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.

Day 2, winter meetings: No progress by the Twins

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 9, 2014 - 11:59 PM

Day 2 of the winter meetings closed on Tuesday....well, slowed down...with no major deals.

We thought things were over last night, but the White Sox stole the show by signing closer David Robertson and closing on a deal for Jeff Samardzija. Chicago looks to be leaving the Twins at the bottom of the AL Central.

``We can talk all we want about it,'' GM Terry Ryan said. ``Let's see how it plays out.''

The Twins' pitching search turned up rocks again, as Ryan met with teams and agents but gave no indications that a deal was imminent. Meanwhile, Francisco Liriano re-signed with Pittsburgh, Edinson Volquez might re-sign with Pittsburgh and Justin Masterson is about to choose a landing spot between two clubs not named "Twins"

So the Twins continue their search. Since they aren't afraid to surrender a second-round pick, so they could look into a pitcher tied to compensation like righthander Ervin Santana, but there have been no indications the club have spoken with his representatives this week.


It doesn't appear that the Twins will make a move for John Axford.

Righthander Alexi Ogando is available but hasn't pitched since rehabbing his elbow during the season/. He was set to pitch in winter ball but ended up not going. So he's going to throw in January, at which time clubs will determine if he's worth signing.

When talking about pitchers returning for next season, Ryan mentioned Mike Pelfrey first. Pelfrey made five starts before landing on the DL with a groin pull. During a rehab stint he had problems with his elbow and ended up having season-ending surgery to remove scar tissue that was messing with the ulnar nerve.

``He was very accountable and felt and felt bad that he couldn't contribute,'' Ryan said, ``and so did I.''

Pelfrey prefers to start, and the Twins will look at him in that role......first.

When asked if he's still focusing on pitchers, Ryan said, ``We've been dabbling in everything.''

That connects with what I heard earlier, that they have had talks about a free agent position player with some pop. Stay tuned.

``We're trying to spend the majority of the time on pitching,'' Ryan said.

Ryo Shinkawa, the affable former interpreter for Tsuyoshi Nishioka, is at the winter meetings looking for work. He stopped by the Twins' suite to say hello.

That's all for now. Headed to the lobby to see who ends up with Jon Lester. The Fighting Epsteins or the former Fighting Epsteins.

A late report had the Twins one of several teams that have spoken to the Mets about righthander Dillon Gee. Not sure who the Twins would dangle but they could be willing to part with hitting prospect Eddie Rosario or infielder Eduardo Escobar. Escobar showed that he could be an everyday player, batting .275 with 35 doubles last season.

Another report had the Angels interested in Escobar, who the Twins could swap for a pitcher. With Danny Santana set to play short and Trevor Plouffe around to play third, Escobar could be facing bench time.

Winter meetings update: Molitor press conference replay

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 9, 2014 - 3:20 PM

Are you impatiently waiting for the Twins to do something at the winter meetings? Here's some afternoon readning, part of Paul Molitor's press conference.

I just got out of a BBWAA meeting that was everything I expected (eyes roll). Headed to the lobby to pester someone. I'll check in later...

Thanks to ASAP sports for the transcription....

Q. First of all, what are your reactions to the Hall of Fame Veteran's Committee vote today? Tony finished one vote short, and Jimmy fell two votes shy?
PAUL MOLITOR: I don't know what my primary reaction would be. I mean, everyone kind of anticipates every year what the Veterans Committees are going to do. I had a chance to be on the Committee last year that selected the three managers in. I know what that process is like. I know that for every candidate there is extensive discussion both for and against. It's not an easy thing to do.
The hard part is for a guy like Tony, who I know so well, and he's been so patient through this process of all the times he's been eligible. And to get this close this particular time, one vote out of 16 potential votes, it's disappointing in that regard. But I don't expect it to affect him.
The other guys, obviously there are some great candidates on there as there were last year. But as Jane said today, it just kind of affirms the difficulty of trying to get into Cooperstown.

Q. What are your impressions of the first Winter Meetings?
PAUL MOLITOR: I don't see it probably the same way you do. Primarily for me, the first 36 hours has been spending a lot of time in the Twins suite, as we discussed last night what our goals were for our time here, reviewing everything from free agents, and Rule 5, to potential club fits for trades and addressing our needs.
We were looking at our roster, and if things happen, our space is limited right now. So there are extensive things that Terry needs to cover with our scouting team and other people that are present. But it's a bigger thing even than you can imagine once you get here. I haven't spent a lot of time down here in the lobby with those type of things, but it's obviously turned into a major production that continues to grow exponentially every year from what I've heard.

Q. How much do you think this will benefit you getting the idea of being up close with Terry as they engage teams and agents and things like that?
PAUL MOLITOR: I think you continue to learn about different parts of the job that you're undertaking. You'd be foolish not to keep your ears open and try to expose self to many things that transpire and the development of an organization and the process of trying to supplement your roster in any way that you possibly can. Looking for upgrades.
So the coaching search was educational, vetting people, going through the process, and out here, down here seeing some of the process involved meeting with agents and potential free agents and hearing what your scouts have to say about just running through all the Rule 5 candidates. These guys have a lot ‑‑ they do a lot of work in their preparation on the players that are out there. I continue to learn about what that's all about.

Q. Did you have any manager role models that you use?
PAUL MOLITOR: It's a combination. I don't think I can actually tell you how many managers I've played for. I'd have to think about that and run through and hopefully not miss anybody. But at different stages of your career, managers mean different things. When you're young, you're wide open. Whatever you can absorb and sponge, you do.
I was fortunate being around guys like George, and Harvey, and a young Buck Rogers in his first time managing, and then a young guy like Tom Trebelhorn comes in and kind of innovative and a new thinker and you learn from that. And you get to a guy like Cito Gaston who had already proven he could manage a World Series Championship and learn from him about his way of treating men was very impressive.
Then I get to come back and play for a guy like Tom Kelly who probably is as much, if not more than anybody, taught me the intricacies of the game. How to run a game, paying attention to detail, and just things that I hadn't really thought about even though I played 18 years when I got there. So it's a combination that you learn from.

Q. Just like Harvard baseball?
PAUL MOLITOR: Well, I had some good tutelage, for sure. Even since I've retired I've watched guys and how they do it. You have to admire watching Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox and those type people, even in today's game, with what Bochy has done in San Francisco, I have a lot of respect for a lot of the guys in the game now. I'll get a chance to pick their brains over the next couple of days. And it's nice to have relationships where you can be open to learning and guys are willing to share.

Q. When you say (Indiscernible) as being one of the detailed things that you've never thought of. Can you give us an example of what that might be?
PAUL MOLITOR: I think it would start with how he ran in Spring Trainings. I don't think I ever saw a Spring Training that the manager was insistent on stopping every drill that wasn't run properly. No mistake would go not repeated. It wasn't a matter of reprimanding or singling people out. It was a matter of making sure we learned how to do things right, whether it was PFP, cutoff and relays, bunt defenses, it was just extraordinary detail to how we prepared for a season.
In game, I was a DH primarily when I was there, and he had an open door for me. So after games I'd see how he would do things, how he'd set up match‑ups or bullpen use or days he tried to use a utility player instead of a regular player, and just kind of his philosophy in how he ran his team. I don't know if that was overly different from a lot of people that I was with. But I do know that he envisioned the end of the game moving forward probably better than anybody I had seen. It wasn't that I have to get from the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth, he could work backwards and put things in place. If that makes sense.
So I'm glad he's still a friend and a confidante. I've had a couple of conversations with him already since I've had this job, and I'm looking forward to his experience as someone who can help me out.

Q. How is he feeling?
PAUL MOLITOR: I saw him down at Target Field probably within the last couple of weeks and he's doing well. It's a reminder that he's been through something that he has to be mindful of and how he's caring for himself, but overall I think he's doing pretty well.

Q. (Indiscernible)?
PAUL MOLITOR: We're optimistic about him coming down. He certainly has an invitation and I'd love to have him down there. Hopefully everything goes smoothly and he'll be down there in Ft. Myers.

Q. Can you talk about the approach of the voice you want to put into the clubhouse?
PAUL MOLITOR: Well, I will say that any time you try to address that as a new manager, you have to be respectful of where you're coming from and where your team's coming from.
Our team has had four very difficult years being around the club on a full‑time basis last year. I can't say that it's about the fact that the manager didn't have respect for the team or guys didn't want to play. It wasn't any of that. We have not quite figured out with the new core of players that we have on how to get over the hump and win more. We have guys that play hard, play nine, they play the whole season, they don't quit, all those good things.
But that being said, it was different for me after ten years being out of the Major Leagues to be in an environment of a Major League clubhouse and see the things that go on there. Now some of it is just the change in culture and devices, and things that people like to spend their time. It's become a lot more individualistic and not as blended. I don't see a lot of coherent behavior among players, maybe a card game here and there. But somehow I think we've got to try to find a little bit better balance there. Guys knowing what their purpose of being at the ballpark is. Definitely, you want to have fun and do certain things. But I would like to stir that up just a little bit if I can.
The players clubhouse is their clubhouse. We like leadership from within. We're excited about what Torii Hunter might bring, but we also have developing leaders that have already been there. Some of our young guys that are starting to get established have left their mark. I think the combination of that is going to provide for hopefully guys that can have fun, but they know how to channel that energy when they walk down to the field.

Q. How will you stir that up? Are you going to plant seeds and hope things happen organically from it?
PAUL MOLITOR: I think that you have to challenge guys to want to do the right thing. I don't like enforcing things. I would like to think that as men who if they're committed to winning and trying to change the direction that we're going, that they're going to want to maybe understand that some things might be in order to try differently and how they handle their time when they're at work. So whether I'm going to have to enforce some boundaries there‑‑ again, "enforce" may be the wrong word, but establish certain criteria about things. I'm getting some input from other people that we've talked about it, and my coaching staff and we'll try to have a good plan in place once we get to Spring Training.

Q. When are you going to start planning for spring?
PAUL MOLITOR: I already have. With all the things that are going on with Spring Training and getting your arms around Spring Training is going to be challenging. I think we're only going to have 64 people right now and just try to understand that we have a field plan that's been successful for the most part.
But obviously, as manager, we have certain things that I feel we are going to adjust, whether it's how we have pick‑offs or bunt defenses or whatever, cut‑off and relays, you might do things differently. Whatever you want to do, you have to do it early because then I think the players will understand we're doing something different. And the reason we're doing it is because we want to be different and better.
But I've spent a lot of time thinking about it. I've had meetings with some of our staff already, we'll continue to do that between now and Spring Training.

Q. What is your view and metrics and how they affect things?
PAUL MOLITOR: I'm learning more about Sabermetrics all the time. Obviously, as a coach last year, I was exposed to them at a deeper level than I had been as a Minor League player development person. I'm going to try to learn what I think is valuable in assessing who plays, lineups, all those type of things. But I'm going to hopefully have enough confidence in myself to have a feel for players, and flow, and season, and momentum where I can trust some of that too. But I think with all the things that are out there, you can overwhelm yourself. But obviously some of it makes sense, and it's proven to be successful in how managers integrate it into their system both defensively and offensively.

Q. Do you have an overall view of the image you want to project to the players?
PAUL MOLITOR: I don't know. I hate to say I want them to be‑‑ I don't want the players to try to be like me because I want guys to be who they are. But I think that I'm going to be more internal than external. I think I like the idea of calmness, regardless of circumstance.
At the same time, having an intensity and obvious look about you. I have a tendency for people to say you didn't like to laugh very much when you played. I was happy inside, but I was just serious. People say you have to have fun when you play the game. Well, winning was fun. Everything else, yeah, you can have fun, but that's the most fun. So, yeah. I like calm. Calm is good for me.

Q. Over the years had Toronto ever gauged your interest in management?
PAUL MOLITOR: Obviously closer to post playing days. There were some transitions up there in Toronto and I still had more connections than I did as the years past by. There were some discussions. I remember interviewing at one particular juncture. I think I decided that due to personal interests and situations at that time that it wasn't the right fit for me. But obviously I have great memories of my three years there, but it's never come really close to happening.

Q. You were on the phone with Torii a few times leading up to hoping to recruit him and it worked out. Do you envision making more calls like this? Have you already had a chance to talk to some guys you guys are trying to sign as free agents?
PAUL MOLITOR: You know, Torii was an obvious one for me to try to get in touch with personally because of the fact that I played with him briefly. I coached him. Have a relationship. So it made sense in that particular situation.
As other players potentially, as we get closer to hopefully maybe signing another whatever it might be, pitcher, and there is a need for me to talk to that player, I'd be happy to try to give him my perspective of not only what he would be to that team and how he would fit, and whether it's about family or whether about how he's going to be used or whether it's about culture. But that hasn't happened since I've been here yet. But I wouldn't mind if it did because that would be a good sign that we maybe have a chance to do something.

Q. Are you under the impression from Terry that they'll implore you to make that call once it gets close?
PAUL MOLITOR: You know, not necessarily yet. I think that from what I've seen the first day and a half here, we've obviously had a lot of meetings with a lot of agents about a lot of people. When we start floating offers and people know that we're serious, then it might get to that point, but it hasn't yet.

Winter meetings: Day 2 begins in San Diego

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 9, 2014 - 12:21 PM
Greetings from Day 2 of the winter meetings in San Diego, where the Twins have locked down fifth place in the AL Central division.
Well, that's what one scribe said to me in the lobby a few minutes ago.
The Sox had a huge day on Monday, signing David Robertson to a four year, $46 million contract and trading for Jeff Samardzija We're ripping the Robertson deal because closers shouldn't have that high of a price tag. But he's good, and the Sox have him.
Samardzija joins a Chicago rotation of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and whatever they can get out of John Danks. That's a good unit.
It doesn't look good for the Twins, who main pitching targets are Francisco Liriano, Brett Anderson and Edinson Volquez. Other names I've heard them linked to are Dustin McGowan, Alexi Ogando, Logan Ondrusek and John Axford.
Fans already are  venting about who the Twins are pursuing, and I understand. But I will point out two things:
1. The Twins could be chasing people we haven't discovered yet, especially in trades.
2. Their big moves are coming in July, August and September.
More on No. 2.
The Twins are in rebuilding mode, regardless of what they are saying,. If you are hoping for a .500 season, then you're rebuilding. I think we began to see the lineup of the Twins near future last season with Santana, Dozier, Mauer and Vargas.
But if you look down the road, there's going to be some major roster upheaval during the second half of the season.
Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios all could debut sometime during the season, especially the second half. Heck, Nick Burdi and Jake Reed are long shots to reach the bigs this season but have the ability to do so as bat-avoiding relievers.
Now, the Twins have to avoid the injury bug, especially with Buxton, Sano and Meyer. But there  could be a roster reset during 2015 that will be worth monitoring.
Next offseason will be the one in which landing a top pitcher (Samardzija and David Price will be free agents) to anchor a revival will be a more palatable move.
It's a roundabout way of saying my expectations for the 2014 Twins are low, low, low. My expectations for them this week at the winter meetings are low, low, low. And their chances of moving up the charts in the AL Central are low, low, low following Chicago's moves.

Winter meetings: Day 1 wrap-up

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 8, 2014 - 10:52 PM

The Twins' quest for pitching was at full throttle on Monday at the winter meetings as they met with clubs and agents about players.

``We've had a number of discussions today on trades and free agents,'' Ryan said.  ``We're serious. We're interested in securing some people to help us get better.''

Here are four pitchers I was told have attracted the Twins interest. The Twins met with agents for at least two of these four on Monday.

Logan Ondrusek, a righthander who was non-tendered by the Reds after posting a 5.49 ERA in 40 appearances last season. He posted a 3.45 ERA in his first three seasons with the Reds but it jumped over 4.00 in 2013 then 5.00 last season. Heard he could sign a minor league deal with an invite to camp.

Dustin McGowan, a righthander who was 5-3, 4.17 in 53 games (eight starts) with the Blue Jays last season. The 32 year old has made 158 appearances, 68 starts in his career. He had surgery in 2010 to repair a torn rotator cuff and more shoulder surgery in 2012.

John Axford, a righthander who once was Milwaukee's closer. Axford, 31, can throw with velocity but he's struggled to control whatever secondary pitch he's tried to throw. He had a 3.95 ERA in 62 games between Cleveland and Pittsburgh last season. He averaged 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings - but 5.9 walks per nine innings.

Alexi Ogando, a righthander who was non-tendered by Texas. Ogando battled elbow problems in 2013 and was shut down after 27 games and a 6.84 ERA last season. He never had surgery, opting for rehab. He was cleared to pitch in winter ball but declined, forcing the Rangers to non-tender him. He has indicated that he prefers starting over relieving.


The Twins lost Chris Colabello to Toronto on waivers. Ryan said the Twins expected a club to claim Colabello, who was fabulous for the first 20 games of the season before falling apart. He tried to play with a thumb injury that affected his production, and he never recovered. A great guy with a great story is headed to Canada. But now the Twins have a spot open on their 40-man roster. They can select someone in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday or - gasp - make a trade or sign a free agent this week.


Ryan said that he has no interest in being president of the Blue Jays, as a report had him linked to the club. Ryan spoke to his staff on Sunday night, telling them he had no intention of leaving as long as he's wanted. ``My heart is with the Minnesota Twins,'' he told reporters on Tuesday.

Dan Duquette and Kenny Williams have been linked to the job too, but Williams told reporter he's not leaving the White Sox.

Ryan wouldn't say that he plans on never leaving the Twins.

``I wouldn't say never,'' he said. ``If the Pohlad family and Dave St. Peter decided I was no longer the guy here and I wanted to work, that's a different story.''

A Twins official texted me, ``no chance,'' when I inquired about Ryan going to Toronto.


Ryan said that he's spoken with Ron Gardenhire recently, and he's getting the sense that Gardenhire would prefer to take a year off than accept a role in the Twins organization in 2015.

``I don't think he's made a final decision but I get the impression that he may want to take the year off,'' Ryan said. ``I don't want to speak for him, but we've talked. He knows we would welcome him. I've issued that invitation to him. But I also know he hasn't had a summer off in about 35 years.''

The invitation remains open for Gardenhire if he wants to help. He could evaluate or help teach players or young managers and coaches.

Will try to post some of Paul Molitor's press conference tomorrow morning to get your Tuesday going.

Time to work the lobby...have a good night.

Winter meetings update: Oliva just misses. More Twins pitching targets

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 8, 2014 - 4:35 PM

Jane Forbes Clark, Chairman of the Board of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, first announced on Monday that no one had been elected to The Hall by the Veterans Committee. Not a surprise there. The Veterans Committee has been a tough nut to crack.

Then Clark announced the vote totals. A collective groan filled the interview area when she said that Tony Oliva and Dick Allen finished with 11 votes each.

The Veterans Committee is a 16-member group that is allowed to vote to up to four candidates on a 10-player ballot. So a candidate needs to get 12 votes (or 75 percent) to be elected.

Losing by one vote is a bad beat.

And Jim Kaat finished with 10 votes, two shy of election. Ugh....


Add to more names to the list of pitchers the Twins are interested in.

One is Logan Ondrusek, a righthander who was non-tendered by the Reds after posting a 5.49 ERA in 40 appearances last season.

The other is righthander Dustin McGowan, who was 5-3, 4.17 in 53 games (eight starts) with the Blue Jays last season.

If the Twins sign Ondrusek, it might be to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

Stay tuned.

MLB winter meetings update

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: December 8, 2014 - 11:54 AM
Greetings from the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, where the winter meetings have kicked off under sunny skies and temps in the upper 60's. There will be little chance of us enjoying that weather though, as the media already is staking out the lobby of the hotel for their sources.
I wrote in Sunday's dead-tree edition that the Twins are interested in Francisco Liriano, but also expressed surprise that they would be willing to surrender a draft pick to the Pirates as compensation. Let me clarify that.
The draft pick the Twins would give up would be a second rounder, based on having one of the worst records in baseball. And many teams don't value that second round pick enough to not sign a worthy free agent. It appears that the Twins are willing to give up that pick to sign Frankie back.
If the price is right, I was told.
Check the blog every few hours or so for updates from San Diego. The Hall of Fame Veterans Committee announces its voting results at  1 pm central, so we'll be on Oliva-Kaat watch then. 
Twins manager Paul Molitor meets with the media in the late afternoon, so we'll have highlights from that session.
Then we'll meet with Terry Ryan, who will talk about how much he's talking about potential deals. I reminded a bunch of Twins officials last night that, in my 18 years covering the club, they have NEVER announced a major move at the winter meetings. Let's go!



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