November 2009

Hot Stove season and Minor League Free Agents

After taking some time off over the past week, I’m back on the beat and just in time for the Hot Stove season to really start heating up.

This week is an important one, not just in terms of the BBWAA awards that are being announced. The exclusive negotiating period that teams have with their free agents comes to an end on Thursday night at 11 p.m. CT and that means the official start of free agency. While many expect it to be a slow start

Another important date for clubs is Friday, as they must set their 40-man rosters. This is the time when teams can protect players from being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, which takes place on Dec. 10. The Twins currently have 35 players on their 40-man roster — not including their five free agents. There are bound to be additions to that roster this week, although it’s not likely to be five players as the Twins often leave at least one spot open in case they want to make a selection in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft.

I also wanted to pass along another tidbit for you. Baseball America has released its complete list of Minor League free agents. The Twins have eight and they are as follows:

RHP:
Frank Mata (AA), Oswaldo Sosa++ (AA)
LHP: Reid Santos (AAA)
1B: Brock Peterson (AAA)
2B: Alejandro Machado+ (AA)
3B: Brian Buscher (AAA)
OF: Matt Moses (AA), David Winfree (AAA)

Before free agency takes center stage, the focus today will be on the American League Manager of the Year announcement. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is among the contenders for the award yet again. It could be another case of a runner-up finish for Gardy, as Angels manager Mike Scioscia is considered the favorite. I’ll have more on that later in the day, after the award is announced.

 

Mauer and Hardy connection

One of the reasons that J.J. Hardy was excited about joining the Twins was that it gave him the opportunity to once again be teammates with catcher Joe Mauer.
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The two first met when they were both around 15 years old and playing for the U.S.A. Junior National team. They would play on many of the same national teams over the next few years, and were even roommates back in 2000 when the junior national team took the silver medal in Edmonton, Canada.

Hardy said the two have stayed in contact, although not much over the phone as he joked that Mauer has changed his phone number a few times in recent years. But during the two series between the Twins and Brewers every year, the two took some time to catch up.

Now Hardy is looking forward to hitting in the same lineup as Mauer once again.

“I’ve actually hit in front of Joe Mauer before on a couple of the USA teams that we played on together when we were 15, 16 years old,” Hardy said. “It worked out well for me back then.”

The Twins’ plans are to work this winter on signing Mauer to a contract extension. Hardy certainly supports the idea of having the catcher around for the foreseeable future.

“I know they’re already working on it, and I’m excited about that,” Hardy said early on Friday afternoon in an interview with MLB.com “I really like him. We clicked right from the start.”

More thoughts from GM Bill Smith

In addition to discussing the J.J. Hardy/Carlos Gomez trade, Twins GM Bill Smith was asked to address some of the other pressing offseason issues during the conference call this afternoon. Here are some tidbits that I pulled out to pass along:

– Smith said that the Twins will definitely tender a contract to left fielder Delmon Young

“Absolutely, he’s going to be tendered a contract,” Smith said.
“Delmon had a good year last year, he grew up a lot, I know some of the
numbers aren’t where anyone, especially Delmon Young, wants them. He
grew up a lot, he matured a lot, I think he became a good teammate.

 “I know Ron Gardenhire’s very high on him,” Smith added. “Joe Vavra, I had a talk
with him the other day, and I think people are optimistic Delmon has a
chance to blossom, hopefully in 2010 and realize some of the great
skills he has.”

–Smith didn’t rule out the possibility of pursuing a second baseman or third baseman this offseason. He did acknowledge that Manager Ron Gardenhire will likely keep Nick Punto in the lineup at some spot next season.

“We’re not locking anybody into any positions,” Smith said, although he did say Hardy was their shortstop. “Nick is a valuable player on this team. He can play second. He can play third. He can play short. He can play just about anywhere. Our manager likes having him in the lineup and some of the energy and defense he brings. Wherever he’s playing, he’s going to be a part of it somewhere.”

–Smith also gave a non-update on the status of talks with Joe Mauer about a possible contract extension, saying that the club isn’t about to release any details about it. “We’ll let you know,” Smith said, meaning that they’ll only announce if/when something gets done.

– There is also no news to report on whether the Twins will pick up Michael Cuddyer’s $10.5 million option for 2011. The club has until Monday to make a decision on it.

–When asked about the future of 3B Joe Crede in Minnesota, Smith said that he’s been in contact with Crede’s agent, Scott Boras, and left open the possibility that he could return. 

Gomez’s thoughts on the trade

Thanks to our wonderful Brewers reporter Adam McCalvy, I thought I’d pass along what Carlos Gomez had to say on today’s trade that sent him to Milwaukee for SS J.J. Hardy. Needless to say Gomez is excited about the opportunity to get to play every day.

“[Twins GM] Bill Smith called me and said, ‘I have good news and
bad news,’” Gomez said. “I wanted the bad news first and he said, ‘I
traded you. We needed a shortstop.’”

“It’s going to be good for you,” Smith then told Gomez, “because you need to play.”

Gomez’s playing time had been limited with the Twins in 2009 due to the logjam of outfielders, but in Milwaukee he’ll have the center field job all to himself. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin acknowledged that his club would not pursue free agent center fielder Mike Cameron this winter due to the trade. So the veteran will go elsewhere after playing center for Milwaukee for the past two season.

It means that the speedy Gomez and his Gold Glove-caliber defense will be on display for Brewers fans throughout the 2010 season. It marks a return to the National League for Gomez, who came to the Twins in the Johan Santana trade with the Mets in Feb. 2008.

“Coming back to the National League
is exciting,” said Gomez. “It means
you have a chance to play every day. Even if you don’t start, you’re
probably going to get a chance as a pinch-hitter. In the American
League, if you don’t start, you don’t play.

“But I don’t have pinch-hitting in my mind. I want to play every day.”

Both Smith and Melvin assured Gomez that he would indeed get that thanks to this trade.

“I
don’t want to be a backup player. I’m too young to be a backup,” he
said. “If Milwaukee wanted me, they know I can play every day. They
want me to be an exciting player, but to make more contact, work the
count. Get on base.

“It’s going to be exciting. I can’t wait to start.”

Welcome to Minnesota, J.J. Hardy

As you’ve now all read, the Twins filled one of their biggest offseason holes this morning by acquiring shortstop J.J. Hardy from the Brewers in exchange for outfielder Carlos Gomez.

We got a chance to speak with Hardy on a conference call this afternoon and I thought I’d share with you his thoughts — some of which didn’t get into my story.

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What were your initial thoughts on the trade?


“I feel like it’s actually going to work out good for both teams,
both organizations. Obviously the Twins had two center fielders, the
Brewers had two shortstops, and they both needed the opposite.

“For me, I’m excited about the trade. I definitely knew I was going
to get traded from the day they did send me down [to Triple-A Nashville
in August]. I felt like that was their plan, I didn’t know who [I'd get traded] to, but once I got the call this morning I was pretty
excited about it. I think the change of scenery will be good for me.”

How do you describe what happened last season (when he batted .229 w/ 11 HRs) ?

“I don’t want to think about anymore. It’s over, I was happy when it
ended. It was just kind of a nightmare year for me. Even when I was up
there, I wasn’t at a level I wanted to perform at, and then when I got
sent down, it just made things worse.

Can you pinpoint when things went wrong?

“I got off to a really slow start. I feel like there’s been several
years now that I’ve gotten off to a slow start and be able to bounce
out of it. This year was different for me, I just feel like I never
could really get comfortable, and it just kind of snowballed from the
first month that was not good.”

What is that gives him confidence looking ahead to 2010?

“I don’t think the change in the teams is going to be that big of a
deal, I don’t think the change in leagues is going to be that big of a
deal for me. I told myself come probably May, when I was still
struggling and when I got sent down in August, that all that I needed
was for the season to end and I’ll be normal again. Every year, I go
about the same thing in the offseason, I come to spring training and I
feel ready to go, and I feel that’s what’s going to happen next year.”

Terry Ryan earns AFL Award

Former Twins general manager Terry Ryan has been named the Arizona Fall League’s 2009 Roland Hemond Award.

Ryan received the award before Tuesday night’s AFL contest between the Peoria Javelinas and Scottsdale Scorpions. He was presented his award by Hemond and Arizona Fall League executive director Steve Cobb.

The award is presented annually to recognize baseball executives who have provided at least 15 years of outstanding service to professional baseball and served the Arizona Fall League in a key leadership capacity. It’s named after Hemond, who helped start the league in 1992 after spending two years selling the concept of a six-week offseason league to baseball’s general managers and owners.

Ryan, who has been a member of the Twins front office since 1986, is currently in his seventh year as a member of the Arizona Fall League’s oversight committee.  

“I thank the Twins for the longevity I’ve had in the organization and also the ability to work with the Fall League,” Ryan said in his speech after receiving the award. “I’m proud of what we accomplished here. I’m proud of Roland for creating this league.”

“We’ve tweaked it and I think we are getting close to being very satisfied with the way it’s operated,” he added. “Once again, I’m very humbled to receive this award.”

Ryan has served as a senior advisor to Twins general manager Bill Smith for the past two years after stepping down from the GM position at the end of the 2007 season. He held the role of Twins GM for 13 seasons (1995-2007) and during his tenure the club won four American League Central titles (2002-04, 2006).

In addition to his role with the Twins, Ryan has also played a significant part in helping to develop the Fall League and he expressed his pride in what it’s now become.

“This is the best developmental league in the game,” Ryan said. “We have the best trainers from the Minor Leagues here. We have the best players and the best managers and coaches. We have the best of everything, the facilities and the travel.”

Ryan also used his speech to encourage the players who are currently taking part in this year’s Fall League.

“Any organization that has any idea about development comes in and covers this league,” Ryan said. “Players, just to let you know, you are not very far away. If you are in this league, it means you are good.

“Your organization thinks highly of you and you are just a phone call away. Keep playing the game the right way, keep trying and ultimately you will surface in the big leagues and stay there.”

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