Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Players We Love To Hate

One of my friends has been pestering me to compile this list, and since we've got some down time today with the Twins' first official spring training match-up set to take place tonight, now seems like as good a time as any.

It seems that every team in the league has that one player that especially grinds on us as Twins fans, one that we really loathe seeing at the plate or on the mound. Sometimes it's because that player always seems to perform particularly well against the Twins, and sometimes it's because he simply rubs us the wrong way. Whatever the case, I've compiled my list of the top player from each of the 13 other American League teams that I love to hate as a Twins fan. If you have any additions or changes in your own mind, feel free to let your feelings be known in the comments section.

BALTIMORE - Nick Markakis
Markakis wins this spot solely because of his performance against Mr. Carlos Silva in an August 22 match-up against the Twins last season. Not a power hitter, Markakis went deep in three consecutive at-bats against Silva. On the season, the rookie hit .382/.417/.706 against the Twins, with an overall line of .291/.351/.448.

BOSTON - David Ortiz
Of course, we all love to hate Manny Ramirez. And in truth, few of us probably hate Ortiz. Still, it is always painful to watch the former Twin repeatedly make the ESPN highlight reel with his home run heroics, and it's always gut-wrenching to see him come to the plate when the Twins play the Bo-Sox. Since moving to Boston, Ortiz has exacted his revenge against the Twins with a ridiculous .362/.500/.702 line in 47 at-bats, by far his best numbers against any opposing team. The Ortiz currently on the Twins roster is not quite as good.

CHICAGO - A.J. Pierzynski
This one was pretty easy. When Pierzynski played for the Twins, we all loved his snide attitude and his ability to get under the skin of opposing players. Now it bugs the hell out of us. (It seems like this trend is consistent with the attitudes of his former teammates.) At least we all love A.J. for one reason... getting rid of him brought back an All-Star starting pitcher, an All-Star closer, and perhaps the No. 2 starter in the rotation this season.

CLEVELAND - C.C. Sabathia
Sabathia hates the Twins, so we hate him too. Indians fans probably hate the fact that the hefty lefty can't seem to put his cap on straight.

DETROIT - Craig Monroe
Monroe, career vs. all opponents: .263/.310/.461
Monroe, career vs. Minnesota Twins: .320/.373/.547
This guy always seems to kill the Twins.

KANSAS CITY - Mike Sweeney
Can we really hate anybody on the lovably inept Royals? Forced to choose, I went with Sweeney, who has bashed Twins pitchers to the tune of .330/.392/.555 over the course of his 11-year career.

LOS ANGELES - Bartolo Colon
Not that it's his fault, but I'll never forgive Colon for stealing Johan Santana's Cy Young in 2005. Besides, he used to play for Cleveland, and by trading him the Indians were able to acquire Grady Sizemore, who is sure to be a thorn in our sides for many years.

NEW YORK - Hideki Matsui
Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez would have been too easy. Matsui made his Yankee Stadium debut against the Twins in April of 2003 and proceeded to hit a grand slam in his third at-bat against Joe Mays. I can forgive, Hideki, but I never forget.

OAKLAND - Nick Swisher
There's just something about Swisher that really bugs me... maybe it's that cocky smirk that's always plastered on his face. Or maybe it's the fact that he holds a career 1.309 OPS against the Twins. Last year, Swisher came to the Metrodome in early April and blasted two home runs off of Silva--a sad preview of things to come.

SEATTLE - Ichiro Suzuki
This one might be obvious but I couldn't resist; Ichiro has hit .526 against the Twins in 38 career ABs.

TAMPA BAY - The ghost of Travis Lee
The choice here would have been Lee, who refused to sign with the Twins after being drafted in the first round in 1996 and went on to have a satisfyingly mediocre career, but the Rays cut him last September after watching him hit .224. The Nationals picked him up in the off-season, making him an NL player and thus technically ineligible, but I simply had to put him on this list. Plus, it would be just plain mean to hate anyone on the Devil Rays with the way the Twins have consistently manhandled them the past few years.

TEXAS - Kameron Loe
I had to put Loe on this list because he reminds me of the height of the Twins' offensive ineptitude during the 2005 season. As you may recall, the Twins' entire lineup had a tendency to randomly disappear for games a time that season, often against mediocre (or worse) opposing pitchers. Loe is a perfect example; he made two starts against the Twins within a span of a couple weeks late in the season, and didn't allow a single earned run. Loe went 2-0 on 13 scoreless innings over those starts, over the rest of the season he was 7-6 with a 3.99 ERA. Last year he didn't get a chance to face the Twins, and as a result went 3-6 with a 5.86 ERA before dropping out of the Rangers rotation in June.

TORONTO - Frank Thomas
Thomas has everything going for him to make this list. He has a reputation as a jerk, he used to play for the hated White Sox, he's hit more home runs against the Twins (47) than any other opponent over the course of his career, and last year his two moon-shots in Game One of the ALCS set the tone for a thorough wipe-out by the Athletics.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Positives About Ortiz?

Once again, it was a fairly innocuous weekend, at least in the Twins' world. However, the blogs of Star Trib writers Joe Christensen and La Velle Neal continue to be a source of interesting discussion.

Christensen's blog contained the following blurb on Saturday:
People are blasting the Twins for inviting Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson into camp. But if you want to see real mistakes, watch teams that rush promising but unpolished pitchers by placing them on an opening day roster. The pressure is extraordinary because the expectations immediately are set so high. Most young pitchers are going to be up-and-down as rookies, and those downs can do major damage to their psyches.
I find this to be an interesting defense for the signing of Ortiz, and not because I don't he'll be terrible or because I don't believe that Matt Garza or some of the other young pitchers will be ready. What is interesting about it is that Terry Ryan's track record points to these kinds of moves, and often, the result is that fans are frustrated but the younger pitcher ends up doing fairly well and staying healthy.

The most obvious example is Johan Santana. In 2003, it appeared to be clear that Santana was ready to join the rotation when Eric Milton was hurt towards the end of training camp. Instead of Santana gaining the opportunity, Kenny Rogers was quickly signed to a one-year deal. Now, obviously Rogers is just a bit better than Ortiz or Ponson, but the point remains. The result has been that Santana was slowly brought to the majors and he has had three straight Cy Young-worthy years and has been near the top of the innings pitched leaders in the bigs each year.

It isn't a clear argument, but there is a good chance that Santana's durability and confidence was built by not immediately being thrown into the fire. (2000 doesn't really count. Santana was on the roster and in the 'pen, but there weren't exactly lots of expectations for success as a fresh Rule V draftee. Those expectations were there in 2002 and 2003, however.)

Now, once again I remind you that I am not necessarily endorsing this opinion, but it has its merits. The signing of Ortiz is a headache that won't go away. As long as that's true, we should at least try to find some positives out of the situation. If bringing guys like Garza, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, and others up slowly means that they will have more future success, it may be worth it.

At the same time, I don't wish to ignore the need for success this year. Let's just hope that the Twins don't wait too long to bring up their young pitchers.

* One other note of interest from Christensen's blog:
I bet you this: The Twins won’t just cut [J.D. Durbin] and lose him to waivers. They’ll either put him on the roster or trade him. He could be part of a package deal, with one of their relievers and another minor-league pitching prospect for something pretty good, maybe a veteran starter to plug into the rotation if others are stumbling.
If you remember, Nick Nelson wrote last Friday about the possibility of Durbin making the team. He also wrote about it in late January, discussing the possible look of the Twins' 25-man roster. Christensen seems to believe that there is a good chance that both Lew Ford and Jason Tyner will make the roster. If that happens, it is highly likely that Durbin will be the odd man out. In that case, I have to agree about trading an asset like him.

However, I once again would like to reiterate that trading Ford would be a much better idea than trading Durbin. The team probably won't get that much for either (unless Durbin has a phenomenal spring), but the team would benefit a lot more by keeping a talent like Durbin on the roster than a player like Ford or Tyner. Regardless, there will probably be a small trade or two being done by Terry Ryan this March.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Site Update

Nick & Nick's Twins Blog is entering its third season covering the Minnesota Twins, and I'm pleased with the way it's taken shape. Writing about the Twins regularly has provided an entertaining hobby since we started back in March 2005, and I really feel like my work on this site has improved my understanding of the craft of writing as well as the game of baseball. I'm sure Mr. Mosvick feels the same way.

Contributing on this blog has provided me with many interesting opportunities, from appearing on Jeff Straub's Podcast to participating in one of Seth Stohs' many delightful Q&A sessions. Interacting with the well-informed writers and readers in the blogging community has really been an awesome experience.

Our readership has grown consistently since the site spawned, a trend I'm hoping will continue with the 2007 season. I always like seeing a new name pop up in the comments section, and I'm always happy to receive an e-mail from an inquiring reader. From my interactions with people who stop by the site, I know that we have a reader base that varies greatly in age and geographic location, which really creates an interesting dynamic.

Regular readers may have noticed some subtle changes to the site over the past month or so. We've added a labeling system to our blog that enables readers to filter posts by a particular subject. So now, if you want to read articles specifically relating to Joe Mauer or spring training or trade speculation, you're able to do that. Posts can now also be filtered by author, so if you happen to prefer one writer's style over the other or for some reason want to go back and look through a particular author's work, you can look through the previous work of Mr. Mosvick or myself individually. Links to each of our respective article histories are now featured on the sidebar.

Overall, I'm happy with the way the site looks. I hope it is relatively functional and easy on the eyes. The No. 34 graphic on the sidebar was initially planned as a temporary memorial to Kirby when we put it up last year, but I like the way it looks so I think we'll keep it there. I don't mind being reminded of Puck every time I click into the page. I really like the stellar collection of links on the sidebar, and I hope the ads are not overly intrusive.

The real point of this post was to open the door for some reader input. If there is anything that people would like changed about the look or format of the site that would make it more functional or enjoyable, please let me know via comment or e-mail. In addition, we are open to suggestions as to what direction to take the content for the rest of the spring and into the season. If there are topics you would like to see us write more or less often about, feel free to let us know.

As it stands, we do have some hopefully good stuff planned for the five weeks leading up to the start of the 2007 season. Aside from following all the developments of spring training, we'll be posting our annual "Position Analysis" series and we'll be making some (probably highly inaccurate) predictions for the 2007 season. Once the season starts, we'll get back to posting on weekends, for those of you who like to stop by somewhere other than work.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone who has read and commented. It's been a lot of fun and hopefully this can be another good year.

On a completely unrelated aside, congratulations to Martin Scorsese on his big wins at the Academy Awards last night. Scorsese finally won Best Director, which has been a long time coming, and the film he directed, The Departed, won Best Picture over four other solid nominees. I'm no movie expert, but I thought Departed was definitely the best movie I've seen over the past year.

Friday, February 23, 2007

2007 Spring Training Preview

Back in early February, the sub-zero temperatures here in Minnesota only exacerbated a generally painful time of year for baseball fans during which spring training is still weeks away and can't seem to come soon enough. Recently, the weather here in the Twin Cities has finally started to warm up just as Twins players have started filling the Lee County Sports Complex in Ft. Myers for early spring workouts. And with today comes the deadline for all players to report, with the first full-squad workout taking place tomorrow. Spring has sprung, in more than one respect.

Of course, spring training is a sweet time for Twins fans, and not just for the rising temperatures. After another uneventful offseason, storylines will start to develop and baseball will be played, with the first official exhibition scheduled against the Red Sox next Wednesday. Perhaps the most important function of the next month's slate of practices and exhibition games will be narrowing the Opening Day roster down to 25 players. Many guys have a spot locked up, but there are a few positions up for grabs heading into spring training this year, so today I will sort out the candidates and pick out an early favorite for each.

Position Battles

Fifth Spot in the Rotation

Many have expressed a sentiment that the Twins rotation is completely undecided behind Johan Santana, but I don't think that's the case. In my mind, you've got four spots pretty much set in stone. Santana is obviously the ace. Behind him, you have to believe that Boof Bonser's outstanding performance in the second half last season has earned him an automatic spot in the rotation, barring a spring injury or meltdown. The Twins exercised a $4.325 million option on Carlos Silva and are hoping he can rebound toward his 2005 form, so he'll be there. Similarly, Ramon Ortiz is locked into a guaranteed $3.1 million contract, so he's going to be there in the beginning, like it or not.

This leaves one spot open for competition, and several names have been thrown around as possible candidates. Sidney Ponson, who signed a minor-league contract with the Twins in the offseason, has been the topic of much discussion and will get a long look. Matt Garza got his feet wet in the majors last year and is also a strong candidate. Glen Perkins, who pitched well in a September call-up last season, has repeatedly been mentioned as a possibility. Even Kevin Slowey, who has yet to pitch above the Double-A level, is a contender in this race because he performed so well in the minor leagues last year.

Of course, one candidate that tends to get overlooked is Scott Baker. Baker was the fifth starter over Francisco Liriano out of spring training last year, but a disastrous '06 campaign has lowered his stock immensely. Even though he was a train-wreck last season (especially against non-Yankee opponents), we can't forget that Baker is still just 25 and does hold a 2.97 ERA over 439 1/3 career minor league innings.

Baker could be a wild-card somewhere along the line, but I'd still stick him at the bottom of this list. I think Ponson will get the nod out of spring training because Ron Gardenhire and the Twins really seem to want to give him a shot. However, I think Garza, Perkins and Slowey will all be on the big-league roster by September.

Favorite: Sidney Ponson

Final Bullpen Spot

With returners Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, Dennys Reyes, Pat Neshek and Matt Guerrier all essentially guaranteed spots in the bullpen, it would seem that the only open spot is the one vacated by the non-tendered Willie Eyre. Of course, that seventh spot may not even exist. Many teams choose to go with just six relievers, opening up an extra spot on the bench, and this seems especially doable with the durable six listed above. Still, Gardy likes to carry a deep bullpen, and the potentially shaky rotation could increase the relievers' workload early in the season, so I do believe the Twins will go north with a seventh guy.

So who's it going to be? J.D. Durbin has been up-and-down over the past few years, and is coming off a nerve injury in his throwing elbow, but he's out of options and if the Twins don't keep him they will almost certainly lose him. Once a hot-shot prospect who dubbed himself "The Real Deal," Durbin's control problems have haunted him for the past few years, and it's starting to look like now-or-never time for the 25-year-old right-hander.

If the Twins don't go with Durbin, it will probably be because Gardy wanted an additional left-hander to spell Reyes. If that is the case, there are several options. The Twins brought in three veteran lefty relievers on minor league contracts during the off-season (Mike Venafro, Randy Choate and Carmen Cali). Any one of those guys is a possibility. Prospect Ricky Barrett, who will turn 26 in a couple weeks, posted a 3.42 ERA at Triple-A Rochester last year and seems about ready. A final possibility would be Perkins, in a situation similar to the one that occurred with Francisco Liriano last season.

Durbin has too much upside still to just be let go, so unless his injury remains a major problem or he can't get the ball over the plate in spring training, I think he'll be the guy.

Favorite: J.D. Durbin

Starting Designated Hitter

Last year the plan was to go with Rondell White at DH, and while he is returning this season, it looks like the Twins will be starting him in left field, where he posted better offensive numbers in 2006. That leaves the door open for Jason Kubel, who cruised to the majors after tearing up minor-league pitching in 2004, but missed the entire 2005 season with a knee injury that still hampered him last year. Kubel at DH would seem to be ideal, as it would allow him to save his knees the work of playing the outfield and he could add some power to the bottom of the Twins' lineup.

If Kubel isn't ready for regular action, off-season additions Matt LeCroy and Ken Harvey are right-handed hitters with DH experience. Still, I think the Twins would much prefer to have Kubel in this spot, with Jeff Cirillo occasionally subbing in against left-handed pitchers. Hopefully Kubel will be ready to go, because the latter situation would certainly be preferable to LeCroy or Harvey.

Favorite: Jason Kubel

Final Bench Spot(s)

We know Mike Redmond will be backing up Joe Mauer. We also know that Cirillo will be on the bench to back up first and third. Presumably Lew Ford will be on the roster since the Twins are paying him almost $1 million and he can adequately back up all three outfield positions. Beyond those three, there will be either one or two bench positions left over, depending on whether or not the Twins choose to carry a seventh reliever. Since I think they will carry that extra reliever, I project one remaining bench-spot. It would have to be a guy who can cover both middle-infield positions, since none of the aforementioned players fill that role. The Twins' Rule V draft pick, Alejandro Machado, seems like a natural fit. He doesn't hit much, but he is a nice fielder who would ostensibly provide the same services Juan Castro did in 2005 but at a cheaper price.

Luis Rodriguez is another possibility, but his defense at shortstop is not stellar and he provided little offense in 115 at-bats last season. Rodriguez might be out of options, but I'm not entirely sure.

If the Twins do carry a fifth bench player, you can bet it will be Jason Tyner, who hit .312 (albeit with no patience or power) over 218 at-bats last year. Yet, as I've said before, having Tyner on the roster seems redundant to me if all three starting outfielders are healthy. Ford can back up all three of those positions and he can pinch-run, and Kubel would also be able to fill an outfield spot when he's not at DH.

Favorite: Alejandro Machado


I posted my projected Opening Day roster back on January 30 and at this point I'm sticking to it, with one amendment. The only change I've made is swapping Ponson for Garza as the fifth starter. Here's my new projection:

Joe Mauer, C
Justin Morneau, 1B
Luis Castillo, 2B
Nick Punto, 3B
Jason Bartlett, SS
Rondell White, LF
Torii Hunter, CF
Michael Cuddyer, RF
Jason Kubel, DH

Mike Redmond, C
Alejandro Machado, IF
Jeff Cirillo, IF
Lew Ford, OF

Johan Santana
Boof Bonser
Carlos Silva
Ramon Ortiz
Sidney Ponson

Matt Guerrier
J.D. Durbin
Jesse Crain
Pat Neshek
Dennys Reyes
Juan Rincon
Joe Nathan

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Torii's Professionalism

For as long as he's been a Twin, Torii Hunter has made a lot of stories and garnered a lot of attention. He has been a media darling and the was face of the Twins until the arrival of stars like Johan Santana, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. He's also been known to some as a bit of a prima donna with a big mouth. However, recent comments seem to tell us a lot about Hunter's true values these days.

As many know and have accepted, Hunter is probably in his last year as a Twin. When asked about his contract, he told this to the Star Tribune:
"I don't let it bother me anymore," Hunter said. "I'm still signed for one year, and I'm going to honor that. I'm going to work hard. I'm not going to be a problem in the clubhouse or none of that."

"Once the season starts it's over," he said. "I'm 100 percent focused. I won't be a distraction. That's why I really don't want to talk contract. It sounds selfish when you're trying to win a division or things like that."
To some, this may seem totally the opposite of what people expect from Hunter or it may seem like something he put out there to keep face. I think it has to be looked at as symbolic of the true Torii. Hunter is a leader, yes, and he also can be a distraction. But, deep down, he's a loyal guy who plays his heart out and has always respected the team.

One of the best examples I can think of, other then these recent quotes, is Hunter's frequent visits to Fox Sports Net's "Best Damn Sports Show Period." In his visits, he's constantly hounded by Chris Rose and others for why he is still playing for the Twins, but he's always stuck up for the organization. His occassionally disrespectful or irritating outbursts make him the type of emotional team player remniscent of another great Minneapolis athlete: Kevin Garnett.

Ironically, Garnett may be out of town soon too, based on how terribly things went last night. (This isn't a Timberwolves blog, but you don't need to be a fan to understand the embarassment of last night's loss to Charlotte. Adam freakin' Morrison people.) Hunter isn't the once-in-a-lifetime talent Garnett is, but he is one of the great athletes in Twin Cities history.

If this is his last season, let's view Hunter in the right light: he isn't perfect, but he's always played hard, he's been a vocal leader, and he's always kept us entertained.

A couple other notes:

* If Hunter keeps the professionalism, it will certainly help the ability of the Twins to trade him. Knowing how a troublesome or distracting star can be hard to trade (Manny Ramirez anyone?), it's easy to figure that the opposite situation will only help ease the trade market for a player.

* There is an interesting quote from Johan Santana in response to the Barry Zito contract at the end of the aforementioned Strib article:
"We haven't heard anything from [the Twins]," he said. "But one thing I could tell them is, sooner would be better. I'm pretty sure it will be cheaper."
All I can say is that if the Twins want to have any chance of keeping Santana, they better act quick.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hump Day Blues

Sorry folks, but we just couldn't come up with anything of interest to write on today. Fortunately, others could. I'll direct you to SethSpeaks, where our friend Seth has posted a couple great Q&A sessions over the past few days. Make sure you check out his exchanges with Pat Neshek and Kevin Slowey. Seth's Q&A articles are always a great read that give some valuable insight into the minds of Twins players and prospects.

Also, if you're looking to get your fill of spring training updates from the Twins' camp, make sure to regularly visit the new blogs of Star Tribune beat writers La Velle E. Neal III and Joe Christensen, as well as Pioneer Press beat writer Jason Williams. I added all three links to the sidebar.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Can Garza Make the Jump?

As players start to arrive in Ft. Myers and spring training starts to kick into gear, the Twins' uncertain rotation picture has been the focus of much attention from fans and writers. Specifically, a lot of attention has centered around Sidney Ponson, or Sir Sid, as La Velle E. Neal has referred to him. However, there's a different pitcher I'll be following most closely this spring, and that's Matt Garza.

While Ponson and Ramon Ortiz have a chance to improve on their horrible 2006 campaigns and contribute to the back end of the Twins' rotation, Garza could be the wild-card in whether or not the Twins can realistically compete for another division title. If Garza makes a jump this year and starts to pitch the way his minor-league numbers suggest he can, he could team up with Johan Santana and possibly Boof Bonser to elevate the Twins' rotation to elite status. So now the question becomes one of whether the Twins should continue to push Garza or back off and let him develop more in the minor leagues.

When it comes to highly touted college pitchers being pushed aggressively through the minors and debuting in the majors at a young age, we don't have to look far into the past to find a couple relevant examples (one of which hits painfully close to home). Like Garza, both these pitchers struggled in their initial stint in the big leagues, but after that point the two careers took completely opposite paths. So here's a look at the proverbial worst-case and best-case scenarios that we can look for with Garza.

Back in 2000, the Twins used their No. 2 overall pick in the draft to select Adam Johnson out of Cal State University-Fullerton. It was the last in a string of three straight horrendous first-round busts for the Twins (Ryan Mills at No. 6 overall in '98, B.J. Garbe at No. 5 overall in '99), a slump that thankfully ended in 2001 with the selection of Joe Mauer. Johnson signed and played half a season at Ft. Myers in 2000, posting a 2.47 ERA and 92/20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 12 starts there. The next year, a good performance in Double-A pushed Johnson to the majors, where he made his debut against the Cardinals on July 16 (just over a year after being drafted). Johnson pitched alright in the game, earning a no-decision by going six innings and allowing three earned runs (on two homers) while striking out five and walking one. From that point on, however, things went downhill badly for Johnson. He gave up 13 earned runs over 14 innings in his next three starts and was banished to the bullpen. Johnson finished that season with an 8.28 ERA and 17/13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 major-league innings.

He started the next season back at the Triple-A level, but he was horrible there, posting a 5.47 ERA over 151.1 IP while seeing a huge drop in a his strikeout rate and a huge jump in his rate of home runs allowed. Johnson performed poorly again in Triple-A in 2003, and was disastrous during a September call-up to the majors that year, allowing eight hits and seven earned runs while recording just four outs over a span of two appearances. That was the last time Johnson saw action the major leagues, and since then he has floated around between several minor league organizations, pitching poorly at almost each stop.

Now, I'm not saying that there is much likelihood of Garza suffering a similar fate. The two aren't necessarily very good comps because, unlike Garza, Johnson never really dominated the competition in the high minors. Still, the example provides some food for thought. Was Johnson really destined to be such a horrible pitcher, or did the Twins wreck his confidence by rushing him to the majors too quickly and not allowing him to develop his pitches in the minor leagues?

For a much more encouraging comparison (and one that seems a lot more plausible), we need look no further than last season's American League Rookie of the Year.

The Tigers drafted Justin Verlander out of Old Dominion University with the second overall pick in the 2004 draft. It took them several months to get him signed, so he wasn't able to start his pro career until 2005, but once he did there was no looking back. Verlander absolutely decimated minor-league hitters, going 9-2 with a 1.67 ERA and 104/19 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 86 innings at the Single-A level. He was then promoted to Double-A where he allowed just 11 hits and one run over 32 2/3 innings, and by the end of his first season in pro baseball he found himself in the major leagues pitching for the Tigers. In 11 1/3 innings during his September call-up, Verlander struggled a bit, posting a 7.15 ERA while striking out seven and walking five.

Last season, Verlander started the season with the Tigers and pitched very well, going 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA and 124/60 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 186 innings. He helped carry the Tigers to an American League pennant, and earned Rookie of the Year honors. So can Garza find similar results in his second shot at the majors?

Garza's situation coming into this season is comparable to Verlander's entering last season, and it's very possible that he could make a similar jump. Baseball Savant has even opined that Garza could be just as good this year as Verlander was last year. Personally, I believe Garza might need to start the season in Triple-A so he can work on developing his off-speed stuff in order to reduce his reliance on the fastball. That said, if he looks ready to go in spring training I doubt the Twins will hesitate to hand him the fifth spot in the rotation. If he can come on strong while Bonser and Carlos Silva hold their own, the Twins should have a great shot at making the playoffs.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Spring Training Arrivals, Ponson, and More

The weather here in Minnesota is heating up (finally), and pitchers and catchers have reported to Ft. Myers for spring training. With full squad works out right around the corner, there are a few bits of news from the Twins and, as always, some things to discuss. Some of it gives us Twins fans reason to be optimistic, and some others not so much.

* La Velle E. Neal's blog is now up and running and he made some interesting posts over the weekend, as pitchers, catchers and some notable position players arrived in Ft. Myers. One of the interesting notes he makes is about Sidney Ponson, who has reportedly arrived at spring training in much better shape and having lost around 20 pounds or so. (He was apparently 269 lbs. during his big 2003 season and he is around 245 now according to Neal.)

If Ponson really is serious about getting better and has arrived in good shape, there is at least some reason to hope he can be a decent back-end starter. As my colleague Nick Nelson talked about in his last post, Ponson has a lot more upside then Ramon Ortiz. If he's in better shape, in the right place mentally, and gets some good help from Rick Anderson, we may see some good results.

* Another story on Ponson is on the official Twins' site. Apparently Ponson chose the Twins for clubhouse reasons. That at least makes some sense, since the Twins seem to have a fairly professional and tight clubhouse. All of these factors are once again some reasons to think about Ponson's potential for success. On the other hand, it is also more reason to hope and pray that Ponson is chosen over Ortiz. Even if they have to just fork over $3 million to get him to leave, it's better than ever letting him throw a pitch for the Twins.

* Numerous stories continue to come out suggesting a worsening situation for the Twins stadium deal. At this point, most are saying that if the site for the stadium is changed, it's unlikely that the stadium will be open by 2010. Likewise, if they continue battling with the land-owners, they may never get started. The problems are endless, coupled with the stadium's current potential location next to a garbage facility. This one is a big downer right now.

* There appears to at least be a decent chance for Glen Perkins to make the Twins rotation out of spring training. Its hard to tell just what kind of chance Perkins, or Matt Garza or Kevin Slowey for that matter, have at making the rotation. But, once again, this is only an attempt to instill some hope that Ortiz will not make the rotation.

* Lastly, in some other news, Tony Oliva will appear on the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee ballot for the third time. In 2005, Oliva got 56.3% of the votes. 75% is needed to get in. As many of you know, the Veterans Committee is basically the one other way that former players can get into the Hall of Fame if they failed to get in during the 15 years of eligibility on the writers' ballot.

Oliva is an interesting subject, since we don't talk too much baseball history on this site and it is one of my biggest passions. Oliva is one of those great Twins players from the '60s that I always hear my dad talking about. Oliva, in some ways, can be compared to Kirby Puckett. Not in stats, but in having a great career cut off by injuries. In 15 seasons from 1962-76, Oliva hit .304/.353/.476 with 220 home runs, 947 RBI, 1917 hits, 870 runs scored, and 86 SB. He finished his career with a 131 OPS+ in 6,301 career at-bats. (As a comp, Puckett hit .318/.360/.477 in 7,244 career at-bats in 12 seasons, with 207 home runs, 1085 RBI, 2,304 hits, 1071 runs scored, and 134 SB. He had a career 124 OPS+.)

Oliva was the Rookie of the Year in 1964, hitting .323/.359/.557 with 217 hits, 32 home runs, 109 runs scored, 94 RBI, 43 doubles, and 374 total bases. I don't need to tell you how great those numbers are alone, especially for a rookie, but they are even more impressive considering how difficult it was to hit in the 1960s. It was one of three years that Oliva would lead the league in hitting, as he also did in 1965 (.321) and 1971 (.339).

Oliva hit .300 six times in his career. After a huge year in 1971, he was slowed by numerous injuries and never hit .300 again. He retired after the 1976 season. Since then, he has been an adored public figure and has long been known as one of the greatest Twin players ever. Like Puckett, he was one of the great hitters of his era, a great fielder (he won a Gold Glove in 1966), and a class act.

It's hard to know if that makes him a Hall of Famer, but I'd love to see a guy like Oliva get in. He doesn't have the raw stats most Hall of Famers do, but then again, a lot of great players don't. (Puckett is an example, but fellow 2001 Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski, Bobby Doerr, and other Veterans Committee choices don't have great numbers either.) With that, I'd give Oliva my support.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Offseason in Review

At first blush, it would seem that the Twins' 2006-07 offseason was a rather dreadfully uneventful one. They made no major outside additions, and, indeed, that made it pretty difficult to come up with stuff to write about here at NNTB over the winter months.

But, in taking a closer look, you will find that Terry Ryan and the Twins committed quite a bit of money during this offseason. There was the activation of Torii Hunter's $12 million option as well as Carlos Silva's $4.3 million option, the re-signing of Rondell White at $2.75 million, Joe Mauer's four-year $33 million dollar deal, the signing of Ramon Ortiz at $3 million, Justin Morneau's $4 million raise, plus all the various raises for other arbitration-eligible players. Put it all together, and that eats up the salary space that was cleared up by the departures of Brad Radke and Shannon Stewart and then some.

So while Ryan did not make a big splash in the free agent market this offseason and was quiet in the trade department, he did make some moves to hold together the core group that won the division last season, while adding a few role players to fill some holes around those players.

How did the Twins do on the moves they did make over the offseason? Let's take a look one-by-one and see how they grade out (in no particular order).

Torii Hunter's option activated for $12 million.

As usual, Hunter frustrated fans last season with his streaky and inconsistent play, stumbling out of the gates with a .189/.240/.378 line in April and flying across the finish line with a .314/.328/.576 line (including nine home runs) in September. Also as usual, Hunter's overall results were pretty good. His .278 average was the third-highest of his career, he drove in 98 runs (four off his career high) and he broke the 30-HR barrier for the first time. $12 million is a big chunk of the Twins' payroll, but when you take into account the Zito-esque mega-deal that Vernon Wells signed with the Blue Jays in the offseason, it doesn't seem all that unreasonable. Hunter's defensive prowess is on the decline, but he's still an upper-echelon defender at his position. Being that this is a just a one-year commitment, it can't really hurt the Twins too much no matter what happens.


Rondell White re-signed for $2.75 million.

This is a fairly low-risk investment. If White hits like he did down the stretch last year (.321/.354/.538 after the All-Star break) it's a great deal. If he hits like he did for the first half of the season, it's not so great, but still not all that horrible since it's only a one-year deal. The reality is that White will probably hit somewhere between the two extremes of last year, and considering the types of deals being handed out on the free agent market over the past few months, getting that kind of production for under $3 million is not bad at all. With Cuddyer having emerged as the big right-handed bat in the middle of the order, there will be less pressure on White to produce this year.


Carlos Silva's option activated for $4.325 million.

The Twins had little choice but to activate Silva's option, with Radke and Francisco Liriano gone for the 2007 season and few realistic options available via free agency or trade to buoy the rotation. Silva was nothing short of abysmal in '06, but there is reason to hope he can rebound toward his 2005 form this year. It's hard to be complimentary of rewarding a 5.94 ERA with over $4 million, but the Twins could have done worse. For an example, see below.


Ramon Ortiz signed out of free agency for $3.1 million.

I don't care how ridiculous the market for starting pitching was this offseason, there is simply no scenario in which Ortiz is worth over $3 million. At least there is some hope for Silva because he's relatively young and had success as recently as two seasons ago. Ortiz is 33 and has posted an ERA below 5 just once over the past four seasons. He has poor control, he is extremely hittable, and if you like collecting baseballs, I suggest you get some tickets for the Home Run Porch on days Ortiz is pitching. This is just a waste of money.


Hoo boy.

Sidney Ponson signed out of free agency to minor-league deal for $1 million.

Ponson is just one of a handful of players the Twins signed to minor-league deals during the offseason, but I'll discuss his signing since I think he stands the best chance of any of them to make the team out of spring training. First of all, it's hard to be critical of this deal at all, because he is not guaranteed a roster spot and his contract is only worth a million bucks. Like Ortiz, Ponson has struggled for the past several seasons, but unlike Ortiz, some of those issues can probably be attributed to off-the-field problems. If Ponson can get his head on straight, there's a chance he can move back toward his 2002-03 form, when he was an above-average pitcher. Not a good chance, but a chance. If he doesn't pan out, the Twins really aren't hurt too much.


Justin Morneau signed for $4.5 million.

I know a lot of people would have liked to see the Twins lock up Morneau with a multi-year extension, but I think that this was the best move for now. Before they invest too much money in Morneau, they need to see if he can repeat the kind of production he had last year, and they also need to see what happens with their prospects at first base this year. For now, the Twins agreed to a one-year agreement with the arbitration-eligible Morneau at the halfway point between the club's offer of $4 million and his request of $5 million. I'd say $4.5 million is a very reasonable price for one of the top first basemen in the American League.


Joe Mauer extended for four years, $33 million.

Mauer is one of the Twins' most valuable assets, and they acted accordingly by getting him signed through the 2010 season. It's a safe bet that Mauer will continue to hit and play defense at an exceptional level, and his injury concerns have effectively faded away after two seasons of near-perfect health. Mauer is a quality player and seems like a quality person. It's worth noting, however, that the Twins didn't get a hometown discount here. As Ryan put it, this was a fair-market deal.


Nick Punto extended for two years, $4.2 million.

Some people were disgusted when the Twins offered Punto arbitration last season. As SBG put it on January 23 of last year:
If only Marty McFly could bring that DeLorean out and we could go back and non-tender Punto. Why the Twins offered this guy arbitration is beyond me. Perhaps they were listening to those who think he’s cute. He SUCKS. He’s replacement level, if that. It’s a joke that this penny pinching club (or any club) is giving this guy one red cent.
Punto ended up signing for just under $700,000 last year, and it wound up being a pretty good deal. Will he be a good value at his new salary of $1.8 million this year (and $2.4 million next year)? I would venture to say, probably. Many people (I'm not one of them) will tell you that Punto is incapable of repeating his numbers from last year, but even if his offense declines he is a fairly valuable player because he can play outstanding defense at several positions and he runs the bases well. Punto's numbers last year compared favorably to the Angels' Chone Figgins, and both players are about the same age and possess the same type of defensive versatility. Figgins made $2.2 million last year and he'll make $3.5 million this year. If that's what speedy utility-types are going for, I'd say the Twins did just fine with Punto.


Punto pushes Henry Blanco out of the way of a speeding DeLorean.

Juan Rincon signed for $2 million.

Rincon crumbled down the stretch last year, giving up 31 hits and posting a 4.98 ERA over 21 2/3 innings between August and September. For the season, Rincon posted an excellent 2.91 ERA overall but saw his strikeout rate drop considerably from the previous couple years and he posted his highest WHIP (1.35) since becoming a full-time reliever. There may well be reason for concern with Rincon, but it's still hard to complain about paying $2 million to a setup man who has posted an ERA below 3 in each of the last three seasons, particularly with the kind of money teams have been throwing at relievers over the past couple years.


Lew Ford signed for $985,000.

Ford wanted $1.3 million, the team offered $800,000. The mid-point agreement will pay him just a bit under a million dollars this season. Ford went from sub par offensively in 2005 to incompetent in 2006, but he's still a skilled base-runner who can play all three outfield positions quite well, and that's worth something. I would argue that there is little reason to keep Ford around with Jason Tyner in the organization, but oh well.


Michael Cuddyer signs for $3.575 million.

After a breakout year, Cuddyer was the last of the Twins' arbitration-eligible players to reach an agreement. It seemed that the case might be headed for a hearing, with the two sides pretty far apart (Twins at $3 million, Cuddyer and his agent at $4.25 million). Fortunately, the two sides were able to come to a middle ground yesterday afternoon. $3.575 million is just a little below the halfway mark between the two figures, but if Cuddyer reaches 650 plate appearances a $50K bonus will kick in that would bring him up to that mid-point. As much as I poke fun at SBG on the Punto subject, he can easily come right back at me on Cuddyer. I'll admit, I had given up on Cuddy prior to last year, but he proved me wrong by turning into an offensive force given regular time in right field, racking up extra-base hits and delivering numerous clutch hits. Cuddyer will be a crucially important member of the Twins' 2007 offense nestled between Mauer and Morneau in the lineup, and getting him at just over $3.5 million seems like a solid bargain.



In summary, the Twins' offseason consisted of reaching mid-point agreements with several arbitration-eligible players, signing a couple lousy starting pitchers out of free agency, exercising expensive options on a couple players from last year's team, signing numerous players to minor-league deals, and locking up one of their most valuable assets through the end of the decade.

For the most part, the moves are all pretty low-risk and smart, so while the Twins did little to improve their roster from last year, they did a pretty good job of holding it together at a reasonable cost. The rotation is obviously going to be the biggest concern, so much will depend on the ability of one or two of the young guys to step in and perform. If that happens, the Twins will have a chance in this brutal AL Central, regardless of their winter of discontent.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Jim Bowden Must Be Crazy

Before Mr. Nelson gives you a longer and more serious post tomorrow reviewing offseason stories and moves, I'd like to discuss something a little lighter in fare: Tony Batista has signed with the Nationals.

Of course, this normally wouldn't be much of a story if not for some of the quotes and facts surrounding the signing. Batista is on a minor-league deal with the Nationals along with Dmitri Young, the troubled former Detroit DH.

The article contains the following gem:
(Nationals GM Jim) Bowden referred to the players as "assets," saying they could wind up providing depth for Washington at first base (Young) or third base (Batista) -- and also could be dealt to another team for prospects. "It's important to have pieces to trade," Bowden said.
Apparently, Bowden is under the impression that, for one, anyone other than the Nationals, possibly the worst team in the majors, wants Young or Batista. He also apparently believes that some crazy GM--maybe Wayne Krivsky--will actually give up some prospects for a guy like Batista. I certainly hope that's not the case, but the story offers us some interesting fodder just before spring training kicks off.

Over a year ago, when the Twins signed Batista, I was somewhat optimistic about the signing. I wrote in February that Terry Ryan must have signed him to help clubhouse chemistry. I was admittedly desperate to find some reasons to be okay with the signing and not join the negativity of the Twins blogosphere. Batista was at least a decent clubhouse presence, but he did nothing for the Twins. It was apparent last year that Batista has nothing left (regardless of his Carribean World Series heroics).

What this signing tells us, beyond giving us something to chuckle about, is that GMs may be getting desperate. At least some are. That may open up the market for the Twins to make some moves in the future. Let's just hope that doesn't include trading for Tony Batista.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

No Respect, I Tell Ya

I've tried to break my habit of getting worked up every time a big-time national writer overlooks or slights the Twins in an article. It happens so often, with ESPN especially. I came across another instance over at yesterday, where Sean McAdam wrote an article discussing the new and improved Atlanta Braves relief corps. At the bottom of the article, he ranks the top five bullpens in baseball outside of Atlanta. Thankfully, the Twins do place on this list, but they're all the way down at No. 5. Ahead of them? The Tigers, the Angels, the Mets and the Padres.

One might think that I'm just being whiney here. After all, McAdams did put the Twins on the list, so what am I complaining about? The fact of the matter is that ranking five teams ahead of the Twins is ridiculous and ignorant. Let's take a look at the facts here.

Last season, the Twins bullpen ranked No. 1 in the major leagues in ERA, by a wide margin. Twins relievers combined to post a phenomenal 2.91 ERA, with the next best corps in baseball being the Mets at 3.25. The Twins bullpen also led the majors in opponent OPS, save percentage and strikeout-to-walk ratio. That stellar group lost zero members in the offseason (save for Willie Eyre, its weakest member), and all of the pitchers are young enough that no regression should be expected.

Those five teams McAdams ranks ahead of the Twins must have a lot going for them to beat that, huh? Well, an argument could at least be made for the Braves and the Angels, so I'll let those two go. The other three are absurd. As an example, I'll take a look at the Tigers bullpen, which McAdams rates as the best in baseball behind the Braves. Well, first you have their closer, Todd Jones, who is arguably one of the worst closers in the American League. At 38, he posted a 3.94 ERA last year while allowing opposing batters to hit .276 off of him. Jones struck out only 28 batters in 64 innings and blew six saves. Compare those numbers to Joe Nathan, who in 2006 posted a 1.58 ERA and .158 BAA, while striking out 95 hitters in 68 1/3 innings and blowing just two saves (neither of which resulted in a loss).

With such a gigantic disadvantage at closer, you'd think the Tigers must have a real edge on the rest of the Twins bullpen to rank four slots higher than them on McAdams' list. Not the case. There's the fireball-throwing Joel Zumaya, who is very good but can struggle to throw strikes and is not all durable, generally being limited to one inning per game. There's Fernando Rodney, who is pretty good but nothing too special. And then there's the latest addition to the crew, Jose Mesa, who McAdams hails as a "veteran presence." Yeah, an inconsistent veteran presence with a mediocre 4.27 career ERA and horrendous control. Mesa struck out 39 and walked 36 in 72 1/3 innings for the Rockies last year. I'll take the Twins' group of Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, Dennys Reyes, Pat Neshek and Matt Guerrier over those guys eight days a week.

The funny thing is that I'm not even all that high on the Twins bullpen this year. I think that Rincon and Reyes will see their numbers decline a bit, and in general the group is going to have some difficulties late in the season as a result of being overworked for the first couple months. Still, there is almost no argument that can be made that the Twins are not at least among the top three bullpens in the league. Ranking them sixth is silly and shows a complete lack of research and/or baseball knowledge.

It seems to me that McAdams created this list by taking a look at the top two or three relievers on each team, without paying any attention to depth, which in the grand scheme of things ends up being the most important factor in a good bullpen over the course of a season. I have half a mind to write McAdams an e-mail and let him know what I think of his list, but what good would it do? Like most national writers, McAdams has simply pieced together a list without much research, ignorantly sticking the small-market team behind all the big-market clubs. It is a constant occurrence on sites like, but with no one to hold these writers accountable, it's not something that's likely to change any time soon.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mauer, Not Morneau: Why?

The Twins were able to avoid arbitration with one of their two best young hitters on Sunday by signing 2006 AL batting champ Joe Mauer to a four-year contract. Just over a week earlier, the team had made a move to avoid arbitration with the member of that duo by reaching a one-year agreement with 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau. Of course, this series of events leads to an important question: why did the Twins hand a long-term deal to Mauer while coming to only a one-year agreement with Morneau? There are doubtlessly numerous reasons at play, not the least of which is that Terry Ryan probably didn't feel that he could commit too much money in one offseason. But, I think there might be deeper issues at work.

One concern that may have been at the forefront of the minds of Ryan and Co. is whether or not both players can be counted on to keep up their level of production over the life of a long-term deal. Ever since he was drafted, Mauer has essentially been viewed as a can't-miss prospect. The No. 1 overall pick in 2001, he hit for great averages throughout the minors and displayed the type of plate discipline that will almost always translate to the big leagues. Morneau was something of a different story. He was a third-round pick out of high school back in '99, and while he did hit for great averages and big power in the minor leagues, he never really showed outstanding patience at the plate, and players like that are always a risk.

Alas, as amazing as Mauer's 2006 campaign was, it was not overly surprising. And as rough as Morneau's 2005 season was, it didn't come as a big shock to a lot of people who follow prospects. The first two months of Morneau's 2006 season followed the same disappointing path as his '05 season, but then he busted out and pieced together a historical four-month stretch that helped propel the Twins to the playoffs and won him the MVP award. And as phenomenal as that stretch was, it was just that: a four-month stretch. Morneau seems to have put his problems behind him, but it is not unthinkable that he could regress toward his 2005 form within the next few years. Conversely, it would be very difficult to see Mauer regressing too much considering how few flaws or weaknesses he has shown at the plate. Furthermore, due to his defensive prowess at a highly important position, Mauer is going to be a very valuable player as long as he's hitting at all.

Another potential reason for locking up Mauer while hesitating to do the same for Morneau actually has nothing to do with the performance of those two players. The fact is that the Twins pretty much need Mauer to be around for the next several years, whereas that may not be the case with Morneau. Why do I say that? Well, the Twins have almost no catching prospects in their entire minor league system. The most promising backstop in their organization could very well be Chris Heintz, and he's 33. That's probably an overstatement, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a catcher at any level of the Twins' minor league system who has real major league potential at this point. Mike Redmond is a nice player, but he'll be turning 36 this season and will be gone soon enough. Once that happens, the Twins would be in very bad shape if they lost Mauer.

Meanwhile, the organization's lower-level minor league teams feature three promising first-base prospects. One of these is Brock Peterson, who hit .291/.356/.497 at Ft. Myers last season. In fairness, Peterson was 22 and in his second stint at that level, so the 49th-round draft pick from the 2002 draft is far from a superb prospect. Still, it was something of a breakout year and really put him on the map. A more impressive prospect is Erik Lis, who the Twins drafted out of the University of Evansville with their ninth-round pick in the 2005 draft. In his 1.5 years of pro baseball, Lis has hit .323/.389/.556, and should start this season at Ft. Myers. The youngest and most promising of the trio of 1B prospects is Chris Parmelee, who the Twins grabbed in the first round of last year's draft. Just 18, Parmelee is a patient and powerful hitter who has so much upside that Aaron Gleeman already has him ranked as the second-best prospect in the Twins system. It's worth noting that, while he was drafted as a first baseman, the majority of Parmelee's experience in the rookie league last year came in right field. Still, if his defense out there doesn't cut it, he could well end up refined to first base or DH.

All three of the players listed above are far from the majors at this point, but if one (or more) of them climbs furiously through the minor leagues over the next couple years and is knocking at the door of the majors in a couple seasons, it could provide the Twins with a cheap way to effectively replace Morneau's production, which is something they always have to look into as a small-market team.

By no means am I saying that I don't believe Morneau can be a successful player here in Minnesota for many years, but my point in all of this is that there may be reasons behind the team's decision not to extend his contract for several years like they did for Mauer.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Stadium Crisis?

As Mr. Nelson noted in his post on Friday, there may be some reason to believe that the status of the Twins stadium is in some dire straits. This City Pages article (also linked Friday) seemed to signal major obstacles in the way of the Twins in breaking ground for their new stadium in the next few weeks, as had been previously planned.

Now, we didn't really go into details about why people should be worried on Friday. The basic premise concerning the situation is that the Twins officials and Minneapolis city officials have reached a roadblock in the negotiations with the investment group Landmark, Inc. that owns the land approved for the new Twins stadium, as named in last year's ballpark bill.

Currently, the problem is that the landowners and Hennepin County are far apart on the value of the 8.8 acres of land where construction is planned, and the City Pages article notes that "there's no reason to believe the dispute will be resolved soon." County tax records from 2006 assessed the land at $9.8 million, though the number has fluctuated over the last five years.

Part of the issue is that the county is limited in what it can spend on acquiring the land, as the money granted for purchasing the land is part of a larger $90 million (of a total $522, including $130 from the Twins) budget for land acquisition, site remediation, and infrastructure costs. They have offered $13.35 million now, but it appears that the negotiations are still stalled.

What are the options and how can this situation unfold? There are two ways, and one of them seems more likely. The most likely scenario is that the city officials resort to using eminent domain power to acquire the land. As some of you probably know, eminent domain is a pretty hot topic of political debate. Being a political science major and a potential law student (we'll see in about a month here), I have enough background to describe what this means.

Basically, eminent domain refers to government power (both state and federal) to acquire private property for public purposes and to give "just compensation" for it. (If you want to look this up for examples, there are several local cases recently, and more notably the 2005 Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London.) This power comes from the Fifth Amendment and in recent years, it has seen a lot of growth along with debate about its use. There are now many states, including our own, trying to pass laws limiting this.

Anyway, besides the problem of creating possible public outcry or scandal, as the use of this power is obviously frowned upon at this point, it also may not be the best financial option. The problem is that if eminent domain power is used, an agency needs to determine the "just compensation" given to the land owners. In other words, somebody needs to determine the market value of that land. It would seem that the county tax records are an obvious place to find this value, but that isn't necessarily the case.

Judges are the arbiters who ultimately decide what the value is. In this case, Hennepin county Judge Stephen Aldrich is the judge presiding over this case. The article notes that Aldrich asked both sides to submit names for a three-person panel to determine the value of the land, though he has not made any announcements yet. He also doesn't seem to hold too much sympathy for the county, as the ballpark law from last year specified no price for acquiring the land. As Aldrich said, "Am I to understand that none of the parties agreed to the price before getting legislative approval [for a ballpark on the site]? There was no price required?"

Aldrich did, however, agree to let condemnation of the land begin (necessary in the process of using eminent domain). This isn't an end, though, by any means, as Dan Rosen, an attorney for the landowners, remarked immediately after the hearing, "Either side could reject the commission's award." To translate: this is going to be a long battle and the battle in the courtroom is by no means over either.

What, then, is the other option? The only recourse for both sides to reach an agreement outside of the courtroom is for the county to simply pay the landowner's requested price. The article doesn't note what that price is, but Patrick Reusse mentions that the land owners have mentioned a price north of $50 million for "this few acres that rest in the shadows of the garbage burner." It's not a pretty picture.

With this news, it's worth asking whether the Twins will even be able to accomplish building their stadium by 2010, the date that seemed set in stone. The City Pages article says that "some of the issues tied up with the stadium remain in early planning stages, and by all accounts it will take a heroic effort to complete the park within three years." That's fairly depressing from all angles.

Needless to say, whatever road Hennepin County and the Twins end up going down, there are potential issues in the way of completing this stadium. Whether they acquire it directly or through eminent domain, they may pay too high a price for the land. As Mike Opat, the Hennepin County commision who has been the main architect behind the stadium plans, says, "If we can't get a price that's acceptable to the county ... we might have to walk away." Reusse believes this is a good idea, but a scrapped a plan would mean more delay on the project and would force the county to find new land to build the stadium on. If $50 million is the price, the county may want to take its chances with eminent domain.

Lets just hope it doesn't come to that.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Twins Sign Mauer to Four-Year Deal

The Twins avoided arbitration with Joe Mauer this year, as well as for the rest of his arbitration-eligible years, by signing him to a four-year deal worth "at least $33 million" today.

I wrote last Monday about the possibility of this very contract and determined that it would be a good deal for both sides, so I have to say I'm happy that an agreement has been reached. Not only will this prevent the Twins and Mauer from having to deal with that nasty arbitration process for the next several years, it will also lock up Mauer through his first season of free agent eligibility, which could prove crucial.

The Twins are now left with just one unsolved arbitration case, that being Michael Cuddyer.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Friday Links

Nothing too big today, just a few Twins-related links. Have a good weekend!

* A couple former Twins have signed with other clubs. Shannon Stewart inked a one-year contract with the Athletics (traitor!) and Joe Mays signed a minor-league deal with the Dodgers. In my opinion, both these guys are near the end of their careers, though I wouldn't be surprised if Stewart bounced back with a decent season in Oakland.

* Here is a pretty depressing take on the Twins stadium situation and where it's at. This thing has been made out to be a done deal since it was announced last May, but that might not necessarily be the case.

* One sportswriter is already predicting the Twins to make the World Series this year. I can't imagine there will be too many.

* Here is an interesting article from the Beloit Daily News about Terry Ryan and his plans for the Twins' upcoming season.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mauer's Power

Joe Mauer busted out with a monster season in 2006, hitting .347/.429/.507 and placing sixth in the American League MVP voting as a 23-year-old. It's pretty tough to find anything to criticize from Mauer's offensive game last year. He hit for a stellar average. He showed excellent patience at the plate. He came through in the clutch. He hit extremely well against both lefties and righties. Still, if there was one aspect of his game that could stand to imrpove, it would have to be his power.

By no means did Mauer show a complete lack of power last year, as 13 home runs and 36 doubles are certainly nothing to scoff at. Yet many feel that if he could add some more power to his bat, it would really help round out his offensive game and turn him into an even bigger threat in the Twins' lineup. Scouts and fans alike have frequently speculated that Mauer's ability to hit for power will increase as he ages, and there is solid evidence to support that notion. For today's post, I thought it might be interesting to look into how quickly we can expect his power to elevate, and how high it might go.

When Mauer first broke into the big leagues as a 21-year-old in 2004, he hit six home runs in 107 at-bats. That might not seem like anything too special, but it was actually quite a shock for those who followed his three-year minor league career. In 1,030 at-bats between four levels of minor-league ball between 2001-2003, Mauer hit just nine home runs. His career minor-league slugging percentage was just .426, which is especially paltry when you consider that it goes along with a .332 batting average. That's good for an Isolated Power of under .100. Simply put, Mauer's minor-league numbers did not give indications that he'd hit for much power in the big leagues.

Mauer's first full season in the majors, 2005, seemingly proved that his six-home-run outburst in that injury-shortened 2004 campaign was a bit of a fluke. In 489 at-bats, Mauer hit just 26 doubles and nine home runs for a pedestrian .411 slugging percentage. Still, while it might not have been an improvement rate-wise, Mauer did increase his homer and double totals from the previous year. That trend continued last year, when he hit 36 doubles and 13 home runs over 521 at-bats. His outstanding .507 slugging percentage is a bit misleading, because it was mostly due to his ridiculously high batting average. His Isolated Power was .160, which is nothing to write home about but it's also a tremendous improvement from his minor-league days and even from his 2005 campaign in the majors.

As many scouts predicted early on, Mauer's ability to hit for power has shown steady improvement as he's aged. So what can we expect within a few years? I don't see Mauer ever hitting 30+ dingers, because his swing is not really conducive to that type of home run power. I do, however, see him as capable of putting the ball in the bleachers around 20 times per season once he hits his prime, and I also see him racking up 45-50 doubles thanks to his ability to slap the ball into the gaps and lace it down the baselines.

A guy who can slug like that while hitting for a .340 average and playing an extremely valuable defensive position has MVP written all over him.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Hall Contract: Good News For Twins?

In the last post, Nick Nelson talked about Joe Mauer and the possibility of signing him to a long-term contract. With Justin Morneau, Lew Ford, Nick Punto, and Juan Rincon all having signed short-term deals to avoid arbitration, that leaves only one arbitration-eligible player left to discuss: Michael Cuddyer.

An interesting signing occurred yesterday involving the club next door, as the Brewers signed super-utility slugger Bill Hall to a four-year, $24 million dollar extension with a fifth-year option. The salaries go from $3 this coming year, to $4.8 in 2008, to $6.8 in 2009, to $8.4 million. Now, for those of you who don't know much about Hall, he is a pretty interesting story.

For several years, many scouts didn't think Hall would even be much of a major leaguer. He didn't have enough power, he struck out way too much, and he couldn't hit for average. That seemed to stick for a while, but in 2005, Hall was given significant time as a utility-player and put up a .291/.342/.495 line with 17 homers, 62 RBI, 39 doubles, and 18 steals in 501 at-bats. A lot of people weren't sure if this was the real Hall or not, but he seemed to take away any doubt last year.

Hall broke out in a major way in 2006, hitting .270/.345/.553 with an astonishing 35 homers, 85 RBI, 39 doubles, and 101 runs scored, leading the Brewers in several major hitting categories. Along with Prince Fielder, Hall has given the Brewers a potent power bat. Of course, he did strike out 162 times last year in 537 at-bats, but his 63 walks were a good improvement.

So why do I bring Hall up? Because I think he makes for a good comparison with Cuddyer. As you may recall, Cuddyer hit .284/.362/.504 last year with 24 homers, 109 RBI, 102 runs scored, and 41 doubles. Cuddyer obviously differs in some ways, as his RISP numbers are significantly better than Hall's (.313/.412/.580 vs. .239/.338/.433) attest to him having more RBI. But he's also in a superior lineup. Overall though, they are similar. Cuddyer walked nearly as much (62 to Hall's 63), struck out plenty (130 K to 162), had plenty of extra-base hits (70 to 78), and ran a little bit (6 SBs to 8, although Hall got caught 9 times).

Overall, they are both versatile but not great fielders, hit for some power and decent average, and are young enough (27) to be worth a solid four-year investment. In what has been a crazy offseason, its good to see a contract like the one given to Hall. The Twins would be smart to do the same for Cuddyer. Even if it's for more money or less years, it would be worthwhile. I'd say with Hall's deal, a four-year, $28 million deal should get it down. Lets hope the Twins and Cuddyer can get it done.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Locking Up Mauer

The Twins avoided arbitration with Justin Morneau last week by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. They also reached one-year agreements with Lew Ford and Juan Rincon and inked Nick Punto to a two-year pact. That leaves just two arbitration-eligible players yet to reach mid-point agreements with the Twins: Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer.

This is interesting, particularly in Mauer's case. When I initially heard that the Twins had come to mid-point deals with several of their arbitration players and that Mauer wasn't one of them, I figured it was because they were working on hammering out a long-term deal with the hometown catcher. After all, there is little doubt that getting Mauer locked up is going to be the team's top priority. Johan Santana is the Twins' best player, but Mauer is their biggest draw. He's local, he's likable, and he's damn good.

Charley Walters of the Piooner Press reported Sunday that the Twins are believed to have offered Mauer a four-year contract worth $33 million. Such a deal would average out to $8.25 million per season. That seems like a lot when you consider that Mauer is only asking for $4.5 million in arbitration this season, but it would almost certainly end up being a good deal when you consider that it would allow them to avoid the rest of his arbitration years and would also lock him up through his first year of free-agent eligibility. Mauer would be 28 by the end of that contract, and when it concludes the Twins would be in a new stadium with (presumably) a higher payroll which would allow them to potentially offer a massive contract that would keep Mauer in a Twins uniform for the rest of his career.

A long-term deal would be a good thing, but it would also force Carl Pohlad to open the wallet. As it stands, the Twins and Mauer are quite far apart on their arbitration figures, with the Twins offering $3.3 million and Mauer asking for $4.5 million. The deadline to reach an agreement of some sort is tomorrow, so if nothing can be worked out, this case will go to arbitration. If that happens, I think Mauer wins.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Morneau Signs

Justin Morneau has avoided arbirtration and signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal. The figure is in the middle of Morneau's asking value of $5 million and the Twins' offer of $4 million. Normally, this would be good news, but there is no way to tell if this is truly "good" news.

I mean that in the sense that although Morneau is signed, there is some reason to be worried that Terry Ryan and the Twins did not sign him to a long-term contract. If the figures didn't work this time and Morneau has another good year in 2007, its likely that negotiations will be even tougher the second time around. Good to have him back, of course, but let's keep our figures crossed that Ryan can get him now for a few years more.

Also, as many of you know, Nick Punto, Juan Rincon, and Lew Ford also avoided arbitration. Punto was given a 2 year, $4.2 million deal. As for Nick, I just hope that the production stabilizes and he remains healthy.

Another Lefty?

As every Twins fan surely remembers, a pudgy lefty joined the team last with what seemed to be a very small chance to make a good contribution. However, Dennys Reyes did a pretty good job beating expectations, as he had a 0.89 ERA while striking out nearly a batter an inning and cutting his walks.

However, in recent weeks, Terry Ryan and others in the Twins organization have mentioned a desire for another lefty in the bullpen. Obviously, Ryan is giving opportunities to the likes of Mike Venafro and Randy Choate for a reason. He believes that there may even be a chance that Reyes starts. I think that's highly unlikely, but his want for another lefty sparks an interesting discussion.

Ricky Barrett (26 this March) was a 7th round draft pick in 2002 out of the University of San Diego. Barrett has been on a steady development since then, with solid stops at the Rookie league, low Single-A, high Single-A (his most impressive stop), Double-A, and then finally at Rochester the past two seasons. Barrett initially struggled there in 2005, going 4-4 with a 6.71 ERA in 63 innings, but he was far better out of the bullpen last year, going 5-1 with a 3.42 ERA in 47 1/3 innings, with the highest K rate of his career at 9.32/9 IP.

Barrett is not particularly well-known in the system, as many prospect lists throughout the blogsphere and on major sites don't mention him, but he appears to be a solid lefty reliever ready in the system. And unlike Willie Eyre last year, Barrett can strike out enough hitters to be effective, though, like Eyre, he is rather old for a prospect. That means its probably a good time to give Barrett a shot.

The good news is that, along with high-level prospects Oswaldo Sosa, Alexander Smit and Jose Mirajes, Ricky Barrett was recently added to the Twins 40-man roster. That at least suggests that the Twins could be considering using him over retreads and ineffective pitchers like Choate or Venafro.

However, this debate overshadows another major issue: who does this second lefty replace on the pitching staff? What it means is that J.D. Durbin, a once highly touted prospect, may have troubles getting on the Twins staff and that's unfortunate. Losing Alex Romero to the signing of Ramon Ortiz may have been a silly loss, but losing Durbin so that Sidney Ponson or another lefty can be on the roster is questionable, considering Durbin's talent. What's worse, once again, is wondering why the Twins won't consider trading someone like Juan Rincon to make room for their talented youth.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Around the Horn

With nothing in particular to write about today, I'll just dump a few Twins-related links on you.

* An environmental impact study reports that there will be a lot of downtown traffic congestion after games once the new ballpark opens in three years. Shocking, isn't it? The report also states that, contrary to popular complaint, game-goers at the new stadium will not be affected by the odor of the nearby garbage incinerator.

* Johan Santana says he won't let ongoing contract negotations with the team distract him from doing his job. I recently expressed my doubts about the Twins' ability to keep Santana beyond the 2008 season, noting it would probably be in the team's best interest to deal him next year and get something in return rather than lose him to free agency. Santana's agent, Peter Greenberg, makes it sound like Santana won't be around past the end of his contract unless Terry Ryan and the Twins can work out an extension this year:
"If the team really wants to retain him they're probably going to have to do something soon," said Greenberg, who added that it would be unlikely for his client to seek an extension in the final year of his deal with free agency approaching.
* Ruben Sierra lives! The 41-year-old outfielder, who hit .179/.273/.219 in 28 at-bats for the Twins last year, signed a minor-league contract with the Mets yesterday.

* If you didn't get a chance to read it yesterday, make sure to go check out Seth Stohs' Q&A piece with Mike Radcliff, the Twins' scouting director. Radcliff is very frank in some of his prospect assessments, which was refreshing since I'm so used to the Twins organization's general "mum's the word" attitude on just about everything.

* One of my favorite Twins bloggers is Mr. Baseball No. 1, who runs the Twins Without Spin blog. After taking a few months off, Mr. B has his site back up and running, and it even has a slick new look. Make sure to add it to your daily reading list.