Thursday, September 27, 2012

Season Ticket Holder Conference Call

On Thursday evening, Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan participated in a Fan Forum Conference Call with Season Ticket Holders. This is a nice little perk that allows fans to get a glimpse of the inside workings of the team. Nothing earth-shattering ever gets said, but it's always interesting. I hastily tried to take some notes as the call went along; here are my impressions. (Keep in mind that I'm not a good transcriber, so none of these are direct quotes.)

Much of the focus was placed on what needs to be done to start winning again. The first questioner didn't miss a beat -- he wanted to know about the starting pitching. Ryan agreed that starting pitching is a problem, but they will try whatever they can to improve. It won't be easy -- 28 or 29 other teams also need pitching -- but it is necessary.

Other than pitching, another big frustration is the failure to execute fundamentally-sound baseball -- bunting, hitting the cut-off man, relays, baserunning, etc. Also frustrating was the failure to put up crooked numbers when men are on base.

A caller asked Ryan what's different the second time being the GM and about the higher payroll with the new stadium. Ryan replied that while the new stadium helps entice folks to come out, and some things are going in the right direction, there is still work to do.

Someone asked if the Twins are willing to give up Willingham, maybe for starting pitching. Ryan said that there aren't too many untouchables on the team, but he really likes the numbers Willingham puts up from the right side of the plate.

What are the future plans for Ben Revere? He's an exciting and fun player, so they will do whatever they can to get him at-bats. He can fill any hole in the outfield, and everyone likes his smile. He's a very versatile player.

Why should crabby season ticket holders spend the money to renew and is the team going to spend more money? Spending money isn't the issue; the team spent a lot of money in 2011. They have to spend it smarter and get away from injuries. But there are great players to come out and see: Mauer, Morneau, Willingham, Perkins, Burton, etc. The team has work to do to get this straight, but if you love baseball, you should come out. Nothing is more frustrating for Ryan than watching fans leave after the 5th or 6th inning because they didn't get their money's worth.

A little 5 year-old boy wants to know what he can do to be a good baseball player when he gets bigger. Gardy told him that he should have fun and listen to his coaches. He needs to practice, practice, practice, and soon he'll start getting better. Go to school, listen to parents, and eat good food, too.

Other than starting pitching, what other pieces to the Twins need to fill to be competitive? Defense, especially in the infield. Jamey Carroll is a nice constant, but the rest is undetermined. The outfield is decent.

Someone wanted to know why the Twins decided to move their High-A team from Beloit to Cedar Rapids. The Twins really like the people and town of Beloit, however the difference between the facilities is night-and-day. Cedar Rapids features a nice clubhouse, a weightroom, and other important things.

What's the future for Chris Parmelee? He's got a good bat and he's developing well. His mindset is getting better. He fits at 1st, right field, and has played some at left field and DH. If he continues to hit well, they will figure out at-bats for him.

Has any more thought been given to moving Joe Mauer to 3rd base or having him hit 2nd in the lineup? Joe would be a perfect 2-hole hitter on a team that has more hitting depth, but on the Twins, he's perfect in the 3-hole because he's the best hitter -- a kind of old-school thought. As far as moving him to third base, they would need to talk it over a lot with Joe. He could do it because he's Joe Mauer, but it would take a lot of work because of the longer arm action. Joe loves catching, so it would take a lot of discussion.

Is Florimon the shortstop of the future? Who will play 2nd base? Florimon is great -- he moves nice, has great hands, strong arm action. He needs to work on not being so hard on himself and to finish his plays. They also need to work on the language barrier. As a batter, he's stronger as a righty than lefty and needs to work on getting into the strike zone. They'll give him every opportunity in Spring Training. Carroll, Dozier, and even Casilla will be given a chance in Spring Training to earn a spot at 2nd.

A caller wanted to know if the Twins are considering extending Justin Morneau, or will he be traded. He's coming off a tough year, but Ryan is very happy with the number of at-bats he's had this season. He's formidable in the middle of the lineup, and they'll address his contract as they go.

So let's talk about Terry Ryan himself...will he remove the "interim" tag from his General Manager title? Those decisions will come after the season is over and it will take care of itself. There are considerations for life and stuff, but he's been happy with the progress even though there's more to do. It'll work itself out.

How is Sam Deduno's eye? And what's his potential for the future? There is some inflammation in his eye and it doesn't seem to be serious. They'll know more in a day or two. If he keeps working on his mechanics and release point, he has great potential

Are you bummed that RA Dickey is no longer with the Twins? Everyone makes mistakes.

Is Jerry White's job safe? Gardy wishes we can see how hard all the coaches work to prepare the team. He wishes they all could stay together forever.

Are there any pitching prospects in the minors who can help soon? Yes, there are a number of prospects, but most are too low to help soon. B.J. Hermsen was just named the minor-league pitcher of the year. And they just drafted J.O. Barrios. They develop starting pitchers; they don't really develop relievers, because they're usually converted starters.

What's your favorite fun moment from this season? Ryan: trying to get a hold of Chris Herrmann at about 20 to 1 o'clock in the morning to tell him that he's getting called up to the majors. It took him a few times to answer the call. Gardy: His nickname for Jamey Carroll is "Rudy" because he's a big fan of Rudy Rudiger, the subject of the movie Rudy. When Mr. Rudiger was scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in Cleveland, Carroll sprinted out there to get a picture with him.

A caller wanted to know whether the Twins get inspiration from other organizations, such as the A's or Rays, because they have such good young starting pitching. Both these organizations are enjoying the benefits of good scouting, training, and a little luck. The Rays did have a number of seasons where they were able to draft high, and they drafted pitching. The A's always had good pitching. It all comes down to good scouting, drafting, developing. The Twins will continue to draft pitching.

How's Scott Baker doing? He's on track to be ready in Spring Training. He has a team option, and if they don't pick it up, he'll be a free agent.

Are the Twins going to hire a sports psychologist to get starting pitchers tough-minded enough to start the game and be ready for the first inning. Yes, the starters have given up a number of runs in the early innings. They keep preaching being ready for the first inning, getting the lead-off guy out, getting ahead in the count. It's the coaches' job to teach them that, and they keep talking about it. The pitchers have to execute.

One caller snuck in three questions: 1) Who has taken over the role of team leader? Mauer and Morneau are the leaders out on the field. The whole team is a fun group who really care about the game and each other. There's no bickering or bad feelings. They are really trying hard. 2) Are the Twins too patient with some of the guys waiting for them to perform? They're patient with the guys because they know their make up and potential. They were probably the most patient with Torii Hunter and LaTroy Hawkins. They tried to be patient with Dozier, Parmelee, and Valencia, but they needed more work in the minors. 3) Are the Twins keeping Willingham? Again, they like the right-handed power numbers he puts up. He's ideal for the Twins.

What happened to the home-field advantage, is there a reason the Twins are not winning at home and is there a cure? It comes down to the players.

A caller wanted to know about Kyle Gibson's rehab from Tommy John surgery. He's on schedule, getting ready for the Arizona Fall Leagues. He's throwing hard and locating. He's getting closer to being ready for Spring Training.

Who will be the next surprise like Scott Diamond? Someone will step up and impress everyone like Diamond did.

When will this year's first-round draft pick Byron Buxton be ready for the big leagues? They hope he'll be ready in about 4 years. He came out of high-school, and he's only 19. His skills are a bit crude yet, but his makeup is solid and he "gets it." A lot of positive reports from Paul Molitor.

What happened to Brian Duensing? He was bounced back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. He's great out of the pen, but he struggles in the rotation. He's getting better, and they're trying to figure it out. He's more comfortable pitching out of the stretch instead of the windup.

With Parmelee and Mauer getting playing time at 1st base, is Morneau the odd man out? He's in the plans. He's one of the best players and he's a leader.

Will the budget be expanded? There's not a firm number, but it's not about the number. Ryan said he has to make better decisions. A lot of money was tied up on the DL and in the minors. Ryan needs to spend more wisely.

And finally, a caller wonder if Gardy's nervousness translated to the other players -- Plouffe made a mistake once, and looked in the dugout at Gardy. Gardy was kind of surprised by this. He doesn't think he's terribly nervous, and the players try to have fun and stay positive. Gardy pats a lot of guys on the back. Usually they forget about bad plays because they're over. Plouffe probably needed to look in the dugout for the signs for the next batter. Gardy hopes Plouffe isn't nervous.

(P.S. Thanks and a shout out to my Twitterfriend @TCAnnelle for live-tweeting the call. I may have peeked at her tweets to fill in a hole or two in my notes.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Upcoming Important Dates

There are less than two weeks left in baseball's regular season, and with the Twins slogging through these last few games, there's nothing much for Twins fans to do but find other teams to root for and look forward to the off-season with hope of great improvement for 2013.

September 12, 2012 -- MLB 2013 Schedules Released (ok, this one isn't upcoming, but it's still important)
What it means: Next season, the Astros will be joining the American League, thereby giving each league 15 teams. This means that the inter-league games will be held throughout the season. It's not really a huge deal, but it might mean that a contending AL team may have to play a series without the benefit of a designated hitter in the final games of the season (I believe this will happen to the Tigers as they play the Marlins to finish the season).

Also, for teams that have the regularly-scheduled "rivalry series": Yankee/Mets, Dodgers/Angels, Giants/A's, Twins/Brewers, etc., those will be reduced to two 2-game series instead of two 3-game series.

What it means for the Twins: I haven't looked carefully at the Twins schedule yet, but I've read a few things about it. They'll be hosting the Tigers on MLB Opening Day, April 1. I think it's great to have the real Opening Day at home, but I will likely have to bring my Twins stocking cap. And Twins mittens. And Twins scarf. And probably my Twins blanket. Meanwhile, you probably shouldn't plan on going to Target Field much to occupy your July evenings -- there will be only nine home games. They will, however, be done with inter-league play by the end of June.

I think that MLB blew it by reducing the number of "rivalry series" game, at least for the Twins. I'm not a fan of the idea of these series, but from a business standpoint, they're pretty valuable. Fans from both sides travel to see their teams. And with the possibility of the Twins suffering more attendance woes in 2013, they should take advantage of every opportunity to put butts in the seats. Even drunken 'Sconnie butts.

Start planning your spring and summer here:

October 3, 2012 - End of the Regular Season; October 5, 2012 - Wild Card Playoff Games; October 6-7 - Start of the Division Series; October 13 -14, 2012 - Start of the League Championship Series; October 24, 2010 - Start of the World Series
What it means: This season, MLB added a second Wild Card team. Each division in both leagues will have its leader, then the two next best teams in each league will have to battle each other in a one-game play-in to the Divisional Series. The interesting part would be if any tie-breaker games are required for either a Division Championship or Wild Card berth. With the way some divisions are bunched up in the standings, this is a real possibility. Then, factor in that there may be some cross-country travel required, and this could be very messy. But in a fun way.

What it means for the Twins: Not a thing. After they finish their series in Toronto, they get to go home. Like, home home. On their couch. Like the rest of us.

Immediately after the World Series - Eligible Players Become Free Agents
What this means: Players used to have to file for free agency, but now it's automatically done. Teams have five days to negotiate exclusively with Major and Minor league free agents. Teams may offer a player (Major leaguer, at least) arbitration (basically a one-year contract), but will not receive compensatory draft picks if he signs elsewhere unless the the dollar amount is more than the average of the top 125 players. No one really knows yet what the exact qualifying amount will be, but it sounds like it'll be around $12.5 million. On the sixth day after the World Series is over, players may speak with other teams. Players have until the twelfth day to accept arbitration offers.
What this means for the Twins: Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, and Matt Capps are eligible for free agency. Ain't none of them worth $12.5 million, especially since they lost most or all of 2012 to injury, so there won't be any extra draft picks. Capps has a $6 million team option for 2013 with a $250 thousand buy out. Baker has a $9.25 million team option. It's doubtful that the Twins will pick up either of those. However, there's nothing stopping the Twins from signing any of them as free agents at a lower cost.
If you have big dreams that the Twins will super-duper free agent pitchers, you might want to temper them a bit. I read somewhere that a mediocre pitcher like Jeremy Guthrie might get as much as $10 million. And trading for stud pitching isn't terribly likely either; most teams hang on to good pitching.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Roster Stuff: Injuries and September Call-ups

On August 30, the Twins placed Denard Span on the 15-day disabled list with a strain of his right sternoclavicular (SC) joint. At first look, that seems like an odd move, given that the Twins would increase their rosters on September 1. However, as ESPN1500's Phil Makey (@PMac21 on Twitter) explained it, they did it so they could call up Matt Carson to take his place. The rules state that when a player is optioned to the minor leagues, he must remain there for at least 10 days (or maybe it's 10 games) before being called up again, unless it's to replace someone going on the DL. Carson had been optioned on August 24th, so this was the only way to get him back right away.

The SC joint is the joint between the sternum (breast bone) and clavicle (collar bone). It supports the shoulder. He injured it a while ago while attempting a diving catch in the outfield. He rested it for seven or eight days and then played a couple of games, after which he either aggravated it or decided he just couldn't tolerate it. His diagnosis was further delayed by his claustrophobia making having MRIs difficult (I don't blame him a bit). It will take four to five weeks of rest to heal it fully, but both he and the Twins say he might get some playing time in late September.


September Call-ups
RHP Esmerling Vasquez was called up and started Sunday's game against the Royals. He was a bit shaky, but it was his first major league start (he does have several appearances in relief with Arizona). He's 28.

PJ Walters has been activated from the 60-day DL as a September call up. He was recovering from a strained shoulder. He made a few rehab starts in the minors and now will be part of a six-man rotation (Walters, Vasquez, Cole De Vries, Samuel Deduno, Scott Diamond, and Liam Hendriks -- Brian Duensing was sent back to the bullpen) to finish off the season. He's 27.

LHP Luis Perdomo and his beard will be given another look in the bullpen. He's also 28.

IF Eduardo Escobar, who was acquired in the Francisco Liriano trade, will be given a chance to impress his new team. It sounds like he's pretty versatile; he's listed as a 3B, SS, and 2B, and FSNorth mentioned he can also play outfield and back-up catcher. He's 23.

And it sounds like that'll be it for the call-ups, even though there's still plenty of roster room. It's probably hard to get guys enough playing time to really make an assessment.

Notably missing:

RHP Anthony Slama has had a terrific year at Rochester -- 35.2 innings pitched with 13 saves and a 1.26 era. He did miss a big chunk of the season with a broken leg. He's 28.

IF Brian Dozier was sent down in August with the hope that he could regroup and get back to being good at baseball, but he kind of didn't do much in Rochester. He's 25.

It's no surprise that RHP Nick Blackburn wasn't called up; he was recently removed from the 40-man roster and he didn't do much to make a case to change anyone's minds.