Thursday, March 5, 2015

The team of the future

I sure didn't mind listening to the Twins-Gophers radio broadcast Wednesday night. I was even happy to hear Dan Gladden, although the charm will soon wear off, I'm sure.

The game itself didn't mean much other than as a lineup to dream on. Byron Buxton in center, Miguel Sano at third, Eddie Rosario in left field, J.O. Berrios on the mound.

I expect that those four will open the season at Double A Chattanooga. I wouldn't mind -- at all -- if any of them opened the season with Minnesota. That's not the way Terry Ryan prefers to operate, however.

Still, I have to believe that Buxton could hit a least .250 with top-shelf defense and 50-plus steals if the Twins just put him in center and let him go. And we should know by now that they aren't going to get anything close to that from Aaron Hicks, Jordan Schaefer or Shane Robinison. The Twins aren't going to burn a half-year or year of service time to develop him at the highest level, however. I know that.

It's just something to dream on. And wait on, for a while.




Yeah. I just wish it was here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Front office wanna bes

There are 30 teams in baseball and 30 general manager jobs. Well, some of the teams call the job something else -- Tampa Bay's org chart calls it "president of baseball operations" -- but each team has somebody at the top of the heap delegating, supervising, making the final call on moves (and getting the praise or heat on same).

Terry Ryan followed a essentially traditional route to the job: He pitched in the minor leagues, got hurt, went into scouting, moved up the ladder into the front office and eventually into the top job. But many organizations, maybe most, now have GMs -- and future GMs in the pipeline -- with no professional playing background whatsoever. Jed Hoyer (or if you prefer, Theo Epstein) of the Cubs. Jeff Ludnow of the Astros. Michael Silverman of the aforementioned Rays. Ben Cherington of the Red Sox. Sandy Alderson of the Mets, the man who built the Bash Brothers dynasty of the Oakland A's, was the pioneer of the type -- outsiders with academic acumen instead of athletic accomplishment.

Few men at the top of organizations today played in the majors. There are Billy Beane of Oakland, Ruben Amaro of Philadelphia and Dave Stewart of Arizona, and it's unclear to me how much authority Stewart actually has. I don't think there are any other former major leaguers now serving as general managers.

Beane is famous for his embrace of the sabermetric approach and Amaro notorious for his rejection of same -- from which we should draw afresh the caution that humans don't come out of cookie cutters. But in the main, front offices are becoming the domain of the non-athlete because the academics have the better grasp of the analytics.

Let us, with that background established, consider the front office ambitions put forth in recent days by a pair of Twins veterans, Glen Perkins and Torii Hunter. Perkins -- white and a college man who is, at least by player standards, knowledgeable about sabermetrics -- specifically talked about going into the player development side and merging traditional scouting with the new-age numbers. Hunter -- black and a high-school signee who this winter disparaged defensive metrics and those who consider them -- talks of wanting to someday be a general manager.

From USA Today:

"I really want to get into that front office, make some changes, and build a team that I want to build,'' Hunter says. "I'd love to learn everything from Terry. He'll be a mentor. One day, that's my goal, to be GM of the Twins.''
Watching this team from the outside, I see few signs that the front office takes the analytics seriously, even if Ryan insists he never makes a move without out consulting Jack Goin, the team's in-house numbers guy.

It is my hope that Ryan's successor, whoever it is and whenever that occurs, will be more attuned to to analytics than Ryan himself is. Off his commentary on the subject during the winter, that's not Hunter. Perkins has the more palatable mindset for a modern front office.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Notes, quotes and comment

Something you don't see every day: Ervin Santana is obliquely referred to in a corporate financial report.

The Atlanta Braves are owned by Liberty Media, which late last week (per the Atlanta Journal Consitution) filed a document with the Security and Exchange Commission blaming an unspecified profit decline on Santana and Dan Uggla

The AJC:

Liberty didn’t specifically name the players, but cited “increased player payroll due to season ending injuries at key positions which required additional players to be added to the roster” and the release of other players whose “full (remaining) contracts were recognized” during the year for accounting purposes.
Those explanations are clear references to Santana, signed for $14.1 million after injuries to other starting pitchers last spring, and Uggla, released in July with about 1 ½ seasons remaining on a multi-year contract.

Santana, of course, is now with the Twins.

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When the pitchers started throwing bullpens, I cited Glen Perkins as one arm to watch. Did the winter's rest-n-rehab suffice to fix the problems that ended his 2014 season prematurely?

So far, the answer is yes. Perkins, according to Mike Berardino, is throwing not only fastballs but sliders during live batting practice and getting swings and misses even when the hitters know the slider's coming.

Perkins will get an inning Wednesday in a game between the Twins and his (and my) alma mater, the University of Minnesota. Yes, the games are starting.

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I spent much of the past week fighting a virus, so I can sympathize: There's a bug of some sort (reports are calling it the flu) going through the Twins clubhouse. Among the players who've missed workouts: Trevor Plouffe, Byron Buxton, Oswaldo Arcia, Kurt Suzuki and Trevor May. That's far from a complete accounting. It's probably not over yet, either.



Monday, March 2, 2015

Minnie Minoso, underappreciated legend

Orestes "Minnie" Minoso finished in the top four
of MVP voting four times in his distinguished
career. He was 92 when he died, unless he was
a different age; nobody's really sure when
he was born in Cuba.
News broke Sunday of the death of White Sox icon Minnie Minoso, the first black major leaguer for a Chicago team, a standard bearer for black Cubans in the majors and one heck of a baseball player.

The Cuban Comet's not in the Hall of Fame; he was among the finalists turned down in December by the Veterans Committee. That he wasn't in already was and remains a mistake, of course. Beyond his pioneer status in the integration of baseballs and the influx of Caribbean players, Minoso was a standout.

In his most recent Historical Abstract, which is admittedly not very recent, Bill James ranks Minoso 10th all time among left fielders. Among the left fielders James ranks lower: Billy Williams, Ed Delahanty, Joe Medwick, Jesse Burkett, Lou Brock, Goose Goslin, Ralph Kiner, Fred Clarke, Zach Wheat, Joe Kelley, Heinie Manush, Jim Rice ... Hall of Famers all. Maybe you think some of them are better than Minoso, but this is not a random ranking.

So why is Minoso out of Cooperstown? Timing, perhaps, has a role. Minoso's career essentially spans the Stengel years of the Yankee dynasty. Minoso was with the White Sox in the year Cleveland won the pennant; he was with Cleveland the year the Sox won the pennant. His career didn't really get started until his age 25 (per Baseball Reference) season, late for a player of his caliber; race may have played a role in that. His home park for most of his career, Comiskey Park, was designed to suppress hitting; Minoso would have more impressive totals had he played for almost any other team.

But those are excuses, not reasons, Minoso was a superb player and a fan favorite, and he was recognized as such in his playing days, How the writers overlooked him for induction is yet another of their travesties.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Pic of the Week

A Cleveland Indians player's shadow during a round
of batting practice in Arizona.

Shadows and silhouettes. There were a lot of them in last week's spring training photos, and ultimately I had to just pick one to get this ball rolling.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Molitor's cell phone restrictions

Paul Molitor has instituted a clubhouse ban on the use of smartphones and tablets starting a half-hour before gametime. While this may seem commonsensical to those of us of Molitor's age. it's drawing a rather different reaction from some younger observers:







Molitor's rule echoes something I saw in the immediate wake of the Kevin Garnett trade, before the prodigal forward reported to the Timberwolves. Supposedly one of the veterans was warning the younger players: If KG sees you on a smartphone in the locker room, he'll flush it down the toilet.

There are other workplaces that limit Internet access to what is necessary for the job. I would think that a player with a problem with being cut off from social media immediately before or during the game is also a player with an attention problem.

That said, there has been many a manager who set out at the start of his tenure to establish stricter rules who ran aground on player resistance to those rules. I don't expect Molitor to be one such, but it's hardly impossible. These players, after all, are from a generation much more Internet attuned.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Another try for Johan Santana

The Minnesota Twins have two Santanas -- Danny and Ervin -- on their roster and in training camp. They won't have a third, despite some speculation about five weeks ago,

Johan Santana signed a minor-league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays this week. For the Jays, it's a lottery ticket; for Santana, it's yet another attempt to resurrect his once-brilliant career.

I will always want Santana to succeed. I don't think it's particularly likely, and as I said last month, Minnesota in 2015 doesn't seem like a good fit for him. No team is a good fit if he can't keep his shoulder attached, of course, but the Twins already have too many veteran starters clogging the way for the prospects.

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In another bit of ex-Twins news, Nick Punto decided last week he'll sit out the 2015 season. He had signed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he opted against reporting to major league camp.

Supposedly Punto is leaving the door open to a return in 2016, but really: He's 37 now, and this was the first offseason since he left the Twins in which he wasn't getting offers from contenders. Taking a year off will neither make him younger nor sharpen his skill.

So I assume he's done. Which is a bit surprising. I always figured Punto would be one of those guys who would play until absolutely nobody wanted him. Instead, he pulled his plug before the D-backs could.