Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Five Best Decisions of 2008

With the end of 2008 rapidly approaching, we are provided with a good opportunity to reflect on the year that was.

Amongst many fans, looking back at the '08 season brings up a wide-ranging discussion of all the things that went wrong. In a season where the Twins came just a game short of making the playoffs, there is a strong temptation to pinpoint precise mistakes that caused the team to fall just short. People will list the signings of Adam Everett, Mike Lamb, Craig Monroe and Livan Hernandez. They'll list the Johan Santana trade, and the Matt Garza trade. They'll list the team's failure to upgrade the fledgling bullpen during the season by acquiring Chad Bradford or LaTroy Hawkins. They'll list the organization's decision to leave Anthony Slama in Ft. Myers for the entire season (which was, in my mind, the single most inexplicable and inexcusable mistake committed by this club all year).

All of those criticisms are valid. But, in the spirit of the season, I'll opt instead to focus on the things that the Twins' front office did in right during Bill Smith's first year at the helm. The fact of the matter is that when a team consisting almost entirely of young, inexperienced players that was expected by almost all outside observers to be in a rebuilding phase is able to come within a game of making the playoffs, a lot of right decisions have to be made. And in the frenzy to assign blame for this team's failure to reach the postseason, I think people are too quick to overlook some of the savvy moves that even made the postseason a possibility.

Today, I'll go over what I felt were the five best decisions made by the Twins' front office during the 2008 year:

5) Cutting Mike Lamb.
Obviously, signing Lamb in the first place was a move that didn't work out. I'm not going to call it a mistake, because at the time I thought the reasoning behind the signing was sound and I still think it was. He fell apart in a manner that few could have anticipated. It's unfortunate, but it happens -- this wasn't a signing that was essentially doomed from the start like, say, Hernandez. In any case, it became abundantly clear midway through the season the Lamb simply wasn't going to get the job done as third baseman for this team. And, although the Twins still owed him $3 million for the 2009 season, they ate the cost and parted ways to make room for superior options. Say what you will, but that's an uncharacteristic move for this organization. And it was the right move. In 2007, the Twins made the mistake of bringing back Rondell White after a disastrous first year with the misguided hope that he'd rebound and fulfill the promise they had initially seen when they signed him. This time, they're not going to make that same mistake.

4) Drafting Aaron Hicks.
I think that the 2008 draft was, in general, a very good one for the Twins. They took some risks, grabbed a few players over-slot, and showed uncharacteristic aggressiveness in going after the players they wanted. But Hicks, their first overall pick, stands out to me as the best of the bunch. This was an encouraging selection, especially in light of some of the duds this organization has brought in with mid-to-high first-round picks over the past 15 years or so. The Twins nabbed Hicks, a tremendously gifted athlete and highly regarded high school prospect, with the No. 14 pick and quickly signed him. They were rewarded with a .318/.409/.491 hitting line from the 18-year-old over 45 games in the Gulf Coast League that helped silence criticism over how his bat would play in the pros. Hicks was somewhat spendy and he doesn't fill an organizational area of need (far from it), but he was the best player on the board and the Twins made the right choice. Hicks ranked as the organization's No. 1 prospect on Baseball America's postseason Top 10 list released in November.

3) Acquiring Craig Breslow.
This move doesn't get talked about much, but it has certainly turned out well. Breslow was nabbed off waivers from the Indians in late May, and went on to post a 1.63 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 38 2/3 innings for the Twins, emerging as one of the steadiest options out of a shaky bullpen. Breslow gave up only 24 hits, showing decent control along with an ability to miss bats. He shut down lefties and held his own against righties. It cost essentially nothing to bring him in, and now Breslow enters the 2009 season as perhaps the second-most reliable arm in the Twins bullpen.

2) The handling of Francisco Liriano.
Despite looking pretty good toward the end of spring training, Liriano did not make the Twins' Opening Day roster. Reportedly, the young pitcher wasn't terribly happy about this, so when an opening in the rotation arose in late April, the Twins called him up and gave him a shot. Liriano lasted four starts and was absolutely shelled. The Twins sent him back down to Triple-A, where he worked hard to refine his craft and showed remarkable improvement over the course of his next 15 or so starts. Eventually, he was dominating minor-league competition on a consistent basis, and -- while they may have waited a bit too long -- the Twins brought him back up to replace Hernandez in the rotation. The strong, confident Liriano was a force for the Twins over the final two months of the season, going 6-1 with a 2.74 ERA and 60-to-19 K/BB ratio over 11 starts and helping propel his team to a 163rd game. It seemed like an impossible notion when Liriano was being battered around in April, but he'll enter the 2009 season as a potential ace for this staff.

1) Signing Joe Nathan to a four-year contract extension.
Looking back, this seems like a no-brainer, but this was hardly the case at the time the Twins elected to hand Nathan a $47 million extension back in March. Many believed that it was a foregone conclusion Nathan would be dealt after the Twins moved Santana, and I heard plenty of arguments that the closer's value as a trade piece was much greater than his value to the Twins, especially considering that he'd be making over $10 million per year in a new contract. Personally, I was always a steadfast believer that Nathan should be retained, specifically because this bullpen contained far too many questions for his loss to be palatable. Now that Pat Neshek, Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier have all become huge question marks going forward and Nathan is the one steady right-handed rock in the Twins 'pen, the signing looks incredibly savvy. That's especially true when you consider that Nathan, one of the very best relievers in all of baseball with basically no injury history as a Twin, will be earning less annually than the inferior Francisco Rodriguez and only marginally more than the huge injury risk Kerry Wood.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Grinch Out East

One of the most amusing quotes I came across when recently reading Hammerin' Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid, John Rosengren's engrossing portrayal of the 1973 baseball season, was this one from then-newcomer George Steinbrenner: "I am dead set against free agency. It can ruin baseball."

I'm tickled by the irony of that statement, particularly in light of yesterday's announcement that the Yankees have inked Mark Teixeira to a staggering eight-year, $180 million contract. Between Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the Yanks have now committed 20 years and $423.5 million to three premium free agents, handing out massive contracts that few other teams could even consider offering. Ol' George is no longer in charge, but the free-spending philosophies that watermarked his tenure clearly persist. Through a sheer ability to outspend everybody else, the Yankees have made themselves favorites for the AL pennant, nearly ensuring that they'll return to the playoffs in 2009 after seeing their 13-year streak come to an end in '08. Is it any wonder so many people dislike the Yankees?

Perhaps I'm being melodramatic. Anything can happen, of course, but it's awfully hard to see a lineup anchored by Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez miss the playoffs when hitting for a rotation highlighted by Sabathia, Burnett and Joba Chamberlain. The Rays have a good young team that seems poised to return as a strong force next year, but the Yankees' purchase of all these top free agents certainly stacks the odds against any small-market team forced to rely on internal development to succeed.

Of course, it's been a much quieter offseason for the Twins, who've made no moves outside of re-signing Nick Punto. Fortunately, the Twins aren't burdened with the great misfortune of playing in the same division as the Yankees, so an offseason of little movement doesn't spell doom for our hometown club.

This will probably be my only post this week. I'd like to wish everybody a wonderful holiday, and I'm sure I'll have something for next week as we review the 2008 year that was and look ahead to another great year in 2009.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Getting Back on the Wagon

In looking back at what I've written so far over the course of this (dreadfully boring) offseason, it's struck that I've been kind of a sour-puss. While others have been railing off the virtues of various possible trades and free agent acquisitions, I've been pointing out flaws and downsides to just about every substantive rumor. I have, at various times during the past few months, expressed opposition to signing Orlando Cabrera, signing a free agent reliever, trading for Garrett Atkins, signing Ty Wigginton, or giving up a starting pitcher for basically anything less than a king's ransom. I was somewhat supportive of signing Casey Blake, but hardly blinked when the Twins came up short in their offer and watched him go to the Dodgers. Someone on a message board recently called me "Ole Buzzy McBuzzkill." I think they may have had a point.

My central thought process behind all this "status quo support," if you will, is that the Twins came within a game of making the playoffs last year, and -- at least right now -- I don't see the rest of the AL Central division improving all that much in 2009. With a young and talented roster with several guys who can reasonably be expected to improve next year, the Twins seem about as well-positioned as anyone to make a postseason run in the upcoming season.

Still, I kind of feel like a sell-out. Most years, I'm right there along with the chorus of complainers when the Twins once again fail to partake in the Hot Stove festivities, opting to pour their limited resources into inexpensive low-upside veterans rather than taking an exciting, organization-shaking gamble. (Last winter, of course, presented a notable exception to this philosophy.) Now here I am saying I'd be fine if the Twins do nothing other than re-signing Nick Punto and maybe inviting a few guys to camp in the spring on minor-league deals.

Well, today, I'm going to get back on the wagon and get behind a potential acquisition that I think makes a lot of sense for this team: Mark DeRosa. Why isn't this guy getting talked about more? We can be relatively certain he's available, since his name was often connected to the Jake Peavy rumors, and he strikes me as a far better fit for this team than a Wigginton.

DeRosa, like Wigginton and Blake, has experience at multiple infield and outfield positions. He's logged most of his career innings at second base, but has also played 1,534 innings at third, making him a potential third-base option. I haven't seem him play much, but the defensive metrics peg him as a slightly below-average defender basically wherever he plays -- maybe about Blake's level, and certainly better than Wigginton. DeRosa is also a right-handed hitter with strong numbers against lefties, and has been a productive hitter for three consecutive years as a regular. In 2008, he had the best season of his career, posting a .376 on-base percentage with Kubel-esque power. That would be lovely production from an infield spot.

DeRosa will turn 34 in February, but that still makes him younger than Blake, and since he only became a regular player during the past three years one could easily speculate that he's got plenty left in the tank. Next season will be the last of his current three-year contract, and he'll be making only $5.5 million, making him an excellent bargain and a short-term commitment.

The problem here is that DeRosa strikes me as the type of player the Twins would undervalue. He's not a great fielder, and he's not terribly fast or athletic. So, there's reason to believe that the Twins won't be willing to offer enough for the Cubs to consider moving him. Personally, I'm not sure I'd be willing to part with one of The Fab 5 for him, but basically every other pitcher in the organization is fair game, be it a minor-leaguer or one of the Boof Bonser/Philip Humber duo.

I've stringently held to my belief that making a move for the sake of making a move doesn't make sense for this club in its current position. But moving on DeRosa, if the Cubs' asking price is reasonable, makes all the sense in the world. That's a rumor even this old Scrooge can get behind.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

This Little Wiggy Stayed Home

It’s only December 17, but already it seems as though this offseason has passed the Twins by. Several potential infield targets that had reportedly drawn the club’s interest have now evaporated from sight. Casey Blake signed with the Dodgers, Rafael Furcal signed with the Braves, Adrian Beltre has invoked a no-trade clause significantly lessening the likelihood that he’ll be dealt here, and reports indicate that the Rockies’ asking price for Garrett Atkins is off the charts. Meanwhile, many desirable free agent relievers have already signed elsewhere. The Twins entered this offseason with the specific goal of upgrading the left side of their infield and bullpen, and with the Nick Punto re-signing starting look like the only significant move Bill Smith will make, it seems that the team is content to simply hold steady.

There is one name that continues to be connected with the Twins on the rumor circuit. That would be Ty Wigginton, who recently became a free agent when the Astros declined to offer him arbitration. Wigginton is a right-handed power bat who would ostensibly fill the team’s hole at third base.

In theory, Wigginton presents an opportunity for the Twins to pick up what they missed when the Dodgers outbid them on Blake. Wigginton (who is five years young than Blake) is capable of manning several different positions, and he has a history of mashing left-handed pitching. He has averaged 23 homers and 68 RBI over the past three seasons, and actually tends to hit for pretty decent batting averages though he lacks patience at the dish.

The distinction between Blake and Wigginton is that while the former is a substandard defender, the latter is an absolute disaster in the field. Wigginton is among the worst defensive third baseman in all of baseball, which helps explain why he’s been shuttled between four different organizations in the past five years despite solid offensive production, and why he’s found himself playing in the outfield frequently. Using Ultimate Zone Rating, an advanced fielding metric which Fangraphs.com recently began carrying, we find that Wigginton has accumulated a UZR of -51.9 over the course of 4,239 big-league innings at third base, which is far worse than the -14.0 mark Blake has posted in 5,072 career innings at the position. Wigginton is so lacking as a third baseman that I’m rather skeptical the Twins would be willing to play him there on anything close to a full-time basis.

So now we’re left to decide whether it’s worth spending $6-$7 million dollars over a few years on a part-time righty slugger and bench bat. Seems to me that the Twins already have a player who fits that bill to some degree in Brendan Harris. While he’s pretty clearly an inferior offensive player, Harris is far more valuable in the field -- he plays a decent third base and is passable at the middle infield spots, which really cannot be said about Wigginton.

I don’t think Wigginton would be a terrible acquisition at the right price, but he doesn’t get me particularly excited. The Twins entered this offseason with a sizable surplus in their budget and it will be unfortunate if they end up sitting on their excess rather than using it to add players who can help them win, but having the money to sign Wigginton is not reason enough to sign him. When all aspects of his game are taken into account, I don’t think he adds much to this club. Even if it’s not particularly exciting, sometimes holding steady makes sense.


If you're not sick of me yet, you can check out the latest addition of the Twins Offseason Round Table series at Twins Territory, where as usual I answer questions alongside Alex Halsted, Jesse Lund and Seth Stohs. Or you can check out Seth's podcast from last night, where I was a guest along with Phil Miller of the Pioneer Press.

Friday, December 12, 2008

And Your 2009 Starting Shortstop Is...

Nick Punto.

The Twins inked Punto to a two-year deal yesterday, just after Ron Gardenhire had told reporters, “If we sign Nick Punto, he would be my starting shortstop.” Guess that takes care of that.

Punto’s contract will pay him $4 million over each of the next two seasons, with a $5 million team option for 2011 that can be negated with a $500K buyout. The deal seems reasonable and shouldn’t hurt the Twins much financially.

There is a large segment of fans out there who remain disenchanted with Punto after his dismal 2007 campaign and are no doubt disgusted to hear that he’ll be around for at least two more years with the promise of a spot in next season’s Opening Day lineup. Realistically, though, Punto is a pretty reasonable option. The free agent crop for shortstops is quite weak, and the J.J. Hardy/Yunel Escobar trade rumors were never very realistic. When it gets to the point that Jack Wilson is being looked at as a viable target, you know the market is bare.

I expressed my concerns about the defensive makeup of the left side of the Twins’ infield on Wednesday, and now the team can take comfort in the fact that they’ll at least have a steady defender at shortstop. It’s difficult to predict what kind of offensive performance Punto will put forth, but I find it likely that he'll hit enough to avoid being a total liability at a middle-infield position.

This signing ostensibly allows the Twins to turn their attention to third base, although there really isn’t a whole lot out there at this point. Adrian Beltre reportedly now has the Twins on his no-trade list, providing another obstacle in what already was a pretty unlikely trade scenario. The rest of the names being bandied about -- such as Garrett Atkins and Kevin Kouzmanoff -- are not particularly inspiring. Mark DeRosa is intriguing, but I question whether the Cubs are really shopping him and, if they are, whether the Twins have the right pieces to bring him in. I would not be at all surprised to see the Twins stick with a Brendan Harris/Brian Buscher platoon in 2009.

Rolling into 2009 with the same group of infielders as the they sported last year is a pretty questionable plan for the Twins given how flawed those players are, but I’m starting to think that -- for better or for worse -- management wants to go forward with the guys who brought the team within a game of the playoffs last year.


I’ll touch on yesterday’s Rule 5 draft very briefly. I don’t want to talk about it much because, frankly, I find the Rule 5 draft to be mind-boggling. Most of the decisions make no sense to me. The Twins had a chance to recoup a valuable asset when Eduardo Morlan remained available at their 14th pick, but they passed on him and instead selected the Yankees' Jason Jones, a 26-year-old with only 11 innings of experience above Double-A and a very mediocre minor-league track record. If the Twins didn’t want to take a risk on Morlan, that’s fine, but I don’t see any wisdom in bringing in a low-upside guy like Jones when the big-league bullpen is already inhabited by Philip Humber and Boof Bonser, both of whom figure to be much better relievers than Jones this year. The Twins must either plan on swinging a deal to bring Jones into the organization as a minor-leaguer, or else they don’t expect either Humber or Bonser to be around much longer. Or they saw a soft-tossing right-hander who throws strikes, got needlessly excited and threw logic out the window.

Compounding my confusion over the Rule 5 draft is the that opposing clubs passed over numerous viable prospects left off the Twins’ 40-man roster, and the only guy to get selected was Jose Lugo, a 24-year-old lefty reliever who posted a 4.04 ERA in Ft. Myers last year and who I’ve never heard of before.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More Speculation and Banter

One name that I didn’t mention yesterday when running through the Twins’ search for a third baseman during the ongoing Winter Meetings in Las Vegas is Garrett Atkins, but apparently the Twins continue to have talks with the Rockies regarding the right-handed third baseman.

Atkins, who turns 29 on Friday, is poor defensively and figures to post above average – but not great – offensive numbers outside of Coors. Certainly he’d provide an upgrade over a Brendan Harris/Brian Buscher platoon, but perhaps not to the extent that he’d be worth giving up a starting pitcher for, which seems to be what the Rockies are demanding.

In the same article I linked above, La Velle E. Neal III notes that it is “coming to light … that the Twins really want to hold on to their core of young starters,” which I was pleased to read. Some have accused me overvaluing the Twins’ young rotation, which I’ve termed The Fab 5, but I think that having five starting pitchers who figure to give you league-average production or better at less than a million dollars is a wonderful thing to have in a market where the Carlos Silvas and Kyle Lohses of the world are signing long-term deals for exorbitant amounts of money. I also think many people are far too hasty in assuming that one of the Twins’ marginal starters in Triple-A will be able to step in and replace a guy like Glen Perkins or Nick Blackburn.

So if Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd is in fact asking for any member of that group in return for Atkins, Bill Smith should politely tell him to take a hike. If the Mariners are seeking a guy like Perkins in return for Adrian Beltre, it merits more consideration. (Though it’s worth noting that all the “young starter for Beltre” speculation might be off-base, because the more I look at their roster, the more I realize that the Mariners really don’t need any more starting pitching.)

If the Twins are indeed still trying to acquire a third baseman, Beltre seems like the only reasonable option anymore at this point. Why do I say that? Because Phil Miller reports that the team only intends to upgrade one of the two left infield positions, with the indication being that acquiring a third baseman would lead to a Harris/Matt Tolbert platoon at short. That the Twins only plan on upgrading one of the two positions doesn’t come as a real surprise, but now that I’ve read it and mulled it over I’m thinking more and more that the club should be pursuing a shortstop. A Harris/Buscher platoon at third is far more appealing than a Harris/Tolbert platoon at short, particularly if that shortstop duo were to be accompanied on the left side by one of the defensively challenged third basemen that the Twins have reportedly been chasing this offseason (Casey Blake, Atkins, Kevin Kouzmanoff, etc.). I could maybe live with the sub par defense provided at shortstop by a Harris/Tolbert platoon if a strong defender like Beltre was manning the hot corner, but combining the two with another defensive liability at third would signal a total abandonment of infield defense.

All of which is why I think the Twins probably should re-sign Nick Punto. He plays sound defense at shortstop and probably will hit enough not to be a total liability there, and tabbing him to a reasonable two-year deal gives the team some flexibility to go after a third baseman. I’d also be open to bringing in a more potent shortstop and sticking with a Harris/Buscher platoon at third, but J.J. Hardy doesn’t seem realistic and I don’t know what else is out there.

If this post seemed like a rambling, circular cluster of thoughts, I apologize. It’s just a very tricky situation.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tracking the Third Base Saga

The Winter Meetings are now officially underway, so we should start seeing a whole bunch of rumors spring up over the course of the week. (You can follow all the developments at Rotoworld, where Aaron Gleeman is blogging the action.)

The Twins continue to seek a third base solution. They reportedly broke off talks with Casey Blake late last week when the two sides couldn't come to agreement on a third year (the Twins wanted an option, Blake wanted a guarantee). Ultimately, this turned out to be a deal-breaker, and it looks like Blake will end up re-signing with the Dodgers, who are willing to add a third year to their offer.

While I thought Blake was a logical target for the Twins, I'm glad to see them taking a hard stance here. He'd have been a solid short-term option and the Twins have money to burn over the next couple seasons, but it's not clear that they'll have the payroll flexibility in 2011 to have $6+ million committed to a 38-year-old.

And so, the Twins move on to looking at other options. For the time being, that apparently means reopening talks with the Mariners regarding Adrian Beltre. Seattle Times beat writer Geoff Baker suggests the M's may be interested in moving Beltre in return for a package built around Michael Cuddyer. While that'd be fine and dandy from the Twins' perspective, it doesn't really make sense for the Mariners. If they're trying to shed payroll (the only reason they'd deal Beltre), why would they be interested in bringing in a injury-prone veteran with a spotty track record and a somewhat bulky contract? If the Mariners actually do covet the right fielder for some reason, I'd think a package of Cuddyer plus Jeff Manship would be a good starting point. But, again, I sincerely doubt that is the case and I find it much more likely that the Mariners will demand a member of The Fab Five.

Elsewhere, Paul Hagen from the Philadelphia Daily News speculates that the Phillies may be interested in acquiring Delmon Young to replace Pat Burrell in their outfield. In return, Hagen notes that the Twins "almost certainly would ask for top prospect Jason Donald and are also seeking bullpen help." I've been pretty hawkish in my opposition to trading Young while his value is down, but I'd back off from that position if the Twins could reel in a player like Donald, a shortstop who has raked his way through the minors and finished last season at Double-A. Of course, such a deal would have to produce mixed feelings amongst Twins fans. On the one hand, the organization is bringing in a top prospect who represents a potential long-term solution at a middle infield spot. On the other hand, they're shipping off a big-league player who can help now in return for a guy who in all likelihood won't be ready to contribute significantly until 2010.

That's all I've got for today. Make sure to check back throughout the week; I'll continue to keep tabs on all the Twins-related rumors that pop up during this week of Hot Stove action.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Is Delmon Finished? Not So Fast...

Much fuss has been raised over Ron Gardenhire’s recent admission that he’d prefer to open the 2009 season with Carlos Gomez, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer as his starting outfield alignment, leaving Delmon Young out in the dark. Many view this as the manager overplaying his hand, potentially upsetting a historically volatile player, and lowering Bill Smith’s leverage when it comes to trading the 23-year-old outfielder (which, to some, seems like a foregone conclusion at this point).

Overreact much?

First of all, Opening Day is still four months away. A lot can change over that time, and the notion that Gardenhire’s stated preference during an informal Q & A session in Fargo sets in stone Young’s role on the bench seems awfully misguided.

It could be that Gardenhire truly has lost taste for Young and has no problem letting this negative sentiment be known to the public. But there are a couple other possibilities that are being overlooked here.

One is that this was a calculated move to play up the value of Michael Cuddyer, who has battled injuries over the past two years and whose contract is much more of a liability than Young's. If other teams get the sense that Cuddyer is of more value to the Twins and that the manager has lost faith in Young, doesn’t Cuddy immediately become the more valuable trade piece?

Another possibility is that we are simply seeing an example of a manager trying to light a fire under an under-performing player. Early last season, Gardenhire wrote Young’s name into the lineup on a daily basis and the coaching staff continually sang the outfielder’s praises to the press. In Young’s 2007 season in Tampa Bay, he literally played every game. In neither of those seasons did Young have any prolonged periods of excellent play, or any tangible signs of significant improvement. There is little evidence that working to increase Young’s confidence leads to improved production, perhaps because confidence was never an issue for him in the first place.

So, if the coaching staff believes that Young’s problems are at least partially mental or due to a lack of motivation, perhaps a change in approach is necessary. Perhaps the very public reports of Young being on the trading block and now the manager’s public assertion that Young is not viewed as one of the team’s top three outfield options are deliberate moves intended to challenge Young to live up to his potential. According to La Velle E. Neal III, Young already “has hit the gym big-time this offseason and has lost weight.” It is entirely possible that this is a response to the way the Twins have presented him during this offseason so far.

If you follow Young’s career from high school to minor leagues to major leagues to present, you see a pretty clear and steady trend. He is on a path, and if he stays the course, he is on his way to a very unremarkable career as a mediocre corner outfielder with attitude problems. Something needs to change, and perhaps all these trade rumors and this public “diss” from his manager are calculated maneuvers aimed at that exact goal.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Another Year of Hope

It's that time of year for a new player or group of player's to be elected to baseball's prestigious Hall of Fame. As such, the raging debate surrounding Bert Blyleven's candidate will undoubtedly be renewed in many different places.

This year seems like a prime opportunity for Blyleven to gain entry to the Hall and, as a staunch believer that he belongs, I'm very hopeful that he's able to get in.

If you'd like to read (or take part in) some entertaining debate on the subject, head over to Granny Baseball, where our old pal TT seeks to dispel five "myths" about Blyleven's candidacy.

A few other notes as we chug toward the end of the week...

* Happy birthday shout outs to our good friend Karlee, author of the OMG Twins blog, and to Mr. Carlos Gomez, who turns 23 exciting years old today.

* Make sure to stop by and check out the re-designed Twins Most Valuable Blogger site!

* Yesterday, the Twins reportedly made a two-year offer to Casey Blake at about $6M/yr with an option for 2011, though Blake's agents wants a guaranteed third year to seal the deal. The Twins and Dodgers are both reportedly in hot pursuit of the 35-year-old third baseman, but it seems like there's a fairly good chance the Twins will land him (much to the chagrin of a certain semi-retired SBG citizen).

Here's my question. If the Twins sign Blake, does that basically guarantee that Nick Punto will be re-signed to play short? I cannot imagine that a defensive-minded club such as that would possibly go forward with Blake and Brendan Harris as the left side of their infield, and Punto is a stout defender whom they are comfortable with at shortstop.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Quick Arb Update

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. Still not much to write about as far as the Twins are concerned, so today I’ll just touch on a few arbitration-related notes.

* The White Sox offered arbitration to Orlando Cabrera, which is good news to those of us who feared the thought of the Twins offering him a long-term deal. Cabrera qualifies as a Type A free agent, meaning the Twins would have to surrender a first-round pick in order to sign him, and as Joe Christensen has noted, the team has no interest in giving up draft picks in order to bring in free agents.

You can read my thoughts on Cabrera here.

* On Monday, the Twins offered Dennys Reyes arbitration, which the lefty reliever will almost surely decline as he seeks a multi-year deal from some other club. Since Reyes qualifies as a Type B free agent, the Twins will receive a supplemental second-round pick when he signs elsewhere. I was very impressed with the way the Twins drafted this past June. They didn’t shy away from good talent due to the price tags, and even went over-slot on a few players. If they carry that same aggressive plan forward into next year’s draft, that extra pick could prove valuable.

* Strangest thing that I've read all week and perhaps that I'll read all offseason, from the blog of former Tigers beat writer Danny Knobler (emphasis mine):

Shortstop Jason Bartlett was voted the Rays' most valuable player, and he was a big part in Tampa Bay's improbable run to the World Series.

Now the Rays are willing to trade him, according to a baseball official who has spoken to the Rays. Not only that, but the Rays have also discussed trying to reacquire Delmon Young, the outfielder who they traded to the Twins last winter to get Bartlett and Matt Garza.

By all accounts the Rays were pretty ecstatic to get rid of Young and his attitude. Now they want him back after he put up a crappy season in Minnesota and they improved their record by 30 wins without him? Whatever

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Morneau's Mysterious Legacy

Justin Morneau, at the age of 27 and with four-and-a-half major-league seasons under his belt, has made quite a career for himself already. He has won two Silver Slugger awards. He’s been to two All-Star games. He has won one MVP award and finished second another time.

All the while, Morneau has posted a .281/.348/.498 hitting line at a premier offensive position. He’s never hit more than 34 home runs in a season, never slugged .600, never led the league in OPS (or been particularly close). His top comparison on BaseballReference.com is Brad Fullmer. Strictly from a statistical standpoint, Morneau has not been an overwhelmingly impressive player up to this point in his career.

Yet, clearly his reputation precedes him. Morneau has already collected some impressive hardware, has had opposing managers marvel at his skill (Ozzie Guillen last year called him the most dangerous hitter in the league) and has managed to earn himself the largest contract in Twins franchise history.

So just what is it about Morneau that causes his perceived value to be so much higher than the numbers we see on the stat sheet? I started wondering about this yesterday, and it was prompted by an entry on Joe Posnanski’s blog in which he expressed great confusion over why Morneau was considered to be so much more valuable than Joe Mauer by MVP voters, both this year and in 2006. Says Poz:
The part that baffled me in 2006 was that NONE of the voters agreed with me. Every single one of them picked Morneau over Mauer in their voting, every last one of them, and the Minnesota guys were pretty pointed in telling me that Morneau was much more valuable to that team even though, best I could tell, Mauer was a better hitter, a billion times more important fielder, a better base runner and apparently more feared around the game based on his 21 intentional walks (to Morneau’s nine). I was told that I was wrong so many times than finally I simply accepted it — obviously there was some greatness about Morneau that I was not appreciating properly and some flaws about Mauer that I was overlooking.

You know what? I watched them pretty closely in 2008, though, and … I think I was right the first time.
What is this “greatness” about Morneau? Is it something so simple as a flair for the theatrics? Morneau does have a reputation for delivering huge hits at crucial moments. Is it the tremendous hitting with runners in scoring position? Possibly, but Mauer was excellent in such situations this year and was actually markedly better in 2006 (though Morneau’s numbers always stand out more since he hits with far more runners in scoring position).

I’m not sure what it is, but there is something about watching Morneau play regularly that brings you to appreciate his game on a different level. I must admit that I’ve gotten swept up in this myself. Late in the season, Morneau was right at the top of my list of MVP contenders; now, looking back, I can’t really understand why. Even without the late-season slump, Morneau’s performance – while good – just didn’t stack up to many of his peers. When I threw together a quick-and-dirty MVP ballot in the comments section from Friday’s post, I ranked Morneau sixth, and I’ll stand by that.

What I think this comes down to is an aura built around Morneau’s reputation. It’s clear that people in the game and around the game have a lot of respect for him, and I’m sure that shades opinions of the writers who fill out MVP ballots. There’s also something to be said for having a flashy style – a big day for Morneau might be 2-for-5 with four RBI and a highlight-reel go-ahead homer in the late innings; a big day for Mauer might be 4-for-4 with two doubles, three runs scored and a walk. Mauer’s contributions may have been more valuable on a basic level, but Morneau’s stick in your memory long after you’ve watched the game.

Of course, I might just be grasping for straws here. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what it is about Morneau that makes his reputation outshine his actual on-the-field performance. But I’m open to suggestions. Thoughts?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

2008 Prediction Results

It's been a slow offseason up this point as far as the Twins are concerned. There's been little of substance to write about, and that continues to be the case. Hopefully things will start to heat up over the next month or so as Winter Meetings roll around and teams begin to engage in more serious pursuit of free agents and trade targets.

For today, I'm going to go back and review the 2008 season predictions that Mr. Mosvick and I made back in March. It's possible that no one cares about this other than me (and I'm not even sure I do), but at the very least it's something to post, and perhaps we can all have a collective chuckle over how utterly awful some of these predictions now look. Moreover, I'm personally a believer that people should be held accountable for some of the outrageous predictions they make, so I feel I have something of a moral obligation to post these. Or something.

For the heck of it, we'll tally points to see whose predictions were more accurate. I don't think we ever tallied our 2007 predictions (though I'll note that, by a quick count, I think I'd have lost by a pathetic 2-1 score), but in 2006 Mossy got the best of me by a score of 5-3. Time for some sweet revenge.

Nelson: Boston
Mosvick: Boston
Comments: Zero points awarded. Come on -- Rays? Who'd have thunk it. I figured I was going on a limb by picking them to finish third.

Nelson: Cleveland
Mosvick: Detroit
Comments: These were the two popular picks. Both were wrong. No points.

Nelson: Los Angeles
Mosvick: Seattle
Comments: I wasn't falling into the "improved Mariners" trap. Mosvick did. 1-0 lead.

Nelson: Detroit
Mosvick: Cleveland
Comments: We both thought the AL Central would produce two playoff teams. Ultimately, it didn't really deserve to produce one.

Nelson: New York
Mosvick: New York
Comments: Damn Mets.

Nelson: Milwaukee
Mosvick: Milwaukee
Comments: They made the playoffs, at least. Still 1-0.

Nelson: Arizona
Mosvick: Arizona
Comments: Obviously we were very independent with our NL picks. And very wise.

Nelson: Colorado
Mosvick: Colorado
Comments: Yeah... no.

Nelson: Boston over NY Mets
Mosvick: Detroit over Arizona
Comments: OK, I was wrong, but not nearly as wrong as Mossy...

Nelson: Grady Sizemore
Mosvick: Alex Rodriguez
Comments: Not bad picks, really. Both guys should have gotten more consideration than they did. Still, no points here. Man are we doing bad.

Nelson: David Wright
Mosvick: Chase Utley
Comments: They both had very good years. Alas, still 1-0.

AL Cy Young
Nelson: Felix Hernandez
Mosvick: Justin Verlander
Comments: Neither received a single vote. Ouch.

NL Cy Young
Nelson: Johan Santana
Mosvick: Johan Santana
Comments: You can make a case that Santana deserved it, but Tim Lincecum was a fine choice.

AL Rookie of the Year
Nelson: Evan Longoria
Mosvick: Clay Buchholz
Comments: Here I pick up another point. 2-0... this is turning into a landslide.

NL Rookie of the Year
Nelson: Franklin Morales
Mosvick: Jay Bruce
Comments: Goodness... what was I thinking? Bruce was a decent pick.

And so, I claim a decisive victory, managing a whopping two correct predictions. As for Mossy, he ended up with zero points. Not one correct prediction. How very embarrassing. I doubt he'll be showing his face around here anytime soon after a performance like that.

For next year, we'll probably try to do a more broad prediction contest where readers can submit their predictions and the winner will receive some sort of cool prize at the end of the season. As it's currently constructed, this format doesn't really give us much other than the knowledge that Mosvick and I are both very, very bad at this.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Cost of Mauer

When the American League Most Valuable Player voting results were released earlier this week, Justin Morneau found himself runner-up by a relatively thin margin, an indication that without his season-ending slump he may have found himself with a second MVP trophy in three years, an immense honor for the 27-year-old first baseman of humble origins.

Of course, there's nothing too surprising about Morneau's success on the MVP ballots in 2006 and 2008. A slugging first baseman with big RBI totals playing for a successful team and hitting in a lineup where his power numbers stand out immensely, Morneau is the type of player BBWAA voters have long drooled over.

Yet, lost in the impressiveness of Morneau's top finishes on the MVP voting is the impressive feat of his teammate, Joe Mauer, who crept up to a fourth-place finish this year after placing sixth in 2006. Mauer's rise in the vote doesn't necessarily reflect improved production (his numbers in '06 were, in fact, markedly better), nor does it necessarily reflect a diminished field of competition (the 2006 ballot featured a similarly unremarkable crop). Instead, I think Mauer's two-slot rise in the ballot illustrates two trends: an advancement in the way the voters think, and Mauer's continual ascension as a national celebrity.

Some might be a bit reluctant to accept that first point, but hear me out. While there are still some stubborn folks on the voting committee -- such as Tom Boswell and Evan Grant -- who are stuck focusing on the narrowly defined MVP qualifications of yesteryear, I've seen noticeable progress in recent years as beat writers and columnists who were raised on a few simple statistics have been more and more open to delving deeper and giving serious credibility to the advanced metrics that tell us so much more about a player's performance. More and more, I see writers taking positional value and defense into account, and putting increased value into numbers like on-base percentage and OPS, while putting less credence into intangibles like leadership and clutchness. I think we saw that this year, with Dustin Pedroia and Albert Pujols capturing the honor in their respective leagues. Both were not really traditional candidates; Pedroia, the second baseman without big power, and Pujols, the transcendent hitter whose team handily missed the playoffs.

More than that though, I think Mauer's improved voting results can be attributed to the fact that he's more nationally known. He's now won two batting titles. He started the All Star Game for the AL this year and reeled in his first Gold Glove. Nationwide, I think people are starting to appreciate more and more what an exquisite and unique player he is.

The question now, with just two years remaining on his current contract, is how this widely perceived increase in value will play out when it comes to negotiating a contract. When Mauer's agent meets with members of the Twins' front office to discuss a potential contract extension, is Mauer viewed as the patient, singles-hitting catcher who gets on base to set up the team's true MVP-caliber slugger? Or is he viewed as one of baseball's most valuable players whose contributions at a weak offensive position make him a rare and highly valuable asset?

The question is important, because these contract discussions could start taking place during this offseason, if they haven't already. For while the Twins can certainly wait until next offseason to enter real contract negotiations, extending him now -- with the star catcher still two full years away from sniffing free agency -- might be cheaper, and as we saw with the Johan Santana situation that unfolded last winter, dealing with a highly coveted player who is entering his last season before hitting the open market can cause some real headaches.

So just how much would it cost to extend Mauer? Unfortunately, there's no good baseline to go by. There are a few catchers around the league who are on Mauer's plane, such as Russell Martin, Brian McCann and 2008 NL Rookie of the Year Geovany Soto, but all of these players are young and none of them have signed free agent contracts as of yet. It's difficult to judge what Mauer's comparative value is on the current market.

If he wants, Mauer can pretty easily argue that he's the most irreplaceable member of the Twins' roster, both from a production and public-relations standpoint, and as such he could command a staggering contract in the neighborhood of $18 million a year over an extended period. People should think twice before expecting that the St. Paul native will offer a friendly hometown discount, as he's never really done so before (both his initial signing bonus and his current four-year contract were pretty much market value). One has to expect that, at the very least, Mauer will be looking at a five or six-year extension with an annual salary exceeding $15 million. That's a major investment, and a fairly risky one when you consider Mauer's injury history and the very real possibility that he could need to be moved from behind the plate at some point (a move which would substantially lower his value). Is it worth it?

My answer: yes. And I say that without really having any clue what terms Mauer and his agent will be commanding. I'd say that the Twins No. 1 priority over the next two years should be making sure they can lock up Mauer to a long-term deal, even if the expense is exorbitant. It is extremely rare that a player with such a combination of offensive skill, defensive aptitude, quality character and immense fan appeal comes along, and losing him for unwillingness to pay is simply not something this organization can afford to do.

The year of 2010 marks the beginning of a new era in Twins baseball as the team begins play in Target Field. The increased revenue provided by this stadium should go directly toward making sure that Mauer is out there on that field in a Twins uniform for the better part of the next decade. The novelty of a new ballpark wears off after a couple years, and eventually people will stop buying tickets just to come see it. But people will always pay to go out and see a historically great player, which Mauer seems well on his way to becoming.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Twins Near the Top

Yesterday, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia was named American League MVP, as I and many others expected. Of note for Twins fans is that both Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer finished in the top five, with Morneau coming in second behind Pedroia and Mauer finishing fourth behind Kevin Youkilis.

The results of the voting are not terribly surprising. I'm fine with Pedroia winning the award, and it's encouraging to see that Mauer finished in the top five (I'd feared he wouldn't) and that Francisco Rodriguez did not (he came in sixth). Not to slight K-Rod, but for a closer with unexceptional numbers like him to even sniff the Most Valuable Player award would be a pretty major travesty. Naturally, a single voter saw fit to give him a first-place vote.

Star Tribune beat writer La Velle E. Neal III revealed a few of his selections, noting that he ranked Pedroia first, Morneau second, and Mauer fifth. With all due respect, I found it a bit stunning that Neal -- an intelligent baseball mind who seems to be up on the cutting-edge statistical analysis, reads a number of blogs and seems to respect guys who think like Aaron Gleeman -- would rank Mauer fifth, behind Morneau and Kevin Youkilis. (He didn't mention who he ranked fourth on his ballot, but I sincerely hope it wasn't Rodriguez; that would be especially absurd in his case considering his vocal opposition to starting pitchers receiving MVP consideration.) As a Twins fan, I loved watching Morneau all season and appreciated what he was able to do for the Minnesota offense, but looking back, .300/.374/.499 with 23 home runs is just not a very impressive line for a first baseman. Granted, Morneau was terrific with runners in scoring position (.348/.443/.602), Mauer was no slouch (.362/.465/.449). Not to mention Mauer played Gold Glove caliber defense at perhaps the most important defensive position on the field and led the league in hitting, making him the only AL catcher to accomplish that feat other than... Joe Mauer. I just don't see any legitimate argument for ranking Morneau higher than Mauer.

In any case, while I'm a little disappointed in the way Neal voted, I'm not at all disgusted by it. To each his own. And overall I'm just happy to see two Twins finish in the top four, even though I firmly believe their spots should have been switched. What does disgust me, though, is the way some of the other voters cast their ballots. There was, of course, the individual who gave a first-place vote to Rodriguez, who was not only a closer, but perhaps the third or fourth most effective closer in the league. Then there was the individual who gave a fifth-place vote to Jason Bartlett, who posted a stellar 690 OPS. One writer left Pedroia off the ballot completely. Completely!!!

This kind of stuff drives me nuts. I know there are some people out there who say they just stopped caring about how these baseball writers vote on awards like MVP and Cy Young due to the countless examples of sheer idiocy . I know that's a viewpoint that my pal Gleeman has been pushing. But to me, you almost have care about these awards as a baseball fan? What's next, you don't care about the Hall of Fame? Because, like it or not, whether or not a guy gets into the Hall is largely based on how many MVP or Cy Young awards he accumulated during his career. So next you basically have to stop caring about who gets into the Hall of Fame, but man... at that point you're really just ignoring a huge part of the game's heritage and tradition.

Funny, the winners of all six major awards (ROTY, Cy, MVP for each league) have been announced, and I really don't have any problem with a single one of them, but here I am still complaining. I guess that's just the nature of the beast.

On a final note, please make sure to swing by Twins Territory today for the first edition of a series of Offseason Twins Roundtable discussions between Seth Stohs, Alex Halsted and myself (Jesse Lund will hopefully be joining the fray next time around). It's all the nerdy Twins blather you can possibly endure!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday Notes

There's not much in the way of substantial news items in Twins-land, so today I'll just touch on a few tidbits...

* As expected, the Twins announced last week that manager Ron Gardenhire had been handed a two-year extension which will keep him as the Minnesota skipper through the 2011 season. There are plenty out there who aren't particularly fond of Gardy as the Twins' manager, but I'm a results-based guy and he has gotten results, leading the team to a 622-512 record over his seven years at the helm despite a consistently young and fluctuating roster. Though his tactical managing can be frustrating, I think Gardenhire does a fine job overall and is one of the upper-echelon managers in the league.

* The Twins have reportedly made an official offer to free agent third baseman Casey Blake. This news is surely horrifying to some, but I'm alright with it, provided the terms are reasonable. There are several other teams vying for Blake's services, so the fact that the Twins have submitted "the framework of an offer" is hardly a sign that they're close to signing him. Nevertheless, this is probably the first offseason rumor we've seen that appears to have some actual meat to it.

* I'm sure just about everyone who reads this blog is familiar with Seth Stohs, tireless author of SethSpeaks.net. Seth has recently been compiling a book called the Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2009, which features over 175 profiles of prospects in the Twins' system as well as a foreword from our beloved Pat Neshek.

While there are plenty of bloggers out there with prospect savvy, I don't think anyone out there can measure up to Seth. Unlike many who formulate opinions on a young player simply by glancing over a stat sheet, Seth also attains knowledge from speaking with scouts, coaches and even the players themselves. If I'm on the prowl for information on minor-league players in the Twins' system, there is not one single source I would go to before Seth Stohs.

For anyone looking to brush up on the organization's up-and-coming prospects or just looking for a good baseball-related read for a cold winter day, I highly recommend supporting Seth and pre-ordering a copy (and maybe one for your friend!).

I've already got my copy pre-ordered, you can do the same by visiting this page.

* On a related note, one other book I've been meaning to recommend is Hammerin' Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid: The Year That Changed Baseball Forever. The book is written by Minnesota native (and lifelong Twins fan) John Rosengren, and it chronicles the compelling 1973 season, in which Hank Aaron was chasing Ruth's home run record, baseball fans were being introduced to the designated hitter rule, and Reggie Jackson was being... well, Reggie Jackson. A fine read for any baseball fan as the weather gets cold and curling up on the couch with a book begins to look like a more and more attractive way to spend your Saturday.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lost Hope

When news arose on Monday that Pat Neshek would be undergoing an MRI exam of his right elbow after experiencing some discomfort while throwing last week, many Twins fans immediately thought the worst. It seems we've seen this scenario play out a hundred times -- a pitcher tries to rehab a partially damaged ligament only to eventually suffer a setback and learn that surgery is unavoidable. We saw it happen in 2006 with Francisco Liriano, and that's likely why so many fans were unhappy with the team's decision to once again take the rest-and-rehab approach after Neshek originally injured the elbow back in May.

As it turns out, those fears were well-founded. Neshek's imaging scan revealed a fully torn ligament, and the team announced yesterday that he will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2009 season.

This news will undoubtedly raise some ire among Twins fans. There were plenty out there who vocally opined that the team should bite the bullet and have Neshek go through surgery immediately; indeed, had this been their course of action the reliever probably would have been able to return sometime around June or July of next year rather than sitting out the entire campaign.

The finger-pointing, though, is ultimately pointless. There's little doubt that both the player and the team strongly preferred to avoid surgery if at all possible, and as Joe Christensen made sure to note in his blog post on the news, when Neshek first suffered the injury "he received a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, who agreed with the Twins recommendation to rehab the injury, instead of having surgery."

The news that Neshek will be lost for all of next year is gravely disappointing for several reasons. For one thing, he's a great guy and you hate to see anyone as nice, outgoing and helpful to the blogging community go through such an ordeal. Furthermore, he's a great reliever and his return was going to be a key aspect of rebuilding a bullpen that was downright awful this season. Knowing without a doubt that he'll be unable to step in and reclaim that spot as a dominating setup man in front of Joe Nathan clouds matters considerably.

Even without Neshek, there's a chance that the Twins can still field an adequate bullpen with the guys they already have: Nathan, Jesse Crain, Jose Mijares, Craig Breslow, Matt Guerrier, Philip Humber and Boof Bonser. The odds of all those guys performing well aren't terribly high though, especially considering how poorly many of them produced during this past season. I held a lot of hope that Neshek could return and provide a significant jolt to the relief corps. Losing that hope is a tough blow.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Resurgent Rookies

Yesterday, the winners of the Rookie of the Year Award for both the American League and National League were announced. The top vote-getters, as expected and as picked by myself a month ago, were Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and Cubs catcher Geovany Soto.

As I noted when I picked my postseason award winners, the AL honor belonged to Longoria and it was "no contest." Yet, it's interesting to glance over the other players who received votes from the Writers' Association. White Sox second baseman Alexei Ramirez finished second behind Longoria (who received all 28 first-place votes), and Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury came in third. A look at the other players who received votes yields a couple familiar names:
Mike Aviles, Royals, 9; Armando Galarraga, Tigers, 9; Joey Devine, A's, 3; Denard Span, Twins, 3; Nick Blackburn, Twins, 1; Joba Chamberlain, Yankees, 1; Brad Ziegler, A's, 1.
That the Twins had a couple players receive votes for the ROTY award is not particularly exciting or surprising, but that those players ended up being Span and Blackburn has to be viewed with some measure of intrigue given the paths that both young men have followed.

Blackburn was 26 years old all season long, which is not terribly young for a first-year major-leaguer. He never followed the profile of a top prospect; the Twins drafted him out a small college in the 29th round of the 2001 draft and he debuted in rookie ball as a 20-year-old. He had intermittent success as he worked his way up through the low levels of the minors, but he never displayed much dominance and wasn't what you would call a fast riser. After fanning 7.04 batters per nine innings as a 22-year-old in Low-A ball, Blackburn never posted a K/9 rate higher than 5.51 and was relatively hittable everywhere he went. By spring of 2007, he was a 25-year-old preparing to start his third season at the Double-A level after posting mediocre numbers there the prior year. Simply put, Blackburn was the type of guy who prospect buffs pass off as a nobody.

That's when Blackburn turned his career around. He went 3-1 with a 3.08 ERA over his first eight appearances with New Britain, and was then bumped up to Rochester, where he surprised almost everyone by going on a spectacular run. Soon after joining the Red Wings, Blackburn entered a streak where he pitched over 40 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run, a span that encompassed the entire month of June. He ended up going 7-3 with a 2.11 ERA in 17 starts with Rochester, earning a September call-up to the big leagues and, in the offseason, a spot on top of Baseball America's list of the Twins' top prospects. Now, a very solid first full season at the major-league level has earned Blackburn a Rookie of the Year vote and a definite spot in this organization's future plans.

Span has followed a very different but equally unconventional path. When the Twins selected Span with their first-round pick in 2003, many viewed him as perhaps the ultimate replacement to another former toolsy high-school draft pick who was currently roaming center field in the Metrodome. This created a lot of pressure for the speedy teenager, and he increased expectations by posting a .339/.410/.403 line over the first half of the 2005 season as a 21-year-old in High-A Ft. Myers and then finishing the year by posting some respectable numbers in Double-A. Span seemed to be brimming with potential, and with his athleticism, it seemed that all he needed to do was keep improving and he'd be ready to roam the Twins' outfield in no time.

Unfortunately, the improvements didn't come. In 2006, Span repeated Double-A and posted a .285/.340/.349 line that was nearly identical to the .285/.355/.345 line he'd posted there during the second half of the previous year. Despite a lack of true success, Span was moved up to Triple-A in 2007, where he posted a pedestrian .267/.323/.355 line. With four-and-a-half years of pro ball under his belt, Span had seemingly settled into a niche as a nice defensive outfielder with some speed who could hit for a decent average but wouldn't ever get on base or hit with enough power to justify a regular spot in a major league outfield.

Yet, just like Blackburn, Span seemed to have a light-bulb snap in his fifth full season as a pro. He went on a tear in Rochester, producing like he never had before since being drafted. It wasn't the high batting average (.340) or the speed (15 stolen bases in 40 games) that came as such a shock. It was the newfound plate discipline (36/26 K/BB, .434 OBP) and power (3 HR in 40 games after totaling 7 HR in 509 prior minor-league games) that created real cause for excitement. After a short April stint with the Twins, Span was recalled in June and he proved that his success in Rochester was no fluke, actually improving on his patience and power (60/50 K/BB and 6 HR in 93 games). Like Blackburn, Span has gone from afterthought to big-league fixture in just a short two-year frame.

Those (like me) who tend to follow and obsess over prospects will always focus on a few key aspects of a player's performance: with pitchers, the ability to miss bats and limit walks; with hitters, the ability to take walks, make contact and hit for power. The two young players featured in this article both consistently displayed massive weaknesses in some of these areas -- Blackburn with his inability to post impressive strikeout rates and Span with his lacking on-base skills and totally absent power stroke.

And despite all their doubters, both players turned a corner and became crucial members of this year's surprising near-playoff team. Blackburn more than held his own against major-league hitters and delivered a tremendous outing in the biggest game of the season. Span was a spark plug at the top of the order, providing the Twins with their first true leadoff hitter since... Chuck Knoblauch, maybe?

Now, this is not meant to be a total abandonment of those prospect-analysis tenets. It remains true that pitchers who can't strike minor-league hitters out and don't reach the big-leagues until they're 26 aren't usually bound for success. It also remains true that speedy, diminutive outfielders who show almost no power or patience over their first full years generally won't suddenly develop both those skills at the age of 24. But Blackburn and Span should serve as loud reminders that players can adjust and improve, even if it takes longer than results-hungry prospect hounds would like.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Golden Boy, Plus Another Rumor

The American League Gold Glove Award winners were announced yesterday, and among the names on the list was Twins catcher Joe Mauer. It was Mauer's first time receiving the honor, but he's got the name recognition and skills to be one of those guys who is a yearly fixture on the list, perhaps taking over the reigns for Ivan Rodriguez, who has won the AL Gold Glove Award at catcher in 13 of the past 16 seasons.

Mauer was among just four backstops to catch 1,200-plus innings this season, and he did so while working with a young and inexperienced staff that achieved surprisingly successful results. He also did a good job of controlling opponents' running games, gunning down 29 of 80 potential base-stealers (36 percent).

Moving back to the rumor mill, Rockies beat writer Tracy Ringolsby reported yesterday that Colorado may be interested in Michael Cuddyer as a trade piece for Garrett Atkins. Says Ringolsby:
The Rockies are looking to add a quality starter in the offseason, and the Twins could offer the likes of Nick Blackburn or Kevin Slowey. But the Rockies would also like to add a right-handed, run-producing hitter in a multiple-player package, which is where Cuddyer, a strong clubhouse presence, would fit.
Something's not right here.

Atkins, career (162 gm avg): .298/.360/.474, 22 HR, 108 RBI
Cuddyer, career (162 gm avg): .268/.344/.441, 18 HR, 79 RBI

The Rockies are in the market for a "right-handed, run-producing hitter," yet they're interested in swapping the good one they already have for an inferior one who makes more money and is coming off a disastrous, injury-riddled campaign?

If the Twins decide to move an outfielder to clear up their current glut, I certainly think Cuddyer should be the guy, but I always assumed his value would be pretty low right now. If it's true that the Rockies covet him and would be willing to trade Atkins for a package composed of, say, Cuddyer, Kevin Mulvey and an arm in the low minors, I'd be all for it. I don't think that's likely. My guess is that the Rockies would be asking for Cuddyer plus Nick Blackburn, whose ground ball tendencies would play well in their park.

Atkins has some attributes that make him an attractive fit for the Twins. He's a right-handed slugger who has averaged 22 home runs and 105 RBI in his four full seasons as a major-leaguer. He remains arbitration-eligible for two more years, so he fits the bill as a relatively inexpensive short-term fix. However, questions abound about how Atkins will hit when he's removed from Coors Field (his career OPS at home is 170 points higher than his career road OPS) and he's coming off arguably the worst season of his career. He's also a marginal defender at third base.

Atkins is an intriguing player who has had his name connected to the Twins on multiple occasions in the past, and the emergence of Cuddyer's name as a potential trade piece is interesting. Unfortunately, I don't see how that trade makes sense for the Rockies, and if they're looking to chip into The Fab 5, Bill Smith does not face an easy decision.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


It's been a while since I've talked some Twins, so let's get to it.

Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com recently compiled a list of his Top 50 2009 Free Agents, along with where he projects each of them to end up. The three Twins-related names:
18. Casey Blake - Twins. If the Twins don't like the asking prices for Garrett Atkins and Adrian Beltre, Blake may be the best third baseman on the free agent market.

21. Orlando Cabrera - Twins. Completing the Twins' new-look infield. Blake and Cabrera should be capable of league-average production.

42. Nick Punto - Rays. Cork Gaines suggested this idea to me. Seems feasible, unless Punto craves a starting job.
Those first two make sense. In fact, I wrote about them both a month ago. I suggested Blake as a logical short-term solution at third base, and while I oppose the notion of signing Cabrera, it certainly seems like a move the Twins could make.

The third signing suggested above, though, makes little sense to me. While Punto might not necessarily be someone who "craves a starting job" (although I suspect he does and I also suspect he could land one somewhere), he almost certainly craves playing time, like any other player. There wouldn't seem to be much available in Tampa Bay's infield, where Akinori Iwamura, Jason Bartlett and Evan Longoria already have spots locked down. If Punto wants a shot at significant playing time or perhaps a starting job, he's much better off sticking with the Twins, who really don't have an established starter locked in at second, short or third presently. Furthermore, I doubt the Rays would offer significantly more money in a contract than the Twins could. I don't find it totally unlikely that Punto will end up somewhere else next season, but I highly doubt it will be with the defending AL champs.

Elsewhere, Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus last week scribed an article listing "five radical moves that would give the offseason some sizzle." The first move suggested?
1. Minnesota trades Francisco Liriano to Texas for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Hank Blalock and Omar Poveda.

The Twins weathered the loss of Johan Santana by replenishing the rotation from their deep farm system, and more live arms (Anthony Swarzak, Tyler Robertson, Jose Mijares, Yohan Pino) are on the way. Now, they can deal the lefthanded Liriano, 25, while his value is high to improve their anemic offense, especially on the left side of the infield. Andrus, 20, is a long-term solution at shortstop; Saltalamacchia, 23, a catcher who can DH; and Blalock, 27, an inexpensive short-term play at third. The Rangers, in turn, add the young ace (under team control through '11) that they've lacked since, well, forever, as they wait for Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz to develop.
This move, quite simply, makes no sense. First of all, the Twins are hardly in a position that they can afford to part with Liriano, who is arguably the only ace-caliber pitcher in the entire organization. If they were to trade him, it would have to be for an extremely significant package that provides legitimate, immediate help in other areas. I don't see how this one does that. Saltalamacchia, while a nice young hitter, derives much of his value from the fact that he plays catcher, a position where offensive stars are spread thin. I'm sure most of you are aware that the Twins already have a pretty decent young catcher. In fact, their three best hitters are their catcher, their first baseman, and their DH, which are the only three positions Saltalamacchia has played in his big-league career. So, really, Salty wouldn't fill any need.

Andrus -- a top-notch SS prospect who put up solid numbers as a 19-year-old in Double-A this year -- is a more intriguing player, especially since he plays a position that is one of this organization's biggest weaknesses, but he's not terribly close to the majors and hasn't done much to prove that he'll be more than an average bat. Not worth losing Liriano for.

Blalock, one the surface, seems like a reasonable solution to the Twins' third-base dilemma. He's a big-name slugger who will be relatively cheap next year and could serve as a short-term replacement. However, a closer look reveals that the left-handed hitter is, historically, close to useless against southpaws and much less productive away from his hitter-friendly home park. That's not the type of player the Twins should be targeting.

Finally, check out Twins Fix for Andrew Kneeland's interview with 2008 first-round pick Carlos Gutierrez and cmathewson's Top 40 Twins prospects list over at Twinkie Town. Oh, and if you're interested in some in-depth, original fantasy baseball analysis with projections for the '09 season, consider purchasing a copy of John Burnson's Graphical Player 2009. The analysis of Twins players in the book was produced by yours truly.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I've already cast my hypothetical votes for MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year in each league, but today I must urge every reader over the age of 17 to get out and vote in the far more important presidential and congressional races today. This is an important day that will have a significant impact on the future direction of our country, so please make sure to get out and make your voice heard. I've never used this blog to push my personal political views and I'm not going to start now, so I'll simply encourage everyone to make it out to the polls and vote for whichever candidates you've chosen to support.

We'll get back to Twins-related programming later this week.

Monday, November 03, 2008


I must apologize for the sparse content here last week -- only one post, eek! It was a busy week, as I celebrated my 23rd birthday on Wednesday and then engaged in some Halloween festivities over the weekend. But now, with the World Series in the books (congrats Philly) and the season officially over, that long grind that is the offseason is finally upon us.

I don't foresee time constraints being a big problem for me this winter, so I should be able to post relatively often as long as I can continue to find material to write about. I'm going to try to avoid writing up a long analysis of every frivolous trade rumor, but certainly I'll look to break down the speculated moves that seem to have the most meat. I'll also probably do a bit more stuff on the 2008 season that was and touch on contract extensions, coaching changes, minor-league movement, etc.

This was a good year for the blog. There was a strong readership and a lot of good interaction in the comments section and via e-mail. Thanks to everyone who's stopped by and joined the conversation. I hope you'll continue to swing by throughout the winter and forward into the 2009 campaign.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Delmon Young as a Trade Piece

People often ask me why I -- like many others -- have been so steadfast in my support for Jason Kubel. After all, they'd note, Kubel is a rather unathletic 26-year-old who has been wildly inconsistent throughout his big-league career thus far and hasn't come especially close to realizing the potential he showed as a hitting machine in the minor leagues. There is one word, I think, that justifies the continued faith that many show in Kubel: progress.

Kubel got better as he rose through the various levels of the Twins' farm system. His best season, by far, was his last full year in the minors, when Kubel batted .352 with 42 doubles, 22 home runs and 100 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A. He was in the major leagues as a 22-year-old, and would have stuck there if not for a knee injury suffered the following offseason that derailed his development as a player. Kubel returned in 2006 and was terrible, but he has shown steady improvement since returning from the injury. His OPS figures with the Twins since returning in '06: 605, 785, 806. The progress may not have been as fast as some would have liked (thus the widespread resentment for Kubel), but it's there. Delmon Young has followed a rather different path.

Young was a monster in the low minors, skipping rookie ball altogether and posting huge averages with impressive power numbers as a teenager in Single-A and Double-A. Yet, as he rose through the minors, Young's power numbers started to wane, and he hasn't totaled more than 13 home runs in a season or posted an especially impressive slugging percentage since 2005, his second year as a pro. What this indicates, to me, is a guy whose raw talent and physical prowess made him a man among boys in high school and in the low minors, but whose unwillingness to take coaching and adjust his approach has caused his performance to level off. With the exception of a slight improvement in his plate discipline (going from awful to bad), Young made essentially zero progress from 2007 to 2008. Twenty-three years old or not, that's troubling.

Much gets made of Young's age, as if the fact that he is only 23 years old should earn him a free pass for his sub par performance. But take a look at Young's former team, the Tampa Bay Rays, who are currently competing in the World Series. Evan Longoria, 22, has been a huge presence on that team. B.J. Upton, who was 23 for most of the season, has been a driving force for the Rays in the playoffs. Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli were both in the big leagues at the age of 22 and were considerably more productive than Young was this year. The fact that he's younger than most of his colleagues is a reason to cut Young some slack, but it doesn't totally excuse his lack of success nor does it guarantee that he will improve significantly over the next several years. Experience is more important than age, and Young has already accumulated 1,346 major-league at-bats, more than any of the aforementioned players had at his age -- more than Kubel has to date, in fact.

Some general managers get poked fun of extensively, but none of them are oblivious morons. The hype that has surrounded Young has been built around his status as a No. 1 overall draft pick and his domination as a teenager in the minor leagues, which led scouts to prophecize big things several years ago. It was somewhat reasonable to cling to that hype last winter, when Bill Smith gambled and sent a top young pitcher and a starting shortstop to Tampa Bay in order to bring Young to the Twins' organization in spite of those downward trending numbers. One year later, with no progress shown, it is less reasonable to do so, and it stands to reason that no GM will be willing to take a similar gamble. Like it or not, Young's value is significantly lower than it was a year ago, and for that reason it would be a mistake for the Twins to move him.

I've written a lot of negative things about Young in this post, but I'm not trying to sign his death warrant. He has the size and pedigree to develop into a good hitter, and the Twins are better off seeing that through than peddling him to another organization for a substandard return. And believe me, that's about what he'd bring back at this point. Any rumors of a Young-for-Matt Cain or Young-for-J.J. Hardy swap are completely off-base. No GM in the league is going to surrender premium talent for a former No. 1 pick who has essentially failed to show any tangible improvement over the course of his entire five-year professional career.

Through nearly 1,500 big-league at-bats, Young has shown himself to be an undisciplined hitter who mashes ground-balls at a steady rate, and a poor defender who won't provide even average value defensively at a corner outfield spot. There's not a ton of reason for extreme optimism, and those who still believe he's destined to transform into an elite slugger are stuck on scouting reports from two years ago. I sincerely doubt any general managers around the league carry that mindset anymore. Still, Young remains likely to improve to some degree, and Smith needs to follow through on his gamble and see what becomes of the player he gave up so much for just a year ago. Losing patience and ditching the experiment now simply would not benefit this team in the long run.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How 'Bout Those Rays

Full disclosure: I was cheering for the Red Sox in the ALCS.

For some reason this fact is viewed as traitorous amongst those in Twins Territory, as though I was fully decked out in White Sox gear and rooting for Ozzie and the Mighty Whities with a Homer Hanky spray-painted black. No joke, when I was at a bar watching Game 5 of the ALCS and I loudly cheered as Boston erased a 7-0 deficit in the late innings to notch one of the greatest comebacks in postseason history, a guy further down the bar looked at me in disgust and informed me that I "didn't deserve to be wearing" the Twins hat that adorned my head.

In fairness, I was only cheering for the Red Sox because of a gentlemanly bet I'd made with my roommate. Coming into this season, so convinced was I that the Red Sox were the class of the American League that I confidently told my roommate without a hint of doubt that they would be representing the AL in the World Series. Naturally, he rebutted that the playoffs are unpredictable and these things are impossible to predict... a fair argument. Nonetheless, I stuck to my guns, and that Boston came within one game of the World Series makes me feel pretty good about my prediction, even though I lost the bet.

So I wasn't exactly rooting to the Rays to their first ever World Series berth, but that's not to say I'm not glad to see them there. This is a fun team to watch and an easy team to cheer for. And truly, they do make for a great story.

When writing up an American League Preview back in March, I suggested that I was probably "going out on a limb" by picking the Rays to finish third in the AL East, but couldn't overlook their talent-laden roster. My writeup:
3. Tampa Bay Rays
Perhaps I'm going out on a limb with this pick, but boy is this a talented young roster. The Rays feature a great trio of young pitchers at the head of their rotation in Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza. Meanwhile, the offense features several studs, from Carl Crawford to B.J. Upton to Carlos Pena (who quietly had an absolutely stellar season last year) to Rookie of the Year candidate Evan Longoria. The bullpen could present some problems, but I think this is a team that could surprise some people.
"Surprise some people" they did. That I felt I was stretching it by predicting a third-place finish for a team that now finds themselves in the World Series just illustrates how amazing the rapid rise of this Rays team has been. To all those who underestimate the value of quality young talent or who vehemently reject the notion that ability trumps experience, take heed of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.

I don't really have a significant rooting interest in this series. As much as I enjoy seeing the Rays succeed, I have no problem with the Phillies, and in fact I feel that by cheering against them I'd have to watch my back in public for fear of vindication from the wife of one prominent Twins' blogger.

The World Series got off to a promising start last night when the Phils scored a close 3-2 victory in a well-pitched game on both sides. Whoever ultimately wins the series, I expect an interesting and relatively even match-up in this series. And with the landslides that we've seen take place in recent years, what more could you ask for?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fixing the Bullpen

In assigning blame for the Twins' failure to make the playoffs this past season, there is no easier culprit to point a finger at than an overworked and ineffective bullpen. After all, had Twins' reliever corps managed to protect just one more of those many late leads that slipped away over the course of the season, the team would have found itself facing the Rays in the ALDS, and probably putting up a better fight than the White Sox did.

As such, repairing the broken bullpen will be the top priority in the eyes of many fans for this winter. I have my own proposal for what Bill Smith can do to address this issue during the offseason: nothing.

Relief pitchers are generally overvalued, both in free agency and in trades. This was illustrated, for instance, in a 2006 trade in which the Reds surrendered two starting position players (Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns) in return for a package highlighted by a pair of middle relievers. It is also illustrated in the contract of a guy like, say, Kyle Farnsworth, who tabbed a three-year deal worth $17 million prior to the 2006 season. Considering their low workload, their year-to-year inconsistency and their replaceability, giving up quality players in trade for or handing a multi-year contract to a relief pitcher is usually a bad idea, unless the reliever is of the elite variety (like Joe Nathan).

Furthermore, I'm hardly convinced that the Twins need any outside help to begin with. Even accounting for the likely departures of Dennys Reyes and Eddie Guardado, this team will enter the 2009 season with a rather crowded bullpen picture that includes Nathan, Pat Neshek, Craig Breslow, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, Boof Bonser and Philip Humber. While many of these players are shrouded in more question marks than the Riddler, they all have the stuff to be successful major-league relievers, and I'm not particularly anxious to see the Twins give up on any of them. There are eight names in that group, so the Twins are already going to have to make some tough decisions to slim down the crowd as it is, and adding more players only creates more tough decisions. One might not view getting rid of members of this group as "tough decisions" given how poorly the majority of them pitched in 2008, but in my mind that's a rather short-sighted viewpoint.

While a lot of things went right for the Twins this year, very few of those things were in the bullpen. The shut-down setup man Neshek was lost for most of the year. Juan Rincon was horrendous and had to be jettisoned. Crain's overall results were alright for a guy in his first year back from shoulder surgery, but he was hardly someone who could be relied on in tight situations. Guerrier, of course, couldn't get anyone out over the last few months of the season. It's awfully difficult to imagine so many things going wrong next year. Many members of this bullpen have had success in the past and seem like good candidates to rebound, especially considering that Neshek will have had nearly a full year to rehab his elbow, Crain will be almost two years removed from surgery and Bonser has had some time to adjust to the relief role.

Beyond the arms that the Twins already boast at the big-league level, there are several more relievers in the minors who could help next year. While Triple-A farmhands like Bobby Korecky, Tim Lahey, Mariano Gomez and Ricky Barrett lack big upside, they all possess the ability to be useful pieces of a major-league bullpen at some point. And while further away, guys like Rob Delaney, Anthony Slama and Blair Erickson have all demonstrated the ability to dominate in the low minors and could be on the fast track.

The Twins have a glut of capable arms in their major-league bullpen, with plenty of reinforcements available both in the short-term and long-term. To me, using the team's limited resources to bring in further help on this front would be a wasteful mistake. No doubt that the Twins' general fanbase would be rather disappointed if Spring Training 2009 rolls around without any type of move to acquire help for what was a frustratingly inept aspect of the team this past season, but -- as the Guardado trade illustrates -- sometimes making a move for the sake of making a move doesn't turn out too well.

The Twins have made a name for themselves by boasting one of the league's best bullpens on a yearly basis. Let's not allow a hiccup in that pattern to force the team into rash decisions based on panic.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mosvick's MVPs

About a week, my colleague gave his perspective on the MVP race, largely choosing arguable choices. However, since I don't get much of a chance to post during the school year and exhausting job search, I wanted to take the weekend time to post. Plus, the Rays just lost and allowed a Game 7 against Boston to happen. Before most of (hopefully) collectively beg for Boston to lose, let me give you my version of the run-down and some of my reasons for occasionally agreeing with the other Nick.

AL MVP: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins C

Its really hard for me to make the decision and be able to demand there wasn't any homerism. But, really, how much can that take away from a pretty clear-cut argument? Mr. Nelson mentioned that there are other contenders like the Red Sox's Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, as well as Grady Sizemore, Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton, Milton Bradley, and Justin Morneau. But what this list also emphasizes is that there wasn't a particularly strong MVP field in 2008.

This goes to two more reasons, in addition to the arguments about offensive and defensive greatness at a crucial position given by the other Nick. For one, when there isn't a strong field and there is a player having a historically great season, the vote should lean his way. In case anyone forgot, Joe Mauer is the only AL catcher to ever win a batting title (Ernie Lombardi won a batting title in the NL in 1938, hitting .342) and he has now done that twice at the age of 25. Unbelievable. Of course, this is my argument and is clearly not agreed upon by the voters. There are obviously examples like no MVP for McGwire in the 70 homer season, but only Jose Canseco won a MVP in a 40/40 campaign and there have been only four of those. The second reason is that Mauer's ability to get on base and score runs (98 of them) was a big reason for Morneau's 129 RBI that make him a contender. (For argument's sake, Mauer was even better than Morneau with runners on, but didn't have quite the amount of RBI opportunities)

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals 1B

There are a great many reasons to pick Pujols over many much weaker "contenders." I frankly find the argument for Ryan Howard laughable, since Chase Utley (62.2 VORP) and Jimmy Rollins (43.5 VORP) were more valuable hitters (Howard had a 35.3 VORP to go with his unsightly .251 average) and not only play more valuable defensive positions, but are actually good defensive players. Howard is a sub-par defender and Pujols is the best in the league at his position. As for VORP? Pujols is #1 in both leagues with a 96.8, way ahead of Hanley Ramirez at 80.7.

Now I am not arguing that VORP is the greatest or most useful stat, since Mauer did not lead the AL in VORP (A-Rod did) and I am still picking him. However, it still is a great tool for evaluating offensive value and, as I noted, my argument for Mauer goes beyond that. If you don't like that stat, Pujols also lead both leagues with 142 runs created and 342 total bases. He produced a total of 81 extra-base hits and arguably his best hitting line at .357/.462/.653, good for a 190 OPS plus. Pujols is simply the best hitter in the league, a very good defender, and without him, the Cardinals wouldn't have smelled the playoffs in my opinion.

AL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Toronto Blue Jays

Its hard to pick against Cliff Lee. I hate the wins stat, because I think that the pitcher does not have much control over wins and thus it is not that useful of a statistic in analyzing who is the best pitcher. (That is, if that is how you think of Cy Young - league voting rules would agree with me)Lee also lead the league in ERA, which is more valuable than wins but still not entirely in the pitcher's control. I think Halladay cuts the lead by not only coming very close to Lee with 20 wins and a 2.78 ERA (compared to 22 and a 2.54 ERA), but also leading the league in WHIP (1.05, with Lee at 1.11), coming in third in strikeouts (206, to Lee's 170), leading the league in innings pitched at 246 (to Lee's 223 1/3), was harder to hit (.237 OBA, to Lee's .253), and had a better K/BB ratio (5.28, to Lee's 5.00).

Most of these are very close, but I feel like a few things give Halladay the edge, mostly given his lead in innings, strikeouts and opponent batting average, showing more dominance and value to his team. His Blue Jays also were in the playoff hunt, which I don't like to give a lot of credence to, but does help in a close race.

NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

I thought this race was actually easy, but apparently my colleague disagrees given his vote for Brad Lidge. Granted, I said historically great seasons should get an edge in these votes if the field is not great. However, there is a difference between a catcher winning two batting titles at the age of 25 and a closer having a flawless season in terms of not blowing a save. While impressive, I just don't think they are the same ballpark. I've written on here before that saves are not only a flawed statistic, but not even a particularly good one for accessing relievers in many ways. Given that, a reliever also needs to have a incredible season for me to find them Cy Young worthy (I would have given Jason Schmidt the 2003 Cy Young over Eric Gagne, for instance) and I'm not sure Lidge had that.

On the other hand, Lincecum was far and away the best pitcher in the NL this year. He lead the league in strikeouts by a wide margin with 265 (three were tied in second with 206), was second in the league with a 2.62 ERA and a 72.5 VORP (behind our old friend Johan Santana, with 73.4), was second in the league with 18 wins (on a horrible Giants team and while Brandon Webb had 22, I have gone through the limitations of wins before and Webb isn't a contender outside of his win total), first in league in hits allowed (7.22/9), first in strikeout ratio (10.51/9), and first in adjusted ERA at 164.

There were some other fine contenders and one of those I should point out is Santana. Santana had only 16 wins, but suffered through seven blow saves and countless other head-pounding games with the Mets. Outside of that, he still lead the league in ERA, had 206 Ks, and had his usual second-half run of brilliance. He isn't Cy Young, but he deserves some praise.

Rookies of the Year: Evan Longeria, Tampa Bay Rays and Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs

I won't spend much time on these because neither are too hard of choices. Each pick was clearly the best rookie in their respective league. Both played particularly good defense for important positions (though catcher is more valuable than third-base) and each had standout statistics at the plate, with Longeria tallying 27 home runs and 85 RBI after starting the year in Triple-A and Soto having 23 home runs and 86 RBI. Honorable mentions go to Mike Aviles of the Royals and Joey Votto of the Reds.