Tag:Justin Morneau
Posted on: November 7, 2011 5:00 pm
Edited on: November 7, 2011 6:43 pm
 

Twins shock baseball world in firing GM Smith

Be careful what you wish for: With big-market finances come big-market expectations, and the Twins plummeting to a 99-loss season in 2010 despite a club-record $113 million payroll caused a big-time reaction Monday.

They fired general manager Bill Smith and went back to the future, naming Terry Ryan as interim GM.

Forget the Theo Epstein circus, the Tony La Russa resignation and the Orioles hiring Dan Duquette. This is the most shocking news of the off-season, simply because the Twins do not DO things like this.

Stability is their game. Since 1984, the Twins have employed only three men as GM: Andy MacPhail, Ryan and Smith.

For now, that will remain unchanged.

"I don't know if it will be for one year or for 10 years," Ryan said when asked to gauge the length of his interim tag. "We'll see how it goes. Direction, success, workload, all those things. ...

"This is going to be a challenge. I'm up to the challenge. I appreciate the opportunity."

The Twins refused to list reasons for dumping Smith. Owner Jim Pohlad had said at season's end that Smith would return, but he also said he wanted to see a plan for how the team could bounce back

Pohlad's utterings of "philosophical differences" and how this was about "scope and approach" pretty much said it all: Whatever plan Smith presented fell short in the Twins' eyes.

Hard to say if it involved spending even more money, but Ryan said that the 2012 payroll "is going to be south of where it was." He estimated that it would be somewhere around $100 million.

"Wherever it is, it's going to be a heck of a lot more than whatever I worked with," Ryan said in one of the few lighthearted moments of the news conference.

He sure has that right. Neither MacPhail nor Ryan never had a payroll higher than that of the Los Angeles Dodgers -- as the 2011 Twins did -- and they never had a brand new outdoor ballpark filled with exuberant fans night after night.

Smith did. And he signed Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million deal, and he had Justin Morneau on a six-year, $80 million deal, and neither of them could stay in the lineup last summer. Morneau, with his concussion issues, may never come close to being the same player he once was.

The Twins have issues, serious issues, and the fact that they've decided Smith no longer is the man to solve them ranks incredibly high on the seismic scale.

"We struggled on the mound, we didn't pick the ball up and we didn't score enough runs," said Ryan, who remains revered throughout the organization, from top to bottom. "We need to firm up a lot of areas."

Pure baseball always was going to be Smith's biggest challenge once the Twins promoted him to replace Ryan in September, 2007. A rules and contracts specialist who cut his baseball teeth from the ground up in Appleton, Wisc., in the White Sox organization, Smith was going to need a solid baseball man to team with, and the Twins made sure he had that when they promoted Mike Radcliff to vice-president of player personnel when Smith became GM.

Two of Smith's biggest trades backfired badly, and each factored into the 99-loss season as much as anything:

-- He sent two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana to the Mets in 2008 for a package of four players, none of whom has made an impact with the Twins. Outfielder Carlos Gomez came the closest, but he was spun off to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy, who now is with Baltimore. The other three players were pitcher Phil Humber and minor league pitchers Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra.

-- He sent big-time catching prospect Wilson Ramos to Washington two summers ago for closer Matt Capps in a go-for-it-now move with the Twins en route to 94 wins and the AL Central title in their first season in Target Field in 2010. But now, with Mauer looking like an old 28 and playing in only 82 games in 2011, the Ramos trade looks like a disaster.

The signing of Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka last winter for three years at $9.25 million also has the makings of a bust.

"If you're going to point to those, you should point at Orlando Cabrera [whom Smith acquired in 2009], Brian Fuentes [2010] and some others who worked out," Twins president Dave St. Peter said of two Smith acquisitions who helped the Twins make the playoffs in subsequent seasons.

There are more serious personnel questions heading toward 2012 than the Twins have faced in several years -- especially given the depths to which they sunk. They've declined the option on closer Joe Nathan's contract. Outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel and Capps all are free agents. Jim Thome already has signed with the Phillies.

And regarding the pitching staff, only Baltimore (4.89) compiled a higher ERA than Minnesota's (4.58) in 2011.

Ryan, the Twins' GM from 1994-2007, acknowledged that he's fielded inquiries from other clubs during his time out of the chair. Cincinnati, who hired Wayne Krivsky from the Twins, was one. But he loves the Twins, living in Minnesota and was enjoying the freedom working as a special assistant to Smith gave him.

"The situation dictated we were going to make a move," he said Monday. "If he had won 94 games, I wouldn't be sitting here. I didn't want Bill Smith's job. He knows it."

That said, Ryan said that he is going to "take this job head on. It's a 365-days-a-year job. We've got some work to do here."

The Twins are going to need both his baseball acumen and his familiarity. Because this is unheard of. They just don't fire people

At least, they didn't.

"Our family values loyalty, commitment and talent," Pohlad said. "Bill Smith had all three. ...

"We do this with a heavy heart."

"This is a sensitive day," Ryan said.

No question. But the one thing the Twins have going for them through this stunning and uncharted territory is, they've got a pretty good track record of getting things right.

Posted on: February 9, 2011 7:02 pm
 

On the spring comeback trail

Former NL Cy Young winner and White Sox ace Jake Peavy is not the only impact player looking to prove this spring that he's past a debilitating injury. Here are six others:

Chipper Jones, Braves: Strong early indications that Atlanta's leader is recovering well from major knee surgery last August. Just ask the baseballs: Jones has been hitting in Atlanta since the first of the year, and the legend already is growing. Earlier this month, he literally knocked the cover off of a ball -- ala Roy Hobbs in The Natural -- in a Turner Field batting cage.

"There might have been a stitch or two loose," says general manager Frank Wren, who was away on the Braves' Winter Caravan at the time and was told of the feat by club president John Schuerholz.

Where there was talk last summer that Jones' torn knee could have been a career-ending injury, now the Braves are expecting him to be full-go on the first day of spring training.

"I think we all expected him to be back performing at a high level," Wren says. "You're talking about a very gifted player. All the hard work he's put in, you can just see it. You can see it with your eyes."

Justin Morneau, Twins: The 2006 AL MVP did not play after July 7 last year -- one day after Peavy went down -- because of post-concussion syndrome. The Twins missed him badly during their first-round playoff loss to the Yankees, and there's still a weird vibe about this whole situation. Such as, Twins GM Bill Smith told Morneau to skip TwinsFest a couple of weeks ago so he could stay home and concentrate on his conditioning. And as of the end of January, Morneau still had not resumed baseball activities.

What to expect from Morneau this spring?

"We have pledged patience, and we only want him to go when he's ready," Smith told colleague Danny Knobler a couple of weeks ago. "If that's March 1, April 1 or July 1, that's what it will be. We only want him to go through this one time. We don't want this to become a rollercoaster."

Smith says the date he has circled is April 1, because that's Minnesota's opening day. But it sounds like it's in pencil, not pen.

Brandon Webb, Rangers: In danger of falling permanently into the "Whatever Happened To..." category, Webb has a chance to become Texas' sleeper this summer and help ease the Rangers' pain following the departure of ace Cliff Lee. The 2006 NL Cy Young winner, Webb has made only one big-league start since 2008. And that lasted only four innings.

Arizona was hopeful Webb would have helped last year's club, but he couldn't make it back to the mound following shoulder debridement surgery in August, 2009.

"There's obviously a risk, an unknown anytime a guy is coming back from surgery," Texas GM Jon Daniels says. "But the timeline, the 18-months-out from surgery when you think a guy has a chance to bounce back, lines up with the beginning of the season.

"We're betting on the guy."

The Rangers like what they see so far: Webb has been on a conditioning and throwing program, he's worked over the winter with Rangers strength and conditioning coach Jose Vazquez and he's talked with pitching coach Mike Maddux about what everyone expects. His heavy sinker is made-to-order for the Ballpark in Arlington.

"We're going to push him more on the conditioning side than anything," Daniels says. "If he's ready to go, I'd expect him to be in the rotation."

Kendry Morales, Angels: We haven't heard from Morales since his game-winning grand slam last May beat the Mariners and Morales suffered a broken leg when he awkwardly landed on home plate. The injury required immediate surgery and Morales, who led the Angels at the time with 11 homers, 39 RBIs and a .290 batting average, was done for the season.

The injury was one of many things that wrecked the Angels' season, and after a rough winter in which they failed in their quest to sign Carl Crawford, a big comeback season from Morales is a must. The hope is that he can replicate a 2009 season in which he crashed 34 home runs, compiled a .569 slugging percentage and finished fifth in AL MVP voting.

"We're anticipating him to be full go in spring training," manager Mike Scioscia said at the winter meetings in December. "Obviously, once you get on the field and get into some more extensive activities, you're going to take it slow. Does it mean he'll play our first spring training game? I don't know yet. When he comes into spring training, we expect he'll be full go for all the drills. And if not, we'll adjust on that."

Joe Nathan, Twins: The Upper Midwest report on the Twins' closer sounds more promising than it does on Morneau. Nathan, sidelined the entire 2010 season following Tommy John surgery, has been throwing off of a mound and was throwing breaking balls by the end of January. Smith described Nathan as "very upbeat" and noted what a big boost it would be to have a fully healthy Nathan along with experienced closer Matt Capps late in games.

Carlos Santana, Indians: He could have been Buster Posey, or Jason Heyward. Instead, things weren't exactly smooth for the baseball Santana, whose rookie season was ruined after his June 11 recall when he suffered a torn lateral collateral ligament in his left knee during a home plate collision with Boston's Ryan Kalish on Aug. 2.

One of the many bright lights in a stunningly good rookie class in 2010, Santana has been cleared by Indians doctors to resume full baseball activities during spring training. Barring any setbacks, Santana could start playing in games when the Cactus League schedule begins on Feb. 27.

The Indians, losers of 93 games and the worst-drawing team in the majors last season, are not expected to contend in 2011. But in Santana, one of the brightest young prospects in the game, and center fielder Grady Sizemore -- also recovering from left knee surgery -- Cleveland's season could gain traction (or slip into the ditch) depending on how this duo progresses in Arizona this spring.

 

Posted on: September 19, 2010 7:56 pm
Edited on: September 20, 2010 6:31 pm
 

Twins still unsure of Morneau's return

Justin Morneau finally is having many more good days than bad while battling post-concussion syndrome and for that, the Twins are thrilled.

But as for when we'll next see Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP who hasn't played since July 7, Morneau isn't far enough along to where the Twins feel they can address that definitively.

"He continues to make progress," Twins general manager Bill Smith says. "I don't know if he'll be back this year or not. As I've said, we're not going to do anything to jeopardize his long-term health or his long-term career.

"Those two things are much more important than whether he plays next week, or next month."

Morneau was hitting .345 with a 1.055 slugging percentage when he left the game on July 7. He had 18 homers and 56 RBIs in 81 games. He was set up for another monster year.

Then, bam.

Troublesome thing is, this isn't Morneau's first bout with a concussion in the majors, it isn't his first bout with a concussion, period. An old hockey player from Canada, Morneau had concussions on the ice before his baseball career started. He was disabled in April, 2005, with a concussion suffered when he was hit in the head with a Ron Villone pitch.

Those all feed into why the Twins and Morneau are forced to take thing so slowly this time. Good news for the club is, in Morneau's absence, Jim Thome has been incredibly productive in more at-bats than originally was planned. The Twins' depth has been a saving grace.

As for Morneau, Smith says, "Every one of us, including Justin, would love to have him back in the four hole."

Question is, when?

Likes: How much fun is this NL West race going to be these last two weeks? ... The Braves and Phillies this week. ... Watching Colorado's Todd Helton play first base. ... Watching Troy Tulowitzki swinging the way he's swinging. It's just incredible to watch. ... Looking forward to seeing Texas play this week. ... Ted Simmons, the Padres' bench coach, with his interest in managing. With all the jobs that will be open this winter, an imaginative team could make a real good hire. ... What a great thing that Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio should be OK after suffering a heart attack following the win over Notre Dame. ... Did you see that MSU-ND finish? If there are any more finishes close to that the rest of the way in college football, it's going to be a fun season. What a finish! ... Lots of good buzz about the new Hawaii Five-0 premiering this week on -- yes -- CBS, but what I love is that they kept the old theme song. That tells me right there that they're handling the show with care. ... Gotta get to the movie theater to see The Town. Don't know when I'll have time, but it looks like a winner.

Dislikes: Get the maple bats out of the game before someone gets killed. Come on, what's it going to take?

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Now me and my mate were back at the shack
"We had Spike Jones on the box
"She said, "I can't take the way he sings
"But I love to hear him talk"
"Now that just gave my heart a throb
"To the bottom of my feet
"And I swore as I took another pull
"My Bessie can't be beat"

-- The Band, Up on Cripple Creek

Posted on: July 19, 2010 9:25 pm
 

Padres look to get Black pitching, hitting help

The NL West-leading Padres are on the move. They extended manager Bud Black's contract through 2013 on Monday -- with club options for 2014 and 2015 -- and general manager Jed Hoyer is talking about adding both a hitter and a pitcher by the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline.

"We'll try to accomplish both and see if we can," Hoyer said of the dual hitter-pitcher option for a club that opened the 2010 season with the second-lowest payroll in the majors after Pittsburgh.

Hoyer told CBSSports.com that he's eying a starting pitcher because the club wants to protect three young starters who have pitched limited major-league innings -- Mat Latos, Clayton Richard and Wade LeBlanc -- from overextending themselves.

He added that he would like to add a hitter to help "lengthen" a lineup that currently ranks 12th in runs scored in the National League, and 14th in slugging percentage.

One such hitter whom Hoyer did not name is Milwaukee's Corey Hart, who just so happened to share a National League clubhouse with Padres manager Bud Black at last week's All-Star Game.

Asked the other day if he did any reconnaissance work, Black smiled.

"He had a little bit of time, and I was in the clubhouse," Black said of a between-rounds moment while Hart was jacking baseball's out of Angel Stadium during last Monday's Home Run Derby. "I said, 'Nice round.' And he goes, 'Thanks.' And that was that."

Well, almost.

"I did mention, 'Hey, a lot of those balls would have gone out of Petco,'" Black said, smiling. "I did say that to gauge his response."

Hart's response?

"He kept looking at the TV and said, 'Yeah, they would have,'" Black said, still grinning. "I gauged his reaction to see if he would say, 'Yeah, I know man, let's go.'

"I didn't get that. I was making sure that he knows we're watching."

Likes: What a great story the Chicago White Sox are. ... A total of 14 games left between the White Sox and Tigers beginning on Aug. 3. ... Rocco Baldelli back in Tampa Bay's system. ... This recent piece from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Mario Mendoza, he of the Mendoza Line. ... Finally saw the last two episodes of Treme, the excellent HBO show. Have not heard anything about it recently. Hope they renew it for a second season. ... Looking forward to TBS re-running the George Steinbrenner episodes of Seinfeld all week. ... Love American Slang, the new Gaslight Anthem disc. ... About time Friday Night Lights got some Emmy love.

Dislikes: Scott Rolen out with a hamstring injury. This is a very key point in Cincinnati's season. ... Minnesota's Justin Morneau out for another week with that concussion. Those are nothing to mess with, and you never know how bad they are. Here's to a speedy recovery. ... I've seen worse than Everybody's Fine, the Robert DeNiro flick we watched via Netflix the other night. But the writers went way overboard with piling on the stuff from his ingrate kids. The ending came around and fixed that some, but still, a disappointment.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"And in the end
"The love you take
"Is equal to the love
"You make"

-- The Beatles, The End

 

Posted on: July 27, 2009 9:35 pm
 

Slowey injury leaves Twins looking for pitching

Their season dangling in the balance with Monday's devastating news that starter Kevin Slowey will miss the rest of the season because of wrist surgery, the Minnesota Twins have expanded their trade talks to focus on starting pitchers.

Already searching for a middle infielder -- negotiations with Oakland regarding shortstop Orlando Cabrera have intensified in the past 24 hours, sources say -- and a set-up man, the Twins now are shifting gears again as they struggle to keep pace with Detroit and the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central.

Slowey's 10 wins lead the rotation even though he hasn't pitched in three weeks. Among those the Twins are expected to inquire about -- or have inquired about -- are Seattle's Jarrod Washburn and Arizona's Jon Garland and Doug Davis.

Meantime, the Twins, after nixing a couple of mid-level prospects the A's have asked for in exchange for Cabrera, have provided the Athletics with a list of young players they would trade for the shortstop. Though Cabrera got off to a very slow start offensively for Oakland, he has batted .339 since June 4.

The Twins also continue to monitor Toronto infielder Marco Scutaro as they wait for the Blue Jays to begin dealing and as they wait for the Athletics to get back with them on Cabrera.

Rookie pitcher Anthony Swarzak has been a huge help lately as Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins have struggled to reach the seventh inning in recent starts. But with the subtraction of Slowey, the Twins clearly are in a bind.

The Twins had fallen to four games behind division-leading Detroit entering Monday night's games and clearly are frustrated.

Following a tough weekend against the Angels in Anaheim, the three Twins' franchise players -- Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Joe Nathan -- told LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that it's time to make a move.

"Yeah, there's frustration," Mauer told the newspaper. "But I've learned over the last few years not to try to get my hopes up that we'll have something, then get disappointed."

"It's frustrating, very frustrating," Morneau said. "You hear about the future, the future. I don't know who gets to decide when that is or when they think that is. You have a core of a lineup that can compete with anyone in the league. One of the best closers in the game. Young starting pitching that might be missing one veteran guy to show them the way.

"It makes a difference to have someone like that."

 

Posted on: July 14, 2008 10:40 pm
 

Canadian influx to All-Star Game

NEW YORK -- You probably are well aware of the influx of major-league  players from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

But did you know there are three players represented at the All-Star Game from ... Canada?

It's true.

Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster was born in British Columbia.

Twins first baseman Justin Morneau was, too.

And Dodgers catcher Russell Martin is from Montreal.

"Pretty exciting," Morneau said. "It's pretty cool. That's something we're definitely proud of."

Posted on: July 14, 2008 10:32 pm
 

Making nice in AL Central

NEW YORK -- The skies are even friendlier, apparently, on Tiger Airlines.

After Minnesota finished taking three of four in Detroit over the weekend, the three Twins' All-Star representatives -- first baseman Justin Morneau, catcher Joe Mauer and closer Joe Nathan -- were invited by Tigers manager Jim Leyland to fly to New York on a special charter.

It was Detroit owner Mike Ilitch's private plane, which the Little Caesar's pizza magnate had arranged to fly Leyland, an All-Star coach, and infielder Carlos Guillen to New York.

"That was really nice of him," Mauer said. "We got a little delayed, but it was really nice of him to do."

Air Ilitch, like many other planes carrying All-Stars, was delayed by a couple of hours Sunday night because of thunderstorms in the New York area.

"Saved us from having to go through security at the airport," Morneau said.  "Leyland is a great guy. He's a great manager. I don't know if I was driving him nuts or not. I was asking him questions the whole flight."

Among the things Morneau wanted to know: Who's the best player Leyland ever managed?

Answer: Barry Bonds. "Hands down," Leyland told Morneau.

 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com