La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.
The Twins announced two signings on Wednesday - none of them Phil Hughes.
The club has signed third baseman Brandon Waring and lefthander Matthew Hoffman to Triple-A contracts with invites to spring training.
Waring was drafted in 2007 by the Reds and moved on to the Orioles organization. He spent most of last season at Class AA Bowie where he batted .213 with 23 homers and 61 RBI in 99 games. Warning, 27, has hit 159 homers in seven minor league seasons,
Hoffman, 25, was drafted by the Tigers in 2007 and spent recent seasons as a reliever. He was 4-3 with a 2.06 ERA in 40 games at Class AAA Toledo last season.
As for Hughes, I've been told that a few details are being hammered out. We still expect this to be announced by Friday.
It will be interesting to see what they do for catching, if anything. The catching market dried up quickly this week when Dionner Navarro. A.J. Pierzynski and Salty all signed. Will the Twins go with what they have or continue to look for help?
The Twins have added first baseman Kennys Vargas, infielder Jorge Polanco, outfielder Max Kepler and lefthander Logan Darnell to their 40-man roster, which had to be submitted to the league today.
They also outrighted righthander B.J. Hermsen off the 40-man, giving the Twins 39 players on the roster. This gives them flexibility to add a player through a trade, free agency or the Rule 5 draft. The Twins like being active on Rule 5 draft day, having selected Ryan Pressly last year and Scott Diamond a few years ago.
Players who are eligible to be placed on the 40-man roster - but are not - are eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings next month. Righthanders A.J. Achter and Alex Wimmers are among the players who fall in this category.
Vargas, Polanco, Kepler and Darnell will report to the major league camp in February. Twins pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on Sunday, Feb. 16, with their first workout slated for Monday, Feb. 17. The balance of the squad is scheduled to report on Friday, Feb. 21, with full-squad workouts beginning on Saturday, Feb. 22.
Also, the Twins signed several players to minor league contracts with an invite to spring training: Right-handed pitchers Deolis Guerra and Lester Oliveros; left-handed pitcher Aaron Thompson; outfielders Jermaine Mitchell, Chris Rahl and Wilkin Ramirez; infielders Jason Bartlett, James Beresford, Doug Bernier and Deibinson Romero; and catcher Dan Rohlfing. Right-handed pitcher Virgil Vazquez was also signed to a minor league contract.
WHY NOT SANO?!?!?!?!?!?!?
Some fans might wonder why uberprospect Miguel Sano was left off the roster. The answer is simple. He's not eligible to be added, so it doesn't make sense to.
Fans might come back with: ``But didn't he sign the same year as Kepler and Polanco? Why are they on the 40-man and he's not. Huh? huh? Riddle me that!!!!''
Well, Polanco and Kepler were signed as 16 year olds in July of 2009, making them eligible. Sano didn't sign until October because of questions about his age - after the season. So he's wasn't eligible to be added. He could come to camp as a spring training invite and play well enough to force the Twins to add him to the roster and take him north.
ABOUT THE ADDITIONS
Darnell: Went 6-6, 2.61 at New Britain then went 4-4, 4.26 at Rochester. Throws in the low 90's with a solid slider. Part of the U of Kentucky gang with Alex Meyer and Andrew Albers.
Vargas: I've watched him lose weight and add strength in recent years as he's on the project's path to the majors. The switch hitter batted .267 with 19 homers and 93 RBI at Class A Fort Myers last season.
Polanco: Hit .308 at Class A Cedar Rapids last season as the Twins have been pleasantly surprised by the development with the bat. Will start at shortstop this season, getting a chance to prove he can stick at the position. Signed for $750,000 the same year Kepler and Sano got all the headlines.
Kepler: Twins signed him for $775,000 out of Germany and have watched him fill out nicely. Got a late start this season because of a strained elbow and struggled some at Cedar Rapids, batting .237 with 9 homers and 40 RBI in 61 games. Then he hit .234 in 18 games during the Arizona Fall League. He needs a big season but remains one of the better prospects in the system. Still an outfielder but will work at first base some in 2014.
The Twins have received lefthander Kris Johnson from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for righthander Duke Welker, who was with the Twins for less than two months.
Johnson, 29, was 0-2 with a 6.10 ERA in four games (one start) with the Pirates. He spent the majority of the season at Class AAA Indianapolis, where he was 10-4, 2,39 in 26 games (21 starts).
The Twins received Welker on Oct. 5 as a player to be named later in the deal that sent Justin Morneau to the Pirates.
Twins prospect Eddie Rosario has been suspended for 50 games for violating the minor league drug policy, according to a report out of Puerto Rico, where he was playing winter ball.
According to the report on sportlivepr.com, Rosario contacted his winter league team in Mayaguez to inform it of the suspension. According to the report, Rosario said he the positive test came from some pills he took to help recover from an arm injury.
Twins director of minor leagues Brad Steil said he was unable to comment on the situation at this time.
We'll provide more details as soon as they become available.
UPDATE: A MLB spokesperson said nothing will be announced on their end today. Apparently, something needs to be resolved before the league can move foward. Not sure what that is.
It's a tough setback for Rosario, who had positioned himself to make his major league deut sometime during the regular season. A fourth-round pick in 2010. Rosario began his career as an outfielder but agreed to switch to second base in 2011. Last season, Rosario batted .329/.377/.527 in 52 games at Class A Fort Myers then .284/.330/.412 in 70 games at Class AA New Britain.
The Twins sent Rosario, 22, to the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .238 in 20 games. He did get selected for the Future Stars game. Rosario had played in one game for Mayaguez, going 0-for-4.
Rosario could have opened the season at Class AAA Rochester - and still can. He just won't be able to play until Game No. 51.
Righthander Bronson Arroyo - who has made at least 32 starts in nine consecutive seasons - spoke on MLB Network Radio on Monday about how his free agency is going so far.
And, yes, he mentioned the Twins.
"Yeah, it’s definitely in the early stages,'' he said. "Nobody’s really put a dollar bill in front of me, but I have, I think, the Phillies, the Dodgers, the Angels, the Giants, the Twins, maybe even the Orioles, I think all those teams have called, you know, just to say that they are interested. I’m not really sure how interested, you know? I think the Giants called back a couple of times and so did the Twins. But nobody really wants to put any money down on the table yet.''The Giants made the first dip into the free agent starting pitching pool today when they signed veteran Tim Hudson to a reported two-year, $23 million deal. And San Francisco might not be done adding to its rotation.
The Twins have contacted pretty much every starting pitcher on the market. The names I've heard include Arroyo, Scott Kazmir, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana and Jason Vargas are in the group they have made calls on. What's not known is who they have the most interest in or who they have crossed off their list.
(Yes, there has been contact with Johan Santana's agents, but he must be treated as a separate entity at this point because he won't be ready for the start of the 2014 season and might not be ready until well into the season.)
Arroyo indicated that he's prepared for the process to play out.
"I figured it could take a while,'' he said during his interview with Casey Stern and former GM Jim Bowden. "And there’s other guys, I think, in the market. I might not be the first choice for some teams and I think there are some guys on the market that are going to affect how everybody else kind of plays out in the game. So I’m just sitting back and waiting to see who is interested in me. I’m 36. I’m going to pitch [at] 37 next year, but I’ve never missed a start, I feel like I’ve got as much energy as anybody at the ballpark on an everyday basis. We’ll see what happens. It’s going to be interesting.''
Arroyo is 138-127 in his career. He was 14-12 last season with a 3.79 ERA with 34 walks and 124 strikeouts in 202 innings. He led the league with 32 home runs given up, which should come down some if he pitched in Target Field.
He's like most free agents in that he would like to pitch for a contender within the next year or two, which might not make the Twins the best fit. He also is seeking three years, something the Twins might not want to do for a pitcher turning 37 in February.
"I feel like I’ve proven myself in the game,'' Arroyo said. "I feel like I’ve given every team that I’ve ever played for their money’s worth. And so I really would like somebody to come further than two years and give me a three-year deal. I feel like I’ve got plenty left in the tank for that.
"All those factors are going to play a part and I’m just going to sit back and kind of evaluate each individual team. There’s probably going to be no place that’s absolutely perfect because if it were a perfect world I’d probably retire in a Reds uniform, but that’s not going to happen. So I’m going to take in all the details and see what fits best for me.''
The Twins are in a position where they desperately need to upgrade their roster. So they might have to part with more dollars and years for free agents than they have in the past. Arroyo is a durable workhorse who is getting up there in age. It will be interesting to see if the Twins make an offer for him.
This morning on the MLB Network's "Hot Stove" program, free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski talked about how the process has been going so far.
``The phone has been ringing,'' Pierzynski said. ``My agent has been doing a good job of talking to a bunch of teams. To be honest, there's interest. There was interest last year. So it's going well.''
The Twins definitely are interested in brining back their pre-Mauer era catcher for a year. They are looking to change to climate in the clubhouse. They to add a little edge. They want to add players who have a winning background. And Pierzynski. who has 30 games of postseason experience, definitely can bring that. It also would buy them some time with young catcher Josmil Pinto, who showed a live bat but erratic skills behind the plate.
Pierzynski indicated that it could take some time before he makes a decision.
`` It's early in the process,'' he said. ``The biggest thing about being a free agent is everywhere you go people you see are like, `Where are you going to sign? Where are you going to sign?' It's non-stop, 24 hours a day. You get phone calls, you get text messages from your friends adn they are like, `You don't have a job yet?' or your Mom will call and go, `you don't have a job yet?' Mom, it just started a week ago, can you calm down?''
Pierzynski lives in Orlando. It just so happens that the winter meetings are in Orlando this year. So I expect him to spend a a lot of time in the suites at the Swan and Dolphin Resort, talking with teams like the Twins. Maybe there will be a press conference at the end of the meetings to announce his return to the Twins.
Remember, The Twins have NEVER had a press conference at the winter meetings. They have holes all over the roster to fill, so maybe this will be the year they actually make an appearance in the media room.
The hunt for pitching
The Twins have contacted pretty much every free agent pitcher on the market, from Ervin Santana to Johan Santana. There aren't any indications that they have made a contract offer. There could be a couple out there that we just haven't heard about.
Johan Santana is interested in signing with the Twins, but how healthy will he be and how much does he have left after two shoulder surgeries? If the Twins sign him, the Twins would have to pretend he doesn't exist - like they did Rich Harden - until he gets close to pitching in games. So their priorities are on upgrading the rotation with a couple quality starters. My sense is that they might end up dealing for one, with a package that includes a prospect not named Byron or Miguel.
Another thing. Asking for medical reports for a free agent is doing due dilligence, and not a sign that a deal is near. If medicals are exchanged between teams talking trade, then that means talks have heated up. Just keep that in mind as you weave through offseason rumors.
BTW, I wouldn't be surprised if the agent for reliever LaTroy Hawkins rings up the Twins to gauge their interest. And I wouldn't be surprised if the Twins seriously consider it.
Here are some minor things that have nothing to do with adding players:
Coming out of instructional league, the Twins decided to leave former first-round pick Levi Michael at second base for now. Michael was drafted as a shortstop but some believe he looks more comfortable at second. That could always change. Michael needs a big season. He batted .246 in 2012 but .229 last season - both at Class A Fort Myers. He did miss a chunk of last season after injuring his neck in June in a collision with shortstop Anderlin Mejia while going after a ground ball.
Also, the Twins will give Jorge Polanco the 2014 season to prove he can stick at short. There's not a concensus on if he can play there full-time, but he'll get a shot to hold down the position. Polanco, 20, has batted .308 and .318 his last two minor league seasons, which has pleasantly surprised the organization.
Twins GM Terry Ryan has confirmed that all coaches have signed their contracts for this season. So the entire staff is back - plus newcomer Paul Molitor.
Although he was out of the game for a year, the Twins are intrigued with what Jason Bartlett could bring to the team. Bartlett has played in 24 postseason games. As I pointed out before, the Twins want to add players who have won in the past. No word if they are talking Joe Mays out of retirement. That's a joke, by the way.
Many fans think Joe Mauer has blown a chance at the Hall of Fame because of his move to first base. He's hitting the best years of his career and he's moving to a less-demanding position. What if he wins three more batting titles? That would give him six and put him in the discussion. If he's fresher, if his hands are fresher, why can't he churn out couple more .340 seasons? I don't know how to project his power potential, but he should continue to hit for a high avereage and be an on base machine.