Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Links-N-Thinks

The 2014 All-Star Game was finally given to the Twin Cities this week but there were plenty of other happenings for Twins Territory. Joe Mauer was placed on waivers and the national media freaked out over what turned out to be a none story. After sitting for over a week and then playing in a handful of games, Denard Span was finally put on the DL even though rosters expand this weekend. Chris Parmelee destroyed Triple-A pitching for most of the year and he finally got called up. Now he has to show his stuff at the big league level if they can find at-bats for him.

While the news surrounding the Twins has been exciting, the play on the field has not been in the exciting category. The team is scuffling to say the least and it could be a long final month for the faithful that still head to Target Field. A crowd of under 30,000 was announced for the first time at Target Field this week and it is hard to believe there were that many people in attendance. It is tough to watch a team that is putting a poor product on the field. Fans like me will continue to follow even if the wins aren't exactly piling up over the next few weeks.

It's a long Labor Day weekend so before you skip out of the office early make sure to check out this week's edition of "Friday Links-N-Thinks."

My Weekly Rundown

Video of the Week: Lew Ford hit his first home run since 2007 earlier this week. It was also great that it came off of Francisco Liriano. Ford would go on to hit another home run later in the week so he is on quite the nice run for the Orioles as they try to stay in the playoff hunt in the American League.
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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

If Joe Mauer was traded, where could he go?

On a day when the biggest piece of news coming out of the Twins Cities should have been the Twins securing the 2014 MLB All-Star Game, most of the national attention was on the reports that Joe Mauer had been placed on revocable waivers. Fans and some members of the media got all in a tizzy by the thought that Mauer, the hometown boy, could ever leave the Twins. In the end, it seems like a whole lot of fuss for nothing because there doesn't seem to be much of a chance of Mauer and his massive contract leaving the Twin Cities. 

To the casual fan, it can be confusing at this time of the year to hear about players being put on waivers when the trade deadline has come and gone. The big deal pulled off between the Red Sox and the Dodgers can get fans thinking about what other big name players will be the next to move. It is rare to see big moves like this pulled off after the trade deadline because of all of the hoops that teams have to jump through to get a player to a team that truly wants to trade for them. A trade involving Joe Mauer would be similarly hard because he holds a full no-trade clause so any move for Mauer has to be approved by the catcher. 

A few notes about the waiver process:
  • Many teams will place players on waivers at this time of the year and there is a pretty good chance that this isn't the first (or last) time Mauer has seen the waiver wire.
  • Any MLB team can put a claim in on a player, the entire American League would get first crack at Mauer in reverse order of the standings.
  • If no one in the AL claims Mauer, an NL team could put in a claim and once again it goes in reverse order of the standings.
  • The club putting in a claim risks the chance that the Twins would just dump Mauer's contract on the new club without the Twins getting anything back in a trade. This means there are quite a few clubs that couldn't even think about it.
  • Since no team put in a claim on Mauer, the Twins could work out a deal with any club at this point in the year. It would just need to be approved by Mauer because of his no-trade clause.
  • Reports have come out to say that the Twins place everyone on waivers at this time of the year but it can mean very little.

With all of that being said, it is interesting to think about the possibility of one of the best players in the game being dealt to a contender for a title run. There are plenty of obstacles in the way including Mauer's ridiculously large contract and his no-trade clause. Of course there would be teams interested in obtaining Mauer's services but only a few would be able to absorb this massive deal. There are plenty of clubs that are set in the catching department so they would have no need for Mauer but who else would be interested in the Twins' hometown boy?

Let's take a minute and pretend that a deal for Mauer will take place. Here are five of the top teams that have the budget and room for a catcher to slide into their line-up.

Yankees: The darn Yankees have the highest payroll in the game so adding one more big salary might not be too hard to handle. Before Mauer signed his big deal with the Twins, it was widely speculated that the Yankees would be interested and making a play for Mauer when he hit free agency. In the past, Mauer has performed very well at Yankee Stadium and the short porch in right field could help to bolster his offensive numbers. He has played 14 games at the new Yankee Stadium and he has hit .327/.439/.545 with three home runs and three doubles. One of the problems with the Yankees might be the age of the club and the fact that Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter could be forced to spend more time as the DH. The Yankees are set at first base with Mark Teixeria so where would Mauer get all of his at-bats? His catching duties have been cut back and it is expected for this trend to continue as he approaches age 30. 

Red Sox: The original report from Ken Rosenthal speculated about Boston being interested in Mauer because of their recent salary dump. Mauer has been a target for the Red Sox in the past and it is hard not to think that he could succeed in a Boston uniform. It's easy to imagine Mauer scattering balls off of the Green Monster on a nightly basis. David Ortiz is at the end of his career as a DH and Mauer could get some time at first without Adrian Gonzalez in the picture. With $142.5 million left on Mauer's contract, the Red Sox could have tried to jump for Mauer but this wasn't the case. Jacoby Ellsbury is due to get a contact extension at some point and the Red Sox just got rid of a lot of money in bad contracts. The idea of adding Mauer was probably too much at this point as the Red Sox look to go in a different direction.

Angels: Los Angeles needs a catcher and they aren't afraid of spending money as they showed this past offseason with the editions of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. Do the Angels need another star at this point? They have all of the pieces to one of the best rotations in the game. Albert Pujols is the best hitter in this generation and Mike Trout is emerging as a once in a generation star. There are plenty of big names in LA and Mauer might get lost in the shuffle. With Pujols getting most of the time at first base, Mauer would need to find time at other spots. Some other bad contracts in LA make it seem like this deal would be tough to pull off for the Angels. If I'm Terry Ryan, I say, "Mauer for Trout, straight up." Then I pull the phone away from my ear because of the laughter on the other end.

Dodgers: The new ownership group has shown their willingness to spend big money and adding another contract might not be that big of a deal. The absence of a DH in the National League seems like a draw back from Mauer moving to the Senior Circuit. Gonzalez looks to be locked in at first base so Mauer would be out of the line-up on a more regular basis to give his legs a rest from catching duties. He could always try the outfield but the Dodgers are sitting pretty well in that department as well. Making another big move could be huge for the Dodgers franchise but it doesn't seem like their roster is a good fit for Mr. Mauer.

Cubs: Since Theo Epstein moved to Chicago, the Cubs haven't made too much of a splash. Adding Mauer to the fold could be a franchise changing move for a team trying to dig out of the lower levels of the National League. If the Red Sox were in love with Mauer in the past, it makes sense to think that Epstein would like to get the player and maybe rub it in his old team's face. Much like the Twins, the Cubs and Epstein are attempting to fix a club after a couple of rough seasons. Mauer's addition to the Cubs would make a splash but they are trying to turn themselves around for the long haul. It doesn't make much sense to bring in a deal like Mauer for the rebuilding process.

So what do you think? Where would Mauer wind up if he was traded? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday's Trip through the Minors

Even though they are a last place team like the Twins, the pesky Seattle Mariners have seemed to have the Twins number in 2012. For the second night in a row, the Twins couldn't get much offense going and it's tough to win games without scoring runs. The good news is that the Twins are getting closer to getting the second pick in next year's draft. Only the Cubs and the Astros have a worse record than the Twins so this recent stretch of poor play has pushed Minnesota ahead of Colorado.

I spent the evening taking in some Independent League Baseball as the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks returned to Newman Outdoor Field. There was a Bobblelection held as fans had to pick between getting an Obama bobblehead or a Romney bobblehead. The first candidate to run out of bobbleheads would be declared the winner. It turns out that the Fort Myers Miracle are having a similar promotion on Thursday evening at their home game.


The Red Wings used a 5-run top of the ninth inning to separate themselves from the Bisons on Tuesday evening. Buffalo struck early for a couple runs but Rochester slowly pecked away before coming up big in their last at-bat.

Rene Rivera and Tsuyoshi Nishioka each drove in three runs. Rivera had a home run and a double to his credit while Nishioka settled for a three hit night. Brian Dozier continues to struggle since his demotion as he went 0-4 with two strikeouts. Chris Parmelee had a hat trick with three strikeouts in the game.

Shairon Martis picked up his third win of the year in a very strong outing. Over six innings on the mound, he gave up two runs on six hits with three strikeouts. Anthony Slama made things a little more interesting in the ninth by giving up a two-run bomb but he still picked up his 13th save on the year.


A big 5-run second inning put the Thunder up big and the Rock Cats couldn't recover on this night. Steve Hirschfeld was roughed up for six runs in less than two innings of work. This made it a long night for the bullpen but Edgar Ibarra, Dakota Watts, Aaron Thompson, and Jose Gonzalez managed to make it through the rest of the game by only allowing one more run. The lone run came on a solo home run so it was a pretty good 6.1 innings from the bullpen forces.

Josmil Pinto went 3-for-4 on the night with his first double since being promoted from Fort Myers. In the fifth inning, Deibinson Romero hit his 19th home run of the year. Nate Hanson also went 2-for-4 in the loss.


The first game of the night turned into quite the slugfest as the teams combined for 21 runs on 19 hits. The Miracle entered the last inning down by six runs and they would storm back before falling a run short. Steve Liddle hit his third home run of the season and he had three RBI. Most of the dirty work was done by Angel Morales as he hit a grand slam in the final frame to make things interesting. With his RBI from earlier in the game, he finished with five RBI in the contest. Clint Dempster took the loss after giving up six runs in less than an inning on the mound. 

Compared to the first game of the night, the second game was a nice, tidy win for the Miracle in their double-header. A couple runs in the third and sixth innings were enough to push the team to a victory. Steve Liddle hit his second home run of the day and his two-run shot turned out to be the difference in the score. Daniel Ortiz was the only member of the Miracle to have more than one hit by going 2-for-4 with his 23rd double. Pat Dean earned his 10th victory by pitching five innings and surrendering two runs with five strikeouts.


The Snappers put seven hits on the board but the pitching staff for the Kernals kept them from scoring a run in this game. Beloit only had one extra base hit in the game, a double off of the bat of Drew Leachman. Jairo Rodriguez went 2-for-3 and he was the lone player with a multi-hit game. The team left nine men on base and they missed the presence of Miguel Sano who was out of the line-up for the second straight night.

Matt Tomshaw had an okay outing but he was still saddled with his fifth loss of the year. The team had three errors in the game including two from Adam Pettersen trying to fill in for Sano at third base. This meant that Tomshaw only gave up two earned runs during his five innings pitched. It was the third consecutive start that Tomshaw has lost.


A solid offensive outing from the young E-Twins helped the team to the victory on Tuesday evening. Top draft pick Byron Buxton went 2-for-4 with two steals and two runs scored out of the lead-off spot. He was backed up by Niko Goodrum as he was 2-for-4 with a double and a triple in the game. Max Kepler continued to show his power stroke by hitting his 10th home run and stealing a base.

Hein Robb started the game and gave up two earned runs on seven hits in a little less than five innings. Joshua Burris improved to a perfect 7-0 with the victory on this night out of the bullpen. He threw the last two innings and only allowed one man to reach base.

Players of the Day for August 28, 2012

Hitter of the Day: Steve Liddle

Pitcher of the Day: Shairon Martis

A Look Ahead- Wednesday, August 29th Schedule

Rochester: Off Day
New Britain @ Trenton: LHP Logan Darnell
Fort Myers @ Bradenton: RHP Tom Stuifbergen
Beloit @ Wisconsin: LHP David Hurlbut
Elizabethton @ Danville: RHP JO Berrios

If you have any questions or comments on the minor league system, leave them in the comments sections so they can be answered by myself or one of the other readers.

Handling of young pitcher has changed

The biggest debate in the baseball world over the course of the last few months has been surrounding the Washington Nationals and their decision to shut-down Stephen Strasburg, one of the best young starting pitchers in the game. He is pitching in his first full season at the big league level and he only pitched at the end of last season since he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Nationals fans see their team in first place and they want Strasburg to help the franchise reach the playoffs for the first time since the team moved to DC. Even with pressure from outside sources, the front office for the team is holding their ground and telling the media that Strasburg will be shut down at some point in the next couple weeks.

Almost a decade ago, the Cubs were in a similar position with a young pitcher of their own but their approach to handling their young arm was a little different. As Tom Verducci wrote about in his piece yesterday, the Cubs and their coaching staff seemed to beat Mark Prior into the ground in his first season as a big league pitcher. He had pitched almost 170 innings by the time September rolled around and he would average 125 pitches in his last nine starts of the 2003 season. It was by far his best season as a professional but he would never be the same from that point forward. Some blame his overuse and others look at his poor mechanics but teams have never looked at young pitchers the same way since Prior's breakdown.

With his minor league seasons taken into account, Prior had thrown 379 innings by the time of his age 22 season. This number seems to be large for a player and it also includes some of those outings with high pitch counts that aren't common in the present day game. Prior was the number two pick out of college in the 2001 draft and the Twins had the same pick in the draft that took place the year before Prior left college. The Twins took Adam Johnson, a right-handed pitcher, out of Cal State Fullerton. He didn't have quite the pedigree of Prior but he was trying to work his way to the big leagues through the Twins farm system. By the time he reached the end of his age 22 season, he had thrown 357 innings in the minor leagues, a number very close to Prior's total number of innings.

Johnson would be out of the Twins organization after the 2004 season as he went on to play in independent leagues, the Mexican League, and eventually he joined the A's farm system. Prior would pitch over 100 innings in 2004 and 2005 but he hasn't pitched at the big league level since 2006. Were the Cubs and Twins following the same plan by pushing their young pitchers too hard?

Things have sure changed in recent years for young pitchers. As touched on before, the Nationals have a lot of money and one surgery under their belt with Strasburg. This has caused them to be very cautious when it comes to their precious arm. As the baseball landscape has changed so has the approach to innings limits and pitch counts for different players. Matt Garza was taken by the Twins in the first round of the 2005 draft and the team watched his innings limit more in his younger years. A shift happened in the baseball world and it's hard to get through this time of the year without hearing about minor league pitchers reaching their limit and being shut down for the year or sent to the bullpen.

Flash-forward to the present day and it seems as if every player is forced to undergo some kind of operation during their career with Tommy John surgery leading the way. Stephan Strasburg might seem like the case study to follow for teams looking to model their innings limits and pitch counts for a pitcher. The nice things for the Nationals has been to see how fellow starter Jordan Zimmerman has done since his own injury. The team followed a strict pitch count with him during his first full season back in 2011 and now the team has been rewarded with him having his best season as a professional. The limits worked for Zimmerman and the team hopes that the same will hold true for Strasburg.

Fans of the Twins minor league system have been following the recovery of former first round pick Kyle Gibson as he makes his way back from Tommy John surgery. He is currently pitching with the Rochester Red Wings and it sounds like the team is happy to see him finish the year with that club. From there, he will most likely go to the instructional leagues or to the Arizona Fall League to continue his comeback. The Twins will be in a similar position to the Nationals next season with Gibson as he will be in his first full season since the surgery. There will undoubtedly be an innings limit for the right-handed pitcher in 2013 and he might have to be shut down early much like Strasburg.

The Cubs pushed Mark Prior to the limit and the rest is baseball history. Now the world of pitching is all about innings limits, 100 pitch outings, and trying to find the right combination of rest and recovery. Tommy John surgeries seem to be a right of passage to make it to the big leagues and this comes in an era that has seen plenty of perfect games and no hitters. With baseball toughening their stance on PEDs, pitchers seem to have gotten back a little bit more of their edge on the mound and this makes young arms all the more valuable. Baseball will never be the same because of Mark Prior but he can't have imagined that it would be for this reason.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What will the Twins do with Justin Morneau?

The buzz around the baseball world this weekend surrounded the blockbuster trade between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox. In the deal, the Dodgers got Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto. Besides dumping a ton of salary, the Red Sox got James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Jerry Sands, and Ivan De Jesus. It is pretty amazing to see a deal like this getting done since players need to pass through waivers before being traded at this point in the season.

One interesting note for Twins fans that came out after this big deal went down was that the Dodgers turned to Adrian Gonzalez after failing to get Justin Morneau. It was the second time this season that the Dodgers had contacted the Twins about a deal for Morneau The first time was around the trade deadline but the Twins passed at that time and it seems that the team passed on a deal for him once again last week.

Morneau struggled on the field at the beginning of 2012 as he adjusted back to being a full time player for the first time in two years. There were plenty of question marks surrounding his health in spring training but he has put many of these issues to rest. After appearing in a combined 150 games in the last two seasons, Morneau has played in 103 contests and he is showing no signs of slowing down. He has hit .322/.368/.517 with 6 home runs and 11 doubles in the second half of the season which is much closer to the old MVP version of the slugging first baseman.

There is one season remaining on the big contract that Morneau signed with the Twins back in 2008. The 31-year old outfielder is due $14 million for next season and that is a lot of money for a team that doesn't know if they will be in contention. With his big contract and looming free agency, there will continue to be rumors about the future of Morneau with the Twins. So the question remains, what will the Twins do with Justin Morneau?

Since the trade deadline has come and gone, the only way Morneau could be dealt at this point in the season is by being placed on waivers. From the sound of the reports out of Los Angeles, Morneau has already been placed on waivers. If he was claimed by the Dodgers, that means that all of the teams in the American League passed on Morneau and most of the National League followed the same path. With all of that being said, a waiver deal seems unlikely at this point in the season

When the offseason rolls around, the Twins could play off of Morneau's positive second half and try to work a trade to another club. Terry Ryan is back in the saddle for a full offseason and a Morneau deal could bring some prized possessions back to the minor leagues of the organization. Allowing teams to see that Morneau is fully healthy for all of 2012 could also go a long way to increasing his value in the trade market. There will be plenty of rumors surrounding Morneau this offseason and the winter meetings will be full of discussion on the slugger. 

If the front office feels that there aren't any adequate deals for Morneau in the offseason, they could hold on to the first baseman for the beginning of next year. His strong bat fits well into the middle of a line-up and the team might want to get some more value out of their former MVP. He could be a very useful piece if the team finds themselves in contention next year in the AL Central. Chances are that the Twins won't be in contention next season and a trade deadline deal might have to be struck for the star. Fans were unhappy with this year's deadline deal for Francisco Liriano so it might not be in the team's best interest to wait until next July for a trade to get done.

There is always the chance that the Twins will hang on to Morneau through all of next season before he becomes a free agent. This would allow the team to consider a contract extension for the player who has only known the Twins organization. He will be 32-years old during the 2013 season and he might want a change of scenery as he starts getting closer to the end of his career. The lure of going to a club with more recent playoff success could be too much to turn down. Money will no doubtably play some kind of role in his choice but the Twins saw Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan leave for greener pastures this past offseason.

While the Twins will have to make a decision about Morneau in the coming year, the elephant in the room is Chris Parmelee and his hot swinging bat in the minor leagues. Parmelee has been with the Twins on a few different occasions this season and it has been tough for him to find at-bats with the club at the big league level. If Morneau is still on the roster during next season, it could still be hard for the Twins to find at-bats for Parmelee. For the Twins, Parmelee would be a much cheaper option at first base since he would be making the minimum salary. He will also be 25-years old for the entirety of next season so the Twins need to see if he can handle playing at the big league level.

The Twins will have plenty of choice to make in the coming months with a variety of players on the roster but the future of Morneau will be watched closely by all of Twins Territory.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Links-N-Thinks

Happy Friday to everyone in Twins Territory!

As a professional educator by day, I saw my summer come to an end yesterday with the start of another school year. It feels good to get back into the swing of things even though it's still hot and sticky outside. The Minnesota State Fair started yesterday and attending the State Fair is one of the things that I will miss most about living in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. The food, the fun, and the festivities of the State Fair are one of the great ways to put a close to the summer months.

It has been a rough West Coast road trip for the Twins and it doesn't look to be getting any easier with a four game series versus the Texas Rangers this weekend. The Twins were swept by the last place Mariners of the weekend and they were only able to get one victory in Oakland. It could be a long weekend in Texas before the Twins head back to Minnesota for a four game series with Seattle, the team that just swept them.

Let's not get down in the dumps on a Friday by looking back at the last dismal week for the Twins. There's no better way to spend part of your Friday than reading this week's edition of "Friday Links-N-Thinks."
My Weekly Rundown:
Video of the Week: If you frequently visitor and reader of my post, you know that I enjoy the minor leagues and prospects in general. Cincinnati Reds farm hand Billy Hamilton stole his way into the record books this week by breaking Vince Coleman's record of 145 steals in 1983. Hamilton got his 146th steal and the speedster even made it third base for the record. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What could have been for Rene Tosoni

At this point last season, Rene Tosoni was on the Twins MLB roster and he was playing on an almost daily basis for the club. Granted that team was on it's way to one of the worst finishes in franchise history but he was still an everyday player for a big league squad. He was 25-years old at the time and he was living his dream after reaching the big leagues in his fifth season as a professional. Things were looking up for Mr. Tosoni but things have gone in the complete opposite direction for him in 2012 as the team announced that he had been removed from the 40-man roster for the club.

It has been a disastrous season for Tosoni so far this year as he has battle through multiple injures and poor play on the field. After appearing in 60 games with the Twins in 2011, Tosoni struggled at Triple-A to start the 2012 campaign by hitting .167/.267/.197 with two extra-base hits in 21 games. The organization demoted him to New Britain and his season hasn't improved much from there. With a combined 564 plate appearances between the MLB and Triple-A level, things should have gone better for Tosoni with the Rock Cats but he has struggled to the tune of batting .220/.293/.317 with 12 extra-base hits in 50 games. To say that it has been a rough year for him is a major understatement.

Tosoni was taken by the Twins as a 36th round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft out of British Columbia but he wouldn't appear in a game until 2007. He was a draft and follow player that went to a Junior College in Canada. As a very late round pick, the Twins couldn't have been expecting a ton from Tosoni during his professional career but he showed promise in the first few seasons with the organization. He was 20-years old by the time he started in rookie ball but he hit .300/.402/.425 in his first professional season. A broken leg would shorten the next year for Tosoni but his batting numbers went up slightly by hitting .315/.417/.445 with almost all of his games played for Fort Myers.

Before the 2009 season, Tosoni had only hit five home runs in his two seasons of play. By the end of the 2009 season, he would clobber three times that amount. He showed the ability to drive the ball with 25 doubles and four triples in his first full season as a professional. His batting average took a dip to .271 but he was still getting on base at a .360 clip and the extra power was great to see from the 22-year old. During the All-Star Break, he was named to the MLB Future's Game and he was named the MVP of that contest. He would go to the Arizona Fall League during the offseason to compete with the top prospects in the game. The future couldn't have been brighter and it was looking more and more like the outfielder could have a future with the Twins.

The 2010 season might have been where things started to go bad for Mr. Tosoni. He had a sore shoulder to start the year and he eventually was forced to have surgery on his labrum. Following his breakout season in 2009, the Twins wanted to see more out of Tosoni but he only appeared in 52 games. In limited action, he hit .270/.369/.422 with 16 extra-base hits over 185 at-bats with New Britain. When the Twins called him up during the next season, he wasn't hitting the ball all that well with Rochester but the plague of injuries meant the team wanted a look at him. Tosoni showed some ability to knock the ball out of the park but he only batted .203 over the course of his 189 plate appearances at the big league level.

After passing through waivers, it looks as if Tosoni will stay in the Twins organization. His future looked bright a few short seasons ago but that's how fast a player's stock can fall. It has been tough for him to stay healthy in his professional career and this has cost him at-bats in multiple seasons. The last two seasons have been horrendous for him in the minor leagues and it's tough to know what the future will hold for him. Twins fans and the front office of the organization are left wondering what could have been for this 26-year old outfielder.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thoughts on Blackburn, Nishioka moves

At the beginning of the week, the Twins made a couple of moves to their 40-man roster that have seemed to be a long time coming. Nick Blackburn and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are both owed decent sums of money for next season but their performance over the last couple of seasons has been as tough to swallow as the amount of money they are due. The Twins might need their spots on the roster for any call-ups they plan to make for September and it seems like the future is bleak for both of these players as part of the Twins organization.

There have been plenty of posts about these moves from many of the great Twins bloggers across the web but here are a couple of my thoughts on each of these players.

Blackburn's extension sure looks bad now
During spring training in March of 2010, the Twins gave Blackburn a contract extension with guaranteed money through the end of next season. At the time, Blackburn was still eligible for arbitration and the only defense of the move was that the team was trying to save some money if he turned into a pitcher that was worth a darn. Instead the team is paying him $4.75 million for 2012 and they owe him $5.5 million for next year with a ridiculous option of $8 million for 2014. 

When the team signed him to his extension, Blackburn was coming off of what has turned out to be his best season at the big league level. However, he has been arguably the worst starting pitcher in MLB since that time. In 408 innings on the mound since the start of 2010, Blackburn has a 5.56 ERA with a WHIP of 1.569 and it just gets worse from there. His contract and the lack of pitching depth in the organization forced the Twins to trot him out to the mound much more then he should have been there.

A little over a week ago, Ron Gardenhire told the media that Nick Blackburn, "will be one of our pitchers again next year." It looked like the manager was trying to stick by one of his players and Blackburn would most likely be the veteran of the staff for 2013. It looks like scenario won't play out for next year and it looks like the 30-year old's future at the big league level is a giant question mark at this point.

Scouting department whiffed on Nishioka
There was plenty of hype across Twins Territory when the team brought in a middle infielder from overseas during the offseason a couple of years ago. It seemed like a shift for a team that had struggled with payroll limitations in the past. Target Field and the revenue that it created allowed the team to outbid other MLB team's for the services of a batting champion and Gold Glove winner from Japan. The team signed him to a relatively cheap contract for three years and $9.25 million on top of the $5 million that the team spent for his negotiating rights. All of this money seems like a giant sunk cost after two very disappointing years for Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

Somebody in the scouting department for the Twins had to have messed up on this player. The middle infielders to come to the US from Japan in the past have shown signs of struggling at the big league level. This would seem to breed an atmosphere of caution with another star infielder from Japan trying to make at the MLB level. He had played multiple infield positions in Japan and he had been a successful hitter so the signs were there to point to him finding a little bit of success with the Twins. Nishioka never found this success and the team is paying him $3 million for this year and next year to be a middle infielder in their minor league system. 

An injury to Trevor Plouffe meant the Twins needed to add an infielder to the roster at the beginning of August. Even though Nishioka was not performing at Triple-A, the team gave him another shot with the big league club. He appeared in three games for the team in Cleveland and he looked awful by going 0-12 at the plate and making multiple miscues on the defensive side of the ball. When the team returned home from their road trip, Nishioka stayed on the bench because it could have gotten nasty in front of the hometown crowd. The Target Field faithful might have taken out the last two terrible seasons on the poor middle infielder. His MLB career is undoubtedly over and the Twins whiffed on this signing. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Year in Twins Trading Cards: 2012 edition

Most baseball fans can remember a time when they sat down to sort through shoe boxes full of cardboard with the faces of their favorite players on the front. I grew up in a small town in North Dakota without cable so one of the easiest ways for me follow my favorite players was to collect their trading cards. The hobby has changed a lot since the late 80s and early 90s but some fans still flock to get their hands on the latest edition of Topps Baseball Cards.

The year on the field hasn't been that great for the Twins but there have been some unique and popular card that feature members of the Twins. Here is a rundown of all of the releases so far with a few of the best cards to feature the Twins in 2012.

2012 Topps Series 1 Baseball
Release Date: January 28, 2012
Twins Base Set Cards:
62    Ben Revere
81    Liam Hendriks - RC
95    Chris Parmelee - RC
97    Jim Thome - Checklist
111  Kevin Slowey 

164  Carl Pavano
179  Denard Span
230  Justin Morneau
235  Joe Benson - RC
249  Trevor Plouffe
276  Scott Baker
292  Ben Revere - Topps All-Star Rookie
303  Danny Valencia
316  Nick Blackburn

Unique Cards: Tsuyoshi Nishioka had a short print variation card with him and Butera messing around on the bench. The hardest Twins card to get in the set was a 1/1 card featuring a cut signature of Harmon Killebrew. My favorite photo of the year for a Twins card came in this set (see awards at the bottom).

2012 Topps Tribute Baseball
Release Date: March 9, 2012
Twins Base Set Cards:
43   Harmon Killebrew
51   Joe Mauer

Unique Cards: This set is all about the autographed and relic cards. Mauer was the only Twins player featured in the autographed card section. As usual, there is a relic card of Mauer but there were also relic cards of Twins Hall-of-Famers Harmon Killebrew and Bert Blyleven. There were some unique cards that featured players debut digits from their first year. David Ortiz and Rod Carew were part of this set.

2012 Topps Heritage Baseball
Release Date: March 14, 2012
Twins Base Set Cards:
26    Scott Baker
40    Chris Parmelee - RC
80    Jamey Carroll
89    Liam Hendriks - RC
95    2012 Rookie Stars - Joe Benson/Chambers/Brown/Taylor
125  Ron Gardenhire - Manager.
135  2012 Rookie Stars - Chris Parmelee/Lombardozz/ Florimon/Pacheco
159  Ryan Doumit
162  Twins - Team Card
186  Joe Mauer
191  2012 Rookie Stars - Liam Hendricks/Liddi/Moore/Schwinden
198  Joe Benson - RC
269  Justin Morneau
281  Jason Marquis
314  Alexi Casilla
333  2012 Rookie Stars - Joe Benson/Hendricks/Parmelee/Waldrop

Unique Cards: Everybody loves stickers and you can get a Joe Mauer Stick-Ons card from Heritage. It doesn't stop there with Mauer as he is also featured in their Clubhouse Collection Relic Cards.

2012 Topps Museum
Release Date: April 6, 2012
Twins Base Set Cards:
18   Joe Mauer

Unique Cards: Harmon Killebrew had a "Canvas Collection" short print card for collectors to hunt out. Joe Mauer's duel autograph card with Johnny Bench was one of the nicest cards in the set. As with most sets, Mauer gets all of the autograph/relic card love.

2012 Topps Gypsy Queen
Release Date: April 18, 2012
Twins Base Set Cards:
73    Ben Revere
119  Justin Morneau
121  Scott Baker
140  Joe Mauer

Unique Cards: Joe Benson didn't have a base card in the set but he had autographed cards to be found. Ben Revere's amazing catch at Target Field in 2011 was one the set's "Glove Stories." Joe Mauer had an exchange card that got the holder an autographed relic card of the Twins backstop. Cards with Indian Head pennies were inserted into the set and Mauer was the Twins representative on this insert. One of my favorite Twins cards of the year was in this set (see awards at the bottom).

2012 Bowman Baseball
Release Date: May 4, 2012
Twins Base Set Cards:
65    Ben Revere
73    Justin Morneau
87    Joe Mauer
208  Liam Hendriks - RC
215  Joe Benson - RC
219  Chris Parmelee - RC
Prospect Cards (Regular & Chrome): Eddie Rosario, Michael Gonzalez, Levi Michael

Unique Cards: Autograph cards of Eddie Rosario were doing very well in the secondary market. Miguel Sano was featured in their "Bowman's Best Prospects" insert series. Some of the coolest cards in the set had a silver ice finish to them.

2012 Topps Archives Baseball
Release Date: May 23, 2012
Twins Base Set Cards:
90   Joe Mauer
175 Justin Morneau
Reprint Cards: Rod Carew (2 different), Harmon Killebrew

Unique Cards: Former fan favorite Chili Davis had an autograph card in the set but it wasn't in a Twins uniform. Bert Blyleven and Paul Molitor have framed mini autographed cards featuring 1983's design. The deckled edge cards of Mauer and Killebrew are among my favorites from the set.

2012 Topps Series 2 Baseball
Release Date: June 6, 2012
Twins Base Set Cards:
337  Glen Perkins
389  Alexi Casilla
411  Tsuyoshi Nishioka
501  Matt Capps
512  Josh Willingham
517  Francisco Liriano
529  Luke Hughes
535  Joe Mauer
655  Ryan Doumit

Unique Cards: Topps must really like Nishioka because he had cards in Series 1 and Series 2 but he also got a silk insert card. It's funny to think that Liam Hendriks can be part of the "Golden Moments" set when he doesn't have a big league win to his name. There's a ring implanted into this Harmon Killebrew card.

2012 Topps Tier 1 Baseball
Release Date: June 20, 2012
No Base Cards in this set. Only relics and autographs.

Unique Cards: This entire set is made up of unique cards. Joe Mauer had a "Prestigious Patch" card that was a 1/1 insert. One of the most unique cards is featured in the award section at the bottom of this post. There were also multiple relic and autograph cards from Mauer in this set. Ben Revere had multiple cards featured in their "On the Rise" Autograph cards.

2012 Allen & Ginter Baseball
Release Date: July 11, 2012
Twins Base Set Cards:
78    Joe Mauer
125  Ben Revere
138  Josh Willingham
144  Joe Benson - RC
147  Tsuyoshi Nishioka
239  Liam Hendriks - RC
265  Chris Parmelee - RC
297  Justin Morneau

Unique Cards: There were low numbered silk/cloth cards of Mauer and Morneau inserted into packs. Mauer's sweet signature could be found in a few different varieties in the set. In a set like Allen & Ginter, there are plenty of unique cards but most of them are not related to baseball.

2012 Bowman Platinum Baseball
Release Date: July 25, 2012
Twins Base Set Cards:
2    Liam Hendriks - RC
3    Joe Mauer
84  Justin Morneau
Prospect Cards (Regular & Chrome): Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Brian Dozier

Unique Cards: Rosario, Levi Michael, and Oswaldo Arcia all had autographed cards included in this product. There were also low numbered (out of /25) black autograph cards of Michael and Rosario. Sano's low numbered autos are going for a lot on eBay.

2012 Topps Finest Baseball
Release Date: August 8, 2012
Twins Base Set Cards:
77   Liam Hendriks - RC
83   Joe Mauer
88   Chris Parmelee - RC
96   Joe Benson - RC

Unique Cards: Benson and Brian Dozier have autographed rookie cards in the set. Liam Hendriks has some very cool autograph/jersey cards that can be found in this product. There are a few different versions of Joe Mauer autographs in the set with the few on eBay going for over $200.

2012 Twins Trading Card Awards
Photo of the Year: Topps Series 1 Baseball #62 Ben Revere

Favorite Card of the Year: Harmon Killebrew/Joe Mauer Gypsy Queen Autograph Relic Insert

Unique Card of the Year: Joe Mauer Bat Knob Tier One 1/1

Monday, August 20, 2012

Mounting losses mean improving draft stock

It has been rough for the Twins over the course of the last 10 games with the team managing one victory during that stretch. The lone victory since August 8th came in a fairly one-sided win versus the Tigers last Monday. It has been painful to watch the games and see the offense failing to score runs in important situations. Even this weekend, it was a struggling against Seattle, a last place team from another division. There are many fingers that can be pointed when a team is playing this bad and sometimes it is hard to find a silver lining in all of the negativity. So let's clear away some of those cobwebs and look towards next June and the 2013 amateur draft.

The Twins are currently in last place in the American League, a position familiar from 2011, by 3.5 games. Cleveland and Kansas City are the next two closest teams in the AL and they are in front by 3.5 and 4 games in the division and in the race for the worst record in the AL. At this point last season, there were three teams behind the Twins in the race for the worst record in the league. The team was 54-70 on August 19 so the club that went on to lose 99 games had four more victories and the same amount of loses as the 2012 version of the Twins. This puts in perspective just how bad the Twins were at the end of last year. From August 19th to the end of the season, the team only won nine games.  

When taking a glance at the standings in the National League, it is clear to see that there are some pretty bad clubs pushing each other for last place. The Astros are awful for the second year in a row and they are the clear front runners for the worst record in the league with a commanding 8.5 game lead. The Rockies and the Cubs are in a close battle for the second worst record as they are only separated by .5 a game. All three of these clubs have a winning percentage under .400 and that means they are ahead of the Twins in the losing department. 

While it might feel good that the Twins aren't the worst team in all of baseball, it does put them in a worst position for deciding what pick the club will have in next June's amateur draft. If the season ended today, the Twins would have earned the fourth pick based on their win-loss record. The draft order would currently look like this:

1. Houston Astros: W-L 39-83 (Games Back: 0)
2. Colorado Rockies: W-L 46-73 (GB: 8.5)
3. Chicago Cubs: W-L 47-73 (GB: 9.0)
4. Minnesota Twins: W-L 50-73 (GB: 12.0)
5. San Diego Padres: W-L 53-70 (GB: 13.5)
6. Cleveland Indians: W-L 54-67 (GB: 15.5)
7. Kansas City Royals: W-L 54-66 (GB: 16)

The recent stretch of poor play by the Twins has helped them to move past the Padres into fourth place in the standings. Over the last ten games, the Padres have been an under .500 club with a 4-6 record but the Twins have been even worse. Out of the the clubs ahead of the Twins in the race for the first pick, the Rockies have been playing better as of late with a 6-4 record in their last ten contests. The Cubs and Astros have posted identical 3-7 records over the last week and a half. This could put the Twins in position to jump a couple more spots before the season ends and they could find themselves all the way up with the second pick in the draft for the second year in a row.

All of Twins Territory got frustrated at the end of 2011 as the loses continued to mount up and the team almost became unbearable to watch. There were injuries to the pitching staff and other positional players that kept some of the best talent off the field. The front office also wanted to get a look at young players like Chris Parmelee, Joe Benson, and Ben Revere. This meant that there would be some bumps and bruises along the way but the team was able to avoid losing 100 games. If the Twins want to follow a similar path in 2012, it seems that there will be ample opportunities for young players to be fit into the line-up and for a variety of starting pitchers to get a shot in the rotation. At this point in August of last year, there were four teams with worse records than Minnesota but this year there are only three so it could be easier for the Twins to move up. 

As a fan of the club, I want the Twins to win but the losses don't hurt as much when I know that it is leading to a better draft pick. The club was really bad last season but the team was able to turn that bad season into arguably the best player available in the draft. Bryon Buxton may never make it to the big leagues but the Twins got high picks in every round of the draft and all of those high picks should help the minor leagues if the club did their scouting right and got the appropriate players. Hope for the 2012 season might be lost for the Twins but each loss brings the team closer to building up hope in the minor leagues. The losses might stink now but the future could be bright for Minnesota. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Links-N-Thinks

It was a rough week across Twins Territory as the Twins have won a single game in the last seven days. The Rays came into Target Field and swept the Twins while the Tigers were able to take two out of three games in their series. At this point, the Twins sit at the bottom of the AL Central and they have the worst record in the American League. When the season is lost like it is now for the Twins, losing games might be more beneficial as the team can secure a better draft pick for next June.

There are three teams in the National League with a worse record than the Twins. That means that the Twins would have the fourth pick in the draft if the season ended today. The Padres and the Royals are close to having the same record as the Twins so each loss can be considered a good thing at this point. A better draft pick can go a long way to improving the franchise over some meaningless wins in the middle of August.

The draft is still a long way off and the weekend is almost upon us so sit back and buckle-up for another edition of "Friday Links-N-Thinks."

My Weekly Rundown:

Video of the Week: This play between Torii Hunter and umpire Greg Gibson could have turned out a lot worse. Some of the photo's are a little graphic when the cleat is right in his face and there was clearly going to be some kind of cuts on his face. It was a strange play to see develop but the umpire was down trying to make the right call.