Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Batista: Clubhouse Guy

This offseason, blogs across the Twins cybernetwork have been littered with comments about the signing of Tony Batista. They, of course, have been mostly negative. This comes with good reason. Batista is a career .251 hitter with a .298 OBP. He hardly walks and strikeouts in bunches. Plus, he reportedly has limited, if any, range at third. What are his positives? Power and a good-throwing arm seem to be it.

However, I'm not sold on the idea that Terry Ryan just handed the guy $1.25 million for some homers and a decent arm. Ryan is smarter than that and he's a wise enough GM that he has looked at the angles. He wouldn't just depart from the Twins' philosophy of years and go after tons of power. Ryan's philosophy and the Twins' road to the playoffs in recent years have been built on defense, pitching, and team chemistry; things the Twins have done well, except for last year. With a clubhouse full of issues, from JC Romero to Kyle Lohse to the Torii Hunter-Justin Morneau incident, it was not the tight clubhouse of guys from that had led the team to three straight playoff apperances. This offseason, I believe Ryan wanted to change that as much as anything.

That explains trading Romero, despite the minimal return he got in Alexi Casilla. That explains choosing Rondell White over Mike Piazza or Frank Thomas. All of them have injury concerns, but he chose White - despite the fact that White ended up more expensive than either of the other two - because he's a classy guy who will keep his mouth shut and get what needs to be done for the team. He didn't complain about needing to get on the field (Piazza) or heckle his former team (Thomas). He gladly accepted DHing for the Twins and even went out of his way to thank his own team. That's a guy that has Twins player written all over him. It seems, maybe, Batista is in the same boat.

Based on the article from this Sunday's Star Tribune, I gather that had a lot to do with signing him. Batista appears to be a good citizen, who spends his off-time during the season visiting random needy churches throughout the country to donate money and time. After the 2004 season, Ryan was interested in Batista and Batista was ready to sign, but Ryan suggested he take the best offer from Japan and play. As former teammate Melvin Mora says, "This is a guy you want to have on your team ... All of the people are going to love him in Minnesota."

Granted, Batista was released from his team in Japan, but that was mainly because he was already getting overpaid as a foreign-player who was expected to do too much (2 years, $15.7 million - reeks of Brian Scalabrine in the NBA). He also has shown up at camp a little over the weight he needs to be at. And he probably won't repeat his 2000 season here either. But his character is something to consider. I don't imagine that Ryan just ignored the stats and blindly went after whatever power hitter he could get. That just doesn't make sense based on his history.

To me, Ryan wants to build a solid clubhouse foundation for the year and he may have found the right guys to do it. Of course, if Batista doesn't produce, I understand if he gets booted. That's the business. But it's something to consider in the wake of all the negativity surrounding this signing.

Monday, February 27, 2006

On the Spot: Ron Gardenhire

While many Twins' hitters are entering make-or-break years, there's another guy on the club for whom the 2006 season could prove crucial: the manager. Not necessarily from an organizational standpoint, but from the perspective of the fans. I don't think Ron Gardenhire is in any danger of losing his job, but his performance as manager of this ball club this season could dictate how we fans see him. He has had a relatively comfortable ride up until this point, inheriting a very well-built team with a savvy GM, but last year he got his first taste of serious adversity and it will be very telling to see how he and the team respond in the 2006 campaign.

Overall, Gardy has done a pretty good job as manager of the Twins. In four seasons at the helm, he has guided the club to a 359-288 (.555) record and three division titles. Last year, despite having the worst offense in the league, the team finished above .500 and was within spitting distance of a playoff spot for much of the season.

Despite this seemingly outstanding performance from a numerical standpoint, you will find a number of critics of Gardenhire in the Twins' fan base (i.e. FIRERONGARDENHIRE). Why? I know my view of the man took a severe turn for the worst in Game 2 the 2004 playoff series against the New York Yankees, in which the Gardy's incredibly bone-headed managerial decisions eradicated any hope the team might have had of advancing to the American League Championship Series.

His errors included sending closer Joe Nathan out for a third inning in an extra-inning affair when he was clearly out of gas and there were fresh options remaining in the bullpen, including Jesse Crain. Even though the rookie Crain had been excellent during the season, apparently Gardy wanted to stick with experience in this situation (despite the fact that this was Nathan's first season as a closer and his post-season ERA prior to 2004 was a pedestrian 81.00). Gardenhire wasn't entirely consistent in this experience-first attitude though, as in the very same game he had allowed rookie Jason Kubel to go to the plate against arguably the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, with one out and runners on second and third in the 8th inning, with the game tied 5-5. Kubel was 0/4 at that point in the game and he predictably struck out on three pitches. Lew Ford (who had hit .299/.381/.446 in 569 at-bats during the season) was left on the bench the entire game while Kubel ended up going 0/6. I did, and still do, put the team's inability to get that win (which would have put them up 2-0 in the best-of-five series coming back to the Metrodome) entirely on Gardenhire's shoulders. That is just really bad management.

The grudge with Gardenhire is certainly not over one single game though. It is well-documented in the realm of Twins blogs that over the years Gardy has had a penchant for poor lineup construction and has been totally oblivious to the concept of platooning, as evidenced by the fact that Jacque Jones amassed 454 at-bats against left-handed pitchers the past three years despite hitting .238/.295/.363 against them during that span.

Regardless of his game management issues, I do not hate Ron Gardenhire. I think he is a good fit as manager of the Minnesota Twins. He is relatively cheap, he's a pretty good guy, he's fairly low-key, and he generally maintains a good relationship with his players. With that said, my opinion of the man will be greatly shaped by what he does in the upcoming season. The AL Central is poised to be more competitive than it has been in a long time, and Gardenhire is going to have to make a lot of key decisions that will likely have a major impact on the team's ability to win.

Which pitcher will take the fifth spot in the rotation? How long will he stick with Tony Batista and Jason Bartlett if they struggle? How will he utilize his bullpen, particularly the LOOGY if they choose to carry one? How will he handle possible personality clashes with all the new faces arriving in the offseason?

These issues will definitely be worth keeping an eye on in the early months of the season. I believe Gardenhire will have more control over the team's success this year than he ever has before. Let's hope he is up to the task.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Lazy Saturday

Even though we don't always update on weekends, I figured I'd put something up today. Nothing major though, as I'm feeling far too lazy to write anything of merit.

Seth's site today directed me to an interesting article at the Twins Scout site breaking down the best defensive players at each position in the Twins' minor league organization. It's an enlightening list. One thing I will say though, is that if Glenn Williams is the second-best defensive third-baseman in our system, as the article states, we are not in very good shape at that position. While you're at Seth's site, you should also scroll down and check out the sweet Q&A he did with outfield prospect Tommy Watkins.

While on the subject of defense, Peter Gammons' latest blog entry (ESPN Insider required) talks about the criteria that John Dewan (CEO of STATS, Inc.) uses to evaluate defense in his new book The Fielding Bible. Quote from Gammons' article:

We have all struggled with quantitative analysis on defense, but this isn't some statshead thing created in a cellar at MIT. [Bill] James explains that Dewan's aides "watched video from every major league game and had recorded every ball off the bat by the direction in which it was hit [the vector], the type of hit [ground ball, fly ball, line drive, popup, mob hit, etc.] and how hard the ball was hit

Gammons lists the best and worst defensive players at each position according to the metric. Among the three worst defensive second basemen in the past three years, along with Bret Boone and Alfonso Soriano, is Luis Rivas. No surprise there. The five best defensive teams in 2005 were the Phillies, Indians, Angels, White Sox, and Astros. Three of those teams made the playoffs (two made it to the World Series) and the other two were fairly close. The four worst teams: Yankees, Royals, Marlins, and Reds. Three did not come close to the playoffs. This reinforces the importance of defense, an often overlooked aspect of the game.

One quibble with Gammons' article. These are three separate quotes from within the article, in reference to Dewan's book:

"Just go buy the book."

"What I'm using doesn't kill the book, it enhances. Just go get it and think."

"There is so much to this book. Just go buy it and have Dewan explain what you read here means."

There's nothing wrong with endorsing a book that you're writing about, especially one that looks as interesting as this one. However, while reading this article, I was bothered by how bossy Gammons seemed. Saying "just go buy it" doesn't sound like a recommendation, it sounds like an order.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Spring Training Preview

It's hard to even utter the word "spring" here in Minnesota, with temperatures forecasted to dip back into the single digits this weekend. However, in Ft. Myers, spring most certainly has sprung, with Twins' position players officially reporting for duty today.

Spring training serves many functions for a baseball team. It is an opportunity for players to get back in playing shape and prepare for the upcoming season, an opportunity for the new acquisitions to get acclimated and familiarize themselves with their new teammates and coaches, and - perhaps most importantly - it is an opportunity for the coaching staff to figure out who should be starting and which 25 players will be most capable of helping their team.

There are seven positions on the 25-man roster that will be up for grabs this spring, with some competitions more open than others. In today's post, I will analyze each of those positions and pick a favorite heading into spring training for each spot.

Position Battles

Starting Right Fielder

With Jacque Jones departing for the Cubs in the offseason, there are three players vying for his vacated starting position right field: Michael Cuddyer, Lew Ford, and Jason Kubel.

The club would likely prefer to have Kubel starting there, as he played well in his brief stint in the Majors in 2004 and has more upside than either of the other candidates. He is also a good defensive player with a strong arm. Unfortunately, Kubel is returning from a knee injury that kept him out all of the 2005 season, so there is a widely held sentiment that the team will start him in Triple-A to allow him to shake off a year's worth of rust and get his timing back. That said, if he performs well in the spring, it would be hard to see the team keeping him in the minors. Nevertheless, I don't expect he'll be on the 25-man roster coming out the spring. He's only 23, so it won't hurt to take it slow with him.

Presuming that Kubel starts the season at Rochester, the competition for the starting spot on opening day comes down to Ford and Cuddyer. I believe that Ford is a better player, both offensively and defensively, but I think Cuddyer will probably get the nod. Ford is a more valuable bench player, seeing as how he can play all three outfield positions and has enough speed to pinch-run late in games. The team appears intent on giving Cuddyer one more shot at holding down a regular job.


Starting Third Baseman

Much to the frustration of a number of fans, the Twins signed Tony Batista to a $1.5 million non-guaranteed contract during the offseason, making him the heir apparent at third base. During his better years, Batista - who spent the 2005 season playing in Japan - would have been a decent option to fill the Twins' power-hitting void. He hit 41 home runs with the Blue Jays in 2000, and hit 32 homers in 2004, his last season in the Majors. Unfortunately, Batista's last couple years in the league were not pretty, as he posted lines of .235/.270/.393 in 2003 and .241/.272/.455 in 2004. When you're hitting .240 and only getting on base at a .270 clip, it's difficult to be a productive player, even if you are hitting the occasional dinger.

Beyond that, reports have come in from numerous sources (including Twins' scouts) that Batista is out of shape and has shown decreased ability in the field. This would leave one to believe that the 32-year-old doesn't stand a chance at winning the starting third base job, and yet the alternatives aren't pretty. Glenn Williams is one option. As a 28-year-old rookie last year, he started his Major League career with a 13-game hitting streak before injuring his shoulder and missing the rest of the season. Unfortunately, the fact that most of these hits were bloop singles, coupled with the fact that he is only a .245 career minor league hitter, lead many (including myself) to believe that he does not have a future as a Major League regular. Another potential candidate for the job is Terry Tiffee, but he would have to seriously turn himself around after hitting a putrid .207/.245/.293 in 150 Major League at-bats last year. The only other candidate for the starting third-base job is Cuddyer, who played there last season. However, Cuddy was a disaster there last year, and if he was starting at third and Ford was starting in right, the team's fourth outfielder would be Nick Punto. Ouch.

Terry Ryan promised to give Batista a fair shot at the Twins third-base job when he signed him during the offseason. The only way I can see him not winning the spot is if he performs very poorly on defense in the spring or if Williams or Tiffee are sensational... or if Ryan makes a trade.


Starting Shortstop

This was the most competitive spot in spring training a year ago, and this time around it will essentially feature the same candidates: Jason Bartlett, Nick Punto, and Juan Castro. However, while last year Bartlett seemed like a long-shot due to his inexperience, this year the team is counting on him because he is really the only member of the group with the potential to be a productive everyday player offensively.

Bartlett looked like a Rookie of the Year candidate after hitting .332/.417/.475 in Triple-A in 2004. Last year, he hit .370 in the spring to capture the starting shortstop job entering the season, but ended up struggling with the Twins, hitting only .241 on the year. This season, it is absolutely crucial that he perform well in the spring and carry that into the regular season. While Gardy has stated that the shortstop position will be an open competition this spring, it is essentially Bartlett's to lose. He would have to perform really poorly this spring in order for Punto or Castro to enter the season as the starting shortstop.


Fifth Spot in the Rotation

This will be a competition between the Twins' two top young arms, Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano. Despite the fact that Liriano was flat-out dominant at Triple-A last year, Baker is the clear favorite to win the spot. He has more Major League experience after starting 9 games for the Twins last year and posting a 3.35 ERA last year.

Adding to Baker's edge is the fact that Liriano is set to pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and will miss a large chunk of the exhibition schedule with the Twins. Gardenhire has already mentioned that not being able to see him and coach him first-hand will probably hurt Liriano's chances of winning the job. However, if Liriano tears it up in the WBC and dominates top big league hitters, while Baker is only so-so with the Twins this spring, will they really be able to leave Liriano in the minors? It would be an interesting situation. Nonetheless, expect to see Baker rounding out the Twins' rotation at the outset of the season.


Final Two Spots in the Bullpen

While four spots in the Twins' pen are essentially locked up (closer Joe Nathan, set-up man Juan Rincon, middle reliever Jesse Crain, and long reliever Matt Guerrier), two spots are open and could be filled by any of a number of candidates. While Gardy has stated that he will not necessarily bring a veteran lefty just for the sake of having one, it is likely that he will bring one. Despite the fact that Nathan, Crain, and Rincon are all pretty effective against left-handed hitters, a manager just feels more comfortable sending out a southpaw to face a big left-handed hitter late in a close game. The top candidates for this spot are veterans Gabe White, Dennys Reyes, and Darrell May, all signed to minor-league contracts in the offseason. May has only had one reasonably good season in his entire career, and has relatively little experience pitching in relief, which in my mind eliminates him from consideration (hopefully). Reyes and White would both be decent options, although I would give White the slight edge since he has a better track record.

As for the other spot, it is likely that the Twins will bring a rookie. The top choice for this duty would be Willie Eyre, who posted a 2.72 ERA in Triple-A last season. There are a few other guys who could contend for this spot with good springs, such as J.D. Durbin or Dave Gassner, but I'd put my money on Eyre if anyone. It is also possible that the Twins will not bring a rookie and instead bring two members of the aforementioned group of lefties.


Final Bench Spot

This is the most difficult spot to analyze because it totally depends on who wins the battles at several other positions. If, as I predict, Cuddyer starts the year in right and Batista starts the year at third, with Kubel in the minors, there is an open bench spot. We can pretty safely say that Punto, Castro, Ford, and Redmond will all be there. In this scenario, the final spot would likely be taken by Ruben Sierra, who would be used as a left-handed pinch-hitter and occasional DH. However, if Kubel is able to start the year in the big leagues, that would probably mean that Sierra would be released, unless Punto or Castro were let go. So, if Kubel starts the year in Triple-A, I think Sierra will be on the 25-man roster to start the season. But then the question becomes this: When Kubel shows he is ready to jump to the Twins (which I am fairly confident will happen within a month or two), who gets the boot? That will be an interesting situation when it comes up.


With all that said, here is my projected 25-man opening day roster, which obviously is subject to change:

CJoe Mauer
1BJustin Morneau
2BLuis Castillo
3BTony Batista
SSJason Bartlett
LFShannon Stewart
CFTorii Hunter
RFMichael Cuddyer
DHRondell White
SPJohan Santana
SPBrad Radke
SPCarlos Silva
SPKyle Lohse
SPScott Baker
RPJoe Nathan
RPJuan Rincon
RPJesse Crain
RPMatt Guerrier
RPGabe White
RPWillie Eyre
BNMike Redmond
BNLew Ford
BNNick Punto
BNJuan Castro
BNRuben Sierra

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Stuff to Check Out

Hello all. I don't have anything extremely interesting or thought-provoking to write about today, so I will just direct you to some good Twins links that likely will do so themselves. If anything is on your mind, feel free to comment.

*The Pioneer Press reported yesterday that the Twins stadium bill appears to have enough votes to pass. I tend to try to avoid this issue completely, in part because it seems like every tidbit of news relating to it turns out to be misleading or pointless and in part because the thought of anything involving possible Twins contraction or relocation scares me. This article puts a pretty positive spin on the situation, but we'll have to wait and see how it turns out as Tim Pawlenty has been tip-toeing around the issue for political reasons. All I know is, I really hope that the bill can get approved because, as Senator Dean Johnson states in the article, "I sincerely believe that after a 2006 that saw no action, that Major League Baseball will do something with the Twins — like let them be bought and moved to a new home."

*Dave Campbell wrote a nice article about Michael Cuddyer, who is aiming for the starting spot in right field this season. Campbell doesn't really make any assertations one way or another about Cuddyer's chances, but he notes that Cruddy has maintained his usual positive attitude. I liked the article, if only for the fact that Campbell doesn't seem to go out of his way to heap praise on Cuddyer, like much of the media tends to do.

*Justin Morneau was taking some early batting practice hacks to get his swing in tune for the upcoming season, notes La Velle E. Neal in his article in the Strib today. A rebound year for Justin is one of the biggest keys in the Twins' mission to significantly improve their offense from last season.

In the article, Gardenhire is quoted as referring to Morneau as "Mourny." Sigh.

*In the second entry of his new blog on ESPN.com, Jayson Stark linked to fellow Twins blogger Aaron Gleeman and responded directly to something that Aaron had mentioned in his entry from last Friday. This was very nice to see.

With John Bonnes, the Twins Geek, no longer around, I think that Gleeman is generally considered to be the representative Twins blogger. He has a huge readership and writes for several national publications. Anytime he is getting mention on a website like ESPN.com, it reflects well on the Twins blogosphere as a whole.

*I took part in a long comment war on Stick and Ball Guy's site yesterday regarding the Twins' offseason and how well Terry Ryan did. SBG and frightwig (author of the blog Sundappled Wood), among others, were critical of Ryan's offseason moves and feel that the offense will not see enough improvement in order for the Twins to be able to compete in the Central division this year. I maintain that Ryan did about as good a job as he possibly could have, considering his budget limitations. It is also possible that Ryan isn't done yet, as I mentioned a couple days ago.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Lefty Out of the Pen

Today's Star Tribune ran a big spring training page. Within, Ron Gardenhire was quoted as saying that, in regards to having a lefty in the pen, "I could go with no lefties if I have to. We'll go with the best pitchers." This reflects an in La Velle's article today, in which he said, "Lefties are a luxury... If you have one that can get lefties out, that's great. If you don't have one that's better than a righthander who can go and blow people away, you take the best one."

Of course, Gardy may end up bringing two of our candidates (Gabe White, Dennys Reyes, Darrell May), as the Twins have made questionable decisions out of spring training before (Corky anyone?). However, it's good to hear that Gardy may realize, as much as we do, that the Twins don't really need a lefty off the bench when Nathan, Rincon, and Crain are all very effective against lefties themselves. Of the southpaw candidates, White remains the only decent candidate, as he has had some good seasons as a relief pitcher. However, as La Velle mentions, White has had major injury issues lately and may not have very much life left in his arm. Reyes has never been very good and May had one good season that he is unlikely to reproduce again. Unfortunately, he's the kind of lefty finesse pitcher that feasts on the Twins (see Kenny Rogers, Mike Maroth, and Cliff Lee), so the organization might love the guy anyways.

In other notes:

* It looks like Francisco Liriano will participate in the WBC and the Twins aren't too happy with it. Gardy says, "If he's pitching somewhere else and one of the other pitchers here is dominating, what do you do?" I think that regardless, Liriano will probably start in Triple-A, as he likely needs a little more seasoning before he hits the bigs. Stories like this have been popping all over the league, as a lot of organizations are askings its stars and young guns to stay out of the Classic. You have to really wonder at this point how successful it will be. But I'll still watch, if for nothing more than to see a Venezuelan starting pitching go up against a Dominican lineup that should include Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and Vladimir Guerrero. Wow. Now that's a murderer's row. Who bats clean-up? I'd go with Guerrero 2nd, Pujols 3rd, Ortiz 4th, and Ramirez 5th.

* I'd like to note that I'm sick of young pitchers warranting comparisons to other superstars. Kerry Wood to Roger Clemens. Josh Beckett ditto. Francisco Liriano to Johan Santana. It does no good to label young guys like this when it really makes no sense. Wood was injured too much and never had that much in common other than birthplace and a 20-strike out game. Different out pitch (curve) and he doesn't throw with his legs like Clemens. That's why he's always injured. Beckett has those same issues and he may have similar stuff in some regards, but neither of these guy came out of college ready to come up and win 24 games for a team. And the local press comparing Liriano to Santana isn't smart either. That is similar to the "M & M" boys last year, which put unnecessary pressure on our young hitters. Liriano's stuff places more emphasis on the fastball now and it's his slider, not a change-up, that is his out pitch. He needs the same seasoning as Johan did early on, but he'll be a different pitcher, though hopefully spectacular nonetheless. The point is not that some comparisons are bad, but that the stigma is bad and that sportswriters see some similars and get way too excited.

* Lastly, it appears that Joe Mauer loves to bowl now. Not as exciting as John Sickel's Crystal Ball on Minor League Ball, but it may be a good omen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Another Move Possible?

I read yesterday in an article in The Cincinatti Enquirer that the Reds are still in the hunt for more pitching, and may be willing to part with an outfielder in order to get it. This should raise the interest of Twins fans, who are no doubt aware that the Reds' new GM, Wayne Krivsky, is a former Terry Ryan assistant who is certainly very familiar with the abundance of pitching talent in the Twins' organization.

While Ryan has given every indication that he is done tinkering with the team's roster and will make no more moves before Opening Day, he isn't exactly the easiest guy in the world to read. The move he made this offseason to acquire Luis Castillo seemed to come out of the blue, and I don't recall hearing any speculation that he was interested in signing Tony Batista.

The Reds are well-stocked with young, quality outfielders. The Twins have no apparent need in the outfield entering the 2006 season, seeing as how they have Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter firmly entrenched in left and center field and one player from the Michael Cuddyer/Lew Ford/Jason Kubel group should be able get the job done in right field. However, Stewart's contract expires after this year and it is unlikely the Twins will bring him back, as he is 31 and showed serious decline and limited mobility last year. Hunter, on the other hand, has an option for the 2007 season but it would cost the Twins $12 million, so they may instead opt to exercise their $1.5 million buyout on his contract following the season.

This would leave the Twins with some significant holes in their outfield for the foreseeable future. Alex Romero hit well at the Double-A level in New Britain last year (.301/.354/.458), but he is still likely a year or two away. Denard Span is probably the center fielder of the future for the Twins, but he is also a few years away and far from a sure thing. Neither of those guys have great power.

As Seth Stohs noted in his entry on SethSpeaks.net yesterday:

Boof Bonser may be just as important as either of the top-level prospects. Why? Well, if those two both perform well throughout Spring Training, the Twins would be more willing to trade Kyle Lohse if Bonser proves himself ready in case of an injury.

It's a very relevant point when it comes to this topic. While the Twins seem to currently feel that Kyle Lohse is needed so that Francisco Liriano can remain in the minors and be ready to step in if someone gets hurt, Lohse potentially becomes expendable if Liriano and Scott Baker both pitch well enough in spring to earn a spot in the Major League rotation and Bonser pitches well enough to be considered a solid option to fill in during an injury. Even if that is not the case, the Twins have plenty of young pitchers in the minor leagues who Krivsky would no doubt like to have in his new system in Cincy, such as Adam Harben, Matt Garza, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, or Bonser himself.

The Reds, meanwhile, may have a glut of outfield talent, with Ken Griffey Jr., Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, and Adam Dunn all warranting a starting position. They seemed to have solved this problem when they traded Sean Casey, opening first base for Dunn, but they recently signed Scott Hatteberg and Krivsky has stated that he plans on using Hatteberg as "more than a role player." Since Hatty-berg primarily plays first base, this would seem to insinuate that one of the aforementioned outfielders is indeed expendable.

It is unlikely the Twins would go after Dunn, the big slugger who just signed a 2-year contract worth about $17 million with the Reds. Aside from the high price tag, the package they would have to put together to bring in Dunn would likely be too costly. I could see the Twins going after him next year, however, if Morneau can't get it done this season. Hunter, Stewart, and Brad Radke leaving would free up a ton of salary, and Dunn is a proven slugger who has hit 40+ homers and driven in 100+ runs in each of the past two seasons. The problem with him is that he strikes out an obscene amount and has trouble keeping his batting average over .250.

Pena is a more likely scenario. The 24-year-old right-fielder has yet to prove he can be a great all-around hitter at the Major League level, but he's definitely got legitimate power. He hit 26 homers in 336 at-bats in 2004 and hit 19 HR in 311 AB last year. Pena has made it clear that he wants to be starting somewhere this year, so if the Reds intend to start Dunn, Griffey, Kearns, and Hatteberg, they might need to move Wily Mo.

The Reds might be more eager to part with Kearns. His performance has dipped significantly in each season since his outstanding rookie year in which he hit .315/.407/.500. He's had trouble staying healthy and some have referred to him as a right-handed version of Jacque Jones (not good). Still, I think Kearns is a solid player and he probably wouldn't cost the Twins too much in terms of prospects or salary. Also, he's only 25.

Another guy who is not an outfielder but who the Twins might be tempted to look at in a trade situation is Ryan Freel. If neither Tony Batista nor Glenn Williams can rise to the challenge and grab the starting third base job in spring training, Freel wouldn't be a bad option. While he has essentially no power, he is a great OBP guy and has a ton of speed. Another possibility to fill a third base need for the Twins would be Edwin Encarnacion, but the Reds would probably be unwilling to part with him as he is only 23 and was phenomenal in Triple-A last year.

I'm not going to hold my breath for a trade of some sort to happen between the Twins and Reds this spring, but it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Krivsky knows that he needs some serious pitching help, and they can afford to lose an outfielder to get it. The Twins, meanwhile, are going to be looking for any offensive help they can get this year.

Monday, February 20, 2006

How Sweet It Is

Twins' pitchers and catchers reported for duty yesterday and have their first official workout today, kicking off the 2006 baseball calendar.

And soon enough...

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Offseason in Review

The offseason is, unfortunately, for all baseball fans a difficult time. What to do with so little action? I bide my time with school, writing the occassional post on signings, and some basketball if the Wolves aren't too awful. But now, with spring training around the corner, it's time to get excited. I'd like to this time to reflect on the offseason in two different ways. For one, I'd like to take a general look at the Twins' own offseason. And, secondly, I'd like to overview the entire offseason, from great trades to astonishingly overpaid players who were signed by the highest bidder.

Twins Offseason:

Grade: B

Fox Sports' Dayn Perry gave the Twins offseason a C, but I tend to think that's a rather low rating. For one, Perry is just an example to show the that the Twins seem to be perceived as an underdog. Perry thinks that Luis Castillo was the only really good move this offseason, while signing Rondell White was marginal, as he has "platoon issues" (which I can't see affecting him at DH), and taking on Tony Batista was worst due to his OBP.

White, as we posted, was a good signing for many reasons. For one, White will be DH full-time it appears, which is a good thing since his injuries have almost always occured playing the outfield. And secondly, White brings his professional bat to the table. White may not be the most intimidating hitter in the biz this year, but when you hit .364 (2005) with runners in scoring position, you're off to a good start. With Stewart, Castillo, and Mauer in front of him and hopefully gett on base consistently, he should have plenty of opportunities. If he plays 135 games or 140 DHing, 110-115 RBIs isn't a remote possibility. And 25-30 HRs may yet come with it. That may overestimate White a bit, since he may still get hurt and he could put up 20-25 HRs and only around 80-90 RBIs, but that's still a vast improvement since White hits for a good average too.

Batista, on the other hand, I agree is not a great signing. But it is what it is. Batista projects to be a 7th or 8th hitter with good power and a good arm. Beyond that, he doesn't hit for average, draw walks, or have any mobility at third base. Is he a huge improvement? Unlikely. Could we have done better? Probably not, unless we really thought giving up Liriano for Blalock was a good idea. I am not big on it, but when its all added up, I see Batista neither really adding or taking away from the lineup in comparison to last year. Some big three-run HRs at the bottom of the lineup could help. He may be another Jacque Jones or he may be another Bret Boone. We'll have to see, but his signing doesn't make it the offseason a C.

The other signing noted was that of Ruben Sierra. Sierra was signed just a few weeks ago to be a possible lefty off the bench. Perry discounts Sierra as a bad signing, but I say, as a minor-league contract, it isn't that bad of a deal. Sierra hit 21 HRs and drove in 92 runs the past two years in around 400 ABs. Granted, thats in a Yankees lineup and its unlikely he'll reproduce it here, but thats significant power we wouldn't otherwise have of the bench.

So, where did the Twins miss? Although I can give the Batista signing some positives, it isn't a great solution at third base. It's likely we'll still have to rely on Juan Castro and Glenn Williams off the bench as defensive replacement and it's entirely possible one of them could end of there full-time. The issue, thus, is that Ryan didn't really sign any good alternatives at third base. I dont know that there were that many other than Russell Branyan or the miffed Corey Koskie trade, but it may have been a good idea to have those options, if not just to push Batista.

for the LOOGY situation, I don't think its the problem so many people say it is. I just don't think its all that necessary to have a lefty in the bullpen when your righties are good against lefties anyways. Is Gabe White really a better option than Crain or Rincon? There's a chance and I'm ok if White ends up in the pen (especially over May or Reyes), but there really isn't a big issue here since we have such a strong bullpen. Its not like JC Romero helped out that much last year anyways. I say getting rid of him was addition by subtraction.

As Nick Nelson said Thursday, with Castillo and White on board, Hunter, Stewart, Silva, and hopefully Radke healthy, the Twins stand to improve big time over last year. The offense can really only get better. Even if Batista does "suck up outs," as many have pointed out, it won't take away that much from the lineup with a few three-run homers from him, Mauer and Morneau's improvements after a year of seasoning, Hunter and Stewart's healthy returns, and the arrival of White and Castillo, that is sure to be better.

Oh, and let's not forget, we have a starting staff that includes should-be two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, Scott Baker, and if anyone is injured or Lohse is finally traded, number one pitching prospect Fransisco Liriano. Plus a bullpen with Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, and any number of our great arms in the Twins system.

Basically, the Twins have only reasons to improve on last year. Only in the worse circumstances would they end up losing more games than last year. They may not win 95 this year, but I expect them to compete in the Central as much as the Indians, the White Sox, and possibly the Tigers. Ryan may have missed some opportunities (many people point to Koskie, but who knows if we actually could have gotten the deal the Brewers did), but with his budget and based on the way the Twins have operated in the past, he made significant moves this offseason. If not for a few things, the grade would be higher.

With that, let's take a look at the league overall:

Top Free-Agent signings:

1) Johnny Damon, New York Yankees: 4 years, $52 million

At first, I viewed this signing with skepticism. In a way, I still do. But this wasn't a great offseason in terms of free-agents. Actually, it was pretty bad. With that in mind, a 4 year, $52 million dollar deal for Damon, especially if you're the Yankees, is a steal. Why? Because it takes away from your biggest competitor, the Red Sox, while improving your already murderous offense. Damon is 32 and he probably won't be great throughout the deal, but it's the Yanks and they can absob that kind of deal for a championship (anyways, it was much better than the seven years Boras demanded). Now, with Damon in front and Jeter in the two spot, A-Rod, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, and everyone else will have more opportunities to drive in runs. They may go over 1000 again. Murderor's row anyone?

2) Billy Wagner, New York Mets: 4 years, $43 million

This is another addition by subtraction deal, except it goes two ways: They took from the Phillies, their divisional opponent, and they got rid of "inherited-runners-score!" Braden Looper. I can't rate Wagner any higher, though, because he's already 34 going on 35 and who knows how much longer he can hit 100 MPH on the radar gun.

However, it's a big improvement nonetheless. Last year, for the Phillies, Wagner had 38 saves, a 1.51 ERA, a .84 WHIP, a .165 OBA, and 87 Ks. Those are some of Wagner's best numbers for his career. He seems to have learned to use his slider well and the pitch has become more than a solid backup for his dominant fastball. He may yet still be great for a while.

3) Sammy Sosa, Rafeal Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez not signed, all MLB Teams

Sorry, but the "steroids" class of former stars had to be mentioned. All teams have to get a pat on the back for not bothering with any of these guys. Sosa was offered a contract by the Nationals, but lets not be foolish. It was all pride, guys. But that's okay. None of these guys will go out and embarass themselves on a last-place team for some record or numbers.

Worst Free-Agent Signings:

1) Jarred Washburn, Seattle: 4 years, $37 million

I'd like to say all of them, since this year's market was just ridiculously overpriced. But Washburn? It's just not way too much money or years. That's an effect of negotiating badly with Scott Boras. But he's not the solution. It's just another awful signing by Seattle. It seems they are totally aimless and keep signing Boras agents who had one good season (see Adrian Beltre) in the hopes of another good season. I'm not sure if they understand the concept of rebuilding, but they are just not going to win this way. They have no starting staff beyond Jamie Moyer and Felix Hernandez.

2) B.J. Ryan, Toronto: 5 years, $47 million

I understand that Toronto had to overpay to get big free agents up there, but this was ridiculous. Ryan has less saves in his career than Kelvim Escobar or Estaban Yan, yet he gets a bigger contract than Wagner. Ryan is a good reliever with some great stuff, but he's also 30 and suddenly has much bigger expectations put on him. If he's a bust, he's a huge bust that a mid-market team like Toronto can't handle.

3) Braden Looper/Kyle Farnsworth/Bobby Howry/Scott Eyre/set-up men in general

For some reason, the prices on set-up men flew up this offseason. I'm not sure I can really figure out why. None of these names are that great. Looper was an awful closer who lets tons of inherited runners score. Farnsworth goes to New York, the pressure cooker, when the guy seems to never handle any pressure well. Howry and Eyre were good set-up men, but not worthy of the money the Cubs threw at them. And the list goes on. Jose Mesa (why Colorado? Why?), Julian Tavarez (broke down the stretch last year), and so on. None of it really makes sense.

Best Trades:

1) Carlos Delgado to the Mets for Mike Jacobs, Yusmeiro Petit, and Grant Psomas

The Mets traded a decent first-baseman and two likely back of the rotation starters, if anything, for the RBI machine they needed up front. I have to agree with Jayson Stark here. I really know that the Mets are going to win this year, but thats more a product of their other not-so-great moves, from jettisoning their starting pitching depth to trading their best prospects for guys like Paul Lo Duca. Delgado will hit 35-40 HRs and he'll make the lineup a lot better, and hopefully, will have a positive effect on Beltran. We'll see, but either way, it was a steal.

2) White Sox trades (Javier Vazquez, Jim Thome)

The Rob Mackowiak trade was good, but these other two are questionable moves by Kenny Williams. I know everyone loves the guy and are praising him for his action this year, but it seems to me he made too many moves. Giving up Aaron Rowand, a centerpiece of the team last year, and his two best pitching prospects for an aging slugger may not be a very good idea. Giving up your best center-fielding prospect who should replace Rowand for a starter with bad success under pressure and a guy who gives up too many home runs (and bringing him to a home-run haven) is not a good idea either. I am not sure that these moves are really that great, but I rank them here because they are good news for the Twins and the other teams, the Phillies and the Diamondbacks.

3) Luis Castillo to the Twins for Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler

An excellent move for the Twins. Bowyer was a pitcher with a great fastball, but little control or a complement pitch, and Tyler was a pitcher who had never lived up to his potential. Castillo is a guy who can change the structure and abilties of the whole lineup with his presence. This has Shannon Stewart, a la 2003, written all over it. Not a big name, but big impact. With a guy who can get on base and get hits, he changes the dynamic of the lineup, not to mention his effect on a young guy like Joe Mauer behind him.

The offseason was basically symbolized by big out of control contracts. I didn't even get to Kevin Millwood, Esteban Loiza, or Matt Morris, among others, but the point is these guys were vastly overpaid. The Twins fans should be happy Terry Ryan did not partake in any of this zaniness. Not overpaying for Thomas or Blalock were good moves not to make. There were good signings and trades this offseason, but way too many bad moves. Needless to say, its hard to say much about what will happen with the teams (Blue Jays, Mets) who made big moves. Will they improve greatly and go to the playoffs? In some ways, I learn towards no. Never discount the Braves or the Yankees and Red Sox.

But above all, it was still an interesting offseason, but now we have spring training and the season to look forward to. Let's get ready everyone. And go Twins!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

2005 Season in Review

We are only a few days away from having the Twins' pitchers and catchers report for spring training, marking the official start of the 2006 baseball calendar. While there will plenty of predictions and position previews for the upcoming season on this site from now until April 4, I thought I would take one last look back at the 2005 season, and its most memorable moments.


The Twins fell well short of expectations last year, finishing barely above .500 and 16 games out of first place when many people had pegged them as World Series contenders. The offense was the worst in the American League, producing only 688 runs and failing to support a pitching staff that posted a 3.71 ERA and held opponents to a .307 batting average, second best in the AL. That was the story of the year though really; pitchers delivering great performances only to be hung out to dry by an offense that frequently couldn't produce more than one or two runs per game, even against mediocre pitching. As a fan, it was frustrating to watch the team fall out of contention mid-way through the season, but there was still a lot of great baseball and some positive things to be taken away from the future. Now, a list of my most memorable aspects of the 2005 season.

The Disappointing Hitters

Who could've guessed that Justin Morneau would regress from .271/.340/.536 to .239/.304/.437? Or that Shannon Stewart's OPS would plummet 116 points? Jacque Jones hit .249 and struck out 120 times. Michael Cuddyer hit .204 with runners in scoring position. Luis Rivas hit so badly that the Twins had to gamble on Bret Boone, who proceeded to hit .170 in 14 games with the team before being promptly dumped. Just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Twins' offense last year did. I literally cringed every time the Twins loaded the bases, just wondering how they would manage to butcher the scoring opportunity. That's just not right.

Santana Robbed of Cy Young

The Baseball Writers of America foolishly awarded Angels' ace Bartolo Colon with the AL Cy Young award despite the fact that our own Johan Santana was clearly deserving. Santana was significantly better than Colon in every major category other than wins, and he led the Major Leagues in strikeouts. This debacle really has diminished the prestige of the Cy Young Award, in my mind, because it shows that the people voting for it truly do not have a very good knowledge of the game of baseball. Pitching is about a hell of a lot more than wins.

Silva's Control

Who would've known Carlos Silva, the former relief pitcher acquired from the Phillies in the Eric Milton trade, would turn out to be one of the most accurate pitchers in baseball history. Silva pitched 188 innings and walked only nine batters. He posted an excellent 3.44 ERA. He also had quite the knack for posting incredibly low pitch-counts, including a historical 74-pitch complete game on May 20.

The One-Hit Wonder

Easily the most memorable game of the season was on August 23, when Johan Santana and Freddy Garcia faced off in a pitcher's duel for the ages. Garcia carried a no-hitter into the 8th inning before Jacque Jones ripped a solo home run to put the Twins ahead 1-0, and Joe Nathan came in and slammed the door in the 9th to make it official. Probably the best game I've ever seen.

Hunter's Injury

With all the changes that have occurred on this team within the past five years, seeing Torii Hunter in center field has been the one mainstay. Despite his tendency to jump and dive for balls in center field with wreckless abandon, Hunter had been primarily healthy during his career with the Twins, playing in 138+ games every year since 2001. That is, until that July 30 game at Fenway Park. Hunter went jumping against the wall for a fly ball, caught his foot, and broke his ankle, causing him to miss the remainder of the year. A real shame, since Hunter was having one of the best seasons of his career. It was that day that we truly knew the season was over. Or maybe it was the next day...

Ryan Stays Put at Deadline

Despite essentially promising Twins fans that he would make some kind of move to bolster the team's offense before the deadline on July 31, Terry Ryan did absolutely nothing. I was furious. In the next month, the Twins would make a minor charge and eat up some ground in the division and Wild Card races, only to eventually flatten out and fall short. Would the addition of a minor offensive piece have made the difference? Probably not, but we'll never know.

Baker Arrives, Liriano Explodes

Despite having had some pretty good success in the minors, I'll confess I didn't really know much about Scott Baker before last year. Well, the 24-year-old had his coming-out party last season, making the most of a couple call-ups as he made 9 starts and won 3 games, posting a 3.35 ERA. The youngster showed good control, striking more than twice as many as he walked, and also showed very good poise.

Up until last year, Francisco Liriano had looked pretty good, but never astounding. He had never posted an ERA 3.18 at any level, and had some control problems. After starting the season at Double-A New Britain last year, the organization deemed Liriano looked good enough to get a shot at Triple-A. Once in Rochester, Liriano suddenly became incredibly dominant, posting a 1.78 ERA while striking out 112 batters in 91 innings. Now Liriano is near the top of every prospect list and we can anxiously await his arrival on the big league club. Oh, and he's younger than Joe Mauer.


All in all, it was a disappointing and frustrating year. However, the performances of pitchers like Silva, Baker and Liriano as well as the fact that hackers like Jones and Rivas will be replaced in the lineup by more patient hitters like Luis Castillo and Rondell White all bode well for the team's fortunes in the upcoming season. Let's get 2005 out of our minds and start to look ahead to 2006, which should be a much more fun and exciting season.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Central Tendencies

Happy Monday everyone. I have returned from a weekend in Wisconsin, where I stayed with some friends in Menasha (hometown of Eric Hinske), and saw some hockey at Lambeau Field. While I had no vested interest in the hockey game, other than to cheer against the Badgers (who were playing Ohio State), it was my first trip to the legendary Lambeau so it was cool to see the stadium. I was wearing my Vikings jacket, so needless to say I caught a lot of flack from drunken 'Sconnies. It was a lot of fun though.

Anyway, on to today's post, in which I thought I'd take a look at the AL Central. For the past five years, this division has generally been considered one of the weakest in baseball. When the Twins have been consistently been solid, but never spectacular, during that timespan, the rest of the crop has been spotty at best. The Tigers and Royals have switched places as the American League's worst teams, the Indians have continually fallen short of expectations, and the White Sox seemed to inevitably collapse on a yearly basis up until last season.

Now, suddenly, you take a look at the teams in this division as they enter spring training '06 and you are looking at perhaps baseball's strongest division. The AL Central isn't as star-studded as many others, but there are four legitimate playoff contenders here, and I don't think that can be said about any other division in the Majors, except for maybe the NL Central.

It starts with the White Sox, the defending World Series champions. I haven't been totally impressed with Chicago's off-season, but they haven't made themselves much worse even if the trades don't pay off. Even if Jim Thome can't stay healthy, Brian Anderson should adequately replace Aaron Rowand in the outfield, who they gave up in the deal. Even if Javier Vazquez is not effective, they have plenty of other arms capable of picking up the slack in the rotation. I don't see how the White Sox can possibly play as far over their heads again as they did last year, but they are still a solid team who will be tough to beat.

The Twins have made significant improvements this off-season. The additions of Luis Castillo and Rondell White should pump some life into an offense that was DOA last season, and it is hard not to expect some type of improvement from guys like Justin Morneau and Shannon Stewart. Plus, Torii Hunter hopefully will be healthy all season and Joe Mauer has a full season of experience under his belt. Even minor improvement on offense makes the Twins extremely dangerous, as their pitching staff is as dominant and deep as any in the Majors.

The Tigers don't seem to be getting much hype, but this to me this is a team that seems poised for a breakout. If Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez can stay healthy all year (which is of course, a relatively big "if"), they potentially have a very strong offense. Chris Shelton and Curtis Granderson emerged as solid young contributors last year, and of course veterans Dmitri Young and Pudge Rodriguez can be counted on to produce. The pitching rotation is sneaky good. The addition of crafty veteran Kenny Rogers is huge in my mind, as he could play a very important role on a staff that features some really talented young arms in Jeremy Bonderman, Mike Maroth, and Justin Verlander. The bullpen is questionable here, and it might be the only thing that holds this team back.

The Indians have not had a very impressive off-season in my mind. That said, I expect them to be a better team this year than they were in '05. Why? Because I can't imagine so many of their hitters coming out of the gates so dreadfully slow. Victor Martinez hit .207/.290/.329 in April last year, and .213/.268/.333 in May. Travis Hafner hit only five home runs in the first two months of the season, but hit 11 in September and was getting MVP talk as a DH. Jhonny Peralta hit .222/.294/.444 in April. The point is that all these guys are excellent players who ended up having great seasons, but they all struggled mightily out of the gate and by the time the team made a ferocious charge late in the season, it was already too late. I don't expect the team to repeat their early struggles this year; they should be a factor all year long. They downgrade a bit in the rotation by replacing Kevin Millwood and Scott Elarton with Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson, but they have a fairly strong bullpen.

Of course, the hapless Royals will almost certainly remain at the bottom of the division this year, and it seems that they are going to be there for a long time. They employed an interesting strategy in bringing in some veterans with a history of winning in the off-season, guys like Doug Mientkiewicz, Reggie Sanders, and Mark Grudzielanek. Unfortunately, none of these guys were exactly major reasons why their teams won (although Dougie's ability to catch the final out on a throw from the pitcher in the '04 World Series was truly heroic). Kansas City could post an even more wretched win tally this year than they did last year, as they are going to be getting beaten up on regularly by some pretty damn good teams.

For the first time in quite a while, the champion of the AL Central is going to deserve some serious credit this year, because it will be the team that beat out three other high quality ballclubs.


One other note: Peter Gammons posted his MLB preview article (Insider required), and it is the top story on ESPN.com's baseball page today, along with a big picture of Joe Mauer. The article is fairly Twins-heavy. Gammons polled managers, coaches and scouts and compiled a few lists of players to watch this year. Francisco Liriano was rated #2 behind Florida's Jeremy Hermida as rookies who will be "difference-makers" (Kubel also collected an honorable mention on this list). Mauer was ranked #1 of players poised to have a breakout year (although he wasn't exactly shabby last year; nothing wrong with hitting .294/.372/.411 as a 22 year-old catcher). Gammons also names the Twins as one of his six teams to watch this year.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Mauer Out of WBC

Despite the fact that I am excited to get an early look at all the Twins players I can in the World Baseball Classic next month, I breathed a sigh of relief when I learned that Joe Mauer has decided not to participate in the event. Just one year ago we were all chomping our fingernails and checking the newspaper daily for updates on the catcher's fragile knee. While the knee has withstood a season and appears to be in fine condition, I was still quite wary of the idea of him playing in the tournament right out of the off-season at the most wearing position in the game. While I like our depth at catcher with Mike Redmond and Shawn Wooten, Mauer is clearly the heart of our lineup and losing him would be a huge blow.

Another news tidbit that will probably interest some is that the Twins extended their Player Development Contract with the Beloit Snappers for two more years, meaning the teams will be connected through 2008. Beloit, a single-A affiliate for the Twins, is loaded with pitching talent, featuring such names last year as Kyle Waldrop, Kevin Slowey, Matt Garza, and Eduardo Morlan. While I have no particular affiliation with the city of Beloit, I guess this is pretty good news because it means I won't have to acquaint myself with a different single-A minor league affiliate within the next few years.

(By the way - Is it pronounced "Bel-oit" like it looks, or "Bel-wah" like it seems like it should be pronounced? Anybody know?)

Anyway, I'm going to Wisconsin for the weekend to stay at a friend's house and see some hockey at Lambeau Field. If anything happens in Twins-Land, it will be the duty of the reliable Mr. Mosvick to cover it for you. Have a good weekend everyone!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Some Twins News for the Week

In the course of the weeks leading up to spring training, there is a void of baseball news, and thus, Twins-related news, to speak of. However, despite this, we have tried our best to keep posting on this site to keep people up-to-date.

Matthew LeCroy was a player, who over the course of the 2005 season, took a lot of attacks on this website... and likely for good reason. But it wasn't all LeCroy's fault. He is many things. An awful runner, one of the worst first-basemen or backup catchers I've ever seen, a bad hacker versus tough right-handers, and a guy who looked more fit for a beer-league softball team.

He also led the team last year in OPS at .798 and posted a career high .354 OBP. He was a good, patient hitter off the bench who crushed lefties. But that was always the key. Manager Ron Gardenhire could never use him in his best role. While LeCroy hit .306 with 13 HRs, 24 RBIs, and a 1.025 OPS against lefties, he was given 56 more at-bats (180 vs 124) against righties and hit .228 with 4 HRs and a .641 OPS.

What's left to wonder is - had LeCroy been used properly in a role against lefties off the bench - if he would have been re-signed, since he would have been a great bat off the bench against AL Central pitchers like Mark Buerhle, Cliff Lee, Mike Maroth, and C.C. Sabathia. In that sense, its unfortunate that they couldn't keep him. One of two things thus happened: Either Ryan realized that Gardy didn't know how to use LeCroy or he didn't want to deal with Scott Boras (LeCroy's agent) more than once this offseason.

Regardless, LeCroy signed yesterday with the Washington Nationals. Its a one-year deal for $850,000, which is less than the Twins had previously envisioned. This is the same Nationals team that is getting excited at the prospect of puttin Sammy Sosa on its roster. Seems ironic or just plain strange that Frank Robinson, an amazing slugger like Harmon Killebrew in the pitching-rich era of the 1960's, would end up managing a guy like Sosa, who is trying to pass Robinson on the all-time list when his home runs don't even feel like they should be in the same ballpark as Robinson's or Killebrew's.

In other Twins News, Wayne Krivsky, the Twins assistant GM who helped negotiate such multi-years deals as those for Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, and who scouted Joe Nathan and envisioned him as the future Twins closer, was signed yesterday by the Reds to be their new GM. This could be potentially bad news for the Twins, as Krivsky was one of the key parts to the Twins recent run of success. However, I wouldn't worry too much. The Twins still have Terry Ryan, Jim Rantz, and Mike Radcliff. Bill Smith, Terry Ryan's other assistant, has sat in on these negotiations, according to the Star Tribune, and should be ready to Krivsky. On that note, congrats to Wayne Krivsky!

Monday, February 06, 2006


On Saturday, I said that ESPN.com baseball writer Jerry Crasnick had mentioned to me in an e-mail that he would be writing a Twins-related article early this week.

That article is here, in the form of a prediction that the Twins will be the surprise team of the American League in 2006. Crasnick lists the Brewers as the National League's surprise squad.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Does anyone else feel like we were jinxed last year by the Twins being such a trendy pre-season pick for the World Series?

Twins Sightings

Well, the Super Bowl is out of the way (and oh, how predictable and boring it was), so now the national sports community can start to shift its attention towards the baseball season, with spring training and the inaugural World Baseball Classic rapidly approaching. This will mean a lot more baseball-related news to dissect, so finally we will actually have some solid material on this blog rather than the bland assortment of semi-news that we have been covering as of late. On that note, I have a small, bland assortment of Twins-related semi-news articles that caught my interest and I thought I'd mention in brief...

*Is it just me, or do our local sportswriters seem to go out of their way to act "objective" by being unfairly harsh on local players and teams. I remember getting pretty upset back in November when Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse, who holds one of the few votes for the Cy Young Award winners, put forth his lackluster argument as to why Johan Santana was undeserving of the AL honor.

Today, Jim Souhan has an article in the Strib that seems irrationally critical of the Twins' off-season. I generally think Souhan is a pretty decent writer, but I have to say that I feel like this is one of the worst articles of his I've read. Read it for yourself and see if you agree. Just a few statements I took issue with:

To solve their power outage, the Twins signed a player (Rondell White) who hit 12 home runs last year ... and allowed one to leave (Jacque Jones) who hit 23.

Yeah, never mind that Jones had 150 more at-bats than White. Also, never mind the fact that their career AB/HR numbers are almost identical: 26.5 for Jones and 26.3 for White. No, certainly the 2005 season - in which Jones was healthy for pretty much the entire campaign and White battled injuries - is fully indicative of both players' power capabilities. And of course, we should fully disregard the fact that, despite the home run differential, White's slugging percentage was 51 points higher than Jones' last year. Power isn't all about home runs, Jim.

White has the temperament and approach of a solid cleanup hitter, but this is where the Twins were all too Twins-like. Because they, unlike the Yankees or Red Sox, need to to drain value from every dollar spent, they resorted to projection.

He says this like it's a bad thing. Yeah, it really sucks that the Twins aren't giving $40 million dollar contracts to guys like Carl Pavano and $52 million to Johnny Damon.

They hoped, or assumed, that because White is a good-looking hitter with a high incidence of injury, that he will produce at a higher level if they protect him from harm by making him a full-time DH.

That thinking contains one part logic to two parts wishfulness. Frank Thomas would have represented higher risk, but also higher potential reward. A trade for someone like Hank Blalock would have cost a top prospect but would have immediately and dramatically improved the team. (Not that I condone trading Francisco Liriano to anyone for anyone.)

What exactly is the purpose of even writing this, if at the end of the statement he basically admits that the entire point was trivial? It is very unlikely that the Twins could have acquired Blalock without giving up Liriano, and I would bet the bank that the 33 year-old White will play a lot more and be a lot more effective this year than the 37 year-old Thomas who missed all but 34 games in '05. Oh yeah, and there is also no reason to think that Thomas wanted to come play on articifial turf nor that the Twins wanted such a documented clubhouse cancer on their roster.

I'll let you read the rest for yourself, it is pretty easy to find fault with most of the things he says within. I don't know if he actually views Terry Ryan's off-season moves that pessimistically or if he is simply playing devil's advocate, but it really troubles me to open my local newspaper and read such trite and overly critical stuff. If he was a writer for a national publication, he would almost certainly be accused of holding an extreme bias against the Twins for all of these outlandish claims and all of his poorly contextualized statistical evidence.

*Here is an interesting little article regarding some comments that Cubs' pitcher Carlos Zambrano made about wanting to challenge Santana for the opening start for Venezuela's team in the World Baseball Classic. With all due respect to Zambrano, who I believe is a very solid young pitcher with a bright future, he is not quite on the same level of dominance as Santana and not as deserving of the honor. That said, the article also mentions that the notion may hold some strategic merit, since the team they play in the opening round, the Dominican Republic, is comprised of mostly right-handed hitters. This would give the righty Zambrano an edge. Nonetheless, I think the team would probably stand a better chance with Johan getting the starting nod.

*Even if you're not particularly interested in fantasy baseball, you might want to check out Fanball.com's spring training preview for the Twins. It's nothing too noteworthy, but I think it's an interesting read and the writer, John Tuvey, seems to have a pretty good read on the team's situation heading into the March exhibitions.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Crasnick's Article

ESPN.com baseball writer Jerry Crasnick recently wrote an article analyzing, in his mind, the six most impactful trades of this off-season. I was pretty disappointed not to find the Twins' acquisition of Luis Castillo on the list, being that it represents the largest upgrade any team made at a single position this off-season (going from the dreadful combination of Luis Rivas, Brent Abernathy, and Bret Boone to to a Gold Glove winner and one of the league's better top-of-the-lineup hitters). Furthermore, the list was clearly slanted towards big market teams, as five of the six trades listed involved a New York team, Boston, or Chicago. It seems to me that if you're going write an article intended to inform people about trades, you should be listing transactions that might have slipped under the radar to some extent; people have already heard plenty about the Carlos Delgado and Jim Thome deals. Finally, I cannot possibly grasp how the White Sox' acquisition of Javier Vazquez would rank higher than the Castillo move on such a list.

I was so distraught by this glaring omission that I wrote Mr. Crasnick an e-mail. He was nice enough to write back, and while he didn't exactly refute my claims, he did mention that, for what it's worth, he will be writing a Twins-related article early next week. So I guess we have that to look forward to.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Torii Factor

When the Timberwolves got rid of Wally Szczerbiak in a trade with the Celtics last week, I was really disappointed. Not because I don't believe Ricky Davis - the main player acquired in the deal - is a better player, but because Wally is the guy on the Wolves who I just loved to watch. I have his jersey, I checked his stats on a nightly basis, and he was always the first guy I looked for on the court when I flipped on the game. He wasn't the best player on the team (although this season, you could make the argument), but he was a phenomenal shooter and he played hard night in and night out. Despite being smaller than most guys on the inside, Wally would routinely drive to the hoop in an effort to bang it in and draw the foul.

When news came following last season that Torii Hunter had sold his house, rumors began to swirl that the Twins were on the verge of trading their regular center fielder of seven years. This buzz was magnified when the Yankees stole Johnny Damon from the Red Sox, leaving Boston in the market for a big-name center fielder.

It wasn't out of the question that the Twins could have improved by trading Hunter. Their offense last year was abysmal, and there were several areas in need of significant improvement. Still, I kept my fingers crossed the entire off-season that the Twins would retain the five-time Gold Glove winner. Torii is my Wally on the Twins. He might have some serious flaws, but I absolutely love to watch him play. Even with Johan Santana around, he is still the face of the franchise and the most nationally recognizable player on the team. He constantly makes ESPN's Web Gems with his unbelievable defensive plays, he hits clutch home runs, he stares down pitchers after getting beaned, and he is one of the most entertaining base-runners I've ever seen, swiping bags with the pitcher still holding the ball and barreling into catchers in close plays at the plate. Sure, he has a history of some pretty bad strike zone judgment and he tends to be very streaky, but Hunter is the guy I want at the plate when the team needs a big hit.

Because the Twins were so disappointing last year and because he missed the entire second half of the season with a bad ankle injury, people tend to forget just how well he was playing before he went down. Hunter was nearly an All Star; he was the leading candidate early for the "32nd Man" position, a final roster spot voted for by fans online, but was eventually surpassed by Chicago's Scott Podsednik who won the honor. Torii was swiping bases at a maniacal rate; he stole 11 bags in April without being caught and had nabbed 19 by the All Star break. He was hitting home runs and driving men in. His overall line at the break was excellent, especially for a center fielder: .271/.342/.481 with 14 HR and 54 RBI. In June, Torii was ridiculous, hitting .330/.410/.681 with eight home runs and 22 RBI.

Perhaps the most important statistic was that Hunter was showing more patience at the plate than ever before in his career. His .337 on-base percentage before he went down ranks higher than any he has posted in any previous season in his career. He had drawn 34 walks in 396 plate appearances; not great but compare that to 40 walks in 580 appearances in '04. Even in his best season, 2002, Hunter drew only 35 walks in 596 PAs.

After recently reconciling a feud with Justin Morneau, Hunter is ready to step back in as the leader of this team. With the additions of Luis Castillo and Rondell White, along with the hopeful development of Morneau and Joe Mauer, Torii will have much more support in the lineup this year and could be poised for a great season.

While the additions were great, hanging on to Hunter might just turn out to be the team's wisest move this off-season.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Sierra's Chances

Yesterday, as Mr. Mosvick pointed out in his post, the Twins signed veteran Ruben Sierra to a minor-league deal, apparently to give him a shot in spring training. It's an extremely low-risk move, so I can't complain about it one bit, but I am a little puzzled. I can see the value that Sierra would bring as a left-handed pinch-hitter, but I honestly can't see how Sierra possibly makes the 25-man roster this season.

The issue is thus: If the Twins carry 11 pitchers (almost a sure thing), they are left with six spaces for non-starting position players. If they were in a situation like last year, where their projected DH was Lew Ford - a guy who can also backup the outfield spots solidly - then you can afford to carry a guy like Matt LeCroy who really can't play defense anywhere and is solely a pinch-hitter and part-time DH. Unfortunately with, Rondell White in the picture, they can't really afford this luxury. Presuming Jason Kubel wins the starting right field spot out of spring training, the Twins are left with five bench spots which will be filled by Mike Redmond, Juan Castro, Lew Ford, Michael Cuddyer, and Nick Punto. I guess if Kubel isn't ready at the start of the year, maybe you have a spot for Sierra, but with his talent I think it's a foregone conclusion that he will be up eventually, so really it would just be delaying the inevitable.

I think Sierra could be an effective bench player for the Twins, but unfortunately I don't see how there is possibly space for this 40 year-old who can't play defense and hasn't been a particularly good offensive player in the past four years.