Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hump Day Rundown

With the Twins season coming to an end, the everyday posting on this blog will probably seize fairly soon, since during the offseason there's generally just not all that much to talk about and, hey, we have lives! With that said, this site will continue to be updated frequently throughout the winter months, analyzing roster moves and other baseball-related tomfoolery. We hope you'll check in regularly over the next four months even though the Twins will be resting up and preparing for the 2007 campaign.

With that little programming note out of the way, on to some news and notes.

* The hottest news item right now is obviously the Twins' decision to pick up Torii Hunter's $12 million option for 2007.

This move is by no means a surprise. It's certainly something that I've been advocating. Hunter had a productive season and towards the end of the year (despite his blunder in Game 2) he started to show increased mobility in center field. A Star Tribune article on the matter noted that the Twins still might try and negotiate a multi-year contract for Hunter beyond next season, but I truly hope that is not the case. Hunter is a player who has always depended greatly on his speed and athleticism, and considering that he'll be turning 32 next season and has a foot injury that looks like it will be a recurring issue, I think keeping him past the 2007 season would be a grave mistake. While $12 million is a lot of money (too much for a #6 hitter) and will be damaging towards what the Twins are able to accomplish this offseason, they will be totally off the hook after next season.

As it stands, locking Hunter up for next year gives the Twins the opportunity to trade him around mid-season (which Terry Ryan almost certainly won't do unless they are out of contention), and also prevents them from having to worry about their center field issue for the time being. Keeping Hunter will give the Twins another year to try and figure out what they have in Denard Span, a 22-year-old light-hitting speedster who is considered by some (though not me) to be the center fielder of the future.

* Apparently Terry Ryan did an interview on KFAN radio yesterday morning. I didn't have a chance to hear it, so I'm just going off hearsay, but my buddy listened and these are the impressions that he passed on to me:

1) Ryan feels that pitching is the top priority in the offseason because he doesn't know what will happen with Francisco Liriano and he doesn't know what to expect from the young guys (Garza, Bonser, Perkins) next season.

2) Ryan was satisfied with the offense this season because they scored over 800 runs, which was the benchmark the organization had set as a target for success.

3) Ryan is leaning towards picking up Carlos Silva's 2007 option.

I was not pleased to hear these things. Making the pitching staff a high priority makes some sense--if indeed Liriano is not ready to go for next year, they will be a hole or two to fill behind Santana, Bonser, Garza, and possibly Perkins. Spending a few million on a Jeff Suppan/Cory Lidle type for the middle of the rotation would not be a bad idea.

However, his assertion that the offense does not need work because they scored 800 runs is irritating. Granted, the Twins did fall right in the middle of the pack in terms of runs scored (they ranked 13th out of 30 MLB teams), and they have good enough pitching that's really all they need to succeed. However, the number of runs scored does not tell the whole story with this team. As it is currently constructed, the Twins lineup is extremely inconsistent and slump-prone, as illustrated by the fact that they were shutout 15 times this season, as well as by their abysmal performance in the playoffs.

Also, while it's reasonable to expect similar or perhaps even slightly improved production from young breakout players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Bartlett and Michael Cuddyer, there are numerous question marks at key positions. One can't simply expect Nick Punto and Jason Tyner to both hit around .300 again. Jason Kubel is a huge question mark after an awful 2006 campaign marred by knee issues. It's unclear whether or not Rondell White will be back next season, but if he is, there's no way of knowing what to expect from him. Luis Castillo is now 31 and if his knees get even worse next season, he'll lose a lot of his value. Simply put, the offense should be a more immediate priority than Ryan seemingly made it sound.

Finally, regarding the statement that Ryan is considering picking up Silva's '07 option, which would cost the Twins $4.325 million. This strikes me as a tremendously bad idea. If Silva wasn't the worst starting pitcher in all of baseball this season, he was at least among the bottom three. To pay him that kind of money would be nothing short of a rip-off, and while the Twins continue to claim that they can work on Silva's mechanics and get him back into 2005-form, I am not inclined to believe it anymore.

* As a final note, I wanted to comment on something I read in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. Tom Verducci is the top baseball writer for SI, and I respect him quite a bit and think he's a tremendously talented writer. With that said, I tend to think he latches onto the public opinion too frequently and as a result his articles occasionally seem kind of mindless and amateur.

A few weeks ago, he wrote a cover article that was very critical of Alex Rodriguez, essentially labeling his 2006 season in New York a failure and claiming he has to prove himself in pinstripes. This article only added to a media ravaging of Rodriguez, who took a ton of flack in New York this year for a few offensive slumps and some defensive struggles. Rodriguez has nothing to prove. He is playing a position that is not his natural position, one which he did not ask to play. And while it might have been a down year offensively by his standards, .290/.392/.523 with 35 home runs and 121 RBI is absolutely excellent production. Verducci's article attacking Rodriguez was a hack-job in my mind.

Anyway, that's not the main point of this rant. In the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, Verducci names his All-Time All Star Team. The roster features the names you'd expect: Warren Spahn, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Grove, Dennis Eckersley, Yogi Berra, Jackie Robinson, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, Joe DiMaggio, Mariano Rivera, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Rogers Hornsby, Johnny Bench, A-Rod and Mike Schmidt.

One name is glaringly absent, of course, and that's Barry Bonds. Verducci addresses the issue in his article by stating that, "because of how his late-career production has been linked to the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, he has numbers that are not to be believed."

Now, I'm no Bonds enthusiast, and in my heart I do believe that he's used PEDs. However, this has never been proven. Bonds tested positive for steroids the same number of times as Rodriguez or Rivera, or anyone else on the list for that matter, so the fact that Verducci uses it as a mark against him is absurd. I've heard rumors about old-time baseball players using horse steroids to bulk up, but of course since there was obviously no type of testing back then we'll never have any way of knowing. The point is that until Bonds is actually proven of cheating, he is no more guilty than anyone else on the list and as such he certainly belongs.

8 comments:

BD57 said...

Keeping Hunter for another year is OK; I join you in not being sold on him staying long term, unless (perhaps) we can move him to left at a significantly lower price & get someone for CF (better a youngster who's going to be there for a decade).

I'm not at all happy with the offense - way too streaky (as evidenced by 15 shutouts).

While the situation is far different, in High School ball, the measuring stick is not simply batting average, it's performance against the "good" pitchers in the league (in short, all your beating up bad pitchers doesn't help much when championships are on the line). It'd be interesting to see how the Twins fared vis a vis other teams against the better pitchers.

I can understand why Ryan's keeping Sylva around, even though I'll be surprised if he turns out to be "an answer." Right now, we're looking at one starter we can "count on" - Johan.

If Cisco's there, we can count on him - problem is the "if."

We think we'll be able to count on Boof, based on the way he finished - but we have to keep in mind that we thought we'd be able to count on Baker in 2006, based on the way he pitched in 2005. Turned out we were wrong.

After that, we're guessing:

Baker's a mystery - so good in 2005, so pathetic in 2006. Right now, unfortunately, I'll be far more surprised by him becoming an effective middle-of-the-rotation starter than I will by him bombing out completely.

Garza has a lot of tools. He's also very, very young & green - realistically he needs to start 15 to 20 games in AAA so he can develop.

Perkins is greener than Garza. He should get a shot at making the club next spring, but realistically he ought to start the year in Rochester.

Guerrier ought to get a look, though you just have to wonder whether he's starter material - - - there has to be a reason why he's been used the way he's been used for so long.

That means Sylva has a real shot because (a) he's started before; (b) he's had success on occasion (including once for most of a year; and (c) he's not a rookie.

Absent adding someone dependable by Free Agency - and I don't see the Twins spending that kind of money (the kind "dependable" would require, that is) - the rotation is set at one spot, possibly two & then there's a cast of thousands auditioning for the last three spots.

And it could easily become four spots if Cisco's elbow doesn't behave.

Nick N. said...

A lot of good points. Let me cover a few.

We think we'll be able to count on Boof, based on the way he finished - but we have to keep in mind that we thought we'd be able to count on Baker in 2006, based on the way he pitched in 2005. Turned out we were wrong.

I can't agree with this assessment. I think Bonser enters 2007 with the number 2 spot in the rotation locked up, barring a disaster of some sort.

The Baker 2005 vs. Bonser 2006 comparison is an interesting one, but there are a few key differences.

For one thing, Bonser tossed almost twice as many innings this year than Baker did in '05, which means we are working with a more reliable sample size.

For another thing, Bonser showed steady improvement this season, showing an ability to adjust to major league hitters. Baker came up last year and pitched great in his first three or four starts, then started to struggle a little bit, which carried over into this season.

I'm not ready to give up hope on Baker by any means, because he's only 25 and he still pitched very well when he was in Triple-A this year. He's definitely got some things he needs to work on though.

It'd be interesting to see how the Twins fared vis a vis other teams against the better pitchers.

Without actually looking it up, I seem to recall the Twins having pretty good games against Derek Lowe, C.C. Sabathia, Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras, Jeremy Bonderman, Freddy Garcia, and some other solid starters this season.

Many of the Twins' pitiful offensive performances seemed to come against mediocre pitchers like Mark Redman, Luke Hudson, Daniel Cabrera, Darrell Rassner, etc... which made it all the more frustrating.

Garza has a lot of tools. He's also very, very young & green - realistically he needs to start 15 to 20 games in AAA so he can develop.

That's what a lot of people said about Liriano about this time last year.

John said...

Nick N.,

Barry Bonds DID use steroids.

John

Jeff A said...

I sure hope you're right about Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, and Bartlett hitting as well or better next year, but I'd be surprised if they did. I'm not criticizing them--I expect them to play well. But Mauer hit over .340 this year, and Morneau over .320. Are they really likely to do that again? Are Cuddyer and Bartlett really likely to hit as well as they did again?

Remember, I'm not saying these guys will be lousy. I just think they're likely to come down some from what they hit this year. They can do that and still be very good players, but someone else on the Twins is going to have to step up and pick up some slack.

Nick M. said...

Jeff -

To put things simply, I don't see why not. Cuddyer didn't hit for a high average and his minor league numbers still suggest that he hasn't even peaked yet. He showed good power, line drive power for doubles, and he had plenty of guys on in front of him. That should continue. If anything, he can go up.

Mauer? He may not hit .347 next year, but that certainly wasn't a peak and I would expect .320-.330 with more power. He is consistent, takes the ball the other way, and doesn't have any issues with lefties.

Morneau showed this year that he most certainly could hit .320 again. Why? Because he hit .364 after June 8th, and he continued to adjust to pitchers. When pitchers go inside, he can pull it for power or down the line. When they go outside, he always goes with it, whether its a gapper or slap single to left. Those signs suggest that Morneau can consistently hit as well as he did this year and it was by no means a fluky season. As with Cuddyer, I'd expect some improvement even, with more home runs. He may not have 130 RBI again and he may hit .310 or .315, since luck always plays a role, but nothing wrong with that.

SBG said...

I don't care if Barry Bonds used PEDs. He's still one of the greatest 10 players ever to play the game.

Verducci's hatchet job on A-Rod is inexcusable and his omission of Bonds is a joke.

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