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.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Expectations and Reality

Every spring, we (or in the case of this past spring, I) have written up a series of Position Analysis pieces, previewing the outlook for each position on the Twins' roster. This year, I made actual predictions as to what hitting line the starter at each offensive position would post, along with their anticipated home run and RBI totals. Today, I thought I'd take a look back and see how each player fared against those expectations.

Joe Mauer
Predicted Line: .315/.405/.500, 15 HR, 70 RBI
Actual Line: .328/.413/.451, 9 HR, 85 RBI
Comments: Obviously I was hoping for Mauer to take a bit more of a step forward in the power department this year, but he exceeded my expectations in all other areas.

Justin Morneau
Predicted Line: .285/.355/.540, 35 HR, 105 RBI
Actual Line: .300/.374/.499, 23 HR, 129 RBI
Comments: As with Mauer, Morneau came up short in terms of his power output, but made up for it by producing 15-20 points higher than expected in the AVG/OBP columns and driving in tons of runs.

Brendan Harris
Predicted Line: .275/.340/.450, 14 HR, 70 RBI
Actual Line: .265/.327/.394, 7 HR, 49 RBI
Comments: Obviously I was too optimistic in assuming that Harris would build on his success from last year. He took steps backward across the board.

Mike Lamb
Predicted Line: .280/.345/.430, 10 HR, 50 RBI
Actual Line: .233/.276/.322, 1 HR, 32 RBI
Comments: OK, seriously... who saw that coming?

Adam Everett
Predicted Line: .240/.290/.345, 5 HR, 40 RBI
Actual Line: .213/.278/.323, 2 HR, 20 RBI
Comments: I predicted Everett would be bad; he was worse. He probably would have hit or surpassed my predicted HR/RBI totals had he played in more than 48 games.

Delmon Young
Predicted Line: .295/.340/.480, 20 HR, 110 RBI
Actual Line: .290/.336/.405, 10 HR, 69 RBI
Comments: He was right there with his average and on-base percentage, but he took zero strides in his power-hitting game, which is gravely disappointing.

Carlos Gomez
Predicted Line: .265/.315/.390, 10 HR, 55 RBI
Actual Line: .258/.296/.360, 7 HR, 59 RBI
Comments: Gomez came pretty close to matching my expectations, which certainly weren't all that high.

Michael Cuddyer
Predicted Line: .275/.365/.470, 20 HR, 90 RBI
Actual Line: .249/.330/.369, 3 HR, 36 RBI
Comments: As much as I'm not a big fan of Cuddyer, I was pretty optimistic about what he could accomplish this year nestled between Mauer and Morneau. Sadly, injuries destroyed his season.

Jason Kubel
Predicted Line: .310/.380/.500, 20 HR, 85 RBI
Actual Line: .272/.335/.471, 20 HR, 78 RBI
Comments: This was probably my boldest prediction. Obviously, Kubel came up short in the average department, but the other numbers were pretty close. I'll note that after a couple poor months, he hit .290/.364/.519 from June through September for an 883 OPS which is nearly identical to the 880 I predicted.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What to Trade

Yesterday I wrote up a post entitled "What Not to Trade," in which I noted my opposition to any trade that would force the Twins to part with one of their five young rotation members unless the return was significant. Today I'll talk a little bit about some pieces that I could see the Twins reasonably parting with this offseason if they wish to bring in some outside talent via trade.

As most are aware, the Twins have a bit of an outfield glut. In Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, the Twins have five players who probably should be starting regularly but can only fill four spots (unless Cuddyer were to move back to third base, which seems highly unlikely). Each of these players is expendable in his own way, but at the same time, now seems like a poor time to move any of them.

I explained on Monday why this is the wrong time to give up on Kubel. Gomez is a fan favorite and trading him could cause the team to take a huge PR hit, which makes such a move unlikely. Some might argue that Span's value will never be higher, but his solid plate approach makes me believe that he can continue to have success, and he profiles as the only legitimate leadoff option on the roster right now. Trading Young at this point might be selling low, since he failed to show any progress from 2007 to 2008 but figures to (perhaps drastically) improve within the next couple seasons. Cuddyer appears to be the odd man out, but with his hefty new contract and the poor injury-riddled season he just finished up, he's hardly a hot commodity around the league.

One area where the Twins do have some depth is in the low minors, and this actually may play to their benefit in negotiating with a team like the Mariners. Seattle will no doubt covet the Twins' major-league ready pitching, but quite frankly the M's are deluding themselves if they think they'll be competing any time soon, so it might be in the organization's best interest to bring in some promising prospects that may be able to help out three or four years down the line.

Ben Revere is one name I would consider giving up in a Beltre trade. That's likely not a popular idea, since Revere flirted with .400 for much of the season while playing for Low-A Beloit and has some impressive physical tools. But there's a decent chance Revere will take a step back in the higher levels of the minors if he can't add some power and patience, so his value might be at an all-time high right now. More importantly, the Twins have a younger player in Aaron Hicks who performed extremely well in the Gulf Coast League this season after being drafted in the first round of June's amateur entry draft, and there's a fairly good chance he could supplant Revere as the organization's top outfield prospect within a year. With three players under the age of 25 currently populating their outfield and another talented young player in Jason Pridie standing by in Triple-A, the Twins are in no hurry to usher in new outfield help, so dealing Revere and patiently waiting for Hicks would make some sense.

Catcher Wilson Ramos is another talented player who had a strong season in the low minors, hitting .288/.346/.434 with 13 home runs and 78 RBI as a 20-year-old in High-A ball, and the Twins might be willing to consider parting with him since they've got that Joe Mauer guy locked in at the catcher position. However, scouts rave about Ramos and he is quietly rising to the top of this organization's prospect list, so he might be moving into that "untouchable" territory unless another club could offer up something truly tantalizing.

Tyler Robertson, Alex Burnett, Deolis Guerra and Mike McCardell are all quality arms in the low minors who the Twins should consider putting on the table in trade talks. Furthermore, any of the team's hurlers in the high minors (Anthony Swarzak, Kevin Mulvey, Jeff Manship, Zach Ward) would be attractive pieces in a package offer to any team looking to rebuild and add quality pitching depth. As much as I'm against trading any member of The Fab 5, the Twins do have a number of solid (if unspectacular) pitching prospects throughout the organization who are pretty much all expendable at the right price.

My personal feeling is that the Twins would be best served trying to address their problems via free agency rather than through trades this offseason. That's an area where I'm in stark opposition to some other bloggers, such as Aaron Gleeman. But, as much as I make note of this organization's past failures in free agency in past years, they are significantly under budget. I don't think the climate is right for the team to make a major trade. Pulling a starter out of their rotation would only create another hole to fill, and despite the fact that they feature something of an outfield glut, no member of that corps seems like an obvious trade candidate.

With all that being said, if the Twins do decide to make a trade to upgrade their big-league roster during the offseason, they have plenty of pieces littered throughout their minor-league system that could be used toward that end.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What Not to Trade

As the Twins seek to improve their ballclub during this offseason, one thing that you will hear discussed extensively is the possibility of one or more trades. After all, Bill Smith showed no aversion to blockbuster swaps during his first winter at the helm, swinging deals that shook up the very core of the Twins' organization and sent key players like Johan Santana, Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett elsewhere in return for unproven talent.

Over the next few months, you'll see numerous names floated around in connection with the Twins -- be it through blogs, newspapers, or sites like MLBtraderumors.com. These names will most likely be those of reportedly available players who could potentially fill a position of need for the Twins. We'll see left-side infielders such as Adrian Beltre, Garrett Atkins and J.J. Hardy mentioned, and probably also a number of relief pitchers. Inevitably, these rumors will suggest that the Twins part with pitching in order to acquire a player of this ilk.

The Twins featured a stable of five young starting pitchers this year, and these pitchers will likely be attractive to teams like the Brewers and the Mariners who could use some reliable young arms in their rotations. But the commonly held mindset that the Twins have an abundant wealth of young, major-league pitching from which they can deal is an outdated one. To me, it seems that many fans and analysts are still viewing the Twins as they did a few years ago, when the organization boasted a collection of impressive arms that included Johan Santana, Carlos Silva, Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey, Boof Bonser, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker and Glen Perkins, among others. Yet, times have changed. Many of the pitchers mentioned in that group are gone, and much of the organization's high-level starting pitching depth no longer exists. The Twins have a group of five starting pitchers who performed well above expecations during this season (a group that shall henceforth be referred to as "The Fab 5"), but they don't have the depth behind these five that would make any member of the group expendable. In fact, the Twins' success next season may be dependent on their ability to keep this group intact.

Some people assume too easily that the Twins could simply replace the contributions of a Nick Blackburn or a Perkins by calling up a player from the minors or tabbing a short-term free agent. This simply isn't a good bet. We've already seen what happens when this club gambles on bargain free agent pitchers (which, realistically, is all they can afford) and relying on minor-league hurlers who lack any big-league experience is a flimsy plan. As an example, think about Garza and Slowey. Both were elite prospects who absolutely rolled through the minor leagues, but both struggled in their first taste of the big leagues. That's something that most young pitchers experience, as the transition from the minors to majors is a daunting one. This makes the success experienced this year by Blackburn and Perkins -- neither of whom had started a major-league game in the past -- all the more impressive. For both players to step in and perform at an above-average level for the majority of the season qualifies as a fantastic feat, but a rare one which cannot be counted on from lesser arms.

And lesser arms are what the Twins currently feature in Triple-A. In Philip Humber, Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing and Kevin Mulvey, the Twins have a group of prospects who may eventually turn into useful major-league pitchers, but who all have significant flaws and lack the top-prospect polish of Blackburn and Perkins, much less Garza and Slowey. To trade away a member of The Fab 5 and count on any of those four to fill the open spot would be a dangerous venture, especially considering that injuries and regression to any of the remaining rotation members could cause further complications and widdle away at the already weakened depth.

That last point is a crucially important one. It is incredibly rare for an entire rotation of make it through a full season without seeing at least one of its members miss significant time due to injury. The Twins were fortunate this year in that only minor injuries affected their starters and no one missed a large chunk of the season, but that can hardly be expected next season -- particularly considering the questions that still surround Liriano's arm and Perkins' history of shoulder problems. Even if they enter next season with The Fab 5 intact, the Twins will still likely have to delve into that Triple-A depth at some point due to injury or ineffectiveness at the top level, and by opening up a hole in the rotation the organization is forced to dig more and more into that uncertain group of minor-league maybes. This could spell disaster.

The Twins are in an enviable position with their rotation. They have five young pitchers who have all proven themselves capable of pitching at the major-league level and who are all under team control for at least another three years at relatively modest prices. The value of this situation is clear when you take a quick look around the league and see pitchers like Kyle Lohse and Carlos Silva inking $40 million contracts. It is important that the Twins maintain this advantage and hold together their reasonably priced stable of talented young arms. I wouldn't completely rule out the idea of trading a player like Blackburn or Perkins, but it would have to be for significant value. Giving up a member of this rotation for, say, one expensive season of Beltre just doesn't make sense from a fiscal or competitive standpoint.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Jason Kubel: The Next David Ortiz?

When around fans of certain teams, simply saying a particular name aloud can cause a visible cringe or an audible groan. For Red Sox fans, "Bill Buckner" or "Bucky Dent" can get the job done. For Cubs fans, "Steve Bartman." For Giants fans, "A.J. Pierzynski." And the name that will always hit home for Twins fans is David Ortiz.

We all know the story. Ortiz was an under-performing slugger who the Twins elected to release after the 2002 season. Ortiz signed with the Red Sox and exploded. He developed into a perennial MVP candidate and perhaps the best designated hitter in the game. In six years since leaving the Twins, Ortiz has hit .297 while averaging 38 home runs and 121 RBI while helping the Sox to two World Championships and gaining a reputation as baseball's best clutch hitter. Meanwhile, the Twins have run out an assortment of failed designated hitter options -- from Matt LeCroy to Jose Offerman to Rondell White -- while never having any player come particularly close to Ortiz's average home run output.

Finally, for the first time since Ortiz's departure, the Twins look to have a legitimate DH option in Jason Kubel. It has taken the former star prospect some time to find his stroke after losing a year to a knee injury, but this season he finally started to show what he's capable of this year by hitting 20 homers, driving in 78 runs and slugging .471. Yet, for whatever reason, some fans feel that the team can't get rid of Kubel soon enough.

I have perused several message boards and blogs where fans have suggested that the Twins trade Kubel this offseason or hold off on offering him a long-term contract. Have these people learned nothing from the Ortiz fiasco? If comparing the two seems like a stretch, look more closely.

Both Kubel and Ortiz showed signs of being very good hitters while with the Twins, but both struggled with injuries and inconsistency, which caused the front office (and some fans) to sour on them. Take a look at the numbers Ortiz put up in 2002, his last season with the Twins, as a 25-year-old:

412 AB, .272/.339/.500, 20 HR, 75 RBI

Now compare those numbers to the ones Kubel posted this year as a 26-year-old:

463 AB, .272/.335/.471, 20 HR, 78 RBI

After being released by the Twins, Ortiz signed on with the Red Sox and hit .288/.369/.592 with 31 homers and 101 RBI. The following year he hit .301/.380/.603 with 41 homers and 139 RBI. And so forth.

I'm not saying that anyone should expect Kubel to turn into that type of hitter. But I cannot for the life of me understand why such a large faction of the fanbase has it in for him. This is a guy who hit 20 home runs on a team that ranked last in the league in long balls. He's a guy who hit two homers and a triple in the first game of that magnficent and hugely important series against the White Sox at the Metrodome late in the season. And he's a guy that still can improve. Kubel hit .320 in the minor leagues, there is plenty of reason to believe he can raise that average and his OBP and SLG along with it.

As Ortiz taught us, it's important to be patient with young hitters, which is why some people should rethink their eagerness in suggesting that the Twins trade Kubel or Delmon Young this offseason. I am very satisfied with the year that Kubel had and I don't feel that he's necessarily done growing as a hitter, which is why I strongly advocate that the Twins explore signing him to a three-year deal this offseason, thus locking up his remaining years of arbitration as well as his first year of free agency.

This organization doesn't produce hitters of Kubel's caliber often. It's important that the Twins do everything they can to make sure they don't let another one slip away.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My Postseason Awards

Well, I suppose now is as good a time as any to throw my hat into the ring with regards to the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year discussions. It's only one man's opinion, and I'm sure many will take issue with some of these selections, but ultimately it's all just fuel for the fire.

Joe Mauer: .328/.413/.451, 9 HR, 85 RBI, 98 R
This was a tough pick as no one stands out too much among a field of strong contenders for the award. Grady Sizemore and Kevin Youkilis are guys who should be in the running, but to me this race comes down to Mauer and Dustin Pedroia, a pair of great hitters at valuable defensive positions who helped propel their teams toward the postseason (although the Twins came up just short). Both players have their strong points, with Mauer holding a slight edge in batting average and a large edge in on-base percentage while Pedroia holds advantages in power and stolen bases. In the end, I lean toward Mauer because he plays superior defense at a more crucial defensive position. And because I'm a Twins fan. What of it?

Albert Pujols: .357/.462/.653, 37 HR, 116 RBI, 100 R
You'll hear a lot of talk about Ryan Howard, who led the league in home runs and RBI for the NL East champion Phillies. You'll hear some talk about Manny Ramirez, whose arrival in Los Angeles at the trade deadline gave the Dodgers the necessary jolt to reach the playoffs. You'll hear talk about Carlos Delgado, Ryan Braun, maybe even C.C. Sabathia. All this talk is misguided. Pujols was the most valuable player in the National League this year, and in my mind it's not even close. Look at those numbers. Pujols reached triple digits in RBI, runs and walks, he batted .357, and his OPS+ was 190. 190!!! That's a career high for a guy who has had a pretty unbelievable career. He also played some pretty solid defense at first base. The Cards finished fourth in the NL Central, but that has nothing to do with Pujols. There is no player in major-league baseball I'd rather build my team around. That's the definition of an MVP.

AL Cy Young
Cliff Lee: 223.3 IP, 22-3, 2.54 ERA, 170/34 K/BB, 1.11 WHIP
There's an argument to be made for Roy Halladay. He threw more innings, posted a better WHIP and strikeout rate, was a 20-game winner and faced tougher teams. But I think Lee edges him by a hair. He won 22 games and led the league in ERA, and the Indians went 24-7 in his starts.

NL Cy Young
Brad Lidge: 69.1 IP, 41 SV, 1.95 ERA, 92/35 K/BB, 1.23 WHIP
I suspect plenty of people will disagree with this selection. Tim Lincecum and Johan Santana are both very deserving candidates and I would have no problem with either winning the award. But I just can't get over the season Lidge had. He was perfect in save opportunities, converting 41-of-41, and posted a 1.95 ERA while allowing just two home runs in nearly 70 innings despite calling a very hitter-friendly stadium home. It's rare that a closer is deserving of Cy Young honors in a year where starting pitchers contributed 200-plus innings of outstanding work, but this seems like one such occasion.

AL Rookie of the Year
Evan Longoria: .272/.343/.531, 27 HR, 85 RBI, 67 R
No contest. In another year, Denard Span may have merited consideration. This year, Longoria was the class of the rookie crop. Had he avoided injury, he may have been a legit MVP candidate.

NL Rookie of the Year
Geovany Soto: .285/.364/.504, 23 HR, 86 RBI, 66 R
Not much doubt about this one in my mind. For a catcher to put up these types of numbers in his first big-league season is really impressive.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Blessing and a Curse

As I wrote in the wake of the Twins' disappointing 1-0 loss in a one-game playoff against the White Sox last week, this was a pretty incredible season for the hometown nine. They did just about everything short of making the playoffs to delivery a memorable campaign to the fans. The team engaged in a season-long tight playoff race, featured multiple MVP candidates, got a couple out-of-nowhere performances from young players, and pulled off some unbelievable comeback victories. As the sting of the season's final game wears off, fans are realizing more and more what a tremendously fun year this was.

But this success may come with some negatives going forward.

I'm sure you all remember the 2006 season. A couple months into the season, the Twins found themselves deep in a hole, and many passed off the season as lost. Yet, surprisingly, the team rebounded and went on an incredible mid-season run thanks in large part to MVP-caliber contributions from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, as well as a trio of starting pitchers in Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano and Brad Radke that was seemingly unbeatable for a period of time. The Twins captured the division on the last day of the season, and despite their early playoff exit the season was viewed as a huge success, and one that had fans feeling good going forward.

Unfortunately, this success made the front office complacent. Terry Ryan's outside additions over the following offseason amounted to Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson and Jeff Cirillo, a group of washed-out vets who all failed to make it through the entire season in Minnesota. Because of the strong results the team got in 2006, Ryan was content to count on Nick Punto to deliver again as a starting third baseman despite the fact that his '06 campaign was an unprecedented career year. Ryan made no legitimate effort to fill the void left in the rotation by Liriano's season-long Tommy John rehab (unless you count Ortiz and Ponson). Ryan brought back Rondell White, apparently hoping that the aging and ailing hitter could magically bounce back from a truly horrific first season with the Twins.

The result of all this non-action was a highly disappointing 2007 season in which the Twins posted a losing record for the first time since the turn of the millenium. Punto was a disaster at third base. White continued to provide nothing with his bat. Both Ortiz and Ponson were predictably as bad as they'd been in the preceding years. Luis Castillo wore down. Jason Bartlett regressed. Heck, nearly everyone regressed. The Twins probably wouldn't have made the playoffs even with a proactive approach in '07, given that Mauer and Morneau both had relative down years and Johan Santana was not his usual transcendent self. But had Ryan shown a little more foresight rather than sitting on his laurels, the season could have been much more than it was.

As disappointing as that 2007 campaign was, it did prompt action. Ryan resigned from his post near season's end, and Bill Smith took over the reigns as general manager. Realizing that fans were displeased with a poor season and the impending departure of popular players like Santana and Torii Hunter, Smith went to work and made some aggressive moves. He traded Bartlett and Matt Garza -- fixtures during the prior season -- for Delmon Young and Brendan Harris. He traded Johan Santana for a package of of prospects. He signed Adam Everett and Mike Lamb, who the team viewed as legitimate starters rather than the role players this organization typically spends its limited funds on each winter.

Not all of these moves worked out -- in fact, you can argue that none of them worked out -- but nevertheless they went against the organization's historically conservative nature and revved up fan interest. For fans that had grown used to watching winters pass by with no move more meaningful than the signing of a backup third baseman or a washed up veteran pitcher, it was exciting to see this team populating the headlines on news Web sites with blockbuster trades and recognizable free agent signings.

In spite of the fact that many of those moves had an adverse affect on the team this year, the Twins were still a surprisingly strong team, and fan interest rose to unprecedented levels. Fox Sports Net set record highs for viewership. Carlos Gomez jerseys flew off the shelves in pro shops. I could barely glance in any direction in public without spying Twins caps adorning people of all genders, ages and ethnicities.

The concern, now, is that this success will put the Twins' front office back into that mode of complacency that we saw following the 2006 season. That can't happen, or a repeat of 2007 could very well be ahead of us. There is almost no question that this division is going to improve next year. I don't necessarily buy that the improvement is going to be as vast as some others believe*, but I have little doubt that it will take more than 89 victories to claim make the playoffs out of the AL Central next season.

* Aaron Gleeman guessed in his live chat yesterday that 89 wins would be good for third place in the division next year... come on. The Indians will be better but they'll be without C.C. Sabathia, and the Tigers' pitching staff has a long ways to go before they're even decent. And once again I've stolen Joe Posnanski's asterisk style. Hey, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

The Twins almost certainly will not score 800-plus runs next year with the same type of offensive performance; they were fortunate that many of their hits happened to come with runners in scoring position which superficially inflated their scoring. Moreover, some players are likely due to regress. Some are likely to get injured. This team lacks stable situations on the left side of the infield and can hardly count on all five starting pitchers to repeat the performances they did this season. Smith must be proactive if he wishes to keep his club as legitimate contenders. Whether that means putting the team's budget surplus to use by bringing in some legitimate free agents (as I've discussed the past three days) or making a trade to bolster an area of weakness (as I'll discuss next week), Smith needs to show the same type of risk-taking ability that he did in his first winter at the helm.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Casey at the Bat

I've spent the last two days discussing the pros and cons relating to a couple of potential offseason free agent targets for the Twins. Today I will discuss one more, and it's a name that most fans around here should be familiar with: Casey Blake. He's spent the majority of his career in the AL Central, and even spent some time with in the Twins organization back around the turn of the century. Like Orlando Hudson and unlike Orlando Cabrera, I think that Blake would a logical target for the Twins this offseason if they choose to address their infield holes via free agency.

Blake got his major-league career off to a late start, which is why he's just now entering free agency for the first time at the age of 35. His age might set off some red flags for some, as players reaching their mid-30s often experience rapid decline (see: White, Rondell), but it also might play to the Twins' benefit in that he may be willing to ink a shorter deal, which is exactly what the Twins should be looking for at third base.

Investing in a long-term deal for a player like Hudson would make sense, since the Twins' system is bereft of legitimate middle-infield prospects at this juncture. This isn't true of third base. Danny Valencia, who was this blog's Prospect of the Month in May and again in July this year, has emerged as a legitimate major-league third base candidate. He hit .336/.402/.518 in 60 games at Ft. Myers this year before moving up to Class-AA New Britain and finishing the season with a .289/.334/.485 line in 69 games there. It bears noting that there are concerns surrounding Valencia's attitude and contact rate (he struck out 70 times with just 18 walks in 69 games after being promoted to New Britain this year), and he's not particularly young, but he has reportedly made significant strides defensively and most scouts agree that he has the tools to play third base in the big leagues. He's also got legitimate power from the right side, a rare quality in this organization. Another third base prospect worth keeping an eye on is Luke Hughes, a 25-year-old who posted a stellar .309/.369/.524 between Double-A and Triple-A this year, though some wonder whether his offensive outburst this year is real and third base is not his natural position.

Both Valencia and Hughes are far from sure things and neither is likely to be ready to step in at the outset of the 2009 season, but both are promising enough that the Twins should be concentrating more on finding a short-term filler at third base rather than spending a lot in money or prospects to bring in a long-term solution. If neither of those two prospects pans out, the Twins can always look to address the position more permanently somewhere down the line.

So now, let's get back to Blake. As I mentioned, he seems like a good candidate for that filler role. As a 35-year-old, he can't really command a lengthy contract, so he might be open to something like a two-year deal with an option for a third year. He has history with this organization, and I've heard rumblings that he and his family would like to return to the midwest. His glove is decent at third base, and he can also adequately fill in at first base and the corner outfield spots. That versatility would be valuable on this team, which saw right fielder Michael Cuddyer miss much of the season while first baseman Justin Morneau started every single game.

Despite his age, Blake really has shown no signs of wear offensively. Since becoming a full-time player back in 2003, he has been very steady, consistently posting a hitting line right around his career average of .264/.334/.447. He has posted an 823 career OPS against left-handed pitching, which obviously makes him a good fit in the Twins' lefty-heavy lineup.

As much as I might dream of an Orlando Hudson signing this winter, Blake is probably a much more realistic possibility, given this organization's historical opposition to signing free agents to long-term contracts. Blake, who is currently in the NLCS with the Dodgers, made $6.1 million this season in his final year of arbitration. In free agency, he could probably net a deal averaging $7-8 million. That's something the Twins can afford over the next couple years. If the team feels that neither Brian Buscher nor Brendan Harris is the answer at the hot corner and elects not to address the issue with a trade (something I'll delve into next week), then Blake seems like a prime candidate to fill this team's need.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

O-Dog, Go!

Yesterday's post examined Orlando Cabrera as a potential free agent target for the Twins this offseason, and I concluded that he wouldn't be a very wise investment. Today I'll take a look at another Orlando, one who I think the Twins would be much wiser in targeting this winter. I'm talking about second baseman Orlando Hudson.

Hudson, 30, just finished up his last year of arbitration and becomes eligible for free agency this offseason. He's not expected to re-sign with the Diamondbacks, meaning he will hit the open market. He's a disciplined switch-hitter with a .282/.346/.433 career line, and he's also an elite defender who collected Gold Gloves in three consecutive seasons (and might make that four this year). With his speed, hustle and proficiency with the glove, Hudson falls very much into the Twins organization mold, but he also possesses solid power for a middle infielder which is something we haven't seen around here in some time.

Many seem to view shortstop and third base as the positions where the Twins need to upgrade this offseason, but to me, second and short are somewhat interchangeable in the Twins' situation. I'm hardly sold on Alexi Casilla as a permanent answer at second base -- his numbers over the past two seasons have been pretty ugly except for that three-month tear he went on this year after being called up to the majors. If the Twins have an opportunity to bring in an outstanding second baseman like Hudson, it would make plenty of sense to slide Casilla over to his natural position, shortstop, and have him compete with Nick Punto for playing time. I think the Twins are in some trouble if they enter next season counting on both Casilla and Punto to start at the middle-infield spots, but I'm much more confident that one of two could perform satisfactorily as the starting shortstop. Both are solid defensively and could combine with Hudson to form a very nice keystone combo.

Of course, the big question with Hudson is price. He's amidst his prime and coming off a season in which he hit for a career-high .305 batting average, so Hudson will likely be looking for a lengthy deal with a high salary. There will be numerous teams interested in Hudson -- the Mets and White Sox have been mentioned, among others -- and this could drive up his price. I've seen some guesses that Hudson could command as much as $15 million annually, but that seems unlikely. If the Twins could tab him to a 3-4 year deal in the $30-40 million range, I think it would definitely be something worth considering. They'll have the money to spend next year and to a lesser degree the year after; things might become a little crunched in the following seasons, but the hope is that payroll increases from new stadium revenue would help soften that blow.

Year in and year out, the Twins waste millions of dollars on poor free agent signings, many of whom fail to even finish the season in a Minnesota uniform. This winter, if they want to take advantage of their budget surplus and make a splash, Hudson would be a smart choice.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Orlando Cabrera: Just Say No

I wrote in this space on Saturday that Joe Christensen had mentioned White Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera as a player the Twins have identified as "someone they might pursue on the free agent market this offseason." I noted then that I felt this was a bad idea, and today I'll break down the reasons why.

Christensen guessed in his post that Cabrera could probably get a three-year deal worth around $30 million. That sounds about right. He's currently finishing up a four-year, $32 million contract that he originally signed with the Angels back in January of 2005 and he'll turn 34 in a little under a month.

So would such a signing be worthwhile for the Twins? Well, they do enter the offseason significantly under-budget and they do have a hole at shortstop. Adam Everett will certainly not be back, and while Nick Punto did a solid job there this year most would agree that he's stretched as an everyday starter. The closest prospect the Twins have at shortstop is probably Trevor Plouffe, and he has yet to post an OPS higher than 735 at any level of the minors.

Cabrera has his strong points. He's durable, experienced and possesses a solid glove. He's played at least 141 games in each of the past eight years, and at least 153 in seven of those. He won a Gold Glove in 2001 and another one in 2007.

But this guy is just not a good hitter. His career line is .274/.322/.399, and this year in Chicago he hit .281/.335/.371. For comparison, Punto hit .284/.344/.382 this season. Punto also is three years younger than Cabrera, at least an equal defender, and considerably less expensive. One can point to Punto's 2007 season as a sign that you just don't know what to expect from him, but I think it's a safe bet that he can post offensive numbers somewhat close to Cabrera's. It doesn't make sense to put significant money toward a player who is not a clear upgrade over what the team currently has.

The Twins could afford to put $10 million towards a mediocre player like Cabrera next year, but that commitment becomes significantly more worrisome in the following seasons. Jason Kubel, Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker will be arbitration eligible soon, and Joe Mauer's contract is up in 2010. I'm not opposed to the idea of trying to tab a free agent to fill a need during this offseason, but Cabrera is just not the right guy to target.

I'll discuss some options that I find more palatable in the coming days.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Keith Law, Redmond, Redactions, Etc.

Happy Saturday everyone. I haven't put up a weekend post in a while, but I figured I'd touch on a few topics while they're still fresh.

Yesterday, I posted about a message that I sent to ESPN columnist Keith Law regarding what I viewed as an unfair bias against the Twins that was almost constantly present in his writing. Law actually wrote me back, and we went on to have a steady back-and-forth via e-mail on the topic, but he asked that our correspondence remain confidential and off the record, and so I will respect his wishes by not discussing it much here.

Suffice to say that Law steadfastly denies any bias against the Twins, and as evidence he made note of some instances in which he has endorsed and promoted the team's players and prospects. We continued to disagree on his assessment of Ron Gardenhire as a perhaps bottom five manager in the league and of the Twins organization as an overly aggressive promoter of prospects (Joe Mauer remains a terrible, terrible evidentiary example).

All in all though, I came away impressed by the amount of effort and thought he put into defending against my charge. Also, I feel obligated to point out a few errors in yesterday's post. I picked up the question from "Clint (Grand Island NY)" and its subsequent answer from Keith from another fan complaining about Law's Twins bias, and it appears that that particular question was fabricated (oh, Mack). Also, the question regarding Gardenhire's manager of the year candidacy was drawn from a previous Q & A session and not the one I linked. Sorry for misleading, folks.

To put the subject to rest, I'll buy Law's argument that he doesn't have a specific bias against the Twins, but I maintain that his assessments of the team seem to be overly negative for the most part and some of his viewpoints are pretty questionable -- most notably the ones I mentioned above.

On another note, Joe Christensen wrote this week that it is "all but assured" that the Twins will pick up the $950K 2009 option on Mike Redmond's contract. This makes sense, of course. Redmond has been a steady backup for this club and is a perfect complement to Mauer. The question is what the team will do following next year. Entering the 2010 season, Redmond will be on the verge of turning 39 and probably ready to retire. The Twins lack major-league prospects in the high minors at the catcher position. It will be interesting to see how far along Wilson Ramos (an excellent catching prospect who spent the year in Ft. Myers) can come next season. If Law's assessment of the organization's handling of minor-leaguers is accurate, perhaps we can expect to see Ramos in a Twins uniform by the All-Star break.

Christensen also noted yesterday that the Twins "have identified White Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera as someone they might pursue on the free agent market this offseason." This is a bad idea for a number of reasons, but I just don't have the energy to delve into it today. Maybe Monday...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Nick Nelson vs. Keith Law

Those who follow Keith Law, an employee of Scouts Inc. and contributor to ESPN.com, are probably well-aware by this point that the columnist holds a bizarre grudge against the Twins organization. Why? Hard to say. But there's too much evidence supporting this idea to believe otherwise.

If you don't believe me, check out his answers to some Twins-related questions from a chat that took place on ESPN.com yesterday...

Jon (Mass): Hi Keith, What do you think of the idea of Joe Mauer for MVP... he was great at the plate this year, played a much more physically demanding position than Pedroia, and handled a very young pitching staff well.

Keith Law: I wouldn't have any real criticism of any of the following players if they won the AL MVP: Mauer, Pedroia, Sizemore, Youkilis, Lee. It's a pretty open race. Bad choices would include Morneau or K-Rod.

Ben (Charlotte): What is the ETA for Ben Revere?

Keith Law: 2011, although the Twins promote very (too?) aggressively and a good 2009 between high-A and AA could put him in the majors sooner. I hope that they see Carlos Gomez' struggles and decide to be more conservative with Revere, who, like Gomez, doesn't draw a ton of walks and hasn't shown power yet.

Clint (Grand Island NE): With one year of additional experience under there belts, where do you see the Twins finishing next year? AL pennant?

Keith Law: I see them finishing somewhere between 5th and last place in there division next year. Look for regression across the board from everyone except Mauer. If I were the Twins I would be inquiring about Crede ASAP

Allan (TX): Woah, From what I have read...people say the Twins promote a little slow...Besides Gomez, give an example. Not sure where you came up with that one. Ha, I act like you will respond!

Keith Law: Joe Mauer had less than a half-season in AA when he was called up. Zing!

Mary (Okoboji, IA): Ron Gardenhire for Manager of the year? If he doesnt win, he definitely should get top 3, right?

Keith Law: If luck was a coachable trait then he would run away with it. Unfortunately for Ron, luck is not coachable. Any manager who benches there 3rd best hitter (Cuddyer) during the most important week of the season deserves to be run out of town. Win? No. Top 3? No. Top 25? Maybe.

This guy cannot answer any question related to the Minnesota Twins without including some vieled (or not-so-vieled) insult toward the organization, many of which are ridiculous and totally baseless. This is unfortunate, because Law is a pretty intelligent baseball mind. But his opinions when it comes to the Twins are not even worth taking seriously.

Normally I wouldn't care much what some talking head at ESPN.com thinks, but reading his chat yesterday got to be too much for me. So I sent him an e-mail, which reads as follows:

"Mr. Law,

My name is Nick Nelson and I blog about the Twins. As I and many others have noticed over the course of the year (and years past), you seem to harbor some sort of grudge against the Twins franchise. We get it, they were lucky to score as often as they did this year due to a high batting average with runners in scoring position. But why do you feel the need to insult the organization just about every time you answer a question relating to them?

Your chat today was just too much to take. It's fine to claim that the team's offensive production this year was buoyed by unsustainably high numbers with RISP, but some of your criticisms are totally baseless and come off as sheer contempt for the ballclub. Ron Gardenhire is a bad manager because he benched the team's "3rd best hitter" in Michael Cuddyer? Do you have any clue what you're talking about? Cuddyer isn't the team's third-best hitter when he's healthy (Jason Kubel is), and he is certainly not anywhere close to being the third-best hitter when he's hampered by a foot injury and hasn't played regularly in months, as was the case during the timespan you referred to. Then you insinuate that the team promotes prospects too aggressively (an absurd notion) and use as evidence the rare instance in which they promoted can't-miss prospect Joe Mauer straight to the majors from Triple-A. Yeah, that didn't work out for them at all, did it?

I don't know where this disdain for the Twins organization comes from, but how about you show some professionalism rather than turning every one of your chats into a hatchet job against the team? It's impossible to take your analysis seriously when you show such an obvious bias against a particular club. That's unfortunate, because I do appreciate the way you judge players and break down the game. You're writing for one of the most trusted and respected sports media outlets in the world. Act like it."

We'll see if he responds. Somehow I doubt he will. And really, I don't care.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Sad End to a Spectacular Ride

People will be compelled to focus on the negatives here in the aftermath of the Twins' 2008 season. And that's understandable. Just two wins at home against the Royals in the final series of the regular season and they'd currently be gearing up for the postseason. Just one less blown lead from the bullpen during the summer months and they'd be on their way to Tampa Bay to take on the Rays. Just two runs against John Danks on Monday night and they'd have vanquished their hated AL Central foes. The Twins came so close, but came up just short. It's tough to take as a fan.

But certainly, it's not as tough to take as the 2007 season, where the team had given up hope on a playoff berth around the All-Star break, and made that clear by making salary-dump moves around the trade deadline. Nor is it as tough to take as the 2005 season, where the team's miserable offense robbed them of any chance at being legitimate contenders in the division, and also robbed Johan Santana of a Cy Young Award he so clearly deserved.

In spite of its deflating finish, this 2008 season was an incredible one. The Twins carried roundly low expectations, having entered the season with a rotation filled with inexperienced pitchers that lacked legitimate big-league experience and a patchwork offense that would seemingly need some time to gel. They exceeded all of those expectations by hanging near the top of the division for the entire year, and ultimately forcing the first one-game playoff in franchise history. And while they came up on the short end of that contest, they played hard and gave their fans something to be proud of. Nick Blackburn, who has struggled on the road and against the Sox this year, gave a valiant effort, taking a shutout into the seventh inning before making one mistake to Jim Thome that ended up deciding the game. Michael Cuddyer, playing on a bad ankle, charged home on a fly ball to short center and railed A.J. Pierzynski when Ken Griffey Jr.'s throw beat him to the plate. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau both failed to reach base in the game -- the first time all year that has happened -- but considering all they had done all year to get the Twins to that 163rd game, it's difficult to harbor resentment.

The playoffs are a lot of fun, and it's unfortunate that we fans won't be able to cheer our favorite team on during these dramatic weeks. But this season presented plenty of excitement for fans. Blackburn's impressive rookie campaign has quickly turned him from a middling prospect into a legitimate big-league starter and a building block for this rotation down the line. Francisco Liriano's strong performance down the stretch after returning to the minors in August gives hope that he can return somewhere close to the level he reached back in 2006 and be an ace for this club. Justin Morneau delivered tons of huge hits, carried the team through rough stretches, won the Home Run Derby and scored the winning run in the All-Star game. Joe Mauer won another batting title. Denard Span put together a brilliant campaign and cemented himself in the team's plans going forward.

There are a lot of negatives clouding our vision right now in the wake of a hugely disappointing final five days of this 2008 season. But once those dark clouds start to dissipate, the light will shine on what was an excellent overall year and on the promise that lies ahead. These five young starters all finish the year healthy and will all be relatively inexpensive for years to come. The bullpen, cause of so much frustration during the summer months, finished strong and shows beams of light in the form of Jose Mijares and in the potential return of Pat Neshek. Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez and Michael Cuddyer -- among others -- can only be expected to improve upon what were decidedly disappointing offensive seasons. And this team enters the offseason considerably under budget. A solid core is in place, and Bill Smith has the means to build around that core and put an even better team back on the field in 2009.

When previewing the American League back in March, I predicted that the Twins would finish third in the Central, and summed up my capsule on the team by stating, "The Twins can compete if a number of things go right, but realistically this is probably about a .500 team." Over the course of the season, a number of things did go right. But in the end, a few too many things went wrong. Right now, that stings. Eventually, it'll be easier to look on the bright side.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

No Substantive Post Today

For I must sulk. Sorry.