Monday, July 30, 2012

Well, Saturday Night Was Eventful

I suppose you probably already know by now that the Twins traded Francisco Liriano, but I'm going to talk about it anyway.

As I was thinking about getting ready for bed on Saturday night (yeah, this was at about 10pm; I'm a fuddy-duddy), I went to check Twitter quick before plugging in my phone. And in the five minutes since I had previously checked Twitter, it had exploded with news that the Twins had traded Frankie to the White Sox.

Wait, what? No! Not the White Sox. Anyone but the White Sox.

Ok. So here's the scoop: The Twins traded Francisco Liriano to the White Sox for two prospects -- infielder Eduardo Escobar and lefty pitcher Pedro Hernandez.

All the buzz about these prospects wasn't terribly promising. But, overall, this isn't a horrible thing. I imagine that Terry Ryan didn't really want to trade to a division rival, but he probably felt this was the best deal he could get.

It sounded like neither the team nor Liriano's agent were interested in an extension. So to get two prospects in exchange for him isn't bad, rather than getting nothing for him if they had kept him just to see him walk away in the off-season. And because he's a pending free agent, the offers from other teams were probably not stellar. He's also still prone to inconsistency and other teams know that. It's not a great deal, but I don't think a great deal was ever going to be available.

PJ Walters was moved to the 60-day DL to make the second space on the 40-man roster. Jeff Manship was recalled to complete the 25-man roster.

Chicago's pitching coach, Don Cooper, has a great reputation. It'll be interesting to see how, or even whether, Frankie responds to him. I'm also curious to see how he and his new catcher A.J. Pierzynski work together; A.J.'s not known to be terribly patient with his pitchers.

Oh, and he gets his first start in a White Sox uniform on Tuesday against the Twins. 

I almost forgot; it's been so long since we've seen him --

On Friday, the Twins have placed Trevor Plouffe on the DL, retroactive to 7/21, with a bruised right thumb.

He jammed it while batting a over week ago. This is another example of an unnecessary delay in putting a player on the DL so that someone else can fill out the roster. But, this time, I think Plouffe is at least a little to blame. He tweeted right after it happened that he's had this before and it got better right away, so I imagine that he probably kept telling the coaches that he was getting better when he really wasn't. I understand that it's frustrating to be left out of the line up for such a seemingly minor thing, but if he can't even grip a bat, he's not much help.

Danny Valencia was recalled to take his place on the roster.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Injury Report: Swarzak

The Twins have placed RHP Anthony Swarzak on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to July 25th, with a rotator cuff strain. I was surprised by this, and after a quick Twitter inquiry, I learned that I wasn't the only one. It didn't seem like there were any tell-tale signs that he was hurting like there there were with Carl Pavano and Matt Capps, nor did it seem like there was a specific event that caused his injury. He last worked on Tuesday in Chicago, and he struggled (giving up a single and a home run in an inning of work). But then, all the relief pitchers struggled that day, so that doesn't really indicate anything.

So while we all were spending the last few days hungry for up-to-the-second word on Trevor Plouffe's jammed thumb, Swarzak suddenly developed a sore shoulder.

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. The team is calling it a "mild strain," so it's probably a bit inflamed and sore. If there are no tears, rest and rehab should take care of it.

The Twins have purchased the contract of RHP Luis Perdomo to replace Swarzak. About five minutes of research on Perdomo reveals that he throws hard.

To make room for Perdomo on the 40-man roster, Carl Pavano was transferred to the 60-day disabled list. This move shouldn't push out Pavano's return; he's been on the DL so long that it'll be about 60 days before he's ready to return anyway.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The k-bro KC Report

The family and I went on yet another baseball-themed long-weekend trip, this time to beautiful Kansas City. And like every family trip we've ever been on, the weather was really hot.

The Weather:
Yeah, it's summer, and I'm fully aware that Kansas City knows how to do hot, but man, that heat was something else. Additionally, the whole area is suffering a devastating drought. So even though the lack of humidity makes for a dry heat, it also allows for the temperatures to raise to record numbers. Whew.

The dry conditions are remarkable. The ditches along the roads have no grass or wildflowers, only short stubbles of kindling. It looks like an errantly-thrown lit cigarette would cause serious problems.

Oh, and the heat also caused some engine trouble both on the way there and on the way home. Nothing serious, just an inconvenience. But not really fun when we were excited to reach our destination.

The Barbecue:
On the recommendation of a tweet from the Star-Tribune's La Velle E. Neal III, we decided to give Oklahoma Joe's a try. We went to the "original" location, which is attached to a really tiny gas station that, for some reason, also had a huge selection of frolfing (frisbee-golfing) discs.

It was two o'clock in the afternoon, and we still had to stand in line about 45 minutes.

It. Was. Worth. It.

I ordered a "Z-man" sandwich: brisket, melted smoked provolone, a few huge onion rings, and sauce on a kaiser roll. Oh. Emm. Gee! It was the best sandwich I've ever eaten. My husband, who is pretty selective about barbecued ribs, just loved them. The fries were very good as well. The coleslaw is fair, but I'm pretty fussy about that. The dirty rice was meh (my husband makes it way better).

I've heard that the "burnt ends" of brisket are amazing, but, alas, they were out.

Add this place to your bucket list.

The Museum:
Speaking of bucket lists, visiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has been on mine for awhile. We've been to KC a number of times, and this time I demanded (well, ok, asked nicely) to allow time to visit.

It's a small-ish museum, but it's packed with lots of great stuff. And while the hardships that African-American players faced during segregation are discussed, the talent of these great players is the focus.

The best part was the "Field of Legends," bronze statues of the Negro Leagues superstars.

I enjoyed my experience there and I'm proud that I can cross this off my bucket list.

There is also a Jazz museum next door, but, regrettably, we didn't have time to visit.

The Bobblehead:
Speaking of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Saturday's Royals/Twins game was played in its honor. You may have seen the throwback uniforms the teams wore: the Royals in Kansas City Monarchs uniforms and the Twins in St. Paul Gophers (referred to in the museum as the "St. Paul Black Gophers") uniforms. The St. Paul Gophers weren't officially part of the Negro Leagues; the team dissolved before the league was formed. There were no official Negro League teams from Minnesota.

In addition, the stadium giveaway was an awesome bobblehead doll of Buck O'Neil. Buck was a former KC Monarchs player and manager, the first African-American MLB coach, a great ambassador for the Negro Leagues and all of baseball, and a great Royals fan.

Here he is:
Isn't he great?

The Game:
We only wanted to go to one game, so we chose Saturday's. We wanted to have an evening around the campfire on Friday, which, due to the drought, turned out to be an evening around the radio.

We tailgated a bit before the game, which was fun, even though it was pretty hot. We met some nice college-aged Royals fan guys. I've always liked Royals fans; they're quite friendly.

As far as the actual game: the Twins were terrible. The Royals were not.

Enough said.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Forecasting the Trade Deadline

We're fully aware, now that the All-Star break is over, that the non-waiver trade deadline is looming (I hate the "looming" cliche -- it makes me think of a big shadow of a ghost looming with the players rumored to be traded cowering against the wall a la Scooby Doo).

Last season, the Twins did very little at the trade deadline. This year should be different; the Twins will most likely move a guy or two before the end of the month. What's different about this year:
  • There's a new (old) boss in town. Terry Ryan isn't historically known for making a ton of moves mid-season, but it seems like he's way more likely to let some guys go for a profit than Bill Smith was. I always got the sense that Smith made decisions with his emotions rather than his logic.
  • There are new playoff rules. Now that there are two wild card teams in each league, there are more "on the bubble" teams vying for playoff spots. Many of those teams are just a good player or two away from making a nice September run. So there may be more interest than there was previously.
  • There are new free agency rules. With the new collective bargaining agreement, the only way teams can receive a draft pick for losing a player in free agency is to offer him a one-year contract worth at least the average of the top 125 salaries in the MLB (which figures to be about $12 million this year). So the Twins may be more willing to trade pending free agents so that they can get something out of letting him go.
  • 2011 happened. Last season at the end of July, the Twins were enjoying a nice little hot streak. Because they were only one year away from a playoff appearance, everyone was a little deluded into believing that they could turn things around. Well, we're all lucid now; we understand how bad things really are and that this team needs young help all up an down the organization. They can't afford to think about improving for 2012; they need to think about improving for 2013 and beyond.
So, yeah, it really looks like we'll say goodbye to some of our guys in the next few weeks. It could be anybody, too -- Joe Mauer, who has a no-trade clause, and Ryan Doumit, who just signed an extension, are probably the only exceptions. It's important to realize that trading away anybody isn't likely to render huge immediate improvements; this would be all for strengthening the organization for the future.

Let's hit a few of the top names:
  • Fransisco Liriano (pending free agent). It seems bizarre that a team that so desperately needs quality starting pitching is willing to part with a guy who looks like he's found his mojo, but trading him actually makes sense if the situation is right. Offering him a $12 million contract (that he would have to decline) just so the Twins can get a draft pick might be a bit steep for their budget (because he just might accept it), so he's likely a goner anyway. The Twins may be able to net a nice prospect or two for him. Of course, this risk is that once he's gone, he'll turn into Cy Young. 
  • Matt Capps (pending free agent). Capps has been better than his reputation with Twins fans would suggest. He's freshly back from a minor shoulder injury, so he has a couple of weeks to shake off the rust and impress some scouts. Actually, he's back on the DL with shoulder soreness, and he's not due get off the DL until after the deadline.
  • Carl Pavano (pending free agent). Yeah, his shoulder injury must be pretty bad because after six weeks on the DL he has yet to throw off a mound. It really doesn't seem like he'll be back with the team before the deadline (although he could still be traded after July 31, but he would have to pass through waivers first). Considering his age, his injury history, and the extent of this most recent injury, it's unlikely that there will be any team interested.
  • Denard Span (signed through 2014, team option in 2015) or Ben Revere (under team control through 2017). If there any teams out there looking for left-handed lead-off outfielders, the Twins have two. Span has the benefit of experience and has a little more power, and Revere has the benefit of youth and speed. Both also have the benefit of being contractually inexpensive, which would interest potential trade partners. However, the Twins have the upper hand in that there is no harm in keeping them the rest of the season to perhaps trade in the off-season, so they can ask for a lot in return. Of the two, it makes more sense to trade Span as he's 28 and has likely at or near his career peak; Revere is still valuable for the future.
  • Justin Morneau (signed through 2013). About two weeks ago, it didn't seem like Morneau was a trade target at all with his inability to hit left-handed pitching and everything, but he's recently turned things around and is looking good. Teams may shy away from him due to his injury history and high salary. Again, there's no particular hurry to trade him yet this season, so the Twins will likely keep him.
  • Josh Willingham (signed through 2014). Willingham has been one of the few bright spots in the Twins batting order this season, which would make him quite attractive to a number of teams. However, Terry Ryan has intimated in interviews that he's not particularly interested in trading Willingham. Of course, if someone calls and offers a huge haul of prospects for him, Ryan should listen. But it would have to be a haul to be worth it.
  • There could be others, too. 
All this should make an interesting trade deadline. I just hope it's not a terribly sad one.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Little Water Therapy

I was listening to the news Sunday night as I was getting ready for bed, and between brushing my teeth and putting moisturizer around my eyes, I heard the sports guy talking about how glum the Twins clubhouse is lately. He said something about the mood there being the worse its ever been and that everyone is just demoralized.

It's hard to blame them. All this losing is hard for me to take sitting here in my comfy living room; I can't imagine what it's like for the guys who actually want to take pride in their profession.

I imagine that they're all cranky and secretly trying to figure out ways to throw stuff at each other. The hitters are thinking mean thoughts about the pitchers, and the pitchers are thinking mean thoughts about the defenders. All these repressed feelings are likely to cause a lot of clinched jaws and stress headaches.

Also factor in this awful heat. These guys are wearing polyester clothes (with long pants, undershirts, and socks) and doing physical activity in air that feels like nacho cheese in a crock pot. Ick.

These guys need something to cheer them up right quick. The fans won't have any fun unless the players have some fun.

I propose that we line up all the guys out in the outfield, arm each one with a super-soaker squirt gun and a bucket of water balloons, and tell them to have at it. Francisco Liriano can nail Denard Span and Josh Willingham can shoot Brian Duensing to get things going, and there you have it. Aggressions will be released. Tempers, and bodies, will be cooled. Fun will be had. Outfield grass will be watered. Win win. They should sell tickets; I'd buy one.

Or...they could do what they did Monday night and score seven runs in the first inning of a game that counts. But, like, every day.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Moving Pitchers on the Titanic

We all know how crazy the Twins starting rotation has been this season. The club keeps moving guys around hoping to replace those who are hurt or ineffective. And it keeps happening because guys who are given a chance aren't always making the best of it. All these moves remind me of a metaphor that TwinsGeek John Bonnes likes to use: moving deck chairs on the Titanic.

It's an intriguing phrase that perfectly describes the frustrating situation.

I wondered what exactly that would look like. So here is my graphical schematic of the Twins moving deck chairs:

Look again at Cole De Vries. Poor guy -- started in AAA, called up 5/22, sent down 6/7, back up 6/30, back down 7/1, back up 7/3. I wonder if he even bothers to unpack his suitcase.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The k-bro Beloit Snappers Report

The family and I took a nice little vacation to Beloit, WI, to catch some minor-league ball and get a glimpse of some future Twins. We attended games on two steamy evenings, Friday and Saturday.

The Snappers, the Twins Class A affiliate, are a pretty typical minor-league team. There are several features of the experience that are common throughout the minor leagues, and these features are what makes the minor league experience great. There are always the couple of uber-fans who show up first to every game, know every thing about every player, and keep score of every play in their own scorebooks. There is also the guy who brings a trombone so he can play a tiny ovation for each player as he's announced. Every minor-league park also features an auto-glass message for every foul ball that leaves the park (the parks are small, so the risk of a foul ball actually breaking a car windshield is pretty significant). There are always between-inning sponsored games and hijinks where fans actually get to go on the field and compete for coupons or tickets to future games. Also, every employee you see holds four or five jobs (the roving announcer for the hijinks is also on the grounds crew). Oh, and don't forget the scouts -- the entire section behind home plate is filled with men, dressed in business casual attire, armed with notebooks, iPads, and radar guns. The atmosphere is cozy, fun, laid back, and a little goofy.

The best seats in the house are only $7.50 and beers are only $3.50
The Snappers hosted the Clinton Lumberkings, the Seattle Mariners single-A club.

Friday's lineup
On Friday, Steven Liddle (nephew of Twins 3rd-base coach) homered to start the scoring, but the Snappers fell 6-3 in the drizzly rain.

Saturday's game was a defensive umm... challenge... for the Snappers, and despite a rally in the ninth, they lost 10-5. But the fireworks afterwards were nicely done.

Of course, I was most interested in scouting the Twins top prospect, Miguel Sano. It's easy to tell that he's special. The ball just sounds different coming off his bat; when he gets a hold of one, he gets a hold of one. He homered on Saturday, and the ball cleared not only the fence, but also the scoreboard. Wow.

But, as good and special as he is, I can also see why the Twins haven't promoted him to Fort Myers yet. He simply isn't ready. He strikes out a lot, and his defense isn't there yet. They shouldn't promote him until he dominates this level, and he's not far, but not quite there.
Sano on deck
All in all, despite the losing, the Snappers gave us a great time, and we all felt it was worth the drive.

If you happen to travel to Beloit to catch the Snappers, I also recommend you visit Historic Auto Attractions museum in nearby Roscoe, IL. It's so much more than a car museum; it's more of a collection great historic artifacts. It includes a large presidential exhibit, with a special area for the Kennedys. There are also a bunch of cool cars.

It's in the middle of nowhere, but it really cool.

(Note: I mention this because I liked it; they didn't give me a discount or anything to blog about it.)