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.

Four players get The Call to The Hall, plus my ballot

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: January 6, 2015 - 2:02 PM

I didn't want to start using the L-word, I really didn't.

The L-word is logjam.

But that's where the BBWAA was at with Hall of Fame voting in recent years. And that's why I'm typing a big BRAVO to the voting body today for sending the largest class to The Hall since 1955.

The logjam is beginning to break up.

Hall of Fame voting has been under increased scrutiny in recent years as members of the BBWAA (who have been a member for at least 10 consecutive years) have struggled with how to treat players from the so-called steroid era. That, plus archaic views like separating first-ballot HOFers from `regular' HOFers - or withholding a vote for other reasons - has created a traffic jam toward the exit to Cooperstown.

The logjam was never more evident than 2013, when 75 percent of us could not reach an agreement on anyone on that ballot.

Predictably, there was blowback. I will defend the BBWAA to the end of time. We want to get this right. And, I argue, that we have gotten it right for the most part.

But we're aren't afraid of change. That's why a committee was formed a year ago to examine Hall of Fame voting and make recommendations to the folks in Cooperstown. I personally contacted several people to be on the committee (I was the president at the time) while others eagerly volunteered. It was an opportunity to meet people like Jay Jaffe, who does fascinating work on Hall of Fame candidates for Sports Illustrated.

Our reccomendation: Expand the ballot to allow voters to select up to 12 candidates, up from 10. I can tell you now that the BBWAA would prefer the limit be pushed to 15, but we were given signals that there was a munch better chance to get it moved to 12 than 15. We can only make recommendations to The Hall. The Hall makes the final decisions,

And I hope the Hall agrees with us and raises the limit.

But the best way to ease this logjam is for voters to get off their keisters and fill in more squares on the ballot. If you feel someone should be in The Hall, don't hold back the vote. For that matter, don't hold back your ballot.

This year's four-man class makes it easier for candidates like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell to get voted in next year. They will be the two leading returning vote-getters from this year. And the class of new candidates in 2016 doesn't looking strong, with Ken Griffey, Jr and Trevor Hoffman the best ones.

This year's vote was a big step toward breaking up the logjam and getting more deserving players into the Hall.

On Thursday, the BBWAA will post ballots from voters who agreed to have theirs presented online. I leave you with my ballot:

Jeff Bagwell

Craig Biggio

Randy Johnson

Pedro Martinez

Mike Piazza

Tim Raines

Curt Schilling

Lee Smith

John Smoltz

Alan Trammell

Believe it or not, a blog about baseball

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: January 5, 2015 - 6:20 PM
Hello and Happy New Year! It's been too long since I last posted. So it's time for a couple notes.
 
ANY MORE MOVES?: Twins are still, ``sniffing around,'' for pitching help, General Manager Terry Ryan told me today. No, that doesn't mean they are in on Max Scherzer. Ryan indicated that they might sign one or two more pitchers to bring into camp as non-roster invites. That means a couple of unheralded arms, or someone coming back from injury.
 
I know they were, ``sniffing around,'' Logan Ondrusek during the winter meetings, but the former Reds reliever is headed East - as in the Yakult Swallows of the Japanese Leagues. We'll see what Ryan comes up with, but I think the key elements of his staff are already locked and loaded for Fort Myers.
 
I mentioned Michael Tonkin as a pitcher who needs to step up in the bullpen (gotta love that fastball), and Ryan added Lester Oliveros and Ryan Pressly as candidates too. Oliveros could be a sleeper in camp. He throws 93-95 (or more) and is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery.
 
Pitchers and catchers report in about six weeks. Where has the offseason gone?
 
WINTER BALL: The Carribean Leagues are swinging into the postseason. Kennys Vargas wasn't supposed to play in the postseason this year, but there he is for Mayaguez. The man has walked 33 times in 37 games. He was intentionally walked on Saturday in a pinch hitting role, and I'm guessing he's been pitched around this winter. See what happens when you get some MLB time? Street cred. He's batting .263 with 6 home runs and 22 RBI - and a .430 on base percentage. He leads in home runs and is second in RBI - to fellow Twins prospect Daniel Ortiz.
 
A year ago, I was asked if Vargas was a prospect, and I replied that he wasn't much of one. He needed - and still needs work -  on his defense. And, besides power, didn't offer much. Look what has happened in the last year.
 
HOF: The results of the Hall of Fame voting will be announced Tuesday at 1 p.m., and I think we might end up with a big class.
 
The last time the BBWAA voted in four players in the same class was 1955, I believe. There's a chance for four this year, with Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez being eligible for the first time and Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza among the returnees. We'll post our ballots online sometime tomorrow. I will reveal now that I voted for 10 players, currently the maximum allowed.
 
Tuesday could be a great day for baseball.

Twins land pitcher Ervin Santana

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 11, 2014 - 1:55 PM

For the second straight year, the Twins make a move to bolster their rotation.

The Twins have agreed to a contract with righthander Ervin Santana on a four-year, $54 million contract, according to a source with knowledge of negotiations. The deal reportedly includes a fifth-year option based innings pitched. The deal is pending a physical, so Santana will likely be presented in his Twins colors early next week.

The fifth year option is for $14 million. There is a $1 million buyout.

One year after signing Ricky Nolasco to a club-record four-year, $49 million deal, the Twins break that deal with Santana, who is 119-100 in his career.

The deal was hammered out Wednesday night and Thursday morning at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, home of the winter meetings.

The Twins were interested in Santana last offseason. Santana rejected a one-year qualifying offer from Kansas City for $14.1 million and elected to enter free agency. The draft pick compensation scared teams off and he ended up signing with the Braves for - $14.1 million - in an attempt to have a good year and cash in after 2014.

He went 14-10 with a 3.95 ERA for the Braves - rejected another qualifying offer - and had several teams interested in him this offseason. His deal with the Twins averages out to $13.5 million a season. Considering that Brandon McCarthy got $12 million a year from the Dodgers and Francisco Liriano got $13 million a year from Pittsburgh, $13.5 million for Santana looks like a fair deal - especially since he's been much more durable than McCarthy and Liriano.

The only concern is the length of the deal. He turns 32 on Friday.

The Twins will surrender their second round pick  - currently No. 44 overall - for signing Santana. They do have a a pick - No. 71 overall - in the competitive balance round after the second round, so it's not that big of a hit.

The Twins' rotation now looks like this:

RHP Phil Hughes

RHP Ricky Nolasco

RHP Ervin Santana

RHP Kyle Gibson

RHP Trevor May/Mike Pelfrey/Alex Meyer or LHP Tommy Milone.

If the Twins can get Nolasco to be more functional in 2015 - the first big task for new pitching coach Neil Allen - this rotation will be a bump better. And there's less pressure on May and Meyer to develop.

Ervin Santana update

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 11, 2014 - 12:26 PM

The Twins continue to work on a deal with free agent righthander Ervin Santana, according to a person with knowledge of negotiations.

It's the best chance the Twins have to leave the winter meetings with something. Meanwhile, all heck broke loose at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in the wee hours of the morning as Matt Kemp was shipped to the Padres and the Red Sox dealt for Rick Porcello.

Seriously, Padres officials spilled out of the elevators at 3 a.m. PST and started talking about the deal. I wasn't there, I heard about it this morning. I sleep for four hours and miss two interesting trades.

Two Twins officials have shot down reports that they have offered Santana a four-year, $50 million contact. That makes sense. If Brandon McCarthy is getting $12M a year and Francisco Liriano gets $13M a year, then Santana has every right to ask for $14-15 million (my guess) because he at least knows what it's like to pitch 200 innings in a season a few times,

Hear Santana is a good guy with a dry sense of humor. His nickname is "Magic", ha.

One scout I talked to is concerned that Santana has thrown so many sliders in his career that it's bound to catch up with him. Interesting.

Stay tuned. There is a report the Yankees might make a run at Santana,

Twins select another Braves pitcher in the Rule 5 draft

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 11, 2014 - 11:33 AM

The Twins have selected righthander J.R. Graham in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft.

Graham once was the Braves top pitching prospect but had shoulder problems in 2013 that has stunted his growth. He still has a good fastball and could stick in the bullpen.

Graham, 24, was 1-5 with a 5.55 ERA at Class AA Mississippi last season.

This is the third time the Twins have selected a Braves pitcher in the Rule 5 in recent years, following Scott Diamond and Sean Gilmartin.

Gilmartin, by the way, was selected by the Mets later in the first round of the Rule 5 draft. 

The Twins selected RHP Greg Peavey in the minor league phase of the draft. 

Winter meetings Day 3: Ervin Santana update

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 10, 2014 - 11:10 PM

The love/hate relationship with twitter was at its finest on Wednesday when one national reporter tweeted that the Twins were "getting" Ervin Santana. About the same time, Twin Cities media were summoned to General Manager Terry Ryan's suite earlier than normal.

Ryan confirmed nothing. When told of the tweet, he said. ``It's that right? That's good to know.''

The tweet was later removed and replaced with one that had the Twins "pushing hard,'' for the righthander who was 14-10 with a 3.95 ERA last season. Premature tweet.

Ryan wouldn't even confirm he's interested in Santana -  to us. Ryan later went on a Twins Cities radio station that spent zero dollars to cover the meetings and said: ``I won't deny it. We're talking to him."

The Twins headed into Wednesday night expecting to have another meeting with Santana's camp that night or some time Thursday. There was a report that the Twins have offered a contract but someone has shot that down. The side could have talked parameters of a deal, with the Twins intending to make an offer soon.

Ryan seems serious about upgrading baseball's worst rotation last season.

``We've got to win some baseball games here,'' he said. ``To do that, we just can't keep going to the well. We have really struggled on that mound.''

They have starters they can give the ball to. This is about raising the bar and finding a pitcher they can count on. Ryan defined what that meant..

``Health is probably first and foremost,'' he said. ``You are looking for consistency out of the rotation. You have to have health. You have to take the post. It's about quality not just quantity.

``It's savinig your bullpen. Those rotation guys that your really look forward to see pitch. Throw it over. They also give your bullpen a break most of the time.''

That sounds like Santana, who turns 32 on Friday. He has thrown at least 200 innings in a season five times and reached 192 in another.

Santana has also met with the Giants, and there could be other interested parties. He's believed to be seeking a five-year deal and could ask for the $13 million a year the Pirates are giving Francisco Liriano - or more.

The Twins also have showed interest in righthander Edinson Volquez and lefthander Brett Anderson.

Ryan said he's also exploring trades. They didn't appear to be in on Wade Miley, who was just traded to Boston. Will check on that.

We can't forget that the Rule 5 draft is set for tomorrow at 11 am CST. The Twins have the fifth overall pick and planned to meet Wednesday night to discuss players they might draft. Outfielder Delino DeShields has been mentioned as a potential high pick. Righthander Edgar De La Rosa is an interesting candidate because his fastball touches 100 miles an hour. JR Graham, a righthander from the Braves system, is another possibility. But he would follow Scott Diamond and Sean Gilmartin as pitchers the Twins have selected from Atlanta in the Rule 5 draft.

And the Twins could lose Gilmartin....

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