Sunday, November 30, 2014

Episode 110: Thanksgiving Hangover Episode

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here, and if you want to add the show to your non-iTunes podcast player, this is the RSS Feed.

This week we keep it short, under and hour, to discuss the new additions to the Twins coaching staff. It's just Jay (The master of underscores) and Paul this week and they both started the podcast a couple of beers in trying to shake the remnants of a Thanksgiving Hangover... a little hair of the dog. Or just a good excuse to drink beers and talk baseball.

Thanks for listening and enjoy our show.

If you enjoy our podcast, please tell your friends about us and take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. By voting for Talk to Contact on iTunes you're helping to ensure the future generation of baseball fans are less educated than their elders.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Episode 109: Life Without the (Pleiss) Twins

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or you can listen here.

On this week's episode, we find ourselves without the creators of the show. While the Pleiss twins frolic around the Pacific northwest in a celebratory stupor. Cody and Jay navigate through a gauntlet of hot stove chatter, 2015 speculation, free agent courtships and all in all manage just fine without the twins.

Thanks for listening and enjoy the show.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How to Fix Aaron Hicks

It's seems like an off-season wouldn't be complete without wondering what the Twins are going to do with Aaron Hicks. He's won the starting center fielder job over with impressive springs over the last two years. However once the regular seasons have started, he's turned back into a pumpkin that has struggled to have an OBP over .293 across 150 big league games.

One thing that seems to have worked in the favor of Hicks was that top prospect Byron Buxton missed almost all of the 2014 season with a variety of injuries. This pushed back Buxton's big league debut for at least a year and it could open the door for Hicks to get another opportunity to win the Opening Day center field job. 

He's still only 25-years old so there is still some hope that he will be able to figure things out at the big league level. Brian Dozier was not thought of as highly as he worked his way through the Twins system and he didn't make his debut until his age 25 season. He didn't breakout until his age 26 season so the Twins have a recent player to make big strides at the MLB level. 

This season could mark one of the last opportunities for Hicks to prove he can be a viable major league option. Fans are frustrated with his lack of performance and the front office has to be getting close to looking the other way. If things don't go great this season, he could end up on another team for the start of the 2016 campaign. 

Here are a few things that could help to fix Mr. Hicks:

1. Capitalize on a full season of working with Tom Brunansky
Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe, and Oswaldo Arcia have all made positive offensive strides under the tutelage of Bruno. Hicks has been back and forth between Minnesota and Rochester over the last couple seasons so it would be nice for him to get a full season to work with Brunansky. As a September call-up last season, he improved his slash-line to .250/.348/.300 with three doubles over 60 at-bats. These are small steps in the right direction but he needs to continue to improve over the course of a full season. 

2. Getting pushed by other outfield options
In my off-season blueprint I released earlier this week, I have the Twins going out and signing a free agent outfielder. For the purposes of the plan, I have the Twins using Hicks in center field and Colby Rasmus in a corner outfield spot. Rasmus only has 10 career starts at a corner outfield spot so this could put some added pressure on Hicks in spring training. Minnesota also wasn't afraid to use other options like Danny Santana in center field. Hicks is going to have to earn his spot on this team but the club needs to see what they can get out of their former first round pick.

3. Bat him nine and let him ride
Throughout his minor league career, Hicks always profiled as a lead-off hitter because of his high on-base percentage and speed on the base paths. Those skills haven't shown up at the MLB level. First year manager Paul Molitor could slide Hicks into the nine spot in the order. This would offer the club the opportunity to have Hicks as a second lead-off hitter especially if he builds off of his September successes. There could be some bumps in the road but I think Molitor has to continue to pencil him into the line-up. Let's see what Hicks can do and ride him out for a full year.

Monday, November 17, 2014

2015 Minnesota Twins Off-Season Blueprint

There are plenty of ways to go about trying to fix the Twins team but some patience might be required as the club waits for some younger pieces to work their way through the minor leagues. The Twins Daily crew put out some solid information in the 2015 Offseason Handbook. One of the best parts to read about this document is the blueprint plans put together by the writers.

There are plenty of options for the Twins but here is how I would go about trying to fix the team. Some of these ideas will happen and some won't but that's what makes this fun.

Starting Line-Up
C- Kurt Suzuki- $6 million
1B- Joe Mauer- $23 million
2B- Brian Dozier- $1 million
3B- Trevor Plouffe- $5 million
SS- Danny Santana- $0.5 million
LF- Colby Rasmus- $12 million
CF- Aaron Hicks- $0.5 million
RF- Oswaldo Arcia- $0.5 million
DH- Kennys Vargas- $0.5 million
-------------------------------------------------
$49.0 million committed to nine hitters

Breakdown: Colby Rasmus is the only free agent acquisition that I have the Twins adding this off-season. He's young at only 28-years old and he could regain some value by signing a one-year, $12 million deal. This would set him up to hit the free agent market again before his age 29 season. The Twins could use him in a corner outfield spot and have him be a center field fill-in. Aaron Hicks earns the Opening Day starting job for the third straight season. Hopefully Paul Molitor can get Hicks back on the right track to being an everyday player in Minnesota. If things go right, Miguel Sano could be up by the middle of the season but this could be a line-up that scores a decent amount of runs after finishing fifth in the AL in runs scored a year ago.

Bench
C- Josmil Pinto- $0.5 million
IF- Eduardo Escobar- $2.0 million
1B/OF- Chris Colabello- $0.5 million
OF-Jordan Schafer- $1.5 million
-------------------------------------------------
$4.5 million committed to four bench positions

Breakdown: Eduardo Escobar proved to be a very valuable asset but I believe his long-term role with the club will be as more of a utility infielder. Jordan Schafer will complement the other outfielders nicely. Josmil Pinto will get some opportunities to catch especially with how much Kurt Suzuki got beat-up last season. Chris Colabello will get one more opportunity to stick on the big league roster but he will be one of the last men to make the 25-man squad.

Starting Pitching
1. Phil Hughes- $8 million
2. Ricky Nolasco- $12 million
3. Kyle Gibson- $0.5 million
4. Alex Meyer- $0.5 million
5. Justin Masterson- $10 million
-------------------------------------------------
$31.0 million committed to starting rotation

Breakdown: The top three spots in the rotation are likely locked into place. These leaves the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation up for grabs. I think the Twins will actually go with Trevor May in the number four spot but I would much rather throw Alex Meyer out there every fifth day. This would also give May the opportunity to pitch out of the bullpen which I think will be his eventual resting spot. Minnesota is going to spend some money on a free agent starter and I think Justin Masterson is the right guy. He's coming off a tough year but he could bounce back nicely in the friendly confines of Target Field. Fingers are crossed that he could be this year's version of Phil Hughes and a one-year, $10 million contract is easy enough to swallow for a team with some wiggle room.

Bullpen
Righties: Casey Fien, Michael Tonkin, Trevor May, Mike Pelfrey- $8 million
Lefties: Caleb Thielbar, Tommy Milone- $4 million
Closer: Glen Perkins- $4 million
-------------------------------------------------
$16 million committed to seven relievers

Breakdown: This is quite a conglomeration of players. I hate having Mike Pelfrey on this team coming out of spring training but the Twins are going to eat his salary at the beginning of the year even if that's what I would do. As I said in the starting pitcher section, May gets moved to the bullpen where he can continue to develop and the Twins can use him in a variety of roles. I don't think the Twins are ready to let Tommy Milone loose after acquiring him at the end of last season. He will get arbitration as a Super 2 player and his salary will be around $3.5 million. Two names you will likely see gone from this list are Brian Duensing and Anthony Swarzak. Duensing is getting too expensive for what his role is with the team and Swarzak gets pushed out by the likes of Milone and Pelfrey.

Minnesota Twins 2015 Checkbook
Starting Line-Up: $49.0 million
Bench Players: $4.5 million
Starting Pitching: $31.0 million
Bullpen: $16 million
-------------------------------------------------
$100.5 million committed to Opening Day 25-man roster

What are your thoughts on this roster? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Episode 108: Mikton Troutshaw Wins the MVP

You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here, and if you want to add the show to your non-iTunes podcast player, this is the RSS Feed.
On the one-hundred and eighth episode of Talk to Contact, the boys were joined by Nick Nelson (@NNelson9) from TwinsDaily to talk about the movement of bloggers from their mothers' basements to the mainstream in the past several years. We also talk about Paul Molitor's coaching staff, and what we think about Gene Glynn at third base and Rudy Hernandez as the assistant hitting coach.

Of course our hosts are drinking beer, and they spend the last segment on the podcast discussing Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw winning the AL and NL MVP awards. We even wonder who would win the MLB MVP award if we had to combine things all into one.

Thanks for listening and enjoy our show.

If you enjoy our podcast, please tell your friends about us and take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. By voting for Talk to Contact on iTunes you're helping to ensure the future generation of baseball fans are less educated than their elders.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Brian Dozier and the Art of Seeing Pitches

The 2014 season was a breakout year for Brian Dozier. He seemed to be maturing as a hitter right before the eyes of Twins fans. He combined power and speed to be the first Twins player in a decade to record a 20 HR-20 steal season. However, there was more behind his season than the numbers that will appear on the back of next year's trading card.

Dozier finished third in all of baseball in the amount of pitches seen in 2014. The only American League player to finish ahead of him was the presumed MVP Mike Trout.  He saw 115 more pitches than the next closest man on the list and Dozier was the only member of the Twins to finish in the top 40 in the entire American League.

Only one other Twins player has finished in the top 10 in pitches seen since 2002. Joe Mauer barely squeaked into the 10th spot in the 2012 season by finishing seven pitches ahead of the Brewers Rickie Weeks. Mauer actually saw more pitches per plate appearance that season (4.32 P/PA) than Dozier did in 2014 (4.18 P/PA).

So what was Dozier able to accomplish with all of these extra pitches?

By seasons end, Dozier had accumulated the third most in walks (89 base on balls) in the American League. He recorded six more walks than Trout who finished ahead of him in pitches seen. Carlos Santana finished one spot behind Dozier in the pitches seen standings but he was able to draw 24 more walks. Jose Bautista finished in 10th place in pitches seen and he drew 104 walks.

All of these extra pitches seen resulted in more walks and Dozier ended up scoring the second most runs in the American League. He was only three runs scored behind Trout and he was 11 ahead of a third place tie between Bautista and Miguel Cabrera.

Many of the extra at-bats Dozier was able to accumulate in 2014 were because of his placement near the top of the Twins batting order. In only five of his 155 games started, he didn't bat out of the lead-off or number two spot in the batting order. It will be interesting to see if new manager Paul Molitor continues to utilize Dozier near the top of the line-up.

It would be great to see Dozier make some strides to increase some of his other offense numbers. He's a career .241 hitter but he got on base over 34% of the time last year. If he can continue to see a ton of pitches, drawing walks and scoring runs, there is no reason to think Dozier won't continue to master the art of seeing pitches.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Episode 107: Paul Molitor

This week the boys discuss Paul Molitor and what his hiring means for the future of the Minnesota Twins. We're also joined by Bill Parker (@Bill_TPA) to talk about the Twins' roster and some potential free agent targets to help fill in the 2015 roster.
As always, we chat about beer, baseball, and the news. I forgot to ask Bill on air what he was drinking, be he assures me it was a Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin', so there's that!

Thanks for listening and enjoy the show.

If you enjoy our podcast, please tell your friends about us and take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews can span the gulf between generations.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Bye-Bye Pinstripes: Twins Changing Home Uniforms

In one of the most surprising pieces of Twins from the off-season, word has slowly trickled out that the Twins will be sporting a new look when it comes to their home uniforms. The first major change to their home uniforms since the 1987 season, the first World Championship year.

According to multiple sources, the team is shedding their pinstripes from their home whites for 2015. The letting will stay the same on the front of the uniforms but the club will add gold as a drop shadow behind the letting. The team's alternate cream heritage jersey will remain unchanged and it does contain pinstripes.

Another uniform change will be the addition of gold trim on the team's cap. There is no word yet if this will be the full time cap or if it will just be an alternative. However, it seems logical that the club would wear the gold trim cap with the gold trim jerseys.
1970's Twins Home Uniforms
In the past, Minnesota has dropped the pinstripes from their jerseys for over a decade. From 1972 through 1986, the Twins sported a non-pinstripe look. After moving from Washington, the Twins wore pinstripes until the switch in the early 1970's. The pinstripes popped back up for the team's 1987 World Series run and they have been with the club every since. In recent years, the Twins had removed the pinstripes from their gray road uniform.

The Twins will announce the official change in a jersey unveiling ceremony next week.

UPDATE: Here's a look at the new uniforms and the new hat. Leave a COMMENT about what you think of the new look.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Signing Torii Hunter Doesn't Make Sense

There are a few items on the Twins off-season checklist. Starting pitching seems to be the Twins biggest priority but the club also has a hole to fill in the outfield. The club likely won't be pushing for any of the big names on the outfield free agent list but that doesn't mean the club couldn't look to add a veteran free agent for this role.

Reports came out at the beginning of this week that the Twins have expressed interest in signing free agent outfielder Torii Hunter. It seems that Hunter's preference would be to return to the Tigers or another squad that will be in contention next season. If none of those teams make him a decent offer, he could be more willing to finish his career back where he started in Minnesota.

Hunter's offensive skills have aged fairly well. Over the last three seasons in Detroit and Los Angeles, he's hit .301/.339/.455 while averaging 17 home runs, 31 doubles, and 86 RBI. While his offense has continued to be strong, his defense in right field took a turn for the worst last season. He's now considered below average in a corner outfield which is a far cry from the Gold Glove caliber defense he played in Minnesota.

It doesn't seem likely for the Twins, a team that has lost at least 92 games in the last four seasons, to be in contention in 2015. Hunter turned 39-years old in July which means he will be 40 after next year's All-Star break. What benefits would there be from having a 19-year veteran on next year's Twins roster?

The Twins are in a rebuilding mode and Hunter's presence on next year's roster would mean lost at-bats for other younger player the Twins could be trialing at the big league level. Hunter would need time in the outfield and at DH which could mean fewer at-bats for the likes of Oswaldo Arcia, Kennys Vargas, and Josmil Pinto. These younger players need to be in the line-up everyday and not fighting for at-bats with an aging veteran.

Hunter's leadership would be a welcome addition to the clubhouse especially under first year manager Paul Molitor. However other players on the Twins roster like Brian Dozier and Glen Perkins have taken on leadership roles over the last couple seasons. The addition of another voice in the clubhouse might be too many voices to listen to for the younger Twins team.

During the beginning of last season, the Twins brought in a variety of different players from their division title years to fight for spots on the roster. Jason Kubel, Matt Guerrier, and Jason Bartlett all made the team out of spring training but none of them made a significant impact during the season. They would all be jettison before the middle of June. Hunter has played better than those players but the Twins don't exactly have a positive track record in bringing in former players.

This team might be taking some bumps and bruises in the early part of the season with a new manager and a younger roster. That's fine because the overall goal is to get back to playing winning baseball. Gaining experience for the young core of talent is what is going to get this team back on the right track.

Hunter will not be part of the next winning team in Minnesota so let's hope the organization doesn't bring him back for a reunion tour.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Challenges Facing Paul Molitor's Managerial Career

Well the wait is finally over. It took the Twins over a month and multiple interviews to finally settle on the man many believed would be the guy for the job from the beginning.

Paul Molitor will be named the 13th manager in Twins history at the beginning of this week. He will also be only the third manager in nearly the last three decades following in the line of Tom Kelly (1986-2001) and Ron Gardenhire (2002-2014). Molitor takes over a Twins team that has lost 92 or more games in each of the last four seasons.

Some fans will be very excited with the hiring of Molitor, the St. Paul native and Hall-of-Fame hitter.The hire won't be seen as much of a surprise but his baseball IQ has been lauded and he will be a new voice at the helm. However, there will be numerous challenges facing during his first managerial tenure.

1. Hiring a Coaching Staff
These will be some of the most interesting decisions to watch at the beginning of Molitor's career. Many familiar names could end up back on Molitor's staff. Tom Brunansky has been considered a very good hitting instructor and this could mean he's kept in the fold. Terry Steinbach also has a likely chances to stick around. It will be interesting to see if Triple-A manager Gene Glynn gets asked to join the staff after being passed over for the managerial job. Frank Viola, a Triple-A pitching coach in the Mets organization, seemed interested in the role with the Twins if he was presented the opportunity. It would also be nice to have a Spanish speaking coach on the roster to help with some of the younger Hispanic players.

2. Tampering Expectations
This isn't going to be a quick turnaround and Molitor isn't going to be a miracle worker. It was rumored that Molitor was offered the opportunity to take over for Gardenhire in July 2013. Even if he had taken over the squad at that time, it's hard to imagine the club winning a ton more games last year. The roster wasn't built to win in 2014 or 2015 so fans are going to have to be patient with Molitor. He's never had a managerial gig so he might have to learn some of the nuances of the job on the fly.

3. Building for the Future
The core of the 2015 Twins will be relatively young and the squad is only going to be getting younger as some of their younger prospects make their way to Target Field. Top prospects Alex Meyer, Miguel Sano, and Byron Buxton could all make their debuts next season with plenty of hype surrounding each of their arrivals. Other young players like Oswaldo Arcia, Danny Santana, and Kennys Vargas made a big impact last season. Molitor has also been given a lot of credit for helping Brian Dozier with the transition to second base and his breakout season on the base paths last year.

4. Pushing the Core Four
Joe Mauer needs to get back to the Joe Mauer of old. Brian Dozier needs to make strides on the defensive side of the ball while continuing to put up strong offensive numbers. Phil Hughes is coming off a record breaking season on the mound and he needs to lead a pitching staff that could contain some younger members. Trevor Plouffe is also coming off his best season at the plate and in the field. Can Molitor continue to help this core four to make strides? Each of these men will be key during Molitor's first couple of seasons as manager.

5. Changing the Coaching Culture
In his first season as a member of the Twins coaching staff, Molitor was in charge of defensive shifts. These types of shifts have started to become common across the baseball universe and the Twins can continue to improve in this area. One of the best frustrating things about Gardenhire was his inability to utilize a platoon system when there were players on the roster who would have greatly benefited from this kind of usage. Molitor has been around the game of baseball for decades but will this mean that we get more of the same old thinking. The hope is that he will be much more open to the changing culture of the game versus the previous regime.