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.

Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.

Duensing agrees to $2.7 million contract for 2015

Posted by: Phil Miller Updated: January 24, 2015 - 3:04 PM

    The Twins extended their streak to nine straight years without resorting to an arbitration hearing to settle a contract, agreeing to a one-year, $2.7 million deal with left-handed reliever Brian Duensing on Saturday.

    Duensing's deal means all six eligible Twins have now agreed to contracts for 2015, meaning Kyle Lohse, awarded $3.95 million in 2006, remains the most recent Minnesota player to appear before an arbitrator.

    The contract also means the Twins' payroll is projected to exceed $106 million this season, roughly $20 million more than the team spent in 2013.

    Duensing, who had a 3.31 ERA in 54 1/13 innings last season, had filed for $3.1 million, while the Twins offered $2.4 million. The agreed-upon settlement is not quite the midpoint, but Duensing said he was happy with the result.

    "I'm glad the process is over with and we agreed. I love this organization, I like that I'm here," the 31-year-old lefthander said. "I'm excited to get it done."

    There was no discussion of a multi-year contract, said Duensing, who has been a Twin longer than any of his teammates except Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins. He will become a free agent at the end of the season.

Checking in from TwinsFest

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: January 24, 2015 - 12:20 PM
Greetings from TwinsFest, where there were lonnng lines of fans waiting to get into Target Field yesterday as I approached the ballpark. Despite the struggles of the last four years, the fans still come in from all over the region. Impressive.
 
Everyone has the same question, a question that was posed last night during a sportswriter roundtable. When will the Twins compete for the division title?
 
I thought they would avoid losing 90 games last season, which didn't happen. This year, I think they can approach .500, break .500 next year then be a threat in 2017. I think their pitching is headed in the right direction, with Jose Berrios and Alex Meyer becoming factors in the near future, My one concern is how durable they will be, but they both represent the top end talent the major league staff needs.
 
I wrote about Lord Byron and Senior Sano for today's paper. I'm kicking myself for burying Terry Ryan's quote, because he normally plays things close to the vest but didn't hold back when asked if Buxton and Sano could reach the majors this season.
 
“That would be a realistic point of view, from my vantage point,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. “They’re both very talented, and if they have the type of years you would hope with their type of skill sets, there’s no reason not to say, well, they have a chance this year.’’
 
Ryan apparently said something similar during the annual winter caravan, so he's not back off the possibility.
 
M and M: Twins manager Paul Molitor, earlier this week, met with first baseman Joe Mauer to see where No. 7's head is at coming into the season. Molitor came away optimistic. Mauer has had a good offseason, conditioning-wise, and will report to camp feeling better than he has in recent years.
 
That's a big development for the Twins, who were fifth in the AL in runs scored despite Mauer having a poor season,
 
There will be more on this in the dead-tree edition on Monday.
 
That's all for now. Headed over to Target Field now, but might skip away to catch some of the Gophers-Illini game. Illinois has been crushed with injuries to the point where they are suiting up one of the managers. So I'm going to check in with John Groce and see if he needs me for a half.
 

Any more Twins Hall of Famers left to elect?

Posted by: Phil Miller under Target Field Updated: January 23, 2015 - 6:48 PM

    Baseball Hall of Fame voters faced a difficult problem last month: Too many worthy candidates. But it's possible that the Twins' Hall of Fame, 15 years after it was created, has the opposite problem.

    Nobody was elected to the Twins' Hall of Fame this season, the team announced Friday, the first time that's happened since the honor was created in 2000. A panel of 66 executives and media members (me among them) failed to give 60 percent support to any former player, with at least one voter leaving his ballot blank and including the note: "Time to take a break."

    In addition, a 19-member veterans' group of players, executives and players failed to select an off-the-field honoree.

    The empty Class of 2015 raises a delicate question: Are there any deserving candidates left?

    "No question there are, especially on the non-player ballot," said Twins president Dave St. Peter. "Even the voters will tell you, there were probably four, five, six legitimate candidates who were deserving, but the names were spread out across the electorate and nobody had enough votes to rise to the [60 percent] level."

    The veterans committee, which only votes in odd-numbered years, considered longtime broadcasters John Gordon and Halsey Hall, former team president (and Target Field advocate) Jerry Bell, retired coach Rick Stelmaszek and ex-general manager Andy MacPhail, among others.

    On the player ballot, however, the electorate has chosen 20 players in the first 15 years, including five in the inaugural class. Considering the Twins' history stretches back just 54 years, and only retired players are eligible, the most noteworthy candidates have now been elected.

    This year's top vote-getters, St. Peter said, were Dan Gladden, Cesar Tovar and Mudcat Grant, each of whom has appeared on the ballot almost every year without reaching 60 percent. Each had their moments, but like fellow candidates Jeff Reardon, Eric Milton, John Castino and Corey Koskie, none had long careers of All-Star-level play in Minnesota, as most of the other inductees have on their resume.

   Is it time to cut back on the elections, perhaps alternate player balloting with non-player balloting? St. Peter said he's comfortable with retaining the annual ballot, recognizing that some years, like this one, nobody will be elected. "I'm not worried about the player ballot. We'll have a heaping number of new candidates over the next 10 years," he said. Indeed, Joe Nathan, Johan Santana and Torii Hunter, important parts of the Twins' run of division titles in the 2000s, are all nearing the end of their careers.

    "It's also not impossible that you will see a Gladden or a Tovar generate more support in the future," St. Peter said. "I'm proud that our Hall of Fame has standards, that it's not a guy behind the curtain determining who should get elected. We owe it to the people in the Hall of make sure we maintain that. It's a transparent process."

    It creates a marketing problem, though, since the Twins like to hold a Hall of Fame weekend to induct the newest members, which is essentially a reunion for the team's former greats. It didn't happen last year -- the Twins cancelled Chuck Knoblauch's induction after the All-Star second baseman was arrested on domestic assault charges -- and won't happen this summer, either. The Twins will hold a reunion for the 1965 A.L. championship team instead, St. Peter said.

    The team is also investigating the possibility of creating a museum for its Hall of Fame, as teams like the Cardinals and Reds have already done. "Certainly there will be more pressure for us to do that [since] there will be a significant one included in the new Vikings stadium," St. Peter said. "We were space-challenged when we moved into this ballpark, so we took a different tack -- we tried to spread memorabilia and museum artifacts throughout this facility. But we'll look for ways to make that better, whether it be in this ballpark or in a facility [nearby] as the neighborhood continues to grow."

    If a Twins Hall museum ever becomes a reality, don't look for a Knoblauch plaque, however. The team recognizes him as having been elected to its Hall of Fame, and lists him in its media guide and on its website as one.  "But it's the team's choice whether we induct him or not, and at this point, our decision is that it's not in the best interests of the franchise to induct him," St. Peter said.

Twins, Schafer agree to $1.55 millon deal

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: January 23, 2015 - 5:45 PM


The Twins and outfielder Jordan Schafer have agreed on a one-year, $1.55 million contract that will keep the sides from heading to arbitration.

Schafer last week filed for $1.7 million while the Twins offered $1.4, so the settlement is at the midpoint of the two offers. Schafer, who will be in the mix for the starting center field spot with Aaron Hicks, batted .238 with 30 stolen bases between the Braves and Twins last season. Claimed off waivers in August, Schafer batted .285 with 15 stolen bases in 41 games with the Twins.

That leaves  Brian Duensing as the only player who is unsigned and arbitration eligible.

Duensing is seeking $3.1 million next season while the Twins have countered with a $2.4 million offer. He was 3-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 62 games last season and earned $2 million.

Duensing was at the 10th annual Diamond Awards banquet on Thursday to accept an award for his community service. It just so happened that Twins owner Jim Pohlad presented the award.

``We have an arbitration case with Brian, so I can't say anything nice about him,'' Pohlad joked as the audience laughed.

After accepting his award, Duensing said: ``Thanks for addressing the elephant in the room.''

Twins arbitration update: Plouffe, Milone, two others signed

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: January 16, 2015 - 6:13 PM

The Twins signed one-year deals with Trevor Plouffe ($4.8 million), Tommy Milone ($2.775 million), Casey Fien ($1.375 million) and Eduardo Nunez ($1.025 million) on Friday, avoiding arbitration with all of them,

But lefthander Brian Duensing and outfielder Jordan Schafer were unable to be signed, so the sides swapped arbitration figures.

Duensing is seeking $3.1 million next season while the Twins have countered with a $2.4 million offer. He was 3-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 62 games last season and earned $2 million.

Schafer, who was claimed off waivers from Atlanta in August, filed for $1.7 million while the Twins have filed for $1.4 million. Schafer batted .285 with 15 stolen bases in 41 games with the Twins. He batted .238 with 30 steals between the Twins and Braves last season.

In many cases, teams and players agree to settle at the midpoint of their offers, which would be $2.75 million for Duensing and $1.55 for Schafer. Sometimes one side will fight to get past the midpoint.

Twins assistant General Manager Rob Antony, who has taken over salary arbitration duties in recent years, has not given up getting Duensing and Schafer signed before their arbitration cases are heard (between Feb. 1-21 in Tampa). He has not talked about a multi-year deal with either player.

``It will depend on how the numbers shake out,'' Antony said. ``If we are far apart and the midpoint doesn't make any sense there's a chance we could go to arbitration.''

Twins to bring righthander Blaine Boyer into camp

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: January 7, 2015 - 2:35 PM
The Twins have signed righthander Blaine Boyer to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training.
 
Boyer, 33, posted a 3.57 ERA in 32 games with the Padres last season. He was outrighted in November but elected free agency. One thing that might have drawn the Twins interest is that he held righthanded hitters to a .178 batting average. last season.
 
Boyer has pitched for five teams over 11 major league seasons. He also pitched one year for the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Leagues.
 
Boyer's career stats are here.

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