Your place for Minnesota Twins and New Britain Rock Cats coverage, analysis and opinion.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Glen Perkins: My Dead Horse

My article last week suggesting that the Twins trade Glen Perkins (for the right offer) is one of the most read things I've written. Although there were only a handful of comments on this site, over at TwinsDaily there are nearly 200 comments (most of them well thought out). MLBTradeRumors also linked to the article, and it ran in the Star Tribune. In other words, more than the usual 5 found this article.

I don't have anything to compare with for this week, so I'm going to beat the Glen Perkins horse until it's dead. Here are 7 more working titles about Perkins, all in various stages of completion. If you feel so inclined, submit your own titles and I will also consider writing about them.

1) "Demote Glen Perkins."

2) "Deport Glen Perkins."

3) "How Glen Perkins is Singlehandedly Keeping Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Trevor May and Alex Meyer in the Minors."

4) "Where was Glen Perkins when Dennis Martinez Hit Kirby Puckett with that Fastball in 1995? Oh That's Interesting No One Can Seem to Account for His Whereabouts."

5) "How Glen Perkins Almost Cost the Twins the '91 World Series: Part 1 of 47."

6) "Hey, Glen: Where's Your Birth Certificate? Are you Really Even `One of Us?'"

7) "Source: `The Neckbeard is Artificial.'"

Monday, July 21, 2014

Trade Glen Perkins

Glen Perkins
(Credit: Ben Garvin)
As July comes to a close, the inevitable discussion (at least in Twins Territory) turns to what assets the team could/should part with. This season, as the team slowly but surely heads to a 4th straight 90-loss campaign, names like Kurt Suzuki, Kendrys Morales, Josh Willingham, Kevin Correia and even Brian Dozier have surfaced. But there's another player -- a guy that not as many are discussing, but who has more value, perhaps, than all those other guys combined (save Dozier): Glen Perkins.
Let's get a couple things out of the way. First, I'm a big Glen Perkins fan. He's roughly my age, and he's from Stillwater, a short, short drive from my hometown of White Bear Lake. Except for the part where we didn't know each other, we could have been best friends. There's literally nothing to dislike about this guy. Even though I disagreed with him on twitter a few weeks ago (and he actually responded to me directly like a man), he's my favorite Twin. Second, he's an elite relief pitcher. I tend to think that closers (by definition and pay) are overrated, but by any stretch, he's one of the best in the game.

As such a valuable player and elite reliever, Perkins is likely the Twins' most valuable (meaning most value on the trade market) player. Is there any reason why Perkins should be "untouchable?" No.

Some more detail on Perkins. He recently signed a relatively team-friendly (if unnecessary) extension. Here's that how it plays out. Perkins will make $4.025 million this season; $4.65 million in 2015; $6.3 million in 2016; $6.5 million in 2017; and there is a team option for 2018 at $6.5 million. Perkins can select 3 teams each season in what is essentially a very limited no-trade clause. If you're curious about a Twins-comparison, they paid Joe Nathan $11.25 to close 2009-2011 (yes, the 2009 and 2010 teams were much better, but you get the point).

With Perkins' deal expiring in 2017 (or 2018 should the team exercise the option), it's fair at this point to question whether Perkins will every have the opportunity to save an important game for the Twins. What's "an important game?" For this purpose, it's a game in August or September when the Twins are winning and within striking distance of the postseason. It won't happen in 2015. Sorry. Essentially lost seasons for Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano have pushed back the clock on when the Twins will next be competitive. I used to think the team would be fighting for a playoff spot by the 2016 season, but I don't feel that way any longer. For that to happen, I think one or both of Buxton/Sano have to be up in a Twins uniform about now-ish. Here's my best guess: Glen Perkins won't be the closer for the next Twins playoff game. Why? Either his contract will have expired, or he will have aged to the point where there are better/cheaper options. I'm actually kind of confident on this point. Unless you think the Twins (and the front office) have what it takes to quickly go from 90 losses to 90 wins, it's not going to happen the next couple years. If you haven't realized it by now, we're in the midst of a long and mostly painful journey.

As it stands, the Twins area 90-loss team. A 90-loss team does not need a proven, established closer -- especially a budget-conscious team like the Twins. The Twins have, or will have, other qualified relievers to do that job at a fraction of the price. Specifically, Nick Burdi. Yes, he's a young prospect, and yes, he could never get out of Low-A. But I (and many others) am willing to bet that, by 2016 or 2017, Burdi could be a dominating back-end reliever closing games for the Twins. And, he could do it for 10% the price as Perkins. Burdi could be 90% as good as Perkins for 10% the price. Even if you don't care about the Twins' payroll, the Twins do.  

This organization has a tough time parting with home-grown talent. And I get it. They couldn't get rid of Michael Cuddyer or Joe Nathan (not homegrown technically, but still) when there would have been at least some return. But look what happened when they bit the bullet: Ben Revere (great guy, but marginal talent) netted Trevor May, who is in the midst of a very solid season and is on the verge of joining the Twins' rotation; Denard Span netted Alex Meyer (having a not fantastic season, but is the best chance this team has had for a true "ace" in a decade). Prospects are no sure thing, but if Revere and Span can net such solid prospects (not at the trade deadline when GM's are under the gun), I have to imagine that Perkins -- a better player at his position than Span or Revere, and a "proven closer" -- could net a very good return. Remember when some team traded for Matt Capps and gave up a very good catching prospect??

Will a trade happen? Almost certainly not. Despite the fact that, as I write this, there are 14 teams within 3 games of their division lead (not to mention the additional teams within striking distance of the wild card), there seems to be no discussion about moving Perkins. Honestly, part of that blame lies with fans. We always clamor for the organization to do something, but when I brought this subject up on Twitter last night, there was some resistance. 

We as fans can't say, in the general sense, "I wish they (the Twins) would make big moves, but that's not their M.O."; and then say in the next breath, "but not Perkins. Gotta hang onto him." How about, instead: "Now is the time to break the mold that has helped contribute to what will be 4 straight 90-loss seasons from a once-proud franchise. Even though it's tough to part with good guys, I can see that this move helps with the future." It won't happen. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Gardy -- He's Gotta Go

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that something clicked -- something changed -- last night. The most thorough and comprehensive Twins beat writer, Mike Berardino, tweeted a series of quotes from Twins' manager Ron Gardenhire on player injuries. And it set me off. In fact, it might be fair to say that I freaked out. I tweeted a bunch of things, but decided to wait a full 24 hours to write comprehensively on this. 

In that interim period, Mike published Gardy's full quotes. That's good and fair. Anyone can look really smart, or really stupid, in 140 characters. And I know that Gardy isn't stupid. He's been a ... good baseball manager on some very good teams. In fact, he did a very good job some years. I've never disliked the guy personally, but based solely -- yes, solely -- on his comments regarding pitcher injuries yesterday, he's gotta go.

I have to qualify what follows with a bunch of important factors. Please read these, because they are really important:

1) It is the player's responsibility to report injuries. There's no way trainers/coaches/manger can intuit that, absent glaring injuries that are visually apparent.
2) A manager does not have the time for or need a line of guys complaining every day about routine soreness. It's a long season and that's the way it works. Guys have to play through general soreness/routine injuries. They're premiere, professional athletes, and get paid as if they only will have a short career. Tough luck.
3) A team cannot control whether a player lies or covers for an injury. That team can observe and inquire, repeatedly, but that's about it until a medical exam is ordered.
4) This isn't about winning and losing, really. Firing Gardy won't cost this team wins or losses this year or next. And even if it does, the 2014 Twins were -- at best and fully healthy -- a .500 team. Few call Gardy a great "in-game" manager (like Joe Maddon is generally considered to be), but he's been dealt awful teams from 2011-now. Remember when Chris Parmelee played center field? Oh yea, that was last week. And it happened multiple times. Chris. Parmelee.

But here's where it gets serious:
5) Soreness/injuries to starting pitchers are no joke, and Tommy John surgeries are taking place in record numbers.
6) The Twins have had their fair share -- probably more -- of Tommy John victims. It costs a season of activity, and really more than that, because very few guys come back ready to go. Many never return to their former ability. Jeez, it even affects non-pitchers like Miguel Sano. It's an epidemic right now.
7) The Twins have had the among the worst pitching rotations in baseball much of 2011, 2012, and 2013. And although the 2014 rotation has been bolstered by good half-seasons from Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson, and a decent performance from Kevin Correia, this is far from an "elite" starting corps.
8) Great starting pitching costs tons of money on the open market. For a true "ace," $20-30 million per season. Good starting pitching is in the double millions of digits. It's a hot commodity -- and I can see why: the teams that go far in the playoffs have 3, and sometimes 4, very good pitchers.

Now, let's get to the issue at hand. To begin, Ricky Nolasco has been awful this season. One of the worst starting pitchers in baseball. He's not missing bats, and he's given up the most hits in baseball. Why the hell would the Twins sign that guy to a 4 year, $49 million contract? Simple -- because he had been a good pitcher, and he was about to move to a pitchers' park. But he's not good now, and he struggled most of the season. That's not Gardy's fault. Nor is it his fault that Nolasco did not come forward timely with that injury information. But here's the exchange between Mike Berardino and Gardy that put me over the top:

Mike: "At this point I asked a follow-up about whether Gardenhire wants his pitchers to inform him and team trainers when they are dealing with something health-wise."

Gardy: "If every pitcher told me every day when they were feeling something, they would all be lined up out that door. You understand? Guys pitch with it. We play every day. You can’t just say, ‘Well, he was sore. How did you not know that then?’ Shoot, I don’t know what they do. I don’t know when they go to the bathroom. I don’t know anything about them out there. Other than if they walk in here or the trainer walks in here and they say, `I can’t play.’"

This is where I lose it (not the part where he doesn't know when pitchers go to the bathroom). The part where the Twins' manager indicated that he (as Mike himself paraphrased), didn't want to be notified about injuries until they reached a certain level.

More precisely, there's something in-between a pitcher "feeling something" and a pitcher saying "I can't play." A big something. A something that a manger needs to be aware of firsthand.

In this instance with Nolasco, thankfully, it appears that his injury is not significant -- nothing that should require surgery. But Nolasco's fortunate medical outcome has no bearing on the larger point.

Here's where the rubber hits the road for me: if I'm a manger at any level of professional baseball, I need to know about my starting pitchers that are experiencing pain when they throw. It doesn't matter if it's mild discomfort or serious elbow pain. Anything more than "normal-in-between-starts-midseason pain" needs to be reported to me all season long, on a daily basis, even if it's a nuisance at times. In fact, I'll go a step further. If I'm Gardy, I want that same information on top prospects like Alex Meyer and Trevor May, guys who should be pitching at Target Field this August.

The fact that Gardy has the same attitude with respect to position player soreness as he does with pitching injuries is inexcusable in 2014. If we've learned anything, it's that pitchers generally shouldn't pitch through more than "normal" discomfort. Newsflash -- it always ends bad! And if -- and I mean "if," because no one reading this article knows firsthand -- there is a culture in the Twins' clubhouse promoting this attitude of pitchers throwing with more-than-normal discomfort, that also is inexcusable in 2014. So the problem isn't just player-related (that the athlete may not want to disclose an injury), it's also that the manager apparently is not receptive to hearing this news unless it reaches a certain level of severity. The "player" issue cannot be fixed overnight. The manager issue can. And the "manager issue" may very well be related to the "player issue" in this organization.

I'm not accusing Gardy of causing past or present pitching injuries. I'm not accusing him of being insensitive to injuries -- to his credit, he protected guys like Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer concerning their concussion issues (a relatively recent epidemic that some still don't understand the severity of) -- and I'm not accusing him of being an awful manager. I'm saying that it's 2014, we know more, and the Twins need better. If I was Terry Ryan, I wouldn't fire Gardy now. This team is going nowhere. And this will just set up a new manager to go 25-45 down the stretch. I would, however, terminate Gardy's contract following this season and let a new manager (Paul Molitor, someone else) take over fresh starting immediately after the World Series.