Friday, November 30, 2007

The Departed

The title of this post is more than just a reference to one of my (and Mosvick's) favorite movies of all time. It's a reference to the three players the Twins lost in Wednesdays blockbuster swap with the Tampa Bay Rays.

There will undoubtedly be much analysis over the next weeks and months of the players the Twins received in this trade: Delmon Young, Brendan Harris and Jason Pridie. There will be plenty of that here, too, but for today I think it's important to take a look at the players who have exited the Twins' organization. Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan were Twins property on Tuesday, and now they aren't. What are the possible repercussions of losing these players? How will the team absorb the losses? What is the overarching effect?

Make no mistake, this is not a Terry Ryan type trade. Ryan traded A.J. Pierzynski when he had Joe Mauer waiting in the wings. He traded Bobby Kielty when he had a surplus of outfielders. There are a lot of adjectives that could be attached to Ryan's general style when it came to player transactions, but "risky" would certainly not be one of them.

The rookie GM Bill Smith hasn't been on the job for two full months yet, and already he's stepped out and made a move that is riskier than any Ryan made during his lengthy tenure. Smith was dealing from a surplus by trading a pair of pitching prospects, to be sure, but Garza was the only young pitcher in this organization with ace potential written all over him (aside from Francisco Liriano, who is of course a huge question at this time). Meanwhile, Morlan was the only player in the Twins' minor-league system that seemed to be a legitimate candidate to take over the closer role upon Joe Nathan's likely departure following the 2008 season (that is, if he isn't traded this winter). Bartlett was a good defensive shortstop with speed and a solid approach at the plate -- that's a valuable thing to have in this league.

What is it that compelled the Twins to trade these players? Surely the fact that the Rays wanted them had a lot to do with it, but I think the reasoning goes deeper. For whatever reason, Garza and Bartlett never seemed to be held in particularly high esteem by this organization. Both were held back in the minors by inferior veterans at one time or another. Twins coaches were frequently quoted in the papers with criticisms of the attitudes of both players. Bartlett lacked "leadership," and Garza was not "mature" enough to pitch at the big-league level. Indeed, both players have posted major-league numbers that can be viewed as disappointing in relation to what they did in the minors.

Garza has a great chance of becoming an outstanding major-league starter. He throws hard and possesses good secondary pitches. Yet, he always seemed tentative about throwing anything other than his fastball, and in 2007 his control -- which was stellar in his breakout 2006 campaign -- took a turn for the worse. If Garza becomes more comfortable with his breaking pitches and his changeup, he could team up with Scott Kazmir to give the Rays a formidable top of the rotation. If he doesn't, this will look like a good trade from the Twins' perspective.

I don't buy into the organization's criticisms of Bartlett and I think he'll end up being a pretty good player in Tampa Bay. He was a great hitter for three seasons in Triple-A, and he showed what he was capable of in the big leagues in 2006, when he hit .309/.367/.393. With that being said, I don't think Bartlett will be much more than an adequate hitter with a good glove and the ability to swipe a base. Of course, that could be much more than the Twins are able to field at shortstop next season.

As I stated in yesterday's post, Morlan is where I start to go sour on this deal. Selected in the third round of the 2004 draft, Morlan cruised his way through the lower levels of the Twins' minor league system while usually posting an exceptional ERA and always striking out more than a batter per inning. Morlan has the ability to hit triple-digits on the radar gun, and his stuff is electric. He finished last season with a short stint in Class-AA New Britain, where he would have started the 2008 season. Ideally, Morlan could have been pitching out of the Twins' bullpen by the end of next season; unfortunately, he's now Tampa Bay's property.

Losing a few of these players could come back to haunt the Twins. That's something that never happened to Ryan, which is the nature of a low-risk operation. Then again, who knows... perhaps Garza will flop in Tampa and Morlan will fizzle out in the high minor leagues. For whatever reason, the Twins seem to have a sense of things like this when trading their own players. Pierzynski had a major drop-off in his one season with the Giants, seeing his OPS drop by over 100 points from his last season with the Twins. Travis Bowyer, whom Ryan traded to the Marlins two years ago in exchange for Luis Castillo, experienced immediate shoulder problems and hasn't pitched an inning of professional baseball since he left the Twins.

Twins fans might be frustrated if they see Garza leading the Rays rotation with Morlan closing games for them in a few years. But one thing that we never really learned with Ryan around is that you have to give up talent if you want to give it back. Smith wanted Delmon Young, and he was going to do what it took to make him a Twin.

As Frank Costello said: "No one gives it to you. You have to take it."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sorting Through the Rays Trade

As you are no doubt aware by now, Bill Smith made his first big move as Twins general manager yesterday, agreeing to a deal with the Rays that sends Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Eduardo Morlan to Tampa Bay in return for outfielders Delmon Young and Jason Pridie and infielder Brendan Harris.

This is a blockbuster trade, and likely a prelude of things to come. Losing Garza hurts, but the Twins remain likely to bring back a prized pitching prospect in the seemingly inevitable Johan Santana trade.

Meanwhile, the Twins bring in Delmon Young, who turned 22 in September and was viewed for a couple years as the best prospect in all of baseball. Young likely will take over in left field, with Jason Kubel sliding to designated hitter. Tampa Bay took Young, the younger brother of veteran Dmitri Young, with the first overall pick in the 2003 draft, and he subsequently cruised through the minor leagues to make his major-league debut at the age of 20. Debuting with the Rays in the final month of the 2006 season, Young hit .317/.336/.476 over 126 at-bats. In 2007, as a 21-year-old, Young hit .288/.316/.408 with 13 home runs and 93 RBI while playing in all 162 of Tampa Bay's games. That line might not seem very impressive, but for a 21-year-old with only three years of pro experience, it's extremely encouraging. Young hit 20+ home runs in both of his first two seasons in the minors and projects as a solid power hitter with very good speed -- he has the makings of a 30 HR/30 SB type player. He is also an excellent defensive corner outfielder with one of the best throwing arms in the game.

The one downside to Young's game is that he has almost no plate discipline. He has posted a sub par .319 on-base percentage over 192 major-league games, despite a very good .293 batting average. In his 2006 big-league debut, Young drew only one walk in 131 plate appearances, which is mind-boggling. Last year, he drew only 26 walks in 681 plate appearances, registering a .316 on-base percentage despite his solid .288 average. Of course, as long as Young can hit for good average and power, his lack of patience at the plate will not be a debilitating weakness.

It is somewhat surprising to see the Twins go for a player like Young, who has a documented history of losing his temper. In 2006, he was famously suspended for 50 games after throwing a bat at an umpire, and he was also suspended in 2005 after bumping an umpire during an altercation during a Double-A game. Obviously, that kind of thing won't be acceptable, but there's little doubt that Young brings a fiery and competitive attitude which, one could argue, might be a good thing for this laid-back, happy-go-lucky group of Twins players.

Garza-for-Young is clearly the meat of this deal, and I like that part, but there were a lot of other players moved in this swap as well, which is where things start to get a little less rosy. It's a bit surprising to see the Twins part with Bartlett, who was a solid shortstop both offensively and defensively with good speed. Then again, it seems like the organization never viewed Bartlett that highly, and Ron Gardenhire frequently seemed to take issue with the shortstop's attitude. From that standpoint, I suppose it's not overly shocking to see him go. The Rays' desire for Bartlett is puzzling, since their system contains one of the game's top shortstop prospects in Reid Brignac, but perhaps a position change is planned for him.

The Morlan part is where I start to dislike this trade. The original deal would have sent Juan Rincon to the Rays along with Garza and Bartlett, which would've been just fine. Some believed that trading the former dominant setup man right now would have been selling low, but I'm convinced that Rincon is a shell of his former self. He's also due a couple million bucks through arbitration next year, which he won't deserve. Unfortunately, the original deal hit a snag when the Rays had concerns over the medical reports on Rincon's elbow, and Smith ended up subbing in Morlan, who is by far the best relief prospect in the Twins system. Many had Morlan pegged to replace Joe Nathan as closer in 2009. Losing him is a huge hit, and with him in the deal, I feel like the Twins gave up way too much value in this trade.

The infielder that comes back to the Twins is Harris, who is coming off a career year in 2007 in which he hit .286/.343/.434 while playing primarily shortstop for the Rays. Prior to '07, he hadn't been much of a hitter in the major leagues, but at 27 he's still relatively young and considering his good minor league numbers, there's plenty of reason to think he can continue to be at least an average hitter. Whether he'll be doing that at shortstop remains to be seen, but I'll get to that a little bit later.

The final player involved in the deal is Pridie, a center fielder. Many will recognize the name because he was with the Twins in spring training as a Rule V pick in 2006, although he ended up being sent back to the Rays. The fact that the Twins gambled on him in the Rule V, however, tells us that he's a player they've had their eyes on for some time. In Triple-A this year, Pridie hit .318/.375/.539 with 10 home runs in 245 at-bats, which makes him look like an MLB-ready prospect. However, those numbers are a far cry from his career minor-league line of .272/.327/.432, so it's entirely possible that those outstanding stats were something of a fluke. Regardless, they're pretty good for a 23-year-old in the highest level of the minors, and there's little question that Pridie at least has the potential to develop into a major-league regular.

I said at the top of this post that yesterday's trade was a prelude of things to come, because it seems to be laying the groundwork for future moves. Because of that fact, we can't fully evaluate the trade at this point. At first glance, it would seem that Harris was brought in to replace Bartlett at shortstop, while Pridie could fill the vacated center field spot. However, Harris is a poor defensive shortstop and it's probably a stretch to think Pridie will be ready to take over a regular gig in the majors at the start of next season. It now seems clear that if the Twins trade Santana, they'll be looking to bring back a premier young starter to replace Garza, and a very good infielder. Could a Jose Reyes deal be in the works with the Mets? Can Smith pry Robinson Cano from the Yankees? We shall see what else is in store.

Upon the initial word of this trade, I was happy and I felt like the new GM was off to a great start. The fact that he had to throw in Morlan to get the deal done makes it much less impressive. The Twins needed hitting, and to his credit, Smith went out and got one of the most highly regarded young hitters in the game. That's good. The Garza-for-Young swap is a good one for both sides.

The rest of this deal doesn't look nearly as good and could turn out to be a large mistake. Unless Morlan breaks down, Pridie is going to have to turn out to be a pretty special player for Smith to be vindicated on this move.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Update: Twins/Rays Close To Deal

It appears that yesterday's reports of a deal being imminent between Twins and Rays were correct, although not the part about Boof Bonser being involved. A deal is reportedly in place that will send Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett and Juan Rincon to the Rays in return for outfielder Delmon Young, shortstop Brendan Harris and outfielder Jason Pridie. This is a blockbuster, folks. Much more analysis tomorrow.

Keeping Up With the Rumors

The Twins have been connected to an insane number of trade rumors lately. Let's take a glance:

Supposedly, the Twins and Yankees are in preliminary talks regarding Johan Santana. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reports that talks between the Twins and Red Sox with regards to center fielder Coco Crisp are intensifying. And then, according to the Devil Rays blog DRaysBay, Boof Bonser has been down in Florida telling people that he is on the verge of being dealt to Tampa Bay. There's even a rumor floating around that the Twins are talking to the Angels about trading Justin Morneau for Casey Kotchman and Ervin Santana (huh??).

Bill Smith must be an awfully busy man to be chatting it up with all these general managers about potential trades. In truth, it's likely that many of these rumors are overblown (or completely fabricated), but such is the nature of MLB's Hot Stove season.

Strap in folks, it's going to be a long winter.


One more thing: Naturally, Bob Sansevere of the Pioneer Press has his own ideas. I'd comment, but Ken Tremendous over at FireJoeMorgan has already taken care of it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hot Corner Stopgap

Alex Rodriguez has found his way back to the Yankees. Mike Lowell has re-signed with the Red Sox. The remaining free agent third basemen will be sucked up at a premium by needy teams. The packages required to acquire a guy like Miguel Cabrera or Garrett Atkins via trade may be too steep for the Twins to handle. Whatever is Bill Smith to do about that nasty little situation at the hot corner?

Perhaps this isn't the correct year to push for a permanent answer at third base. Maybe the Twins would be well-served to wait another year, see how internal prospects like Danny Valencia progress, see how the third base market shapes up following the 2008 season.

That course of action might make sense, but some type of stopgap will be necessary. Nick Punto is not an option at third base, and while guys like Brian Buscher and Matt Macri have the potential to perform at a league-average level, it would be foolhardy for a team as desperately in need of offensive improvement as the Twins to enter a season relying entirely on unproven commodities.

So here's a name that hasn't been tossed around much with regards to the third base situation: Mark Loretta. He is more well-known as a second baseman, but Loretta has logged quite a few innings at third over the course of his career. His age (36) and lack of power (12 total home runs over the past three seasons) make him less than desirable, but he's a solid defender and he continues to post solid batting averages and on-base percentages late in his career. Last season with the Astros, Loretta batted .287/.352/.372 in 133 games, striking out only 41 times in 460 at-bats.

If the Twins do believe in Buscher (as I do), Loretta looks like an excellent platoon partner. Last year he hit .317/.395/.423 against lefties, and over the course of his career he is a .305/.391/.409 hitter versus southpaws.

Naturally, Loretta would not be a long-term option, but he wouldn't be likely to cost much more than $2-3 million, and at his age could not command more than a two-year deal, maximum. If Smith wishes to address third base in another manner but feels that Alexi Casilla could use another year to develop, Loretta could be a candidate to keep second base warm as well.

Definitely a guy worth keeping an eye on.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hunter's Parting Shots

Torii Hunter. His first name famously has two i's. He's made two All-Star appearances. And if there was any doubt, it's now perfectly clear that he's about as two-faced as they come.

Sid Hartman's column in the Sunday edition of the Star Tribune featured several quotes from Hunter, who last week signed a five year, $90 million contract with the Angels just days after promising he wouldn't be signing a contract during Thanksgiving week. His hypocrisy is evident in Hartman's column, in which he openly criticizes the Twins organization on a number of levels and blatantly contradicts several of the stances he has seemingly held over the past few months.

Many of Hunter's quotes in the article are difficult to understand, and I'm not sure if the fault for that should fall on Hunter for failing to speak eloquently, or on Hartman for failing to properly contextualize some of the quotes. Whatever the case, I found myself reading over some of the quotes two or three times to try and discern what they meant.

Let's dissect some of Hunter's statements.
As for his decision to sign with the Angels he [Hunter] said: "It was like a 24-hour decision. I could not leave Anaheim -- that's a nice place, a nice ballpark, they play the game right, they've got a chance to win every year. Because Arte Moreno is that type of owner, he wants to win."
Yes, I'm sure the Twins have no interest in winning. Not like they've posted a winning record six times in the past seven years (one more time than the Angels have during that span). To me it seems like Hunter is associating "desire to win" with "willingness to spend obscene amounts of money on free agents." Whatever.
"Sometimes you're going to ask for a raise or whatever. And it just so happened that in major league baseball the market is up, it's way up." he said. "So, I was going to get what I was going to get. I just wanted to make sure that I was with a team that wants to win, that's going to try to win day in and day out. Whatever pieces to the puzzle that they need, they were going to go out and get it. I just didn't feel the Twins were that ballclub."
Ouch. Hunter may have a legitimate point here; indeed, Terry Ryan was always very timid about trading for the major piece that seemed necessary to make a run. Hunter's comments about a team being willing to go out and get the "pieces to the puzzle that they need" make me wonder if perhaps the Angels indicated to him during negotiations that they planned to make a strong push for Marlins' third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who they have been rumored to have interest in.

Anyway, here's where I really start to get annoyed:

It will be hard for the Twins to attract free agents, Hunter added, because the new stadium lacks a roof.

"People aren't even thinking about this," he said. "I wouldn't play in Minnesota unless my career was at an end and I had to go to Minnesota to play the game. ... People think that's not true -- that's 100 percent accurate. This is coming from a player, so I'm telling you."

Well, well... it seems that iron man Torii Hunter, who openly criticized teammates for not being able to play unless they were 100 percent healthy, would not play in a roofless stadium in Minnesota because the weather would be a little chilly at times. Are you kidding me? Does anyone else find that incredibly ironic?

Let's not forget about this little quote from from Hunter just over a year ago when the Twins exercised his 2007 option:

"I'd just like to play in the new stadium at least the first season," Hunter said. "To see it, play in it and be a part of the hometown. However long it takes to see that, I would be happy."
Nice one. The final Hunter quote in the Hartman column should illustrate what I meant when I said the article was confusing, and it should also illustrate just how delusional Hunter is about his own talents:
"Some people think that in three years, I'll be older ... but I feel like I can play left or right, and still be the best left fielder and right fielder in the game," he said. "Some people think that, but that's a mistake. You shouldn't think like that because that was terrible."
Yes Torii, I'm sure most people think that in three years, you'll be older. In fact, I can just about guarantee it. If Hunter actually thinks that he'll be the best left fielder or right fielder in the game in three years, he's out of his mind -- even at his best, he doesn't rank among the best hitters at either of those positions, and with his rapidly deteriorating defense I strongly doubt he'd be one of the best in baseball at either of those positions defensively.

I've never had a problem with the Angels before, but Hunter's comments give me reason to root against them next year. I liked Hunter just fine when he was here and always enjoyed watching him play, but the classless manner in which he has acted during his departure has left a sour taste in my mouth.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hunter Gets His Halo

In a move that was surprising for a number of reasons, Torii Hunter agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Angels late Wednesday night on a five-year deal worth $90 million.

Color me dumbfounded. For one thing, the Angels had not really been mentioned as a serious suitor for Hunter. Their outfield was already crowded with Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Matthews Jr., Garrett Anderson, Reggie Willits and Juan Rivera, and now they seem to have compounded that problem. (Someone's got to be available... Willits is an intriguing potential trade piece, as is Rivera.)

Furthermore, it's somewhat shocking that Hunter signed a deal so quickly. In fact, here's what he told the Star Tribune earlier this week with regards to signing a contract:
"I promise you, it won't be this week," he said. "I don't want to think about that while I'm eating turkey. I want to spend the whole weekend relaxing with my family."
Of course, this just confirms something most of us already knew -- Hunter isn't always totally forthright and honest.

The final reason that the deal is surprising is the sheer amount of money involved. Most projections had Hunter signing a deal somewhere in the range of five years/$75 million; for the Angels to commit nearly $100 million to a 32-year-old center fielder seems questionable a best. But hey, it's their problem now.

The writing has been on the wall for some time that Hunter was on his way out the door, and I'm glad he signed elsewhere so quickly so Bill Smith can put his full emphasis on finding a replacement.

I've always liked watching Torii play and I'm happy to see him haul in such a huge contract. I look forward to watching him on March 31, 2008, when the Angels coincidentally open their schedule at the Metrodome against the Twins.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

South Side Hunter

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported yesterday that the White Sox and Torii Hunter could be signing a contract within a week. A lot of people are bothered by the notion of Hunter playing for the White Sox because it makes him "traitor," or because it would be painful to have to watch the Twins face him so many times every season. I don't really feel the same way... I like watching Hunter play and if he signs with the Sox I'll enjoy the opportunity to still see him almost 20 times per year.

What does concern me about the prospect of Hunter signing with Chicago is what it will do to their lineup. The offense of the White Sox was hugely disappointing in 2007, but we can't forget that this offense still features Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko. Dye had a down year in '07, but is likely to bounce back. Add Hunter into that mix (along with a solid top-of-the-lineup hitter in Orlando Cabrera, who the Sox acquired from the Angels in exchange for Jon Garland yesterday), and this lineup is looking pretty scary in 2008.

Of course, Chicago's pitching remains a concern, but we'll see what Kenny Williams has planned on that end. He has been very active since taking over as GM for the White Sox.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Monday Notes

A smattering of notes to help pass the time here in the early stages of the offseason...

* I've heard rumors floating around for a while that the Twins have some interest in free agent Tony Clark as a designated hitter candidate, and on Friday La Velle E. Neal III confirmed those rumors on his blog. Clark is 35 and has not had more than 349 at-bats in a season since 2001, so he's hardly an option as a regular, but he's at least mildly intriguing as a part-time DH option.

Like Craig Monroe, Clark has some power but lacks on-base skills. He's gotten on base at an above-average rate exactly once in the past five years, but he did slug .511 last year and in 2005 he hit .304/.366/.636 with 30 home runs and 87 RBI over 130 games.

He's reported to be looking for deal in the area of two years, $4 million. That sounds like something the Twins could afford.

* The Star Tribune's resident geezer, Sid Hartman, wrote in Sunday's edition that the Twins have offered Johan Santana a five-year deal worth $93 million. Considering the source, I'm hesitant to give this bit of news much credence, but in any case it seems like a logical starting point for negotiations from the Twins' perspective. There's little doubt that Santana would reject such an offer, but it's far from an insult.

* I heard rumors from people with "inside sources" last week that Torii Hunter was going to be signing a six-year deal with the Rangers on Friday. Obviously those rumors were false because such a deal never materialized; nevertheless, I continue to believe that Hunter will eventually end up in Texas. Such a deal would make sense, considering the Rangers' history of handing out foolishly lengthy contracts (see: Rodriguez, Alex).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Twins Killer Becomes a Twin

The Twins made their first offseason addition yesterday, acquiring outfielder Craig Monroe from the Cubs for a player to be named later. Monroe is a notorious Twins killer, having posted a career line of .322/.356/.544 against Minnesota during his years with Detroit which dwarfs his overall line of .256/.303/.446.

While it's not known yet what the Twins will give up for Monroe, it seems clear that it won't be much of anything. The Cubs were almost certain to non-tender the arbitration-eligible Monroe, so they had no leverage to command anything in a trade.

In that respect, this is a low-risk deal. The big problem here is money. Monroe had a brutally bad 2007 campaign, hitting .219/.268/.370 while making $4.8 million. Entering his final year of arbitration, Monroe would likely make a similar amount next season. Speculation is that the Twins will either try to negotiate a deal that pays him less, or they will non-tender him. This much is certain: despite the fact that they will likely have some money to burn this offseason, the Twins can't afford to pay a fourth outfielder $5 million, nor can they afford to depend on Monroe in any sort of significant capacity if they are serious about fielding a more competitive team in 2008.

The acquisition of Monroe has garnered some Tony Batista comparisons, which is frightening yet understandable:

Craig Monroe (career): .256/.303/.446
Tony Batista (career): .251/.293/.453

There are, however, a number of disinct differences between the two situations. When the Twins signed Batista in December 2005, he was a 32-year-old who was three years removed from any type of real productivity in the major leagues (in fact, he had spent the past season playing in Japan, and not particularly well). Monroe is 30, and while his 2007 campaign was abominable, he had been a steadily solid player for the four seasons prior. Between 2003 and 2006, Monroe's home run totals were 23, 18, 20 and 28. His slugging percentages were .449, .488, .446 and .482.

Monroe does not generally hit for a good average and his on-base skills are obviously lacking, but his power is enticing. His .446 career slugging percentage is no great shakes, but had he posted it for the Twins last year he would have ranked fourth on the team in that category. (Of course, one of those who'd have been above him, Torii Hunter, is on his way out the door.) Monroe has hit 20 or more home runs three times in his five-year career; with Hunter and Rondell White gone the Twins have a total of four 20+ homer seasons among players on their rosters (three of which belong to Justin Morneau).

When Bill Smith made his first move as a general manager by dropping a few lesser players on the team's roster, including Lew Ford, I said that the key would be finding superior players to replace the ones that were dropped. Monroe qualifies as a significant offensive upgrade over the departed Ford as a fourth outfielder. This acquisition could be a good one, but it depends on several conditions. If the Twins plan to pay Monroe anywhere close to $5 million or plan on making him a regular player at any position, then this deal could be a disaster of Batista-esque proportions. If they can get his price down to a couple million bucks while using him as a backup and perhaps a platoon-type at DH or left field, he could be a useful player and a much-needed power threat off the bench.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Vikings: Making It Easy To Be a Twins Fan

On Sunday afternoon, the Vikings suffered a demoralizing 34-0 loss to the rival Green Bay Packers. The Vikes fell to 3-6 on the season, and are seemingly headed for another disappointing sub-.500 finish. The team's popularity seems to be dwindling; meanwhile, the Twins remain a hot topic for Minnesota sports fans despite not having found a whole lot more success in their latest season. It's not hard to see why.

I used to be a big Vikings fan. It was hard not to be, with the high-flying offenses of the late '90s and the likable personalities those teams featured -- guys like Robert Smith, Cris Carter and Jon Randle. But recently, the team has become increasingly difficult to watch, and difficult to like.

I think that at this point it's fair to say that Brad Childress was a bad hire. Not only is he a terrible coach, he seemingly has no interest in making the Vikings an exciting or marketable team. He restricts the media from practices. He insists upon running the most boring offensive scheme ever conceived (West Coast Offense), even when his personnel aren't suited for it. He seems to have a generally snide and condescending attitude, even though it's growing more and more difficult to believe that he actually knows what he's doing when so many of his decisions turn out so poorly. It is evident that his players have stopped playing for him; what other conclusion could possibly be drawn from the lifeless performance the Vikings gave at Lambeau Field on Sunday?

The Vikings have gained a reputation as a heartless organization. The franchise has been embarrassed by its players' actions -- from Love Boat to Whizzinator -- and the front office has not come off much better. The latest offensive act from the Vikings' brain-trust was their decision to dock receiver Troy Williamson a game check for attending the funeral of his maternal grandmother. After being lambasted by players, media and fans for this absurd decision, the team elected to change its mind and pay Williamson, but the damage had been done.

The fans are quickly losing interest. On two occasions already this season, companies have had to buy a large number of tickets to prevent a home game from being blacked out on local television. It would seem that there is a very good chance that this week's game against the Raiders will be blacked out; the Vikings reportedly still have 3,500 tickets remaining for the game, and they'll have a nearly possible time selling those with an uninteresting opponent and their only exciting offensive player (Adrian Peterson) out with a knee injury.

Meanwhile, even when the Twins aren't having success, they are still a likable organization. Say what you will about Ron Gardenhire, but he's at least an affable guy and his players seem to like him and respect him. As general manager, Terry Ryan was reserved and sometimes condescending in the same manner that Childress is, but Ryan was much more open and willing to talk to the local media. Unlike the Vikes, the Twins don't repel fans and prospective free agents with their shady business practices.

Is it any wonder that the Twins are selling tickets and gaining fans while the Vikings sink further into despair? Is it any wonder the Twins are building a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis while Zygi Wilf continues to unsuccessfully lobby for one of his own?

The Vikings used to be a nice diversion for me during the baseball offseason, but now I can barely watch the games anymore. In my opinion, Wilf needs to make a coaching change and start changing the image of this organization.

Friday, November 09, 2007

TGIF Links and Thoughts

I'm getting a little sick of writing about unsubstantiated trade rumors that will probably never amount to anything, but I'm essentially confined to that topic since it's pretty much all that's out there right now. For today, I thought I'd take a quick trip around the Web to see what others are saying about the Twins early in this offseason.

* On Tuesday, Aaron Gleeman wrote up an exhaustive list of 25 center fielders that may be available one way or another this offseason, along with pros and cons for each. It is almost guaranteed that the Twins will go outside the organization to fill their vacancy in center field that will open when Torii Hunter departs, and I'd be stunned if the player they bring in is not on that list.

* ESPN's Buster Olney reported yesterday that the Twins have had talks with the Cardinals regarding third baseman Scott Rolen, which is intriguing to say the least. Rolen was a superstar player throughout the first nine years or so of his career, but in the recent past he has struggled with injuries. Still, he's only 32 and in 2006 he was healthy enough to hit .296/.369/.518 with 22 homers and 95 RBI while playing in 142 games for the Cards.

If he can stay healthy, Rolen is a good bet to put up solid-to-great offensive numbers while playing Gold Glove caliber defense. I'm not sure where the Cardinals stand on Rolen right now and I imagine he'd too expensive to be worthwhile for the Twins when the injury risks are taken into account, but if the rumor is true then it's encouraging that the Twins are looking into unconventional and unexpected possibilities like that one.

* Joe Christensen had a nice article in yesterday's Star Tribune in which he discusses an apparent change in philosophy for the Twins as they look to fill their offensive needs this postseason. In the past under Terry Ryan, the Twins have been extremely protective of their pitching prospects, but Christensen states that the organization will likely soften its stance on that position in order to fill needs this offseason. Most interestingly, Christensen writes that "there are strong indications the Twins would be willing to move [Matt] Garza for a top young hitter." The thought of parting with Garza is unsettling considering his unlimited potential, but the idea that the Twins are willing to do what's necessary to improve their horrid offense and pathetic organization position player depth is a positive one.

The team that Christensen discusses most as a trading partner in the aforementioned is the Devil Rays -- a team that is being tossed around quite a bit in connection with the Twins lately. Names that I have heard mentioned most frequently are center fielder Rocco Baldelli and right fielder Delmon Young, along with Padres' third base prospect Chase Headley. I've always viewed the Devil Rays as a highly logical trading partner for the Twins, so I'm glad to hear that the two teams have been communicating.

* After an extremely impressive second half of 2007 that ended with him pitching a few September innings for the Twins, Nick Blackburn has been tearing up the Arizona Fall League, going 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA over 17 innings while striking out 16 and walking only two. I've been hearing speculation that Blackburn could be a serious contender for a roster spot out of spring training next year. He also seems like the ultimate "sell high" candidate...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Golden Geese

The American League Gold Glove winners were announced yesterday, and Twins fans will notice one very familiar name along with a welcome new one.

Torii Hunter brought home the award for a seventh consecutive time, while Johan Santana won his first Gold Glove at the pitcher position. Is Hunter really still one of the top three defensive outfielders in AL? I'm skeptical. But I have little doubt that Santana is the league's top defensive pitcher -- his ability to fly off the mound and use his athleticism to make plays is unmatched by any pitcher I watched this year. I'm glad to see him recognized by these oft-misguided voters.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Atkins Thoughts

Apologies for the lack of updates lately. There has been literally almost nothing worth discussing in the world of the Twins, although I'm hoping that starts to change within the next few weeks. The annual GM Meetings are currently taking place in Orlando, and the Winter Meetings will hit Nashville in about a month.

One interesting tidbit I thought I'd touch on is something I stumbled across while paging through the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus contributed an article discussing five hypothetical offseason trades. One of those trades involved the Twins:
Rockies trade 3B Garrett Atkins to the Twins for RHPs Anthony Swarzak and Eduardo Morlan. Ian Stewart (.304/.379/.478 at Triple A Colorado Springs) is ready to take over at third base for Colorado, which should be looking to add strikeout pitchers to a staff heavy on contact guys. Minnesota has a glut of young pitchers and desperately needs to add a bat to help Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. Swarzak, 22, a starter who projects as a mid-rotation guy, is buried in the Twins' system. Morlan, 21, struck out 12.6 men per nine innings as a reliever in high A ball and could be a 2008 version of closer Manny Corpas.
This deal bears a lot of similarity to one I suggested when writing up my offseason wish list back in late September. In that article, I proposed that the Twins send Swarzak and Oswaldo Sosa to the Rockies for Atkins, and at the time I confessed that I pretty much fabricated the deal on my own without having heard any rumors involving those specific names. As such, it is interesting that a well-respected guy like Sheehan would come up with such a similar idea.

When I brought up the Swarzak/Sosa for Atkins idea, several people felt that it was unrealistic because the Rockies weren't getting enough value. In that sense, Sheehan's proposal is a bit more realistic -- Morlan is a considerably better prospect than Sosa. If the deal was on the table, I suppose I'd do it, because I think Atkins would be a great addition; however, I wouldn't be happy about losing Morlan, who looks like a prime candidate to take over as the Twins' closer when Joe Nathan inevitably departs as a free agent after next year.

Then again, recent reports indicate that the Rockies may not be interested in trading Atkins, with the idea being that Stewart can slide over to second base, leaving free agent Kaz Matsui as the odd man out. I'm not sure I buy into Stewart as a second baseman and I still think that if the right deal came along, the Rockies would trade Atkins to add some pitching. We'll see how that storyline shapes up though.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Shooting From the Hip

I'll preface the complaints I'm about to make by saying that I generally like Charley Walters. I did a telephone interview with him for a class a couple years ago, and he was very friendly and interesting. I also like the fact that he once (very briefly) pitched in a Twins uniform many years ago, an experience which would seem to lend him more credibility than some other sportswriters in this town.

Unfortunately, Walters' credibility is dwindling fast, at least in my mind. A longtime columnist of in the Pioneer Press, Walters has always had a habit of inserting seemingly baseless little rumors and tidbits in his columns that never end up containing a shred of truth. Recently, however, his column has been featuring some pieces of information that are so blatantly false that one might be led to question the credibility of the entire publication.

First, Walters reported the following "news" in his column a couple weeks ago
If the Twins can't re-sign free agent Torii Hunter, plans are to trade, sign a free agent or go in-house to find his center field replacement.
This isn't so much false as it is inane. Walters basically was reporting that someone will be playing center field for the Twins next season, which is not the type of information anyone needs to purchase a newspaper to learn.

A few days after that masterful tidbit, Walters reported that the Twins had offered Carlos Silva a three-year contract worth "slightly more than $7 million a season," citing "a little birdie" as his source.

A couple days later, Joe Christensen said he made a call to Silva's agent and was told that the Twins had not made an offer of any kind. "You can quote me on that," Silva's agent told Christensen.

Yesterday, Walters offered up the following piece of breaking news:
The Cincinnati Reds snapped up pitcher Alexander Smit when the Twins took him off their 40-player roster the other day.
This is true, actually, except for the part about the moving take place "the other day." The Reds claimed Smit off waivers from the Twins back in July.

In my classes at the U of M, we are often taught that the central tenant of journalism is to "seek the truth and report it." Is that really happening over at the Pioneer Press? I know that Walters works very hard and makes a lot of phone calls every day, and I also realize that the idea of his column is to plant little rumors that are far from concrete. Still, at some point he and the sports editors over at the St. Paul paper need to take a look at what has been happening over the past few weeks -- much of the content being published in his section is not just unsubstantiated, but blatantly and provably false.

I suppose it may appear that I'm unfairly leveling my criticism at the Pioneer Press in this instance considering that the Star Tribune's own Page 2 columnist, Sid Hartman, has his own ethically questionable journalism practices. I guess I just hold Walters to a higher standard because I actually know him to be a nice guy and I don't believe he's completely senile.

It just seems to me that in cases like the ones listed above, Walters should follow the advice that labels a portion of his column: "Don't Print That."