Baseball’s most important position: How do you score a 10?

Recently, there was a bit of a twitter challenge relayed to some of us baseball bloggers.  I put forward this answer to the question, “what is baseball’s most important position?”

No, don’t laugh.  In attempting to decide what the most important position for a baseball team I have decided to go with that guy over there – what? You can’t see him?  HIM.  His nickname is Intangible… yeah, I know, not quite as impressive as Mr. Incredible or The Natural but nicknames are silly things.

Still a little confused?  Well, what is it that takes nine guys on a field, nine pretty darn talented athletes, from all over the country/world and makes them play a game together?  No, Mr. Funny Guy, the answer I’m looking for is NOT the guy with the checkbook. (although that helps).  And, No, even though I could put together a pretty good argument, it’s not the Manager either.  In fact, even a good manager will tell you that his first priority for managing his team falls square on the shoulders of Intangible.  He is the glue, the bond, the very definition of team.  His name is Team Unity.

Don’t scoff.  When he’s present, he can take a group of mediocre major leaguers and bring home a win.  When he’s not on the payroll because all the cash is going to 9 prima donnas more concerned with their stats during AB’s or the hot actress they’re banging who’s sitting behind home plate, the result could mean that 9 extremely talented players go down swinging.

Team Unity is what makes that brilliant timing work because of a near telepathic connection between a SS and 2B for that PERFECTLY organized DP.  Aren’t they pretty??  Thank Intangible.  Have you seen a 1B range a little further than his usual to field some out-of-control grounder and glove toss a ball from his belly in the general direction of his usual haunt finding a slightly winded pitcher tagging the base a step ahead of a runner? Yeah, you should probably score that a 10 – 3 – 1.

You can make the claim that Professionalism or Routine or even PRACTICE are legitimate stand-ins when Team Unity isn’t present.  You know what?  You’d be right but in a way, you would have just admitted to yourself that the ultimate goal, the REAL player you WANT, is Team Unity.  Those other guys are the minor league call-up that you hope will actually progress to Team Unity given enough starts.  Team Unity is the guy that pulls all his teammates together on the dugout steps to watch a veteran slugger with hope in their eyes.  Team Unity is the goofy guy who teaches the rookies 12-step silly handshakes for in the dugout after a good at bat.  Team Unity is the one that calls EVERYONE to the mound to greet the relief pitcher coming in after your starter has thrown his last.  Team Unity organizes off-field activities that share interests, passions and causes that are important to everyone.  Team Unity  pulls 50 years of players together to celebrate a tradition of excellence on the field.  He’s a pretty damn good guy when it comes right down to it.

So for all those claiming that the real core of the team is the pitcher or the catcher or the shortstop or whoever – if you’re pressed, even you will admit that without the unification of that core player and the other 8 on the field, you’d have a failure.  You really have to have that 10th position factor into your lineup or even the efforts of a truly talented individual could be wasted.

Other Contributors to the Most Important Position Project:

The CommonMan and Bill

Andrew Kneeland (the one who thought this all up)

Kbro Baseball Blog

And JC and I don’t agree of course so he’s got his own opinion following.

A Brief Look Back at Twins History

Regular readers of our little blog here will recall that during the season, we ran a weekly (yes I know, I missed a week or two here and there… get off my back!) “Twins History Lesson” feature where we looked back at notable events in Twins history*. We haven’t done that since the season ended because, frankly, there aren’t many dates that warrant reviewing during the off-season. But on the heels of news that the Twins won the bidding for negotiating rights to Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, it may be worth noting that the Twins have, in the distant and not-so-distant past, acquired new players the old fashioned way… by trading for them.

Back in 1967, the Twins had just finished a season winning 91 games and finishing one game behind the AL champion Red Sox. They were also just a couple of seasons removed from their first World Series, having dropped the 1965 Series, four games to three, to the Dodgers. Zoilo Versalles had not only won the AL MVP Award in 1965, but hit .286 with an .833 OPS in the World Series and Jim “Mudcat” Grant started three games, winning games 1 and 6 with complete game efforts, and posted a 2.74 against the Dodgers after winning 21 games during the regular season. But in 1967, both players’ productivity dropped off considerably (Versalles hit just .200 and Grant went 5-6 on the year) and on this date, November 28, they found themselves traded to their old WS opponents, the Dodgers.

In return, the Twins received catcher John Roseboro, along with pitchers Bob Miller and Ron Perranoski. The Twins definitely won that deal. Versalles and Grant each played one season with the Dodgers without distinction. Miller and Roseboro both put in two productive, if unspectacular, years with the Twins. But the star of the trade turned out to be Perranoski, who recorded 71 saves over the next three seasons for the Twins and led the AL in that category in both 1969 and 1970, helping the Twins to Division championships both seasons.

But we don’t need to go back 33 43 (oops) years for a notable trade on November 28. Just three years ago on this date in 2007, rookie GM Bill Smith made a deal that Twins fans are still debating today when he sent SS Jason Bartlett, SP Matt Garza and minor league RP Eddie Morlan to Tampa Bay in return for OF Delmon Young, IF Brendan Harris and minor league OF Jason Pridie. The two minor leaguers, Pridie and Morlan didn’t distinguish themselves for either of their new teams, while the four major leaguers have had varying degrees of success over the past three years.

Jason Bartlett

While it’s generally perceived that the Rays got the best of this deal so far, it’s interesting to note that both Bartlett and Garza have been frequently mentioned as possible targets to be traded this off-season by the Rays. Meanwhile, Young had a break out season for the Twins after a couple of somewhat disappointing years, while Harris spent the season in Rochester after the Twins signed him to a two-year extension last off-season.

Today, the Twins find themselves in need of a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher and some relief arms to replace those departing via free agency. They could also use some more speed in the outfield, in my opinion. While there are plenty of relievers on the open market, any significant improvements to the rotation and outfield may have to come via trade. So, on this, the anniversary of a couple of major trades in Twins history, I feel compelled to ask…

What’s next, Mr. Smith?

– JC

*************************************

*As with much of the Twins History information we recounted during the season, we pulled this information from “Twins Trivia”.

Shortstop: JJ Hardy vs Tsuyoshi Nishioka

UPDATED UPDATED UPDATE: The Twitter reports are flying now… Joe Christensen, Ken Rosenthal and Parker Hageman (among others) are keeping up with the news, but the long and short of the situation at 11:00 am CT Friday appears to be that the Twins HAVE won the bidding (for about $5 million) for the rights to negotiate with Nishioka and that the contract could come in at $2-3 million per year on a multi-year contract. If those numbers turn out to be relatively accurate, that’s not an unreasonable financial risk to take, in my opinion. – JC

Early this week, we should find out whether the Twins have posted a successful bid for the rights to negotiate with Japanese 2010 batting champion Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Chiba Lotte Marines’ shortstop. This is kind of exciting for Twins fans. Our team has never had the money to consider signing significant MLB free agents, much less throw several million dollars at a Japanese team for the rights to pay several million dollars more to the actual player. The Twins are apparently swimming in revenue! So, you ask, why not go get this young Japanese hero?

I’m glad you asked.

Nishioka

We’ve been reading that Gardy and the Twins front office want to add speed to the Twins’ offense. It turns out that it’s kind of hard to hit baseballs out of Target Field. Those hard hit baseballs find lots of room in the gaps for doubles and triples, however. So the braintrust has decided they should add players that hit balls in the gaps and then have the speed to get around the bases quicker. I can’t really argue with this. It’s logical.

Of course, by my logic, they should probably look to upgrade that speed in their own outfield positions so they not only get better results on the bases, but also reduce the chances of opponents’ batted balls finding those wide gaps between the not-so-speedy outfielders the Twins send out to the corner OF positions.

Instead, apparently Gardy and Bill have decided that the upgrade in speed should be made at a position where the team already has one of the best defensive players in the league… shortstop. And since there are absolutely zero speedy shortstops available domestically, they’ve turned their eyes to the Land of the Rising Sun.

On the surface, it makes some sense, I suppose.

Nishioka did win the batting title in 2010 with a .346/.423/.482 split, good for an OPS of .905, and hit 11 home runs. He also stole 22 bases, while playing in all 144 of Chiba Lotte’s regular season games. He’s said to possess a strong arm and above average range at shortstop. He could also play second base if the coaches decide Alexi Casilla is the better shortstop. He’s also only 26 years old, so he could be a member of the Twins’ core group for several years to come. What’s not to like?

Plenty, actually.

Hardy

Let’s start with those stolen bases. He’s averaged about 25 stolen bases a year over the past five years and actually led his league with 41 six years ago. But he’s also been caught stealing about 1/3 of the time. That’s actually a bit above the average throw-out rate for MLB catchers. So you have to ask, do the stolen base totals indicate you’d be upgrading your speed or will he just be running the team out of rallies on a regular basis? In other words… if JJ Hardy attempted 30 steals every year, would he be successful much less than Nishioka would?

Of course, one knock on Hardy is that he’s been injury prone. If he and his bum wrist can’t take the field, what good is he? Let’s go get the guy who plays every day. OK… but that guy may not be Nishioka. While he did play the entire 2010 season, he missed anywhere between 14 and 29 games of each of his other five full seasons with the Marines, with injuries to his hamstring, knee, neck and… wait for it… yes, his wrist.

Don’t get me wrong… Nishioka may turn out to be the next Ichiro and if he does, it would be fun to see him in a Twins uniform. And maybe JJ Hardy will never regain the offensive talent he showed in 2007 and 2008. But finding out if either of those turns out to be the case will come with a cost.

Under the agreement between MLB and Nippon Baseball, once Chiba Lotte posted Nishioka, MLB teams had four days to submit a sealed bid to the Marines for the rights to enter a 30-day negotiating period with the player and his agent. It’s hard to predict what the winning bid might be, but given the lack of top tier middle infield options on the free agent market this off-season, it’s hard to imagine the winning bid being less than $10 million and I won’t be surprised if it’s closer to $15-20 million. [UPDATE: Boy did I miss on that assumption! The actual winning bid was reportedly around or just over a quite affordable $5 million.] That money only gets paid if the winning team eventually signs the player to a contract, however. Any team shelling out that kind of money for negotiating rights is going to want to lock the player up for several years.

If the Twins offer Hardy arbitration, they’ll probably end up negotiating a one-year deal for something between $6-7 million (though the possibility of signing him to a two-year deal for slightly less per year certainly exists). Compare that to the posting fee and multi-year commitment they’d have to make to acquire Nishioka, which would conservatively have to reach $25-30 million over 3-4 years. You have to ask yourself if you realistically should expect enough of an upgrade at the shortstop position to warrant that additional investment. Consider that the money you’re sending to Japan for the posting fee alone could otherwise be spent on bringing Carl Pavano back for 2011. [UPDATE: In addition to the actual $5 million-ish winning bid, early reports also indicate the possibility that salary demands may be somewhat lower than I projected here... if it's closer to $3 million/year, this becomes a much more reasonably priced "risk" in my opinion. But would it be reasonable enough to ALSO keep Hardy? Stay tuned.]

And it’s not like the Twins stand to profit by selling broadcast rights in Japan… MLB controls all international rights and divides all revenues (broadcast, merchandise, etc.) evenly among the teams. The Twins might get some additional advertising dollars from Japanese companies, but that’s about it.

In addition, while I’m not really a big “team chemistry” guy (I think it’s overrated as a success factor), I do have to wonder how well Nishioka would fit in with the Twins. In 2007, he announced that henceforth he would be listed on the Chiba Lotte roster simply as “Tsuyoshi”. Kind of like “Cher” or “Madonna”. Or that other diva, “Ichiro”.

Nishioka and fiance Tokuzawa

On the other hand… the guy has dated models and even a professional golfer and he’s apparently engaged to model/actress Naoko Tokuzawa, so he’s got that going for him. She’d certainly constitute one of those “Target Field enhancements” the Twins have been talking about if she attends his games. And get this… both Noshioka and Tokuzawa have blogs! (You might want to brush up on your Japanese before you add them to your daily list of “must reads”, though.)

This guy clearly is not short on self-esteem. However, until this past year, it doesn’t look to me like he had the performance to match his ego. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he chose this year to request that his team post him to MLB. Nor do I think it’s a coincidence that Chiba Lotte agreed to post him this year. They’re selling high and hoping to cash in if one MLB team will overpay for a young player who’s had one good year in an inferior baseball league.

I don’t think that team should be the Twins.

– JC

UPDATE 12/18: Click here to read our post welcoming Tsuyoshi Nishioka to the Twins, now that he’s officially signed with the Twins. – JC

The Curious Case of Derek Jeter

Let me start this by saying I like Derek Jeter… at least as much as a person can “like” any New York Yankee. Maybe “like” is too strong a word. I appreciate the kind of ballplayer Derek Jeter has been during his career. Has he been overhyped as a result of being a Yankee? Sure. But he’s done his job well, stayed out of jail, and just generally has appeared to do things “the right way” throughout his career. If he had come up through the Twins system and played his career with our team, I’d probably sign a petition to erect a statue or something.

But he’s a Yankee, after all, so I really can’t say I like him… too much. In fact, he’s the Yankees’ captain.

He also just happens to be a 36 year old free agent shortstop with declining defensive skills coming off by far the worst offensive year in his career. In fact, statistically with the bat, he had about the same kind of year JJ Hardy did (outside of the fact that Jeter actually, you know, played in most of his team’s games). Then again, Hardy is eight years younger than Jeter and covers a lot more ground at SS (again, when he’s actually on the field).

There’s a fair amount of discussion among Twins fans, bloggers, and the media (and apparently their manager and GM) concerning whether the Twins should non-tender (or even trade, according to the Baltimore Sun) Hardy. Offering him arbitration might result in a modest increase in his $5.1 million salary. But the Twins want to add more speed to their line up and, since they’re apparently set on having the slowest outfield in professional baseball, they have identified the shortstop position as the spot to target in their quest to upgrade their wheels. In

Tsuyoshi Nishioka

fact, they’re so intent on making that improvement that they’re reportedly shopping overseas, having posted a bid for the rights to negotiate with Japanese batting champion, Tsuyoshi Nishioka. There’s no doubt that replacing Hardy and Orlando Hudson with Nishioka and Alexi Casilla would improve the Twins footspeed. Whether it would improve anything else is certainly a fair topic for debate.

Meanwhile, over in the Bronx, they’re talking money with Jeter and his agent. Jeter pocketed $21 million in 2010, the final year of his contract. Now, apparently, the Yankees and Jeter are playing a little game of “chicken”. Jeter and his agent don’t think he should really have to take much, if any, of a pay cut and should get at least a four year extension… if not longer. The Yankees, on the other hand, say they’re willing to overpay for Jeter (after all, they overpay for everyone else), but only for three years and for something less than $20 million per year.

This is where I have to admit that, while I occasionally sound off about MLB being complicit in a system that allows the Yankees to be able to spend twice on payroll what most teams can afford, it’s not really quite as bad as that. It COULD be really bad, if it weren’t for the fact that the Yankees owners are morons who almost seem intent on overpaying for every player they want by focusing on what those players have done in the past, rather than what they’re likely to do in the future.

If the Yankees were smart, they’d tell Jeter, “We’ll pay you $35 million over the next three years. Even that’s overpaying, but you’ve been a good Yankee and we want to acknowledge that. Feel free to go shop around and if someone offers you more, give us a call and we’ll talk about upping our offer. But we aren’t going to negotiate against ourselves.” They’d probably get him for that price, too. Instead, he’s going to end up being paid close to $20 million a year until he’s a 40 year old shadow of himself. Hell, they may not have to erect a statue of Jeter. He’ll be his own statute.

As a matter of fact, if I owned the Twins (and had as much money as the Pohlads do), I’d be on the phone with Jeter’s agent, offering him $70 million for four years. Why? Because we all know there is no… friggin… way… that the Yankees can NOT bring Jeter back. Knowing that, why not run that price up to the point where the Yankees not only overpay, but grossly overpay for Jeter? In the worst case scenario, the Yankees balk and you end up with him on your roster. That’s not ideal, but at least you have a right handed DH, plus you’ve pissed off virtually every Yankee fan in the country. That’s gotta be worth something! If you really feel you have to recoup some of the cost, though, I suppose you could always dress him up in his old Yankee uniform and put him in a dunk tank out on Target Plaza on days he’s not in the line up. That ought to bring in a few bucks.

But that’s how teams with $100 million payrolls compete with the guys who spend $200 million… they make sure the rich team has to pay twice what their players are worth to anyone else. They make sure they commit $20+ million a year for six years to starting pitchers who have virtually no chance of being worth that money every season of the contract. That’s why I’m glad the Rangers and Nationals are talking about throwing some big offers at Cliff Lee. Why let the Yankees have him for anything close to what he’s actually going to be worth? Let him be their next AJ Burnett or Carl Pavano over the next several years. Meanwhile, opposing teams can just keep slapping ground balls in to left field past the $50 million worth of statues the Yankees will be trotting out to 3B and SS for the foreseeable future.

And as long as the Yankees have Jeter attached to their infield like a ball and chain, the Twins front office can go shopping overseas for a guy like Nishioka, without having to be concerned about the Yankees overpaying for the rights to negotiate a contract that would overpay him to play in New York.

God bless Derek Jeter! Take ‘em to the cleaners, Captain!

-JC

Holy Cannoli – Gardy Wins AL Manager of the Year!

800+ Wins with the MN Twins

I know!!!!  Who would believe it?!?!  If you’re a Twins fan, you have gotten very, very, VERY used to our guy coming in as the runner up every single year that we can show that he really should be #1. 

Of course, there is a LOT of us that say this was NOT the best of his years to be considered but since this is a subjective art, you have to realize that the humans who do the voting can’t help but think a bit consecutively and realized that this was definitely an honor that couldn’t wait any longer.  Here’s the ballot results from the Baseball Writers of America site: 2010 Managers of the Year.

I honestly couldn’t be happier for him and I think it’s a well-deserved honor.

Keep your eyes on FSN because they will updating things during the day and expect to have an interview with Gardy available soon!  Here’s video provided by the Minnesota Twins twitter account with his ackowledgement of the award.

[update] also according to the Twins, there will be an interview aired at 5:00 pm on the MLB Network!

Middle Age and Insomnia Induced Ramblings

This post has absolutely nothing to do with the Twins, so if the only reason you visit us is to read (and/or mock) our regular postings related to our views about the Twins, you have my permission to just hit the back-arrow and keep surfing. Frankly, I just don’t have much to write about the Twins right now that we (and probably 100 others) haven’t already written. Maybe Babs or KL will have something soon and we can get our Twins fix.

I read one of Joe Posnanski’s “curiously long posts” late last night and it really struck a chord with me… so much so that I didn’t sleep much at all (which shall be my built in excuse if this post becomes something I’ll be embarrassed about having written later).

The title of the post is “The Promise”… which is also the title of a Bruce Springsteen song that Posnanski weaves through the story he’s telling. I’ve never been a huge Springsteen fan (Bob Dylan was more to my tastes). I like some of his stuff ok. I have a ‘greatest hits’ CD of some sort laying around and a few songs on my IPod… somewhere. I think. I haven’t actually listened to my IPod in quite some time. It’s one of the original models and I guess I got tired of all the smirks from people with the newer models. Not tired enough of them to actually buy a new model, but tired enough that I quit carrying mine on trips. But I digress.

I almost just skipped past reading this Posnanski post because, frankly, I just couldn’t imagine why I’d be interested in reading a column about Springsteen written by a sports writer/blogger… even my favorite sports writer/blogger. And it was late. And I was tired. But then, it was Posnanski, so I read the column.

As always, I was glad I did (though perhaps I would have preferred reading it earlier so I didn’t lie awake thinking most of the night).

Posnanski’s “The Promise” post has nothing to do with sports, only a bit to do with Springsteen, a lot to do with life, and is exactly the sort of writing that has made him my favorite writer/blogger. The column is about a summer during his early college years when he was working in a yarn factory with his father, to make enough money to buy the old Pontiac that he and his dad drove to the factory every morning. I know that premise, by itself, is a bit yawn inducing. But like good writers do, he hooked me within the first two paragraphs.

I remember the first time I heard The Promise. It was about a decade ago. The song had been around for a long time before I first heard it — Bruce Springsteen would say it was the first song he wrote after Born To Run made him a rock and roll star in 1975. It figures that this was the first song. Born to Run, the whole album, was about longing, open highway, the amusement park rising bold and stark, the poets who write nothing at all, the ghosts in the eyes of all the boys Mary sent away. Born to Run is about that brilliant age when you know dreams don’t come true, but you still believe they might come true FOR YOU.

And The Promise is about the every day numbing of those dreams.

I admit that timing, as is often the case, may be playing a big part in why this particular column hit me so hard. I’ve been feeling my age lately… even older than usual. Even older than I really am. Maybe it’s been brought on by the funeral I attended for an elderly aunt last week. Maybe it was spending Saturday with my mother on her 83rd birthday. Maybe it’s the benefit “chili supper” I’m supposed to go to this week to help pay medical bills for a man I barely remember working with back in my burger-joint-managing, college drop-out era. Maybe it’s the nagging “WTF am I going to do if my company decides, after 33 years, they don’t need me any more?” question I’ve been wrestling with. Maybe it’s all of the above… or none of them.

I didn’t work in a factory at the age of 18. I worked construction. Ten hours a day, five days a week, and it ruined my baseball career. Well, that and the fact that I couldn’t run, hit or throw all that well to begin with, I suppose. But it wore me out to the point that, even with a bit of help from modern chemistry (if you know what I mean), I was bone tired before the first pitch of every game I played my senior season. I worked with men who did that work their whole adult lives, to make sure their families were provided for… not just to make money for a couple of months before heading off to college. I did the job just long enough to learn, as if I didn’t already know, that I didn’t want to do that kind of work for the rest of my life.

I honestly don’t remember what my dreams were back then. Those were the days of Watergate and Woodward & Bernstein. I had edited my HS newspaper and had been working part-time as a sportswriter and photographer for the local daily newspaper during my senior year of HS. I was going to be a journalism major at the University of Arkansas. So maybe my dream was to be the next great investigative reporter or sports writer. If so, obviously those dreams have been numbed away long ago.

Then again, perhaps contributing to this blog has allowed me to realize, in a small way, those dreams. In any event, I’ve enjoyed this opportunity during the past season and I want to thank CapitalBabs and KL for allowing me to share this outlet for whatever odd thoughts or opinions might cross my mind from time to time… as well as thank those who have stopped by to read those ramblings.

With that, I now return you to your regularly scheduled Twins chatter. So… What do you think Dan Uggla would look like in a Twins uniform and what could/should the Twins offer for the Marlins’ second baseman? [EDIT - Well thanks to the Braves, that has to be the quickest any question I've ever posed has become irrelevent!]

– JC

To ‘Stache Or Not To ‘Stache: The Carl Pavano Issue

I’ve noticed something curious about the various “predictions” concerning the Twins offseason roster decisions. There’s a real disconnect somewhere on the topic of what the Twins should do about Carl Pavano.

When I posted my proposed “Twins blueprint” for 2011, the ‘Stache was not among the starting pitchers I projected for the Twins. Instead, I proposed trading for the Royals’ Zack Greinke and in that scenario, Greinke’s salary would almost certainly preclude the Twins from being able to afford to also bring back Pavano.

But among the various “blueprints” posted by the Twins bloggers I’ve read, I’m certainly not the only one who has proposed letting Pavano take his talents elsewhere. I probably haven’t read all of the blogs that have posted “blueprints” in response to the Twinscentric guys’ suggestion, but I can think of at least 10 I’ve read through just off the top of my head and, of those, only one proposed re-signing Pavano. In fact, for most of us, it seems the question most often discussed is whether the Twins should offer Pavano arbitration or not. He’s a Type A free agent, meaning if the Twins offer him arbitration and he rejects it, the Twins stand to get two high compensatory draft picks in return.

That’s a fair topic for debate that reasonable minds can agree to disagree on. If the Twins don’t offer arbitration, they get nothing for Pavano if he signs elsewhere. If they do offer arbitration, he MAY decide to accept the offer, leaving the Twins locked in to paying him possibly somewhere close to $10 million for 2011 and significantly limiting the front office’s other offseason options.

But that’s not the “disconnect” I’m talking about. Almost all of us seem to agree that we’ve seen the last days of ‘Stache as a Twin. Almost uniformly, we agree that the Twins have upgrade needs and there simply isn’t room for the upgrades we want to see while also retaining Pavano for the price he’s earned the right to command on the open market.

And yet…

Has anyone else noticed that the predominant “outside” opinion about where Carl Pavano will be pitching next season seems to be that he’s going to remain a Twin?

I can’t say I religiously check all of the national online writers, but I do check in on si.com pretty much every day (probably because I go to cnn.com for my daily news fix). Both Jon Heyman and Ben Reiter at si.com think the Twins will/should re-sign Pavano. In addition, Tim Dierkes over at MLBTradeRumors.com feels the same way. In fact, three out of the five MLBTR writers are on board with ‘Stache staying a Twin. 

That’s got me asking myself, “Are we missing something here?”

On the surface, reports that the Twins made a competitive posting bid for the rights to Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma would seem to indicate that the Twins certainly aren’t counting on Pavano returning. But having been unsuccessful with that bid, would Bill Smith re-think the situation?

I’m not backing off from my stated desire to land Greinke, but based on what we’re starting to hear about Kansas City’s trade demands*, I’m beginning to accept that there’s not likely going to be a deal made to get Zack in a Twins uniform during the offseason. My best hope might be that nobody meets the Royals’ price and that perhaps once KC is realistically eliminated from the AL Central race next season (that should be what… mid May?), their front office becomes a bit more anxious to relieve themselves of Greinke’s contract.

But if Greinke isn’t an option, then I think perhaps the Twins do need to think harder about keeping Pavano around. I just don’t see a lot of opportunities for significant upgrades out there and if you can’t improve the top of your rotation, at least you’d better make sure you keep what you’ve got.

If the Twins offer arbitration, I really don’t see Pavano and his agent accepting it as they did last season. The free agent market for starting pitchers, after Cliff Lee, is pretty thin. Pavano will get two-year offers and perhaps the Twins should be one of the teams willing to go that route. I suppose it’s possible that some team may be desperate enough to offer three guaranteed years, but if it also means they cough up a draft choice? I’m not so sure.

Keeping ‘Stache around likely means starting the season with a rotation of Liriano, Pavano, Baker, Duensing and Blackburn/Slowey.  If Kyle Gibson is everything people seem to think he’s going to be, maybe by mid-year he’ll be wowing us all the same way Liriano and Santana did once they finally forced their ways in to the rotation.

If not, I’m sure Bill Smith still will have the Royals’ phone number… they aren’t going anywhere. – JC

*This from ESPN’s Jayson Stark regarding the Royals’ demands for Greinke:

…according to clubs that have spoken with them, they’re telling bidders up front that (A) they would need to “win” the deal, (B) they would have to get the kind of four-for-one haul the Rangers got for Mark Teixeira to pull the trigger, (C) they need a bunch of “front-line, winning, quality players” in return, and (D) at least one of those players has to be a pitcher capable of turning into the next Zack Greinke in a couple of years.

Twins Announce Upgrades to Target Field

No, today’s announcement from the Twins about new upgrades has nothing to do with adding a new “ace” to their rotation, but it’s kind of fun all the same. The Twins issued a press release announcing a series of enhancements to Target Field that should be in place by the time the stadium’s sophomore season rolls around.

Here are a few of the improvements:

  • A new 50′ x 28′ video display will be perched atop the right field grandstands, giving a view to most of those fans with seats that didn’t allow a view of the large video board in LF.
  • A 100′ “Twins Tower” will be erected adjacent to the new RF video board. This new LED tower that will flash messages, graphics, (and one would assume, advertising), etc.
  • Free WiFi (or “TwiFi”, in this case… clever, eh?) throughout the stadium and improved cell phone signal coverage.
  • Additional radiant heat elements for the Home Run Porch and Terrace Level of the stadium.
  • Additional “Kasata Stone” from the Vetter Quary installed below the Metropolitan Club.
  • An additional bronze statue honoring another former Twins star, as well as additional artwork around the ballpark celebrating Twins history.
  • Installation of Phase II of the “Tradition Wall” on Target Plaza.

New LF video screen and clock tower from Field View

New LF video screen & clock tower from LF Bleacher View

New clock tower from Plaza View

The Star Tribune posted an online article about the enhancements, of course, and as I glanced through some of the reader comments that were posted at the end, I was struck by a couple of things. First, if you think some of the comments on the Strib Twins blogs are idiotic, you really don’t want to read the comments that get posted following their regular “news” articles. I try not to be too judgemental about others, because I’ve been known to make less than well-thought-out comments at times, but some of these people are absolute morons. Nevertheless, some of the comments were a bit interesting. Or maybe I just think so because some of them were consistent with my own ideas and impressions from the games I attended.

First, the new video board is a great idea. This was one of the most frequent complaints I heard/read about the new ballpark last season and, frankly, one reason I avoided buying seats in left field for any of the ten or so games I attended. I did read some comments about how the Twins didn’t show enough replays on the board anyway and a couple of people pointed out that MLB doesn’t want teams to show controversial plays. But I just have to say I agree that more replays should be shown. I often would look at the board after a play I wanted to see again, only to be disappointed by the lack of a replay being shown. It was not just on controversial plays. The Twins seemed more intent on using the video board to show advertising or some other graphic than to show us replays. This could be improved substantially.

I’m not sure what the “Twins Tower” thing is all about. They’re going to have the time shown at the top of the tower, which is nice, but several Strib commenters mentioned it would be even better to have the current temperature shown. I agree. It’s not something the Twins ever gave a thought to in the Dome, but outside… yeah… I know the Cardinals show the temperature at their ballpark (because I remember seeing it top 100 degrees at a game I attended there in 2009).

Some people complained that the radiant heat wasn’t turned on when it should have been last season. I can’t really comment on that since the only game I attended in the cold was an Oriole game that I had Legends Club seats for… so we just slipped indoors when it got cold. Regardless, if there were parts of the upper reaches of the ballpark that lacked the radiant heat elements, it certainly makes sense to add more. I also think the stone used for the ballpark was a  terrific choice, so if they’re adding more of it, that’s great.

Now about that bronze statue. That has my curiosity piqued. They have already erected statues of the Killer, Carew, Kirby, the Pohlads and Calvin Griffith. So who’s next? I would think the obvious choices would come down to just a few possibilities, Tony Oliva, Kent Hrbek and Bert Blyleven are probably at the top of my list. The first two, Tony O and Hrbie, are the two remaining Twins who have had their numbers retired by the team, but neither was elected to MLB’s Hall of Fame. Blyleven has one more year of HoF voter eligibility and you have to figure he’s got a good shot at getting elected this year. And, of course, there are other HoF’ers that have played here, like Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield. Or maybe you think Tom Kelly is worthy of being bronzed?

I’m an old timer and my vote goes to Tony O, but let us know what you think! Also, what do you think of the announced stadium enhancements? Which are the most important to you and what would you still like to see them improve on at Target Field?

-JC

JC’s Twins Offseason Blueprint: Zack Fever

The Twincentric guys have challenged the rest of the Twins blogging community to come up with our own “blueprints” for the Twins off-season. Seth, John, Nick and Parker each have put out their own suggestions and included them not only in their excellent 2011 Offseason GM Handbook, but also in the Twincentric blog at the StarTribune site.

The goal is to assemble a 25-man roster that will maintain the Twins’ position at the top of their division while living within a reasonable payroll budget.

Conventional wisdom is that the Twins will have room to go up to somewhere in the neighborhood of $110-115 million to start the year, but I’ve got a hunch Bill Smith has the flexibility to go as high as $120 million.

So here’s Jim Crikket’s “blueprint”.

Priority 1: The top of the rotation

One widely held belief is that the Twins need someone that would be considered a good bet to fill a top-of-the-rotation role… and I totally agree. Some think Francisco Liriano is better than anyone reasonably available on the market. That may or may not be true, but either way, he’s already a Twin and you don’t improve your rotation by bringing back the same arms. If you want to improve the rotation, you have to bring in someone else with the potential to perform at or above Liriano’s level.

Zack Greinke has been the focus of trade speculation involving the Twins pretty much since the season wrapped up, but I’ve been coveting Greinke much longer than that.

Zack Greinke

The Yankees or Rangers will sign Cliff Lee. Whichever of those teams doesn’t get Lee is a good bet to sign Jorge de la Rosa, the second best starting pitcher on the free agent market. The third best free agent SP is Carl Pavano, so improvement must come via trade. I want Greinke and the Royals are going to trade him to dump the $27 million he’s owed over the next two years. They aren’t going to be competitive for the next two years, so they’re not going to hesitate to trade Greinke within the division. If I’m the Twins’ GM, I go get him. He and Liriano could form a formidable Righty/Lefty combination at the top of the rotation for the next couple of years.

You don’t get a guy like that for nothing, so the price will be high. The Royals will need an immediate replacement for their rotation along with a couple of near-ready prospects. I’ll send Kevin Slowey (though they’ll push for Brian Duensing) and they’ll obviously want the Twins’ top prospect, outfielder Aaron Hicks. Pitcher Kyle Waldrop would also make some sense because he’d have to be added to the 40-man roster by the Twins to avoid losing him in the Rule 5 draft anyway. He could contribute immediately in Kansas City. It may take some additional lesser pieces added to the deal on one side or the other (or both) to make everyone happy, but there’s a deal to be made with KC.

Some have suggested that now is the time to lock up Francisco Liriano for 3-4 years and while I have no objection to that (especially if they can get him at a discounted rate for 2011), I’d probably opt to wait at least until mid season. I want to see a bit more healthy consistency before I commit $20-30 million (or more) over the next several years.

Priority 2: Restock the bullpen

There are a lot of free agent relievers available, but I just don’t see the Twins dipping in to that pool, other than to make a serious run at retaining Jesse Crain. He’d like a shot at closing, but I don’t see anyone handing him that opportunity. In fact, his best option may be with the Twins. I see no way Nathan is ready to take back that role by the start of the season. That leaves Smith in a position to offer Crain a chance to compete for the closer spot with Matt Capps in Spring Training. I’d offer Crain a two year contract with performance incentives tied to saves. Say $3 million the first year and $4 million in 2012.

Rather than take Matt Capps through arbitration, where he’s likely to get something between $7-8 million. I think he’d be signable for two years with $6 million due in 2011 and $7-8 million in 2012.

The rest of the bullpen would consist of home-grown talent (except, of course, for Eric Hacker, a career minor-leaguer who the Twins will sign out of the Giants’ organization to a Major League contract, because, yanno, the Twins don’t already have enough AAAA level right handed pitchers in their organization). It seems like every year there’s one “surprise” rookie who earns a bullpen spot out of Spring Training. I’ll go out on a limb and say Kyle Gibson impresses the coaches enough to be that guy in 2011.

Priority 3: Sort out the outfield

I’m already on record as predicting the Twins will trade either Jason Kubel or Delmon Young. Unless it takes Young to get Greinke (and I don’t think it should), I’d send Jason Kubel to whatever team is willing to part with the most minor league talent in return. It allows me to shed his $5.25 salary and restock some of the talent lost in the Greinke deal.

Melky Cabrera

That leaves Young, Span and Cuddyer in my outfield and I go looking for a fourth OF that can play all three positions, switch-hit so he can hit against any pitcher, provide a bit better defense than the existing corner outfielders, and not cost me more than a couple of million dollars. I think a guy that could fit those criteria might be Melky Cabrera. I know, his defense is below average, but the Twins might be the only team he could sign with where he’d have a chance to actually improve the OF defense. Yes, the Twins OF defense is that bad.

Priority 4: Put together the infield

The infield is really not tough to address. I’d start by offering JJ Hardy a two year deal (say $5 mil per year), getting him to take a few bucks less in 2011 in return for an extra year of security.  The 2B job is Alexi Casilla’s to lose. If he loses it, it’s likely to be to either Matt Tolbert or Brendan Harris, who will get the utility roles. Danny Valencia’s playing 3B for the league minimum.

Priority 5: Decide who the backup catcher is

I can’t believe how much energy was spent on debating who the back up catcher should have been this season. That will probably continue, but I don’t see the big deal. I’d go with Drew Butera because he throws runners out better than Jose Morales, but if the organization goes another direction, I really don’t care. Whoever it is will make the league minimum.

The Thome situation

All of that adds up to a payroll of $115.15 million for 24 players. I stopped at 24 because I’d still like to find room for Jim Thome. There has been talk about him being able to command as much as $4 million for a full time DH job somewhere, but (a) he wants to play for a contender, (b) I’m not sure many AL contenders really want to give a guy who can play no defense at all a full time job, and (c) I’m not sure Thome even wants a full time job. If I can get him on a one year $2.35 million deal, it allows me to hold my payroll to $117.5 million.

If I can’t get Thome, I’ll talk to the agents of Marcus Thames and Eric Hinske about a deal in the $1 million neighborhood instead. Having the switch-hitting Cabrera on board allows me the flexibility to look at both left handed and right handed hitters to fill out my bench/DH spot.

JC’s 2011 Opening Day Roster (salary):

Starting Line Up:

C: Joe Mauer ($23 mil)

1B: Justin Morneau ($14 mil)

2B: Alexi Casilla ($800K)

3B: Danny Valencia ($500K)

SS: JJ Hardy ($5 mil)

LF: Delmon Young ($5 mil)

CF: Denard Span ($1 mil)

RF: Michael Cuddyer ($10.5 mil)

DH: Jim Thome ($2.35 mil)

Bench:

Drew Butera ($500K)

Matt Tolbert ($500K)

Brendan Harris ($1.75 mil)

Melky Cabrera ($2 mil)

Rotation:

Zack Greinke ($13.5 mil)

Francisco Liriano ($4.5 mil)

Scott Baker ($5 mil)

Nick Blackburn ($3 mil)

Brian Duensing ($500K)

Bullpen:

Joe Nathan ($12.5)

Matt Capps ($6 mil)

Jesse Crain ($3 mil)

Pat Neshek ($800K)

Glen Perkins ($800K) Eric Hacker ($500K)… seriously?

Jose Mijares ($500K)

Kyle Gibson ($500K)

TOTAL: $117.5 million Opening Day payroll.

- JC

The Free Agent Market

One of the difficult things for me to get accustomed to, as a fan of the Twins in this relatively new era that has the organization no longer at or near the bottom of the MLB payroll list, is that the Twins are not completely on the outside looking in when it comes to shopping for free agent talent during the off-season.

True, the Twins are still not likely to compete for any free agent the Yankees (or Red Sox… or probably even the Angels) really want. And yes, the $23.5 million per year that the Twins are shelling out for Joe Mauer means they still have to shop wisely. But there’s really no reason any player’s agent should laugh every time Bill Smith’s phone number comes up on the caller ID.

Shouldn’t a team that sells out virtually every home game, drawing over 3 million fans, at least be considered a likely landing spot for a few of the top 50 or so free agents on the market? Not according to SI.com’s Ben Reiter, who posted his ranking of this year’s Top 50 Free Agents along with the teams he feels constitute each player’s “best fit”. If you’re thinking of clicking the link to see who he sees being the FAs best fitting with the Twins, let me save you the time. There are two. We know them well. Carl Pavano (#12) and Jim Thome (#20).

Granted, that’s two in his top 20 and it’s two more than writers likely would have matched up with the Twins over the course of a couple of decades prior to Target Field opening. I wouldn’t be at all disappointed if Smith finds a way to keep those two guys (though I really can’t see Pavano as likely at this point), but still, why wouldn’t the Twins be considered likely to land a couple of the Top 50 who DIDN’T wear a Twins uniform in 2010?

Turns out there are a couple of reasons.

First, the Twins have to have a critical need at a position where there are good free agents available. Most people see the Twins needs, going in to next season, as being an “ace” (I hate using that term… is there a more overused and misused term thrown around among Twins fans this month than “ace”? I don’t think so) pitcher, a restocking of their bullpen, and a right-handed bat with power. Right there, you can see why the Twins may not be major players in this year’s FA market.

The number of true, top of the rotation, starting pitchers in this market total exactly… one (unless you want to bet on the Rockies’ Jorge de la Rosa (#9) being an ace… which I’m not willing to do at this point). I’m not saying the Twins couldn’t out bid the Yankees and Rangers for Cliff Lee, but let’s just say the odds are remote (and that’s being unrealistically optimistic). The third ranked starting pitcher among Reiter’s Top 50 FAs is Carl Pavano and you don’t improve your starting rotation simply by re-signing one of the guys you had last season. So if the Twins do pick up a top of the rotation arm, it will have to be via trade.

In the bullpen, the Twins have Matt Capps and Joe Nathan on board already making “closer money”, so they’re not going to buy any of the relief pitchers on that Top 50 list. We can hope they find a way to retain one or two of the middle/set up relievers they stand to lose via free agency (Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch), but anyone else they add will come from internal options or out of the lower tier of the FA market. That’s really just a reflection of the lesser value the league places on the position.

So that leaves the right handed bat. Surely there must be a few guys who could pump a few balls in to Target Field’s bullpen on that Top 50 list, right? Of course there are. But you really have to ask yourself what position(s) you have open before you go shopping. Cross catchers and corner infielders off your list… you’re not going to bring in someone with the intent of replacing Mauer, Morneau or Danny Valencia. Let’s also forget about center fielders and middle infielders… there simply aren’t many of them that fit the “RH bat with power” description in the Top 50 FA rankings. Juan Uribe falls in to that category. And maybe Derek Jeter, if you want to feel generous toward him and say he has some power.

So if you want that RH power bat, it’s going to have to be a corner outfielder and/or DH. Since your two likely starting corner outfielders are already RH hitters with some power, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer, you’re really looking for either someone to be the right handed half of a DH platoon or someone significantly enough better than Young/Cuddyer that you use one of them in that part time DH role. It’s fine with me if the Twins make a run at guys like Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford, but the chances of that happening are perhaps only slightly better than seeing them compete for Cliff Lee.

So if you want someone on that Top 50 list, the question becomes, “how many of them would accept a part time role?” Would Vlad Guerrero? It might be fun to have a Thome/Vlad platoon, but it sounds like the Rangers, after not picking up his option, are trying to re-sign him anyway.

That said, there are a lot of aging DH-type players on the market. I doubt the Twins will jump in to the free agent DH market ahead of everyone else (other than perhaps to re-sign Thome), but after the Winter Meetings are over and after we’ve all recovered from our New Years Eve hangovers, it will be interesting to see which DHs still haven’t found a team. That strategy netted the Twins a sweet deal on Thome last year and I see no reason why they shouldn’t try it again this year. Specifically, I’ll keep my eyes on what kind of offers Lance Berkman, Ty Wigginton, Pat Burrell and even Miguel Tejada are getting. Each of them could fill a right handed DH/PH role and also back up various positions around the field.

In the end, any acquisition of a top pitcher will have to come through trade and ideally we’ll see many familiar faces in the bullpen. But I believe there will be affordable, productive right handed bats available out of that Top 50 FA list even if the Twins wait for the post-Holiday discount sales.

At least I sure hope so. – JC