Saturday, October 25, 2014

Joe Maddon and the Twins managerial opening

Who, me? A few days ago, Joe Maddon was saying he
was going to remain with Tampa Bay; now he's fled.
Joe Maddon has built himself a reputation as one of the sharpest managers in baseball in his nine seasons at the helm of the Tampa Bay Rays.

On Friday he made himself a free agent, opting out of his contract with the Rays on the departure of his boss, Andrew Friedman,

Only one other team is without a manager at this point. The Twins.

Maddon's reputation is such that other teams will be willing to create an opening in order to land him. That might be a delicate operation, however, since the ethos of the managerial trade holds that one does not pursue a job someone else holds. The choreography involved in getting Maddon into the dugouts of the Cubs or Dodgers -- to name two teams immediately connected with him -- will be interesting indeed.

This is, no doubt, part of why some clubs (notably the Dodgers, where Friedman is now in charge of baseball operations) have already publicly declared that they won't pursue Maddon. What else are they going to say? Yeah, if we can get him, we'll fire our guy in a heartbeat, but until we do, our guy is still our guy. That might be the honest answer, but it's not one any general manager can give. For one thing, it would kinda dampen the enthusiasm of the incumbent.

Terry Ryan is the one GM without that problem. He indicated Friday that he'll at least gauge Maddon's interest in the Twins job. That, I'm guessing, is where it will end. Not because of money necessarily, but because of the circumstances.

It's worth noting that Maddon is not particularly young -- he's 60, a few years older than Ron Gardenhire and Paul Molitor and 20 years older than Doug Mientkiewicz. One might well doubt his interest in tackling a project as opposed to a ready-to-win club, all the more so since all indications are that Ryan intends to slow-play the arrival of Bryon Buxton and Miguel Sano.

If Maddon wants to play in a sandbox with a flock of young talent, he can probably go to the Cubs (who have a manager in Rick Renteria but no deep commitment to him) and have them in the majors without waiting. If he wants to manage a veteran squad, the Dodgers probably would rather than him than Don Mattingly.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Contemplating Jake Reed

Jake Reed throws to first base as the closer for the
Oregon Ducks.
Back on July 11, I saw something unique: Jake Reed gave up an earned run.

This needs a bit of explanation as well as a disclaimer.

Reed -- no relation to the former Vikings wide receiver of the same name -- is a right-handed relief pitcher in the Twins system, selected and signed as a fifth round pick last June out of the University of Oregon.

He blew through Appy League hitters in four appearances (six innings, one baserunner allowed, eight strikeouts, no runs) and moved up to Cedar Rapids in the low-A Midwest League in time for me to see him work during my early July visit.

On July 11, he was selected to "start" the continuation of a suspended game with the Clinton LumberKings. It was a slightly goofy spectacle; the game had started at Cedar Rapids, so the Kernels were the home team, but the continuation was in Clinton.

Reed went two innings and gave up a run, but the Kernels came back in the bottom of the 11th for two runs and the win. And I wasn't impressed enough to include Reed in any of my posts from that trip.

But that was the only earned run he gave up with the Kernels. And so far he's been unscored upon in the Arizona Fall League as well.

Now, Reed is going to give up runs at some point. Nobody's THAT good, and if he was, he wouldn't have lasted until the fifth round. But he's certainly making a good early impression as one of a raft of impressive bullpen arms in the Twins system..

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Twins pitching moves

Jared Burton served
as the closer after
Glen Perkins was
shut down in September.
The Twins removed two pitchers from the 40-man roster Wednesday, but as far as I'm concerned the most significant news involved a  pitcher who isn't on the 40.

That would be the bad medical news about Mason Melotakis, a left-hander the Twins took in the second round of the 2012 draft. Melotakis was a reliever in college; the Twins used him in the rotation in 2013 at Cedar Rapids, then returned him to the bullpen last year, He shot up to Double A by season's end, running his fastball velocity up to a reported 97 mph.

I had hopes that he'd power his way onto the major league relief corps next year. Won't happen; he had Tommy John surgery this month, so no pitching for him at least until late next year.

In more immediate news:

  • The Twins declined the team option on Jared Burton, so the righty becomes a free agent. He spent three years in the Twins bullpen with ERAs of 2.18, 3.82 and 4.36. That's a pretty obvious pattern, and he'll turn 34 in June, so it wasn't a particularly surprising decision.
  • The Twins sold Kris Johnson to the Hiroshima Carp in Japan. Good for Johnson, who will get a seven-figure salary, something that doesn't seem particularly likely for him in the States. Johnson had a fairly decent year at Triple A Rochester last year, but he figured to be a long way down the rotation depth list if he stuck around.
The Twins now offically have 35 slots filled on the 40, with Mike Pelfrey (60-day disabled list) still to be restored, I fully expect more deletions. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Weakest Series winners

Kansas City won 89 regular season games, seventh most in the majors. San Francisco won 88, tying with Oakland for eighth. Neither won its division title. But one of them will win the World Series.

Which prompted me to wonder: What was the weakest World Series champ?

I'll base this on the teams relative to their time. I am quite certain that baseball today is played at a higher level than in the past. It's certainly played differently.

And this list will be heavy with relatively recent teams. It has to be, because for generations, the World Series always pitted the teams with the best records in their respective leagues. That hasn't been guaranteed since 1968, and as the playoff entrants have inflated, the chances of a team with a lesser record winning has increased.

So I start with the 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers, who somehow won the National League pennant with 88 wins, a total they reached only because they had to win a best-of-three series with the Milwaukee Braves after they finished the 154-game schedule of the time with 86 wins apiece, an absurdly low total for a pennant winner. The Dodgers were probably only the third best squad in the league, but they prevailed.

It's an odd team, with three 30-something holdovers from the great Boys of Summer team in the lineup and a few pieces of the almost-as-good 1960s teams, It was a bit late for the Brooklyn holdovers and a bit early for the next generation,

(I am fascinated by their shortstop situation. Don Zimmer is listed as the regular; he hit .165. Maury Wills got almost as much playing time; he had an OPB of .298 and a SLG of .298, which is a tough trick to pull. Three years later, Wills would win the MVP award, but you sure couldn't see that coming in his rookie year.)

Next up, a team close to my heart: the 1987 Minnesota Twins, winners of 85 regular season games and outscored for the season. Four American League teams had better records than the Twins, but they were all in the other division.

They are quickly followed by the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers, who won 94 games although it's hard to see how. Orel Hershiser was great, Kirk Gibson won the MVP, and Tim Leary and Tim Belcher gave them two more sub-3.00 ERAs in the rotation. There's not much else there. But they beat a 100-win Mets team in the playoffs and a 104-win Oakland team in the Series.

Once we get into the wild card era, the chances for mediocre records to win it all multiply. The 2000 Yankees only won 87 regular season games, but I'm inclined to cut them some slack because 2000 is the Yankes' third straight World Series win.

The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals won just 83 regular season games, which is hard to figure. They'd won 100 the year before, 105 the year before that. Winning in '06 is something of a make-up for not winning the previous years with better teams. Still, 83 wins is the all-time low for a World Series winner, and I sure hope we never have a champ with less.

I'm never going to be all that impressed by the credentials of any wild card team, even though we've seen a number of them win (the Marlins in '97 and '03, the Red Sox on '04, Cardinals in '11). We'll have another one soon. But I don't think either is as unlikely a champion as the four teams linked to above.

My choice as the weakest Series champ? I'll take the 1987 Twins, and say it's better to be the weakest  team to win the World Series than the strongest team that didn't.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Managerial search news and a World Series prediction

Word Monday was that the field of candidates for the Twins managerial job was narrowing.

If so, the known candidates are down to the three insiders (Gene Glynn, Doug Mientkiewicz and Paul Molitor) and one outsider (Torey Lovullo of the Boston Red Sox).

Other Twitter reports of note:

I'm still rooting for Mientkiewicz to get the job, but these reports hint that Molitor's going to get the job.


It's been easy to forget over the course of the long layoff, but the World Series starts tonight.

I expect this series to ultimately boil down to the power arms of the Kansas City bullpen versus the fastball-hitting middle of the San Francisco lineup. How good are the Giants against high velocity?

Yeah, they're that good.

I frequently see a series like this as turning on a strength vs. a weakness. In this case, I see a strength versus a strength. That's harder to call. I'll take the Royals in this  matchup, but I'm not particularly comfortable with that call.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Competing inferences from a prolonged managerial search

Ron Gardenhire was ousted as Twins manager on Sept. 29. Three weeks and at least eight candidates later, Terry Ryan is apparently still not ready to make a hire. With the World Series starting Tuesday and the usual pressure from the commissioner's office to avoid significant moves during the series, it seems likely there will be no hire before November. 

This is, presumably, not a good sign for the internal candidates, who were the first to be interviewed. Ryan pledged a wide-ranging and diverse search, but we might reasonably infer that, at this point, Ryan still hasn't found what he's looking for.

Or there's this possibility: Ryan is using the opportunity to grill prospective managers from outside the system to gain new ideas and insights more than to actually select the next skipper. The Twins have been criticized in some quarters as too ingrown and rooted in its own culture. 

All the known outside candidates -- Sandy Alomar Jr., Chip Hale (out of the running), Demarlo Hale, Torey Lovullo and Joe McEwing -- come from American League teams. They may be telling Ryan things about the Twins that he hasn't heard from within, giving him an outside perspective on his operation -- knowledge that may be useful even if he hires one of the insiders. 

Even if Ryan waits until November to make his selection, it will still be faster than the process that resulted in Ron Gardenhire getting the job. That hire didn't come until January 2002.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pic of the Week

According to the Associated Press caption, this
photo from Monday's rainout in Kansas City shows the
Kaufmann Stadium scoreboard through the water drops.

Every once in a while The AP moves a photo -- and labels its an "APTOPIX," indicating that it's among the best work of the day -- that leaves me puzzled.

What newspaper ran this photo, I wonder. And why?

Arty, OK. I'll buy arty, As photojournalism, it lacks something.