Saturday, December 20, 2014

The minor league managers

The Twins on Friday announced their minor league managers and coaches, and there were quite a few changes.

The most important name: Doug Mientkiewicz will be the manager at Double A Chattanooga. There is no more important spot in the Twins farm system than this one. It should be loaded. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are likely to open the season there. Quite possibly J.O. Berrios also, plus Eddie Rosario, Jorge Polanco and the core of the bunch that won the Florida State League title for Dougie Alphabet last year.

Mientkiewicz was reportedly disappointed to lose out on the major league managing job, disappointed enough that there was some speculation that he might leave the organization. I regard it as good news that he's staying. I was pulling for him to get the big league job, and I suspect that he might have it in a few years.

Jeff Smith, the Double A manager he past couple of years, is moving down to the Fort Myers job, reportedly at his request. Jake Mauer will remain at Cedar Rapids, and Ray Smith at Elizabethton.

And Mike Quade, who got a year-plus as manager of the Chicago Cubs at the start of the decade, will be the successor to Gene Glynn as the manager at Triple A Rochester.

Quade became the interim manager of the Cubs in 2010, and they opted to hire him for 2011 instead of Ryne Sandberg, the Cubs legend and Hall of Famer. This displeased Sandberg sufficiently that he left for the Phillies, and he's now the manager there. Quade lasted only a year before being dumped by the Cubs.

Quade has 17 years as a minor league manager for five different organizations. He started when he was 28, and he's 57 now. (He's had some years as a major league coach interspersed with the managing gigs.) He was a roving instructor in the Yankees system last year.

I wouldn't have minded seeing Mauer get the Triple A job. Or Mientkiewicz, although I prefer him in Double A because that's where the future is, and I think he's part of that future.

Friday, December 19, 2014

What lies ahead for Cuban baseball?

Fidel Castro at the plate in 1962.
Baseball is big in Cuba. Cuban players -- including such stars as Yasiel Puig, Ardolis Chapman and Jose Abreu -- are big with major league teams.

But there is little reason to believe that this week's breakthrough in diplomatic relations will bring a flood of Cuban talent to American stadiums. Certainly not while the embargo remains -- and that is codified in federal law, with the incoming Republican Senate majority apparently intent on keeping it in place.

Ben Badler of Baseball America covers Cuban baseball for that publication and probably knows about as much on the subject as any American. This piece, posted Thursday, details why there will not be a land rush for Cuban talent.

In a nutshell, there won't be because:

  • The Cuban government doesn't want that; and
  • the commissioner's office doesn't want that either

It's all about the money, of course, which is why the embargo is a major impediment.

The Cubans don't want to wreck the Serie Nacional, their domestic league. MLB recognizes Serie Nacional as a foreign professional league, as it does the Japanese and Korean leagues, and Badler says the Cubans want a relationship with MLB that combines aspects of MLB's ties to the Asian and Mexican leagues.

Most notably, that would include a formal arrangement in which the Cuban teams are paid for Cuban players. That, as matters stand, would be a violation of federal law.

For its part, the commissioner's office has a deep distaste for seeing players get paid; that's the thinking that has brought baseball the draft and bonus pools. It probably would prefer a straight-up player draft, but that figures to be a non-starter with the Cuban government (as it has been with other Caribbean governments, which is why there still isn't an international draft). More practically, MLB will settle for the same kind of arrangement as the Cuban government wants -- something that will restrict player movement and keep at least some of the money out of the hands of the players.

Beyond that, there's a legitimate competitive division between MLB's teams. Some are deeply, if clandestinely,  involved in scouting Cuba, and others are not. The teams that aren't heavily involved in Cuban talent (and the Twins are probably one of them; they certainly haven't been known to be a contender for any of the primo defectors in recent years) will want the others restrained.

As for the notion of an expansion team in Havana: Not happening. The Cuban economy is nowhere near mature enough to sustain such a piece of  indulgent flippery.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Waste as a business model

The Los Angeles Dodgers are under new management, and the new management is unloading a lot of the previous management's commitments.

This involves writing off some pretty substantial contracts:

  • Reliever Brian Wilson, designated for assignment Tuesday, is owed $9.5 million for 2015.
  • The Dodgers will pay the Miami Marlins $12.5 million to take starter Dan Haren off their hands.
  • They will pay the San Diego Padres $32 million over the next five years to take the contract of outfielder Matt Kemp.

Add it up, and those three moves mean the Dodgers are paying $54 million so Kemp. Haren and Wilson will play for somebody else.

$54 million is roughly the equivalent of the largest free-agent signing in Twins history (Ervin Santana).

And that, I think, is the real advantage of the "unlimited budget" teams. Not merely that they can dole out giant contracts, but that they can blithely trash the money if they decide the deal isn't working for them.

In the book Moneyball, Billy Beane is described as treating the Yankees and Mets and other large-market teams as piggy banks when working trades: Shake them until the money falls out. The Dodgers seem to be a pretty generous piggy bank right now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What was different about Phil Hughes in 2014?

Amid the awful starting pitching numbers for the 2014 Twins, Phil Hughes shone.

In truth, he was better than his 3.52 ERA indicates. Depending on what metric you care to use, the Twins cost him at least a half run a game with their poor defense (particularly in the outfield).

After the Twins signed him last winter, I noted how his pitch selection had changed between 2012 and 2013. It changed some more last year.

Hughes threw in ...

2012: 65 percent fastballs, 18 percent curveballs, 10 percent changeups, 4 percent sliders, 2 percent cutters.

2013: 62 percent fastballs, 24 percent sliders, 9 percent curves, 5 percent changes and less than 1 percent splitters.

2014: 65 percent fastballs, 21 percent cutters, 14 percent curves, less than 1 percent changeups. No sliders, no splitters.

(Data from the various Bill James Handbooks.)

The core pitch has remained the same -- a fastball a bit less than two-thirds of his pitches. But he's changed his top secondary pitch each year.

Considering his success in 2014, I would expect him to break that pattern and stick with what he did last season.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Brady Aiken fiasco revisited

You may remember that last summer there was a brief storm of controversy when the Houston Astros backed out of at least two, maybe three, contract agreements with draftees Brady Aiken (the No. 1 overall pick), Jacob Nix (fifth-round pick) and Mac Marshall (21st round pick).

The Astros insisted the pre-signing physical on Aiken uncovered something wrong in his elbow. aike and his advisors are equally adamant that there was nothing significant. The Astros slashed there offer to Aiken -- a move that, had the prep lefty accepted it, would have allowed the team enough leeway in ther draft bonus allotment to sign both Nix and Marshall to overslot deals.

Aiken didn't sign for any amount -- in the final minutes before the deadline the Astros reportedly tried to raise their lowball offer and were simply ignored -- and the Astros didn't sign Nix or Marshall either, because losing Aiken deproved them of the majority of their bonus pool.

Most of the scorn heaped on the Astros was over their reneging on the offer to Nix, who passed his physical. I am, personally, skeptical that the Astros dealt in good faith with these high-schoolers, but that's just my opinion.

On Monday it was reported that the Astros settled with Nix for an unknown figure. Presumably they were afraid the arbitrator in the grievance filed by the players union would determine that they had a valid contract with Nix, and they would be heavily penalized in the coming draft as a result of exceeding their bonus pool.

The Astros get the No. 2 pick in this year's draft as a result of not signing the No. 1 pick last year. Unsigned draftees cannot be drafted again by the same club without their permission; I would expect that there was enough bad blood from last summer's "negotiations" that none of the three will give the Astros that waiver.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Goodbye, Parmelee

Chris Parmelee was the
Twins' first-round pick
in 2006 .
The Twins waived Chris Parmelee on Saturday to open a spot on the 40-man roster for free agent signee Ervin Santana.

While it wasn't the roster-clearing move I wanted (see Saturday's post), it's understandable. As with Chris Colabello, there isn't an obvious role for Parmelee on the Twins as currently constructed. First base is jammed with Joe Mauer and Kennys Vargas; the corner outfield jobs are occupied by Oswaldo Arcia and Torii Hunter; and Parmelee hasn't the skill set to handle more rigorous defensive positions.

Parmelee cleared waivers a year ago and the Twins kept him in the organization as a minor leaguer; this time, if he clears waivers, he can declare free agency. I would expect him to do so. He needs a change of scenery, and an organization that has a use for him.

He has been in roughly the same boat Garrett Jones was with the Twins. Jones was blocked at first base by Justin Morneau and in the outfield corners by the likes of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. Jones has squeezed out six seasons in the majors since leaving the Twins, five of them as a low-grade regular.

I wouldn't rule out that kind of future for Parmelee. He had one brief clear shot at a regular job with the Twins (first half of 2013), and he didn't do anything with it.

And that's the key. Jones clubbed 21 homers in half a season's playing time in his first year with Pittsburgh, and he parlayed that into a multi-season career I didn't see coming. Wherever he winds up, Parmelee needs to hit. In 901 plate appearances (spread over four seasons) with the Twins, he hit .249/.317/.392. That would work for a shortstop or a catcher, but it's not good enough for a first baseman.


The Twins late last week signed right-hander Brayan Villareal to a minor-league contract. He fits what has become the new normal for the Twins in acquirring bullpen arms: He throws hard.

Villareal has 75 major league innings, all with Detroit (he made one appearance with the Red Sox in 2013, walked a guy on four pitches, was pulled and never pitched again; he got a World Series ring for his efforts). He has 86 strikeouts (and 47 walks).

If he can throw strikes, he can help. But that's a sizable if.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

The 1916 Philadelphia Athletics were about as bad a team as took the field in the 20th Century, winning just 37 games. Roommate pitchers Tom Sheehan and John Nabors combined to go 2-37 that year.

The duo had the mound duties in a doubleheader on a muggy day in Boston. Sheehan pitched well in the first game, allowing one run on one hit -- and lost 1-0.

Nabors took a 1-0 lead into the ninth of the second game. But shortstop Whitey Witt committed an error (one of 70 for the season for him). Nabors allowed a walk. Then Harry Hooper singled, and the tying run scored when the outfielder's throw bounced out of the catcher's glove.

With a man on third and one out, Nabors threw the next pitch 20 feet over the batter's head, and the winning run trotted home.

Later, Sheehan asked his roomie about that last pitch.

"Look," Nabors explained, "I knew those guys wouldn't get me another run, and if you think I'm going to throw nine more innings on a hot day like this, you're crazy."