Reason for excitement, or simply straw-grasping?
As the team's loss column approaches triple-digits, both the front office and armchair GM's across the country are entering winter mode. Much ink has been spilled on the topic of offseason trades and acquisitions, but the key to a successful 2012 season – or at least a fairer feud with the .500-mark – may be found in last night's lineup.
Kansas City's sweeping youth movement is receiving all the press, but the Twins have at least one player who could be playing his way into Minnesota's immediate future.
Chris Parmelee has zero Triple-A experience to his name, but his major-league performance this fall could result in a tough roster decision next spring. As far-fetched as it seems, Parmelee could see regular playing time at first base in 2012, especially with Justin Morneau's still-indecipherable status.
A few years ago, Parmelee was viewed as a prototypical slugging corner infielder who struck out too much. Since then, he's raised his batting average and lowered his strikeout rate. Now, the 23-year old has some thinking he could go toe-to-toe with the American League's best rookies.
Parmelee joined the team at the start of September this year, and has done a terrific job of manning first base in Morneau's stead. The left-handed slugger belted another home run Tuesday night, bringing his triple-slash line to a Pujols-ian .351/.429./.581. If he can perform even remotely near this level next Spring Training, he could win a job on the 25-man roster. At the very least, he'll find his name on the short list for an early-season promotion.
“He's nervous and wants to do well,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of Parmelee after the game on Tuesday night. “But he's had some quality at-bats since he's been up here.”
Parmelee is drawing rave reviews this month, but he keeps his sights set on the future.
“I feel good about it,” Parmelee said of his season. “This offseason I'm going to get some work in and come to Spring Training at 100 percent."
In the clubhouse after the game, Parmelee said it's easy to get star-struck and lose focus.
“There's a lot going on around you, and not just on the field. I mean, look at this,” Parmelee said as he motioned around the Twins' clubhouse. “But once the game starts you try to treat it the same as any normal game.”
You can count the number of “normal games” Parmelee has had this season on one hand. The 23-year old California native has put up extraordinary numbers for a team in extraordinary need of a reason for excitement.
It's foolish to expect Parmelee to continue smacking opposing pitching at the same clip, but he does appear to have the talent to be a major-league regular. The trial-run lineups the Twins have been trotting on the field these last few weeks may not win many games, but they provide an invaluable glimpse into the future.
And even while the core of the team crumbles around them, it's okay to get excited about these young guys.
Jim Thome was recently at Cub Foods on 26th Avenue just south of Minneapolis for a public meet-and-greet, and was promoting his involvement with Pepsi Max' "Field of Dreams" program. For more information about this program and for a chance to play against some of MLB's legends in your hometown, visit mlb.com/pepsimax.
I had a chance to talk with Jim Thome about No. 600 and his storied career. He's one of the nicest guys you could ever meet and a real class act. The transcript of our quick chat is below.
On #600, and being in elite company: "It's pretty neat. I think any time you play the game of baseball you obviously want to succeed and want to keep doing well. For me, it's been a dream. I don't think you could ever imagine one day hitting 600 home runs, I mean who could? It's been a great career. It's really been quite surreal, to be honest with you. It's been a long journey to get to this point."
On transforming into a HR hitter: "I think a couple different things. At the plate, opening my stance up, which Charlie Manuel was a big key for that. And I think a lot of positive thinking. You've got to believe in yourself, believe that you're going to have some ups and downs and along that way, if you're blessed to play a long time, [the stats will follow]."
On Charlie Manuel: "Charlie, for me, has been there since really day one. When I was a young kid I had him all through the Cleveland system. And then he went to Philadelphia so I had him there for a little bit. And obviously now he's the manager and we've parted ways, but he's been a big, big influence on my career, no question.
On hitting No. 600 in Detroit, and getting standing ovation: "Very cool, especially from the opposing crowd. Think about it, for years and years you go in there as an opponent, and they don't want to see you do well. To do that was very classy. I was very taken aback by that, very cool."
On importance of World Series ring: "It would mean everything. That's why you play. You play to win a World Series, you play to ultimately celebrate at the end of the year with your teammates. I think for me personally, that would be the ultimate dream: To celebrate and win a World Series. The individual things are nice, but I think ultimately we all play the game to win a World Series."
On Hall of Fame discussions: "Very cool, very humbling. Again, when you start playing baseball you don't ever think about the Hall of Fame or this and that. You dream about it, but when people talk about it's a very, very neat thing. I think you let that process take its part, let it do its thing. It's something you respect. If that day were to ever come, it would be a joy. It would even be more surreal than what we're talking about. It'd be very cool."
On his career wrapping up, and his legacy: "My kids are at the age now where they're growing up, they need their dad at home. That's a big legacy to the name. Also giving back to the game. I think the legacy of the game and your name are also important because there are young players out there who can learn from older players who have played the game. If I can do that in any way it would be an honor."
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In innings six through nine this year, the Twins have been outscored by 48 runs.
When the Twins have been tied in the last four innings of a game this year, they have gone on to lose more games than they've won.
Unquestionably, the greatest need for this Minnesota squad is bullpen relief. Ignoring the iconoclastic pitching of Glen Perkins, the four relief pitchers with the most innings pitched this year have a combined ERA of 5.29. Phil Dumatrait can't get anybody out, Jim Hoey has been worthless and Dusty Hughes allows over two base-runners per inning.
That's a problem.
These guys form the Minnesota bullpen, and are asked to protect leads or give the offense a chance to catch up. The starting pitching hasn't been atrocious this year -- the Twins' rotation is currently hanging just below the middle of the pack in OPS-against –- but the bullpen is awful. The second-worst unit in the league, opposing batters are averaging All-Star caliber performances against Minnesota's bunch of relief pitchers.
As we discussed yesterday, the Twins are too close (and the AL Central too flawed) to sit on their hands for these next two weeks. The team could get markedly better by adding a league-average reliever or two, and Bill Smith should jump at the opportunity.
The top few prospects in the system are untouchable, but the Twins could pry away a few bullpen arms by offering some mid-level minor-league talent.
Predicting the trade deadline maneuverings of any team is a daunting and often impossible task, especially when you're trying to guess the actions of the unpredictable Smith.
But if I were the GM of the Twins, here is my wish list:
Tyler Clippard, RH-RP, Washington Nationals
Washington's strike-throwing righty is young, but already has several years of effective work at the MLB level. The 26-year old is under team control through the 2015 season, and is one of baseball's best strikeout artists, averaging nearly 11 K's per nine innings since 2008. His walk tally is higher than most, but Clippard's sub-2.00 ERA shows that he gets the job done.
Imaging him in Minnesota's bullpen isn't at all difficult; convincing the Nationals to part ways with Clippard is the hard part.
Clippard is clearly on the trade block, but Washington wants a long-term solution in return. That may include either Denard Span or Ben Revere, but the Nationals would need to ship over another piece if they wanted either of our center fielders.
Trading away future value in order to make a run for the division title this year is exactly what the Twins shouldn't do, but a mutually-beneficial trade involving some young talent may not be out of the question. Denard Span should be an integral part of the team's future, but if he provides more value in a trade than he would in Target Field, Smith should at least explore some possibilities.
Perhaps the Twins could swing a deal involving both Clippard and shortstop Ian Desmond for Span's team-friendly contract?
Grant Balfour, RH-RP, Oakland Athletics
It seems Balfour has finally found his groove. The former Twin is working on his second outstanding season in a row, and the 33-year old could be an attractive bullpen solution for Minnesota. For a relief pitcher, Balfour has a hefty price tag, as he's owed nearly $8 million for this season and next. But if he continues to post sub-3.00 ERAs, he is worth the investment.
The Athletics no doubt appreciate Balfour's efforts in Oakland, but would be more than willing to move the righty if the right prospect were offered. Oakland wouldn't demand a high-caliber minor-leaguer as compensation in any trade for Balfour, they wouldn't even ask for an adequate major-leaguer. A mid-level prospect like Tom Stuifbergen or even Bruce Pugh may get the job done.
Randy Choate, LH-SP, Florida Marlins
A lefty-specialist, Choate has been nearly unhittable this season. His walk rate is higher than most would like, but he more than makes up for it with a gaudy 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Jose Mijares hasn't exactly been reliable for the Twins this season, and Minnesota would love to have an answer for Chicago's Adam Dunn and Cleveland's Travis Hafner.
I don't want to over-state the importance of the bullpen. In the grand scheme of things, relief pitchers are the most fungible and least valuable players in baseball. But their purpose – locking down leads and keeping scores close in the late innings – remains important.
And if the Twins can't stop teams from outscoring them in the late inning, they don't stand much of a chance competing in the AL Central.no comments
Should the Twins try to win their division, or build a team capable of winning the World Series?
This shouldn't come as a walloping shock to any of you, but the Twins aren't a good baseball team. They are allowing far more runs than they are scoring, they are receiving zero offensive production from what was supposed to be their greatest strength, and the team has one of the worst bullpens in the league.
Even so, the Twins are solidly in the “buyers” category this trade season.
Minnesota is currently on pace to win 76 games this year, several games below the .500 mark. But they remain just a handful of contests behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians, who have been suffering through a bout with injuries and appear to be on the verge of a collapse. The AL Central may be an awful division, filled with mediocre teams with serious flaws, but the Twins stand a very real chance of bringing home another division title.
But should the team go for it? If Minnesota reaches the postseason, another smack-down from an AL East team seems likely. Should the Twins trade away valuable prospects as they gun for the right to be slaughtered by the Red Sox or Yankees?
But it's a complicated question. Shedding payroll today to invest in tomorrow may result in a net gain of wins, but the sorry state of the AL Central needs to be factored into the equation. The Twins have a chance to qualify for the crapshoot that is the MLB playoffs.
They should certainly not pass up the opportunity, so long as they don't pay too high a price.
Following this afternoon's loss to the Indians, Minnesota is six (6) games out of first place in the AL Central. Steering clear of the injury bug should help the team claw back to within a couple games, and a minor trade or two will provide fans with compelling August and September games.
Minnesota doesn't need to target Jose Reyes or Ubaldo Jimenez in order to have a chance in the division. Trading for guys like Jason Frasor or Tom Gorzelanny won't require the team to mortgage their future.
Reyes would cost Kyle Gibson and Aaron Hicks, and give the team two months of excellent work at shortstop and a mid-first round draft pick. Frasor or Gorzelanny would cost David Bromberg and give the Twins much-needed bullpen stability. The former trade option could cripple the team's future; the latter could save its present.
The AL Central is filled with flawed teams. Whichever GM can plug the right holes before the trade deadline will win the division and earn the right to play baseball in October.
If the Twins feel they can fill the right holes at the right price, they should unquestionably gun for the division title. If adding a few wins to the current 25-man roster proves too costly, perhaps it's time to turn the page on the 2011 Twins.
Winning the division this year and building a championship team don't need to be mutually exclusive goals. But Bill Smith needs to act. It's time to get better or build for the future.
Sitting on your hands never helped anybody.