Friday, March 28, 2008
I'm a fan of what MinnPost is doing and admire many of the veteran journalists founder Joel Kramer has assembled since launching the venture just months ago, so I'm thrilled to be joining the team. If you're looking for some good, Minnesota-based journalism that goes beyond what's offered in the two local newspapers, the site is a daily must-read. And if you just want to visit MinnPost each day to stare at the lovely drawing of me that they commissioned, I wouldn't blame you for that either.Scary, huh? If only my hair looked even half that good in real life. Along with Aschburner, Weiner, Borzi, and Anderson, the MinnPost staff also includes familiar names from the world of local journalism like Doug Grow and Britt Robson, not to mention my idol and former journalism-school professor (and Pulitzer Prize winner) Chris Ison. As someone who was unable to fulfill his childhood dream of writing for a newspaper, it's surreal to see my work alongside so many of the journalists I grew up reading.
Kramer was formerly editor, publisher, and president of the Star Tribune, and at MinnPost he's put together an interesting mix of old-school journalism in an online format. It's a non-profit outfit that aims to "provide high-quality journalism for news-intense people who care about Minnesota" while aiming for "a thoughtful approach to news." My hope is that you'll stop by to sniff around my page and then stay to check out everything else, because even ignoring my involvement the site is definitely worth reading.
San Francisco Giants pitcher Livan Hernandez denied Thursday that he pushed an elderly warehouse owner or swung golf clubs at him, saying that he was the victim in a scuffle that resulted in his arrest.All of that stuff is plenty good, but by far the best part of the story was this picture:
Hernandez appears to be doing some sort of Gilbert Gottfried impression.
My lone potential giveaway idea was to hold a logo-making contest, similar to what friend of AG.com Tim Dierkes is doing over at MLB Trade Rumors. This blog is long overdue for a redesign given that it's essentially had the same basic look for the past five years, but I'm not skilled enough to create a logo. If you feel like putting your design skills to the test, come up with a logo (or multiple logos) that you think would work well atop AG.com and send it to me.
If you submit something that I end up using, I'll send you a copy of MLB 08: The Show for Playstation 3 and give you a nice plug. The only requirements are that the design can't involve copyrighted images, such as the Twins logo or a player's picture, and must feature "AaronGleeman.com" prominently. Other than that, I'm open to anything that looks good. And for those of you who aren't much for logo-making, don't forget to send me any other ideas you have for a potential giveaway.
In Ny-Lon, Elisha plays Edie Miller, a free-spirited, New Yorker who works in a record store and also moonlights as a literacy teacher. On a trip to London, she meets a British stock broker, Michael. Their whirlwind romance leads to their deciding to try a cross-continental love affair.My grandmother's name was Edie, no record-store clerk in the history of the world has looked anything like Cuthbert, and that show sounds like it'll be painful to watch. Interestingly, the show is a remake of a British series in which Rashida Jones starred in the same role as Cuthbert. Jones used to be on The Office, where her character Karen Filippelli had a rivalry with Fischer's character Pam Beesly. I'm not sure what all of that means in the grand scheme of OFGoAG.com business, but it's something.
I'd prefer to see Mauer as the leadoff hitter. Even in a down year, Mauer had the Twins' best on-base percentage last season. If I were writing the lineup, I'd want my best on-base percentage hitter leading off, to try to build big innings.Souhan writing that "Mauer should be an ideal No. 2 hitter" scares me, because just last week I wrote that "the No. 2 spot is ideal for Mauer." If Souhan starts writing regularly about on-base percentages and Mauer being a good fit atop the lineup, does that mean I have to start making cheesy one-liners and poultry references?
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Twins Notes: Cuts and Kicks
Gardenhire has already taken to referring to Harris' defense as "hit-or-miss," which while accurate isn't a good sign for his chances of holding off one of the manager's favorite players while hanging onto the job all year. Meanwhile, Gardenhire has predictably been brainstorming ways to get Punto into games, saying: "Believe me, he'll get used quite a bit. I like to see him out there on the field." Unless Harris hits .350 in April and never looks back, I'll be shocked if Punto isn't playing regularly before midseason.
As usual Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III wrote plenty about Span's point of view, reporting that he "took the news hard" and "choked up a few times while he spoke with reporters." I've poked fun at Span for over-confidence and at the local reporters for chronicling his every thought while failing to note that he's simply not a very good player, but he deserves credit for playing well this spring and will no doubt be first in line for a call-up should Gomez struggle.
I'm as excited as anyone about Gomez's future, ranking him as the Twins' top prospect, but it's likely a mistake to put him in a position to receive the most plate appearances of anyone on the team while batting directly in front of the lineup's most dangerous hitters. There'll no doubt be flashes of brilliance while Gomez shows off his amazing speed on the bases and in center field, but leading off should primarily be about getting on base and at 22 years old he doesn't figure to do that especially well.
Everett is a prime candidate to be pinch-hit for in key spots, it seems obvious that Gardenhire plans to remove Harris' glove from the equation late in games, and he may eventually want to do the same with Mike Lamb at third base, so Tolbert should get some work as a late-inning sub even if Punto is the first choice off the bench in such situations. While Gomez headlined my aforementioned annual list of the Twins' top prospects, Buscher ranked 38th and Tolbert ranked 40th.
Assuming that Bass sticks as a long reliever, that leaves Nick Blackburn waiting to see whether Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano begin the season in the rotation. If Baker needs a stint on the disabled list or Liriano heads to Triple-A, Blackburn will slide into the rotation along with Livan Hernandez, Boof Bonser, Kevin Slowey, and either Baker or Liriano. If both Baker and Liriano are ready, Blackburn will join Humber, Glen Perkins, Kevin Mulvey, and Brian Duensing in an amazing Rochester rotation.
Interestingly, Ford was originally selected by the Red Sox in the 12th round of the 1999 draft out of Dallas Baptist University and hit .315/.378/.479 with 52 steals for their low Single-A affiliate in 2000 before being traded to the Twins for Hector Carrasco that September. Carrasco appeared in just eight games for the Red Sox, allowing eight runs on 15 hits in 6.2 innings, and then re-signed with the Twins that offseason. Ford hit .272/.349/.402 in 1,716 plate appearances with the Twins.
Elliot Johnson led off the third by trying to bunt down the first-base line. He kept it close to the line and it rolled down close to the bag. Morneau went to cover the bag and Hernandez moved his considerable bulk over toward the ball. Seeing that he wouldn't be able to scoop it up in time to get Johnson, Hernandez instead kicked the ball, right on the toe, and it went straight into Morneau's glove.Now on the Rays, former Twins shortstop Jason Bartlett had plenty to say about "The Kick":
That was awesome. Usually you'd see that and you'd get mad about it, but it was so amazing that everybody in our dugout was taking their hat off and just bowing to him. To kick it and to hit it in the air right at Morneau's glove is impossible, but he did it. Any other first baseman, it probably would have hit off their knee or something, but Morneau, with that hockey instinct, kick save and he got it in the glove.Sure enough, Justin Morneau also brought up the hockey angle, adding: "Usually that's no goal in hockey, kicking it in."
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Book Excerpt: Torii Hunter on "Facing Clemens"
Excerpted from “Facing Clemens: Hitters on Confronting Baseball’s Most Intimidating Pitcher,” © 2008, by Jonathan Mayo. Published by The Lyons Press, Guilford, CT.
Jonathan Mayo is a senior writer for MLB.com and has been working for the official site of Major League Baseball since 1999. His focus is on the minor leagues and the draft, but he has covered MLB for a number of years. He wrote "Facing Clemens" prior to the release of the Mitchell Report, so the work is free of performance-enhancers. It takes readers into the batter’s box and provides insights from hitters on the challenges of trying to succeed against Clemens over the course of his career. One of the chapters is on former Twins star Torii Hunter and the following is an excerpt from that chapter.
Torii Hunter knew he had been given a gift once he heard the news. It came by way of an announcement from the owner’s box at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, May 6, 2007. Roger Clemens made it official, speaking to the Yankee faithful in the Bronx that afternoon via the video scoreboard. “Well, they came and got me out of Texas and I can tell you it's a privilege to be back,” Clemens said. "I'll be talking to y’all soon.”
There was no surprise that Roger Clemens decided to make another late return to baseball for the 2007 season. And it would be difficult to find someone shocked that he chose to return to New York over the Red Sox or Astros. Hunter may have been more interested than most, especially once he perused the Twins schedule and saw that Minnesota would be heading to Yankee Stadium for four games in the beginning of July.
That would give him another chance--perhaps his last one--to accomplish something that had eluded him throughout his very successful career. He’s logged over 1,200 games of big-league time, surpassing the 1,200-hit plateau. He’s slugged over 190 home runs and stolen over 125 bases. He’s been to the postseason with the Minnesota Twins four times, went to two All-Star Games and has a shelf full of Gold Gloves for his play in center field (six entering the 2007 season, to be exact).
But there has been one achievement that has eluded the veteran star, the thing he hoped he’d finally be able to pick up in that visit to the Bronx in July 2007. Without including one playoff meeting, Hunter entered the 2007 season with an albatross-around-his-neck 0-for-22 against the Rocket. Then opportunity knocked one more time with Clemens’ decision to return to the American League after three seasons over in the National League.
Clemens had rushed back to help rescue the Yankees in 2007. A series of injuries had decimated the pitching staff and New York was under .500 with the Red Sox threatening to run away with the AL East. So the Rocket accelerated his timetable, made a trio of minor-league starts, got delayed slightly by a balky groin, and made his season debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday, June 9, just a month after announcing to the Yankee Stadium faithful he was coming back.
Clemens got the win against the Pirates, but it was an uneven performance, as he allowed three runs in six innings. He was up-and-down for the rest of the month, finishing June with a 5.32 ERA. There were more than a few whispers saying the Yankees had made a costly mistake in bringing back the 44-year-old. But Clemens would show he had more than a little left in the tank when the calendar turned to July.
It did seem like a perfect opportunity for Hunter. Clemens still looked very rusty and the Twins center fielder was having his best season since being an All-Star back in 2002. Hunter hit .302 up until the game against the Yankees and Clemens, with 17 homers, 63 RBIs, and 11 steals. He was optimistic, yet philosophical, about the opportunity to face his nemesis one more time.
“For me, I get a chance to get that hit I need. I’m excited,” said Hunter, who signed a big free-agent deal with the Los Angeles Angels following the 2007 season. “Me as an athlete, you don’t want to be the guy who has no hits off anybody. I’m a better hitter, better player. I think I have a good chance getting that hit off him.
“I’m not that young kid any more. I’m older. I have more experience, I’m more under control. I understand the game. You get a hit three out of ten times, you’re a hero. It’s a game of failure. I’m going to try my best to get my hit, but I won’t let it get me down. He’s the only one who gets my number. He’s struck out lots of people. If it’s going to be one guy, I’ll tell my grandkids Roger Clemens got me. It’s something you have to cope with. If it doesn’t happen, it was a good run, a good race. He’s a Hall of Famer. Hang with ’em.”
It didn’t happen. Clemens, it seemed, chose July 2 to look like the pitcher the Yankees signed to help them climb back into the race. The right-hander went eight innings and allowed just one run on two hits. Once a strikeout machine who put up fairly big pitch counts, this Clemens was extremely efficient. He only threw 97 pitches in the game, 67 for strikes, while striking out four. It was win number 350 in Clemens’ storied career and he hit that stratified air with the second-lowest loss total in the history of the game (only Cy Young had fewer losses when he reached the 350-win plateau).
Once again, Roger Clemens was redefining the kind of pitcher he was based on what he could still bring to the table. Hunter knew ahead of time this wasn’t going to be the guy who dominated him--and everyone--in the American League early on and probably not even the pitcher who found success in the National League over the previous three seasons.
“I think he’s a different pitcher now,” Hunter said before facing him. “He probably has a different way of getting it done. He’s probably smarter. If I jumped at the first pitch all the time, he might go slider off the bat. I may have to watch how he goes at other guys like me. I’ll get my game plan from that. That’s how you feel them out. You watch and see what they’re doing. Once he gets on the mound, I’m going to watch to see what he’s doing. And trust me, I’ll have the scouting reports from everywhere.”
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Nathan Signs Extension
There are two truisms when it comes to Joe Nathan's new deal. The first is that signing a 33-year-old relief pitcher to a $47 million contract extension is very risky. The second is that if you're going to take the big risk of signing a 33-year-old relief pitcher to a $47 million contract extension, Nathan is as good a bet as you'll find. Once those two truisms are established, there's room for plenty of debate about whether or not the Twins made the right move to lock up Nathan through at least 2011.
Let's start with the negatives, because I'll be accused of focusing on that anyway. For a small-payroll team, there are better, more efficient ways to spend $12 million per season. Nathan has averaged 70 innings per year in Minnesota and the Twins' payroll figures to be around $80 million in 2009 before perhaps jumping as high as $90-$100 million in 2010 and 2011. That means the team will be devoting 12-15 percent of the budget to pay for about five percent of the innings throughout Nathan's deal.
Certainly Nathan's innings are more valuable than typical innings, but that has a lot to do with the role that he's asked to fill. From Rick Aguilera and Eddie Guardado to Nathan himself just four years ago, the Twins have shown that being an established closer isn't a prerequisite for being a successful closer. Like the majority of closers throughout baseball, Aguilera, Guardado, and Nathan were each former starters and middle relievers before the Twins made them into closers.
After acquiring him from the Giants the Twins gave Nathan a chance to replace Guardado as closer and four seasons later they're paying a premium to retain him because he succeeded in that role. In doing so they're paying not only for an elite reliever, but for an elite reliever who fills a very specific, value-inflating role. And the only reason that they're in a position to do so is because they chose not to pay that same premium for Guardado when he left as a free agent following the 2003 season.
Parting with Nathan would no doubt have been wildly unpopular with fans, but letting Guardado leave was plenty unpopular at the time and worked out well in the long term. When Guardado left the Twins he was the same age that Nathan is now and three years later he had broken down physically. The Twins could have taken draft picks when Nathan left via free agency, like they did by grabbing Glen Perkins with one of the selections that they received for Guardado.
Another option would have been trading Nathan for future help, which the Twins did twice with Aguilera, acquiring Kyle Lohse (among others). Instead of choosing either of those options while turning their attention to creating another closer, the Twins have chosen to commit a huge chunk of their payroll through 2011 for what will be at most 70 innings per season. I've long been of the opinion that 70 innings aren't worth 15 percent of a team's payroll regardless of how fantastic those 70 innings are.
The Twins' ability to build strong bullpens around cheap young arms and low-cost veterans--and specifically their recent history with closers--shows a big part of why that's the case. Beyond that, for the deal to even have a chance of working out in the Twins' favor Nathan clearly must continue to be an elite closer through the age of 36. While that's certainly possible, it's iffy given the risk of decline and injury associated with mid-30s pitchers. In fact, Nathan may have already shown a sign of decline.
From 2004-2006 he struck out 31.3, 34.1, and 36.3 percent of the batters he faced, but that fell to 27.3 percent last year. Even 27.3 percent is a great strikeout rate, but it represents a decline of 25 percent from the previous season and puts Nathan below the 30-percent mark for the first time since 2003. A small-payroll team committing $12 million per year to a closer guaranteed to be elite is questionable to begin with, but the absence of that guarantee is what really makes the deal dangerous.
None of which is a knock against Nathan. His role calls for him to pitch just 70 innings, but he does the job as well as anyone in baseball and certainly maximizes the value of those frames. In four years with the Twins he has a 1.94 ERA, 355-to-80 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .185 opponent's batting average in 282.1 innings. His 160 saves during that span rank tied for the AL lead with Mariano Rivera and he converted 91.9 percent of his save opportunities to lead all of MLB.
Nathan has essentially been as good as a closer can possibly be, which shows why the debate about the wisdom of signing him to a $47 million contract extension revolves primarily around the role rather than the player. If any 33-year-old, 70-inning relief pitcher is worth devoting one-seventh of the payroll to through 2011 it's Nathan, but that's a pretty big "if." With that said, Nathan's specific contract is relatively favorable for the Twins as far as $47 million contract extensions for relievers go.
Instead of a standard deal with escalating salaries, the Twins took advantage of their current payroll surplus by tearing up his contract for 2008 and spreading the money out equally over four years. Rather than making $6 million in 2008 and an average of $14 million from 2009-2011, Nathan will make the same $11.25 million each year from 2008-2011. Nathan getting a 2008 bump from $6 million to $11.25 million is of little consequence given that the Twins still have over $10 million in unused payroll.
However, his making that same $11.25 million per year from 2009-2011--rather than $14 million or so--will give the Twins added payroll flexibility. Beyond that, the deal is truly a three-year extension with a team option for 2012, which is very different than the four-year extension that Nathan was previously said to be seeking. The Twins will have the option of buying him out for $2 million in 2012 and that's vastly different than being on the hook for another $12-$15 million during his age-37 season.
Of course, the three-year extension is essentially for $41 million--which works out to $13.67 million per season--and takes Nathan through his age-36 season, which is plenty risky anyway. At the end of the day I'd likely take a) two good prospects and $47 million to spend or b) one season of Nathan, two draft picks, and $41 million to spend over c) Nathan's next four seasons, but that has little to do with Nathan and everything to do with committing to a deal that at best will allow you to pay $170,000 per inning.
It's not a move that I'd have made given the Twins' payroll limitations and carries considerable risk while involving the most overrated "position" in baseball, but if any 33-year-old closer is worth locking up it's Nathan and the Twins did well to lessen the risk somewhat by spreading out the money equally. If he stays healthy and continues to dominate, the team will simply be paying a premium for a luxury and that's far from disastrous. If he gets hurt or merely declines in his mid-30s, that's another story.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Twins Notes: Gardy Loves Garrett
According to various reports the Twins are close to signing Joe Nathan to a contract extension, but I'll wait for the deal to become official before breaking it down. In the meantime, here are some random notes to chew on ...
UPDATE: Along with the impending Nathan deal, the Twins essentially finalized the Opening Day roster this morning by sending Philip Humber, Denard Span, Jason Pridie, and Brian Buscher to Triple-A. Carlos Gomez will be the starting center fielder (and likely leadoff man), Nick Blackburn will be in the rotation, Francisco Liriano appears headed to the minors, and I'll have a full write-up of all the moves tomorrow.
Jones was called up last season after spending nine years in the minors, including three stints at Triple-A. After hitting .252/.310/.447 in 381 games at Triple-A he batted .208/.262/.338 in 31 games with the Twins, yet Gardenhire consistently heaped on praise. He spoke as if Jones was something other than a mediocre minor-league veteran and repeatedly talked up his power potential. It was so out of character for Gardenhire that something else seemed to be at play, at which point my theory emerged:
For years I've thought that Gardenhire treated young players unfairly and irrationally favored mediocre veterans. That may actually be true, but of late I've started to think that perhaps it has less to do with "young" or "old" and more to do with "good" or "bad."There's a lot more to it, but you get the idea. Gardenhire's treatment of Jones this spring reinforced the notion that he's willing to praise him publicly because there's no expectation of him developing into a good player. Jones is out of minor-league options, which meant that if he failed to make the Opening Day roster the Twins would have to pass him through waivers before sending him back to Rochester for a fourth straight season. When asked about the situation, here's what Gardenhire said:
He's a power guy, we know that. He can really launch the ball. He won't make it [through waivers without being claimed]. That's something you have to really think about.A 26-year-old first baseman with a .252/.310/.447 hitting line in three seasons at Triple-A isn't who most teams target on waivers, which leaves two possible explanations for the above quote. One is that Gardenhire truly believes what he said, in which case he's done a horrible job evaluating Jones' value. The other is that Gardenhire doesn't believe a word of what he said, in which case he's done a fine job evaluating Jones' value and realized that he'd pass through waivers with ease.
Gardenhire struggling to correctly evaluate a young player wouldn't shock me, but if my theory is correct then the latter explanation is at work. In other words, Gardenhire correctly views Jones as having little major-league future and feels free to praise him to the point of suggesting that other teams see him as a valuable commodity. We may never know which is true, but here's what Gardenhire said last week when Jones predictably (to everyone but Gardenhire, at least) passed through waivers unclaimed:
I'm always surprised when a good hitter goes through waivers, but the timing of it ... I don't see many teams searching for things right now. They're all trying to cut down.Gardenhire only praising young players publicly when he views them as not having much of a future in the majors is certainly very annoying. However, Gardenhire legitimately singling out Jones for praise and believing that he's good enough to be claimed off waivers is far worse, because it suggests that he's not especially good at his job. Neither option would surprise me at this point, but I'm leaning more toward the "praise the scrubs even if they're young" theory.
After all, if Gardenhire truly believed what he said about Jones he'd have at least kept him around as a bench bat. Instead, Jones is headed for a fourth straight season at Triple-A, where he'll hit his usual .250 with a bad on-base percentage and decent power. He'll likely be called back up at some point this season, which will be Gardenhire's cue to talk up his power potential publicly. Or at least that's my hope, because Gardenhire truly thinking that Jones is a good player scares me.
The Nationals seemingly have way more than enough outfield depth, which increases the chances of Guzman not making the team out of spring training. ... Of course, strong outfield depth or not the Nationals may simply decide to keep Guzman around as their 25th man, in which case the Twins have given away one of the few solid upper-minors hitting prospects in the entire organization for absolutely nothing just because they didn't see fit to give him a spot on a 40-man roster that had plenty of room.Sure enough, the Nationals did "have way more than enough outfield depth" to keep Guzman on the major-league roster all season. Unfortunately, the Twins have decided to let them keep him anyway, trading Guzman to the Nationals for what figures to be a very modest player to be named later rather than welcoming him back into the organization.
Matt Garza is an impressive young pitcher with #1 starter potential if he can successfully make the larger changes to his motion discussed in the tempo section. ... As is, with a few small tweaks, he has #2 starter upside and some of the best stuff in baseball when he's on, as evidenced above. There have been some whispers about his makeup and coachability, but thus far in Tampa none of these have appeared to be a problem.Interestingly, when it comes to Garza's potential McDaniel basically arrived at the same conclusion as me despite using a vastly different approach. Most fans and media members seem convinced that the Twins clearly got the better end of this winter's big trade with the Rays, but seeing Garza out-perform Delmon Young this season wouldn't surprise me. Young has a higher ceiling, but it may not be as a sky-high as many people believe and having a huge upside is very different than reaching that upside.