Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A "no" from Korea

During the night came word from South Korea that the Kia Tigers had rejected the posting bid for Hyeon-jong Yang.

While it's unclear if the high bid came from the Texas Rangers or the Minnesota Twins, the Korean team deemed it too low, and now the left-handed pitcher can't be posted again until next winter.

I said earlier this week I'd get interested in this one a bit further in the process. That process is dead. Nothing to see here.

I wondered if the decision to outright Anthony Swarzak on Tuesday came to make room for Yang and decided the two were not connected. Even if the Tigers had accepted the bid and it was from the Twins, the Twins would still have to sign the pitcher. There wasn't any immediate need to open the spot. It's more likely that the Twins made an early offer to Swarzak well under his likely arbitration figure, were rejected and decided to drop him.


Goodbye, Swarzak

Anthony Swarzak
has a career ERA
of 4.48.
The Twins on Tuesday outrighted Anthony Swarzak to Triple A. That move took him off the 40-man roster and gave the former second-round draft pick the right to declare free agency, which he is expected to do.

It was time for the Twins to move on. Swarzak has averaged more than 90 innings of work in each of the past four seasons, and he's been unable to establish himself in any sort of truly useful role.

In what Baseball Reference defines as "high leverage" situations over his career, Swarzak has allowed a batting average of .308 and an OPS (On-base Plus Slugging) of .823. In "low leverage" situations, those numbers improve to .262 and .724.

Yes, Swarzak ate up a lot of innings in long relief. But they were innings that didn't matter in terms of winning games, innings that he worked because the starter failed. Good teams -- the kind of team the Twins want to be -- don't need 90-plus innings of mop-up work. And Swarzak never worked his way out of that role. Given a chance to start, given a chance to pitch in game situations, he almost always faltered.

And now, going into his second year of arbitration eligibility, he figured to get a salary around $1,4 million if retained. That's way too rich for a mop-up guy. They can fill that role with somebody cheaper.

The Twins now have 39 players on the 40-man roster. The open slot might be used in the Rule 5 draft in a couple of weeks. Or it might be filled with a free agent signing.

---

The Twins also on Tuesday officially announced the hirings of Neil Allen, pitching coach, and Eddie Guardado, bullpen coach, moves already widely reported. They also announced that Joe Vavra will be retained from the Ron Gardenhire staff; he'll be the bench coach.

This was not anticipated at all. I had expected that the bench coach would be a elderly ex-manager assigned to whisper strategic advice into Paul Molitor's ear. Or, alternatively, a young, analytics-savvy up-and-comer. Vavra doesn't fit either stereotype.

Adding to the bafflement was that Vavra's duties will apparently include catching instruction. Vavra's playing background was as a middle infielder. He certainly hasn't the catching pedigree of Terry Steinbach (who will not be retained). And if Steinbach couldn't smooth out Josmil Pinto's defensive flaws, I doubt Vavra can.

There remains one coaching job to fill, first base coach/outfield instructor.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Notes, quotes and comment

Josh Willingham's
final plate appearance
came in the World
Series.
Josh Willingham made it official Monday: He's retiring.

No real surprise there; Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press wrote it about two months ago. He goes out with 195 home runs. His best season was with the Twins in 2011; his worst, at least by OPS+, was also with the Twins in 2012.

He finished with Kansas City, of course, and had just four at-bats in the Royals' postseason run. But the Hammer had a big hit in the wild-card game against Oakland: a leadoff pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth that set up the tying run.

---

Twins new, if still unofficial, bullpen coach Eddie Guardado is among the 17 newcomers on the Hall of Fame ballot. No, he's not going to get in, or even make it to a second year on the ballot. He'll be one and done.

The big names among the newbies: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.

There are a lot of highly-qualified candidates on the writers ballot, and the BBWAA has done a lousy job keeping up with the crowd. But even this crowd will vote in Johnson and Martinez. Maybe they'll get around to Craig Biggio too,

---

Berardino reported Saturday that the Twins had placed the high bid for the posting rights to Hyeon-jong Yang, a left-handed pitcher who was voted the top Korean pitcher in the KBO this year. On Sunday another report said the Texas Rangers had placed the high bid.

The winning bidder, whoever it is, won't be officially notified (and the clock started on the negotiations with the pitcher) until the Kia Tigers actually accept the bid, and the word is that the team expected more.

I'll get interested in this one if and when the Twins are confirmed as the rights winners.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Neil Allen, pitching coach

Neil Allen's 1987 baseball
card. Allen went 58-70,
3.88 with 75 saves
in 11 MLB seasons.
The Twins haven't made a formal announcement, but it was widely reported during the weekend that Neil Allen has been hired as the pitching coach.

Allen pitched in the majors for 11 years for five teams, seeing time both as a starter and as a reliever. He has no previous connection to the Twins and was never a teammate of Paul Molitor's. He's about as much an outside hire as you can get.

What I remember of Allen from his pitching days in the 1980s is that he was the major piece the St. Louis Cardinals got from the New York Mets when Whitey Herzog decided Keith Hernandez was too coked-up and had to go. As I remember it, Allen wanted to be a reliever, Herzog wanted him to be a starter, and the fans wanted him to be Keith Hernandez. It didn't go well.

The Twins hired him out of the Tampa Bay organization, where he's been the pitching coach at Triple A Durham and helped shepherd a string of pitchers to the major leagues.  He's also worked in the Toronto and Yankee organizations, with one season (2005) as the Yankees bullpen coach.

Hiring Allen probably doesn't mean a conscious effort to move away from the throw-strikes-and-let-the-defense-get-the-outs approach. No pitching coach advocates walking hitters. But I expect that the Twins will walk more hitters going forward. The team has been uncommonly low on walks throughout Rick Anderson's tenure as pitching coach, and practically every significant pitcher on his staffs had higher walk rates with other organizations. I have absolutely no doubt that Anderson is part of that. The question is whether Twins pitchers will have higher strikeout rates under a different coach.

For what it's worth, Durham last year was middle of the pack in the International League in walks allowed.

At this point the Twins have filled five of the seven coaching slots:

Pitching coach: Allen
Bench coach: (Vacant)
Third base coach: Gene Glynn
First base coach: (Vacant)
Hitting coach: Tom Brunansky
Asst. hitting coach: Rudy Hernandez
Bullpen coach: Eddie Guardado


Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Sunday Funnies

Ellis Clary played in the majors for a few years, mostly during World War II, but spent most of his adult life scouting for Calvin Griffith. His area was the south, and he ran with a group of scouts who dubbed themselves "The Underground."

One day he and the others in the Underground are watching a game in a small Alabama town, and Clary is stricken with a heart attack. His buddies get him an ambulance and have him taken to a hospital in Mobile.

There Clary wakes up in his hospital bed and finds Atley Donald, fellow Undergrounder, sitting at his side.

Clary hoarsely whispers, "Atley, will you do me a favor?"

"Certainly, Ellis, anything," Donald replies.

"Will you find that ambulance and get the mileage so I can put it on my expense sheet?"

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Tampa Bay managerial search

Raul Ibanez might go from active player to dugout boss.
For no real reason, I'm intrigued by the Tampa Bay Rays managerial search. They were, most likely, not expecting to be looking for a manager, and then Joe Maddon jumped ship shortly after their general manager left for a (presumably) more lucrative job in with the Dodgers.

Their search started well after the Twins search. Maddon left after the Twins had essentially narrowed their field down to Paul Molitor and Doug Mientkiewicz, and Terry Ryan said during the Molitor presser that he had talked to Maddon until learning that Maddon was going to accept the Cubs job.

The Rays had released a list of eight preliminary candidates, none of whom were among the people the Twins interviewed or pursued. I thought at the time that there was one obvious favorite, Maddon bench coach Dave Martinez.

On Friday it was reported that the Rays had narrowed the field to three -- and Martinez was not among the three. All three were in the AL Central last season.

The Rays finalists: Kevin Cash, bullpen coach for Cleveland; Don Wakamatsu, bench coach for Kansas City; and -- surprise! -- Raul Ibanez, who played for Anaheim and Kansas City and hit just .167 as a part-time player.

The way things have been going of late, with teams tending to hire completely novice managers, I wouldn't bet against Ibanez landing the job. It's even possible he would be a player-manager, although I think that era ended with Pete Rose almost 20 years ago. Certainly there's no reason to think he's got much juice left as a hitter.

Meanwhile, I am stunned that Martinez not only didn't get the job, he wasn't one of the finalists. It's hard to imagine him staying with the Royals. Maybe he'll follow Maddon to the Cubs. I had expected the Twins to at least pursue an interview with him for the managerial job, and apparently they didn't, bu if he's interested in a lateral transfer, Ryan and Molitor ought to consider him for the bench coach job.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Filling the 40 (for a while)

Thursday was the deadline for teams to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 draft.

The Twins entered the day with four open spaces on the 40 and filled them all.

Three were obvious selections: Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer and Eddie Rosario. The fourth wasn't so obvious: left-handed pitcher Jason Wheeler.

I saw Wheeler pitch once, in 2012 in Beloit. He was, I am told, a different pitcher then. He's a big guy, but his fastball velocity was not impressive (upper 80s). The next year, in Fort Myers, he added a few mph, and now he reportedly works in the low 90s, occasionally touching 94.

He opened 2014 back at Fort Myers, got promoted to Double A after 13 starts, then moved up to Triple A for one end-of-the-year start. He led the minor leaguers in innings pitched. The 2.67 cumulative ERA is impressive; the 6.5 K/9 rate is not. The increased velocity has not translated into more strikeouts. He does throw strikes.

The Twins chose to protect Wheeler over Sean Gilmartin, another 24-year-old left-handed starter who split 2014 between Double A and Triple A. Gilmartin, a former first-round pick acquired from Atlanta for Ryan Doumit last winter, had a higher ERA and walk rate than Wheeler but a higher strikeout rate. I put more weight on the strikeout rate than on the ERA.

Also exposed to next month's Rule 5 draft: Jason Adam, a right-handed pitcher acquired from Kansas City in the Josh Willingham trade. Adam pitched in the just-completed Arizona Fall League and I think it's safe to say that the Twins weren't impressed enough to open a roster spot for him.

Levi Michael and Niko Goodrum, a pair of middle infielders taken with high draft picks (Michael in the first round, Goodrum in the second) were also left unprotected. I don't think either is likely to be lost.

The Twins don't often lose players in Rule 5. I won't be surprised, however, if Gilmartin gets picked and sticks.