Tag:Joe Nathan
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 27, 2011 1:42 pm

Nathan comeback on track

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Joe Nathan has 247 career saves in the majors ... and none since Oct. 3, 2009.

Yes, it's been a long time, but following the Tommy John ligament transfer surgery a year ago that rendered him a spectator for all of 2010, the Minnesota closer is back to full speed and confident he can pick up where he left off in 2011.

So are the Twins.

"He's really done well in his rehab," general manager Bill Smith says. "He's attacked it. He committed himself, from the day of the surgery, to being in the best shape of his life. He wanted to get his body in the best shape possible so that when he came out of surgery, he could start rehabilitation sooner.

"He worked tirelessly, for months, even when he couldn't throw a baseball."

"I figured I'd work on whatever I could at the time," Nathan says.

So if that meant riding an exercise bike so his legs wouldn't go weak during the time he couldn't throw, he rode. And if it meant strengthening other parts of his body, that's what he did as well.

So far this spring, he says, "I can't complain. Everything has been full go. I'm doing all the drills."

He's thrown live batting practice and had no setbacks.

Meanwhile, the Twins have the luxury of bringing him along slowly thanks to the presence of Matt Capps, who closed in Washington and Pittsburgh over the past four seasons before Minnesota acquired him last July 29.

Don't expect to see Nathan working back-to-back games early. Not until the Twins are sure of what he can tolerate.

"A lot will probably depend on the number of pitches I throw," Nathan says. "If I throw a lot of pitches, they probably won't bring me back the next day.

"And the back-to-back-to-backs, the three days in a row, that may have to wait."

There's a lot of spring training left, and a lot Nathan still has to prove. And within that is the unsettled question of his contract beyond this year: The Twins hold a $12.5 million option on him for 2012, or a $2 million buyout.

But so far, he's healthy and determined in what would be a fairly rapid comeback.

"All he points at is, 'Billy Wagner did it'," Minnesota pitching coach Rick Anderson says. "'And if he can do it, I can do it.'"

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: March 7, 2010 11:31 am
Edited on: March 7, 2010 1:34 pm

Closer Nathan returning to Twin Cities for MRI

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It's hold-your-breath time for the Twins: Closer Joe Nathan, who was removed from Saturday's Grapefruit League game against Boston, will return to the Twin Cities on Monday for an MRI on his surgically repaired elbow.

"We're going to repeat some tests," Twins general manager Bill Smith said Sunday morning. "We want to repeat some tests that we had done on him in September. Those were our baseline tests, and when we repeat those [and compare], then we'll have a much, much better idea of where it's at."

Nathan, following a season in which he had 47 saves, had surgery to clean out the elbow in October. Noted orthopedist Dr. James Andrews removed two bone spurs and some bone chips, and Nathan said Saturday, in describing his elbow as "achy" and saying he felt "tightness", that doctors had warned him he would have moments like that along his recovery.

One of the game's top closers, the prospect of a Nathan-less Twins club -- for any amount of time -- would shake things up in the AL Central.

"He came out of the game, so we're a little concerned," Smith said. "But until we see how the tests compare ... our doctors have talked a lot about establishing baselines, especially with our pitchers' shoulders and elbows, and using that date into the future to evaluate."

Up next in that plan is Nathan.

The Twins are holding their breath.

Posted on: March 6, 2010 2:42 pm

Twins closer Nathan leaves game because of elbow

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Twins closer Joe Nathan left Saturday's outing against Boston early when his surgically repaired elbow became "achy" and he felt "a little tightness."

Nathan faced three batters and threw 20 pitches. He walked two batters and was removed following a walk to J.D. Drew.

He was upbeat after the shortened outing and said doctors had warned him that the type of surgery he had would bring days like this in his recovery. He said he will be re-evaluated Sunday and, as of now, does not expect his spring training regimen to change.

"They said it may be scary, but you've got to understand that you're going to go through moments like this," Nathan said.

Though he was relaxed and seemed to take it in stride, he confirmed that the doctors were right, and that it is scary.

"Definitely," he said. "It's never fun when you get pulled out of a game, especially by the training staff. It's just a little speed bump here. We'll see where it goes."

Nathan said he felt "awesome" in the bullpen warming up. But, as he noted, while everything has gone smoothly in his rehab and recovery, he hasn't reached the intensity level in bullpens and live batting practice -- especially with his hard, biting slider -- that he did in Saturday's game.

Nathan, 35, had surgery to remove two bone spurs and some bone chips from his elbow in October. He revealed shortly after a season in which he had 47 saves that his elbow was not right for much of it.

Category: MLB
Posted on: July 14, 2009 6:37 pm
Edited on: July 14, 2009 8:14 pm

All-Star pitching plans for tonight

ST. LOUIS -- As American League manager Joe Maddon said the other day, it's difficult to "choreograph" the All-Star Game when it's played in a National League park without the designated hitter.

But while plans may eventually unravel, here's the way Maddon and his NL counterpart, Charlie Manuel, intend to begin tonight's 80th All-Star Game:

Maddon has told starter Roy Halladay that he will pitch two innings. Halladay will be followed in order, according to Maddon, by the White Sox's Mark Buehrle, Kansas City's Zack Greinke, Detroit's Edwin Jackson, Seattle's Felix Hernandez, Boston's Jonathan Papelbon, Minnesota's Joe Nathan and the Yankees' Mariano Rivera.

If Rivera pitches with a lead in the ninth inning, he will have a chance to claim his fourth All-Star save, which would be a record. Currently, he is tied with Dennis Eckersley for the record with three.

As of now, Maddon is planning on keeping in reserve Boston's Tim Wakefield and Josh Beckett, Detroit's Justin Verlander and the Angels' Brian Fuentes. Beckett and Verlander pitched on Sunday.

As for Wakefield, making his first All-Star appearance at 42, and holding him back?

"It's all about this game matters," Maddon said. "It does matter, and he's the perfect guy if there are extra innings to carry us the rest of the way."

As for the NL, attempting to win its first All-Star game since 1996, Manuel, following consultation with San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy, has told starter Tim Lincecum to plan to pitch two innings.

After that?

Depends if Lincecum pitches two full innings, and it depends on whether the pitcher's spot is coming up in the next inning, Manuel said. That will determine whether he uses a starter or a reliever to follow Lincecum.

Posted on: February 24, 2009 10:13 am

The Twins, Game 163 and 2009

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- But for one pitch last September, it could have been the Minnesota Twins moving into the playoffs instead of the Chicago White Sox.

Yes, that one pitch techinically came in the dramatic one-game playoff last Sept. 30, when Jim Thome drove a Nick Blackburn pitch over the center-field wall in U.S. Cellular Field to clinch the AL Central title with a 1-0 victory.

But it could have been any number of one other pitches during the month of September as the Twins made their unlikely charge.

"I had a tough stretch during that long road trip," says closer Joe Nathan, referring to the late September swing through Baltimore, Cleveland and Tampa Bay, a trip during which the Twins went 4-6. "We kicked the ball around a little emore than usual. I threw one away."

Nathan cited those as moments that gnaw at him, moments that continue to motivate him.

Generally speaking in professional sports, teams drawing motivation from the previous season and carrying it forward is overblown. Players change teams, they move on. Other things in life come up.

In the Twins' case, however, they may take a bit of motivation from the sudden-death ending to their 2008 season.

"For me, that's over with," manager Ron Gardenhire says. "It's a whole new year in front of us. You can't relieve the past.

"You can use it as a learning experience. It was one pitch. One big hit could have made the difference for us."

Especially for younger players such as outfielders Carlos Gomez and Denard Span, and Blackburn, who is expected to be a mainstay in this year's rotation, the highs and lows of last September can't hurt in 2009.

"It was a good experience for them," Gardenhire says. "That was a big stage. Everyone was watching us. We were it. We were watched. It was fun."

Likes: Minnesota skipper Ron Gardenhire when asked whether last year's one-game playoff with the White Sox will intensify the Sox-Twins rivalry. "Only with us and A.J.," the manager quipped, referring to former Twin and current Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "Him showing the ball to our dugout (after holding onto it when Ken Griffey Jr. threw out Michael Cuddyer at the plate to end the fifth inning). Guys were saying, 'Boy, he really pisses us off.' That's what he does best. We know it. He knows it. That's why we love him."

Dislikes: The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News filing for bankruptcy the other day. Several other newspapers having filed for bankruptcy. The bad news in the auto industry. The banking situation. Foreclosures. Thank goodness for spring training. Can we start getting some good news sometime soon?

Sunblock day? Eventually. It's really cool in the mornings this week -- like, wear-a-jacket cool -- but toward late morning the warm sun takes over.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day

"City girls seem to find out early
How to open doors with just a smile"

-- The Eagles, Lyin' Eyes

Posted on: November 26, 2008 1:01 pm

Happy Thanksgiving, and here's to good causes

So what are you thankful for?

Loving family? Warm house?

Close friends?

Difficult to think of a better time than Thanksgiving Week for Nelson and Alisa Figueroa to hold an online auction of baseball memorabilia to help their friend Ricky Stone, the former big league relief pitcher who is battling a malignant brain tumor.

Stone was dealt a very tough break last summer when, after suffering an injury in Taiwan while playing in the Chinese Professional League, he returned to the United States and suffered a Grand Mal seizure. Subsequent tests revealed the brain tumor, and Stone now is in the fight of his life.

Looking to pitch in, Nelson Figueroa, who pitched for the New York Mets last year, his wife, Alisa, and Erin Pote, wife of former big leaguer Lou Pote, founded Rally for Recovery to raise funds for the Stone family.

They're not messing around, either. They've recruited more than 100 major leaguers to donate, and over here on eBay, you can help out (and perhaps do some early Christmas shopping?) by bidding on all sorts of items. Signed jerseys from Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz, a Yogi Berra autographed cap, an Adrian Beltre autographed bobble-head doll, the list goes on.

You can find signed items from 100 or so players, including Ichiro Suzuki, Johan Santana, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Jeff Kent, Jose Reyes, Ryne Sandberg, John Smoltz, Brad Ausmus, Joe Nathan, Roy Oswalt and many others.

Most of the Yankee stuff was signed on Sept. 21, the day they played their final game in Yankee Stadium, and the jerseys include the last year of Yankee Stadium patches that were sewn on. The list of items continues for four pages, and if you're a baseball fan -- or, especially, a memorabilia collector -- it's worth a look and it's a good cause.

The Rally for Recovery auction started on Sunday, and will continue through Sunday evening, Nov. 30. Items are listed at http://stores.ebay.com/Rally-For-Re
in random order. The auction will end on Sunday evening, November 30, 2008.

Likes: Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie. ... Happy Thanksgiving to all. Here's to a weekend of being surrounded by loving family members, close friends, good food, warm memories and bright futures. Whatever your Thanksgiving traditions are and however you celebrate, I hope it's wonderful. And I hope we all can take a few minutes during the day to pause and count our blessings during these scary economic times.

Dislikes: Tough end to a fantastic season for the Monroe (Mich.) St. Mary Catholic Central team in the Michigan high school football playoffs. My Falcons fell to Leslie 22-19 last weekend, but what an accomplishment, advancing all the way to the state semifinals in a season in which they started seven sophomores (eight before an injury).

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"As I was walking a ribbon of highway
"I saw above me an endless skyway
"I saw below me a golden valley
"This land was made for you and me"

-- Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land

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