A fresh start

Just like the Twins that this blog is so fond of, we are coming to a crossroads at the Rhino and Compass. Well, it’s more of a fork in the road. Our posts, they are going their separate ways. I’ve decided to expand my role within the freshly launched The Sports Daily network, and so in addition to Barry Melrose Rocks, I will take over the helm at their reanimated Twins blog Twins Target. I will not be the only person kicking around over there, which is exciting, and I will have the support of an awesome staff at The Sports Daily, which is an appealing change to going alone at every turn.

I love writing here at the Rhino and Compass, as it is something that I molded with my own hands, but in order to sustain a site, I need a little more technical expertise, and I need to be vested within a network. I will have that at The Sports Daily and Twins Target and Barry Melrose Rocks. Of course, as you know, I’ve not been exclusively a Twins or hockey blogger. I’ve also set up a Blogger site (2009, we meet again) site at www.rhinoandcompass.blogspot.com to house all the stupid, non-Twins stuff I want to comment on.

The transition is happening more quickly than even I expected, so there won’t be a long goodbye. This is the last post at this URL, and I expect to sunset the site soon. We’re going to try to send the archives to Twins Target, if you want to relive some of our greatest hits. Thank you for your support, and I’ll see you around.

  • Ryan

Tommy Milone hits free agency

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 17: Tommy Milone #49 of the Minnesota Twins delivers a pitch against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning of the game on August 17, 2014 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – AUGUST 17: Tommy Milone #49 of the Minnesota Twins delivers a pitch against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning of the game on August 17, 2014 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The Twins aren’t waiting around for Derke Falvey. He’s going to be a few more days, as the Indians have reached the World Series. To prepare for his arrival, the Twins have opened up some roster spots. They outrighted a handful of players, and while many of them, like Pat Dean and Logan Schafer might opt to go to Rochester, Tommy Milone has decided to leave the team. It’s hard to say I blame him.

Milone has a career ERA of 4.14, which is only a little over a run higher than the ERA that claimed the title in the American League this year. Despite concerns about his low velocity, high fly ball rate, he’s also been very consistent. Until 2016, he never had an ERA higher than 4.19. This year, his HR/FB rate got a little sideways on him,and he posted, by far, his worst numbers of his career.

Milone was just one of the players that struggled with the Twins this year, particularly those within the rotation. Milone is 30, so it’s unlikely that this is his last rodeo, but he’s also too old to really have a future with the Twins. Even if he had performed at a rate commensurate with his career numbers, he likely would be a trade candidate. Now, he is a low cost option for a team looking to fill the back of their rotation this off-season, especially for a team that thinks 2016 was a fluke. The Twins won’t regret his departure, because he couldn’t be in their long term plans, but from a distance, they may admire his future success.

What IS Falvey’s experience?

falvey
Now that the Cleveland Indians are clearly going to wait as long as possible to let Derek Falvey leave Cleveland and come to Minnesota, I have seen doubt creep into my mind. Consider Nick Nelson’s recap of the roster construction of the Indians, with a Falvey-centric spin. 

Upon reading, though, my only thought was that, hey, the Tribe really only added a couple of those guys when Falvey played a role in player acquisition: Andrew Miller and Mike Napoli, and both of them were only added in the last year. Hmm…

Sure, there is much written about Falvey’s ability to develop pitching from within, and Corey Kluber and Cody Allen are prime examples of that. For those hoping for a quick change, though, I’m not sure there is much on Falvey’s resume that suggests that that is his M.O. Something to worry over today, I guess.

Rhino and Compass Radio, episode 39

Ryan and Kyle look ahead to the offseason but also consider where the Twins have come from. All parts of the Twins organization are addressed, and the guys take a look at the ongoing playoffs and the sorry history of Minnesota sports.
Read more at http://rhinoandcompass.libsyn.com/#LRuDVaVWTIJ0G22a.99

A trio to consider

Feb 28, 2015; Mesa, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Jarrod Parker (11) poses for a portrait during Photo Day at HoHoKam Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 28, 2015; Mesa, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Jarrod Parker (11) poses for a portrait during Photo Day at HoHoKam Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Twins are in desperate need of pitching. They also can’t make any more missteps with large free agent contracts. Those two facts might be addressed well by scouring the waiver wire even after the season has ended. On Sunday, the Oakland A’s released three pitchers that have recently dealt with some injury issues.

Those pitchers were the once useful, or highly regarded prospects. The first that made headlines was Henderson Alvarez, who owned a 2.65 ERA in 2014, but suffered serious arm issues, and underwent shoulder surgery in September. Shoulder issues are far more frightening to me than elbow issues. Players come back from elbow surgery, but shoulders remain balky for much longer. Look at Glen Perkins if you need a reference.

Jarrod Parker has had multiple Tommy John surgeries and hasn’t played in the Major Leagues since 2013. For a fleet of foot outfield defense, he seems a perfect candidate for a Twins bounceback. He was never a strikeout guy, but he was excellent at home run suppression on his way to a sub 4 ERA in his two full years of MLB work.

Then there is Felix Doubront, who always seemed to be a prospect brought up whenever the Red Sox were mentioned as a trade destination. Doubront also had TJ surgery. He never really panned out like anyone thought he would, but his high strikeout rate makes one wonder what kind of reliever he could be. Especially given his elbow concerns, Doubront could be a sleeper of a set up candidate.

We will see what kind of latitude the Twins have without a fully formed front office, because all three of these pitchers, who are good buy low candidates that could benefit the team in the near future, might be off the market by the time the Twins have Derek Falvey in place.

Cutting deep

Aug 21, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe (24) at bat in the against the Cleveland Indians at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 21, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe (24) at bat in the against the Cleveland Indians at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Every postseason series is now at least two games in, despite a couple of rain outs. One series of particular note for Twins fans is the Red Sox-Indians series, which is 2-0 in favor of the Indians. The longer the Indians go in the postseason, the longer the Twins remain in stasis. The longer the Twins are in stasis, the longer Trevor Plouffe remains a member of the organization.

Much is made of Plouffe’s injury infused downturn, but a bigger issue for him and his Twins future is Miguel Sano. Not only is Sano penciled in a third, but he has proven to be fully incapable of playing in the outfield. There is also the commitment to Byung-Ho Park, the potential use of Kennys Vargas and a couple of big hitting prospects like Adam Brett Walker and Daniel Palka that could contribute soon. And then, of course, there is the fixture of Joe Mauer, now at first.

Plouffe’s overall OPS dropped by only 19 points this year. He was below average this season, but only slightly so, just as he was only slightly above average at the plate the year before. What has elevated the perception of him around the league is his deft hand in the field. Sano, et al, offer too much on offense for the Twins to keep him, but also too much as a well rounded player to let him go for nothing.

Expect a decision on Plouffe to come very quickly when Derek Falvey comes to town. If he is released or outrighted right away, then figure that Falvey (or his GM) don’t see an existent market for a slightly above average third baseman. If he is still on the roster until the beginning of November, then don’t be surprised if the Twins work hard for a trade. One way or another, I wouldn’t expect to see Trevor Plouffe with the Twins in 2017.

Twins taking a look at Rob Antony?

Apr 9, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony watches a video during a pre-game ceremony before the game with the Oakland Athletics at Target Field. Athletics win 7-4 in 11 innings. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 9, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony watches a video during a pre-game ceremony before the game with the Oakland Athletics at Target Field. Athletics win 7-4 in 11 innings. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more important tasks that is still on table for the Twins is the addition of a General Manager. No names are really surfacing in that hunt, except for one, according to LaVelle. Rob Antony. 

On the one hand, hiring Antony would ensure someone with a familiarity with the players in the system would be in an important position organizationally. On the other hand, an inability to break completely with their previous organization makes me wonder as to whether or not the Twins are fully committed to making a transition to a new leadership group.

None of these issues, honestly, really put me off as much as the activity Antony had late in the season. I’m not entirely in love with how he moved players around in the late season. I wish that more young players had been brought up and given a shot. There were plenty in the bullpen, but the real prospects, especially those that were MLB ready, are on the offensive side of the ball. One pitcher that didn’t see nearly enough MLB time was Adalberto Mejia, which brings me to my next point.

He managed to capitalize on the value of Eduardo Nunez at its peak in acquiring Mejia. He swapped Fernando Abad, which was a move that simply had to be made, and acquired Pat Light. He made an entirely awful trade, though, as well, and it was awful at the time it happened.

Never mind the act that it worked out exactly as I thought it would (Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer did fine in Anaheim, while Hector Santiago was a trainwreck in Minnesota), it was a nonsensical allocation of resources. They replaced Nolasco with a worse pitcher in the short term, and blocked a major league ready prospect with that same crappy pitcher. They swapped out a hard throwing young prospect with issues as a starter and replaced him with a different hard throwing prospect.

There didn’t seem to be a plan. There was no evident forethought. Rob Antony might be able to recognize talent within the system, but he is not a team builder, at least not on first impression. I hope that, if Antony is destined to stay in the organization, it is not in the role of GM.

Introducing 2017’s Following the Compass teams

Obviously, with the transition of the site from all sports to Twins-Centric, the focus hasn’t been as intently on other features this site has had over the years. Among those features is one of my favorites, called Following the Compass. If you are a johnny-come-lately to the Rhino and Compass, basically, I randomly draw two teams from across the sporting landscape. They could be any Division 1 basketball or football team, MLB, NFL, NHL and as of the past two seasons, MLS or NBA. After I have drawn the team, I then draw a game off their schedule. If I can, I try to attend that game, but admittedly, I haven’t been to as many in the last couple of years as I used to. Marriage and all. If nothing else, I will watch the game from home, and will follow the team I draw throughout their season. This year, the two games haven’t been played yet, but they feature Valparaiso at Oregon in basketball, and a football game between the Memphis Tigers and SMU Mustangs, occurring on the 17th and 5th of November, respectively. Oregon and SMU were the teams I drew.

I draw the games every year on October 5th (it’s my half birthday, and it allows me enough time to plan if it is a game coming in the early part of the year), and this year was no exception. The big news is that the two teams I have drawn for 2017 come from leagues that I have not visited yet. The first is one of the leagues I recently added. I have drawn the 2nd game of the NYCFC schedule.

nycfc

NYCFC is only in their second year in MLS, but have spent handsomely to build an impressive roster, featuring European stalwarts like Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa. They also have former Rosenborg star Mix Diskerud. Their home games are played at Yankee Stadium, and a soccer game there would definitely be odd. This would be a fun team to see in person.

The second team is almost the opposite of a team like NYCFC. They are one of the oldest, proudest organizations in the NHL, but over at least the last decade, they’ve been painfully bad. Yes, I’m talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs.

maple-leafs

I selected the 78th game on their schedule, which means it is a road game against the Buffalo Sabres on April 3rd. While this is the first time I have drawn a team in the NHL, it will be the second game in Buffalo, as I have also selected the Bills in the past, and watched them play the Baltimore Ravens. The Leafs had the top pick in the draft this year, Auston Matthews, and he will be on the roster. Frankly, while there is some Toronto-Buffalo rivalry juice, the game will be between a pair of bad teams late in the year. I’ll have no problems getting tickets. The best case scenario is that these two rivals start coming into form as the season progresses, and here is something along the line.

Two pro teams! I’ll let you know when the MLS re0eases their 2017 schedule so we can finish this set off.

What about the coaches?

mollie

The Twins are in an interesting spot in more ways than one. It’s quite apparent that their organization needed a total overhaul, particularly in the department of talent acquisition and development. For one reason or another, the Twins have had a whole bunch of talent in the organization over the last 10 years or so, and it mostly hasn’t panned out. Consider that since 2005, they have drafted 70 players in rounds 2-7, and they have accumulated .8 WAR in that time. That’s pretty bad. It would be OK if the Twins had good first round picks. In that time, the best first rounder they got was Matt Garza. After that, the best resume belongs to, I don’t know, Kyle Gibson? Maybe Ben Revere, who has also been traded.

This is equal parts talent recognition and talent development. I hope that adding Falvey and whomever he instills at GM brings about better talent recognition. It’s clear that the minor leagues need to be gutted in order to better prepare players for the major leagues. After all, many players that came up through the Twins’ system were universally acclaimed, and just couldn’t cut it at the top level.

Those are long term issues that need serious thought and change, and I have no doubt that it is coming, and it is coming soon. But the top of the heap, in the majors? Well, that hasn’t been in place very long. Paul Molitor and staff have only been around for two years, and put together something of a miracle in 2015. The offense, at first terrible, rounded into form as the season progressed, and I think Tom Brunansky has a good argument for sticking around.

Even on the pitching side of the ball, arguments can be made for keeping that staff too. The pitching was competent in 2015 with a full year of Neil Allen. In 2016, Allen missed a great chunk out of the middle of the season as he dealt with legal issues and treatment. Eddie Guardado saw his closer get injured, and helped turn Brandon Kintzler into a tenable closer. Going forward, the splitter throwing Guardado can be a boon for the development of Pat Light.

The hiring process was probably made difficult by the fact that GMs knew they had to keep Paul Molitor, but taking a step back and squinting, you can see a case for preserving the coaching staff. The rest of the organization needs to be torn down and rebuilt, so it will be best for Derek Falvey to focus his time and efforts elsewhere.

The Silver Lining: It can’t get worse next year.

The season is finally and mercifully over. The Twins sucked, to make no bones about it, but the thing that made it worse was that everyone thought they would be much better. I’ve done a rough survey of some preseason predictions, and they were generally in the range of 75-85 wins. In short, everyone thought the Twins would be average. Not to toot my own horn, but my 74-88 record was one of the lowest win totals anyone predicted for the year.

This is not tooting my own horn, because I was off by 15 wins. This wasn’t a lucky break here or there, like the difference between 74 and 79, for example. This was a completely different team than what was expected. After watching prospects explode on the scene in Boston, Houston and Chicago, they mostly stumbled out of the gate in Minnesota. The Twins were touched by injuries, the pitching regressed, the defense was poorly conceived and the veterans, aside from Brian Dozier, regressed heavily.

It would be foolish to assume that, just because the Twins have reached rock bottom this year that they won’t find a new low next year. There are all sorts of reasons to suspect that there will be improvements (i.e. young players getting better, a new GM bringing in a new system, the nature of math and regression to the mean), but none of those reasons are guarantees. Everything went wrong in 2016, so why couldn’t that be the case in 2017?

This is an extremely pessimistic outlook, but it’s now ingrained in the back of Twins fans brains. The team was so bad, why couldn’t it happen again? That mentality is why next year definitely won’t be as bad as this year. No matter how bad the Twins are next year, they won’t finish 20 games worse than predicted.