coverage to everyone, they're trying to provide small-scale coverage to a smaller, more devoted audience. That might be the right step to take long term--if there is a right step to take long term--but the danger is that they're gradually losing a portion of the audience that isn't interested in hyper-localized coverage.
Between the huge increase in syndicated Associated Press articles filling the newspaper's pages these days, the new focus on things that a large percentage of the audience likely doesn't care much about, and the ditching of an ombudsman/reader's representative to scrutinize things internally, the Star Tribune is definitely at a crossroads. I give them credit for doing something to fight off their decline, but my guess it that the changes will lead to a much different result than they're hoping to achieve.
As if Reverend Al not-so-smoothly handing out flowers to women while he's singing isn't enough to make it a great clip, Don Cornelius does an outro at the end that includes the words "you can bet your last money it's all gonna be a stone gas honey" while some sort of Asian subtitles roll underneath.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: Review (Part 2)
Last winter I ranked my top 40 Twins prospects for 2007 and profiled each player. My prospect rankings for 2008 will be coming in a few months, but before then let's take a look back at how the players from the 2007 version fared this season. After covering prospects 1-20 yesterday, here are 21-40.
21. Jay Rainville | Starter | DOB: 10/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-1What I said then: "Shoulder surgery sidelined Rainville for the entire 2006 season, costing him an all-important year of development and putting his status for 2007 in some doubt. ... Assuming he makes a full recovery, Rainville looks like a potential No. 3 starter."
What happened since: Stayed healthy while posting a 3.29 ERA and 110-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 142.1 innings as a 21-year-old at high Single-A.
22. Tyler Robertson | Starter | DOB: 12/87 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2006-3What I said then: "Robertson turned 19 years old in December, so he's clearly a very long way from the majors, but 6-foot-5 lefties who have the potential rack up strikeouts are tough to find."
What happened since: Continued to rack up strikeouts with a 123-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 2.29 ERA in 102.1 innings at low Single-A.
23. Trent Oeltjen | Center Field | DOB: 2/83 | Bats: Left | Sign: AustraliaWhat I said then: "Barring another jump in power and plate discipline this year, Oeltjen looks like a prototypical fourth outfielder."
What happened since: Batted .238/.303/.340 with two homers, 16 total extra-base hits, and a 44-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 97 games at Triple-A.
24. Yohan Pino | Reliever | DOB: 12/83 | Throws: Right | Sign: VenezuelaWhat I said then: "Pino was a relative unknown heading into last season and doesn't crack 90 miles per hour with his fastball, but makes this list because his on-field performance has been ridiculously good."
What happened since: Spent the season as a 23-year-old working out of both the rotation and bullpen between high Single-A and Double-A, with a 3.13 ERA and 104-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 115 combined innings.
25. Kyle Waldrop | Starter | DOB: 10/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-1What I said then: "Waldrop is still very young and has a big-league future, but he'll struggle to be more than a fourth or fifth starter if he can't find a way to miss more bats."
What happened since: Made 27 starts between high Single-A and Double-A as a 21-year-old, posting a 90-to-43 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 4.15 ERA in 151.2 combined innings.
26. Garrett Olson | Third Base | DOB: 3/85 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-4What I said then: "His on-base skills look pretty solid, but he'll have to start hitting for some power to emerge as a legitimate factor in the team's long-term plans. ... I'm cautiously optimistic, but 2007 will give a much clearer picture of where Olson stands."
What happened since: Splitting time between third base and left field as a 22-year-old at low Single-A, he batted .219/.281/.310 with six homers, 26 total extra-base hits, and a 76-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 123 games.
27. Jay Sawatski | Reliever | DOB: 5/82 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2004-8What I said then: "Sawatski turns 25 years old in May and projects more as a middle reliever than late-inning setup man, but he's bordering on major league-ready."
What happened since: Split the season between Double-A and Triple-A, posting a 4.61 ERA and 55-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 70.1 combined innings.
28. Jose Mijares | Reliever | DOB: 10/84 | Throws: Left | Sign: VenezuelaWhat I said then: "He seems destined to end up as a full-time reliever and certainly has the raw stuff to be a late-inning setup man ... he has a lot of work to do in terms of consistently throwing strikes and keeping the ball in the ballpark. At 22 years old, he's a boom-or-bust prospect."
What happened since: Pitched primarily at Double-A before jumping up to Triple-A late in the season, with a 3.88 ERA and 81-to-53 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 69.2 combined innings out of the bullpen.
29. Denard Span | Center Field | DOB: 2/84 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2002-1What I said then: "He looks like a leadoff hitter and the Twins have molded him into a ground-ball machine, but he doesn't make great contact despite zero power, doesn't draw many walks or steal tons of bases, and doesn't hit for huge batting averages."
What happened since: Moved up to Triple-A for the first time as a 23-year-old, batting .267/.323/.355 with three homers, 30 total extra-base hits, and a 90-to-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 139 games.
30. Alex Burnett | Starter | DOB: 7/87 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2005-12What I said then: "I hesitate to rank a pitcher with zero experience above rookie-ball much higher than this unless he's an absolute stud, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Burnett a dozen spots higher in a year."
What happened since: Making 27 starts at low Single-A as a teenager, Burnett posted a 3.02 ERA and 117-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 155 innings.
31. Trevor Plouffe | Shortstop | DOB: 6/86 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2004-1What I said then: "Plouffe is still just 20 years old ... also considered a quality defender at shortstop, which is why back-to-back sub par seasons at the plate haven't wiped him completely off the prospect map."
What happened since: Made the jump to Double-A and batted .274/.326/.410 with nine homers, 48 total extra-base hits, and an 89-to-38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 126 games.
32. Brian Duensing | Starter | DOB: 2/83 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2005-3What I said then: "He deserves credit for holding his own post injury, but soon he needs to show that he's more than a back-of-the-rotation starter."
What happened since: Quickly promoted to Triple-A after beginning the season at Double-A, Duensing posted a 3.07 ERA and 124-to-37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 167.1 combined innings.
33. Danny Valencia | Third Base | DOB: 9/84 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-19What I said then: "Gives a nice boost to a system lacking impact bats, although he's considerably less valuable if playing third base passably is ruled out. At 22 years old and with big-conference college experience, he could move quickly."
What happened since: Hit very well at low Single-A to begin the season and then less so following a promotion to high Single-A, combining to bat .297/.354/.462 with 17 homers, 42 total extra-base hits, and a 102-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 127 games.
34. Brandon Roberts | Center Field | DOB: 11/84 | Bats: Left | Trade: RedsWhat I said then: "It's difficult to get overly excited about someone who could somewhat accurately be described as the next Jason Tyner, but at 22 years old he has a chance to be a decent major leaguer."
What happened since: Played 110 games at Double-A, batting .293/.355/.374 with three homers, 20 total extra-base hits, and a 56-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
35. Doug Deeds | Left Field | DOB: 6/82 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2002-9What I said then: "In an organization lacking quality hitting prospects he's a guy who could be a solid left-handed bench bat or even platoon starter if given the opportunity."
What happened since: Finally promoted to Triple-A as a 26-year-old and batted .243/.306/.404 with nine homers, 18 total extra-base hits, and a 77-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 86 games.
36. Garrett Guzman | Left Field | DOB: 2/83 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2001-10What I said then: "He'll be limited to left field, first base or designated hitter defensively, which means his bat will have to carry him, but I like Guzman's chances of developing into a productive big leaguer."
What happened since: Spent the entire season at Double-A as a 24-year-old, hitting .312/.359/.453 with 14 homers, 38 total extra-base hits, and a 51-to-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 125 games.
37. J.D. Durbin | Starter | DOB: 2/82 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2000-2What I said then: "Durbin missed the second half of last season with a nerve problem in his right biceps and is out of minor-league options, meaning ... there's a decent chance he may not even be Twins property in a few months."
What happened since: Lost on waivers near the end of spring training, he bounced between several organizations before sticking with the Phillies, posting a 6.06 ERA and 40-to-37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 65.1 big-league innings.
38. Steven Tolleson | Second Base | DOB: 11/83 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2005-5What I said then: "His defensively versatility and modest offensive capabilities mean he profiles more as a utility man than an everyday player at this point."
What happened since: Split time between both middle-infield spots as a 23-year-old at high Single-A, batting .285/.388/.382 with five homers, 33 total extra-base hits, and a 97-to-79 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 132 games.
39. Loek Van Mil | Starter | DOB: 9/85 | Throws: Right | Sign: NetherlandsWhat I said then: "A 7-foot-1 right-hander named "Ludovicus" who was signed out of the Netherlands, Van Mil sounds like a character from a bad baseball movie. However, his spot in these rankings is not based on a cool-sounding name or an intriguing story: He can pitch."
What happened since: Appeared in 13 games as a reliever at rookie-level Elizabethton, posting a 2.62 ERA and 23-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 innings.
40. Matt Fox | Starter | DOB: 12/82 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-1What I said then: "Fox turns 24 years old next month despite never having thrown an inning above rookie-ball and health issues will always be there, but his showing last season is enough to put him back on the prospect map."
What happened since: Split time between the rotation and bullpen at low Single-A, posting a 3.50 ERA and 66-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 82.1 innings.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Top 40 Twins Prospects of 2007: Review (Part 1)
Last winter I ranked my top 40 Twins prospects for 2007 and profiled each player. My prospect rankings for 2008 will be coming in a few months, but before then let's take a look back at how the players from the 2007 version fared this season. First up are prospects 1-20, with 21-40 coming shortly.
1. Matt Garza | Starter | DOB: 11/83 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2005-1What I said then: "Garza's debut was disappointing, but ... he showed signs of simply being fatigued, telegraphing his offspeed pitches and displaying an overall lack of command, and because of that I don't think we've seen the 'real' Garza yet."
What happened since: Disappointed by not making the team out of spring training, he criticized the team publicly while posting a 3.62 ERA and 95-to-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 92 innings at Triple-A, and then posted a 3.69 ERA and 67-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 83 innings with the Twins.
2. Chris Parmelee | Right Field | DOB: 2/88 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-1What I said then: "He needs to keep the strikeouts in check and projecting much of anything for a teenager with no experience above rookie-ball is always iffy, but so far at least Parmelee is on the right track to stardom."
What happened since: Spent the entire season at low Single-A as a 19-year-old, batting .239/.313/.414 with 15 homers, 43 total extra-base hits, and a 137-to-46 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 128 games.
3. Glen Perkins | Starter | DOB: 3/83 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2004-1What I said then: "He doesn't project as an ace, but as a left-hander with three solid pitches, including a low-90s fastball with good movement, Perkins has No. 2 starter potential."
What happened since: Almost immediately called up to Minnesota after beginning the season at Triple-A, he worked strictly out of the bullpen and spent extended time on the disabled list with arm problems, posting a 3.29 ERA and 20-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27.1 innings.
4. Kevin Slowey | Starter | DOB: 5/84 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2005-2What I said then: "Slowey should be at least an effective mid-rotation starter, perhaps by midseason, but I'm somewhat skeptical about his becoming much more than that without improved offspeed stuff."
What happened since: Won International League Pitcher of the Year honors by posting a 1.89 ERA and 107-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 133.2 innings at Triple-A, and posted a 4.73 ERA and 47-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 66.2 innings during two stints with the Twins.
5. Anthony Swarzak | Starter | DOB: 9/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-2What I said then: "He's not particularly close to being major league-ready, but ... has tons of potential if he can improve his control while simply staying on course."
What happened since: Suspended for 50 games early in the season for violating the minor-league drug prevention and treatment program, he returned to post a 3.09 ERA and 94-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 102 innings between high Single-A and Double-A as a 21-year-old.
6. Alexi Casilla | Shortstop | DOB: 7/84 | Bats: Switch | Trade: AngelsWhat I said then: "Casilla figures to begin this season at Triple-A ... and is set up perfectly to step into the lineup when Castillo leaves via free agency next winter."
What happened since: Hit .269/.345/.344 with three homers, 17 total extra-base hits, and a 50-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 84 games at Triple-A before replacing Castillo earlier than expected, batting .222/.256/.259 with zero homers, six total extra-base hits, and a 29-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 56 games with the Twins.
7. Pat Neshek | Reliever | DOB: 9/80 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2002-6What I said then: "As long as Neshek continues to make right-handed batters look silly flailing away at his frisbee slider he'll be an excellent late-inning reliever."
What happened since: Spent the season as the Twins' top setup man, carrying a sub-2.00 ERA into August before a heavy workload wore him down, finishing the year with a 2.94 ERA and 74-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 70.1 innings.
8. Eduardo Morlan | Starter | DOB: 3/86 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2004-3What I said then: "An overpowering fastball-slider combination gives Morlan the raw stuff to dominate in any role, but he'll likely need to develop both his changeup and stamina to remain in the rotation long term."
What happened since: Working strictly out of the bullpen as a 21-year-old at high Single-A, Morlan posted a 3.15 ERA and 92-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 65.2 innings before a brief appearance at Double-A to end the year.
9. Oswaldo Sosa | Starter | DOB: 9/85 | Throws: Right | Sign: VenezuelaWhat I said then: "Sosa tends to get overlooked in an organization overflowing with quality pitching prospects ... his 'floor' is basically a mid-rotation starter and he's got plenty of time to work on missing bats when he's not killing worms."
What happened since: Split the season as a 21-year-old between high Single-A and Double-A, with a 2.94 ERA and 117-to-58 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 153 combined innings.
10. Alexander Smit | Starter | DOB: 10/85 | Throws: Left | Sign: NetherlandsWhat I said then: "Smit's control has come and gone, and he's had some very hittable stretches, but the one constant has been the ability to rack up huge strikeout totals."
What happened since: Got off to a poor start as a 21-year-old at high Single-A and was needlessly exposed to the waiver wire, where the Reds claimed him for nothing and watched as he finished the season with a 4.28 ERA and 76-to-42 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 90.1 innings.
11. Joe Benson | Center Field | DOB: 3/88 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2006-2What I said then: "At just 19 years old there's little reason to rush Benson, so expect him to reach Double-A sometime around mid-2008 and start scratching at the door to the big leagues no sooner than 2009. ... Benson is the only Twins center-field prospect who has legitimate star potential."
What happened since: Spent the entire season at low Single-A, hitting .255/.347/.368 with five homers, 31 total extra-base hits, and a 124-to-49 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 122 games.
12. Jeff Manship | Starter | DOB: 1/85 | Throws: Right | Draft: 2006-14What I said then: "Manship's medical history is always going to be a concern, but he's long been viewed as a potential star and ... could be near the top of this list next year."
What happened since: Split the season as a 22-year-old between two levels of Single-A, posting a 2.30 ERA and 136-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 149 innings.
13. David Winfree | Third Base | DOB: 8/85 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2003-13What I said then: "Winfree's plate discipline is sub par ... he's probably destined to move away from third base, but more importantly might be the Twins' next 30-homer hitter."
What happened since: Spent the season at Double-A as a 21-year-old and played primarily first base while batting .267/.308/.426 with 12 homers, 44 total extra-base hits, and a 106-to-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 123 games.
14. Paul Kelly | Shortstop | DOB: 10/86 | Bats: Right | Draft: 2005-2What I said then: "A knee injury cut his first full season short after 95 games. ... Most of his value will ultimately come defensively, but Kelly's odds of developing into a capable hitter are probably better than most think."
What happened since: The knee injury lingered for far longer than expected and led to what was essentially a lost season, as Kelly appeared in just two rookie-ball games.
15. Erik Lis | First Base | DOB: 3/84 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2005-9What I said then: "The big test will come this year, when Lis either holds his own at high Single-A and makes it to Double-A during the second half of his age-23 season or becomes just another guy who beat up on young pitching to begin his career."
What happened since: Spent the entire season at high Single-A and batted .274/.334/.470 with 18 homers, 56 total extra-base hits, and a 109-to-41 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 132 games.
16. Whit Robbins | Third Base | DOB: 9/84 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2006-4What I said then: "Robbins probably won't be on a long leash defensively. ... If a move across the diamond is needed, Robbins' upside drops into Doug Mientkiewicz territory."
What happened since: Spent the season playing primarily first base at high Single-A as a 22-year-old, batting .210/.333/.249 with zero homers, seven total extra-base hits, and a 44-to-35 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64 games before an injury ended his season in mid-June.
17. Zach Ward | Starter | DOB: 1/84 | Throws: Right | Trade: RedsWhat I said then: "Ward's combination of above-average stuff and extreme ground-ball inducing makes him an intriguing prospect."
What happened since: Spent the entire season as a 23-year-old at high Single-A, posting a 4.08 ERA and 107-to-37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 130 innings.
18. Alex Romero | Left Field | DOB: 9/83 | Bats: Left | Sign: VenezuelaWhat I said then: "He doesn't profile as a superstar, but has a chance to develop into a capable starting corner outfielder or a quality fourth outfielder."
What happened since: Lost on waivers for nothing so that the Twins could make room on the 40-man roster for Ramon Ortiz and Chris Heintz, Romero was claimed by Arizona and hit .310/.354/.421 with five homers, 43 total extra-base hits, and a 53-to-37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 131 games at Triple-A.
19. Matt Moses | Third Base | DOB: 2/85 | Bats: Left | Draft: 2003-1What I said then: "The biggest things on Moses' side right now are that he's still just 22 years old and has been rushed through the Twins' system, which means his ugly numbers may not tell the whole story. Whatever the case, 2007 could be a make-or-break year."
What happened since: Began the season at Triple-A, but was demoted to Double-A at midseason and hit .248/.283/.362 with six homers, 38 total extra-base hits, and a 93-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 119 combined games.
20. Ryan Mullins | Starter | DOB: 11/83 | Throws: Left | Draft: 2005-3What I said then: "It would have been nice to see the Twins push Mullins a little more aggressively through the system, because he's spent his first two pro seasons throwing to teenagers despite having high-level college experience."
What happened since: Mullins spent time at high Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A while posting a 3.93 ERA and 135-to-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 155.2 combined innings.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Gone: Ford, Rodriguez, Rabe, Watkins
It's often been overlooked because it's much easier and more interesting to focus on the big-picture issues, but one of the Twins' main problems recently has been their lack of position-player depth in both the majors and high minors. When the Triple-A team's best hitter for much of the season is Garrett Jones and the major-league team's best bench bat is Jason Tyner, that's a problem that costs runs and wins.
Part of the reason behind the organization's erosion of major league-ready hitting talent is that from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett, the Twins have worked several young hitters into the lineup in recent years. Unfortunately, there wasn't a next wave ready once those players established themselves as quality regulars. First-round picks Matt Moses and Denard Span were supposed to be part of that next wave, but have been busts at this point and aren't MLB-ready.
Teams like the A's and Padres are always looking to improve the bottom half of their 40-man roster, regardless of the size of the improvement. That means small major-league trades, swaps of minor leaguers, smart free-agent shopping, and a willingness to shuffle the roster when a quality player becomes available on the waiver wire. Quality players can be had and marginal improvements can be made at what is often surprisingly little cost and few teams do it better than the A's and Padres.
The Twins have shied away from those types of roster tweaking during the past several seasons, which along with the minor-league factory ceasing to produce MLB-ready bats has led to a thinned out crop of position players. While the A's and Padres grab guys like Jack Cust, Scott Hairston, Morgan Ensberg, and Jack Hannahan off the scrap heap, the Twins have largely stuck with their home-grown mediocrities. That gradually begins to add up and has left the Twins with an ugly depth chart.
Fortunately, Bill Smith's first official moves as general manager offer hope that things may change. The first domino fell when he exposed Luis Rodriguez to the waiver wire (after Ron Gardenhire inexplicably played him over Brian Buscher and Alexi Casilla all September) and lost him to the Padres, who provided another example of their willingness to roster shuffle even if Rodriguez isn't much of a pickup. Following that, Smith purged Lew Ford, Josh Rabe, and Tommy Watkins from the 40-man roster.
Minor moves to be sure, but those four players spent a combined 35 years in the Twins' organization and taken together they signal that Smith is unsatisfied with the players who've constituted the team's "depth" over the past several seasons. A smart general manager who's willing to get his hands dirty by constantly re-shaping the edges of his 40-man roster realizes that there are almost always marginal improvements to be had, especially over players like Ford, Rodriguez, Rabe, and Watkins.
Rather than spend another season with those same mediocre players providing the team with sub-par depth, Smith has chosen the unknown and will now go about looking for upgrades (Watkins may return on a minor-league deal, but won't be on the 40-man roster). There's no guarantee that he'll replace Ford, Rodriguez, Rabe, and Watkins with better players, but there's zero question that the opportunity to do so is there if Smith gets his hands dirty while making smart moves over the next several months.
All of which is to say that while parting with the dead weight is a good sign and something that Terry Ryan often struggled with, it means little unless Smith follows through on the next step by bringing in superior players to replace them. The Twins' tendency has been to do that by simply promoting different home-grown players, but the organization's lack of MLB-ready hitting prospects is striking and greater gains can be made by plucking players from other organizations.
When an intriguing player became available at pennies on the dollar, my sense is that Ryan either didn't consider them or considered them briefly before deciding that it wasn't worth making changes. Choosing familiarity over quality may work in some situations, but building roster depth isn't one of them. During the next few months dozens of quality role players will become available at minimal costs and the first test for Smith will be whether he can restock the Twins' system with some of them.
Twins drafts have long focused on pitching and the few hitters they used early picks on recently have failed to pan out as well or as quickly as hoped. That makes it difficult to stock the Double-A and Triple-A rosters with good prospects capable of helping the big-league team in the near future, but it also means that the focus should switch to filling those teams with minor-league veterans and outside talent who can potentially do what the prospects can't. It's time to go digging in the scrap heap.
Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.