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.
BOSTON -- The Twins traded third baseman Danny Valencia to the Red Sox today for Jeremias Pineda, a 21-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic who was playing in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
The Red Sox, who have a rookie standout at third base in Will Middlebrooks, immediately optioned Valencia to Class AAA Pawtucket. The Twins assigned Pineda to their GCL affiliate.
Then, in another surprising twist, the Twins promoted Tsuyoshi Nishioka from Class AAA Rochester to fill Valencia's spot on their 25-man roster. Nishioka was batting .245 for the Red Wings.
Pineda, 21, was batting .421 (56-for-133) with nine double, three triples and 14 stolen bases for the Red Sox GCL affiliate.
“Our staff’s obviously seen him a lot because we play them a lot [in the GCL],” Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said. “I saw him for a few games last week. He can run, he can throw, he can hit.”
Still, at age 21, Pineda was one of the oldest players in the GCL, so this was a sign of how far Valencia’s stock has fallen. After serving as the Twins regular third baseman for much of 2010 and all of 2011, Valencia got demoted to Class AAA Rochester this May and fell behind Trevor Plouffe on the depth chart.
Plouffe is on the disabled list with a bruised right thumb, but the Twins decided they were better off using Jamey Carroll at third base than continuing to use Valencia, who was clearly pressing in the chances he got. Valencia batted .198 with two homers and 17 RBI in 34 games with the Twins this year.
Since the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline has passed, the Twins placed Valencia on waivers, and the Red Sox made a claim. The team finalized the deal today.
“It wasn’t a matter where we were down on him or anything else,” Antony said. “It was just a situation where this might be a better opportunity for him.”
Valencia declined comment through a Twins spokesman.
Plouffe has 19 home runs in 74 games, and the Twins believe he’s got a chance to hold down third base for a while.
“I don’t think we ever want to hand anybody a job, but Trevor has done a pretty good job over there,” Antony said. “He’s kind of established himself. ... You can read into it how you want. But we’re pleased with what Trevor has done.”
The Reds have definite interest in center fielder Denard Span, a Twins official confirmed today, while hinting strongly that Span won't be going anywhere before today's 3 p.m., non-waiver trade deadline.
"They are one of many who like him, but so do we!!!" the Twins official texted. "No pressure to trade. Very valuable in a lot of ways!"
Scott Miller, of CBSSportsline.com, reported earlier that a source thought the Reds had a 50-50 chance of trading for Span. It's worth noting, however, that the Reds are thin on pitching prospects, which is something the Twins would almost surely require in a deal for Span, who is under contract through 2014.
I was about to wax poetic about tonight's 12-5 victory for the Twins, when word came (via the White Sox on Twitter), that the Twins had just traded Francisco Liriano.
So, I had about 30 minutes to write that (and an abbreviated game story) for our first metro editions. To anybody who gets one of those papers -- or anyone who saw that slop online -- I apologize. Hopefully, my late-edition stuff is more legible.
And I'm not complaining. If I thought the trade turned my night upside down, imagine the three players involved.
Besides getting traded to the Twins, along with Eduardo Escobar, Pedro Hernandez was with his wife in Fort Wayne, Ind., as she gave birth to their daughter. That second bit of news came just minutes after the trade was announced.
It’s going to be whirlwind time for all three of these ballplayers -- Liriano, Hernandez and Escobar -- so here’s a quick glance at each situation.
He was scheduled to start for the Twins on Sunday against Cleveland. Now he’s going to wait around the Twin Cities because the White Sox are heading to Target Field for a three-game series that starts Monday. He’ll likely pitch in one of those three games -- against the Twins -- but White Sox manager Robin Ventura wasn’t ready to say which one.
The Twins could have waited to see how Liriano did against Cleveland and seen if there was a better offer before Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline.
“I didn’t want to do it,” General Manager Terry Ryan said. “Number one, I didn’t think it was fair to him any longer. He had his name out there and everyone was out there talking about it. I know he was concerned. I didn’t want him to go out there for many reasons. That’s one, and another is I certainly didn’t want him to get hurt.
“I waited as long as I wanted anymore to have go through all of this. For him to pitch here tomorrow, I’m not sure that would’ve been fair.
“If he would’ve spun one up there and done great or had a stinker, I don’t think it would’ve affected it. When you evaluate guys, when you see what you like, you never forget that. They know what they’re getting and I know what we’re giving up.”
The White Sox had the 23-year-old lefthander make a spot start at Fenway Park on July 18, and he gave up eight runs over four innings before getting sent back to Class AAA Charlotte.
The Twins are sending the Venezuela native [and his expanded family] to Class AAA Rochester. While he's introducing himself to his new teammates, he can pass out the celebratory stogies.
Ryan believes Hernandez has the stuff to be a full-time big league starter, though the GM didn’t want to label him a potential No. 1-5, etc.
“He has enough stuff,” Ryan said. “He’s got a fastball, slider and a change. He throws a lot of strikes, which is good, but I’m not going to say he pitches to contact. No, he doesn’t do that. He pitches to get outs.”
In another awkward twist, Escobar has been on Chicago’s major league roster all year, but after this trade, he’ll be joining Hernandez in Class AAA Rochester.
Listen kid, you might have been good enough for the first-place White Sox, but you’re heading back to the minors before you can expect to play for these vaunted Twins.
“That was a tough decision because he’s been in the big leagues, but I think he needs regular at-bats and we’re going to send him to Rochester for that reason,” Ryan said.
Another 23-year-old Venezuela native, Escobar has received limited playing time behind shortstop Alexei Ramirez and second baseman Gordon Beckham. Escobar is 18-for-87 (.207) with no homers and 14 runs scored.
The Twins think Escobar can become an everyday shortstop or second baseman.
“He’s a switch-hitter who can run,” Ryan said. “He’s got tremendous energy. He’s strong enough. He can play shortstop. He can play second. He doesn’t really profile at third offensively, but he can play there. Defensively you wouldn’t have any problem with any of the three.”
* Brian Duensing will start Sunday's game in Liriano's place. Ryan said he's not sure if Duensing will remain in the rotation. It could depend on how well he pitches. Liam Hendriks has been very good for Rochester, but he had a rough outing tonight.
* The Twins will be promoting someone from Rochester to take Liriano's roster spot, but Ryan wasn't ready to say who that will be.
After climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, former Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey never did get a chance to pitch for the Rockies. Colorado traded the starting pitcher to Cleveland last week, along with $1.25 million in cash, for righthanded reliever Zach Putnam.
Around here, this begged questions about whether the Rockies had outfoxed the Twins in the Dec. 6 deal that sent Slowey to Colorado for righthanded reliever Daniel Turpen. The answer is complicated.
For insight, I called a talent evaluator from another MLB club who is very familiar with all three pitchers. In short, he thinks the Rockies acquired a decent relief prospect in Putnam, but he doesn't think the Twins got fleeced because of all the variables involved. Here's the background:
* The Twins were probably going to non-tender Slowey, so they finally just took the best deal they could get. Slowey, 27, went 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA last year and was viewed as a clubhouse lawyer by the team's decision makers. The team liked him enough to make him a second-round draft pick in 2005, but by the end, everyone involved knew it was time for a change of scenery.
* Turpen, 25, is a big, strong righthander whose fastball sits about 93-95 mph, but his slider is inconsistent. He posted an unimpressive 4.83 ERA last year for Class AA Tulsa (with 33 K and 35 BB in 59.2 IP). He's been traded twice (first from San Francisco to Boston for Ramon Ramirez) and was also taken in the 2010 Rule 5 draft by the Yankees (before returning to the Red Sox), so other teams have seen his potential.
* The Rockies tendered Slowey a contract and avoided arbitration, signing him to a one-year, $2.75 million contract. But they kept on acquiring starting pitchers, including Oakland's Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso in this month's trade for outfielder Seth Smith.
* The Indians developed a sudden need for an established big league starter last week, when Fausto Carmona was found to be playing under a false indentity. He's actually named Roberto Heredia and 31, not 28. That gave the Rockies more leverage in those negotiations.
* Putnam, 24, was named Cleveland's tenth best prospect by Baseball America this month. He posted a 3.65 ERA for Class AAA Columbus last year (with 68 K's, 23 BB's in 68 IP) and then had a 6.14 ERA in eight games as a September call-up for the Indians. He and Turpen are actually quite similar. Putnam's fastball is about 90-94 mph, and he's inconsistent with his slider. The difference is, Putnam has a pretty good split-fingered fastball and was viewed as a potential starter as recently as 2010.
Bottom line: Most scouts would take Putnam over Turpen, but they have similar upsides as middle relievers and need to command their sliders better before they'll be effective in a major league relief role. The Rockies ended up with a better relief prospect but paid $1.25 million to get him. The Indians, meanwhile, will be paying Slowey $1.5 million, hoping he can rediscover the form that helped him go 13-6 with a 4.45 ERA in 2010.
MILWAUKEE -- With the Twins searching for a backup catcher, I wrote in this story about two options from the free agent market -- Jason Varitek and Pudge Rodriguez.
Obviously, those aren’t the only two choices the Twins have. Aaron Gleeman highlighted several options here, including Ryan Doumit, who batted .303/.353/.477 last season for Pittsburgh. Besides catcher, Doumit has played first base and right field, which would seem to make him an even better fit for the Twins, considering the questions they uncertainty they currently have at all three positions.
But the Twins put a lot of value on defense at catcher, which is why Drew Butera continued to get chances despite his struggles at the plate. The pitchers love throwing to Butera, and that adds to his value. Doumit is not a good defensive catcher, so perhaps that’s why we haven’t heard more about the Twins being interested.
One name we heard late in the season was Miguel Olivo, who batted .224/.253/.388 with 19 homers in 130 games for the Mariners. But from what I’ve gathered, the Mariners aren’t eager to trade Olivo, who has one year and an option remaining on his contract. That could change if the Mariners acquired another catcher, but for now they have no obvious in-house replacement.
Another option fell off the board for the Twins last week when the Pirates signed Rod Barajas to a one-year, $4 million deal with an option for 2013.
Eventually, the Twins might wind up turning to Varitek or Rodriguez, two former All-Stars who have shifted into backup roles late in their careers.
Last week, in an interview with Patrick Reusse and Phil Mackey on 1500ESPN, Twins president Dave St. Peter said the team’s 2012 payroll “will end up at the end of the day being relatively comparable [to last season].”
Just so we’re all clear moving forward, the Twins official 25-man Opening Day payroll was $113 million. According to insiders, the team wound up spending closer to $118 million by season’s end, even with the money saved on the Delmon Young and Jim Thome trades. Keep in mind, players collect their salaries on the DL, and their replacements cost money. It adds up, even when the replacements are making the major league minimum ($414,000).
When interim GM Terry Ryan was asked about next year’s payroll on Monday, he said, “I think our payroll is going to be south of where we were last year.”
How far south?
“What was it last year?” Ryan said.
A reporter answered that it was $115 million, a common estimate.
“I don’t know if that’s accurate, but I think it’s going to be somewhere around $100 [million],” Ryan said.
Ryan downplayed the importance of payroll in determining a team’s success, and we all know he won four division titles with significantly less in his first tenure as GM.
St. Peter has a slightly different view
I caught up with St. Peter after the press conference and asked him about Ryan’s $100 million comment.
“Terry and I, frankly, have not had one discussion about our payroll for next year,” St. Peter said. “He’s been privy to it because nothing has changed from what we had been telling Bill [Smith]. ... I think it can be a fluid number. I’m hoping we can find a way to inch it forward."
"I think it’s also important what Terry said: Nobody here has ever viewed payroll as the end-all," St. Peter added. "Frankly, whether it’s $100 million, $95 million, $105 million, I think we can be successful next year. That’s certainly the belief that we have.”
The Twins are trying to draw a line. The Opening Day payroll jumped from $71 million in 2007 -- the final year of Ryan’s first GM tenure -- to $113 million last season. Obviously the jump was made easier because they appear to be printing money at Target Field, but that doesn’t mean they’ll continue to increase spending.
St. Peter told Reusse and Mackey that last season’s payroll was “frankly, north of where I wanted it to be, or where we thought it should be relative to our percentages of revenue. But we made a decision, obviously, to try to bring back [Carl] Pavano, bring back [Jim] Thome, and I don’t think anybody here regrets that. I think we thought they were the right decisions at the time.”
Big difference in revenue sharing
On the radio, St. Peter also gave a clear answer to a question many of us have had: How has the team’s revenue sharing picture changed since it left the Metrodome? St. Peter said the Twins were collecting about $20 million in revenue sharing money in their final years at the Dome. After a one-year grace period that teams get when they move into a new ballpark, the Twins paid $10 million into the revenue sharing pot this year.
That’s a $30 million swing, when comparing the Twins revenues in 2009 and 2011.
Ryan knows Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will combine to make $38 million next year (and again in 2013). It’s going to be tough to fill 23 other roster spots for $62 million. By our calculations, even if the Twins let all four of their free agents leave -- Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan and Matt Capps -- the Twins would still pay $83 million to return the rest of the club for next year.
* Here's how we got to that $83 million number. They've cut some of the players listed from this late-September chart, but the numbers won't change much.
Maybe Ryan has a few tricks up his sleeve -- such as trading away Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker or another medium-salaried player -- but the hunch here is the Opening Day payroll will land closer to $110 million. Every team sets a budget and then builds in flexibility so money can be spent if the right opportunity arises.
Maybe the Twins wanted to send a message: The gravy train is over. Yes, they’ve handed out some bloated contracts in recent years (to Mauer, Morneau, Baker, Nick Blackburn, Denard Span and Tsuyoshi Nishioka) but under Ryan, they intend to squeeze value out of every dollar spent.
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