Friday, December 25, 2009

Danny Valencia: Overhyped?

Over the last year, the local writers and even some national writers have been calling Danny Valencia the Twins third baseman of the future. Valencia has hit at every level, and while he's far from an elite defensive player he's good enough to stay at third base long term. He's a solid prospect with a good amount of potential, and he should be a solid starting third baseman in his prime if he continues to develop.

However, fans and writers alike continue to say the the Twins should only sign a third baseman for one year to make sure there's not anyone blocking Valencia when he's ready. I disagree. Valencia isn't ready to start this year, in my opinion, and the team can't go into the season with Nick Punto or Brendan Harris starting at third until Valencia is deemed ready. My preference was for the team to sign Troy Glaus to play third base, and give Valencia some at bats in September, but with Glaus signing with the Braves that's no longer an option.

The Twins have been rumored to be interested in Kevin Kouzmanoff, reportedly offering Glen Perkins for him at the winter meetings. Almost everyone agreed that it would be a steal for the Twins to get Kouzmanoff for simply Perkins, which is also why the Padres needed more. I heard arguments from people that the Twins had no reason to offer more because Kouzmanoff would be blocking Valencia after this season. While I understand the reasoning behind that thought process, I disagree with it.

Valencia is not a sure-thing to make it, and honestly even if he does his highest projection seems to be as a solid starter. If the Twins are able to land an upgrade at third base for this coming season, they need to do it. If that means acquiring a reasonably priced Kevin Kouzmanoff for the next two or three seasons, than by all means do it. If Kouzmanoff struggles, the team can simply non-tender him following this season and give the job to Valencia anyways. The more likely result, however, is that Kouzmanoff would blossom away from Petco Park, and the Twins would have a solid starting third baseman.

It is definitely possible that Valencia plays extremely well in the spring, manages to win the third base job and becomes a better player from day 1 than most people think he's capable of. However, for a team hoping to make some noise in the playoffs they need to find upgrades in as many ways as possible, and relying on a prospect to be a major upgrade could prove to be a major mistake.

With Troy Glaus signing a one-year deal with Atlanta, my preference for a one year stop gap is off the market. I won't be too upset if the team decides to re-sign Joe Crede yet again, assuming they are planning to give Valencia the job when Crede is hurt, but I would prefer to see the team swing a trade for an upgrade or wait out Adrian Beltre's asking price.

Valencia is a solid prospect that appears to be valued too highly by Twins fans and writers. I think he could become a solid player, and obviously I hope he is even better than that, but if my job was to build a World Series contender for the 2010 season, I wouldn't want to know I let Kevin Kouzmanoff or someone similar go because I wanted Danny Valencia to start at third base in 2011.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

For those who celebrate it, Merry Christmas. I'll be back on the 26th with a new post, so be sure to check back. Have a safe and happy holiday!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Orlando Hudson

I've been advocating pretty heavily over the last few weeks that Orlando Hudson is the best target for the Twins this off-season. He's a very good hitter, plays a position of need for the Twins, fits into their lineup well, and best of all he won't cost a draft pick to sign because the Dodgers didn't offer him arbitration. The Twins haven't been connected with Hudson much at all, and he seems like a long shot to be a Twin on opening day, but with Bill Smith always tight-lipped about the organization's plans, anything is possible.

In my off-season wish list, I assumed Carl Pavano was going to leave for free agency, and the Twins could use his $6-$7MM salary for the first season of Orlando Hudson's contract. Pavano accepted though, so the team is a bit more strapped with the budget. However, some creativity would allow the team to still fit Hudson into their payroll while paying Pavano on a 1-year deal.

I fully expect the Twins to re-sign Joe Mauer this off-season, and every prediction I made gave him a raise on this coming season's salary which is currently set for $12.5MM. If the Twins simply make the offer to Mauer a true extension, say 6 years and $125MM, that's ultimately a 7 year, $137.5MM contract when factoring in this coming season. Over those 7 years, Mauer would receive $12.5MM, $18MM, $20MM, $21MM, $21MM, $22MM, $23MM or something along those lines. I had predicted Mauer make $18MM this coming season, but by keeping his current salary at $12.5MM the Twins would have an extra $5.5MM to spend elsewhere.

That money should go directly to Orlando Hudson. Guessing his market value is difficult, but with Placido Polanco getting $6MM a year and Chone Figgins getting $9MM a year, I think an average around $6.5MM would be plenty to get Hudson. With the Twins non-tendering Boof Bonser, who I had projected to make close to $1MM this coming season, they would have close to $6.5MM available.

Hudson is a major upgrade for several reasons. First, and foremost, the Twins won't need to rely on an aging, injury prone third baseman on an incentive-based contract. I wouldn't complain if the team added Troy Glaus, or even Crede again, but only if Hudson and other options end up well out of the Twins price range.

Hudson has posted an OBP (On-base percentage) over .350 in each of the last 4 seasons, going as high as .376 in 2007 with Arizona. His batting average has been solid, although I don't put much weight into batting averages, and his power has been above-average for a second baseman. His defensive reputation is much better than he actually is, as he's won 4 gold gloves in the last 5 years despite being a below average second baseman according to UZR. However, his defense isn't bad enough where it's a liability like it is with Dan Uggla, and his offense more than makes up for it.

FanGraphs has O-Hud's value last year at $13MM, and projects he'll be worth $11.5MM this year. The way their value is determined is a bit complicated, but for comparison's sake Michael Cuddyer was given a value of $8.8MM last year with his exceptional season. Hudson undoubtedly is given more value because he plays second base, and if the Twins are able to get him for 10% more than Placido Polanco signed for that's a major upgrade for the Twins organization.

With Hudson's fantastic ability to get on base, the lineup would be deep and talented for the first time in nearly two decades:

Span
Hudson
Mauer
Morneau
Kubel
Cuddyer
Hardy
Young
Punto

I would prefer an incentive-laden deal for a 3B to get Punto to the bench, but if the team signs Hudson I certainly won't complain about one more year of Nick Punto in the starting lineup. I also would like to see the Twins target Johnny Gomes, who was non-tendered by the Reds, as he's a more productive version of Delmon Young, but I don't expect that to happen.

Bill Smith, just please bring in Orlando Hudson and give this team some buzz going into Spring Training. Re-signing Mauer will undoubtedly get positive publicity and if Smith gets it done he deserves a lot of credit, but upgrading a major position of weakness would be a huge step in the right direction for a team looking to win the division in 162 games this year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NFL Picks

Last week: 8-7

I finally had a positive week again, and despite picking the Bengals on here I actually took the Vikings, so it was a more successful week than the prior two. With an early game tomorrow, I decided I'd just make my NFL Picks now since I won't be monitoring the games all that much after tonight anyways.

On a sad note, I'd hope that you could say a prayer for Chris Henry, who is on Life Support as I write this fighting for his life after a freak accident during a domestic dispute. Here are my picks for this week:

Jags +3 over Colts
Pulling the starters will cost them their undefeated season this week, especially with the Jaguars basically needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Cowboys +7 over Saints
I found it interesting to read that in 2007, when the Pats went 16-0, they were 1-7 against the spread their final 8 games. The Cowboys December woes are well-documented, and the Saints have looked like the best team in football this year, but I expect this game to come down to the last play. I'm pulling for a Dallas win, but I'll take a cover as well.

Chiefs -1.5 over Browns
Dwayne Bowe returns just in time to help lead the Chiefs over the Browns in a shootout among two bad, bad teams.

Pats -7 over Bills
Randy Moss is going to shut up a lot of his critics this week, and he's going to anger his fantasy owners that lost last week because of his performance only to watch him go for 150 yards and 2 TDs in the snow.

Cards -12 over Detroit
48-3 against a solid Baltimore team? I think Arizona is better, and while the game probably won't be that lopsided, Arizona should cruise pretty easily here.

Eagles -8 over 49ers
Philly's offense is simply too hard to stop. I think the 49ers defensive backs will get burned all night and the Eagles will win by double digits in a game that's really never close.

Bears +11 over Ravens
I doubt Chicago wins this game, but I think Cutler has a game in him where he makes nothing but good decisions and keeps a game close. I'll guess that's this week against a Ravens team that may be soft after coming off a blowout win against the Lions.

And the rest...

Bengals +6.5 over Chargers
Broncos -14 over Raiders
Seahawks -6.5 over Bucs
Steelers -2 over Packers
Vikings -9 over Panthers
Giants -3 over Redskins

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pavano Accepts, Changes Off-Season

Last week, hours before the deadline for players to accept or decline their arbitration offers, Carl Pavano realized the most money he would likely get would be to simply accept the Twins offer. A lot of people were very pleased with this, as Pavano was far better than his 5+ ERA suggests, but I'm a bit less happy with the move.

I would have rather seen the Twins fill out the rotation with one of the Liriano/Duensing/Swarzak/Perkins group, and spend the $7 MM+ on a second base upgrade. Pavano made close to $4.5 MM last year, and will certainly get a raise this season. $7 MM seems like a solid, educated guess and that's almost exactly the first year salary I had predicted for Orlando Hudson. Unless the Twins are willing to move their payroll close to $100 MM, which needless to say won't be happening.

Pavano likely will be the team's #3 starter next year, and he certainly is a safer, more sure starter than any of the Perkins/Liriano/Swarzak/Duensing group. The rotation likely will be Baker, Slowey, Pavano, Blackburn and one of the other group. Now, I understand why the team preferred Pavano accept, rather than using the money on a second baseman. Pitchers are important, and depth in your staff is vital over the long season. Adding a veteran like Pavano, who was healthy all of last season, makes sense. The problem I have is that Rich Harden signed for $6.5 MM guaranteed, with $3.5 MM in incentives and an $11 MM mutual option next season. That's a steal for Texas, and I wish the Twins had been more involved.

Harden will only make $10 MM if he stays healthy and pitches well, so the Twins could have had a potential ace on what is ultimately a one year, $10 MM deal. Keep in mind, up until this past season, Pavano had spent most of the past five seasons battling several injuries, and finally was able to stay healthy. Why can't Harden do the same? He made 25 starts in 2008 and 26 starts last season, and if he finally remains healthy that number could surpass 30 next season.

I would have preferred Hudson over Pavano, because the upgrade is more significant at second base over Casilla/Harris (with Punto set to play 3B for now). Pavano should be an upgrade over the three left overs from the previous group, but the difference likely won't be as large as some people believe. If Pavano gets hurt, the Twins ultimately wasted the money without much potential for a great reward. Despite the upgrade Hudson provided, though, I preferred Harden over almost any realistic free agent possibility for Minnesota.

Harden would have been a risk, but with the potential to be a true number one starter his addition would have given the team a good opportunity to compete in the playoffs. I'm certainly not going to rule out the Twins chances in a short series against anyone, because the percentages simply aren't that dominating for any one team, but Harden would have had the potential to give the Twins a very good 1-2 punch with a deep, solid 3-4-5.

I don't blame Bill Smith for this. Offering arbitration was the right move, and for all I know Smith was planning on signing Harden if Pavano declined arbitration. Unfortunately, Harden signed prior to the arbitration deadline and Pavano was unable to find a multi-year deal to his liking so he stayed in Minnesota.

Of course, if Bill Smith truly wanted to bring in an upgrade at second base, preferably Hudson, he still could squeeze Hudson's contract into the projected $93 MM payroll I had fairly easily. Make the Mauer contract a true extension, which means Mauer's $12.5 MM salary remains for this season, rather than the $18MM I had projected. That would give the team $5.5MM more, and they could either trade Crain and/or Perkins or simply move the payroll up about $1MM and have a much improved lineup.

I'm fine with the Pavano move, I just believe the Twins missed out on a golden opportunity to land the one pitcher they should have been going after hard in Harden. If Smith can find a way to bring in an upgrade at second base, and even a potential starter at third base, the Pavano move won't be a mistake at all. Tomorrow, I'll discuss why adding a third baseman certainly isn't a problem in relation to Danny Valencia.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What Might Have Been

Admittedly, I don't write about the Timberwolves very much here. That's not because I'm not a fan, but rather because I understand most sports fans simply don't care for the Wolves. The fact that they have been one of the worst two teams in the NBA this year certainly doesn't help their case, but I was informed of some information that made me extremely depressed.

My 'source' was someone who did indeed work for the Wolves prior to the draft, but was let go immediately following it. This information is important because if it was someone still inside the Wolves building, I would feel they were lying to look better... but this guy was let go so he would have every reason to spread bad things about the organization, not the information he told me.

It goes back to the night of the draft, when the Wolves selected Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with picks #5 and 6. Surprisingly, the Wolves apparently were set on two completely different players at those spots, and were convinced they were going to get them. Who, you ask?

Kahn and his staff apparently expected the draft to go Griffin, Thabeet, Harden, Rubio, which meant the Wolves wouldn't have a chance at landing Rubio. Kahn was enamored with Tyreke Evans, and apparently the Wolves had him rated #3 on their board behind Rubio (who, yes, was #1) and Blake Griffin. That's not much of a secret, as many Wolves fans expected one of those picks to be Evans if he was around.

The surprising information came when my source told me the Wolves had Brandon Jennings ranked #5, behind Harden but ahead of Thabeet. Rubio/Griffin/Evans/Harden/Jennings/Thabeet were their top six. Now, Kahn had expected Rubio/Griffin/Harden/Thabeet to be gone, which would have left the Wolves with Jennings and Evans at #5 and #6.

So why did the Wolves end up with Flynn instead? As has been rumored for awhile, the Wolves had agreed to trade #6 and #18 to Sacramento for #4 which was Tyreke Evans, but only if James Johnson was on the board at #18. Kahn had Flynn rated 7th, and he felt Evans was so special that it was worth taking the risk that Johnson would be around. Of course, Johnson wasn't around, Sacramento didn't want anyone else with Flynn, and the Wolves ultimately were "stuck" with him.

Kahn has talked Flynn up to be a special player, but my source insists that's just talk in the media. Obviously Kahn isn't going to come out and say he wanted Jennings over Flynn because that doesn't do anyone any good, but that's the truth of the matter.

Can you imagine how much of a slam dunk Kahn's first draft would have been had things fallen as he expected? An Evans/Jennings backcourt would be sensational right now, and combined with Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, that team might actually have been a surprise contender for one of the last playoff spots in the West. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and for the first time in my life getting inside information actually made me more depressed than I was before I heard it.

The silver lining, of course, is that Kahn had targeted arguably the two best rookies this yaer, and things just didn't fall his way. I was surprised to find out Rubio was #1, although I agree with it, simply because it felt like everyone was so high on Blake Griffin. Kahn has called Rubio a 'franchise-altering' type talent, and he's called Flynn 'special.' He's being honest with Rubio, and he's talking Flynn up incase he needs to trade him this off-season, in the event the Wolves win the lottery finally and end up with John Wall. If they don't, then Flynn remains the point guard of the foreseeable future.

Just thought that'd be interesting to the 75 Wolves fans in the country.

Friday, December 11, 2009

NFL Picks

With the Steelers losing again tonight, I'm again starting the week 0-1 as I chose them to foolishly cover a 10 point spread. I made the prediction on Twitter, and if you'd like to follow me the link is to the right of this post. Here are my picks for this weekend:

Texans -6.5 over Seahawks
Bengals +6.5 over Vikings
Colts -7 over Broncos
Bucs +3 over Jets
Chiefs -1 over Bills
Packers -3 over Bears
Ravens -13.5 over Lions
Dolphins +3 over Jaguars
Patriots -13.5 over Panthers
**Falcons -10.5 over Saints
Redskins -1 over Raiders
Chargers +3 over Cowboys
Eagles +1 over Giants
Cards -3.5 over 49ers

**If Matt Ryan plays, I'll be taking the Falcons. If he doesn't, I think the Saints will cover easily.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tigers, Yanks, Dbacks Agree to Blockbuster

As I'm sure you've heard by now, yesterday the Tigers, Yankees and Diamondbacks agreed to a 3-team trade that will almost certainly be the biggest trade of the off-season, unless the Blue Jays move Roy Halladay. I've read some of the instant reactions from some great writers, but I don't agree with the sentiment.

Most writers feel the Yankees made the best deal, the Tigers made a decent deal, and the Diamondbacks got fleeced. One thing I do agree with is that the Diamondbacks made a terrible trade, as it makes little sense to move Scherzer AND Schlereth for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy. I think the Tigers emerged the big winner in this trade, with the Yankees unlikely to be happy with this trade in a few years.

I love Curtis Granderson for baseball. He's a stand up guy, does as much or more for his community than any player in baseball, and he comes off as someone who's smart and 'gets it' in interviews. I really like him, and his loss is a big one for the city of Detroit. However, his production over the last few years has slipped considerably. He's still a better than average center fielder, and he should produce enough to make his contract still a bargain. That said, his defense really isn't as fantastic as it once was, as he posted just a 1.6 UZR last year, after a -9.4 the year before. From 2005-2007, Granderson was a very good defensive player, and while his improvement from 2008 to 2009 is good, his defense is hardly a positive.

His ability to play center field, even just average, is big though. The Yankees did upgrade from Melky Cabrera/Brett Gardner to Granderson, so it's certainly an upgrade. However, I expect Austin Jackson to be a more productive player than Granderson in the near future, and I think he could put up similar offensive production next season that Granderson did this past season. Let me clear: I don't think Jackson is going to hit 30 home runs, or even 20 for that matter. I could see a .270/.335/.405 season next year from Jackson, which isn't much worse than Granderson's .249/.327/.453 line last year.

I do need to mention that Granderson's production next year is going to be a lot better. I don't believe he's going to suddenly revert to 2007 form, but rather playing 81 games at Yankees stadium and 162 games in that lineup are undoubtedly going to improve his numbers. However, the Tigers had to project Granderson's numbers in their lineup, and clearly they believed Jackson is a potential capable replacement. I do believe he's going to be a better player than Granderson in 2-3 years, at the most.

Swapping Edwin Jackson for Phil Coke, Daniel Schlereth and Max Scherzer is a huge get for the Tigers as well. Despite Jackson and Scherzer's misleading ERA totals, Scherzer was a more productive pitcher when healthy than Jackson last year. Of course, if Scherzer can't stay healthy then this is a poor trade for Detroit, which Arizona might be counting on.

While the immediate reaction is that Detroit got worse with this trade today, I don't agree. I expect Schlereth to be a big part of the Tigers bullpen immediately, and when paired with Ryan Perry gives the Tigers two very young, very talented relievers. Coke will be used somewhere on the staff, although it's not quite sure if that'll be as a starter or reliever.

I still think the Twins are the favorites to win the division, but this trade made Detroit better, not worse. Their immediate future looks slightly improved, while their long-term future is much brighter than it was at this time 24-hours ago.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sponsored Post: Review of the Week

Trying to maintain more of a set schedule to grow this blog, I've decided every Tuesday I'll review a product I've used and enjoyed, and give you guys a link to the item on Amazon. If you'd rather not read about a random product for that week, I'll make sure the sponsored post is ALWAYS on Tuesday's so those of you that don't want to see it or read about it can simply skip over it.

For the first product, I thought I'd recommend a very nice Christmas present for your little baseball or softball player. First, though, a little background. I spent fifteen years playing competitive baseball, traveling around the country with different teams playing in tournaments that I will never forget. Unfortunately, I never was able to grow past 5'8, and after receiving unofficial letters from North Carolina and Notre Dame as a Sophomore, I was forced to choose from several D-3 schools by my senior year. I settled on Hamline, disliked the school, transferred out and subsequently quit baseball. I missed the game though, so this past summer I decided to coach a 15-year-old team where I grew up, and I really enjoyed it.

I gave you that background because it's imperative as a parent that you help your child improve their skills in what they are interested in. My dad spent hours at a time with my in the Backyard, not because he wanted me to play D-1 baseball, but because he knew I loved playing baseball. If your son or daughter loves it, getting them something that they can use on their own, when you're at work or not in the mood, is beyond important.

Because of that, I'm suggesting for my first product the JUGS Instant Screen. It's a net that your son or daughter can use to hit off a tee on their own, or to take soft toss from someone else. I had a net like this when I was younger, and as I got to higher levels these nets were used everyday in practice. If you're from a cold-weather state, especially Minnesota, these nets are what I call Winter-Savers. You can put this net up anywhere in an open room, or even in a Garage.

Here's the link, for your convenience. It's a bit pricey at $125, but with the durability, it should last a minimum of 5 years and that's if it is used tirelessly day after day. The JUGS Net I have at home is still in fantastic shape, and I got it over 10 years ago.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Off-Season Dream

I've been saying for a while I expected the Twins payroll to stay around the $80-$85 million mark, but with the Winter Meetings beginning soon I've gotten a little hopeful. I'm now projecting a budget closer to $95 million. Here's what I would like to see the Twins do this off-season:

Avoid Jarrod Washburn. He seems like someone the Twins may actually target, but I'm really hoping they don't. My best guess is Washburn gets something like 2 years, $17 million or 3 years, $25 million in a very weak starters market. That's simply too much money to pay for the guy.

He was great in Seattle, and it's easy to point to his knee injuries being a problem for him in Detroit, but quite frankly the reason he was so successful in Seattle was because of the big power alleys and exceptional outfield defense they had. The Mariners outfield, of Gutierrez, Ichiro and Endy Chavez was among the greatest defensive outfields to EVER play for one team. Seems crazy, but the statistics don't lie.

Washburn is a very fly ball heavy pitcher, and the Twins defensive outfield this year is going to be BAD. Even Span, who has graded out as a very good defensive RF, has been below average to awful in Center Field. Of course, the sample size is small, so the hope is he'll improve his numbers and will be an above average defensive center fielder. Unfortunately, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer in LF and RF is probably the worst corner outfield combination in the league. They won't be able to cover any ground, and a lot of the fly balls Washburn gives up will fall for doubles or triples rather than outs like they did most of last season. That was a major negative in the Gomez trade... many of the Twins pitchers are fly ball heavy, and giving away an elite defensive center fielder will hurt. Hardy was a very good pickup, and Gardy wasn't going to play Gomez anyways, so I'm fine with the move, just explaining why it's not a slam dunk.

As far as what I expect/hope the Twins do... (Some are hopes, some seem like virtual locks)

- Pavano declines arbitration and signs elsewhere
- Morales wins the backup C job in Spring Training
- Use Jason Pridie as the 4th OF
- Mauer resigned for 6 years, $115 million with a $25 million vesting option based on Games Played for a 7th year, making the potential deal 7 years, $140 million.
- Sign Orlando Hudson for 3 years, $20 million. ($6.25, $6.75, $7 mil)
- Wait out the market, if Troy Glaus remains unsigned much like Crede was last year offer him a 1 year, incentive based contract just like Crede's last year.

That would give the Twins:
C: Mauer ($18), Morales ($0.4)
IF: Morneau ($14), Hudson ($6.25, Hardy ($5.75), Glaus ($4), Harris ($0.6), Punto ($4)
OF: Cuddyer ($8.5), Span ($0.4), Young ($1.5), Kubel ($4.1), Pridie ($0.4)
SP: Baker ($3), Slowey ($0.44), Perkins ($0.43), Duensing ($0.4), Blackburn ($0.44) 72.3
RP: Liriano ($0.7), Neshek ($0.8), Crain ($2.2), Rauch ($2.9), Guerrier ($2.75), Mijares ($0.4)
CL: Nathan ($11.25)

Duensing/Perkins and Liriano could also be switched if Liriano starts to show signs of recovering again. Swarzak would start the year in AAA, and Bonser would be dealt/non-tendered. The payroll with this roster would be about $93.5 million. Certainly a bit high for the Twins, but with a new stadium opening up they have discussed having a payroll over $90 million. They've come close to $90 million before, and with the team close to competing, looking to keep Mauer long term and opening a new stadium, $93.5 million or so seems like a solid payroll.

Span
Hudson
Mauer
Morneau
Kubel
Cuddyer
Glaus
Hardy
Young

That lineup would be among the best in baseball, and with Punto and Harris on the bench even the bench would be decently solid. Punto's best position has always been a super utility player, and with Glaus aging and injury prone, Punto would still get plenty of at bats and starts.

The bullpen would be a big strength, and if one of Duensing/Perkins/Liriano/Swarzak can be a solid contributor, the team would be very good. They'd need two of those four to start, but if they can have one of them be above average and one below average, the other 3 starters in the rotation should have no problems carrying the staff.

It's likely a pipe dream that the Twins do in fact sign Hudson AND Glaus, sending Punto to the bench, but oh well. With just one of those two signed, the Twins payroll likely will fall under $90 million and the lineup would still be very, very good. I'd prefer Hudson to Glaus, simply because he fits in better in the #2 slot.

Friday, December 4, 2009

NFL Picks

I almost forgot to post my picks for this week... but here they are, without much (if any) explanations. Last week was probably my worst week since I began picking games, which of course coincided perfectly with the first week I decided to publish my picks.

For Thursday's game I decided to take Buffalo +3, which means I'm already 0-1 for the week. Not a great start, to say the least.

Last Week: 3-11

Picks this week:

Denver -5
Oakland +14.5
Texans 0
Patriots -4
Bucs +5.5
Rams +9.5
Titans +6.5
Cincy -13
Saints -9.5
Eagles -5.5
Chargers -13.5
49ers 0
Dallas -2.5
Minnesota -3
Baltimore +3

Twins Offer Pavano Arbitration

I'll admit, when the Twins decided to trade Yohan Pino for Carl Pavano I was a bit skeptical. Sure, Pavano was an upgrade over what the team was using due to injuries, but the Twins were 6 or 7 games back at the time and it seemed like they certainly weren't going to catch the Tigers. Pino was worthy of a look, and his minor league track record seemed to point to the possibility of him emerging as a back-of-the-rotation starter. Factor that in with the six years the Twins could have controlled him, it seemed like yet another mistake by Bill Smith.

Obviously, Pavano pitched well down the stretch and the Twins caught the Tigers and managed to squeak into the playoffs after one of the most memorable games in baseball history. The fact that Pavano qualified as a Type B free agent made the trade even better, assuming the Twins offered arbitration.

Hours before the deadline on Tuesday the Twins did just that. If Pavano signs with another team, the Twins will land a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds of next June's amateur draft. If the team can use that pick correctly, it's very likely that the prospect will be better over the long term than Yohan Pino. That makes the deal a clear win for Minnesota.

Even if Pavano accepts arbitration, which seems like a long shot, the Twins will have a solid veteran starter for somewhere between $7-$10 million for one season. I would prefer Pavano sign with another team because I'd prefer to see the Twins make a run at Rich Harden, but I certainly won't complain if Pavano is the veteran starting pitcher this coming season.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tiger Getting a Pass?

Originally, I was going to write what I wrote about Tiger a few days ago and let that be it. I never expected Woods to admit to cheating without actually admitting it, much like Mark McGwire did years ago in front of Congress. I was so surprised that many columnists were basically saying Tiger did the right thing today, mainly because many of those same columnists were willing to demonize Mark McGwire for, in my opinion, a similar situation.

I posed this question on Twitter, wondering why Tiger was basically getting a pass while McGwire is constantly ridiculed for it. A few people suggested the situations were different, because McGwire's decision likely was the main reason he became the player he was. Had McGwire not taken Steroids, he likely never would have been the hitter he was seemed to be the point that some were making. That is a very good point, and certainly when people look back at McGwire's career the first thing that will come to mind will be his steroid use. I fully expect by the time Tiger retires, this affair will not be anywhere close to the first thing people remember about his career.

That said, I like to think of myself as someone who stands for principles. I lean a certain way for politics, like most people, but I try to judge a President or another politician by what I agree with not his party. I feel McGwire denying to give details or even admit steroid use, therefore creating guilt in the public eye, is no different than what Tiger did today. Woods has refused to meet with the media, canceled interviews with police, and has given his fans and peers two weak statements on his website. In today's statement, he admitted to 'making mistakes' and apologized for his 'transgressions' but never came right out and said he had an affair claiming he deserved privacy like any citizen.

Look, I have no problem with Woods not being willing to discuss what he likely considers the greatest mistake of his life. Of course, Woods has become a billionaire because of the general public. While he's a great golfer, his endorsements are the reason he is richer beyond anyone's wildest dreams, so it seems a bit unfair of him to suddenly now ask for privacy, although I likely would be doing the same thing in his shoes.

Since I mentioned earlier that I try to believe in principles, it's worth noting I've never cared that McGwire refused to discuss his steroid use. I feel the same way about Tiger, although infidelity is certainly a worse deed than using steroids in my opinion. Unfortunately, the people that make a career writing for sports don't seem to share the same view on principles, because if they did they either would have understood why McGwire wouldn't discuss it, or they'd be demonizing Woods like they did McGwire all those years ago.

If anything, Tiger has shown us that he is, indeed, in the same discussion as Michael Jordan for the greatest athlete ever. I only say this because Jordan has been, for most of his career and even more so after his career ended, a prick. He does what he wants, when he wants, and there are millions of people across the country that refuse to believe it. The media has played a major part in it, but Jordan's Hall-of-Fame speech was a look into the man that refuses to thank anyone and always feels slighted.

Tiger is a far better person than Michael Jordan, in my opinion, but cheating on your wife shows a major character flaw that should give Tiger some negative publicity. I'll admit, I don't read gossip websites, and chose not to read the Tiger story on any of the regular news outlets like MSNBC or FoxNews, because I've gotten enough of the story from my regular sports websites. Therefore, when I criticize writers for giving Tiger a pass, it is only sports writers. Others may be giving him a pass as well, but the ones that chastized McGwire have no business giving Tiger a pass. That they are is proof that Woods is capable of doing almost anything and maintaining his position as arguably the most famous athlete in the history of sports.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

AI, Tiger, Weis

It's been a strange week or two in sports, to say the least. Allen Iverson retired, unretired, and now isn't sure what he's doing. Tiger Woods hit a fire hydrant, and a tree, but wasn't drunk. The rumors about what actually happened make far more sense than the original story, in my opinion. Charlie Weis was fired early Monday, which isn't surprising at all. Very odd time period for sports, and despite writing mostly about Minnesota sports each of these topics is deserving of some notes. For those of you who only read this for Minnesota sports stuff, or even just Twins opinions, come back on Wednesday and I promise it will be Minnesota related. I'll combine all the random sports stories into one post so you guys can skip over it no problem if you wish.

- I have no idea why the 76ers haven't signed Allen Iverson yet. He's certainly not the star he used to be, and his ego is going to force any team that signs him to instantly make him the starting SG. That said, AI is a legend in Philly, and it's not like they're going to contend for a playoff spot this season anyways as they sit at 5-12. Making Iverson the starting SG likely would improve the team slightly this season, simply because their guard play to this point has been terrible. The biggest reason AI should already be in Philly is because of the fan interest he will instantly bring with him.

Look at the Timberwolves. Imagine they're still this bad in three seasons, and KG's not attracting any interest and is hardly an impact player anymore. Wouldn't you be begging the front office to sign him? Iverson is to Philly what KG will always be to Minnesota. A legend that grew up and developed before one team's fans. AI would make the 76ers a story again, even if for only a few weeks, but they would finally get back on the national scene. They have nothing to lose, and it's ridiculous he hasn't been signed yet.

- Tiger Woods, you need to say something. The longer he remains silent, besides that weak message on his website, the more I believe the gossip rumors from TMZ.com. When I first heard Tiger hit a fire hyrdrant and tree while backing out of his driveway, but alcohol wasn't involved, something didn't seem right. There's 14 year old kids that take out their parents cars in the middle of the night and can back the car out of the driveway without hitting something, so it seemed ridiculous that a focused Tiger Woods would simply back into a fire hydrant. When it was reported that Tiger actually crashed because his wife was pulling a Johnny Drama on his car, that story made far more sense and explained why Tiger would have hit a fire hydrant.

Tiger, you're the greatest golfer in the history of the sport, and you've spent a great deal of time avoiding any off the field (course?) issues. This is a minor hiccup, and while it's embarrassing, you need to clarify what happened. You've made millions and millions of dollars because you are in the public eye, and like it or not your private life is always going to be in the public eye as well. If your wife went crazy, tell us.

Of course, if you're actually cheating on your wife, most of the public won't forgive you, and you should continue to stay silent. The longer you remain silent, the more likely it seems that you were/are indeed cheating on your wife, and she absolutely went crazy and smashed your car.

- Charlie Weis is out as coach at Notre Dame. I thought it was a strange hire at the time, but after going 19-6 with mostly Ty Willingham's recruits and then bringing in consistent top 10 recruiting classes, it looked like Notre Dame had nailed the hire. Weis' failed to develop many of his top recruits, though, and they lost a lot of close games which led to his firing. I fully expect Notre Dame to go after Urban Meyer, and with Tim Tebow graduating, I think it's at least a possibility. I know Meyer said he has no interest, but if Notre Dame offers a 75% pay increase, it's going to be pretty tough for him to say no. Brian Kelly likely will be the backup hire, but I don't think he'd be a great hire at this point either. Mark my words, if Brian Kelly is the hire at Notre Dame, he's going to spend the next 3-5 seasons struggling as well. They need to hire a big name coach to get Notre Dame back on the map.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The JJ Hardy/Carlos Gomez Swap

Like most Twins fans, I was pretty happy with Bill Smith's decision to send Carlos Gomez to the Brewers for JJ Hardy. If Hardy bounces back to even 80% of his 2008 season, he's a major upgrade at shortstop for a team that hasn't had a quality season from a shortstop in over five years.

Unlike most Twins fan, I'm a big Carlos Gomez fan. His defense is sensational, and with an extremely fly-ball heavy staff, his defense was far more valuable than the casual fan (or the manager, for that matter) realizes. Since arriving in Minnesota, Delmon Young has been incorrectly labeled the future star while Gomez was always considered the project. Over the last two seasons, Young has been 30 runs below replacement level. That takes into account both his offense and defense, and being a mediocre offensive player with terrible defense over the last two seasons will lead to that terrible number.

What the casual fan doesn't seem to realize is that, as bad as Gomez has looked at the plate the last two seasons, he's been 30 runs better than a replacement level center fielder. Over the last two seasons, Gomez has been FIFTY runs better than Delmon Young. Of course, the Brewers undoubtedly valued Carlos Gomez extremely high and likely wanted nothing to do with Young.

Despite my original excitement about the deal, as more time passes I'm getting more and more worried. First, and foremost, it's Bill Smith making the trade and his track record with transactions has been terrible to this point. Second, as reports emerge about what Milwaukee was offered from other teams and what they countered with, it's very clear they value Gomez extremely high. Over the last few weeks reports have emerged that the Brewers reportedly passed on Matt Capps or Ryan Doumit from Pittsburgh, top prospect Michael Bowden from Boston, and they requested either Adam Lind or Travis Snider from Toronto.

Is it possible that for the second time in 3 years, a deal that looks good on paper for the Twins is a huge mistake? Smith was able to convince the local fan base two off-seasons ago that Matt Garza was a huge headcase and needed a change of scenery, Jason Bartlett was an error-prone shortstop and Delmon Young was the next big superstar in the league. Needless to say, that deal has become one of the worst trades in the last decade, and regardless of the rest of Smith's tenure, he likely will always be remembered for that colossal mistake.

On the other hand, Brewers GM Doug Melvin has proven to be a good judge of talent. Milwaukee traded Matt LaPorta two seasons ago to land CC Sabathia, and it was widely considered a win-win trade. LaPorta was expected to rise to stardom as soon as this season, but he struggled in his slight major league time. Obviously it's worth noting that LaPorta is still young and is hardly a bust at this point, but if his short stint in the big leagues showed anything it's that he likely will never become the impact, middle of the order hitter everyone thought he would. In my opinion, LaPorta will become a poor man's Adam Dunn. Think a better version of Jack Cust.

My biggest concern with this trade is that Hardy continues to struggle next season, and ultimately the Twins decide it's not worth paying Hardy upwards of $6 million in 2011 and non-tender him. That would mean they've given up on Gomez for a poor season of JJ Hardy. That also means the team is locked into Delmon Young, which after next season I hope people will finally realize he arrived here with way too much hype, and he likely will never come close to living up to it. I fully expect Young to be basically the same player he's been the past two seasons, and his biggest fans will continue to point to his hot streaks as proof he's finally breaking out.

I'm still cautiously optimistic that Bill Smith can finally get the upper hand on an off-season trade and am hoping JJ Hardy can become a big part of the 2010 and 2011 Twins teams. That said, I do believe Carlos Gomez is going to emerge as a top 10 center fielder in the near future, and I fully expect the Brewers pitching staff to be much improved with Gomez replacing an aging Mike Cameron in center field.

Just remember, when you're watching Gomez almost nightly on Baseball Tonight that the Twins once again gave up a young promising player away to fill what appeared to be a need. Hopefully, unlike the Delmon Young trade, JJ Hardy will come over and produce making the loss of Gomez far less painful.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pete Rose: Hall of Famer

This was a paper I wrote for an English class... certainly nice to get to choose our own topics.

To this day, Pete Rose has the most hits in Major League Baseball History. Only two players in the history of Major League Baseball have finished their careers with 4,000 hits. Those two players are Ty Cobb, who is in the Hall of Fame and currently second on the all-time hit list, and Pete Rose. Despite this incredible record, since 1986, baseball has banned Rose from even being considered for baseball’s Hall of Fame. While Rose was managing, after he had retired, he committed what is considered to be the cardinal sin of America’s pastime: betting on baseball. Rule 21 in the MLB Rule Book is lengthy and verbose but essentially states anyone affiliated with any Major League Baseball team is forbidden from betting on baseball, with the punishment resulting in a lifetime ban from the game. This rule is misguided and oftentimes misinterpreted, which has kept Rose from being enshrined into the Hall of Fame. Major League Baseball is acting hypocritically in its interpretation, as are the sports writers who vote for the Hall of Fame nominees. The Hall of Fame includes multiple admitted rule-breakers such as Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford. Rose was caught betting on baseball during his managing career, not his playing career by which he should be remembered. Rose is a Hall-of-Fame caliber player, not a Hall-of-Fame caliber manager. Major League Baseball is committing an injustice not allowing this former marquee player into its Hall of Fame.

Pete Rose finished his playing career with 4,256 hits, the most in Major League Baseball history. He finished his managing career with a slightly above average record of 412-373. Rose committed his offense as a manager and was banned from baseball for life because of it. However, his accomplishments prior to the ban are important and should be a serious part of the conversation. While Rose does admit to betting on his team while managing, he is adamant that he never bet against it and there is no proof to suggest otherwise. In an interview with ESPN’s Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann (both now of NBC), Rose said, "I bet on my team to win every night because I love my team, I believe in my team. I did everything in my power every night to win that game." No one has disputed these claims. Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame for what he achieved as a player, not a manager. He bet as a manager, he hit as a player.

Pitchers Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford both currently have plaques in the Hall of Fame. However, both admitted to breaking MLB rules during their playing careers. In 1920, baseball banned any doctoring of the baseball, as it gave an unfair advantage to the pitcher. Throughout his career and prior to his 1967 retirement it was widely known that Ford doctored the ball in order to gain a competitive advantage. Following the 1963 World Series, in which Ford’s Yankees were swept in four games by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ford was quoted as saying, according to ESPN, "I used enough mud to build a dam.” He was referring to using mud to doctor the baseball. Ford was the starting pitcher in games one and four.

Perry retired following the 1983 season, yet in a 1977 interview with Newsweek, Perry was quoted as saying "Greaseball, greaseball, greaseball, that's all I throw him [Rod Carew], and he still hits them. He's the only player in baseball who consistently hits my grease. He sees the ball so well, I guess he can pick out the dry side." Perry was clearly referring to his famous Vaseline ball, in which he would put Vaseline from inside his jersey that he had placed on his chest all over the ball. Both of these pitchers had very successful playing careers and sports writers voted both into the Hall of Fame. However, both admitted to cheating while still playing, yet Pete Rose isn’t allowed into the Hall of Fame for breaking a rule of the same caliber while he was managing. As long as Major League Baseball celebrates certain cheaters and bans others, it will be an organization marred by hypocrisy.

There are those who believe what Rose did does not compare to what Perry and Ford did. They claim a much fairer comparison is that of one ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson. Jackson was the star player on the notorious 1919 Chicago Black Sox team that willingly threw the World Series in exchange for payment from Arnold Rothstein. Eight of the nine starting players accepted the payment, including Jackson. The heavily favored White Sox lost the best-of-nine series five games to three. Despite Jackson’s denials of throwing the Series, the league banned him from baseball during his prime, although he likely would have been a Hall of Famer. Those who believe Rose doesn’t belong argue this as an example that the principle of the two crimes is ultimately the same. Both bet on their teams, and both were banned from baseball.

However, there are critical differences between the two players and situations. First, Rose bet on his team to win while Jackson accepted a cash payment to ensure his team lost the World Series. Also, Jackson committed the offense in the middle of his career, and therefore was unable to increase his statistics. Therefore, Jackson’s career numbers don’t provide a legitimate case for Hall of Fame consideration. Pete Rose finished his playing career outright with nearly 2,500 more hits than Shoeless Joe did. Although both broke the same general rule, common sense dictates that is where the similarities between the offenses end. Additionally the issue is clearly more complicated and not black and white.

Over his 24-year playing career, Pete Rose earned a spot in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, he is being kept out for an offense he committed during his managing career. Clearly the Hall of Fame does not deal in moral absolutes when it allows the plaques of Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford to be prominently placed in the Hall of Fame with no mention of their offenses. It is unfair and duplicitous to leave Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame. Like all inductees, he deserves to be honored for his extraordinary accomplishments during his playing career and not remembered for the mistakes he made after his retirement.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

NFL Picks

Sorry for being away for a few weeks. I had a post all planned for the Twins shortstop options, but when they acquired JJ Hardy (which would have been my #1 option) that sort of ruined that idea. I'll be back to posting routinely from now on, so keep checking back.

With 3 games on Thursday, here are my NFL Picks for the week. I do reserve the right to change these picks as some injury information becomes available later in the week. The home team is in caps, with the spread in parenthesis.

DETROIT (+10.5) over Green Bay

On paper, the Packers look poised to dismantle the Lions on Thursday. Matt Stafford likely won't play, and even if he does, his 5 TD performance last week was due more so to the Browns terrible defense than Stafford suddenly growing up. I like Stafford a lot, and I do believe he's going to be a very good QB for a team that has needed one for quite some time.

That said, I have a hunch the Packers are going to struggle for most of the game. Despite me wanting to cheer for Detroit, I simply believe the Lions will manage to keep this a one possession game throughout the game. At least that's what I'm banking on. If Stafford indeed doesn't play, hopefully Culpepper has some magic left in that right arm. Watching the Packers lose to Detroit would make my Thanksgiving perfect.

Final Score: Green Bay 23, Detroit 15

Oakland (+13.5) over DALLAS

This seems like too high of a spread for a team that has scored 7 points in the last two weeks. Oakland's pass defense is deceptively good, with Asomugha being the best corner in the World. I think Dallas will win, but would not be surprised at all if Oakland pulls off another surprising upset. Romo has looked terrible the last few weeks, Miles Austin has disappeared after his stretch of breakout games, and Jason Witten is going to be a game-time decision. Bruce Gradkowski hardly gives me confidence, but sadly he's a better option than former #1 overall pick Jamarcus Russell.

Final Score: Dallas 27, Oakland 17

New York Giants (-7.5) over DENVER

This was the toughest game of the week for me to choose. Before the year started, I felt Denver would be better than people expected, but I certainly didn't expect them to start 6-0. Being 6-4 at this point in the season is about what I expected, which I'm sure many people will doubt, but it's the truth. This is a game with two struggling teams, which makes it very tough to pick.

Denver's defense has had trouble stopping the run, and I think this week is the week Brandon Jacobs finally erupts for 100 yards and 3 touchdowns. With Bradshaw likely out, that makes Jacobs that much more important, and the Giants seem poised to give him the ball and let him run it down the Broncos throats. Neither team seems destined for greatness after such promising starts, but this should be the most intriguing game of the three Thanksgiving Day games.

Final Score: New York Giants 34, Denver 20

HOUSTON (+3.5) over Indianapolis

The Colts have managed to escape four consecutive weeks with victories, and in at least three of those games they probably deserved to lose. That shows how valuable Peyton Manning is to that team, and honestly as long as he's playing I'll never feel safe about betting against him.

With the Texans still in the AFC Wild Card race, this is arguably the biggest game in Franchise history. I think Matt Schaub is going to have a sensational day, and he'll carry the Texans to an upset over the undefeated Colts. With Steve Slaton apparently getting back into the starting lineup, he should help the Texans passing game, and hopefully this week they give him more than 5 carries. Chris Brown looked terrible against the Titans, which made it that much more surprising that Ryan Moats was basically forgotten. If the coaching decisions are better this week, I expect the Colts to suffer their first loss of the season.

Final Score: Houston 37, Indianapolis 31

CINCINNATI (-14) over Cleveland

With or without Cedric Benson, the Bengals should dominate this game. The Browns are terrible, plain and simple, and their coaching is a major problem. I expect to see Brady Quinn throwing 95% of his passes shorter than 10 yards yet again this week against a real NFL defense, and the Browns will again have trouble scoring any points.

Final Score: Cincinnati 34, Cleveland 6

PHILADELPHIA (-9) over Washington

Washington is at home, and coming off a hard fought game against the Cowboys, which kept this game's spread under 10. I don't buy it, as I think the Eagles are going to embarrass the Redskins and become the frontrunners for one of the final NFC playoff spots. Without Portis or Betts the Redskins likely will have trouble scoring points just like they did last week, which makes a 9 point cover virtually guaranteed for the Eagles.

Final Score: Philadelphia 27, Washington 10

Miami (-3) over BUFFALO

T.O. played well last week, but there's no way I'm backing Ryan Fitzgerald and the Bills against a Dolphins team that seems destined to compete for an AFC Wild Card spot all season. I expect Ricky Williams to continue his fantasy dominance, and be the focal point of the Dolphins offense yet again, leading the Dolphins to a surprisingly close win.

Final Score: Miami 24, Buffalo 16

Seattle (-3) over ST. LOUIS

Marc Bulger's hurt yet again, and as bad as Seattle looked last week, they're offense excels against weak teams. With a win already over the Rams this year, I think the Seahawks will again have their way with arguably the league's worst team. Without Bulger, Seattle should probably just keep 10 guys in the box and use their lone remaining defender to cover the Rams 3 receivers, because Steven Jackson is going to need close to 50 touches this week if the Rams are going to move the ball at all.

Final Score: Seattle 31, St. Louis 9

ATLANTA (-12) over Tampa Bay

Matt Ryan has been frustratingly inconsistent this season, which makes me a bit worried to take Atlanta by double digits even at home. The Bucs have shown a willingness the last few weeks to fight on every play, and for that reason I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see Tampa Bay keep this close. However, even if Michael Turner is injured this week, the Falcons offense should play well enough to put quite a few points on the board.

Final Score: Atlanta 24, Tampa Bay 10

Carolina (+3) over NEW YORK JETS

Mark Sanchez seems lost, and while I don't think the Jets should bench him, I don't see anyway they're covering the spread against a talented defense like the Panthers. Carolina has underachieved quite a bit this season, especially on defense, but with the potential there and a QB making terrible decisions playing against them for once rather than for them, I expect Carolina to win this game rather easily. DeAngelo Williams is having a great season, and I feel fairly confident in him carrying the offense.

Final Score: Carolina 28, New York Jets 17

Jacksonville (+3) over SAN FRANCISCO

Another tough game to choose. Both teams have played inconsistent for most of the season, so all I did here was take the team with the best player in the game. If Jack Del Rio can finally get MJD more than 15 touches, Jacksonville should run away with the game. I think Del Rio finally figures it out and gives MJD 25 touches and he comes through with a huge game, leading the Jaguars to a double digits victory over the favored 49ers.

Final Score: Jacksonville 30, San Francisco 16

SAN DIEGO (-13.5) over Kansas City

Kansas City looked very good last week in upsetting Pittsburgh, but that was more Pittsburgh allowing them to hang around and then Big Ben getting hurt than Kansas City playing exceptionally well. San Diego is playing arguably the best football of any team in the league right now, and I think Philip Rivers will continue to carry the offense this week. Look for a rather easy cover, as I think San Diego crushes Kansas City.

Final Score: San Diego 38, Kansas City 13

MINNESOTA (-10.5) over Chicago

When the Vikings were 4-0 and the Bears were 3-1, a buddy of mine who is a Bears fan bet me $100 the Bears would finish with a better record than the Vikings. I agreed to the bet, and ever since then the Bears have looked terrible. This game means little in that bet, or for the division for that matter, but I expect the Vikings to cruise. Cutler should be forced into a lot of quick decision making with the great Vikings D-Line, and that usually results in plenty of turnovers for the "Franchise QB." Yes, I put those in quotes because I think a more appropriate term for Cutler with what the Bears gave up is "Franchise killing QB."

Final Score: Minnesota 41, Chicago 17

New England (+3) over NEW ORLEANS

I don't expect the game to come down to 4th and 2 with 2 minutes to go, but if it does, I'm guessing Belichick will go for it again, if for no reason other than to prove to his critics he does what he believes is best for his football team. I think the Patriots will have their way with a very talented Saints team, though, and I expect Tom Brady to have his way with a defense that to this point has been the biggest overachieving defense in recent memory.

Final Score: New England 38, New Orleans 30

Friday, November 6, 2009

Finding a Shortstop: Free Agents

Ever since allowing Cristian Guzman leave via Free Agency years ago, the Twins have been trying to fill the void at shortstop. Needless to say, they've been unsuccessful in replacing Guzman, and he was hardly a superstar player over his time here. Outside of his outstanding all-star season, he was slightly above average, but that's such a major upgrade over what the Twins have thrown out there over the last 5 years it makes Guzman look like Derek Jeter.

After Nick Punto turned in a solid performance following the 2008 season, the Twins decided to sign him as their shortstop rather than give a contract to older, declining veterans such as Orlando Cabrera and Omar Vizquel. Punto unfortunately regressed to his 2007 form, struggling for most of the season, before the Twins decided to acquire Orlando Cabrera from the Athletics.

Cabrera was an interesting player. He hit just .237/.268/.361 over the first 43 games, but thanks to his ridiculous late season hot streak he finished at .289/.313/.430, which was slightly above average offensively this season. Of course, his defense took a major nosedive, as he was terrible using any defensive metric, which is expected of a soon to be 35-year-old shortstop.

Personally, I'd rather not see the Twins re-sign Cabrera, because I don't think he's going to be average next season when factoring both offense and defense. The shortstop market is undoubtedly bare, but here are some of the realistic options, with today's piece focusing on the Free Agents and Monday's focusing on the potential trades.

Free Agents:

Orlando Cabrera
Omar Vizquel
Marco Scutaro
Khalil Greene
Adam Everett
Jack Wilson

We've already discussed Cabrera above, but there are some intriguing names on that list.

Vizquel is going to be 43 years old when the season starts, but as a part time player last year in Texas he was still elite defensively. His offense was rather poor, as he hit just .266/.316/.345, but UZR put his defense at 32.6 runs above average per 150 games, a fantastic number. FanGraphs said he was worth $5.2 million last season, despite his terrible offensive line, and his outstanding defense makes him an average shortstop. Vizquel certainly is simply a 1-year option, but if the Twins decide to go the veteran route yet again, they could do much worse than Vizquel.

Everett and Wilson are elite defensive shorstops who don't offer much with the bat, although Wilson has shown more potential to hit over the years. Everett already failed in one stint with the Twins, so he seems like a long shot at best, but Wilson may be a solid option if the Mariners decide to buy him out rather than pay him $8.4 million next season. Wilson had a worse offensive year than Vizquel, hitting .255/.292/.362 between Pittsburgh and Seattle last year, but is only 2 years removed from a .296/.350/.440 line. Of course, Wilson has struggled each of the past 2 seasons, so it'd be foolish to expect him to return to his 2007 form, although it's worth noting he has produced at a high level before. His defense has remained very good, as he was nearly 21 runs above average last year per 150 games. Wilson likely will require more than 1 year commitment though, and I'd expect something like 3 years $14 million to be the number he agrees to. That's simply too much money for his production.

Khalil Greene is a potential buy low candidate. Greene struggled for the most part this year after leaving San Diego, and dealt with an anxiety disorder of some sort, and I'm not sure if he's close to coming back from that. Greene was a solid offensive shortstop during his time in San Diego, and many people expected him to have a breakout season for the Cardinals this year after leaving the pitcher friendly confines of Petco Park. Unfortunately, his offense has been terrible the past two seasons, and despite being a consistent highlight reel type player at shortstop, his range is not a plus. He's been a below average defender each of the last 4 seasons, and has only been slightly above average in 2 of his 7 seasons. Calling Greene a "buy-low" candidate may be an extreme understatement, as his production since 2007 has been Delmon Young like.

Scutaro had a very productive season in a contract year, but he seems likely to land a very favorable contract. He's the best shortstop in a very weak market, his .282/.379/.409 line shows that, but his defense at shortstop was below average and he's been a utility player for most of his career before enjoying this breakout season. Add in the fact that he's a Type A free agent, meaning he'd cost the Twins their first round draft pick if they signed him, and it seems like an obvious decision not to target Scutaro.

Based strictly on the free agent options, I would prefer the Twins sign Omar Vizquel for one season. His offense leaves a lot to be desired, but he's at least a solid role player who has shown he's fine splitting time and is an excellent defender. He would provide the veteran, clubhouse presence the Twins seem to value so highly, and if Punto continued to hit like he did last season the Twins would at least have an elite defensive shortstop rather than a slightly above average one.

Based on the potential free agents, including ones I left out, who would you prefer they sign? Or would you rather just stay the course and give Punto the job again? Discuss in the comments!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Second Base Solution

I was originally planning on writing this for Wednesday's piece, but with the news on Tuesday that Akinori Iwamura was on his way out of Tampa Bay alot of speculation seemed to be around the Twins acquiring him. Therefore I waited until I knew where he was going, because if the Twins did indeed acquire him they would have no need to find a second baseman. Unfortunately, the speculation was incorrect as Iwamura was sent packing to Pittsburgh for a run-of-the-mill middle reliever, and it appears the Twins again missed out on a golden opportunity to upgrade one of their biggest weaknesses without giving up a lot of value.

That said, I think the Twins apparent unwillingness to acquire Iwamura is the clearest sign yet that the Twins payroll will be closer to $80 million than the $90-$100 million some people are projecting. If the team indeed was willing to move their payroll into the mid 90-millions, adding Iwamura's $5 million salary for 1-year wouldn't be a big deal. However, with a payroll closer to $82 million, that $5 million could potentially net them a 3B on an incentive-laden deal and an older, slightly less productive 2B than Iwamura. Is that possible? I was going to breakdown the 2B Options, but Aaron Gleeman did that a few days ago with literally exactly the same players I planned on breaking down. He also described them in much more detail than I could have, so if for some reason you are reading this but don't read AG, follow the link to see the potential 2B upgrades the Twins should be going after. Of course, Iwamura is out of the picture now.

Tomorrow, I'll look at the potential shortstop upgrades, with a few different ideas than Gleeman had on his blog today. Check back tomorrow, feel free to post your opinions on how to upgrade 2B in the comments.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Filling the Hot Corner

During the trading deadline, many sportswriters wrote about teams asking the Twins for 3B prospect Danny Valencia, with the Twins immediately telling those teams they weren't trading Valencia. This led to many of the same sportswriters declaring Valencia as the '3B of the future' (probably true) and the 'odds on favorite to win the job for the start of the 2010 season' (unlikely). I have to admit, after the Twins refusal to trade Valencia for Freddy Sanchez, according to reports, I also assumed the plan was for Valencia to be the team's starter at the Hot Corner next season.

Unfortunately, that seems very unlikely. The Twins refused to promote Valencia in September, even with Joe Crede seemingly out for the season. The Twins instead gave most of the at-bats to Matt Tolbert, who hit surprisingly well during his September starts, but his career numbers make him a light hitting, borderline major league utility player, certainly not a starting caliber 3B.

If the Twins were going to give Valencia every chance to win the job this Spring, I believe they would have at least given him a few at bats with the big league club during September. I realize the team didn't do that with Joe Mauer, but he was blocked at the time by a healthy and very good AJ Pierzysnki. Mauer almost certainly wouldn't have gotten more than a few at bats, so it was understandable that the team didn't want to rush their future. However, as mentioned above, the Twins passed over Valencia for a utility player.

I do believe the team is high on Valencia, I just don't think they see him as being the Opening Day starter. A mid-season call up seems much more likely, and if Valencia becomes a solid contributor over the next few years delaying his arbitration clock by a few months will in fact allow the Twins to control him for an extra season, so it might not be all bad. That said, the team does need to find a starting caliber 3B this off-season, because Tolbert is not a starting caliber player and likely shouldn't even be on the roster at all.

With Joe Crede entering the market again, coming off a productive yet injury plagued season, it seems entirely possible that the Twins will wait out the market yet again and try to sign Crede or another buy low candidate to an incentive based contract. Here are the free agent 3B that I believe would be starting caliber:

Chone Figgins
Mark DeRosa
Joe Crede
Adrian Beltre
Troy Glaus
Miguel Tejada?
Pedro Feliz?

Tejada seems willing to move to third, but many people believe he'd only do it to stay in Houston, so he seems very unlikely to be available as a 3B upgrade for the Twins.

Feliz has a $5 million team option that the Phillies seem likely to exercise, but if they don't he could be a potential bargain for the Twins.

Those are the only players I see as potential starters this off-season. Melvin Mora, Juan Uribe and Adam Kennedy are all free agents as well, but I don'see any of them having a good enough season next year to warrant what they'll likely get paid.

Figgins is undoubtedly out of the Twins price range, and while he would be a perfect fit in the #2 hole, he's likely going to be extremely overpaid and for too long. I think DeRosa is a possibility for the Twins, but I expect him to match or exceed the 3 years $18 million Casey Blake signed for last year. That's too many years for a guy that will be 35 when the season starts, which is unfortunate because DeRosa's versatility would extremely valuable for the Twins.

Crede, Beltre and Glaus seem to be the kind of player the Twins will target. All have injury concerns, and are coming off disappointing seasons for different reasons. Personally, I'd rank them as Beltre, Crede, Glaus--in that order-- and I think Beltre will get someone to commit to him for at least two seasons. That seems too long for the Twins, especially with Valencia likely ready by mid-season. Crede seems like the ideal player this year, even more so than last year, because if he gets hurt the Twins can simply promote Valencia and allow him to fill in during Crede's injuries. Of course, Crede was productive when healthy last season and a team may be willing to pay him enough on a 1-year contract to keep him out of the Twins price range.

Glaus likely will end up signing a 1-year incentive based deal, and if Crede and Beltre are given contracts too rich for the Twins, I'd have no problem with a Glaus signing. That's also assuming the Phillies pick up Feliz's option, or he is priced out of the Twins range as well.

After playing in just 14 games last season Glaus likely won't garner a ton of interest on the open market, but he's only one year removed from a .270/.372/.483 line in which he hit 27 bombs and knocked in 99. If the Twins can get even a .250/.350/.450 season from him he'd be a major upgrade in their lineup. It's very possible that his brief appearance last year is a sign of things to come, but with only 14 games played it's hard to know for sure. In my opinion, the most likely 3B next season for the Twins is Joe Crede, but if the Twins decide to settle on a different buy low candidate, Glaus could prove to be the bargain of the off-season.

*If anyone is curious, Glaus projects as a Type B free agent, meaning the Twins wouldn't lose a draft pick to sign him. I got that information from MLB Trade Rumors and Eddie Bajek*

Friday, October 30, 2009

Solving the Outfield Log Jam

After acquiring Carlos Gomez as the Center Fielder of the Future in the Johan Santana trade, because Denard Span looked like a bust, and trading Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for their Left Fielder of the Future in Delmon Young, the team seemed set. Two years later, Denard Span has become the only consistently productive outfielder of the three. With Michael Cuddyer coming off the most productive season of his career, the Twins need to decide if Young or Gomez is going to be that consistent 3rd outfielder.

For his career, Gomez has been a terrible hitter, oftentimes looking lost both at the plate and on the bases. He has outstanding speed, but this season seemed to get away from bunting. He's not a great bunter by any means, but his speed allows him to cover up less than stellar bunts and turn them into base hits. He's a career .246/.292/.346 hitter, which is admittedly terrible. However, Gomez's value comes from his elite defense. He's been one of the league's elite defensive center fielders over the last two years, and if he was able to even improve his offense next season by 10% he'd be a valuable member of the lineup. Of course, with what he's shown up to this point in his career, it seems more than generous to expect Gomez to improve at all as he's looked lost for long stretches of time.

Young, on the other hand, was acquired as the next great young hitter in baseball. Some writers foolishly called him the next Frank Robinson, and the Twins misguidedly had Delmon film a local TV commercial with some of the greatest Twins hitters in franchise history. With all the elevated expectations, it likely would have been nearly impossible for Young to meet them, but he's been incredibly awful in his first two seasons in Minnesota. Young is a career .290/.322/.416 hitter, which makes his career numbers about 15% higher than Gomez's over their young careers. According to several different defensive statistics, however, Young is among the league's worst defensive players (not just left fielders) and he was the American League's worst left fielder on the offensive side of the ball for anyone with over 360 at bats as well.

Those in favor of giving Gomez the Center Field job and moving Span to Left Field will point to Gomez's defense as their main reason, and the fact that Delmon Young is hardly a starting caliber player only helps their argument.

Those in favor of giving Young the Left Field job and keeping Span in Center will point to how lost Gomez has looked at the plate and his mental mistakes. Also, they would argue it isn't fair to compare Gomez to other Center Fielders and Young to other Left Fielders because the decision comes down to Gomez or Young in the outfield, so it's more than fair to compare their production against one another.

Personally, I want to see the Twins either trade Delmon Young if they can get something that helps the team next season, or just use him off the bench and occasionally at DH against lefties. I think the defense Gomez provides, improving both left field and center field by moving Span to left, is far more valuable than the slightly better offense Young will provide. Young has had flashes where he appears to be breaking out, but every time he has eventually regressed back to the Young we've seen for the better part of two seasons.

If the Brewers want Delmon Young and Glen Perkins for JJ Hardy, I'd do it in a heartbeat. I don't think that's enough for Hardy, and honestly don't have any idea what Young's trade value would be after back-to-back subpar seasons, but if he has any value left the Twins need to maximize that this off-season.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What To Do: Joe Nathan Edition

Prior to the ALDS starting, I planned to write that the Twins may in fact seriously consider trading Joe Nathan this off-season. I expected that viewpoint to be surprising to many, but by choosing to wait until the season was over to start my off-season discussions, I noticed many other writers felt the same way. Opinions vary on what the team should indeed do with Nathan, although lately people seem more willing to trade him because of what happened in Game 2.

The decision is a tough one. The Twins expected payroll next year, without a 3B or SS, is about $75 million as of now. Admittedly, I don't know what the Twins budget is for next season, but I think the highest it would increase to is $82 million, and that seems a bit generous even with Target Field opening. Regardless, the team needs to find a SS and 3B, and should find an upgrade at 2B, with only about $5-$7 million to work with. I'll get into the creative ways to fill those holes another day, but in my opinion it would benefit the Twins more to trade Joe Nathan this off-season.

His value should be extremely high, as he's been one of the best two closers in baseball over the past 5 years, and he was his usual dominating self again this season. From a financial standpoint, a team like the Twins can't afford to use 1/7 of their payroll on someone who is only going to pitch about 70 innings. Nathan is among the best in the business at what he does, but it is not a sound financial decision to pay Nathan the kind of money he's owed.

Nathan will turn 35 in November, and he's owed $11.25 million in 2010, and the same amount in 2011. The Twins then have a $12.5 million club option with a $2 million buyout for the 2012 season. Yes, I understand the market for closers is about what Nathan is making, so he's not overpaid compared to the position. However, teams have proven several times over the years they can turn set up men into closers without much of a problem. The Padres traded for Heath Bell, and inserted him into their closer role and he excelled. Heck, even Joe Nathan was acquired as a little-known reliever before becoming a dominating closer. While teams certainly make mistakes when they try to find bargain bin closers as well, small and mid-market teams need to consistently find them. The Twins can't afford to pay Joe Nathan the kind of money he's owed if they want to fill other, more glaring needs.

Let's try to compile a list of teams that need a closer and could potentially contend next season, leaving out the AL Central for obvious reasons:

Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Philadelphia Phillies
Chicago Cubs

The Angels were a bit of stretch at first glance, but with Fuentes struggling quite a bit this year and no clear in-house replacement, I thought they might be interested. They've shown in the past they are willing to bench high paid players for upgrades (Gary Matthews Jr) so it didn't seem like a big stretch after thinking about it. That said, I doubt they would give up the kind of package other teams might.

The Rays seem extremely unlikely with their payroll issues, and they likely can't afford to give up enough young talent to make the deal work anyways. That leaves Toronto, Seattle, Philly and the Cubs as potential suitors.

I don't see Toronto considering themselves contenders in a loaded AL East next season, so I'm going to consider them out as well. The Twins may prefer to keep Nathan out of the AL altogether, but Seattle may be able to put together an enticing package so they need to be considered.

My first assumption was that if Nathan was available, he'd end up in Philly. They are the most World Series ready team, and their biggest weakness all season long was at closer. I think the Twins would almost certainly have to take Brad Lidge back in any trade, as he likely wouldn't be very happy being moved to a set up role and his struggles this season in Philly seem to suggest he needs a change of scenery. Unfortunately, Lidge is owed more money over the next 3 years than Nathan, so that's not a trade that would make sense for Minnesota. If the Phillies were willing to pay Lidge that money to be a set up guy, or if they found a high payroll team willing to acquire him, than Nathan to Philly makes the most sense.

The Cubs and Mariners financial situations are also a bit confusing, so it's tough to find any absolute suitors for Nathan if the team makes him available. Of course, if we are to assume the Phillies, Cubs and Mariners can all afford him, that's more than enough interested parties to create a small bidding war for his services. If Bill Smith doesn't overplay his hand, ala the Santana trade, the Twins could end up with a few very good young prospects and possibly a major league ready reliever. No, I don't think the Twins could get Ryan Madson or Carlos Marmol in a deal with the Phillies or Cubs, and personally I wouldn't want Brandon Morrow in a deal with Seattle. I would hope the Twins scouts could find a talented reliever ready to break out, like they did with Nathan in 2003.

If they do decide to trade Nathan, and there's no indications they are even thinking about it, it will be a tricky situation for sure. However, Smith needs to do everything he can to maximize Nathan's value before he breaks down, and this off-season seems like his best chance to do that. Of course, I'd suggest getting Mauer to ink a contract extension before trading Nathan. Even if it's the right decision for the team, I doubt Mauer will agree with trading the league's best closer for prospects. Unfortunately, as the GM of the team, Smith needs to make the tough decisions, even if they aren't popular with the players. Hopefully, he can make the right decisions for the first time in three years.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Easy Decisions

With the Twins season over, that means their off-season is officially underway. They have a few weeks before they need to make decisions on player options, offer arbitration to free agents and arbitration eligible players, and to decide to tender contracts to certain young players. Luckily, today, Bill Smith can sit back, and hopefully find several easy decisions that can be made rather soon. In my opinion, here are the no-brainer, easy decisions for Smith going into this off-season:

- Let Mike Redmond leave via free agency
- Pick up Jon Rauch's $2.9 million club option
- Non-tender Bobby Keppel

Those seemed to me to be the only obvious easy decisions for Bill Smith. Of course, I doubt they non-tender Keppel and let him become a free agent. Keppel had a poor season, and finding a long relief guy is not difficult. There will be several relievers passing through waivers, plenty of capable relievers available in the Rule V Draft, and the team has plenty of young starters that could use the experience pitching in mop up situations. The team could even decide to use Liriano in that role until he's capable of pitching in more important situations. All of these reasons should be crystal clear to Bill Smith, and even if Gardy wants to keep Keppel, Smith needs to explain to him how easy it would be to find similar production, and even more likely that the team can find an upgrade for the same price.

Mike Redmond had a great run here as a backup catcher behind Mauer, but it's pretty clear his career is coming to an end. If he wants to continue playing, the Twins can't offer him a contract. Morales is the better catcher at this point in their careers, and Redmond is likely going to get twice the money Morales will. I think the Twins should offer Redmond a coaching position, or a clubhouse job, if he wants to retire to keep him around the team. I think he is a great clubhouse guy, but keeping him around as a player makes little sense when he's clearly not one of the team's best 25 players.

Rauch's option should be exercised any day now. The Twins gave up Kevin Mulvey, a decent prospect and someone who may have had a chance to compete for a back of the rotation spot this coming spring had the Twins not traded him. I can't see anyway that the Twins don't pick up the option, especially since Rauch pitched very well for the Twins since they acquired him. With Rauch returning and the expected recoveries of both Boof Bonser and Pat Neshek, it's very possible the team's biggest weakness going into this past season could be a position of strength for the 2010 season.

With only a few easy decisions, it is clear that this off-season is going to be another difficult one for Bill Smith. The team should have a bit of money to spend, assuming the payroll moves up to around $80 million with Target Field opening, but with raises due to several players the money will still be tight unless the Twins can get creative. Are there any other easy decisions? Feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments section, and check back tomorrow.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The End



Surprisingly, I wasn’t all that disappointed when the Yankees made the final out tonight, bringing an end to the Twins season. I was at the game, and for the most part enjoyed myself. The mistakes were painful, no doubt, but tonight doesn’t seem like the time to reflect on those. The Yankees were clearly the superior team. The Twins would have needed to be perfect to beat them in a five game series, and obviously they were far from that. Regardless, this was a season to remember. Sure, the Twins were mediocre for most of the season, waiting until the last possible second to get hot and steal the division from the Tigers. That said, I will always remember Game 163 as the first truly great Twins game I watched. There’s been other great games, and while the ’91 World Series games were exceptional, I wasn’t even three years old so I don’t remember those games.

The emotions that ran through my body during Game 163 have only happened two times to me while watching sports. The first time was when the Timberwolves were in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, playing the Sacramento Kings, in game 7 at the Target Center. That game was exceptional, and really the only game I honestly remember Kevin Garnett putting the team on his back and saying “Boys, I got this.” That is a game I’ll never forget, and if I ever see it on ESPN Classic or NBA TV I will automatically drop whatever I am doing to watch it. It was that great. Since I’m a far bigger baseball fan than basketball fan, Game 163 to me was the greatest sporting event I’ve ever watched. Yes, I understand it’s not, on a grander scale. The fact that the Twins lost their next 3 games and the season ended made that game slightly less epic, as the end result for the Twins and Tigers was ultimately the same, with the Twins having the joy of an extra home playoff game.

Joe Mauer had the greatest all-around season by a catcher, is going to win his first AL MVP trophy and won his third batting title in four seasons. He also let it be known that he wasn’t concerned with being the highest paid player in the game, and that winning was what was most important. Joe Nathan, despite the struggles against New York, was his usual dominating self at closer, Michael Cuddyer enjoyed a huge comeback season, and Jason Kubel continued to improve with the bat. Even the bullpen, a weakness for most of the season, should be a strength next season with Rauch, Mijares, Crain and hopefully the returns of Boof Bonser and Pat Neshek. The Twins undoubtedly are going to need to make improvements if they want to be seen as true contenders, but the good news is the core of the team appears to be more than set.

Over the next week, I’m going to take an in-depth look at some of the key decisions that face Bill Smith and Co. this off-season, and will suggest what I think the best path would be. The Twins season ended tonight, which means the quest for 2010 begins tomorrow. The Twins will hold their heads tonight, but they don’t need to. They had a season to remember, and hopefully in 2010 they can add a post-season to remember to that.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Twins Remain Winless @ Yankee Stadium

Unfortunately, the Twins remained winless at the new Yankee Stadium, losing tonight to the Yankees 7-2. Since I'm sure anyone who cares enough to read this blog watched the game, I don't see much of a reason to get into the game much. The content will be limited throughout the playoffs unless I feel the need to go off on a rant about terrible announcing, a poor managing decision, or an exceptional performance. Assuming I do none of those, the content will be a paragraph or two until the season ends, at which point I'll hopefully have my off-season preview and what I would do if I was GM done.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

That was kind of fun...




Wow. Wow. Wow. I tried to wait a few hours so I could calm down and write something interesting, but I've spent the last 10 minutes sitting here and all that keeps coming into my head is wow. The Twins are huge underdogs tomorrow at Yankee Stadium, as they should be, but even if this team gets swept out of the playoffs, the game we all witnessed tonight was the greatest game I've ever seen, and undoubtedly the greatest Twins game since game 7 of the '91 World Series.

Absolutely, positively crazy.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The End?



Barring a miracle, the Twins will finish on the wrong end of a Central division pennant race for the 2nd straight year.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Joe Mauer: The AL MVP



As I was watching Sunday Night Baseball this past weekend eating Chinese food, not entirely focused on the television, Joe Morgan almost forced me to choke on my dinner. "I know who I'm voting for. Mark Teixeira first, Jeter second." Suddenly, I realized why I missed FireJoeMorgan so much. Not only did he leave Mauer completely out of his top TWO AL MVP spots, he didn't even both to explain why.

Look, I understand Joe Mauer is the odds on favorite to win the MVP Award, and Joe Morgan's opinion isn't going to change what seems like a virtual certainty. However, in this day and age, it baffles me that someone can screw up the MVP vote so badly, and it happens every year. The year Justin Morneau won the MVP, both Joe Mauer and Derek Jeter were more deserving. Kevin Youkilis was far more deserving than Dustin Pedroia last year, yet Pedroia won it. Those recent examples are the biggest reason I don't care much what 30-something sportswriters think, and rather use common sense to determine the AL and NL MVP Awards. The reason I got so worked up is because Joe Mauer is having one of the single greatest seasons in baseball history and Joe Morgan has the nerve to say he isn't going to even place him in the top two? It's mind-boggling.

Let's pretend, for a minute, that Joe Mauer and Mark Teixeira play the same position. Here are there hitting stats as of today:


Joe Mauer: 130 G, .371 AVG, .444 OBP, .602 SLG, 1.047 OPS, 28 HR, 181 OPS+

Mark Teixeira: 151 G, .294 AVG, .384 OBP, .568 SLG, .952 OPS, 38 HR, 146 OPS+



Mauer's batting average is almost as high as Teixeira's on base percentage, while Mauer has a higher slugging? How are their seasons even comparable? Teixeira is having a very good season, but compared to what he did last season he's been a disappointment. If you want to punish Mauer's case because he missed the first month of the season, feel free, but if we want to make this 'most valuable' and not simply 'most outstanding' I think it's worth noting the Twins were just 11-11 without Mauer and are 71-65 with him. Not a huge improvement, but an improvement nonetheless.

When you factor in that Joe Mauer is putting together arguably the greatest season by a catcher in the history of baseball, it's ridiculous someone else not named Albert Pujols would take any votes from him for MVP.

With the Twins 2 games down and 5 to go, their odds at making the post-season are slim. However, the team at least continues to control their own destiny, as back-to-back wins in Detroit today and tomorrow would give them a share of the division lead heading into the last weekend of the season. The Twins hold the advantage in both pitching matchups, and if they can win both the games they likely will be the favorites to win the division as they get Kansas City at home while the Tigers get to play the White Sox. Mauer is likely the AL MVP even if the Twins fail to make the playoffs, but if they somehow find a way to win the division, Mauer should be the unanimous MVP. Hell, he should get every first, second and third place vote.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Orlando Cabrera Trade

For the record, I didn't see the Twins acquiring Orlando Cabrera as an upgrade. Cabrera is no longer an elite defensive shortstop, and he's actually a liability there. His offense has been terrible in every month except July, and his on base percentage is absolutely awful. Factoring in all of that, along with the fact that Gardy thinks Cabrera is a #2 hitter, and I felt it was a mistake to trade for Cabrera.

Prior to arriving in Minnesota, Cabrera played in 101 games this season for Oakland, and had amassed a .280/.318/.365 line while playing poor defense. Since arriving in Minnesota, Cabrera has played in 48 games and is hitting .255/.288/.399. The difference in OPS between Oakland and Minnesota is only 4 points, and a sub .700 OPS from a defensive liability at shortstop is hardly a desired commodity at the trading deadline. Unfortunately, Bill Smith didn't get the memo, and he traded a former 2nd round pick to get Cabrera.

Quick sidetrack--friends of mine have argued with me that the Twins hardly gave up a quality prospect in Tyler Ladendorf to land Cabrera, and adding Cabrera makes Mauer more likely to re-sign here because it shows the Twins are doing things to try to win now. First, about Ladendorf, maybe the Twins scouts soured on him and he never makes it to the big leagues. Unfortunately, it was Bill Smith and his scouts that wasted a second round pick on the kid, and shelled out nearly half a million dollars to sign him. Giving up on him after about a years worth of at-bats doesn't bother me, but making such a big mistake that they now feel it's clear he won't make it to the big leagues is indefensible. As far as the Mauer situation, I'll get into that tomorrow in plenty more detail.

Back to Cabrera, though. At the time of the trade, I told friends and family it was the wrong decision to trade for him. They said Cabrera was a major upgrade over Brendan Harris and Nick Punto, and since we gave up a minor leaguer it was a no-brainer. There's obviously plenty wrong with that logic, but the most glaring incorrect statement is that Orlando Cabrera, at this point in his career, isn't a major upgrade over anyone. I agreed that he was a slight upgrade over Punto at shortstop, but what people didn't understand was that there was no way Gardenhire was going to bench Punto and continue to play Harris with Cabrera. Instead, Cabrera's bat replaced Brendan Harris in the every day lineup and at shortstop, with Punto maintaining his starting job at second base.

Harris has a career .267/.324/.396 line, and in his age 28 season it seemed unlikely he would see a major decline in his career averages if given an everyday position. As a part-time player, (AKA limited sample size) Harris has hit .262/.310/.364. That's only 13 points lower than Cabrera's OPS since arriving in Minnesota, and for as often as Gardy criticizes how 'unnatural' Harris looks on defense, he's been a better defensive shortstop this season. (Again, limited sample size, so he very well could be worse)

The Twins gave up a 2nd round pick to basically get equal production from the shortstop position without upgrading significantly anywhere else. The biggest issue I had with the trade, however, was the way the lineup was going to be configured. Prior to Cabrera's arrival, the Twins were consistently going with a lineup of:

Span/Mauer/Morneau/Cuddyer/Kubel/Crede/Young/Harris/Punto

After the Cabrera trade, the lineup has almost exclusively been:

Span/Cabrera/Mauer/Morneau/Kubel/Cuddyer/Crede/Young/Punto

Obviously, Crede's injury has switched the lineup around some. The best defense for the Cabrera trade is that now the Twins can use Brendan Harris at third, since Crede is out for the year. Unfortunately, Gardy has given most the at bats over the last week and a half to Matt Tolbert. Yes, Matt Tolbert. Rather than having Mauer hit with one of the best lead-off hitters in baseball ahead of him and often on base, the Twins are basically giving away an out between Mauer and Span. Cabrera has gotten on base less than 30% of the time since arriving here. That's unacceptable, and even more unacceptable when he's hitting directly in front of the AL MVP and the rest of our productive middle of the order.

I don't think Gardenhire will ever figure out that the #2 slot doesn't need to be filled by a light-hitting middle infielder, which is a shame. It's often said the lineup doesn't make much of a difference over the season, which is true in most cases. However, when the Twins are now 2.5 games back in the division, and were 1 win away last season from making the playoffs, one or two games mean everything. Unfortunately, Bill Smith has failed this team again at the deadline, and Gardy continues to stick to his incorrect beliefs, and chances are it's going to cost the Twins another playoff chance.