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.
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.
The Twins announced this morning that catcher Joe Mauer will be a full-time catcher no more.
Mauer will move to first base next season, the team said.
There will be a conference call this afternoon with Mauer and Twins General Manager Terry Ryan to discuss the move.
Here is the Twins' news release:
The Minnesota Twins announced today that they will move All-Star catcher Joe Mauer from behind the plate to first base in 2014. After consultation with doctors from Mayo Clinic and team doctors, and given the inherent risks of future injury at the catcher position, the organization and Joe determined that it would be in the best interest of both him and the Twins for a position change.
The 2013 American League Silver Slugger batted .324 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI in 113 games last season, but suffered a concussion on a foul tip off his mask on August 19. He was placed on the 7-day concussion disabled list on August 20 and did not return to action the remainder of the season.
Mauer is now symptom free from the concussion and beginning his regular off-season workouts with no restrictions. He has played 56 career games at first base committing just four errors in 536 total chances for a .993 fielding percentage. Mauer has caught in 920 games and earned three Rawlings Gold Glove Awards at catcher (2008-10). He was named American League MVP while winning his third batting title in 2009 and has made six trips to the All-Star Game, four as the American League’s starting catcher.
Twins megaprospect Miguel Sano will shut down for the rest of the winter ball season because of a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Sano flew to the Twin Cities last week to be examined by team physicians Dr. John Steubs and Dr. Diane Dahm. But Sano's agent, Rob Plummer, said they decided to seek a second opinion. So on Tuesday, the third baseman flew to Birmingham, Ala., to be examined by famed specialist Dr. James Andrews.
Andrews concurred with the Twins' diagnosis that there is a strain but nothing more serious.
Sano will rest for five weeks, then begin a rehab program in the Dominican Republic. He will travel to Fort Myers, Fla., in January to continue rehab. He's expected to be ready in time for spring training, where he has a chance to be invited to major league camp.
Sano, 20, played in just two games for Estrellas of the Dominican winter league before sitting out the past two weeks because of the elbow, It didn't respond as well as everyone hoped, leading to more examinations.
In 123 games between Class A Fort Myers and Class AA New Britain, Sano batted .280 this season with 35 home runs and 103 RBI. He batted just .236 at New Britain but hit 19 of his homers there. Sano is considered one of the top ten prospects in all of baseball and second in the Twins system to outfielder Byron Buxton.
We reported yesterday about the players the Twins signed to minor league contracts. Here's the list the Twins sent us Monday afternoon:
Outfielder Wilkin Ramirez, catcher Dan Rohlfing, lefthander Aaron Thompson, outfielder Jermaine Mitchell, righthander Lester Oliveros, infielder Doug Bernier and second baseman James Beresford to Class AAA contracts with invites to spring training.
Righthander Virgil Vazquez signed a Triple-A contract but will not be invited to spring training.
Catcher Jairo Rodriguez and outfielder Reynaldo Rodriguez were signed to minor league contracts.
Thanks to Baseball America, here's the list of minor league players the Twins did not sign and now can sign with any organization:
RHP: Nick Blackburn (AAA), Kyle Davies (AA), Cole DeVries (AAA), Deolis Guerra (AAA), Miguel Munoz (Hi A), Dan Sattler (AA), Manuel Soliman (Hi A), Tom Stuifbergen (AA), Dan Turpen (AA)
LHP: Nelvin Fuentes (Hi A), Pedro Hernandez (AAA)
1B: Jeff Clement (AAA)
2B: Eric Farris (AAA)
SS: Ray Olmedo (AAA)
OF: Brian Dinkelman (AAA), Jhonathan Goncalves (Hi A), Angel Morales (AA), Jordan Parraz (AA), Antoan Richardson (AAA)
It's the end of the road, with the Twins, for several.
Blackburn: Showed promise as a ground ball pitcher, but injuries set him back. Thought he had things figured out with his arm this season but his knee flared up during his comeback attempt.
De Vries: Local product couldn't get over the hump, battled injuries and probably fell into a numbers situation with the Twins having so many back-end rotation guys.
Guerra: This closes the book on the Johan Santana trade with the Mets. Guerra hit 95 miles an hour on the radar gun as an 18-year old but the Twins rarely saw that after they got him. Battled injuries and missed all of last season because of a circulation problem in his shoulder.
Hernandez: Had a few stints with the Twins after coming over in the Francisco Liriano trade but failed to prove he belongs in the majors.
Dinkelman: Well-liked. Hard worker. Couldn't crack the next level.
Morales: Third round pick in 2007. Showed a lot of promise as a teenager - some believing he had five-tool talent. Injuries hampered him in 2011. Did OK at Fort Myers this season but batted .197 in 55 games at New Britain when promoted.
Here are three thoughts following the Twins' 6-5 loss to Cleveland
1. I'VE BEEN HERE BEFORE: I'm falling into a pattern. 1. Enter other clubhouse to see what the vibe of a winning team is like. 2. Stumble upon former a Twins player. I walked into Oakland's clubhouse on Sunday and Grant Balfour was the second person I saw. On Wednesday, I entered the visitors clubhouse at Target Field and congratulated Torii Hunter for reaching the playoffs for the seventh time. On Thursday, I was waiting to talk to anyone from Cleveland (the players were having some post-game meeting), when Jason Kubel walked out. I forgot that Kubel was traded to the Indians. Ugh, just looked at this stats. A .167 batting average in eight games. But he said he's having a good time. Asked him what it's like to be in the thick of a pennant race. ``No big deal,'' he said. ``I'm used to coming down to the wire.'' Well, we'll see if Kubel can channel his inner Game 163 if Cleveland needs him this weekend.
2. WHAT A JOB BY.....The visiting clubhouse attendants at Target Field. That room was disaster zone when I walked out of it Wednesday night. As soon as one guy grabbed an empty bottle to throw it away, a player was bringing out two. And the cigars were firing up as I left. Puddles of beverages were forming on the floor. Walked in there today, and it was as if nothing had happened - although there was a quite a bit of air freshener wafting around.
3. MICHAEL TONKIN: The Twins know he has a good hard fastball. The Twins wanted him to use his other pitches, which he needs to do on this level. And Tonkin impressed on Thursday, striking out Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana with breaking balls. ``If he is able to use that with his fastball, that will be effective,'' Twins manager Ron Gardehire said. Tonkin is Kubel's brother-in-law, and the two planned to hang out during the series.
Oswaldo Arcia is back on the field for pre-game workouts after missing two days with a sore right knee. He could be available tonight - and perhaps start a game sometime this weekend - if he's deemed healthy enough to do so.
Joe Mauer, shut down for the season, is out on the field collecting baseballs as fungoes are being hit to outfielders. He's wearing sunglasses, so the guess here is that he's concerned about sensitivity to light.
Once again, the questions before the game were about trying to finish the season strong as they prepare to play another playoff caliber team.
``I'm thinking they should want to get out there and get after it,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
The Twins' 15 shutouts are a new club record and are tops in the American League. But the Marlins lead the NL with 18 shutouts and Atlanta is second with 17. How has Atlanta been shut out 17 times and still win the NL East???
1. Micahael Brantley, LF
2. Nick Swisher, 1B
3. Jason Kipnis, 2B
4. Carlos Santana, DH
5. Ryan Raburn, RF
6. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
7. Yan Gomes, C
8. Mike Aviles, 3B
9. Drew Stubbs, CF
Pitching: Zach McCallister, RHP
1. Alex Presley, CF
2. Brian Dozier, 2B
3 Ryan Doumit, RF
4. Josh Willingham, DH
5. Josmil Pinto, C
6. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
7. Chris Colabello, 1B
8. Darin Mastroianni, LF
9. Eduardo Escobar, SS
Pitching: Andrew Albers, LHP