Results tagged ‘ Ron Gardenhire ’

Cookin’ Up A Few More Years

20080924_scott_baker_33.jpgA few days ago, I was excited to see that the Twins signed their young ace Scott Baker to a new four-year contract (worth something like $14-15 million, I believe).

All things considered, Baker is the current ace of the Twins’ pitching staff.  Though Francisco Liriano may have a better fastball/slider combination and Kevin Slowey probably has better command of the breaking stuff, Baker is able to put everything together in a devastating arsenal of pitches.  When Baker is “on”, as evidenced by his near no-hitter towards the end of the 2007 season, he is almost unhittable.

The one key area that Baker needs to improve upon to vault himself into the elite American League pitchers, though, is his ability to pitch deeper into games.  For the first five innings of any ballgame, I would take Baker right up there with the best of them.  By that point, however, Baker will likely have thrown over 100 pitches already and thus always be on the verge of being yanked by Gardy.  Johan Santana had the same problem at some points with the Twins.  Thus, Baker needs to either become more economical with his pitches, or condition himself better so as to be able to throw 120 pitches a game (although that would be difficult due to the “magic pitch counts” firmly in place these days).

Saved From The Dark Side

Crede.jpgWell, the Minnesota Twins finally have the right-handed bat they have been so desperately looking for since Ron Coomer went from playing in the All-Star game to laughing like a goon during Twins TV broadcasts (!).  Now, as long as his back can hold out, the Twins have to be the favorite to win the division.

Joe Crede came over to the Twins (The Great White Light) from the Chicago White Sox (The Dark Side) for one year and $2.5 million guaranteed.  He could make up to $7 million in incentives revolving primarily around the number of at-bats he accumulates over the course of the season (which is exactly the kind of contract a guy with his injury status SHOULD sign).

A healthy Crede can be expected to hit in the .270-.280 range with 20-30 home runs.  He is also excellent at the hot corner (something neither Brian Buscher nor Brendan Harris have on their resumes) with the glove.

Perhaps the biggest implication of this move, though, is that it gives manager Ron Gardenhire much better depth on the bench.  In late-inning situational ball, Gardy can send up either Harris or Buscher (both decent batsmen) as well as the odd man out of the Gomez-Span-Cuddyer-Young conundrum.  In recent seasons, the Twins have lost big series (think the ’03 and ’04 ALDS rounds against the Yankees) because of their lack of depth, but this move for Crede changes all that.

One That May Have Gotten Away

Korecky.jpgI was very surprised to learn yesterday that the Twins lost right-handed reliever Bobby Korecky to the Arizona Diamondbacks via wavers.  Besides his exciting extra-inning base hit in that crazy game last season, I was very impressed with his poise on the mound.  Give him another year, and he could become a major-league reliever, with closer status not far behind (he was the primary closer for the Twins’ Triple-A team the past two seasons).

I think what’s even more bitter is that we lost him to fill a spot for Luis Ayala.  Personally, I think Ayala will be one of those guys who will stick around for a few months (probably a month too long, if the Livan Hernandez experiment showed us anything last season) and then be gone due to just plain old bad pitching.  Thus, I think letting Korecky go for Ayala is a mistake that, although it may not be season-breaking, is one that may haunt the Twins a bit when/if Korecky makes it big somewhere else.

Notes:

-In other Twins news, Gardy mentioned the other day that he would love to have Dennys Reyes (who is still a free agent) back in his pen.  While I can see the rationale (Reyes did have his moments against lefty batters), there were just too many times last season where the Big Sweat would come in and walk the only batter he was asked to face, or throw one in the dirt and allow a baserunner to advance.  Craig Breslow can do just as good of a job against lefties and throw less wildly in the process.

-Tomorrow night, I will give my thoughts on the signing of Joe Crede to a one year contract.

Minnesota Twins Winter Caravan: Fergus Falls Edition

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Just a quick note to say that this morning I braved the -27F cold of Fergus Falls, MN to attend the 49th annual edition of the Minnesota Twins Winter Caravan.  I believe the first caravan I ever went to was 2001 (the “Get To Know ‘Em” campaign), and I have attended each year since.

Fergus Falls was the first stop of the day for the Twins this time and thus they came to the local Applebees restaurant for a pancake breakfast.  Manager Ron Gardenhire, Hitting Coach Joe Vavra, and Starting Pitcher Glen Perkins were the featured guests who cracked jokes, entertained questions, and just had a good time promoting baseball in MN.  A highlight video was also shown (always the highlight of the program!) and a prize drawing ended the program (sadly, I was not lucky today).

Overall, the FF stop was just a drop-in on the long line of the caravan, but it was still fun to just get out and get excited about Twins baseball again!!

Oh, and just because I couldn’t resist:

http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?mid=200809253550680&c_id=min

http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?mid=200809253550680&c_id=min

Can Spring Training come early enough?!

Gardy At The Helm

070528_gardenhire_hmed_4phmedium.jpgThe Minnesota Twins organization announced today that manager Ron Gardenhire (who has been in that capacity since the start of the 2002 season) sign a two-year extension, pushing his tenure to the end of the 2011 baseball season.  This will assure Gardy an office in the Twins’ new stadium, Target Field, come 2010.

This was a no-brainer move for the Twins to make.  While I often disagree with Gardy’s careful handling of his starting pitchers and his careful playing of the lefty-righty numbers, he has proved me wrong more times than not.  His real talent, though, is in cultivating young players, as he has found the right balance of treating the youngsters with respect but showing them some tough love as well.  This year (2008) might have been his greatest achievement yet, taking a team that absolutely no one thought would contend and taking it within a few innings of a playoff berth.  I wouldn’t want anyone else manning the end spot in the dugout!

Twins Notes:

-In other Gardy news, he again finished second in the Manager of the Year award voting to the Tampa Bay Rays’ Joe Maddon.  Although Gardy deserved the award as much as anyone, how could it not go to Maddon for what he did for the Rays’ franchise?!  This is one of those awards where it’s better to be lucky than good, and Gardy has never been very lucky!  I doubt he cares though…he’ll probably go bowl a few games and forget about it!

The Free Agent Shuffle

FreeAgents.jpgToday, three Minnesota Twins announced they were filing for free agency.  Here are the likely scenarios for those three guys:

Dennys Reyes- Unless he is dirt cheap (and if he’s filing that probably isn’t the case), the Twins will likely cut ties with the Big Sweat.  He is too wild and too erratic, while Jose Mijares and Craig Breslow are just as effective and cheaper options.

Eddie Guardado- Despite all the excitement when Everyday Eddie returned to the Twins, he stunk it up this second time around and is almost certain to not be brought back.  It actually wouldn’t surprise me if Eddie doesn’t receive any offers and retires before the 2009 season.

Nick Punto- Despite a bit higher of a price tag that Denny Hocking ever commanded, I can’t see Little Nicky leaving Ron Gardenhire’s side.  Punto can play too many defensive positions and is too good of a bunter/aggressive hitter for the Twins to part with him.  He has filled in admirably around the diamond and I would like to see him return.

I Don’t Believe What I Just Saw

MattGarza.jpgLast night, as I sat down to watch the Boston Red Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 7 of the ALCS, I was rooting for the Sawx to win the AL pennant.  I just know a lot more about the Sox and figured it would be more interesting to see them back in the World Series then the upstart Rays.  When the final out was recorded (remarkably, in favor of Tampa Bay), however, I found myself feeling good for the improbable Rays franchise for two reasons: seeing former Twins succeed, and seeing a franchise that never should have been winning something significant.

I have been closely following major league baseball since 1998 (the whole McGwire-Sosa thing, you know), the same year the then Devil Rays (along with the Arizona Diamondbacks) were introduced into the game.  Within a few years, once the Rays organization had time to prove to me how inept they were, I made the prediction that the Rays would never win a significant championship in the history of their franchise.  I though this for two reasons: First, the Tampa Bay area really isn’t suited for a major league baseball franchise, as the fan support is terrible (too much sun in Florida, I think).  Second, they play in what amounts to the high-rollers division of the American League…the AL East.  While the Yankees, Sox, and Orioles (although you would never know it considering how many bad decisions they make with it) have incredible streams of revenue, the Blue Jays and Rays are pretty much left in their dust.  To me, the chances of someone other than New York or Boston winning the AL East were as good as someone knocking the New England Patriots off the top of their weak NFL division the last few years.

So, as the final out was recorded last night, I was glad to see the Rays bring at least some happiness to the few fans in TB who follow them with a passion (like I do my Twins).  Also, I was happy for former Twins Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett (and Grant Balfour, I guess) for their winning performance.  Garza clashed with enough Twins coaches to make his departure imminent, but I don’t begrudge him for that, as the Twins have a very strict organizational stance on pitchers that Garza didn’t feel he could work within.  I liken it to the Twins telling David Ortiz to push the ball into an often wide-open left field, something he wasn’t going to do and thus needed a new team to start fresh with.  As for Bartlett, he never really played up to his true potential for the Twins, so I’m glad to see him step up and become a leader for another club.

Finally, I was wondering throughout last night’s game what team the Twins (and specifically manager Ron Gardenhire) were cheering for.  At first, I thought that perhaps the bitterness at losing Garza and Bartlett would have them leaning towards Boston, but then I consider things further and reached a different conclusion.  Being a Little League coach for three years in my home town, my face always lit up when a former player experienced success elsewhere, so I bet a guy like Gardy (and a close-knit team like the Twins) were rooting for their old pals.

All season long I doubted the Rays.  First, their ability to win the AL East, and second their ability to advance deep into the postseason.  They have proven me wrong at every turn, and I now finally believe they have a shot at accomplishing the unthinkable…winning a World Series championship.  If I were the Devil right now, I’d start getting the heaters installed, as things could get a bit chilly down there if the Rays have their way this week.

Coaching Staff: The Great Motivator

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In my mind, there are two areas in which a MLB manager should be judged: Ability to motivate players, and game strategists.  I would like to evaluate Twins manager Ron Gardenhire on both those characteristics:

As far as motivating players, Gardy may just be the best in the business.  With his down-to-earth (yet effectively intense) attitude, Gardy gains the respect of his players, which is nice to have over a six-month season.  Plus, with the kind of turnaround that major league rosters currently endure, the ability to incorporate new faces into the clubhouse is an invaluable skill.

On the game strategy side, I think Gardy is a bit lacking in one key area: pitching management.  In my mind, Gardy is much too careful with his pitchers, often overworking the bullpen as a result.  Rarely does Gardy ever just let a starter (much to the chagrin of TV broadcaster Bert Blyleven) even come close to finish what he started.  He also plays the lefty-righty percentages a little more than I would like (instead of going with the “hot hand”), but he has had success with that strategy in the past, so I’m not too frustrated about that.

All in all, Gardy is a great skipper to lead a team like the Twins that, just because of their small-market nature, will always have a high turnover rate in players, thus needing a strong leader in the corner spot of the dugout to keep the ship afloat.

So, that concludes my review of the 2008 Minnesota Twins.  Despite not making the ’08 playoffs, the Twins took a huge step forward (in a year they were expected not to compete whatsoever) in player development and have just as good a chance as anyone else in the AL Central division to take the ’09 crown if they can shore up one key area: the bullpen.  It was a great season with many great memories, and that is what I will take from the 2008 Minnesota Twins experience.

Coming up in later posts will be my thoughts on the AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays, as well as a World Series prediction.

DH: (Finally) A Steady Presence

KubelReview.jpgSince the days of “Hot” Chili Davis in 1991, the Minnesota Twins have not had a steady designated hitter presence.  Guys like Brian “Buck” Buchanan and Matthew “Crazy Legs” LeCroy were tried for their powerful bats, but quickly discarded due to their inefficiencies pretty much everywhere else.  More often than not, a Nick Punto-caliber player was installed in the DH spot, matching up against such DH sluggers as Travis Hafner, Jim Thome, and Gary Sheffield.

In 2008, however, the Twins finally received some steady production from the DH spot in the person of Jason Kubel.  Playing roughly half (77) of his 141 games this season in the DH hole, Kubel batted .272 with 20 home runs and 78 RBI in 463 at-bats.  Although sharing time at DH with Craig Monroe early in the season (until Monroe played his way off the team with his .202 average), Kubel pretty much inherited the bulk of the DH duty the rest of the way.  Sure, Kubel is prone to stretches of ineffectiveness (usually stemming from a loss of confidence that a few days riding the pine will fix), but he also provided support for Mauer and Morneau when they weren’t on top of their game.

Of course, under manager Ron Gardenhire, the DH will likely never be taken over by a guy like David Ortiz, as Gardy likes to shuffle the lineup depending on the starting pitchers.  Hopefully in 2009, though, Kubel (while still getting spot starts in the outfield to keep his fielding up to snuff) will handle the DH privilege and handle it well.  Kubel was once the bluest-chip prospect in the entire Twins organization before injuring his knee in 2004, so I would love for him to finally realize that full potential that scouts once saw in him.

CF: Spick and Span? Not With Go-Go.

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When Torii Hunter (arguably the most popular Twin since their rise to prominence in 2001) left for the Anaheim Angels via free agency after the 2007 season, a gap hole was left in center field at the Metrodome.  After an intense Spring Training competition for the job between Carlos Gomez (acquired from the Mets in the Johan Santana trade), Denard Span (the heir apparent to Hunter’s job until he struggled in the minor leagues), and Jason Pridie (a cast-off from the Rays who had a great spring).  Although Span seemed the more polished of the three come April, “Go-Go” Gomez was named the starter due to his almost unbelievable speed and the excitement he brought to the club and their fans on a daily basis.

For the first few months of the season, Go-Go was indeed the most exciting player on the team, whether it was streaking to catch balls out in the field or flying around the basepaths after driving the ball into the gap.  As the season stretched on, however, pitchers began to learn how to pitch to the rookie Gomez, and the strikeouts and terrible at-bats began piling up.  At one point, Ron Gardenhire considered benching the fiery youngster (after dropping him from 1st to 8th or 9th in the order), but Carlos likely saw his job saved when Michael Cuddyer went down with an injury, and Span (the guy who would have taken over in CF) came up to replace him instead.

Gomez did finish the season on a high note, and his stats are respectable for essentially a first-year player: 577 AB, 79 R, .258 BA, 33 SB.  However, he also struck out a near Twins-record 142 times and also was prone to defensive lapses in CF from time to time.  His blazing speed and cannon arm more often than not made up for his mistakes, but too many times would a ball roll right under his legs or he would juggle the ball at a crucial moment.

Of course, Gomez would still be penciled in as the starting CF in 2009 if not for the emergence of Span (who will be moved back to his natural position when Cuddyer returns next year).  During the 2008 season, Span manned the leadoff spot in the order like no Twin has done since Shannon Stewart, working deep into counts, drawing walks, and spraying the ball all over the field.  In 347 at-bats, Span hit .294 with 70 R, 50 BB, 102 H, and 18 SB.  Whereas Gomez struggled in the pressure of the leadoff spot, Span thrived.  Defensively, Span made some of the most athletic catches ever seen in the Metrodome, and also has a rifle arm.

So, with Cuddyer (and his shiny, long-term contract) coming back to man RF in 2009 (as he should), it should be an interesting battle for the centerfield spot.  Whereas Span seems to be ready right now, Gomez is a remarkable young talent whose potential is the teflon roof.  Knowing Gardy, each player will get their share of ABs in 2009, although a riskier move would be to deal one of them for a relief pitcher that the club so desperately needs (to be discussed later).

Playoff Notes:

-Perhaps it is time I stop doubting the Rays, as their 13-4 crushing of the Red Sox tonight leaves them one game away from the World Series.  I still think the series will need to go back to Tampa to be concluded, but now the Red Sox are up against the wall and will find it extremely difficult to beat the young Tampa club three times in a row.

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