- Jim Thome hits 550th career home run
Jim Thome is my least favorite player in the league. Oh, it’s nothing personal. He seems like a nice enough guy and everything. He doesn’t show up opposing pitchers when circling the bases and rarely badmouths anyone (opponents or teammates) in the press. He’s the type of guy who is quietly very good at his job, and I respect that. But whenever he’s at the plate, Jim Thome is my least favorite player in the league. He absolutely murders Twins’ pitching, but besides that, every good thing he does just helps the hated White Sox. His 27 career home runs at the Metrodome are second only to Ken Griffey jr.’s 28 for the most hit by any opposing player, and with nine games remaining against the Sox at the Dome, it’s likely he’ll surpass Griffey sometime this year. And (of course) it was he who killed our playoff hopes last year. Really, the nicest thing I can say about him is that this might be his last season in a Sox uniform.
As much as I might hate Jim Thome, I can’t help but be kind of happy when he reaches another career milestone. I am a baseball fan after all, and it is a bit thrilling to watch a guy put together a Hall-of-Fame career in my lifetime, even if it helps out the enemy in the process. I’m just a lot happier when he does these things against someone else (like Dustin Moseley and Santiago Casilla). And while I certainly wasn’t rooting for (God forbid) the Pale Hosers to win the World Series last year, I would’ve been secretly kind of happy if Thome got a ring. With the almost-Ruthian numbers he’s put up in his career, I can think of few players in the league who deserve it more, and the distinct possibility that he won’t ever get one makes me a little sad. I just want him to win it all with someone other than the White Sox.
Pat Neshek and Boof Bonser are both doing well in rehab. Bonser is actually ahead of schedule and might even be back with the team by September. Boof wasn’t great as a reliever last season, posting a 5.88 ERA and 1.577 WHIP, but his very good 3.44 K/BB ratio and 9.5 K/9 rate suggests it might just be an issue of acclimating himself to his new role in the bullpen. Of course, all of that is in question now that he’s had shoulder surgery and time will tell if he ends up more like Joe Nathan or Jesse Crain. Neshek has begun playing catch from 60 feet, but won’t start throwing off the mound until the fall and isn’t expected to return to the team before next year.
You might’ve missed it, since it’s not like the story is getting much media coverage or anything, but the Yankees apparently have some sort of errorless streak going. Obviously, this doesn’t necessarily mean they have the best defense in the league (they don’t), but it is a vast improvement over what they had last year.
Howard Sinker asks “When did you become a fan?”. I’ve already kind of answered that question, but I’ve pretty much been a Twins fan as long as I can remember (because the ’87 World Series is about as far back as I can remember).
Pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training on Monday, and some players have already showed up at Ft. Myers so I’d like to finish my analysis of the Twins roster this season. Here is a look at the relief corps:
- Luis Ayala, RHP: Obviously the Twins got tired of watching other teams sign quality relief pitchers at bargain prices and decided to get in on the action. Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten about the “quality” part and simply went for “cheap” when they inked Ayala to a one-year $1.3 million deal last week. Ayala was once a dominant relief pitcher until he had Tommy John surgery in 2005, since then he’s posted an ERA+ of 77 and a 4.47 FIP. I do actually think that Ayala is a better pitcher than his record indicates, but I don’t think he’s the set-up man the Twins are looking for. Actually, this signing throws the futures of Boof Bonser and Philip Humber with the team into question, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
- Boof Bonser, RHP: The signing of Ayala leaves little room on the roster for Bonser, who is similar to Ayala in that they are both righties who have struggled mightily in their past couple of seasons. I have already written a detailed piece on Bonser here, and unless the Twins are planning on carrying 13 pitchers or trading him, they might just end up losing him for nothing. Which would be a shame, since I think Boof could be a dominant relief pitcher if he could just accept his role in the bullpen.
- Craig Breslow, LHP: Breslow was claimed off waivers from the Indians early last season, and he’s been a steal so far. He put up a stellar 249 ERA+ and 2.96 FIP last season, and has taken over Dennys Reyes’ former role as the situational lefty. He doesn’t throw hard, but he managed to limit lefties to a .183/.230/.232 line last season. Although he has pitched well in some big spots, he doesn’t have enough success against righties to earn the set-up role (though he could probably platoon with Jesse Crain).
Other interesting things about Breslow: he graduated from Yale with a degree in biochemistry and molecular biophysics in 2002. He has his own foundation, the Strike 3 Foundation, dedicated to childhood cancer research (his sister Leslie is a 15 year survivor of thyroid cancer). He’s also nicknamed the “smartest man in baseball” by the local beat writers.
- Jesse Crain, RHP: Crain struggled a bit last season, posting a 113 ERA+ and 3.98 FIP in 66 relief appearances. Considering that he was coming off of shoulder surgery in the offseason, he actually pitched fairly well. I do think Crain will be better this year, and will probably share eighth-inning duties with either Craig Breslow or Jose Mijares.
He kind of looks like an evil elf, too.
- Matt Guerrier, RHP: I have already written about Guerrier here. I think that if Matty G can return to his previous role in the sixth and seventh innings, he will be fine. Fatigue seemed to be a major factor in his decline last season, and the signing of Ayala will at least take some of the pressure off of him.
- Philip Humber, RHP: Humber came over as part of the Johan Santana trade, and so far has been underwhelming. He was once a very promising pitching prospect until he had Tommy John surgery in 2005 and hasn’t been the same pitcher since. Humber pitched 136 innings in AAA Rochester last season, and posted a 4.56 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. Needless to say, he didn’t exactly nail his September audition when he gave up 6 earned runs on 11 hits in five appearances with the Twins. The signing of Ayala also puts Humber’s future with the club in jeapordy, since he is out of options the Twins will either have to trade him or simply release him.
- Bobby Korecky, RHP: Korecky has been the closer for the Rochester Red Wings, and hasn’t been too bad in his few appearances with the Twins. Last season he posted an ERA+ of 88 and FIP of 5.28 in 17.7 innings pitched, which is pretty average. However, with the signing of Ayala, there probably won’t be room for Korecky on the roster. He’ll most likely start the season in AAA, and will only be called up in case of injury or should Ayala turn out to be a bust.
- Jose Mijares, LHP: Mijares is the only other left-handed pitcher in the Twins bullpen. He is a very intriguing prospect and posted a sparkling 465 ERA+ and 2.16 FIP in ten appearances with the Twins last season. However, his minor league record certainly doesn’t indicate that he will continue to be as brilliant. More troubling, Mijares seems to lack maturity which could be a problem if he has to pitch himself out of a jam (he didn’t have such a problem during his few relief appearances with the Twins). According to this report, he was kicked off of his Venezuelan winter league team after a disagreement with the manager. It would be a shame for someone who shows so much promise, as Mijares does, to waste his talent simply because he can’t get his temper under control (hmm, shades of Matt Garza?). He is hardly a lock to make the team out of Spring Training and I would expect him to start the season in AAA.
- Joe Nathan, RHP: There isn’t much to say about Joe Nathan, other than that he is one of the best closers in baseball. And I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. Despite having six blown saves last season (three of which were because of defensive miscues) Nathan was his usual, nasty self, posting a 305 ERA+ and a 2.79 FIP. There was a period of a couple of weeks, mostly during that horrendous 14-day road trip during August, in which he really struggled. Nathan was having trouble with his command, and just generally looked lost up there on the mound. Luckily he rediscovered his dominant form and pitched brilliantly down the stretch.
- Pat Neshek, RHP: Neshek has been the Twins’ primary set-up man for the past three seasons, and has been a very a dominant one at that. Unfortunately, he’s going to miss the entire 2009 season with Tommy-John surgery and it’s still unclear who is going to replace him in the meantime (or if he’ll even be back). At least now he’ll have more time to write on his blog, be a vegan, and trade baseball cards.
Like the outfield, the bullpen is hardly set. Although most of the relievers are guaranteed spots, it will be interesting to see what the Twins decide to do with Humber and Bonser. Both are out of options, and I would really hate to lose either one without getting anything in return. The Twins once had the best bullpen in the league, but the ‘pen has struggled mightily as of late. While I would be extremely surprised if this particular group is as dominant as the one in ’06, they should be better than last year’s relief corps(e).
Last in the series: the catchers
We have the same body type. We have the same level of athletic ability. And now we are both unemployed. The big difference between us, of course, Is that Jones’s former employer is giving him a nice $21.1 million going-away present. The only thing I got was the opportunity to do something else with my life.
The two-year $36.2 million deal the Dodgers gave Jones is widely considered one of the biggest busts in recent history, next to the Barry Zito fiasco. Both deals were ill-advised to begin with, as both players were coming off career years that they were unlikely to repeat (although in Zito’s defense, I don’t think anyone expected him to be as awful as he’s been. There’s also a chance that he might rebound, since his problems seem to be psychological). It’s deals of these sort, when teams overpay for middling talent, and not the blockbuster deals for the likes of C. C. Sabathia that make it difficult for small-market teams to remain competitive. Teams like, well, the Twins have never been able to afford to sign such marquee talent, so these types of deals don’t affect them as much. When mediocre players like Jones get $16 million a year, it inflates the price of all free agents and makes it much more difficult for small-market teams to retain their talent.
- Twins express interest in Brandon Lyon and Eric Gagne
Speaking of busts, the Twins have apparently contacted Eric Gagne’s agent, Scott Boras,and have discussed contract terms. It’s no secret that Gagne has been awful after he was caught using PEDs, and is unlikely that he will ever return to his previous, dominant form. However, if the Twins can get him for a deal similar to what the Indians gave Carl Pavano, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
The Twins are also interested in Brandon Lyon, who might have more of an upside than Gagne. Although he was terrible last season, posting a 4.70 ERA with the Diamondbacks, he did have 26 saves. Lyon was one of the premier set-up men in the league, and at 29 is still young enough to rebound. I wouldn’t give him more than a 1-year deal, though.
The Twins’ bullpen was definitely its achilles heel last season and set-up man Pat Neshek will be out at least until 2010 with Tommy-John surgery. While rookie Jose Mijares was stellar in his 10 appearances last season, he had never advanced past AA ball until his September callup last year. Although he showed himself to be fearless in big spots, he is still very young and I don’t feel comfortable handing him the set-up job just yet. Either Gagne or Lyon would provide some much-needed depth in the bullpen, and would be worth the risk as long as they aren’t very expensive.
- Holy crap, the Wolves beat the Suns!
They came back from a 10 point deficit! On the road! I don’t know who these guys are and what they did with our basketball team, but as long as they
hid the bodies really well continue playing like this I really don’t care.
Maybe they just got tired of the Gophers getting all the attention.
Over the Baggy recently did a very detailed analysis of our boy Boof’s potential as a reliever. I’m not going to rehash the whole thing ad nauseum, but it’s interesting to note how much Boof improved as the season wore on. I had noticed that he seemed to be settling into his new role, but he continues to struggle in big spots. He can’t pitch from the stretch, which is important if you are going to inherit the set-up job. He also struggles against lefties, who have been hitting .315/.378/.486 against him. So, at least at this point, about the only thing Boof would be good for is as a sort of situational righty against a slew of righty bats with the bases empty. And how often does that happen?
If Boof has a good year this season, the Twins will be tempted to hang onto him. This would be a mistake. If Boof returns to his 2006 form, the Twins should trade him for whatever they can get. At 27, it’s unlikely he is ever going to put up career numbers like that again and will be worth more for the prospects they would get in return. And they already have a similar pitcher in Philip Humber, who will be much cheaper and about as effective. The Twins made a similar mistake in not trading Matt Guerrier after the 2007 season, in which he posted a career-best 2.35 ERA, and will now have to pay him $2 million in arbitration.
Since the Twins haven’t made any big moves to improve their bullpen (signing R. A. Dickey to a minor-league deal does not count as a significant move), it looks as though they are going with the set-up-man-by-committee approach. This should be good enough to compete in the weak AL Central, but won’t get the job done against tough teams the Twins will likely see should they make the playoffs (the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, etc.). But who knows. Maybe rookie Jose Mijares will prove that his stellar 2008 campaign was no fluke and will lead the team to its first World Series title since 1991. A girl can dream, can’t she?