Monday, January 31, 2011

TwinsFest: A Three Day Adventure

It was a long but fun weekend at the National Sports Center in Blaine, MN. There were some adventures along the way, the first Twins "Tweet and Greet," and a very cold day spent outside in a line.

Friday, Day 1: The nightmare hunt for Thome's autograph

Nightmare is the only word that I can used to describe my experience on Friday afternoon and evening. I arrived at the National Sports Center complex around 2:30 PM. Jim Thome was having an autograph signing starting at 5:45 PM. I figured that I would be able to get there early enough to get in line, read a little of my book, and eventually get an autograph from the future Hall-of-Famer. I was mistaken on the ease of getting the autograph.
The line that I faced on Friday afternoon
A problem never occurred to me in my calculations. Joe Mauer was also signing in the same building right before Thome. In the picture above you can see how very far I was away from the Schwan Center off in the distance. The doors opened at 4 PM and they let the line start to trickle in to get Mauer's autograph. By 4:20 PM I was 10-15 feet from the entrance to the building. That is where the line stalled. We were told that the building was at the capacity that the fire code allowed. They would let more people in as people exited. This was not true and from 4:20 to 6:00 PM I didn't move in line.

The line behind me was even longer than in front of me
Fans got frustrated and left the line. People in line were yelling at Twins employees. When Dave St. Peter looked out the window he got thumbs down signs from the people in line. I even heard people talking about going to flip over a car and lighting it on fire to stay warm (this may or may not have been myself saying this). The nice thing was I was able to make some friends in the line. Another Twins blogger with ties to North Dakota was next to me (Ben Brewster writes the Twins Talk blog). You get close to the people you are standing next to for four hours.
Jim Thome signing autographs
At 6:15 PM, my prayers were answered and I was finally let into the Schwan Center to escape the freezing cold. My feet were numb but I was eager in anticipation of getting a future Hall-of-Famer's autograph. After my wait in line I was ready to explore the rest of TwinsFest. I headed to the Sports Hall and explored all that TwinsFest had to offer. But for the most part I was trying to regain feeling in most of my appendages.

Day 1 Autographs: Jim Thome, Ben Revere, and Corey Koskie

Saturday, Day 2: Blogger Connections

I stayed as far away from the Schwan Center as possible on Saturday. I was not going to relive my nightmare from the day before.
Giant Get Well Card for Harmon Killebrew

Day 2 was all about making connections with other Twins bloggers. This was the first real time that I got to put faces with some of the people I have followed as I continue to make my mark as a Twins blogger. The one person that I was able to find pretty easy was Seth Stohs (SethSpeaks.net). And I say easy because he is the only other blogger that has my phone number. The next blogger that I met in the company of Seth was Jack Steal (Fanatic Jack Talks Twins). Andrew Bryz-Gornia (Off the Mark) was working at both Day 1 and Day 2 of TwinsFest. I was able to successfully pick him out of the throngs of other Twins employees and introduce myself. While waiting in an autograph line I was approached by Topper Anton (Curve for a Strike). There were also female personalities in the Twins blogging community that I met such as Betsey (For the Love of the Game) and you can follow Karlee Kanz on Twitter.

One of the funniest moments of the day might have been when Senator Al Franken was being interviewed by 1500 ESPN radio and he accidentally said, "I hate the Twins." He meant to say that he hated the Yankees and the Mets but the Twins slipped out.

Throughout all of this I was able to get a few autographs from some of the young stars that I have featured on my top prospect list (Minnesota Twins Top Prospects 1-10). I also snagged some pictures with current Twins player (Denard Span) and one huge prospect (Kyle Gibson).

The Twins blogging gang listed above and others went out to eat to wind down after a long day at TwinsFest. At this gathering I was able to meet John Bonnes (Twins Geek) and Nick Nelson (Nick's Twins Blog) of the TwinsCentric Crew. Overall, it was a very festive evening.

Day 2 Autographs: Kyle Gibson, Joe Benson, Aaron Hicks
Day 2 Photos: Denard Span, Kyle Gibson, TC

Sunday, Day 3: Filling in the missing pieces

The final day of TwinsFest 2011 was one filled of lots of first for myself. I talked to Twins General Manager Bill Smith for the first time, I took part in my first "Tweet and Greet" experience, and I got a picture with a member of the Hall-of-Fame.

Bill Smith and myself at TwinsFest
Twins General Manager Bill Smith had been out and about for most of the weekend. I had seen him numerous times but I never mustered up the courage to go up and talk to him. Today I did and was able to have a five minute conversation with the GM. I kept the conversation light and didn't ask any tough questions of him. He seemed excited to get down to Florida for Spring Training and to get the season started.

I waited in line to get a picture with Twins legend Rod Carew. He seemed more outgoing this time than the previous times that I spoke to him. He was friendly and gladly shook my hand. I never got to see him play in a game but I know about the importance of the history to the game of baseball.
In the presence of Rod Carew 

The special experience of the day was a Twitter event put on by the Twins organization. This was a really exciting event to take part in and I will devote an entire post to this event later this week. It was the first time the Twins have tried something like this and it was a fun interactive experience with Twins players Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, and Drew Butera. There are lots of funny stories to tell from this event.

Day 3 Photos: Rod Carew, Bill Smith, Glen Perkins, Drew Butera

Overall it was a fun weekend, full of lots of different Twins activities. It was a nice break from a winter and a good reminder that spring is right around the corner.

Friday, January 28, 2011

TwinsFest: The Cure for the Winter Doldrums


The winter doldrums can finally be broken by a weekend full of anticipation for the coming baseball season. Fans from across Twins Territory will convene in Blaine, MN for the Twins annual fan gathering, TwinsFest. Twins Faithful will hunt down their favorite players for autographs, photo opportunities, and radio interviews.

As usually, the list of players attending this year is excellent. There are the usually stars of the big league team, the great players from the past, and the up-and-coming stars of the future. The two noticeable absences will be from former MVP's Justin Morneau and Harmon Killebrew. It was announced earlier this week that Morneau has been excused from the festivities by Twins GM Bill Smith. Smith felt that interrupting Morneau's recovery from last year's concussion at this critical juncture could set the star back further than the team would like. Killebrew is continuing to fight esophageal cancer and has been very appreciative of the support he has gotten from fans.

Besides the change in venue this year from the Metrodome to the National Sports Center, there will also be some differences from years past. The smaller venue means that the number of tickets sold this year was capped at 25,000. The event will be held in two different buildings and in one of the buildings it will be held on two different floors. There are also parking lots all over the place that fans have to get bussed in from to get to the event. I hope they have plenty of people around to organize some of the chaos that could ensue.

I'm going to be all over the National Sports Center this weekend and I plan to have updates and pictures from all three days of TwinsFest. If you want instant updates of the happenings at TwinsFest make sure that you follow my Twitter account. Otherwise check back here to see the summary of my adventures at the National Sports Center.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blyleven's number to be retired

The Twins announced tonight that Bert Blyleven will become the sixth member of the Twins organization to have his number retired. He will join Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Kent Hrbek, and Kirby Puckett. Ever other player that has gone into the Hall-of-Fame wearing a Twins cap on their plaque had their number retired by the organization (Killebrew, Carew, Puckett).

The Twins are also planning a Bert Blyleven Day at Target Field the weekend before he is inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The game on July 16 against the Rangers will feature the number retirement ceremony and other festivities to honor the former Twins pitcher and current TV analyst.

The retirement of Bert's number was something that I predicted earlier this offseason as I looked at the whirlwind year that Blyleven will have in 2011. This announcement is just another step in that journey.

You Do the Math: 8 Starters for 5 Spots

The buzz around the Twins Blogging/Twitter World since the signing of Carl Pavano last week has been the Twins having a surplus of starting pitching. The Twins have eight legitimate starting pitchers and only five spots in the rotation to fill. There are holes in the bullpen so one of these pitchers can be moved to a long relief role but that too offers up some unusual circumstances.

The eight possible starters for the Twins are divided into four categories below. There is still a lot left to prove in the Twins rotation and Spring Training will be the time to separate the men from the boys.

The One, Two Punch (Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano)
These are the easiest two spots to fill-in the rotation for next year. There is a good chance that Liriano will get the Opening Day nod at the Blue Jays. But Gardenhire might decide that the wily veteran, Pavano, should get the start. Either way the Twins will be putting a lot of pressure on these two pitchers in the coming season. They were the only starters on the team in 2010 with a below four ERA, 190+ innings pitched, and 30+ starts. In order for the team to succeed in 2011, they will need to get a repeat performance from their one, two punch.

Time to Show Us Something (Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey)
These three starters have had their share of ups and downs in recent seasons. The time has now come for each of them to step up and show the organization and their fans that they belong in this rotation. Each of the players in the categories below this are going to be clawing at the chance to show their stuff in the rotation. One of these players needs to step-up and become the outright number three starter in the rotation. Both Baker and Blackburn have the contracts that should put them in the top four spots in the rotation. Compiling bad starts at the beginning of the year could see these players packing their bags for another city.

Deserves a Chance, But... (Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins)
For the job that Brian Duensing has done in the second half of the last two seasons, he deserves a spot in the starting rotation. One of the problems is that he hasn't had the opportunity to start from the beginning of a season yet in his big league career. The Twins know that he can be a reliable relief option and with so many holes in the bullpen, that might be the role he is asked to repeat. If there are any early struggles from the "Time to Show Us Something" crew, Duensing will be the first arm to turn to for the Twins. Perkins struggled through different portions of last season. He could be another option to fill an long-relief role as he did at the end of last season. There are still areas of his pitching that needed to improve, including being a lefty that can get lefties out. Perkins has shown some promise but he will have to show a lot in Spring Training to make the rotation.

The Young Gun as a Wild-Card (Kyle Gibson)
With Gibson's rapid rise in the organization last year, Twins fans have been clattering to see what this young starter will be able to accomplish at the major league level. The organization is going to have to make room for him in the rotation if Gibson continues to perform at the minor league level. Other starters might need to get traded or reassigned but Gibson will be given a shot in 2011. What he does with that chance, will decide which one of the above categories he belongs in. Hopefully he will become the third piece of the Twins one, two punch.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Here are some links to other stories about the Twins pitching situation:

~Parker H. of the Over the Baggy Blog looked at what the Twins should do with the excess of starting pitching.

~Nick of Nick's Twins Blog wrote Kevin Slowey: Know When to Hold 'Em

~Jesse of Twinkie Town did an interview with Seth Stohs about the pitching prospects in the Twins organization.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Danny Valencia: Avoiding the Sophomore Slump

Danny Valencia burst on the scene last year in his freshman campaign with the Minnesota Twins. His outstanding season lead him to a third place finish in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting.

There are many challenges that can face a player entering their second season in the major leagues. Teams are more familiar with the player, pitchers are aware of weaknesses in a batter's swing, and overall scouting of a player can be increased. For many players this can lead to what experts call "The Sophomore Slump." 

There are three areas that Valencia has to address in order to have a successful sophomore season.

Mental Challenges
There are going to be mental challenges throughout an athletes career. When an athlete has success in their rookie season there can be many things that get in the way of success the following season. From pitch to pitch, baseball players always have adjustments that need to be made at the plate. There can be major adjustments that need to be made or just minor tweaks to fix a flaw. There can also be defensive blunders on the field that can impact a player's focus in the batter's box. The best player's can fight through these mental challenges and become a stronger player.

Weakness in a batter's swing
The are weak spots in almost every player's swing. A player's ability to overcome these weaknesses can help him to break out of slumps. For Valencia there are some clear holes in the lower portion of his swing. Low and inside is the one very cold spot that pitcher might focus on for next season. If Valencia is going to be a slump breaker in 2011, he will need to improve these below average areas in his swing.
FOXSports.com
Defensive Flaws
In his first season with the Twins, Valencia's defensive statistics were off the charts. It might be hard for him to keep these numbers in his first full season at the hot corner. Out of all 3B in the American League, Valencia ranked fifth in fielding percentage in 2010. He will have plenty of chances in 2011 so the Twins will have many views of their up-and-coming third baseman. Defense is always a high priority for the Twins and Valenica will need to avoid any set backs in his fielding during his second season. Valencia can keep his sophomore slump away by avoiding these defensive flaws. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lock-Up the Franchise

Yesterday I went through some of the major things that have lead the Twins to this point in the offseason. There is one major thing that I would like the Twins to accomplish before the offseason is complete. Signing Francisco Liriano, aka the Franchise, to a long-term contract should be high on the priority list.

Liriano had quite the year in 2010. After the Joe Nathan injury there was speculation that he could become the next closer for the Twins. The Twins decided that it was best to leave Liriano in the starting rotation and by the time the postseason came around Liriano had emerged as the ace of the staff.

Liriano is 27 and will be under the Twins control for the next few seasons. His first year of free agency would be the after the 2013 season. He has seen is salary increase significantly over the last few seasons. In his second year of being eligible for arbitration he made $1.6 million. This year's arbitration numbers have the Twins coming in at $3.6 million and Liriano asking for $5.0 million.

Either one of those values would be a steal for the production that the Twins got out of Liriano in 2010. He  pitched a career high 191.2 innings, struck-out 201 batters, and finished with a solid 14 wins. His wins above replacement for last season was 4.6 (which was even higher than his All-Star season of 2006).

The Twins should lock-up the Franchise by giving him a three-year contract with a club option for a fourth year. This will buy-out his remaining arbitration years and set the Twins up with their number one starter for the foreseeable future. I can see the contract breaking down like this with the arbitration figures that were released last week:
2011: $5.0 million
2012: $7.5 million
2013: $13.5 million
2014: $15.0 million (club option)
Total (4-years): $41.0 million

This would be a very similar contract to the one that was given to Zach Greinke by the Kansas City Royals before the 2009 season. The first year of the contract he was given $3.75 million, the second year $7.25 million, and the third and fourth years were worth $13.5 million each. There have been many that have compared the career paths of Greinke and Liriano.  Liriano has had to recover from elbow surgery to regain his dominant form. Greinke has had to recover from depression issues to regain his dominant form.

In recent memory the Twins have given some long-term contracts that haven't worked the way that they have liked. Denard Span and Nick Blackburn were locked in to long-term deals during last offseason and both of them came out to have below average years in 2010. The year before that the Twins signed Scott Baker to a long-term deal and Baker has failed to become a top of the rotation hurler for the organization. It seems that in the Bill Smith Era the Twins have been very gracious when it comes to offering contracts to players to buy out their arbitration eligible years.

Will Bill Smith look at some of these contracts in the past as being failures? Or will he offer Liriano a contract that will make him worthy of the ace that he is becoming?

My vote is to lock-up the Franchise.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Offseason: Thus Far

As Twins fans it has been an interesting offseason. The team had a slew of free agents, holes in the infield, and a rotation with some question marks. The Twins signed Carl Pavano last week to shape what could be one of the final moves for the 2011 Twins.

The Twins will field a team with the highest payroll in the history of the franchise.  A large chunk of that payroll will be paid to Joe Mauer for the contract that he signed at the beginning of last season. Nick Nelson of Nick's Twins Blog wrote last week about the Mauer factor in regards to this offseason. If Mauer had still been unsigned right now, there would be much more to worry about as Twins fans.

The question can be raised, as the dust settles from the Twins offseason, is this the best team that the Twins could compile for their 2011 campaign? There are many factors that have to be taken into account including: payroll, free agents, players under the Twins control, etc.

Here are some of the headlines that helped to shape the offseason, thus far:

Salary dump on the Orioles: The Twins are already might be fielding a team that has a higher payroll than the Pohlads wanted to spend next season. By being able to dump the salaries of JJ Hardy and, more importantly, Brendan Harris on the Orioles the Twins were able to clear up some extra cash flow. That salary dump allowed the Twins to spend money on other parts of the roster (see below).


Speaking Japanese: Tsuyoshi Nishioka was the first big move that the Twins brought into the fold for next season.  A paradigm shift had been made with the middle infield of the Twins. There would be new faces in new places with Hardy traded, Punto signed elsewhere, and Nishioka/Casilla finding permanent roles up the middle.  


Thome's close to home: With Justin Morneau's health still a question mark for next season, the return of Thome could be seen as just as important as he turned out to be during last season. His veteran presence will be welcomed in the clubhouse and all Twins fans will be excited to watch him chase his 600th homerun. He turned down more guaranteed money with the Rangers because he is closer to his home with the Twins.


Pavano's free agent value dropped: After Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies it was made clear that Pavano was the best available starter on the free agent market.  Something happened from the time Lee signed until last week when Pavano rejoined the Twins, his value seemed to have dropped. There had been speculation of Pavano wanting a three-year deal and upwards of $11 million per year. The contract that he ended up with (2-years, $16.5 million) was far below his initial value and that might have been the only reason he was able to be brought back into the fold for next year.

The bullpen conundrum: As I wrote about last week, there are going to be some unknown faces in the bullpen for the 2011 Twins. This is directly related to the amount of money that the team has tied up in Joe Nathan and Matt Capps. The Twins are paying to have two closers on their team next year and that means that there needs to be money saved somewhere.  That somewhere just happens to be the rest of the bullpen. There are a variety of arms with some big league experience but the bullpen will now be the focus of fans for the rest of the offseason and into Spring Training.

Is this the best team the Twins could put together for next season?

Only the future will be able to answer this question. The middle infield will have to prove itself. Danny Valencia will have to avoid the sophomore slump. Health issues with Nathan and Morneau will have to play themselves out. The young guns in the bullpen will have to show that they belong.

Other than that, it should be business as usually at Target Field in 2011.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Top 10 Players Born in North Dakota

According to BaseballReference.com, there have been 15 players in the history of baseball that have been born in North Dakota.  There are other players, like Roger Maris, who spent time growing up in NoDak but the focus of this piece will be ranking the top players that had their first breath in my home state.

10. Truck Hannah- Born in Larimore.  He was a member of the Yankees in the early 1900's (1918-1920). As a catcher his career numbers don't leap off the page at you, but he was playing in the Dead Ball Era. Over his three seasons in the majors he had a .235 BA, 5 HR, 66 RBI, and a .631 OPS.

9. Mark Lee- Born in Williston. Lee made appearances in the big leagues with the Royals, Brewers, and Orioles in the late 1980's and early 1990's. He saved two games during his career but for the most part saw limited time over his four seasons.  He had a 3.82 ERA, 84 K, and a 1.437 WHIP.

8. Gary Serum- Born in Fargo. He pitched for parts of three seasons with the Minnesota Twins (1977-79). He was (10-12) during that span with a 4.72 ERA, 1.391 WHIP, and 125 K. In 1978 he pitched five complete games and had a career high nine wins.

7. Tim Johnson- Born in Grand Forks. Over his seven seasons in baseball, there were some bad times (.061 BA in 1977) and some good times (.275 BA in 1976).  One interesting statistic is the fact that he never hit a major league homerun in his 516 games that he played.  His overall numbers tallied up like this: .223 BA, 84 RBI, and a .539 OPS. The only member of the Born in NoDak Club that also served as a manager. He managed the Toronto Blue Jays for one season in 1998. In his time at the helm he lead the team to a third place finish and an 88-74 record.

6. Ken Hunt- Born in Grand Forks. Hunt was drafted by the Yankees in 1952 but the majority of his big league experience came with the Angels organization, including his only season as a full-time player (1961). In that summer of 1961 he played in 149 games and racked up the following line: .255 BA, 25 HR, 84 RBI. For parts of six seasons Hunt roamed the outfield of major league stadiums. His life-time batting average of .226, 33 HR, 111 RBI, and an OPS of .720. WAR: 0.4

5. Lynn Nelson- Born in Sheldon. "Line Drive" Nelson seems like an odd nickname to have if you are a pitcher. But with the stats that he put up in his seven year career, the nickname "Line Drive" seems to fit. He got hit for line drives throughout his career leading to a 5.25 ERA, 255 K, and a 1.535 WHIP. In 1939 he lead the league in homeruns allowed (27). In a two season span from 1938 to 1939 he reached his peak by pitching 388.2 innings, 25 complete games, and two double digit win seasons.

4. Chris Coste- Born in Fargo. Coste had quite the journey to the majors, which he chronicled in his book "The 33-Year-Old Rookie." This journey took him through the minor leagues, independent leagues, and eventually to the World Series. He was a back-up catcher for the Phillies and the Astros for four seasons with his last appearance being in 2009. Over the course of those seasons he managed a .272 BA, 23 HR, 108 RBI, and .744 OPS. Not too bad for the former Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks star.

3. Rick Helling- Born in Devils Lake. The number one starter that was born in North Dakota. Helling spent 12 seasons pitching his way to two World Series rings both with the Florida Marlins. The best season he had was in 1998 when he tied for the American League lead in wins (20). In 2004, Helling was on pace to be the Twins number five starter. A come-backer to the mounded injured his leg and ended the chance of that before the season started. After his final game in September 2006 he had a 4.68 ERA, 1058 K, and a 1.377 WHIP.

2. Travis Hafner- Born in Jamestown. His hometown of Sykeston, NoDak has a giant sign to honor their hometown star. Hafner is a slugger with the Indians but broke into the league with the Rangers in 2002. He finished in the top 10 in the AL MVP voting in both the 2005 (5th) and 2006 (8th) seasons. The 2006 season saw Hafner lead the league in slugging (.659), OPS (1.097), and OPS+ (181). Recent years have seen a injuries plague the star. Between 2008-2009, he only played in 151 games and saw his numbers drop. As of the end of the 2010 season he has a .281 BA, .902 OPS, 176 HR, and 603 RBI.

1. Darin Erstad- Born in Jamestown. He made the All-Star team in 1998 and 2000.  He also the only player ever to win a Gold Glove as an outfielder (2000 and 2002) and as an infielder (2004). He won a Silver Slugger in 2000 when he had the most hits in the AL. He lead the American League in Defensive Wins Above Replacement in 1999, 2000, and 2002. His 14-year career came to a close in 2009 but not before he played for the Angels, White Sox, and Astros. His total numbers include a .282 BA, 699 RBI, 1697 H, and .743 OPS.

Congratulations to Darin Erstad the Best Major League Player Ever Born in North Dakota!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Who's Left Out There?: Part II

With the signing of Carl Pavano yesterday evening the most confusing thing left for Twins fans is the 2011 bullpen. There are three groups of players that will be part of the final bullpen picture coming out of Spring Training: The Closers, The Familiars, and The Unknowns.

In my post yesterday I chronicled the first two groups, The Closers and The Familiars, that are more familiar to casual Twins fans. Today it is the second part in a series to answer the question, "Who's Left Out There?"
2011 Projected Twins Bullpen
Many of these players that fit into the category of "unknown" have been invited to Spring Training and the rest are included on the 40-man roster.  There are still some strange names and faces that Twins fans will have to get accustomed to before the start of the 2011 season.

The Unknowns: Yormando Bazardo, Rob Delaney, Scott Diamond, Phil Dumatrait, Carlos Gutierrez, Jim Hoey, Chuck James, Jeff Manship, Anthony Slama

Left Handers
Scott Diamond- was selected by the Twins in the Rule 5 Draft out the Atlanta Braves organization. If they want to keep his rights he is going to have to stay on the 25-man roster. The Twins will need more than one lefty in the pen so that could put Diamond at an advantage. He had been groomed to be a starter but transitioned to the bullpen for all of last year. Season Stats (2010: AAA)- ERA: 3.36, IP: 56.1, K: 33, WHIP: 1.207

Phil Dumatrait- last played for the Tigers AAA affiliate in 2010. In 2004 Dumatrait underwent Tommy John surgery and has been working his way back from that over the last few seasons.  This has led him to multiple stops with different organizations. He has an invite to Spring Training but with all the other options for the 'pen, I expect to see him at AAA. Season Stats (2010: AAA)- ERA: 3.16, IP: 42.2, K: 17, WHIP: 1.359

Chuck James- has major league experience with the Atlanta Braves but spent last year between AA and AAA.  He was listed highly on the Baseball America prospect list (#98) before the 2006 season but that talent hasn't come to fruition. He is a very interesting player, but Rochester is his most likely destination. Season Stats (2010: AA&AAA)- ERA: 2.32, IP: 66.1, K: 69, WHIP: 0.939

Right Handers
Yorman Bazardo- transfers to the Twins from the Houston organization. He started five games last season but was mostly used in a relief role. Another new face to the Twins organization but was most likely brought in to help the Red Wings improve this year. Season Stats (2010: AAA)- ERA: 3.87, IP: 88.1, K: 58, WHIP: 1.392

Rob Delaney- made one appearance with the Twins last year.  It was the second to last game of the season and the Twins had a big lead. I was at the game and did fine for it being his big league debut (1 IP, 1 ER, Kinsler HR).  Another year of helping the Twins AAA affiliate is in the works. Season Stats (2010: AAA)- ERA: 4.72, IP: 80.0, K: 92, WHIP: 1.312

Carlos Gutierrez- a wild-card when it comes to figuring out the bullpen.  Baseball America projects him to be the Twins closer of the future. This former 1st rounder will get a taste of the big league camp this year. If his stuff is outstanding, could he break camp with the team and come north? Season Stats (2010: AA&AAA)- ERA: 4.50, IP: 126.0, K: 87, WHIP: 1.532

Jim Hoey- and fellow minor league pitcher Brett Jacobson came to the Twins as part of the JJ Hardy trade. Hoey had arthroscopic shoulder surgery in 2008. The 2010 season saw Hoey make his way back through the Orioles organization. Season Stats (2010: AA&AAA)- ERA: 3.25, IP: 52.2, K: 70, WHIP: 1.348

Jeff Manship- over the last two seasons he has pitched in double-digit games for the Twins and that includes starting six games.  His major league numbers aren't outstanding (5.49 ERA, 1.549 WHIP) but he has had some tough roles to fill over the last two seasons.  It will be interesting to see what he can do if he is given a more regular role on the team. Season Stats (2010: AAA)- ERA: 5.13, IP: 98.1, K: 83, WHIP: 1.586

Anthony Slama- it was exciting to have "Slama Time" in the Twin Cities during the Twins first season at Target Field. His unique look was appealing to fans during his time with the big league club.  If he has more time at the big league level, I can see this 39th round draft pick continuing to develop into a fan favorite. Season Stats (2010: AAA)- ERA: 2.20, IP: 65.1, K: 74, WHIP: 1.117

There are seven open spots in the bullpen so my projected Twins bullpen looks like this:
1.  Joe Nathan
2.  Matt Capps
3.  Jose Mijares
4.  Pat Neshek
5.  Scott Diamond
6.  Anthony Slama
7.  Alex Burnett

There definitely could be some changes to my projected bullpen as the Spring Training schedule plays out. The major story at Spring Training is going to be the bullpen.  Nathan's health, the closer role, and who gets the final spots in the bullpen will be story lines to follow.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who's Left Out There?: Part 1

The Projected 2011 Twins Bullpen
This week has seen the end to the mass exodus of the Twins bullpen. Crain, Guerrier, Rauch, and Fuentes have all exited the Twins this offseason to find more money and bigger contracts elsewhere.

The move to Target Field has allowed the Twins to spend an increasing amount on their payroll. Even with this increase in spending the Twins are sticking with a strategy that has worked for them in the past. That strategy is turning to "in-house options." Many current Twins fit the mold of homegrown talent (just a few of the Twins drafted by the organization): Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Span, Valencia, Baker, Duensing, Blackburn, Casilla.

With the changes in the bullpen this offseason, Spring Training is going to bring a variety of new faces to fans as they prepare for the 2011 season.  And it brings up the question, "Who's Left Out There?"

This is the first part in a two part series, Part I: The Closers and The Familiar and Part II: The Unknowns (tomorrow).

Here is a look at the players that are left in the Twins bullpen and the in-house options to fill the rest of the roles:

The Closers: Matt Capps and Joe Nathan

Matt Capps: As part of the Twins offseason plan they offered Matt Capps arbitration and that amounted to a deal worth $7.15 million. Capps is there as an insurance policy for Nathan but as soon as Nathan proves he is healthy enough the job will be his to lose. Capps was an All-Star last year and put up decent numbers over the season with the Twins and the Nationals.  Season Stats (2010)- SV: 42, K: 59, WHIP: 1.195, ERA: 2.47

Joe Nathan: The Twins also have money tied into Joe Nathan for next season in the sum of $12 million.  That is a decent chunk of the total payroll for next year tied up in two players.  Nathan is the one question mark in this equation.  It takes players time to recover from Tommy John surgery and Nathan might need that extra time at the beginning of this season. Season Stats (2010)- None (Tommy John Surgery)

The Familiar: Alex Burnett, Pat Neshek, Jose Mijares, Glen Perkins
Alex Burnett: Burnett could see an increase in his workload.  I would like to see Burnett take on some of the late-inning moments that use to be occupied by Crain and Guerrier.  This might be a stretch for the young player but it could be crucial to the Twins success in 2011. Season Stats (2010)- IP: 41, K: 37, WHIP: 1.573, ERA: 5.29

Pat Neshek: Neshek rejoined the team at the end of last season but wasn't himself yet.  A complete offseason of rest should return him closer to form that he previously had. If Burnett is unable to assume some of those late-inning situations then Neshek could be the teams next option. His ability to regain some of his velocity will be a critical part of Spring Training. Season Stats (2010)- IP: 9, K: 9, WHIP: 1.010, ERA: 5.00

Jose Mijares: Mijares will continue to be called on as the left-handed specialist.  There could be a few other players fighting for this role with him.  Hopefully there aren't any issues at the beginning of Spring Training like last season (visa issues, weight issues, etc.). Season Stats (2010)- IP: 32.2, K: 28, WHIP: 1.137, ERA: 3.31

Glen Perkins:  Perkins could find himself in a long relief role for the Twins.  If some of the starters falter early in the year, he could make the occasional spot start. One of the issues for Perkins has been his ability to retire left-handed hitters (vs. LH batters .319 BA, vs. RH batters .289 BA).  If the Twins are going to occupy a roster spot with him, it is imperative that this statistics improve. Season Stats (2010)- IP: 21.2, K: 14, WHIP: 1.441, ERA: 5.82

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Minnesota Twins Top Prospects 1-10

Yesterday I started my countdown of the top prospects in the Twins organization with prospects 11-20.  As I mentioned in that post, picking out the top talent in an organization's farm system can be one of the most exciting things for bloggers to do in the offseason.  There can be much debate about the merits of a candidate.  In the end it came down to two prospects for me to chose between.  But who will be number 1?

Today the top 10 are revealed with a few surprises along the way:

10.  Max Kepler, OF-  Another young player in the Twins organization, Kepler is only 17.  A product of Europe, Kepler was able to compile a good batting average (.286) with the Rookie League Twins.  His power numbers weren't there last year but he is only 17 so he has time to develop into his man muscles.

9.  Kyle Waldrop, RHP-  Waldrop has been in the Twins system since 2004 when he was drafted in the 1st round.  He spent all of last season at the the AAA level and pitched in the Arizona Fall League.  That trip to the Fall League was rough for Waldrop but he was still invited to the big league camp at Spring Training.  With lots of question marks in the bullpen, Waldrop has a chance to make an appearance with the Twins in 2011.

8.  Liam Hendriks, RHP- Hendriks is Australian born and has shown remarkable ability at all of the levels he has pitched at.  In 2010 he finished the year at high A ball and he had a minuscule ERA of 1.74 along with a WHIP of 0.837.  It will be interesting to see if he can keep his high level as he continues to make his way through the higher levels of the Twins organization.

7.  Oswald Arcia, OF-  Another teenager in the Twins system that had a promising season in 2010.  Arcia played all of 2010 for the Elizabethton Twins.  During last season he was able to show that rare ability to hit for average (.375) and power (21 Doubles, 7 Triples, and 14 HR).  At 19 years old he will have some time to continue to add more power and increase his skills.

6.  Ben Revere, OF-  Twins fans were given a glimpse of this former 1st round pick at the end of the 2010 season.  He made a few brief appearances with the big league squad as the team wrapped up their Central Division crown.  Revere's 2010 minor league season was quite the roller coaster ride and I wrote about that earlier this season.  He has shown great ability to hit for average and steal bases at the minor league level.  His biggest areas of weakness are his lack of power and his throwing ability.  Revere is an injury or two away from getting significant playing time with the Twins in 2011.

5.  Alex Wimmers, RHP-  The Twins 1st round pick in this past year's draft there is little to go off of for minor league numbers.  He is a control pitcher so that means he throws a lot of strikes.  That strike-throwing ability is what lead the Twins to draft him.  He has three decent pitches (fastball, curve, change-up) that he can throw at any point in the count.  Wimmers could rise very fast in the Twins organization this year and has a chance to make it all the way to AAA this year (much like Kyle Gibson did this past season).

4.  Joe Benson, OF-  The Twins Minor League Player of the Year for the 2010 season will have even more to prove in 2011.  As he has entered his 20's his core power numbers have continued to increase.  He had a rough start to the 2010 campaign but was able to finish strong and even represented the Twins in the Arizona Fall League.  He is an overall great athlete that could fit into the Twins outfield plans as he develops.

3.  Aaron Hicks, OF-  Last years #1 Twins prospect according to Baseball America saw his stock fall a little in 2010.  This fall might have more to do with the high performance of those listed above Hicks than him having a bad season.  2010 saw Hicks in his second year at Beloit.  His average and power continue to improve along with good defense.  I fully expect Hicks to fit into the Twins outfield of the future but that might be a few seasons away still.

2.  Kyle Gibson, RHP-  The Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the 2010 season was able to jump from high A ball at the beginning of year all the way to AAA.  This has left Twins fans wondering how soon it will be until Gibson makes an appearance with the Twins.  He has been invited to Spring Training and will get a chance to prove his worth with the big league squad.  To make the team as they head north, Gibson would have to blow the organization out of the water.  Barring any key injuries to the pitching staff you can expect to see Gibson in mid-summer for a Target Field debut.

1.  Miguel Sano, 3B/SS-  As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I love prospects that have the possibility of being a huge star for a long time.  Sano just completed his first professional season with the Twins and in that time he was able to put up very good numbers.  The thought of what could be for this young player leaves me extremely excited.  There will be a few seasons before he will make an impact on the Twins but that still didn't discourage me from putting him #1 on my list.  His numbers were there last year but the more important thing is that he has the tools that the Twins can work with to make him into an All-Star.

There is my list of the top prospects in the Minnesota Twins organization.

There can always be a debate about who goes where and why.  Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.

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There are many others that have created their own prospect lists and you can find links to their prospect lists below:

Seth Stohs of SethSpeaks.net and the TwinsCentric Crew

John Sickels of Minor League Ball

Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects in the Twins Organization

Other bloggers will be releasing their lists in the coming weeks.  Make sure to check them all out.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Minnesota Twins Top Prospects 11-20

One of the most exciting things for bloggers to do in the offseason is to take a look at the talent that makes up the farm system of their favorite big league club.  This is far from an exact science because there are so many factors to take into account (age, position, level, etc.).

Last week Seth Stohs of SethSpeaks.net released his top 50 prospects in the Twins organization.  I don't pretend to know enough about the Twins farm system to create a list of 50 prospects but I do feel comfortable creating a list of the top 20 prospects in the Twins organization.

The countdown starts today with prospects 11-20 and tomorrow I will release my top 10 Twins prospects.  There can be much debate about all of these young stars.  Leave a comment about any of the players that you see on the list.  

20.  Trevor Plouffe, SS-  There are good odds that Plouffe is never going to be a superstar at the Major League level.  He was the Twins first round pick in 2004 and has compiled decent stats at every level (.254 BA, .707 OPS).  His numbers are far from overwhelming and his strikeout levels are too high.  Plouffe could be a good utility bench player with the Twins and he might be able to fill-in when there are injuries.

19.  Eddie Rosario, OF-  I am a big fan of players that have tools and have the potential to develop into multi-faceted players.  Roasario is only 19 and in his first year with the Gulf Coast League Twins he showed multiple skills.  In only 51 games he stole 22 bases with 26 RBI and a .294 BA.

18.  Dan Osterbrock, LHP- He is the only left-handed pitcher I have in my top 20 prospects so there could be a lot relying on the continued development of Mr. Osterbrock.  He posted a great ERA (2.65) last season between Beloit and Fort Myers.  Every season of his minor league career he has compiled 100+ K's.  In a couple seasons he could be a left-handed option out of the Twins bullpen.

17.  Chris Parmelee, 1B-  Another 1st round pick of the Twins (2006).  Parmelee has been making his way slowly through the Twins farm system.  This coming season will be his 6th in the organization and he could make his first appearance at AAA.  Parmelee did extremely well at Fort Myers last year (.338 BA and .893 OPS).  His power continues to develop.

16.  David Bromberg, RHP-  Made it all the way to AAA by the end of last season.  He will never amount to a front-end starter for the Twins but he could fit another role with the club.  He has had over 100+ K's in each of the last three seasons.  Bromberg has WHIP of 1.292 and gives up 8.2 hits/9-innings.

15.  Jorge Polanco, SS-  A player that fits that mold of a multi-faceted star.  He was only 16 for all of last season with the Gulf Coast League Twins.  The numbers don't jump out at you but for being one of the youngest players in the league he as able to hold his own.  There are a lot of skills still yet to be developed by this rising star but the tools are there to work with.

14.  Billy Bullock, RHP-  A second round pick of the Twins in 2009, Bullock has been making quick work of the Twins farm system.  In both of his seasons with the Twins he has made way through two different levels (2009 Rookie to A, 2010 A+ to AA).  If that rise continues it will be interesting to see how far Bullock will get in 2011.

13.  Angel Morales, OF-  The Twins have a plethora of outfield prospects and Morales has shown that he belongs with this group.  A product of Puerto Rico Morales is entering his 5th season with the Twins and is only 20 years old.  His numbers dropped slightly at Fort Myers in the second half of last year so a strong start to 2011 is imperative.

12.  Adrian Salcedo, RHP- Another teenager in the Twins farm system that comes from foreign soil.  He was only 19 years old last season and climbed his way to Fort Myers.  His stay in Fort Myers was rough (6.26 ERA and 1.829 WHIP) but this could have come from pitching an extra 30 innings over the previous two seasons.  If he starts the season at Fort Myers it will be interesting to see if a rested arm will help him to improve.

11.  Carlos Gutierrez, RHP-  He is one of the Twins invites to Spring Training and has a shot to make the bullpen to start the 2011 season.  He was the Twins 1st round pick in the 2008 Draft and has worked his way to AAA (only 2 games).  My guess would be that he will start the year at AAA but if there are any question marks in the bullpen he could get the call to make his major league debut.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thome's 600th HR Guessing Game

Mt. Crushmore: Some other members of the 600 HR Club (MLB.com)
After an offseason that included one major signing (Tsuyoshi Nishikoa) the Twins ended their weeks of stagnation on Friday with the signing of Jim ThomeThe contract is for 1-year and $3 million with some incentives.

Earlier this week I posted about the connections between Thome's return and the health of Justin Morneau.  Hopefully this signing has little to do with bad thoughts about Morneau's concussion filled past.

I think I am most excited about the possibility of seeing Jim Thome hit his 600th homerun as a member of the Minnesota Twins.  Other future Hall-of-Famers have joined the Twins at the end of their careers and passed some magical milestones.  Dave Winfield saw his 3,000 hit come in the Metrodome in 1993.  In 1996, Paul Molitor collected his 3,000 hit in a late-season game in Kansas City.  Thome only needs 11 homeruns to become the 8th member of the 600-HR Club.

Let the predictions begin.

I hope I can be at the game that Thome cranks his 600th on to Target Plaza, but what game will that be?

What game do you think Thome will hit his 600th homerun?

Manny being Manny in the Twin Cities

Update:  Jim Thome signed a 1-year $3 million contract with the Twins so the Manny plan is out the window.  Talk about a minor heart attack on a Friday.
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Say it ain't so...

Reports have the Twins being one of five team interested in the services of Manny Ramirez for the 2011 season.

Talk about a nightmare waiting to happen.

There would be one positive to this signing.... He would be a right handed bat in a line-up that is full of lefties.

Where should the list of negatives start for him?

1.  Only plays when he wants to
2.  Has been a distraction in almost every city he has played in
3.  Injuries have plagued him in recent memory
4.  His numbers continue to drop

One of my favorite explanations from the Twitter World was made by Karlee Kanz.  She said, "The Twins are yearning to be the Vikings. Wanting/willing to sign a complete doucher".  The Twins, like the Vikings before them, don't need the headaches that come along with a diva that is past his prime.

My major thought would be that the Twins would be a couple of injuries away from an outfield that could include Manny Ramirez, Delmon Young, and Michael Cuddyer.  Talk about holes to hit into for the opposing team.  That could get ugly in a hurry.

I posted this thought on Twitter and here are some of the responses that I got back:  

Dan_Brookens: "Put Kubel out there with them, you'd have a classic beer league slowpitch softball 4-man outfield."

MNTwinsZealot: "Every blade of grass would be a hole."

lecroy24Fan: "poor Cuddy would have to play CF.  Ouch"

Any thoughts on a Manny signing for the Twins?
Leave a comment below.

Some Casual Friday Reading

It's been a busy week here at North Dakota Twins Fan.  Here is a recap of the stories I covered this week.

Monday- 2012 HOF Candidates: Full of Former Twins
Tuesday- How the 18-Game NFL Schedule will impact MLB
Wednesday- Is Pavano overvalued as a free agent?
Thursday- Morneau's Health Connected to Thome's Return

Other's around the Twins Blogosphere have been just as busy.  Check out many of the links below.

~Seth Stohs of SethSpeaks.net has been counting down his top 50 prospects in the Twins organization.  Who is going to be number 1?  The announcement is coming today.

Tune in next week as I will release my top 20 prospects and compare them to some of the lists that other bloggers have released.

~If you are in the mood for some warm thoughts of spring, Jim Crikket of Knuckleballs has been looking at multiple parts of the Spring Training experience for the Twins.  Part 1 and Part 2 were fun to read through.

Last spring I posted some of my guide to traveling to Fort Myers.

~Twinkie Town posted a cool break down of the top 5 Twins Outfielder by Wins Above Replacement.

~PlayStation must have liked Joe Mauer as their spokesman last year because he is back for the cover of MLB: The Show.  You are going to be able to use the PlayStation Move and it's 3D compatible. Check out the new cover and story here.



I'm excited to see what clever advertisement the PlayStation guru's come up with for 2011.  Hopefully it connects back to last year's "Well Played, Mauer" campaign.

~Edward Thoma writes some good stuff over at Baseball Outsider.  Check out his posts from this week.

~Andrew Bryz-Gornia of Off the Mark analyzed the posting process for Japanese players in an interesting post.

~USA Today posted a scouting report on Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

~Bert Blyleven finally met the man that might be solely responsible for his HOF induction.   

~Dave DeLand of the St. Cloud Times discusses a bias against Minnesota athletes and their chances at making the major sports hall-of-fames.

~The new skipper of the Sioux City (South Dakota) Explorers, Stan Cliburn, has ties to the Twins organization.

Enjoy the links and have a great weekend.  I'll be back on Monday with the start of my Twins prospects countdown list.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Morneau's Health Connected to Thome's Return

Phil Mackey reported yesterday that the Twins are "optimistic" that former MVP Justin Morneau will be ready for Spring Training.  He wouldn't normally start baseball-related workouts until the middle of January so there should be more conclusive results at that time.  This can bring a lot of thoughts to the minds of Twins fans.

There has also been news in recent days that Jim Thome is being pursued by the Texas Rangers.  Last season Thome was brought to the Twins to be a part-time DH/pinch hitter.  After the injury of Morneau, Thome's role became much more significant on a team fighting for a playoff spot. 

Many bloggers over the last few days have examined multiple aspects of this topic.  Seth Stohs looked at the free agent options and the in-house options for the Twins.  Nick Nelson looked at the possibility of swapping sluggers with the Texas Rangers.  Jim Crikket posted a help wanted ad for a professional hitter

I see the return of Thome to the Twins being connected to the issue of Morneau's health.  If the Twins have major concerns about Morneau's ability to perform next season, they will continue to push to bring back Thome.  If they feel that Morneau's health isn't going to be a problem, then overpaying for a bat on the bench isn't the best option for the Twins.

There are few different scenario's that could play out if Thome were to return to the Twins.  The health of other players would play a large role in the amount of at-bats that Thome would receive.  Here is a look at the way that these different scenario's could turn out:

Morneau is healthy, Thome as part-time DH/pinch hitter
If Morneau is healthy, I think all Twins fans will have a collective sigh of relief.  That first high and tight pitch on Morneau will defiantly be a disheartening moment.  Twins fans will be able to watch cheerfully as Thome slowly inches closer to the 600-HR club.

Morneau is not healthy, Thome is a full-time DH
This might be the most dreaded situation for Twins fans.  At age 40, Thome has very few seasons left.  The health of Justin Morneau could be a franchise changing event for the Twins.  Fans would be able to see Thome reach the 600-HR club much quicker with him serving as DH in most games.  Gardenhire's dream of more speed would also be slightly diminished with Thome on the basepath. 

An outfielder is injured, Thome is a full-time DH.
The Twins have four outfielders (Delmon Young, Denard Span, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel) for three outfield positions.  If one of those players was injured, Thome would see an increase in playing-time because the DH role would become vacant.  The Twins also have young outfielders in the minor league system (Ben Revere, Aaron Hicks, Joe Benson)  that could get called-up to for a fill-in role.  In that case, Thome's at-bats could stay the same with an outfield injury.

Thome was a great part of the Twins in 2010.  He offered some of the great moments from the first season at Target Field.  It sounds like he was a great influence in the clubhouse and I would love to see him pursue the 600-HR mark as a member of the Twins.

My gut feeling is that he will be elsewhere next season and this can be good news for the Twins.  If Thome is with another club, that could mean that the team has no lingering concerns about Morneau's health.  Thome's return and Morneau's health will continue to backdrops for the rest of the offseason.

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Update:  Early yesterday afternoon Jerry Crasnick tweeted that if the Twins have to go in the opposite direction of Thome that the extra money could be spent on the bullpen or a RH bat for the bench.  Craig Calcaterra says it's plan B but maybe it is a plan that could work in favor of the Twins.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Is Pavano overvalued as a free agent?

Yesterday Aaron Gleeman posted on NBC Hardball Talk the top free agents that are still available.  The sad thing for Twins fans is that out of the top 12 players, four were part of the Twins organization in 2010. The former Twins players include Carl Pavano (#1), Brian Fuentes (#5), Jon Rauch (#10), and Jim Thome (#12).

Earlier this offseason I took a look at the strange journey that Carl Pavano has had over the course of his career.  It has been a roller-coaster ride of emotions that have led many to rank Pavano as the best free agent pitcher available on the open market.

Reports over the last week have Pavano leaning toward coming back to the Twins .  The deal is reportedly for two seasons and there could be an option will be in place for a third season.  Many Twins fans have gotten frustrated over the course of the offseason as other AL Central rivals continue to beef up and the Twins seem to be stagnant.  Twins fans want something to get done and they want it to happen now.

This offseason has been interesting to watch unfold.  The Cliff Lee Saga captured headlines as he spurned the advances of the Yankees and the Rangers to return to the Phillies.  Pavano waited for that deal to be completed so that he could be the target of all of the teams that missed out in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes.  The problem was that none of these teams seemed to be interested.

The Yankees weren't going to bring Pavano back because that would be a PR nightmare.  The Rangers decided to go with a wild card and signed Brandon Webb to a one-year contract.  The teams that are rumored to be interested in Pavano's services for next season are the Twins and the Nationals.  Could there be another team in the mix?

Pavano has certainly taken his time in chosen his home for the next couple of seasons.  This can raise the possibility that Pavano was overvalued as a free agent this offseason.

Let's take a look at the reasons that he could be considered overvalued in this offseason market.

1.  Minimal teams are interested.  As I mentioned before it sounds as if only two teams were interested in Pavano and that number could be one after the recent news that the Nationals have lost interest.  I am sure that Pavano and his agent envisioned a free agent market where there would be at least half a dozen teams competing to have the 'stache in their rotation next season.  That market hasn't developed and it seems that teams have stayed away from Pavano and his search for a three-year contract.

2.  His history of injuries.  From car crashes, elbow surgeries, and hip injuries, Pavano has seen them all.  This could scare a lot of teams away from the right-hander.  The last and only time he had back to back seasons of double digit wins was 2003 and 2004.  Pavano has bounced back and flourished over parts of the last two seasons.  Can he maintain that transformation over the course of a two or three-year contract?

3.  His age.  Pavano is no spry chicken any more.  Over the weekend, he turned 35.  He also has 12 years of wear and tear on his pitching arm.  The list of pitchers that have succeeded in the majors after the age of 35 isn't exceedingly long.  Those that have been successful in the twilight of their careers are usually bound for the Hall-of-Fame.  Needless to say Pavano probably doesn't need to get an acceptance speech ready.

As the offseason progresses I believe that the Pavano-Twins marriage will get done.  The fortunate things for the Twins is that the market seems to have fallen in their favor.  They are going to be able to offer a reasonable contract to Pavano and it might be the only offer that he has on the table.  The value of Pavano seems to have decreased in the recent weeks so expect to see a contract by the end of the week.  That way Pavano can maximize the remaining value that he has left.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

18-Game NFL Schedule impacts MLB

In the world of sports and national media, the king out of all the of the sport's leagues is the National Football League.  It is playoff time for the NFL and that means that ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and blogs across the sports universe are dedicated for the next month to covering the juggernaut that is the NFL postseason.

The NFL and the NFL Player's Union are in the heat of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement.  One of the central focuses of this new agreement is the plan to expand the NFL regular season from it's current 16-game schedule to an 18-game format for the 2012 season.  There are many impacts that this would have for the NFL; but another league, Major League Baseball, would also have to face some changes because of the switch.

The start of the NFL regular season already cuts into the MLB playoffs.  Baseball already has to schedule their games around the NFL's schedule to maximize their ratings.  If the NFL expands to an 18-game schedule the NFL season would be starting weeks earlier.  This could mean that, instead of the NFL interfering with MLB playoffs, the new 18-game schedule would also effect the last week of MLB games.

The last week and a half of the MLB season can be some of the most exciting games of the year.  The pennant races are coming to a close, the Wild Card spots are being fought over, and the playoff picture is coming into focus.  Over the last five seasons the Twins have had three of their pennant races go until the last day of the season and in some cases beyond that point.  Expanding the NFL season could pull even more fans away from America's Pastime.

This season there was already evidence of the NFL being able to trounce MLB when it came head-to-head match-ups.  The Monday Night Football games was the Titans vs. the Jaguars, two teams from small NFL markets that finished out of the playoff picture.  The result of the game a 30-3 trumping by the Titans.  The baseball game pitted the Yankees and the Rangers from two of the largest markets in the US.  The Rangers won the game 2-1 and Cliff Lee had another outstanding playoff appearance.  The NFL still came out on top with a higher rating.

MLB has also looked into expanding their playoffs starting in the 2012 season.  That would mean even more issues as the NFL and MLB would go head-to-head on more than one occasion.  Earlier this year I wrote about some of my solutions to the MLB playoff predicament.  As part of that article I looked at Bill Plaschke's take on fixing the playoffs .  One of his solutions was for baseball to avoid weekend games all together.  That way baseball wouldn't interfere with the college football or professional football.

As a fan I could care less about the ratings.  I am going to watch the baseball playoffs over an NFL game with two bad teams.  In that regard, I know I am in the minority.  The NFL dominates television ratings, sports coverage, and practically runs the world.  The NFL and MLB season will always overlap at some point but as both leagues try to maximize their profits there are going to continue to be butting heads.  My heart is with baseball but I would have to put my money on the NFL to come out on top.

Monday, January 10, 2011

2012 HOF Candidates: Full of Former Twins

As Hall-of-Fame week was concluding last week, I was glancing through ESPN's Hall-of-Fame section of their website and the list of future candidates caught my eye.  The list of first time candidates for the 2012 HOF election includes seven players that have ties to the Twins organization for various amounts of time.  None of these players have a shot at the Hall of Fame but it is fun to peruse their time with the hometown team.

Scott Erickson-  pitched in parts of six seasons with the Minnesota Twins.  He was a key contributor to the 1991 World Series team as he won 20 games that season.  Two years later he would lead the league in losses with 19. He was an All-Star once and finished second in the Cy Young voting in 1991.

Numbers while with the Twins:
Seasons: 6
Record: 61-60
ERA: 4.22
CG (SHO): 14 (7)
K: 527
WHIP: 1.432
WAR: 11.9

Rick Helling- Going into the 2004 season Helling was in line to be the 5th starter for the Minnesota Twins.  In Spring Training a come-backer to the mound broke his leg and he would be released by the Twins later that year.  He never pitched for the club during the regular season.  I own a Rick Helling Twins jersey that some local shops made in anticipation of Helling being a part of the Twins rotation.  I still wear the jersey to games.  It is interesting to hear some of the comments that people make about it.

Matt Lawton- For a player drafted in the 13th round, Lawton had quite the major league career.  During his seven seasons as a member of the Twins he had some flashes of brilliance.  He was an All-Star twice (once with the Twins in 2000).  He brought the Twins through some rough years and was dealt before the team started their run of division championships.  His departure freed up some salary in the outfield and allowed players like Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones to emerge even more.

Numbers while with the Twins:
Seasons: 7
H: 739
HR: 72
RBI: 384
BA: .277
OPS: .808
WAR: 11.8

Terry Mulholland- Mullholland made a lot of stops in his major league career and his stop in the Twin Cities wasn't until the end of his run.  He was part of the 2004 and 2005 Twins.  At the age of 41 he made a playoff appearance for the Twins at the Metrodome.  The Twins lost the game but all of the damage had been done before he entered the game.  His one All-Star appearance was over a decade before the joined the Twins organization.

Numbers while with the Twins: 
Seasons: 2
Record: 5-11
ERA: 4.89
K: 78
WHIP: 1.503
WAR: 0.6

Phil Nevin- was added to the Twins after the trading deadline had passed in the 2006 season.  Nevin was in the twilight of his career and the production was no longer there.  He only played in 16 games for the Twins and was relegated to DH for a majority of those appearances.  The only time he played in a postseason game was with the Twins.  It was a disappointing day as he finished 0-3.

Numbers while with the Twins:
Seasons: 1
H: 8
HR: 1
RBI: 4
BA: .190
OPS: .625
WAR: -0.1

Brad Radke- Of all of the players on this list, Radke is the one that I would like to see get at least one vote in the balloting next season.  The numbers he put up don't merit induction into the Hall-of-Fame but what he did for the the Twins franchise was Hall-of-Fame worthy.  In 1997 the Twins were bad.  The one bright spot on an abysmal team was a young Radke.  The team only won 68 games and Radke managed his only 20 win season.  That is what Radke was to the Twins.  He went out and did what he had to do over 12 seasons.  The results weren't always the best but he did it with great heart.


Numbers while with the Twins:
Seasons: 12
Record: 148-139
ERA: 4.22
CG (SHO): 37 (10)
K: 1467
WHIP: 1.260
WAR: 41.4


Ruben Sierra- Sierra was signed before the beginning of the 2006 season to help the Twins make a push with some veteran players (Tony Batista being another example from '06).  This veteran philosophy for the Twins didn't work as planned and Sierra would be released shortly after the All-Star break.  During his time with the Twins he only managed 33 plate appearances in 14 games.  Needless to say the numbers aren't too compelling.


Numbers while with the Twins:
Seasons: 1
H: 5
HR: 0
RBI: 4
BA: .179
OPS: .487
WAR: -0.3

Friday, January 7, 2011

2011 Hall of Fame Week: Killebrew and Me

It has been an exciting week here at North Dakota Twins Fan as I celebrated Hall-of-Fame week with daily posts on a variety of Hall-of-Fame topics.  On Monday I looked at some of the players that I felt were borderline for making the Hall.  On Tuesday I took a look at the "Steroid Era" sluggers.  For Wednesday I released the ballot that I voted on for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance Hall-of-Fame induction.  Thursday saw me reflecting on the election of former Twin, Bert Blyleven, and looking ahead to the crazy year he will have in 2011.

There has been another Hall-of-Fame Twins player that has been in the headlines over the last week.  Harmon Killebrew, who could be argued as the greatest Twins player, has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.  This battle is going to be a struggle for the former slugger but with the team of doctors that he has he "anticipates a full recovery."

Killebrew, Morneau, and Kubel at
2006 Spring Training
I have been lucky enough to have multiple interactions with Killebrew over the course of my life.  I am too young to have seen Killebrew play but over the last half of a decade I have seen and heard from Killebrew in multiple settings.

The first time that I encountered Mr. Killebrew I was a young college student that was attending my first Twins Fest.  A good friend of mine, Dustin Dimmler, and I were excited to be able to collect as many autographs as we could at this gathering of Twins players.  We were surprised at how short the line was for a player of Killebrew's stature.  We were able to move through the line with incredible ease.

Killebrew getting interviewed
(I'm in the background)
The one story that I remember about that first encounter was the things that he was telling us about his pen.  He had a special pen that he brought with him to sign autographs.  Killebrew has always prided himself on having a very clear and easy to read signature.  There are stories from generations of Twins players that have changed their signature because of the advice of Killebrew.  Two Twins that come to mind in regards to that are Torii Hunter and Bert Blyleven.  

In 2006, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend Twins Spring Training in Ft. Myers, Florida.  Killebrew was also in attendance and on the field with his old #3 on.  It was great to get to Harmon on the field interacting with the players and coaches.  He would stand next to the batting cage and give advice to anyone that would hear it.  And who wouldn't want to take advice from one of the greatest sluggers in the history of the game?

"Definition of a True Twins Fan?"
Me cleaning off Killebrew's shoe
There have been other times that I have crossed paths with the Twins legend.  Other Twins Fest celebrations, the unveiling of his statue on Target Plaza, and another trip to Ft. Myers.  Each one of these encounters has left me with a sense of awe at how nice and genuine of a man he can be.  I still remember turning to my buddy and saying, "The guy standing in front of us (at the time) has more homeruns in the American League than anyone except Babe Ruth."

It has been sad to hear about the heath concerns that are now plaguing Killebrew's later years.  I am thankful for the few interactions that I have had with him over the years.  I look forward to even more interactions in the future.

Get well, Harmon.