Crain, Guerrier Leave for Greener Pastures

16 Dec

Please note that I am having technical difficulties at www.SethSpeaks.net and have not been able to post there the last few days. Hopefully the situation can be resolved quickly.

I was driving in my car yesterday when I heard the news that Matt Guerrier was going to the Dodgers, with a 3 year, $12 million contract in his back pocket. Although I thought he was the one 2010 Twins reliever that could come back, I was thrilled for the guy. He has pitched in at least 72 games each of the last four years. Yes, he has had a couple of hiccups, but considering 1.) how often he pitched and 2.) how many big situations he came into, he did a great job for the Twins. Really, he has done well in whatever role the Twins have asked. When they acquired him, and he was out of options, he was in long relief, and a spot starter, and he pitched well in that role. By 2006, he and Pat Neshek were both getting 8th inning duties. There is a reason Gardy went to him so often. He got the job done. And he was remarkably durable. Frankly, relievers don’t pitch well and stay healthy for the length of time that Guerrier has.

So, I am happy for Guerrier, that he got a lot of offers, and in the end, got a very nice contract. He absolutely deserved it. I think that the Twins were smart not to go to those years or those dollars with him. But nevertheless, Guerrier will be missed.

I had just come in from cleaning my garage last night when I read a couple of tweets on my phone about Jesse Crain. I got to my computer and in those two minutes, it became official. Jesse Crain was signing a three year contract to pitch for the hated White Sox. Wow! I was in awe for quite some time. I was frustrated. The Twins lost their best relief pitcher… to the White Sox! How does that happen? I knew he wasn’t coming back to the Twins. But we had heard that the Rockies and Blue Jays were interested in him. We had heard that the Diamondbacks might be interested. But the White Sox?

Ozzie Guillen loves Jesse Crain, even though it was Crain that essentially ended the White Sox dream of coming back and beating the Twins in the AL Central last year. Twins fans won’t soon forget when Crain came in with runners on and a one-run lead. He struck out Paul Konerko and Manny Ramirez, and that was that.

Some Twins fans choose to remember the “Crain-Wreck” monicker, one I never understood. I’ve always been a big Crain backer because of how good he was early in his career, and how decent he was the year after shoulder surgery. But 2009 was really bad. There is no questioning that. He was sent to the minors, but then he came back in September and didn’t allow a run the entire month. In 2010, he had three or four bad games in early May, and Twins fans gave up on him. In fact, in mid-May, in podcasts, I was finally giving in as well and saying it was just time for a change of scenery. However, I also noted that if they release him, the Brewers might pick him up. They needed a closer, and the Twins had to play the Crew six times. There was never any questioning of Crain’s stuff. I liked to reference the 96 mph fastball, with an 89 mph slider and a 76 mph curveball. The stuff was always there.

And then came May 20th. From then on, he was the best relief pitcher in baseball (except maybe the inexplicable Joaquin Benoit). He started pitching backwards. He would lead with the slow curveball, or the slider, and he would keep going to it. That only made the 96 mph fastball look faster. He made hitters look silly the rest of the year. Sure, negative Twins fans will point out the one bad pitch he did make, in a fairly important 10-pitch at bat against Mark Teixeira in Game 1 of the ALDS that Tex drilled into the right field bleachers. That’s fair. He hung one. But the ridiculous comments I hear and read about how he just teases you and then when it matters, he lets you down. Well, again, disappointing as the Teixeira home run was, I would take my chances with Jesse Crain any day of the week, against anyone.

We found out now that he signed a three year deal worth about $13 million with the White Sox. Good money, and yet less than I thought he might  get. Of course, in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook, I said they should sign him to a three year, $12 million deal.

Now, again, I was not advocating the Twins should overpay for Crain, and I was resigned to the fact that he was not coming back to the Twins. My frustration was that he went to the White Sox. The White Sox now have a bullpen, even after non-tendering Bobby Jenks, that includes Crain, Matt Thornton, Chris Sale and Sergio Santos. That in addition to their normally-strong starting rotation and their newly improved lineup. Kenny Williams and the White Sox have had a tremendous offseason.

Meanwhile the Twins have lost their two best relief pitchers, won’t bring back Brian Fuentes and probably Jon Rauch, traded their starting shortstop and signed a whole bunch of 27-31 year old minor league veterans who will fill the New Britain and Rochester rosters.

Yes, I am feeling that it is likely that the Twins will bring back Carl Pavano and Jim Thome. That’s fine. They’re both solid. I think Pavano has another decent year in him, but if he gets a three year deal, that’s scary. Should Jim Thome get a two year deal? What additional trades will happen if those two come back? Will they deal Kevin Slowey? Would they trade Jason Kubel? I like Pavano and Thome and both were awesome in 2010.

Sign Jose Veras, as Jesse Crain light. Sign Hideki Okajima as a left-handed reliever and assistant for Tsuyoshi Nishioka? Give me something to be excited about. I was talking with a good friend and a big Twins fan last night who said that after the excitement of last offseason (When admittedly a few big moves happened in late January!), the payroll, Target Field, and the excitement for another step forward in 2011, he is apathetic toward the Twins right now. I couldn’t counter. It’s hard to disagree. I would NEVER advocate making a move just to make a move. But there are still players out there who can make this team better.

I know this is coming across as negative. It should. But there are still reasons to be positive. The White Sox are clearly now the favorites in the AL Central. No question about that. But the Twins have seemed to have their number in recent years, at home and at US Cellular. The Twins have Joe Mauer. The Twins are hoping for a full season from Justin Morneau. Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Denard Span should all improve upon their 2010 seasons. Can Delmon Young take another step forward? Can Francisco Liriano take another step forward so that no one questions if he is an ace or not. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn have to step up. Can Brian Duensing be this good? And can we really expect Joe Nathan to be back at 100% early in the season?

There is no reason to think that the Twins won’t again be very good in 2011. This is a very good team. I’m always the first to say that there are still two months before pitchers and catchers report. But now I’m just starting to wonder, “What is the plan?” What’s the plan? Because I really can’t see one. I know, it’s not my job to know everything. I don’t need to. Do we just trust the Twins front office, that they have a plan and they are going to make moves to improve a team? I guess we don’t really have a choice, do we?

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23 Responses to “Crain, Guerrier Leave for Greener Pastures”

  1. Brian December 16, 2010 at 10:08 am #

    Through the entire off season much has been said about picking up pitchers to replace Guerrier, Crain etc. With all the Rochester arms that have been taken to fill their roster and with guys that are supposedly ready or near ready is a move that necessary? Assuming Nathan comes back we should be set for the 8th and 9th inning with Capps. Can’t a Slama, Waldrop or Burnett fill in in addition to Mijares, Neshek and Rauch? Technically we are only looking to use all those roles for 1-2 innings. If Slowey and Blackburn can get 3 more outs a game the Guerrier/Crain role is dimished even more. You can even throw Duensing in that 7th and 8th inning role if he is not starting.
    While it isn’t a proven relief corps, at some point you need to see if these guys can pitch or not.

  2. DB December 16, 2010 at 10:53 am #

    I think it’s unreasonable to expect Nathan to be the pitcher he was before TJ surgery. I’m not saying he can’t, and i definitely hope he does. Pitchers don’t often dominate the 1st year back.

    One or two guys from this group (Neshek, Perkins, Slama, Waldrop, Burnett, Hoey) are going to be expected to contribute, but they all have to be considered unknowns at best.

    It would be nice if the starters could get 6+ on a regular basis, but without Pavano, we don’t really have a starter who has proven to do that on a consistent basis.

    At this point, I wouldn’t be too disappointed with a Rauch signing.

  3. Disgruntled Guy December 16, 2010 at 11:04 am #

    The Twins have a plan all right. The plan is to make as much money as humanly possible. This is accomplished by spending as little as possible while still remaining at least competitive in the Central. As long as they’re competitive, people will keep coming to their new palace, overpaying for seats, concessions, merchandise, etc. Last year they made offseason splashes to ramp up the excitement for Target Field. This year they know people are going to come out to the beautiful new field, it still has the novelty factor going for it. So they are going to spend just enough to field a decent team and just enough so that the fans don’t accuse them of penny pinching – we know their payroll should be high because of target field and whatnot, but we don’t know how high because the public will never know the team’s revenue from TF.

    Seriously I hate to be negative but what other conclusion can you come to about this offseason?

    Time to face the grim facts about a Pohlad-run entity. The only important thing is the bottom line. Good franchises balance profit with trying to win championships when the time is right. The Twins front office does not care about winning championships whatsoever. Its another business for them; instead of being real estate or a bank it just happens to be a baseball team. Don’t change how it’s run: try to make a boatload of cash.

  4. TT December 16, 2010 at 11:41 am #

    “The White Sox are clearly now the favorites in the AL Central. No question about that.”

    Well, yes there is a question about that. In fact, there are a lot of questions. As you point out, six months ago you were ready to jettison Crain. Now, he and Adam Dunn have turned the White Sox into favorites? I don’t think so. The White Sox may very well find themselves with unexpected holes and a payroll that severely constrains filling them.

    Even without Pavano and Thome, the Twins are likely to be a better team next year. As always, the key will be injuries. But if Mauer and Morneau can both stay healthy for once, the Twins are going to be improved. Nishioka and Casilla are likely an improvement over Hudson and Hardy.

    The bullpen does need to be bolstered, but it did last year as well. Instead of handing long-term contracts to guys in the off-season and watching them get or struggle, they added Clay Condrey on a one year deals. The Twins then spent their money on adding premiere relievers in Capps and Fuentes during the season.

    In short, Brian is right. The bullpen MAY be a problem with lots of question marks. But there are lots of answers to test before you invest a bunch of money in aging veterans.

  5. Disgruntled Guy December 16, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    In what world are Niskioka and Casilla an improvement over Hudson and Hardy? Those guys are in the top 2 or 3 in the league at their position defensively, and at the plate they are above average. The last time Casilla was handed a starting job it was an absolute disaster; anyhow the guy isn’t as good defensively or offensively as Hardy. Niski could be as good as Hudson, or he could be an utter disaster a la almost every Japanese infielder that’s ever made the move.

    Just to reiterate, you believe a team that lost Crain, Guerrier, Rauch, Fuentes, Hardy, Hudson, potentially Thome & Pavano, and added a slap-hitting unknown 2B and 2 minor league relievers, is better?

    Wow. I know there are a ton of people in town who believe this “model franchise” can do no wrong. But you sir have deluded yourself beyond the realm of reality. This is not a matter of opinion; flat out this team is far worse right now than they were in 2010. It aint even close.

  6. DH in Philly December 16, 2010 at 12:52 pm #

    “Seriously I hate to be negative ”

    All I can say is “Liar, liar, pants on fire”

  7. hoff December 16, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    TT
    “Nishioka and Casilla are likely an improvement over Hudson and Hardy”.

    Hope you’re right, but there is nothing to point this conclusion. I trust Twins management, but I’m still confused with the Hardy move.

  8. TT December 16, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    “Hope you’re right, but there is nothing to point this conclusion”

    Actually there is, beyond the apparent judgment of the Twins staff.

    Hardy was hurt most of last year and he played in 101 games and hit .268. Casilla hit .276 and had a higher OBP and SLG as well. If he keeps the mental mistakes down, the way he did last year, he is a much better defender as well.

    Hudson is a good player, but he is starting to show his age. Obviously no one really knows whether Nishioka will be better, but he sure looks like he should be. And, like Casilla, he is young enough that you should see improvement as he plays more.

    “added a slap-hitting unknown 2B and 2 minor league relievers, is better?”

    Just to be clear, from opening day last year the Twins are also adding two closers in Capps and Nathan, an everyday third baseman in Valencia, a backup outfielder in Repko and a solid starter in Duensing. And they have seen noticeable improvement from Young, Casilla, Liriano and Mijares in key roles. Of course, the fact that the names are the same, does not mean their value this year will be the same. It could be worse, but in most of these cases you would expect them to be getting better.

    They will also have Morneau for a full year. How many teams would have run away with a division after losing and MVP cleanup hitter and one of the games premiere closers? Not many. People underestimate how good this team is.

  9. Disgruntled Guy December 16, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    Closer is the most overrated position in sports, as last year’s team proved. Nathan’s loss had absolutely no impact on the 2010 team as I believe the team lost 1 game all year in which a save was blown, which is actually less than average under nathan. So the loss of Nathan helped, if you want to nit pick (which apparently you do).

    Also, we replaced Morneau’s at bats with a future hall of famer whose second half OPS was 2nd or 3rd in the league. In other words, without Morneau’s injury Thome would not have had near as many at bats, and you can make the case the 2nd half he had was similar to or better what Morneau put up. Nobody mentions this when they talk about the Morneau injury, they just assume his place in the lineup was voided or something. While I won’t say it didn’t hurt us to lose him, the team was lucky enough to have a more than adequate replacement.

    Fact is, the impact of injuries on last years team has been greatly exaggerated. This is because most fans in town, like TT, love to make excuses for our beloved club. They refuse to blame the club for playoff losses or offseason failures. It’s baffling that anyone could look at this offseason and believe the team is better than last season. It’s lunacy like this that allows the front office to keep doing what they’re doing with a straight face.

  10. TT December 16, 2010 at 2:45 pm #

    ” Nathan’s loss had absolutely no impact on the 2010 team as I believe the team lost 1 game all year in which a save was blown, which is actually less than average under nathan. So the loss of Nathan helped”

    I am sorry, but that logic is faulty. The loss of Nathan meant Rauch was in the closer role and everyone else moved up a notch in terms of the importance of the situations where they were used. But I am not going to persuade anyone who thinks the loss of Nathan did not hurt last years team or that the argument that it did is “nit-picking”.

  11. TT December 16, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

    Just to be clear about Thome, he had 175 plate appearances in the first half, before Morneau was hurt. He had 165 plate appearances in the second half, after Morneau was done. Thome actually played less after Morneau was hurt, not more.

  12. jp December 16, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    Anybody that says nisho should be an improvement over Hudson are just plain stupid. Hudson is a proven major leaguer, nisho has proven nothing, never played in a league that has comparable talent to the MLB. Anybody that thinks casilla will be better than Hardy must not have watched any twins baseball the last 4 years, casilla has failed every time he has been given an opportunity to start.

  13. DB December 16, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    “Just to be clear, from opening day last year the Twins…..”

    Even after all those changes we still got swept from the playoffs in a non-competitive fashion. We’ve lost way more talent from the end of last year than we’ve gained. I’m not too concerned about the middle infield, but the pen is different. If we roll with what’s in house right now, (Capps, Mijares, Nathan, Perkins, Neshek, Hoey, Slama) we’ll have two pitchers that were productive last year, and could be expected to repeat that success. That’s not going to a division, or a playoff series.

    “They will also have Morneau for a full year.”

    Pretty sure I was one of the people who said that before last season. I guess I assumed too much.

  14. TT December 16, 2010 at 4:09 pm #

    “Pretty sure I was one of the people who said that before last season. I guess I assumed too much.”

    I suppose if project any team based on its best players being injured, it will not be very competitive.

    “We’ve lost way more talent from the end of last year than we’ve gained.”

    No doubt that is true. But the team at the end of last season had gained more talent than it lost from the beginning of the season, even taking into account Morneau.

    To be clear, if they don’t resign Pavano and Thome, they have some work to do. I am assuming those deals, along with Nishioka, will get done.

    I am far more worried about the rotation than I am the bullpen. My guess is that they will be able to deal for bullpen help if they need it. Successful starting pitchers are hard to come by and very expensive. I don’t think they should start the year with only five starters and Hacker as the backup at AAA.

    I think they have a lot of options for the bullpen. You list some of the most likely. But there are others as well, including whoever falls to sixth starter. If Nathan is his old self, this bullpen could easily be much better than last year. We won’t really know until at least spring training and probably well into the season.

  15. Disgruntled Guy December 16, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

    “everyone else moved up a notch in terms of the importance of the situations where they were used.”

    Yes, and this worked out fine. This is because we had guys like Crain, Guerrier, Rauch, and by the end of the year Fuentes. Somehow, though, the Twins are going to be a better team without all of them because they’re adding an old guy coming off Tommy John surgery. Good one.

  16. TT December 16, 2010 at 11:00 pm #

    “Yes, and this worked out fine.”

    Only after they added Flores, Fuentes and Capps. They didn’t add those guys because everything was hunky dory without them. The idea that the Twins wouldn’t have been a better team with Nathan as closer is a bit far-fetched.

    “the Twins are going to be a better team without all of them because they’re adding an old guy coming off Tommy John surgery.”

    If the Twins are a better team without them it will be because they have young players who are getting better to take their place. And the guys leaving are, like Nathan, mostly on the downside of their careers. The difference is none of them were ever as good as Nathan to begin with. Like last year, they may well have to go out and bolster the bullpen during the season. But it makes more sense to do that once you know what you have internally. Whether that is in spring training or sometime during the season.

  17. Disgruntled Guy December 17, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    They gave up their top trading chip to get Capps, who converted saves at exactly the same rate as Rauch. Flores was absolutely awful, what did he record, 2 outs? Fuentes was good. But who’s to say that caliber of player is going to be available? Will we need to trade a top prospect for a reliever again? Why don’t we get 1 or 2 FAs now so we don’t have to continue to trade prospects from our already-thin minor league system or starting MLB shortstops for relief pitchers?

  18. mike wants wins December 17, 2010 at 11:14 am #

    DG: it makes more sense to use valuable trade chips to acquire guys that were available in FA than, to, you know, just sign FAs….not sure why, but that seems to be the Twins’ opinion.

    • TT December 17, 2010 at 11:58 am #

      Capps wasn’t available as a free agent. He wasn’t going to sign with the Twins when Nathan was apparently set as the closer.

      Crain was effective for 2 months last season. Suddenly he is declared irreplaceable by some of the same people who wanted him to be released six months ago, before those two good months.

      The Twins have lots of questions in their bullpen. And you never have too much pitching. But that doesn’t mean they should spend a bunch of money on premiere relievers before they know what they already have.

  19. MrHockey December 17, 2010 at 12:27 pm #

    People would not be so whipped up if Crain had gone to the Rockies rather than to the Mighty Whities. My question is what photographs and of whom does Drew Butera have in his possession?

  20. JA December 17, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    Wondering what the plan is? How about letting the group of experts (TR & co.), handle that. They seem to do fine. Or has someone else built a roster to win 6 of 9 division titles.

  21. Al B December 17, 2010 at 7:47 pm #

    I’m actually not that concerned with the bullpen. Pat Neshek will be 2 years removed from Tommy John, the time most guys seem to regain their control. Scott Diamond is a solid major league ready lefty who can throw a lot of innings out of the pen.If Mijares is healthy he’s a solid lefty too. We gotta remember Kyle Gibson will make his major league debut this year, which may slide a starter down to the pen. I think Kyle Waldrop is ready for the majors as well, he’s a better prospect than Slama IMO. Capps is a decent closer. Nathan is a question mark. Then you’ve got some good young arms in Hoey, Burnett and Manship who have some major league experience.

    • TT December 18, 2010 at 10:14 am #

      A/B – Exactly right. The Twins also have Perkins and several younger bullpen prospects that may develop before the end of the season.

      For instance, it sounds like they think Guttierez may be close. You certainly can’t count on him, any more than you can count on Gibson, but the Twins have a lot of internal options to sort out before they decide they HAVE to go outside the organization.

      The season is 162 games long. Opening day lineups are only the first iteration of the roster.

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