2011 Season Forecast: Minnesota Twins

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  94 – 68 (Winners of the AL Central, losers to the Yankees in the playoffs…  Again.)
2009:  87 – 76
2008:  88 – 75
2007:  79 – 83
2006:  96 – 66

This has been a great run for a well-managed franchise.

Runs Scored: 781 (5th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 671 (3rd in the AL)

With this combination, the Twins would be expected to win 93.2 games – right about where they finished.

Season Recap:

At the outset, the Twins were considered among the favorites to win the division, and having tossed aside the White Sox whenever they needed to, held off Chicago to walk away with the division for the third time and fourth in five seasons.

The Twins came out strong in April, winning 15 of 23.  They held serve in May, but when the Sox got hot in the summer, the Twins had their worst month in June.  This ended in July, however, as the Twins got stronger every month and looked like a potential World Series team until they faced the Yankees in the playoffs.

Among the hardships – Justin Morneau took a knee to the head while sliding into second base against the Blue Jays and missed the last three months of the season at a time when the first baseman was hitting like Ted Williams.  And, closer Joe Nathan went down after one spring training appearance, missing the season following Tommy John surgery.

The Twins made a few moves to shore up the bullpen after Nathan’s injury, acquiring Matt Capps from Washington in July, and later picking up Brian Fuentes from the Angels in September – in both cases for essentially spare parts.

Starters:

Francisco Liriano put his career back on track in 2010, winning a rotation slot in the spring and then winning 14 games and striking out 201 batters during the season.  This, as much as anything, gave the Twins a needed shot in the arm as the season started.  Carl Pavano had an even better 2010 than 2009, pitching 221 innings, hardly walking anyone at all (just 37) and winning 17 games.  Kevin Slowey went 13 – 6 despite pitching at essentially league average levels, but also doesn’t walk anybody (29 in 155.2 innings).  Same goes for Scott Baker (12 – 9, 43 walks in 170.1 innings) and the less effective Nick Blackburn (40 walks in 161 innings).  Swingman Brian Duensing was a team MVP candidate, making 13 starts amongst his 53 appearances, winning 10 of 13 decisions, and finishing with a 2.62 ERA.  Duensing also has great control.

All this is good – but a long-time reader of Bill James might notice something particularly troubling.  One of his predictors of future success (or decline) is looking at the ratio of strikeouts to wins.  Pavano won 17 with only 117 strikeouts – so he’d be expected to decline to something like 8 – 11.  Blackburn, already well below average with his 5.42 ERA, won 10 and fanned just 68.  He might expect to go 5 – 7.  Kevin Slowey won 13 and fanned just 116.  He’s a candidate to fall to 10 – 10 or something like that. Liriano and Baker are probably good candidates to hold steady, with good strikeout rates.

Perhaps the really high control guys can get away with this more than other pitchers because fewer guys are getting on base.  Still – I’d be a bit nervous about this.  Likely Duensing will get more starts than Blackburn in 2011.

Relievers:

When Joe Nathan went down, Jon Rauch became the first closer.  He was okay – not great, though – so the Twins picked up Matt Capps for the rest of the way – and he was fantastic.  There are other quality relievers around, too.  Jose Mijares is a decent late inning option, as is the returning Pat Neshak, with Alex Burnett picking up long relief.  Jeff Manship and Glen Perkins will battle for the other slots in the pen.  I think, however, that the Twins will miss Rauch, Jesse Crain (3.04 ERA in 71 appearances) and Matt Guerier (3.17 ERA, 74 appearances), and even Ron Mahay (3.44 ERA in 41 appearances).  Manager Ron Gardenhire will have to work a little magic here.

Catching:

Joe Mauer remains the best catcher in baseball, despite having a season that was well below his career breakout season of 2009.  Mauer is fighting bum knees and a sore back and will eventually turn into a first baseman or DH before too long.  For now, Mauer is solid defensively against the run, works well with this staff, and doesn’t make many errors.  Drew Butera is his less than tolerable backup.

Infield:

Morneau’s injury has already been covered – as a hitter, he’s remarkable and as a fielder he has little range.  After sitting out for three months (and much of the early spring), here’s hoping he can get back and play 150 games this year.  If not, the Twins will move Michael Cuddyer back to first base.  Cuddyer is better in terms of range, but can’t hit like Morneau.  Last year, the Twins had the second best second baseman in the AL in Orlando Hudson.  This year, the Twins imported switch hitting Tsuyoshi Nishioka to play second.  Nishioka won the batting title in Japan last year, has gap power and blazing speed.  The new shortstop will likely be Alexi Casilla, who played well in a utilty role last year.  I like Casilla a little, but I’m not certain his defensive skills will make up for his not being as good an offensive player as J.J. Hardy.  At third will be rookie Danny Valencia, who came up and did a nice job replacing the injured and ineffective Brendan Harris.  Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert will replace former utility player Nick Punto, who joins the Cardinals.

Outfield:

Delmon Young had a breakout season offensively, but can’t seem to run down anything in the field when playing in left.  Denard Span has solid defensive skills and occasionally hits like a leadoff hitter.  Last year, not so much, but the Twins survived anyway.  In right, Jason Kubel or Michael Cuddyer will get the bulk of the action.  Both are slightly above average hitters and barely tolerable fielders.  Jason Repko is a pretty good fourth outfield option, and Ben Revere might gallop onto the roster and take the #5 slot.

DH:

The 40-year-old Jim Thome had a remarkably productive season in 2010 and will return for another go in 2011.  When getting a day off, look for Cuddyer or Kubel to take at bats.

Down on the Farm:

My son, Casey, is playing on his first little league team and it’s fashioned after the Rochester Red Wings.  We use their hat; their tee-shirt is our uniform.  I’ll be ordering a hat later today.  But if you are looking at THIS Red Wings team and not ours, you’d be a little concerned.  Most of the guys who can play some and played in Rochester have already arrived.  Danny Valencia is now your regular third baseman, Trevor Plouffe (a low average hitter with some power) got a cup of coffee and may be the utility infielder.  One of the regulars on this team, I was surprised to see, was corner outfielder Jacque Jones.  Yeah – THAT Jacque Jones…  The Red Wings hitters were a little light, and the pitchers – mostly the starters – weren’t very good.  The one arm that impressed me was Anthony (Phi) Slama, who saved 17 games, fanned 74 in 65.1 innings, and allowed just 41 hits.  Oh – since I mentioned that Jacque Jones was still playing, I should note that Mike Maroth logged 11 innings in AAA as well here.

Ben Revere is a centerfielder who got a cup of coffee after hitting .305 in AA New Britain; he’s a burner with no power – and that lack of power also means a lack of triples, even for a guy who stole 36 bases in 94 games.  He’s the new Matty Alou, I guess.  Joe Benson hit 23 homers, can run a little, and is just 23.  The power was a surprise, he had 23 homers in his previous four seasons and 21 games of A+ ball in 2010.  If this is a legitimate change in his skill set, he’ll get to the majors in a couple of years.

The pitcher in this group I really want to see is reliever Billy Bullock – the third round pick from 2008 out of Florida.  In 36.2 innings, he struck out 60 batters.  60!  He walked 24 guys, must be wild as all get out, but WOW that’s an impressive number.  The Twins moved Deolis Guerra up from AA to AAA at the end of 2010 – after a year he went 2 – 10 with a 6.24 ERA.  I don’t get that.  He’s young and must have amazing stuff.

A couple of pitchers catch your eye at A+ Fort Myers.  Bruce Pugh was just 7 – 10, but he struck out 106 in 102.2 innings and allowed just 81 hits.  Reliever Liam Hendriks fits the Minnesota control mode – in 74.2 innings, his K/W ratio was 66/8.  Another reliever there, Bobby Lanigan, was 41/7 in 54.1 innings.  As such, a guy named Shooter Hunt probably won’t make it – walking 84 in 67.1 innings with 19 wild pitches.  He also struck out 79 in 67.1 innings – so he must have an amazing arm.  In 2008, he was a first round draft pick, but he’s still figuring things out.
2011 Forecast:

I see too many reasons for the Twins to take a step back in 2011, and won’t pick them to repeat.  I know the new Target Field gets in the way of people having great offensive seasons and helps the pitchers.  However, I think three of the six starting pitchers will fall back and fall back a lot.  The bullpen doesn’t seem as deep as in 2010.  Nishioka could be a revelation, but Orlando Hudson was really good last year.  If Nishioka is that good, it’s just a wash.  Valencia played well, but is already 26 – so he’s a bit long in the tooth to have a long and successful career.  Mauer is starting to accumulate wear and tear and his knees are already problematic.  Jim Thome turns 41 in August.

The offense is going to fall back some – the question is how much, and depends in large part how much Delmon Young falls back, Mauer or Thome fall back, and how Morneau returns.  I think the Twins will be lucky to score 725 runs, and the pitching staff will probably fall back to about 725 runs.  As such, we’re talking about a .500 season, which will likely be well behind the Sox.

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Three Team Deal Leaves Yankees Feeling Grand(erson)

Curtis Granderson could be the centerpiece of a three-team deal that would bring the all-star centerfielder to the Yankees.  Various news agencies are reporting that the deal has been agreed to in principle – Granderson would go from Detroit to New York, while Yankee prospects would disperse – AAA centerfielder Austin Jackson would head to Detroit along with lefty reliever Phil Coke, one-time top prospect Ian Kennedy would head to Arizona, where he would be joined by Detroit starter Edwin Jackson – giving the Diamondbacks a pretty solid rotation, and two D-Back arms, Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth would join the Tigers.

Let’s do this by team.  The Yankees have to deal with the potential free agency losses of both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.  Granderson would likely move Melky Cabrera to left (Cabrera might be a better centerfielder these days, though) letting Damon find a new home.  The thinking is that the overall outfield defense would improve (either Cabrera or Granderson in left is an upgrade over Damon), and Granderson would at least maintain the offense provided by Damon.  Except that Damon has hit pretty well and Granderson hit .249 last year – his second straight year of decline after breaking through in 2007.  What might be a concern is the Yankees dropping a couple of useful relievers (Coke, Bruney) – but it might be that Chamberlain is going back to the bullpen, especially if the Yankees land a starter in the next several weeks.

Arizona loses a blue-chipper in Max Scherzer, who looked VERY promising in 2009, and Daniel Schlereth, who has a nice arm but needs to deal with control issues.  However, if Edwin Jackson is as good as he looked for the first four months of 2009 (he slipped as the year ended) and Ian Kennedy stays healthy (he looked great in the Arizona Fall League and appears to be ready), the Diamondbacks could be REALLY solid in the rotation.  Webb (hopefully) , Haren, Jackson, Kennedy is potentially as strong as anybody.

Detroit unloads a lot of salary in Granderson (two more years at $23 million).  Jackson was due for arbitration on the heels of a fine season.  So, adding Scherzer – who, frankly, looks to be better than Jackson moving forward – also cuts the salary back without necessarily hurting the team.  Austin Jackson was a Yankee prospect who appears to be Melky Cabrera – fast, a slashing hitter but not a ton of power – and now appears to be a leading candidate for the centerfield job.  He won’t provide Granderson’s offense (even in an off-season, Granderson does take a walk and hits for serious power), but he could match his defense.  The net change may be 30 runs, but we’ll see.  Adding Coke and Schlereth gives the Tigers a much deeper pen and a potential future closer if Joel Zumaya never gets going again.

It’s hard to call the Yankees a winner in this deal – I think it’s a bit of a wash, really, though they get younger in the outfield.  I don’t like giving up all these arms – but the Yankees do have other options, and they have some money left to spend.  Detroit might take a slight step back in terms of offensive production, but the extra arms might make up for it and Scherzer could wind up being AWESOME (!) and giving them a second ace.  They get some money back that can be used for other holes.  In Arizona’s case, they have a couple of ifs (if Jackson can repeat, if Kennedy stays healthy and produces) and gave away what I thought was a solid future ace.  So, my early take is that the Tigers got the best of the deal, the Yankees are second, and Arizona is third – but could wind up being a surprise winner.  We’ll see.

Other News…

Rafael Soriano accepted an arbitration offer from the Braves – despite the fact that Atlanta added two potential closers to the roster.  Ryan Church was released to make room on the roster for the 2009 closer.  [ESPN]

Carl Pavano also accepted arbitration from the Twins – Boof Bonser will be asked to hit the road or head to the minors.  [ESPN]

Mark Teahan signed a three year, $14 million deal with the White Sox, avoiding arbitration. [SI]

Florida pinch hitter deluxe, Ross Gload, joins the Phillies.  My friend, Gio, will be saddened.  Gload got a two-year deal.  [MLB]

MLB is getting serious in their baseball coverage.  Peter Gammons is leaving ESPN to join the MLB Network and add his writing skills to a growing online news presence.  Gammons joined ESPN in 1989…  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

One-time MEGA prospect, Todd Van Poppel, turns 38 today.

Others celebrating with cards, cake, or remembrances include: Cy Seymour (1872), Joe DeMaestri (1928), Bob (Hurricane) Hazle (1930), Darold Knowles (1941), Del Unser (1944) – one of my favorites as a kid because I thought he was related to Al Unser, but I was wrong, Doc Medich (1948), Steve Christmas (1957), Juan Samuel (1960), Tony Tarrasco (1970), Tony Batista (1973), and Eric Stults (1979).

Afterthoughts…

Mark Buehrle bid $10,000 to manage the Cardinals for a day in spring training – and will use the opportunity to present his prize to a young girl (Mickey Cunningham) with Down’s Syndrome and her mother.  Very cool!  (Tony LaRussa matched Buerhle’s donation.)

Mauer Wins AL MVP; Other News

Getting all but one first place vote, Joe Mauer became the fifth Minnesota Twin to win the AL MVP.  Hitting .365, playing gold glove worthy defense behind the plate.  It’s hard to argue with the selection – I can’t, he was my pick, too – because there just aren’t that many players like this guy.  Mauer decided to take advantage of the count when he it was in his favor and added power, enough to lead the AL in batting, on base percentage, and slugging percentage.  Amazing, really…  [ESPN and others…]

Tom Verducci had a vote and explains it for Sports Illustrated

Ken Rosenthal discusses his vote for Fox Sports

The real challenge will be this offseason or next when the Twins have to try and keep Mauer around, especially since Mauer has to be worth about $20 million per season on the open market.

And in Other News…

Omar Vizquel signed a one -year deal with the Chicago White Sox.  Vizquel expects to be a mentor to infielders Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham.  [ESPN]

The Nationals say that Stephen Strasburg, who missed his last start in the Arizona Fall League, won’t need surgery on his twisted knee.  Dcctors say it’s a dislocation of the joint and he just needs some rest.  [SI]

The Associated Press released notes suggesting that Ken Griffey Jr. could earn as much as $3.9 million after incentives for the 2010 season.  [ESPN]

The Cubs signed lefty reliever John Grabow to a $7.5 million, two-year deal.  Grabow is a solid eighth-inning guy (though he can pitch in any inning from 5 through 9) who earned the contract after a year with 70 appearances for both Pittsburgh and Chicago.  However, personally I’d be leery of anyone coming off a career high in appearances and a career ERA over 4.00…  [SI]

Cuban Aroldis Chapman has fired his agent, signing with the Hendricks Brothers, agents who represent players such as Andy Pettitte.  Edwin Mejia, of Athletes Premier International, had helped Chapman escape from Cuba, setting up residency in Andorra so that Chapman couldn’t be drafted and would be signed as a free agent.  One expects a lawsuit for tampering in the very near future.  [ESPN]

Look for Roy Halliday to play out the string for Toronto, knowing that he will either be traded or become a free agent after the 2010 season.  Toronto brass fully expect Halliday to hit the road.  [ESPN]

The Marlins and pitcher Josh Johnson couldn’t iron out a deal, and per ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, it’s because Johnson wants a fourth year if he signs a long-term contract.  The Marlins are prepared to deal with arbitration, but tried to get Johnson to sign a three-year deal.  Johnson was trying to get a deal similar to the four-year, $38 million deal the Royals gave Zack Greinke.  [ESPN]

Speaking of Marlins named Johnson, the ESPN rumor mill has Nick Johnson getting plenty of interest in the free agency market.  Johnson had a .477 OBA after arriving in Florida in a late season trade with Washington.  Among the suitors?  Boston, Washington, the Mets, Giants and Orioles.  [ESPN]

Let’s stick with stories about my fish…  Former Angels prospect and Marlins minor leaguer, Dallas McPherson, signed a minor league deal with the Oakland A’s.  At 29, McPherson is past his prospect days and has missed two of three seasons with back problems.  [ESPN]

Finally, Peter Gammons compliments the management of the Marlins for winning with a payroll that, over four years, has spent less money – nearly a third less – than the Mets spent in 2009.  [ESPN]

Quick Hits…

Jermaine Dye says he is open to playing first base.  I’d be more worried about how his production fell apart after the all-star break, so this is just something to make him seem more valuable on the free agent market. [MLB]

After signing Chris Capuano and John Halama, two pitchers who have missed time due to injury and really haven’t been on the MLB radar in two or three years, the Milwaukee Brewers are showing interest in Carl Pavano.  There just aren’t enough 4.50 ERA guys with bad backs and shoulders to go around, I guess…  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

Hall of Famer Joe Medwick was born on this day in 1911.  Joe never liked his nickname “Ducky”, which was shorted from “Ducky Wucky”, which might help explain his surliness…

Others celebrating with cards, cake, or rememberances include:  George Burns (1889) – a fine lead off hitter with the Tigers back in the day…, Billy Rogell (1904), Danny Ozark (1923), Jim Northrup (1939), Fred Beene (1942), Steve Yeager (1948), Randy Velarde (1962), Cal Eldred (1967), Ben McDonald (1967), Al Martin (1967), Dave Hansen (1968) – who could probably STILL lace a single pinch hitting for the Dodgers right now…, and Joel Guzman (1984).

Free Agents Filing at Torrid Pace…

‘Tis the season for teams to decide on what members will remain on the 40-man roster, and which players will not get tendered offers based on existing options, and for other players to test the market.  So, for the next several days, the list of players on the MLB Free Agent list will grow and the number of players officially on the 40-man rosters will likely shrink for a little while.

The Rumor Mill

FoxSports reports that the Cubs are considering a three-way deal to move Milton Bradley.  The Cubs would get Luis Castillo from the Mets, the Mets would get Lyle Overbay from the Toronto Blue Jays, and Toronto would get Bradley.  Other deals suggest the Rays getting involved and offering Pat Burrell for Bradley.  [FoxSports]

The Mariners are looking to keep Felix Hernandez around (which means starting the process of a long-term deal now), but understand that there are many, many suitors for the AL Cy Young candidate.  [SI]

Thanks for Playing!

Carl Crawford remains in Tampa as the Rays honored his $10 million option.  Meanwhile, Brian Shouse and Greg Zaun were both bought out and will become free agents.  [ESPN]

Boston picked up the option for catcher Victor Martinez ($7.1 million), signed Tim Wakefield to a two-year deal loaded with incentives, but declined an option on Jason Varitek.  Varitek has the option to sign for $3 million to be a backup next year, else join the free agent market.  For Wakefield, he’ll have a chance to break the team record for pitching victories (Young/Clemens have 192) and win his 200th career game.  [ESPN]

Free Agent Filings…

The most interesting story is that a Japanese fireballer, Ryota Igarashi of the Yakult Swallows, owner of a 98-mph fastball, wants to play here.  Japanese players have to wait nine seasons before they can come to the states and Igarashi is already 30 but could be a viable late inning pitcher for somebody.  [ESPN]

The Dodgers declined a $2.2 million option on reliever Will Ohman, while Mark Loretta and Juan Castro also filed.  [ESPN/MLB]

Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, Yankee World Series heroes, joined the current list of 151 free agents.  Other Yankees on the list now include Eric Hinske, Jose Molina, and Xavier Nady.  [MLB]

Houston’s Jose Valverde, as good a reliever on the market, filed for free agency yesterday.  At least five Astros players (Erstad, Tejada, Brocail) are on the list now.  [MLB]

Octavio Dotel not only filed, but learned he was a Type A free agent, which means the Sox have to offer arbitation if they hope to get compensation should someone else sign Dotel.  [MLB]

Rockies pitchers Joe Beimel and Jose Contreras filed for free agency.  If Beimel is healthy, he’s a good pickup, but I’d be surprised if Contreras gets a lot of interest from teams.  [MLB]

Cubs closer (well, former closer) Kevin Gregg filed for free agency, and – like Dotel – was graded as a Type A free agent, meaning the Cubs have to offer Gregg arbitration to get the compensation draft pick.  [MLB]

Twins infielder Orlando Cabrera joined the list of free agents, alongside Mike Redmond, Ron Mahay, Carl Pavano, and Joe Crede on the list.  [MLB]

Toronto catcher Rod Barajas is a free agent, though he noted that he’d love to stay a Blue Jay.  [MLB]

You know who has a lot of free agents?  St. Louis.  Todd Wellemeyer became the ninth player (Holliday, Ankiel, Pineiro, Smoltz, Glaus, Greene, DeRosa, LaRue) to file.  [MLB]

Gary Sheffield also filed for free agency, trying to find ANYONE who might give him a chance to play.  He’s at eight teams and counting…  [MLB]

Free Agent Discussions

Jerry Crasnick met with a number of executives and put eight questions before them.  Want to see the answers?  [ESPN]

SI’s Ted Keith identifies his list of the ten riskiest free agents.  Well, nine + Rich Harden!!!  [SI]

Old News…

Something else I missed last week…  With several infielders on the horizon (Reid Brignac, Tim Beckham) and Ben Zobrist having blasted his way into the starting lineup, the Rays had less need for Akinori Iwamura.  So, the Rays shipped Iwamura to Pittsburgh for reliever Jesse Chavez.  Chavez probably appreciates the change of scenery, joining a contender, but he’ll need to step up his game to be a contributor.  I like this move for Pittsburgh.

Happy Birthday!

His 1961 season put him on the map, and for much of the 1960s, he was a great Tiger slugger – Norm Cash would be 75 today…

Also celebrating with cards and cake (or rememberances):  Jimmy Dykes (1896), Birdie Tebbetts (1912), Gene Conley (1930), Mike Vail (1951), Larry Christenson (1953), Larry Parrish (1953), Bob Stanley (1954), Jack Clark (1955), Kenny Rogers (1964), Keith Lockhart (1964), and Shawn Green (1972)…

Afterthoughts…

For the first time in nearly 30 years, it looks like all 27 members of the U.S. Appeals court will review the “drug list” case, determining the fate of the list of 104 players who allegedly failed the 2003 anonymous steroid survey.  [MLB]

Phillies Clinch; Braves and Twins Likely Done – and what to do with Joba Chamberlain?

With a pounding of the Astros, the Philadelphia Phillies clinched a third straight NL East title.  And, while the champaign was freely flowing, one player won’t get to participate in the post season, and that’s Jamie Moyer, who needs surgery to repair tendon tears in his abdomen and left groin.  [ESPN/SI]

Detroit got the magic number down to two with a 7 – 2 win over the Twins and Carl Pavano.  The Twins needed to take three of four to have a legitimate shot – and now the Tigers can win tonight and end the race without any additional help.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves were handled by Ricky Nolasco and the Florida Marlins, 5 – 4, pretty much ending Atlanta’s shot at a post season bid.  Nolasco fanned nine in a row at one point, finishing with a league high 16 strikeouts.  The Rockies keep winning – and with the Dodgers unable to win a game in San Diego, the Rockies still have a shot at catching the Dodgers for the NL West crown.

Speaking of the Marlins, the Miami Herald discussed a number of potential roster changes for Florida based on the usual need to dump salary (which makes it hard to be a Marlins fan).  Among those who could be tossed or traded:  Jeremy Hermida, Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, Nick Johnson, and Brendan Donnelly.  Hermida, a former first round draft pick, has been sidelined with a strained oblique and rarely plays anymore – plus he’s never lived up to the hype.  (Heck, his first ever plate appearance, he hit a grand slam, so there was no room to go up…)

It’s Over! Cleveland Manager Eric Wedge was fired effective at the end of the season.  When a season is disappointing, and the best players are traded to other contenders at the trading deadline, and THEN you lose 20 of 25 – your fate is pretty obvious.  [SI]

Is it over? Anybody see how poorly John Smoltz pitched (again) last night?  And he blamed it on the baseballs, saying he could never get a grip or feel comfortable throwing.

Is it over? I know that Ken Griffey’s not saying “retirement”, but hitting .218 isn’t what he probably had in mind for 2009.

Is it over, too? Joba Chamberlain’s poor August and September may end his days as a starter for the Yankees (I was touting him as a starter a few months ago, but he’s be lousy lately), and may keep him from the post season roster altogether.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure this is all Joba’s fault.  He was ROLLING in July – and when he has a couple of tough outings in early August, the next thing you know, the Yankees management starts limiting his pitch count, which couldn’t have been good for his head.  Now, he’s probably pressing – trying to get back his rotation slot as the Yankees have decided to go back to letting him throw 100 pitch outings again.  I compared Pitch FX data (not too closely, but looked at stuff) and it doesn’t look like he’s lost velocity – but he has lost the strike zone.  He was throwing strikes 61.5% of the time in July, but less than 59.5% of the time in September.  The Yankee’s lack of commitment to Chamberlain in a given role is, to me, as problematic as it gets.

Hurry Back! Freddy Sanchez had successful surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, but should be back for spring training.

Welcome Back! Chris Dickerson (Reds) and Russell Branyan (Mariners) came off the DL.

Might Be Yankees Year; Giambi and Padilla join Smoltz on Released and Designated for Assignment List

I struggled to stay up to watch the Yankees-Red Sox fifteen inning masterpiece – a great game, really, with loads of amazing pitching and the best stained player of his generation hitting a game-winning homer in the 15th inning to win it.  You had Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett, former teammates in Florida, dueling it out before handing it to the bullpen.  And it was the bullpen of the Sox – heck, the pitching of the Sox, once touted for its depth and skill and now looking frazzled and weak – that finally caved.  The one time weakness, the Yankees bullpen, pitched nearly eight innings of beautiful baseball.  It’s certainly not over.  Ali looked like he would finish Frazier in 4 rounds in Manilla, if you remember, but Frazier gamely came back for more.  A war of this size cannot be won in a single series.  But the Yankees look like the best team in the AL East, and Tampa might be #2.  And the difference is depth – depth in offense and pitching, which the Yankees have now, and the Sox do not.

Speaking of the Red Sox pitching…  What to do with John Smoltz, he of the 8-plus ERA?  He’s been designated for assignment.  The Sox have ten days to trade or release him, and then Smoltz will have to figure out what he wants to do.  Should he head to the minors and work through it?  Should he take another offer?  Should he ride off in his golf cart into the sunset?  If so, he’ll have plenty of people to golf with – now that Maddux and Glavine also have free time.  The PGA Champions Tour will have to look out.  Smoltz is coming soon.  [MLB, SI, ESPN, FoxSports]

Just as the Cubs started rolling after the All-Star break, another pitcher stumbles.  This time, it’s Carlos Zambrano who was scratched from his start with a stiff lower back.  [SI]

And, the Dodgers don’t need this – Chad Billingsley tweaked his hamstring running the bases after hitting a single in the sixth inning.  Billingsley tried to pitch at the start of the seventh, but one warmup pitch later, he was done.  He’s start to start, but a DL stint wouldn’t be surprising.  [MLB]

Seattle’s Erik Bedard has fraying in his sore throwing shoulder – and will likely miss this season and if another MRI shows more damage, could require surgery.  [SI]

The Minnesota Twins could use some starting pitching, and Cleveland – who had given up on 2009 – gave them Carl Pavano.  Pavano will actually start Saturday for the Twins.  Cleveland put Pavano on the waiver wire, the Twins pegged him, so the two clubs worked out a deal.  Cleveland will get a player to be named later.  [MLB]

Baltimore also got a player to be named later when they agreed to trade catcher Greg Zaun to Tampa.  Chad Moeller was recalled from AAA to back up Matt Wieters.  [SI]

Most teams are looking for help.  Here are two teams that are moving in the other direction.  Texas designated Vincente Padilla for assignment.  Padilla hasn’t been in the good graces of Rangers management – and now management has ten days to trade, release, or send Padilla to the minors.  And, Oakland released Jason Giambi.  The 38-year-old slugger has been fighting a quad injury that has him on the DL – and now he’s got time to find a new job.  If he’s healthy, he might be able to help someone off the bench for six weeks – so somebody might take a flyer on him.  [SI]

Alex Rios was considered a franchise type player by Toronto.  Now, he’s been put on the waiver wire and according to sources, some team put in a claim.  Toronto can let him go (the new team takes on the rest of his $60 million in salary), or pull him back and make a trade offer.  [FoxSports]

Welcome Back!  Geovany Soto (Cubs), Darin Erstad (Astros), Rich Aurilia (Giants) all returned from the DL.  Chris Woodward had been released by Seattle – Boston needs a shortstop badly, so they signed him up…

Hurry Back!  Astro reliever Doug Brocail heads to the DL with a strained right shoulder.  The Dodgers got two starts out of Jason Schmidt before he headed back to the DL with a strained shoulder.  Now THAT was a good investment of $47 million… 

Welcome to the Majors!  Julio Borbon was called up by Texas.  He’s hit over .300 the last couple of years heading through the minors, but in cities that make people look like hitters.  He’s got some speed and won’t turn down a walk, but isn’t likely to get one because he makes so much contact.  He’s probably no better or worse than Willy Taveras (though he won’t run as often), but he is certainly younger and cheaper…

Moyer’s Milestone and Hamilton is Hurt (Again)

Jamie Moyer, left for dead about 15 years ago, won his 250th game Sunday night against Washington. I always liked him – he’s a poor man’s Tom Glavine, and now they have about 555 wins between them. Guys like Moyer need a few breaks and he got his with Baltimore, putting his career back together in the minors, and then getting tossed to Seattle where they needed someone to eat innings. He not only ate innings, he put batters to sleep, winning 20 twice and last year getting a ring. I have all his Topps baseball cards and will flip through them again tonight before I crash.

Wouldn’t want to be on Cleveland right now with everybody going down to injuries. I mean, Carl Pavano is DUE, right??? I mentioned earlier that Grady Sizemore’s elbow was bothering him. Now he’s on the DL with what is defined as left elbow synovitis. Victor Martinez might be next.

Zack Greinke’s ERA went over 1 (1.10) in a no-decision against the White Sox. The bullpen tanked for the Royals. Joakim Soria may be back this week, and it’s not a moment too soon.

Meanwhile, backup catcher John Buck gets a DL stint with a slight herniation in his lower back. Ouch. Brayan Pena gets the trip from Omaha in his place.

The first to twenty homers is San Diego’s Adiran Gonzalez. The Marlins gave up on this guy because, at the time, they had Derrek Lee and other options, but boy can he hit.

The Yankees haven’t made an error in 17 games, tying a ML record.

The struggling Josh Hamilton crashed into a wall a few days back, but since then has had a stomach injury that will require an MRI.

Eric Stults, who had pitched so well in place of Hiroki Kuroda, goes to the DL with a left thumb injury. His replacement, Travis Schlichting, is a converted third baseman who’s making quick strides in the minors but may not be ready. Stults injured his thumb making a diving play on a slow roller. I like Stults, and hope he’s right when he says he’ll be back soon.

Donald Veal is going to Pittsburgh’s DL. I never heard of him either. With ten walks in five innings, he’s straining more than just his groin.

On the mend? Kyle Lohse may return to the Cardinals soon, and J.C. Romero’s PED suspension is nearly over, meaning time to get pitching for the Phillies again.

May ends with the Yankees, Detroit, and Texas leading the AL – who would have thought Texas would have the best record in the AL? Boston, trailing NY by a half game, would be the wild card rep.

In the NL, Philadelphia has now edged ahead of NY, Milwaukee leads a strong NL Central, and Los Angeles is running away with the West – I was way off on that one. They won’t win 108 games (current pace), but they are getting a lot of mileage out of odd places. Eric Milton and Jeff Weaver were left for dead and they are contributing now. Miracle, really. St. Louis would have the wild card in a very close race with NY, Cincy, and Chicago.

NOTE: Transaction and Injury Data from MLB.com’s Players/Transactions Page.