Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Top 5 Lineups in Baseball

Thought this was something you all might enjoy Buster Olney's take on the top 5 lineups in baseball as I work on my next post, "2010 Twins Prediction Day" coming early Friday morning:

Something that I found quite interesting was his mention of the fact that the foul territory Target Field will be the second least in baseball behind Wrigley Field. I knew that there wasn't going to be much foul territory, and that this might be a hitters park, but wow...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Twins Roster Thoughts

With the regular season a mere 7 days away, there is a lot going on with the Minnesota Twins. Who will make up the 25-man roster? Who will win the 5th rotation spot? Are the Twins going with an in-house option, or make an outside move to fill the void at closer?

As the season inches closer, answers to these questions are becoming much more clear. The Twins made another round of official cuts on Saturday, sending Matt Tolbert, Mike Maroth, Danny Lehmann and Ben Revere down to minor league camp. They also informed Jacque Jones, Kyle Waldrop and Anthony Slama, all of whom will be making the trip north for both exhibition games against the St. Louis Cardinals, that they will not be making the 25-man roster.

This news is significant because it reveals that Alexi Casilla will be given the final roster spot, filling out a bench that will include Jim Thome, either Drew Butera or Wilson Ramos (eventually Jose Morales, who will begin the season on the DL), and Brendan Harris or Nick Punto depending on how the 3rd base competition finishes. Personally, my belief was that it was Punto’s job to lose heading into spring training, and my guess is that Punto will be the starting 3rd baseman when the season begins a week from today. Also, my hope is that the Twins choose Butera as the temporary backup catcher until Morales is healthy. Ramos is one of the top prospects in the organization, and I would hate for him to not only lose at bats at the minor league level, potentially stunting his development, but also waste a year of major league service time to backup Joe Mauer for less than a month.

I am very disappointed to see that Jacque Jones didn’t make the team, for a couple of reasons. First, I really like Jones, I remember following him as he progressed through the Twins minor league system, and every year when my family and I were down in Fort Meyers for spring training, he was a genuinely nice guy (not that almost everybody in the Twins system isn’t). He was an outgoing, exuberant player whom I really enjoyed watching. During his time with the Twins, I would compare him to a much more fundamentally sound Carlos Gomez (although Jones swung at a lot of bad pitches as well), even though Gomez has much more raw athletic ability.

Second, Jones has significantly outperformed Casilla this spring training, hitting .344, with 2 HR and 5 RBI. Obviously his 13 games and 33 at bats are an extremely small sample size, and the fact that the last time he had a productive major league season was with the Cubs in 2007 when he hit .285/.335/.400, but still I believe Jones would have been a better choice based on performance. I know that Jones’ defensive abilities have regressed over his career, and I also know that Kubel can occasionally provide a off-day for a corner outfielder. However, I would much prefer to see Jacque Jones play center field in a pinch, as opposed to Cuddyer, Casilla or Delmon Young...

Finally, I really began to dislike Casilla last season, and my feelings weren’t altered this offseason. He has significantly regressed since his 2008 campaign in which he hit .281/.333/.374 and played solid defense, which is one reason to be frustrated. My main reason for disliking Casilla has less to do with his performance, and more to do with his overall demeanor. He seems to genuinely not care about anything that he is doing, and seems completely disinterested with every aspect of the game. This may stem from the fact that he saw a 2009 starting job at second base as a “right of passage,” due to his 2008 numbers. Unfortunately, instead of improving, he lost his starting spot as he regressed significantly, posting a line of .202/.280/.259, while playing below-average defense. A sophomore slump may have been more acceptable had he “battled his tail off” as Gardy likes to put it, but unfortunately he approached last season with less interest than I have for watching the WNBA.

The fact that Casilla is out of options has a lot to do with him making the team over Jones. The only issue I see with this is that Casilla can hardly be considered a prospect anymore at the age of 26, making this a make or break type of season. Personally, I don’t believe that Casilla will be with the Twins all season, I see him being packaged with another seemingly unpopular clubhouse guy, Glen Perkins, and being shipped somewhere for a prospect or two, or potentially even a closer, making room for Jacque to slide up to the big club, taking over the backup outfielder job.

The bottom line is that, barring an injury, the backup outfielder position shouldn’t be an issue for the Twins. Kubel will be able to play left field at times, with Thome stepping in as the DH. Denard Span played 145 games last year, and there is no reason to think that he won’t play more this season, as he wasn’t given the starting CF job last year out of spring training. If I have to watch Cuddyer play a few games in CF, or even Casilla for a game or two, it won’t kill me. I am just saying that if it were my choice, I would have liked to have seen Jones making the trip north for more than just a couple of exhibition games.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Target Field

Pictures just don't do it justice… I know that you are probably asking yourself, “if pictures don’t do it justice, then why are there six pictures in this posting?” I really don’t have an answer to that question other than because I would like to share my recent Target Field experience.

I attended the season ticket holder open house last Saturday at Target Field, and was absolutely blown away. For the past couple of years I have been closely following the construction of the stadium through reading various updates, and constantly monitoring the webcam on the Twins website. Since the stadium was completed, I have been constantly looking at photographs of the finished product. As a matter of fact, the background on my computer at work has been a phenomenal photo of the new stadium with the grass installed for the past 5-6 months.

There is only one thing I can say about my experience at Target Field, that it is so much better than pictures could ever make it seem. You can’t possibly imagine how amazing this stadium is until you walk through the gate and are standing inside.

I could write a lengthy review of how great the wide-open concourses, new restaurants, wider seats, and better sightlines are, but it wouldn’t matter, because until you see it for yourself you can’t fathom how unbelievable the experience truly is.

Instead of writing a description of all of the features of the stadium, I will just provide a few pictures that I snapped during my visit.

Here are some photos from my season ticket seats in section 103, row 19:

Here are some other photos from around the stadium:

5 Stages of Grief (Joe Nathan Edition)

The following is a diagram of the 5 stages of grief. In this case the red dot will represent where I am at in the process with regards to Joe Nathan's elbow injury and how it will affect the Minnesota Twins this season. Check back for updates...

FINAL UPDATE: As you can see, after 15 days of denial, anger, bargaining and depression, I have officially accepted the fact that Joe Nathan will undergo Tommy John surgery on Friday, and will not pitch this season. Now I know what you are thinking, "15 days is a short period of time, and we just lost arguably the best closer in baseball for this season! How could you go through this process so fast?" My response to that would be that the Twins provided me with 184,000,000 reasons to have gotten to the acceptance stage by now. I realize the loss of Nathan is huge, but I am optimistic that either someone will emerge in-house as somebody who can fill the role, or that the Twins will go out and get somebody. The bottom line is, I am so darn excited for baseball that reaching this point of acceptance this early was inevitable, Joe Mauer has officially signed essentially a lifetime contract, and 12 days from now at 9:05 CST, I will be sitting on my couch watching the Twins take on the Angels on opening day!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"A Day That Will Live In Infamy" (for White Sox, Tigers, Indians & Royals fans...)

UPDATE: I updated the title of this blog post, thanks mostly in part to the true definition of the word "infamy" being brought to my attention. I now know just how fitting the word truly was when, FDR used it to describe the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I realize that even to fans of the Twins' divisional opponents, the signing of Mauer will not be viewed as "evil reputation brought about by something grossly criminal, shocking, or brutal" or "an extreme and publicly known criminal or evil act." However, it is certainly more fitting for them than it is for Twins fans...

Sunday, March 21st, 2010, a day that will live in infamy in the minds of Minnesota Twins fans, the day the Minnesota Twins signed Joe Mauer to what is essentially a lifetime contract. I realize that comparing the signing to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 through the utilization of the statement made by Franklin Delano Roosevelt may be a bit inappropriate. However, I found justification in the fact this day will live in infamy for reasons much different than those of the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War II in the minds of Twins fans.

Joseph Patrick Mauer will, barring some sort of unforeseen last-minute contract hang-up, be a Minnesota Twin for life. Mauer and the Twins reached an agreement this evening on an 8 year contract worth $184MM, which also includes a full no-trade clause. The contract details have not yet officially been released, and will more than likely be revealed following the press conference set for tomorrow evening at 6:00 p.m. Initial reports are that the deal will pay Mauer $23MM over 8 years, obviously including no deferred payments.

This deal will go into affect at the beginning of the 2011 season, as this season Mauer is entering the final year of a 4-year, $33MM contract where he is set to make $12.5MM over the course of 2010. With Mauer turning 27 later this year, this new contract will keep him a Minnesota Twin until the age of 35, covering what most baseball experts would deem as his “prime years.” More than just that, this ensures that the face of the Minnesota Twins franchise will remain in Minnesota more than likely for his entire career.

Signing Mauer to a deal of this magnitude both in terms of number of years and compensation marks an entrance into new territory by the Minnesota Twins. This has been regarded for months as a “deal that must get done,” with many writers stating it as “not if, but when” the deal would be done. This is less about keeping the “good ol’ Minnesota boy in town,” and more about signing one of the games elite players to a lifetime deal, as Buster Olney alludes to:

“Mauer is generally regarded as the American League's best player and may be baseball's most coveted player, given his unique set of skills. Mauer, who turns 27 next month, already has won three batting titles and two Gold Glove Awards, and last year, he began to hit for power, posting a 1.031 OPS.


The Twins' signing of Mauer to a long-term deal is going to be viewed as a strong development for Major League Baseball, at a time when there are growing concerns about the disparity between teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, and teams that generate less revenue like the Rays, Athletics and Twins.”

As Olney alludes to in the second portion of his article, the signing of Mauer long-term is a very good thing for Major League Baseball. The gap between teams like the Yankees and Red Sox and teams like the Minnesota Twins is hopefully closing. Any baseball fan knows that over the past decade or two, the competitive balance in baseball has favored large market franchises with payrolls sometimes 4-5 times the size of their small market competitors.

This contract is the first tangible benefit that Target Field has provided for the Minnesota Twins franchise. They would have no more had the financial flexibility to pay Mauer this type of money while still playing in the Metrodome, as I have the financial flexibility to purchase a private aircraft! The Twins have always held true to a business model in which their payroll for any given season is around 52% of their forecasted revenue. The Twins can now expect revenues upward of $200MM, and as a result can afford to not only have payrolls of $100MM or more, but also to retain elite players past their arbitration years.

Most importantly, this shows commitment on the part of the Minnesota Twins to winning. Signing Mauer to a contract of this length gives them the best chance at winning, not only now, but long-term as well. This essentially ensures that Justin Morneau will remain in Minnesota for the remainder of his career, and also will entice future free agents to sign with the Twins. This signing, partnered with the continued success of minor league player development, should ensure that the Twins remain extremely competitive, and more than likely contenders for years to come.

One thing that is for sure, Bill Smith has proved his doubters wrong. He took over as general manager at a very difficult time when two of the faces of this franchise, Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, had their minds set on leaving. Hunter, for some reason wanted out, and decided to sign with the Angels during the 2008 offseason, and Johan Santana was set on playing for a team in a larger market, forcing Smith’s hand in trading him to the New York Mets. Couple that with Smith’s trade sending Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay in exchange for Delmon Young, which up until this point has been deemed a bust, left most Twins fans calling for Smith’s head.

This Mauer signing has put the icing on the cake to one of the best offseasons of any MLB team, and probably one of the best Twins offseasons ever. With the free agent signings of Clay Condrey, Jim Thome, and Orlando Hudson, the trade for JJ Hardy, and extensions for Nick Blackburn, Denard Span, and now Joe Mauer, Bill Smith has now shown that he isn’t quite as bad at his job as people had originally thought. I officially take back everything bad that I have said about Bill Smith, and fully believe that he is approaching the GM status that Terry Ryan possessed prior to resigning from that position in 2007.

One thing is for sure, the Minnesota Twins are no longer the “little engine that could,” they have firmly cemented themselves as a “locomotive” that is ready to compete with the likes of the Yankees and the Red Sox. Gone are the days of contentment with just “being there,” and first round playoff exits. Joe Mauer and the Minnesota Twins are here to stay!

Check back within the next few days for a new post including pictures, regarding my recent visit to Target Field!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen… they’ve arrived!

It’s official, my opening day tickets have arrived, and I feel like I would be content with camping out on Target Plaza from now until April 12th. I am literally as excited as I could expect to possibly be about the upcoming Twins season, and at the same time as disgusted as I could possibly be with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Due to the circumstances of having opening day tickets to the opening of a brand new stadium, a once in a lifetime type of opportunity, and the fact that the NBA season is almost over, I am a bit less frustrated with the Wolves than I could be.

The Timberwolves have absolutely quit on this season with 14 games remaining, counting their matchup tonight with Utah. They were absolutely obliterated by the Phoenix Suns last night in Arizona, surrendering 152 points… in a single game... The 152 points scored by the Suns were the most given up by the Timberwolves in franchise history, and the 78 points given up in the first-half were also the most given up during a single half in franchise history.

The more I think about it, the more it boggles my mind that a professional basketball team can give up that amount of points in only 48 minutes. You almost have to put forth a significant effort toward not playing defense in order to allow an opponent to annihilate you in the manner that Phoenix did the Timberwolves. However, as I mentioned initially, I am so “twitterpated” with the thought of what I will experience on April 12th, that I don’t even care that much about the fact that the Timberwolves would probably lose to the Laporte Wildcats girls basketball team right now.

On a separate note, I can’t even begin to describe how glad I am that the Twins didn’t shell out $10MM for Ben Sheets this season. Sheets gave up 10 runs to the Reds on Monday… WITHOUT RECORDING AN OUT! I don’t care how optimistic I am, if he were playing for the Twins, I would have a hard time justifying that outing by saying something like he was just “shaking off the rust.” I am having a hard enough time convincing myself that Francisco Liriano is ready to return to at least something resembling his 2006 form, especially when he says things like “my mechanics just broke down” in reference to the 2nd and 3rd innings of his most recent spring training appearance when he gave up 3 runs, including a 2 run homerun on a changeup he left up in the zone.

No matter how many people think it is a good idea, I am 100% against having Francisco Liriano as our closer in 2010. I feel this way for a number of reasons. First of all, Liriano walks way too many batters, which is the exact opposite of what you want in a closer. If people want to be sweating bullets every time a save situation presents itself, then it would be a great idea, because I can assure you that there would be plenty of runners in scoring position during his various appearances. I am not saying he is not a good pitcher, and does not have the chance to become a very good pitcher, I just think he is much more suited for a starting role.

The second reason I feel that Liriano should not be our closer in 2010 is that he must be given every possible opportunity to be successful as a starting pitcher, and a role as a closer or a reliever should be a last resort. When Liriano was good, a la 2006, he was absolutely filthy, he was better than Johan Santana during most of that season. He finished that season with an ERA of 2.16 and 144 strikeouts in 121 innings pitched, all while maintaining of WHIP of 1.00. What I am trying to say is that if he can return to anything even close to that, he could be a legitimate #1 starter for the Twins, not only this year, but for years to come. Pair that logic with the fact that he absolutely dominated the Dominican Winter League during this past offseason, and the conclusion can be made that he must be given every possible opportunity to succeed as a starter. All of this reinforces my point that Liriano as a closer/reliever should be a last resort rather than a hasty decision out of need.

Twins fans need to relax a bit about the closer situation. Yes, the loss of Joe Nathan is bad, and I am clearly upset by it (see “The 5 Stages of Grief, Joe Nathan Edition) but it is not nearly as devastating as most fans are making it sound. Many people forget that Joe Nathan came into the league as a shortstop, then converted to a pitcher, and when he was traded to Minnesota in 2003 he was not a closer at the time, but rather converted to a closer by the Twins. The Twins have a deep bullpen, and they have guys capable of closing games. Obviously the numbers that Joe Nathan has put up over the past 6 years are not replaceable, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t come up with a serviceable replacement.

In the short term, meaning this season, there will be an attempt to solve the problem in-house, either through a closer by committee solution, or by handing the job to somebody like Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, or maybe even Pat Neshek if he is healthy. If that isn’t working as well as the Twins had hoped, there is always the option to sign somebody during the season, or to make a trade prior to the July 31st deadline. I believe that the dark horse in this closer situation may be John Smoltz who is still an unsigned free agent, and was rumored to have been approached by the Twins recently and turned them down, stating that he would probably like to wait until after the season begins. I think that Smoltz improved near the end of last season with the Cardinals, he can still throw hard enough to get people out, and his sinker was looking great in the last month of the season. He is 42 years old, but for a team that’s built to win right now, a guy with all the playoff experience Smoltz has may be just what this team needs coming out of the bullpen in the 9th inning.

This is a situation to keep an eye on as the season continues to approach, because I fully expect Joe Nathan to test out his arm on Saturday, and then shortly thereafter announce that he will undergo Tommy John Surgery because it just doesn’t feel right. I still think that the Twins should be the favorites to win the Central, and I believe if they can figure out a solution for the closer spot, they can make a deep postseason run. The beauty of all this is that we will all be able to see first hand how this plays out, beginning on April 5th, and I absolutely cannot wait.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… and no, I don’t mean Christmas

Twice a year, non-sports fans and true sports fans come together as a result of 2 specific events in sports. These two events are the Super Bowl and the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. Today is the day when the buzz of one of these two events begins…. Selection Sunday!

Let’s face it, people who don’t enjoy football still choose watch the Super Bowl for one of three reasons; the commercials, the halftime entertainment, or the social aspect of a particular party they are attending. Unlike the Super Bowl, which occurs on one particular Sunday in the beginning of February, the NCAA Tournament takes place over a 3 week period of time in March, hence the term “March Madness." Over this three week period of time, people who for 49 weeks out of the year couldn’t care less about sports, become emotionally invested in the game of college basketball, and the spectacle that is the NCAA tournament. Some do it for the bragging rights of an inter-office bracket pool, others do in hopes of this year’s “Cinderella” team making a run. One thing is for sure, March Madness is like a pandemic, one from which nobody is immune, and there is no vaccine.

March Madness began a bit earlier than expected for me this year, 3 days earlier to be exact, as the Minnesota Gophers found themselves on the bubble with only 18 wins going into the annual Big Ten Conference Tournament.

The Gophers handily defeated Penn State as was expected, and advanced to face Michigan State, a team who had defeated them twice this season, on Friday. This matchup turned out to be a real “barn burner” (no pun intended regarding Williams Arena). The Gophers prevailed in overtime thanks to Devoe Joseph catching fire, scoring 8 of his team high 17 in the extra period. The Gophers were then set to face Purdue on Saturday afternoon, another team who they had lost to twice this season.

Nobody could have predicted what happened next. The Gophers turned in by far their best defensive effort of the season, one in which they held the #5 nationally ranked Boilermakers to 11 first-half points. Had Jajuan Johnson’s buzzer beater at the end of the first-half not occurred, Purdue would have scored in the single digits! With the Gophers entering halftime leading 37-11, there was not much doubt that they would be facing Ohio State on Sunday afternoon for the Big Ten title.

The Gophers entered Sunday having played games each of the three previous days, and Ohio State having only played two. I was fairly confident regarding the tournament chances for Minnesota, having now defeated each of the regular season Big Ten champions, including an absolute man-handling of Purdue the day before. I think my exact quote Sunday morning went something like this, “as long as the Gophers don’t go out and lose by 30 today, we should be in the tournament.” Hmmmmmm…

The first-half was exciting, with the Gophers and Buckeyes exchanging baskets, entering halftime with the Buckeyes leading 33-30. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to witness in the second half of this basketball game. The Buckeyes opened up the second half on an 8-0 run that quickly stretched their lead to 11 points. The Gophers countered a bit and kept it within 6-8 points, but then… David Lighty… It was as if Lighty drank some of “Michael’s Secret Stuff” from the movie Space Jam (which as everybody knows, was a bottle of water Bugs Bunny disguised as some secret formula for playing like Michael Jordan, and was given to his cartoon teammates in order to give them the confidence needed to play well). All of the sudden he couldn’t miss, whether he was driving coast-to-coast through 3 to 4 defenders or hitting 22 footers, David Lighty absolutely took over the basketball game in the blink of an eye. He also apparently gave some of “Michael’s Secret Stuff” to some of his teammates, because at one point Ohio State made a field goal in 11 straight possessions.

Let’s also not forget about that other guy named Evan Turner, he had an OK day scoring 31 points, grabbing 11 boards, and dishing out 6 assists. Before I could even think about the irony of my morning statement, the final horn sounded and the Buckeyes had beaten the Gophers 90-61, claiming the Big Ten Tournament title. Following this game there were 3 things I felt pretty confident about:

1. I ABSOLUTELY would like the Timberwolves to receive the #2 overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft, rather than the #1 overall pick. That way we wouldn’t be forced to choose between John Wall and Evan Turner, we would just get whoever falls into our lap, and by that I mean one of two future superstars. Right now, Evan Turner looks eerily like Dwyane Wade circa 2003, when he led Marquette to the final four. I would have to say, I wouldn’t mind watching him play for the Timberwolves for the next 10+ years.

2. I would now be watching the selection show with a crappy feeling in my stomach, because as I said earlier that day, “as long as the Gophers don’t go out and lose by 30 today, we should be in the tournament.” Well, they didn’t lose by 30, but they sure tried hard to do so, in the end falling short and only losing by 29.

3. Even if the Gophers were to make it into the field of 64 (65 if you count the play-in game, but let’s face it, who actually pays attention to that), they would be seeded fairly low and have to face a pretty tough first round opponent.

Of the two things that were to be decided today, I was right on one and wrong on the other. I was wrong about the fact that I would be watching the selection show, as I decided to head to Golfsmith to get my clubs re-gripped, as I had to take my mind off of the abysmal performance the Gophers had just turned in. I was correct on the other, and the Gophers did make the field of 64 as an 11 seed. They are set to face a 6 seed, Xavier on Friday, and although I truly love March Madness and am glued to the TV every single year, the tournament is just a whole lot more exciting when the Gophers are in.

Will this be the year that a 16 seed finally knocks of a 1 seed? Could we be saying in twenty years, “remember when Lehigh knocked off Kansas in 2010?” Who will be this year’s Cinderella? The Murray State Racers? The Siena Saints? Maybe the Minnesota Gophers?... Nobody knows, and quite frankly that is what makes this tournament so great. A father and his 4 year old daughter could both fill out brackets, with the father picking based on immense college basketball knowledge and his daughter picking based on which mascots she likes best or team colors, and she will most likely win. This is because any team can win on any given night, as Dick Vitale says, “it’s awesome baby!” So get out your brackets and pens and fill those bad boys out, because March Madness is upon us!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

5 Stages of Grief (Joe Nathan Edition)

The following is a diagram of the 5 stages of grief. In this case the red dot will represent where I am at in the process with regards to Joe Nathan's elbow injury and how it will affect the Minnesota Twins this season. Check back for updates...

UPDATE #3: I am definitely moving through this grieving process much faster than anticipated, mostly due to distractions and misguided optimism. This time I have skipped right over the depression phase, due mainly to the fact that March Madness is upon us. As you can tell from my latest post, March Madness is one of my favorite times of the year, not just because of the college basketball, but also because I know that opening day is merely weeks away. It also helps that the weather here in Minnesota has been nothing short of gorgeous over the past week. Twice we have seen temperatures above 60 degrees, and all but a few small patches of snow have melted. The sight of green grass (technically brownish-green), have got me dreaming of what it is going to be like once April 12th is here, and the 5 (hopefully 6) months following. Ladies and gentlemen, I am on the road to acceptance!

Monday, March 8, 2010


I’m sitting here on my couch, watching the Minnesota Timberwolves give up 71 points to the Dallas Mavericks in a first half where Dirk Nowitzki played only 10 minutes. I know what you are all thinking, “why in the world are you wasting a perfectly good Monday night on the Timberwolves?” Although that is a completely valid question, I feel that I have a completely valid answer. I am eternally optimistic.

I continue to watch the Timberwolves again, and again, and again… I watch them because I am fully on the “long-term plan” bandwagon, even though I know the odds are against “The Meerkat” David Kahn. I know that the one aspect to every successful NBA team is the presence of at least one superstar, and the Wolves just don’t have one. And without any future luck with some ping-pong balls, they will continue to lack this critical piece to a successful NBA franchise.

This extreme optimism has always been a characteristic of mine, mainly in the case of Minnesota sports. To give you a taste of just how ridiculous my optimism can be at times, prior to this NBA season I was quoted in a conversation with my father as saying, “the Timberwolves will win 30-35 games this season.” What in the world was I smoking?

The fact is, I wasn’t smoking anything; rather I was high or buzzed on the excitement of a fresh start, a new season for a team that I love.

I am optimistic that the Gopher basketball team will play well in the upcoming Big Ten tournament and maybe sneak into the big dance, I am optimistic that Brett Favre will return next season and the Vikings will have a good chance to win the Super Bowl, but most of all I am optimistic about the upcoming Twins season.

Things that add to my excitement are pictures like the one below showing the tarp removed and green grass showing at Target Field, and the fact that I received my invitation to my season ticket holder open house later in March.

My optimism has been a bit dampened as of late due to the reports regarding Joe Nathan’s elbow tightness, soreness, discomfort, inflammation, etc. (depending on what you have read). However, just as with everything else, I will continue to believe that he is just fine and that it was “just the breaking up of scar tissue” causing the discomfort, and that it was to be expected during the recovery, until it is reported otherwise.

Regardless of my optimism regarding Joe Nathan, it will be what it will be. The loss of Nathan would be an enormous blow to the Twins and their pitching staff this season. Over the past six years Joe Nathan has been arguably the best closer in baseball. Just for fun, look at these numbers from the past 6 seasons and guess who player x and player y are:

Player X Player Y

Saves 246 243

Save % 90.8 93.1

ERA 1.87 1.90

K/9 11.1 8.7

Opp. BA .182 .206

WHIP .093 .094

Due to my obvious foreshadowing, it was easy to guess that Joe Nathan represents one of the players, and most baseball fans would be able to guess that Mariano Rivera would be the other. What may surprise you is the fact that player x is Joe Nathan, rather than the other way around. Nathan has been better in every category with the exception of save percentage. Obviously Nathan has had some late season struggles in his past 2 seasons, with last year’s postseason struggles being fresh in everybody’s minds. Regardless of what happened late last season, Joe Nathan still has a lot left in the tank and will extremely important to the Twins’ success this upcoming season.

Although the Nathan situation has dampened my optimism a bit, solid outings by Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn today have temporarily renewed my excitement. At least until the reports come out tomorrow regarding Joe Nathan’s status.

As spring training roles on, I will continue to read accounts of the games based on the opinions of sports writers, while supplementing their analysis with some box score analysis of my own. Until the regular season begins and I am able to watch the Twins on a daily basis, I will continue to be optimistic about the prospects of this “new and improved” lineup, and the hope that our pitching staff can stabilize and be solid this season.

Most people will laugh at my optimism, and some call me a “homer,” but the bottom line is that I am able to look at the Twins from a non-biased perspective and I choose not to. I choose to be optimistic about my hometown Minnesota Twins because it is just more fun this way, and quite frankly I am excited about the thought of outdoor baseball finally returning to Minnesota.

Am I optimistic that Joe Mauer will sign a contract extension with the Twins before the season starts? Yes. Do I believe that Justin Morneau and Pat Neshek will return from injuries and be productive this season? Yes. Am I confident that the Twins starting rotation will be better this year with the help of a "revitalized" Francisco Liriano? Sure. Do I think that Delmon Young can become the player everybody thought he would when he was selected #1 overall? Why not! The bottom line is that I am a Twins fan, which is short for fanatic. I get excited about them and I always will. The day that the Twins are simply another team and represent only statistics or analysis rather than a passion, would be a sad day in my life as a sports fan.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Examining the Twins’ Offseason

It’s the evening of March 2nd, the temperature for tomorrow is set to be a balmy 31 degrees in the Twin Cities, and although the sun will probably be shining, those “weather terrorists,” as Dan Barreiro so eloquently calls them, are telling us to expect snow this week...

1692 miles south of Minneapolis, in Fort Meyers, the forecast for tomorrow is around 50 degrees and partly cloudy, and as of this week it is official, Twins spring training has begun. At this time of year, as most baseball fans are, I am extremely “giddy” if you will, about the thought of baseball season. Opening day is 34 days away, with a couple of exhibition games against the St. Louis Cardinals sprinkled in just days before.

The x-factor that seems to be making this anticipation process more grueling than most years is the fact that I am not just waiting for a season, I am waiting to watch that season in a brand new outdoor ballpark, something that has seemed so foreign to Twins fans since 1981.

At this point in the offseason, with spring training now in full swing, and the rumor mill basically shut down until the weeks leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, there are basically two options of what to blog about. I could be like many other bloggers and get my hopes up by posting something about how player x is in the “best shape of his life” or how player y is “poised for a breakout year,” which both are based solely on opinion and perception. On the other hand, I could choose to break down the offseason of a particular team, examining what was done, and how it should improve (or hurt) that team in the upcoming season, based mostly off of statistics. Obviously, since I know none of the members of the Twins organization on a personal level, and have essentially no relevant insight into the player x and y type scenarios, I will choose the latter.

With that being said, here is my analysis...


  • OF Carlos Gomez - .229/.287/.337 (Traded to Milwaukee)
  • C Mike Redmond - .237/.299/.289 (Signed w/ Cleveland)
  • INF Brian Buscher - .235/.360/.316 (Signed minor league deal w/ Cleveland)
  • SS Orlando Cabrera - .289/.313/.430 (with Twins); .284/.316/.389 (Overall) (Signed w/ Cincinnati)
  • Joe Crede – .225/.289/.414 (Unsigned FA)
  • R.A. Dickey – 4.62 ERA; 1.62 WHIP; 64.1 IP; 42 K; 30 BB (Signed minor league deal w/ New York Mets)
  • Bobby Keppel – 4.83 ERA; 1.56 WHIP; 54.0 IP; 32 K; 21 BB (Signed w/ Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters)
  • P Ron Mahay – 2.00 ERA; 1.11 WHIP; 9.0 IP; 8 K; 3 BB (with Twins); 4.29 ERA; 1.67 WHIP; 50.1 IP; 42 K; 22 BB (Overall) (Unsigned FA)
  • P Boof Bonser – Missed all of 2009 (Traded to Boston)

New Faces

  • SS JJ Hardy – .229/.302/.357 (Acquired via Carlos Gomez trade)
  • SP Carl Pavano – 4.64 ERA; 1.37 WHIP; 73.2 IP; 59 K; 16 BB (with Twins); 5.10 ERA; 1.38 WHIP; 199.1 IP; 147 K; 39 BB (Overall) (Re-signed one-year, $7MM; accepted arbitration)
  • DH Jim Thome – .246/.366/.481 (Signed one-year, $1.5MM)
  • 2B Orlando Hudson – .283/.357/.417 (Signed one-year, $5MM)
  • RP Clay Condrey – 3.00 ERA; 1.21 WHIP; 42.0 IP; 25 K; 14 BB (Signed one-year, $900K
  • Notable minor league signings: OF Jacque Jones, P Mike Maroth

The biggest losses from last year clearly are Gomez, Redmond and Cabrera, even though he was a partial season rental. The Gomez for Hardy swap will be interesting to follow over the next few years for one reason; he was the centerpiece of the Johan Santana trade, and the only player that seems to be somewhat legitimate. When a superstar is traded away, or in this case, one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball, you would like to make sure at least one player you receive in return becomes a staple in your lineup/rotation. With Phil Humber and Kevin Mulvey appearing to be basically washes, and Deolis Guerra struggling in the minors, it would seem that Gomez would have had to be that guy.

If this deal works out, and JJ Hardy “is what Brewers fans once thought he was,” then this will be viewed as a successful deal, but if Gomez goes to Milwaukee and turns into a 30-30 type player with perennial gold glove defense (as he has been projected to be in the past), we could be kicking ourselves. As a side note, there were a lot of things to love about Gomez; his speed, his gold glove caliber defense (I still believe he is one of the top 2 defensive centerfielders in baseball, Franklin Gutierrez being the other), and his general “youthful exuberance” which was always a nice spark to have. However, I will not miss him taking mammoth hacks at off-speed pitches nowhere close to the strike zone in favorable 2-0 or 3-1 counts, having extreme trouble knowing which base to throw the baseball to in just about every situation, or his general “brain farts” that you can come to expect from young players.

When it comes to Redmond, amongst other things, his naked walks through the clubhouse will definitely be missed, and although you may scoff at that notion, those types of things are exactly what made Mike Redmond so valuable to this team over the past 5 seasons. He was a veteran presence in a locker room with a lot of young guys, and he was always there to lighten the mood, but he was also a competitor, who knew when to turn it on and off. In his first two seasons with the Twins, he put up some nice numbers in a limited role, hitting over .300 twice, with a .341 average in 190 PA in 2006. He also filled in quite nicely for Joe Mauer through some injuries, and various off days. With Jose Morales, Drew Butera and Wilson Ramos in our minor league system, and Redmond not getting any younger, it just didn’t make sense for the Twins to retain him.

If you asked Ron Gardenhire (prior to the signing of Orlando Hudson), he may tell you that the biggest loss of the offseason was not signing Orlando Cabrera. From the moment the Twins acquired him last season, he brought a certain energy to this team, which provided enough oomph (yes I used that word), to get them over the hump and eventually win the division. He was exactly what the Twins needed at that time; he was a proven winner, and had been in those types of situations before, he provided a defensive presence at shortstop (even though his range was declining), and he gave us somebody who could hold down the number 2 spot in the lineup, setting the table for Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer. His energy may be missed this season, but believe me, the Twins will be just fine up the middle.

Now on to the additions, first looking at Carl Pavano and Clay Condrey, the two pitching acquisitions of the offseason. Condrey is a sinker ball type pitcher with an extremely high groundball rate, he won’t wow anybody with velocity or strike many guys out, but he will be solid out of the bullpen, and we got him fairly cheap.

To me, Pavano accepting arbitration and eventually agreeing to a one-year, $7MM deal was an extremely important piece to the offseason puzzle. Some may look at his numbers over the past few seasons, see his high ERA and lack of innings pitched and disagree with me, but if you look a bit deeper, you will see why I believe this. Pavano pitched nearly 200 innings last year, with an ERA of 4.64, and 147 strikeouts. Although he gave up the most earned runs of his career (113 ER), there may be an explanation. Pavano’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) which measures the batting average of baseballs only hit in play, not including strikeouts, etc., was the second highest of his career at .335, well above the major league average of .303. This shows that Pavano had some bad luck once balls were hit into play. If that number lowers, closer to the league average, look for Pavano’s ERA to come down as well.

People also seem to forget just how well Pavano pitched down the stretch for the Twins last season. The Twins pitching staff was in absolute disarray last season when Pavano came in and provided a bit of stability. Look for that to continue again this season, with a rotation that includes a rotation filled with guys who somehow continued to be looked at as “young.” For a staff that lacks a true ace, Pavano should provide some much needed veteran leadership.

The acquisition of JJ Hardy, as I mentioned earlier, will be an interesting deal to examine over the next few seasons. Obviously, if his 2009 season was just a bump in the road, and Hardy returns to his 2007-2008 form there will be no examination needed as the deal would be deemed an instant success. Anytime you would be able to bring in an all-star caliber shortstop with 25-30 homerun power to hold down a position that has been an absolute black hole for your franchise, that would be considered a good thing. However, I will say, if “ifs and buts were candies and nuts, we would all have a Merry Christmas...” The bottom line is, Hardy is going to have to forget about 2009, and return to his 2007-2008 form to prove that this was a good deal. Twins fans are well aware that past success doesn’t necessarily guarantee future success (see Delmon Young for Matt Garza/Jason Bartlett swap). The huge positive out of all this is that the Twins know who their opening day shortstop is, and believe they have a guy who will hold down the position for years to come.

The signings of Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson are really where the Twins proved that they are looking to be more than just a division champion this season. Clearly they believe they are championship contenders right now, and are looking to be more than just a doormat for the Yankees or Red Sox march to a World Series. The Thome signing was great for two reasons; they signed him for dirt cheap (one-year $1.5MM), and he provides a bench presence that will actually cause opposing managers to alter pitching decisions based on matchups. Let’s face it, Jim Leyland wasn’t sitting in the dugout during game 163 thinking to himself, “hmmm... I could bring in Fernando Rodney, but then they would just counter with Brian Buscher, and we sure as heck don't want to see him come to the plate!...” My point is, Jim Thome is a big time power threat coming off the bench, and will get somewhere around 350 plate appearances through being a DH and pinch hitting. On the days when Thome might DH, the Twins could have six guys in the lineup with 20 HR type power (if Hardy returns to 2007-2008 form).

The Orlando Hudson was the biggest signing of the offseason, and clearly the one that made the most noise across the baseball media world. This was the signing that caused writers to say, “the Twins are looking for more than just a first round exit in the playoffs this season.” I love the Hudson signing for so many reasons; I believe that Hudson was the best available second base option this offseason, he is a gold glove defender, he fits perfectly into the number 2 spot of this lineup, and he is a veteran that knows how to win. The Twins opening day lineup should look something like this; Span, Hudson, Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel, Young, Hardy, Punto. With Span and Hudson setting the table for Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer and Kubel, this lineup should score a lot of runs. Let’s not forget that Thome will be sprinkled in there occasionally as well. The signing of Hudson also makes the Twins rock solid defensively in the infield, allowing Punto to focus solely on third base, possibly in a platoon with Brendan Harris.

After looking at the busy offseason the Minnesota Twins have had, and taking into consideration the moves that other AL Central teams have made, I expect the Twins to win between 87-90 games and win the division. I expect the White Sox to finish second behind possibly the 2nd best starting rotation in baseball with Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Freddy Garcia. The Detroit Tigers’ signing of Johnny Damon caused me to reconsider placing them 3rd in my predictions, but I still see them falling short of the White Sox simply because of pitching. Although the Tigers will have a solid rotation featuring Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer, I just think that the losses of Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco are too big for this team. Rounding out my AL Central predictions are the Indians coming in 4th due to rebuilding, and the Royals in 5th who seem to be constantly rebuilding.

This is my first time doing a complete offseason review, complete with predictions, and as a result I will be forced to be held accountable for these predictions throughout the season, and may end up eating my words. One thing is for sure, I am extremely excited about what the Twins did this offseason, being very active and clearly showing a commitment to winning right now. Opening day is only 34 days away, this should be a fun ride!