For the second straight day, I woke to a blanket of fog outside my window. It’s slightly warmer today than yesterday, but that just means the drizzle isn’t freezing… yet. Suffice to say, it isn’t exactly one of those days that make me want to sing, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” as I step outside (although I can’t honestly ever remember doing that anyway).
After making my way to the office and doing the normal “first thing” stuff… coffee, check email, coffee, check calendar, coffee… I took a glance at the morning Twins news and saw, on several sights, the statement issued by my boyhood hero, Harmon Killebrew:
“I was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer. With my wife, Nita, by my side, I have begun preparing for what is perhaps the most difficult battle of my life. I am being treated by a team of medical professionals at the Mayo Clinic. While my condition is very serious, I have confidence in my doctors and the medical staff and I anticipate a full recovery.
The Mayo Clinic is one of the largest and most experienced medical centers treating esophageal cancer in the world. In the past decade, they have made tremendous advances in the treatment of this disease. Nita and I feel blessed to have access to the best doctors and medical care.
I thank everyone for their outpouring of prayers, compassion and concern. Nita and I ask for privacy during this difficult journey.”
Yeah, my dreary day just got a lot drearier. I have some personal family experience with fighting cancer (but what family doesn’t?) and with the Mayo clinic (though I understand Killebrew is being treated at the Arizona clinic, rather than at Rochester where the halls and waiting rooms of the clinic became all too familiar to my family).
I’m sure we’ll all respect the Killebrews’ wish for privacy, but I couldn’t let the day pass without acknowledging that my own heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with Harmon and his family, as well as with the outstanding medical team working with him.
I spent about half an hour last night as a guest on “Fanatic Jack” Steal’s podcast, along with Topper (from Curve for a Strike). Jack’s often a bit overly critical of the Twins for my tastes, both on his podcasts and in his blog… but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily wrong (at least not all the time!).
As you might imagine, much of our discussion centered on what the Twins have done (or, more accurately, failed to do) so far this off-season. You can download the podcast here, if you want to verify that I’m just as much of an idiot when I talk as I am when I write.
We talked about Carl Pavano quite a bit. I’m honestly not sure which would bother me more… if the Twins re-sign Pavano or if they don’t re-sign him. This is a rare lose-lose decision for the Twins, I’m afraid. If they don’t sign him, it’s hard to figure out where they’re going to find another starting pitcher who can consistently pitch in to the 8th-9th inning to give their bullpen a rest… and with what looks like it will be a young, inexperienced bullpen, that could be important. On the other hand, it’s just hard to justify shelling out close to $10 million a year for one year, much less the multiple years that Pavano and his agent want, for a pitcher of Pavano’s age and medical history. That money could be used to bring back Jim Thome AND Brian Fuentes, combined.
I know it’s a long shot, but I’m hoping Fuentes’ options have been reduced to the point where returning to the Twins on a one year deal with perhaps some vesting/performance provisions might start to sound good to him. I know he wanted a deal to close for someone, but there aren’t a lot of those openings still out there… especially among contenders… and with the Twins, at least he would have a fair opportunity to close some games against teams sending up lefties in the 9th inning. It’s clear to me that the Red Sox are going to be the team the Twins will have to go through to get to the World Series in 2011 and with the lefty hitters they’re going to have, I’d sure like to have a strong LH arm at the back end of my bullpen. Wouldn’t hurt to have him around when Adam Dunn comes to bat late in White Sox games either.
As for Pavano, it sure looks like he and his agent may be overplaying their hand. If the Nationals or Twins decide to move in another direction, he’s screwed. He’ll be lucky to get a deal matching what he got from the Twins last year from whichever remains the last team interested in him. Maybe the decision to reject the Twins’ offer of arbitration wasn’t such a no-brainer after all. Frankly, if I were the Twins, I wouldn’t offer more than a one year deal with maybe some kind of performance-based vesting option for 2012… and I’m not sure I’d even do that if it means I don’t have the money to beef up my bullpen and find a bench hitter who won’t induce giggles from opposing pitchers any time he pinch hits.
That’s enough dreariness for today. I’m getting out of the office and going to see the new Harry Potter movie this afternoon… maybe that will brighten my outlook!
Those members of the Baseball Writers Association of America with voting privileges (ten years of membership in the BBWAA) for the Baseball Hall of Fame have until this Friday, December 31, to cast their ballots for this year’s HoF class and the results should be announced January 5, I believe.
Around Twinsville, there will continue to be increased interest in the voting as local favorite, Bert Blyleven, tries to get those last few elusive votes that would allow him to join Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett as Hall of Famers who played most of their careers in a Twins uniform.
The BBWAA. As I mentioned, the HoF delegates responsibility for voting for this prestigious honor to baseball writers. (Seriously… stop laughing… they REALLY do entrust baseball writers with this!) That fact, alone, should tell us all we need to know about how seriously we should take this kind of thing. Still, it IS the Hall of Fame, and it’s the only baseball hall of fame we have, so it’s understandable that players who would like to be so honored pay attention to what the voting baseball writers think.
Ironically, for many players, it’s not until after the five year post-retirement waiting period ends that they first start to give a rats’ ass what baseball writers think of them. (Don’t you think Bert would perhaps have been a LITTLE bit nicer to a few writers during his playing days if he had known so many of them were going to be jerks about voting for him for the HoF decades later?)
I’ve always wondered why the BBWAA gets to decide who goes in to the HoF. It’s not that I have anything in particular against baseball writers as a group or individually. I read a lot of their stuff during the season and much of it is very good. Like most jobs, you don’t get to keep doing something for ten years unless you demonstrate some level of talent. (MLB third base coach might be one exception… nobody has ever been elected to the HoF on the basis of their talent as a third base coach and I wouldn’t want to turn over responsibility for deciding who gets in to the HoF to third base coaches with at least 10 years on the job.) Anyway, I’ve never felt writers were better qualified than any of the rest of us when it comes to judging a player’s HoF worthiness, but lacking any idea of a more knowledgeable group, I never objected too strongly.
Then these writers started getting on their soapboxes about players from the “steroid era” not deserving to be in the HoF.
I’m sure that if you and I sat down and tried to come up with a group of people worthy of casting judgments about others’ “morals”, we could come up with an idea or two. But I’m also pretty sure “sports writers” wouldn’t be at the top of our list. Not that sports writers are, inherently, less moral than any of the rest of us, as a group. But I’ve known enough of them over the years to be damn sure they aren’t morally superior to most other groups, either… and that includes ballplayers. So, if BBWAA members were willing to just vote based on players’ performances, I would reluctantly agree to let them keep their position as HoF gatekeepers. But if they think it’s their responsibility to protect the HoF’s integrity, please… spare me. The percentage of BBWAA members who would have willingly “juiced” in order to be able to play Major League Baseball in the 1990s instead of writing about it would be roughly 100%. I detest the hypocrisy of some of these writers.
Bert By ’11? I would vote for Bert Blyleven because I watched him pitch and followed his career from the time he broke in with the Twins until the time he retired and I firmly believe he was one of the best pitchers in baseball from the time he was a teenager and for a solid 20 years beyond that. Yet, I understand if some writers who saw him pitch through much of the same time period disagree. It’s not like he was Nolan Ryan exactly.
But I can’t understand the writers who say their reason for not voting for Blyleven is that he was never “the best” pitcher in his era… that he accumulated his statistics just by being very good for a very long time.
Since when do we penalize players for being very good for a very long period of time? Shouldn’t a player who maintained such a high level of proficiency for over 20 years… long past the time when other supposedly more “elite” pitchers had retired to their recliners and sofas… be recognized for that kind of endurance? We aren’t talking about a guy who had a dozen decent seasons and then spent ten years working middle relief for any team that would give him a job. He started 25 games his rookie season and started 24 in his final year… 22 years later. Should he have retired a year or two sooner? Probably. But in his 20th season, he won 17 games for the Angels, posting a 2.73 ERA, and leading the league with five shutouts. I can’t blame him for not walking away from the game after that kind of season.
I’ll be glad to see Blyleven take his place alongside Killer, Kirby and Carew.
OK, I’ve rattled on long enough. Here’s a list of the eligible players. They are listed as they are on the BBWAA ballot, first those players who received at least 5% of the vote last year (in order of votes received last year), followed by those players in their first year of eligibility (in alphabetical order). The links take you to each player’s Wikipedia page.
I’ve selected the maximum number (10) of players to include on my ballot. I wouldn’t have had to do that if the writers would have done their jobs in earlier years and already put some of these guys in the Hall.
I voted for the following players:
Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, and Alan Trammell.
Obviously, I’m not feeling morally superior to any of these players, either.
Alomar and Blyleven should be no-brainers, in my opinion.
Larkin and Trammell were among the best shortstops playing the game in my lifetime and I think Murphy and Parker are largely under appreciated. These four guys had game.
During the time I’ve followed the game, Tim Raines may have been the best lead off hitter and base stealer not named Ricky Henderson.
Some people say that Jack Morris only gets support on the basis of his performance in one World Series game. That may be. But it was one HELLUVA performance.
McGwire and Palmeiro will probably never get in to the Hall of Fame. If that’s the penalty they pay for their sins, so be it. I’m simply not prepared to single them out just because they got “caught”. When we’re ready to throw out everyone who played the game during the steroid era, let me know. I’ll support keeping McGwire, Palmeiro, et al, out of the HoF when we all agree to kick out Cal Ripken and, yes, Kirby Puckett AND impose lifetime bans on Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez. Until we’re willing to keep out everyone who’s peak career years were from 1990-2005, I don’t want to hear about how we should selectively disqualify players we don’t like. And when we’ve cleaned out all of those “cheaters”, we can start working on expelling the guys who spent their entire careers using amphetamines (that should thin out the ranks of virtually everyone who played in the 1960s through the 1980s).
If you’d like to cast your own ballot, I suggest you buzz over to Joe Posnanski’s blog and vote there. I suppose I could have put up a poll in this post but, frankly, that would have required more work than I felt like putting in to this post.
By all means, feel free to criticize my picks in the comment section… or better yet, tell us who you would vote for!
UPDATE 12/30/2010: This morning, Joe Posnanski posted on his blog his list of 8 “automatic” yes votes for the HoF. He included two players I did not include in my “vote” here, Jeff Bagwell and Edgar Martinez. He makes compelling arguments for each. I’m not ready to vote for Martinez yet. If I were a BBWAA voter, I’d probably have him on my list to consider in the future, but he would be just beyond my “top 10” out of this year’s eligible players. But I have no excuse for not including Bagwell other than simply copping to having had a brain fart. Bagwell has to be included on my list.
That means I have to remove one of my previously chosen 10. It would come down to Morris, Parker and Palmeiro and the case for each is sketchy enough that you could almost pick one out of a hat and say, “wait until next year.” Having to choose one, it would probably be Dave Parker. Sorry, Pirate fans… we’ll talk again a year from now. – JC
There have been a lot of things written and said around Twinsville lately concerning the comparative off-season activities of the Twins and their AL Central competitors. Those discussions generally are boiled down to this conclusion: “If the season started today, the Twins would be picked to finish third in their division behind the White Sox and Tigers.”
I’m not going to sit here and loudly proclaim that such an opinion is wrong, but I’m also not going to join the chorus quite yet.
Before I make my contrarian points, let’s be clear about a couple of things. First, I’m not impressed with the way the Twins have molded their 2011 roster, so far. I wanted to see a legitimate top-of-the-rotation pitcher added and someone with better defense and speed added to the outfield (even if it meant trading someone like Jason Kubel). Obviously, the Twins were no more impressed with my suggestions than I’ve been with their moves, since they’ve done nothing whatsoever with regard to improving their rotation and have publicly stated that their plan is to bring back last season’s outfield group (though this would include Michael Cuddyer getting most of the playing time in RF, rather than Kubel).
Another thing I would make clear is that I agree that the Tigers and White Sox have been making moves that could improve those teams significantly. Picking up Victor Martinez will improve the Tigers and adding Adam Dunn should be a significant offensive upgrade for the Sox. I’m giving them less credit for their bullpen additions of Joaquin Benoit and Jesse Crain, respectively. If “closers” are significantly overvalued on the market and by many fans and analysts, then middle relievers who cash in with three-year deals for eight-figure guarantees are hitting the lottery.
In fact, it sounds like Crain is going to get his shot as a closer for the White Sox. Jesse did a very nice job for the Twins last season (after the first couple of months anyway), but is there anyone around here who’s watched Crain pitch for the past few years that would be comfortable with him as your closer? Not me. If the Sox fans dreaded seeing Bobby Jenks take the mound to protect small leads in the ninth inning, then they’re really in for some Maalox moments with Jesse. At least that’s my gut feeling. (Get it? “gut feeling”… Maalox… come on, this is my best Monday stuff here!)
So if I’m unimpressed with the Twins’ moves, so far, and I agree with the masses who think the Tigers and White Sox have improved themselves, why am I not jumping aboard the “Twins will fall behind the White Sox and Tigers” bandwagon?
Because even as currently constituted, the Twins have not merely swapped out JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson for Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla (which I do believe has a chance to reflect a more significant upgrade over the tandem they’re replacing than most others seem to believe will be the case). They’ve also added Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan to their active roster.
I don’t expect Nathan to walk in to Spring Training and immediately be the closer he was in 2009, but I do believe that he and Matt Capps comprise as solid a set-up/closer duo as any other team in the AL Central is likely to have (granted, I’m bigger on Capps’ potential than most people are). In addition, as they tout the White Sox, I’ve read so many people talking about Chicago not only adding Dunn, but also re-signing Paul Konerko. That’s fair… but only if you ALSO mention the Twins getting their All Star 1B back, as well. Is it possible that Nathan or Morneau (or both) will fail to return to their prior levels of productivity? Of course. But I have to say I like Morneau’s chances of having a big season as much as, if not better than, Konerko’s.
But the biggest reason I’m not ready to hand over the Division to the Kittens and BitchSox is that, obviously, the Twins aren’t finished forming their roster yet. I still want more at the top of the rotation. Ideally, I’d prefer they make a deal for a Wandy Rodriguez-type, if they can find a willing trade partner. Failing that, bringing back Carl Pavano wouldn’t be a terrible idea, either. The Twins are likely to be less experienced (and thus, less reliable) with their middle inning bullpen options, so having a guy that has been pitching in to the 7th or 8th inning with some regularity wouldn’t be a bad idea.
I also still expect to see Jim Thome back on the Twins bench and, hopefully, playing the role he was intended to play last season before injuries forced him in to the regular DH spot. If it were me, I’d also try to find a spot for someone like Marcus Thames on my bench as well… though that seems unlikely since the Twins re-signed Jason Repko.
The way the chips have fallen, I also won’t be a bit surprised to see Nick Punto return at a reduced pay rate. The dangerous side to that prospect, of course, is that Ron Gardenhire may yank Nishioka or Casilla the first time one of them irritates him (which, let’s face it, isn’t likely to take long), giving him the excuse to insert Nicky in to the line-up as a regular again.
Let’s also not forget that the Tigers and White Sox aren’t necessarily finished making deals yet. While some people suspect the Tigers may still have some payroll flexibility, the White Sox seem to be in just the opposite condition. The price tags on Dunn, Konerko and Crain have already pushed their payroll above what many people speculated they would be prepared to spend. As a result, there’s still talk of them perhaps trading away someone like Edwin Jackson in a salary dump. Without Jackson and with Jake Peavy not available, at least to start the season, that Sox rotation doesn’t look nearly as formidable.
Spring Training is now less than two months away from getting started and while the Twins’ front office still has a lot of work to do before pitchers and catchers report, I think it’s premature to write off 2011 and just hand the Division Championship to the White Sox or Tigers.
In fact, I think the only thing we can safely say for sure is:
If the season started today… fans and players alike would be freezing their butts off at Target Field! – JC
NOTE: A funny thing happened when we posted our article about the prospect of the Twins replacing JJ Hardy with Tsuyoshi Nishioka a couple of weeks ago. Our sitemeter started recording “hits” from Japan. So with this, our official “Welcome” post for the newest Minnesota Twin, we thought we’d give one of those fancy online Translator programs a try. We only hope we don’t end up accidentally starting some kind of international incident.
It’s official! Tsuyoshi Nishioka is a Minnesota Twin. The Twins have come to an agreement on a contract with the Japanese infielder which will reportedly pay Nishioka $9 million over the next three seasons. When you factor in the posting bid price that the Twins paid to Nishioka’s NBP team, the Chiba Lotte Marines, the total cost to the Twins will be somewhere close to $15 million over the next three years.
That’s a fair price. It’s certainly not an amount of money that will break the bank or keep the Twins from also signing other players. But yet, it’s fair to ask, “What should the Twins expect for their money?” For such a seemingly simple question, there really can be nothing but a complicated answer.
The Twins are hopeful that Nishioka will provide reliable defense at one of the middle infielder positions and, while he’s not expected to hit for much power, hopes are that he’ll get on base well enough to fill the number two spot in the batting order and provide more speed than the team got out of that spot last season. Those are not unreasonable expectations and if the Twins had signed some kind of American free agent infielder with similar skill sets, this is where we could probably end the discussion of expectations. But make no mistake, this is not just another baseball player changing teams.
I don’t know if the Twins organization thought through what it would mean to sign the defending Nippon Baseball Pacific League batting champion and bring him to Minnesota, but I hope everyone is ready for what happens next.
Ron Gardenhire may be looking for someone with speed to fill an infield spot. Bill Smith may be looking for a young player he could sign to a reasonable multiple year salary. The Minnesota news media may be happy to have something new to write about concerning the Twins, who’s roster of key contributors has been comprised of rather bland personalities for a while now. Fans of the “baseball purist” variety are largely just anxious to see some indication that the Twins organization recognizes the team needs to make improvments. The casual fans probably won’t even figure out that the Twins have a new infielder until March when they start paying attention again. Each of these groups may or may not get what they’re hoping for. But I have a feeling we’re all going to get much, much more.
I’m not sure any of us really are prepared for what comes next.
I’ve been trying to think of an analogy but I really can’t come up with one. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like what’s coming our way. Ever. We’re talking about a Japanese iconic rock star in cleats coming soon to a baseball field… and a clubhouse… near you!
This wouldn’t be such a big deal if Nishioka had signed with any number of other Major League teams. He’d be just another target of the paparazzi in New York or Boston or even Los Angeles. Seattle has already been down this road before with Ichiro, so another talented Japanese import wouldn’t really change that organization’s profile much.
But the Minnesota Twins? This is a team owned by a family of bankers, run by essentially the same group of businessmen for decades, and managed on the field by “old school” managers and coaches since, well, forever. And this is a group of players that seem to think breaking the seal on a new deck of cards constitutes “clubhouse excitement.” Man, are they in for a surprise.
I don’t know what to expect from the Twins in 2011. There are too many question marks. Will Joe Nathan come back healthy enough to contribute at the back end of the bullpen? Will Justin Morneau return from his concussion and reestablish himself among the best hitters in the Major Leagues? Will Joe Mauer perform like a player worth $23 million a year instead of the mere mortal he proved himself to be this season? Will the rotation hold up? I’m anxious to see how all that works out.
But not nearly as anxious as I am to see how everyone directly or indirectly involved with the Twins… from fans to players to media… adjusts to the Japanese tsunami that’s about to wash over the organization. Personally, I think this team has needed some kind of spark… a shot in the arm… or a kick in the ass… something… for a long time. All of this “even keel” stuff is boring me and I think it’s boring a lot of other fans, too. The Twins opened up a brand new stadium last year and I managed to attend something close to a dozen games during the course of the season. I saw them play good teams and bad… from the Yankees and Rangers to the Orioles. Fans showed up in record numbers and clearly had a good time… but I never really felt the crowd was EXCITED by what they were seeing on the field.
I don’t know if a change among of middle infielders is enough to get the Twins to the World Series. It seems unlikely. But I think it’s time for us to get past the debating about whether the Twins were right or wrong to trade away JJ Hardy. The past is past. It’s time to look forward and if this Japanese comet that’s about to land among us can bring some fun and excitement to Target Field in 2011 and beyond, then I can’t wait to be there when it happens!
As most of you who read this blog are probably aware by now, I’m an Iowan. If you weren’t aware, well, you are now. And being Iowan (not to mention a baseball fan), I can’t let today go by without some remarks about Bob Feller, a native of Van Meter, Iowa, who passed away Wednesday at the age of 92. I don’t know how many people would make a list of All Time Greatest Iowans (insert obligatory joke here), but any such list would have to have Bob Feller near the top and a list of Greatest Living Iowans just lost the person at the very top of the list.
I saw Feller once, years ago, at some event or another where he was signing autographs. He did a lot of that. He was probably in his 60s or 70s at the time.
Age affects all of us differently. For many of us, our features get a bit softer and our eyes lose a bit of whatever it was they had when we were still experiencing virtually all of life for the first time. I saw none of that in Bob Feller.
They say he was among the most intimidating pitchers of his time. I could still see that in his face, and especially his eyes, decades after he retired from the game. I read elsewhere last night that he was still pitching, from the full 60’6”, in Cleveland Indians Fantasy Camps up until just a few years ago. I wouldn’t have wanted to step in there against him. OK, I lied. I’d have LOVED to get in the box one time against him. But I wouldn’t have crowded the plate.
Hearing about his passing Wednesday night, I recalled an interview someone had done for the Cedar Rapids Gazette years ago that had some great quotes. I decided to try to dig through the Gazette’s archives this morning to see if I could find that article. To my pleasant surprise, the interviewer was columnist Mike Hlas, who’s still at the Gazette, AND he re-ran his Feller interview, which you can read in its entirety here. You should, because there’s some great stuff in there about his views on the military and the modern game of baseball. But my favorite line was, “The players today don’t know the rulebook. The only thing they know for sure is their agents’ phone numbers.” You tell ’em Rapid Robert!
Feller made his debut with the Indians at the age of 17, without ever playing a minor league game. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you may remember reading that a lot of players who were “too young” or “too old” to really play well were playing Major League Baseball during World War II… but that wasn’t why Feller was there. He started facing Joe DiMaggio in 1936, the year both of them started their MLB careers, and already had three years of time in when Ted Williams debuted in 1939.
By the time the off-season following the 1941 season rolled around, Feller had five and a half seasons in and was coming off his third consecutive 20-win season… a season during which he completed 28 of the 40 games he started. Oh, and he finished four additional games after coming on in relief. All together, he threw 343 innings in 1941 and was expected to sign perhaps the richest contract in baseball history before the Tribe would report to Spring Training in 1942. On the mound, he was Bob Gibson and Roger Clemens all rolled in to one and he was only 22 years old.
But on December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, drawing the US formally in to World War II and by December 8, Bob Feller had enlisted in the Navy… the first Major Leaguer to do so. He didn’t have to… he was entitled to a deferment as his family’s sole supporter. And he didn’t spend his service time doing promotional tours, either. He served as an anti-aircraft gunner on the battleship, USS Alabama.
As the Gazette’s Hlas mentions in his article, Feller kept up a very busy schedule. This past April, at the age of 91, he traveled to Mobile Alabama for a special USS Alabama reunion. You can read about that here.
At the time of the Gazette interview in 1994, Feller was scheduled to give the Commencement Address at a small Iowa high school the next day. Hlas asked Feller what he intended to say to the students. I think his response is a fitting way to end this post.
“I’m going to ask those kids if they’re the best in the world at something,” Feller said. “You don’t have anything to talk about until you’re the best in the world. Unless you’re the best there is in your profession, you can always improve. And even then, you can still improve.”
Some of you are probably too young to remember this line from Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards in “Top Gun” (is it really possible that movie is 25 years old?). The two actors portrayed Naval Aviator Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and his backseat RIO, “Goose” (20 bonus Knuckleballs points if you can tell us Goose’s character’s real name without looking it up… I couldn’t) as they piloted their F14A Tomcat from the USS Enterprise (that’s the aircraft carrier, not the starship) to Top Gun training at Miramar Naval Air Station.
Maverick, you see, was one helluva pilot (sorry… naval aviator) and there’s no doubt that if he would just “do it right”, he could be the best.
But Maverick’s personality was such that he had to go faster than anyone else. Goose would try to maintain some level of control and impress on his friend that being smart about things is important, too. In the end, however, he always went along with Maverick’s reckless “winning means doing it faster than anyone else, no matter what” approach. Goose knew better, but dangit, Maverick was such a lovable guy that in the end, all he could do is shake his head and go along for the ride.
The Twins never showed interest in bring back Orlando Hudson and now, with the addition of Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka and subsequent trade of JJ Hardy to Baltimore on the last day of MLB’s Winter Meetings, Twins General Manager Bill Smith officially bought in to Manager Ron Gardenhire’s desire to begin bringing the running game back in to the Twins’ offensive game plan.
Does Bill Smith really believe in this change in approach? Did he try to point out to Gardy that his team scored more runs than anyone else in the AL Central Division, even if Target Field proved more difficult than expected to hit a baseball out of?
It doesn’t really matter, of course, whether Smith knows the important thing is to outscore your opponents and win games, because dangit, Gardy is such a lovable guy and you know that, in the end, all Smith can do is shake his head and go get the kind of players Gardy wants.
A year ago… and really all throughout the 2010 season… a lot of us were having some fun drawing comparisons between the Twins and White Sox. Years earlier, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had given the Twins a cute nickname… the piranhas (or was it “piranyas”?)… that portrayed the Twins as a scrappy group of speedy little guys with limited real athletic ability that consistently beat Ozzie’s more talented teams by nibbling them to death. By 2010, the roles had reversed and Ozzie had apparently convinced Sox GM Kenny Williams that he needed more versatile ballplayers who would battle their tales off, while Bill Smith went out and stocked the Twins with more professional hitters.
The beefed up Twins went something like 99-1 against the Sox team that Ozzie and Kenny had built in the Twins’ former image. As a result, this off-season, I’m not sure Williams has even asked Ozzie what he “wants”. He went out and bought the ultimate power hitter, Adam Dunn, in addition to re-signing Paul Konerko. (Alas, Mark Kotsay’s days DHing for the BitchSox are over… dammit.)
I’m concerned that Gardy got bored last year. Sure, the Twins scored a lot of runs and would almost certainly have scored even more if Justin Morneau hand’t been shelved by a concussion half way through the season. But something just didn’t feel right to Gardy. There were times, no doubt, when his instincts were to steal, bunt, hit & run… all those things the piranhas did… but there wasn’t a piranha in sight. Instead he had Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome and JJ Hardy out there clogging up the basepaths.
So what if the runs still scored (perhaps because the Twins weren’t needlessly giving up outs by bunting and getting caught stealing)? It just wasn’t the kind of baseball team Gardy enjoyed managing. It was like taking Maverick out of his F14A and putting him in a “clunky” B1 bomber. Sure he might eventually inflict more damage on the enemy, but without the speed and maneuverability of his Tomcat, it’s just not as much fun for the guy at the controls.
Look, I get that Target Field isn’t built for marginal power hitters… guys that rely on balls that barely clear fences to generate their HR numbers. But Bill Smith should remember that last season’s strategy of bringing in better offensive players, even if they weren’t the fastest guys in the game, resulted in the Twins winning 94 games.
And before Bill Smith completely buys in to Gardy’s dream of bringing us Piranhas II – The Sequel, he might also keep one more thing in mind…
While “Top Gun” ended with LT Mitchell all smiles, going along with Maverick’s “need for speed” didn’t turn out so well for Goose.
If you aren’t one of those people who stay up in to the wee hours of the morning during MLB’s Winter Meetings, you may have awoken to the news that some time after midnight that the Twins and Orioles had agreed to a trade that sends JJ Hardy and Brendan Harris to Baltimore in return for two minor league relief pitchers, Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey.
It appears that the two pitchers have good velocity and could contribute to the Twins sooner, rather than later and I’m sure we’ll get more details on the trade during the course of the day Thursday. Still, I’m a bit disappointed in the return obtained for a very solid Major League shortstop. Of course, eliminating both Hardy’s estimated $6-7 million salary and the $1.75 million owed to Harris in 2011 does free up payroll room to be used elsewhere.
But, while I hoped to either keep Hardy around or get more in return for him, I’m not sure what surprises me more… that the Twins would trade JJ Hardy for no more than they are getting in return from the Orioles or that Twins fans/bloggers are so universally up in arms over the trade.The large and diverse Twins blogging community, by and large, has trouble agreeing on anything. No matter what moves Bill Smith makes, some people will like it, some people won’t like it, and some people (you know who you are) will think it’s the dumbest move ever made by any MLB front office since the last move made by the Twins… because every move made by the Twins is, by definition, the worst move made by any team, ever.
But long before this trade was finalized, the blogs, podcasts and Tweets were lighting up with almost unanimous criticism of the deal. There was some acknowledgment that the limited return the Rays got for Jason Bartlett on Wednesday indicated that Twins fans should be prepared to see similar limited returns for Hardy, but that hasn’t kept the complaints from pouring through cyberspace in the first hour or so following the announcement. That’s pretty incredible, when you think about it. How bad must a deal be to get all of us to agree that it’s bad?!
The assumption seems to be that the Twins simply needed to dump Hardy’s estimated salary to make room for Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka… that having scored too many runs last year, Gardy longed to return to the “piranha” game that he enjoys managing. I’m on record of being skeptical about the prospect of turning over a middle infield position to Nishioka before he’s taken a single ground ball in Spring Training and dispensing Hardy to Camden Yards certainly is risky, to me.
That said, we’re talking about JJ Hardy here, not Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau. I get that he’s developed a certain loyal fan base (largely among the womenfolk, for some reason), but let’s keep in mind this is a guy who the Brewers demoted to the minor leagues just 18 months ago and traded for Carlos Gomez just over a year ago. (Gomez is now available on the trade market again, by the way.)
If we want to take an honest look at why the Twins moved Hardy just a year after trading for him, we should take a step back and recall why they traded for him in the first place. A year ago, the Twins were intent on adding offense, even if it meant sacrificing some defense. Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson were brought in for their bats. They traded away their best defensive outfielder for a shortstop that they hoped might hit a few home runs. And the Twins, at that point, couldn’t really know how their new home, Target Field, would play.
Now fast-forward a year and put yourself in the Twins post-season organizational meetings. You know, now, that your new shortstop essentially has warning track power in Target Field (like pretty much everyone else). He’s not fast. He’s not quick. He’s an above average defensive shortstop in much the same way Cal Ripken was an above average shortstop. He positions himself very well. He just seems to get to the ball very well.
With the general dearth of quality middle infielders on the open market this winter, now might have been the Twins’ best opportunity to get anything of value for Hardy. While it may be difficult to make that argument with a straight face, given the return received from the Orioles, what we don’t know today is what Hardy’s performance level will be in 2011.
In the grand scheme of things, however, the Twins’ fortunes in 2011 aren’t likely to be significantly determined by having Nishioka and Casilla in the middle of the infield instead of one of those two paired with Hardy. And if one of them gets hurt or underperforms, it’s not like the Twins don’t have a couple of hundred middle infielders in their system that could step in.
I’ve felt from the beginning that the key to the Twins improving their roster for 2011 is improving the top of their starting rotation. Other than the fact that devoting so much of their time to the Nishioka/Hardy issue has kept them from focusing their attention on improving their rotation, I just can’t get all that worked up over this trade. In fact, part of me feels like anything disliked so much by so many of us must have a pretty good shot at turning out well!
I like JJ Hardy and I even like the Orioles. I hope he does well there.
And I hope the Twins and their scouts are right about Nishioka, not to mention Jacobson and Hoey.
P.S. It appears that I can pretty much forget all about my off-season “blueprint”. Not only is it virtually impossible that the Twins would be able to get my preferred “ace”, Zack Greinke, but now my suggestion for a flyer in the outfield is off the table as well. Melky Cabrera has reportedly agreed to terms with Greinke’s Royals. Ah well.
My posts are too long. I know. This one is even longer than usual. Sorry. -JC
It’s impossible. It would be lunacy. And say what you will about the Minnesota Twins front office, they aren’t prone to lunacy. Sure, they occasionally screw up and overpay a light-hitting utility infielder by a couple million dollars or so. But the Twins don’t out-lunatic the lunatics in New York when it comes to bidding for the services of 30+ year old starting pitchers.
I have to admit that I find the Cliff Lee storyline 100 times more fascinating than the laughable Derek Jeter drama we endured last week. While they both involve the Yankees and thus share the same prospect of the Evil Empire ending up looking foolish, that’s about all the two have in common. There are many more compelling reasons to become enthralled with the unfolding Lee scenarios. For starters, Cliff Lee is still really good at baseball.
To bring people up to date (though “up to date” in this unfolding drama is, to say the least, a very fluid moving target), Lee is by far the best free agent starting pitcher on the market this off-season. In fact, if you look at pitchers with contracts expiring next year, we’re probably not going to see anyone better at what he does hit the market then either. The term “ace” is thrown around pretty loosely these days, to the point that I’m not even sure what it means any more. But Lee pretty much is everything a team would want in an ace. He’s left-handed. He works deep in to games and saves your bullpen. He has excellent command of multiple pitches. He (generally) stays healthy. He rises to the occasion in the post-season. He beats the Yankees.
The bidding for Lee had the potential to be a story worth following even before the Winter Meetings started this week in Florida. The Yankees and the Texas Rangers were expected to do battle for the right to pay him over $100 million over the next five seasons. In the end, of course, everyone expected the Yankees to get their man. After all, they “need” Lee and they always get what they need when the only determining factor is money. (By the way, I find this concept of the Yankees “needing” Lee to be typical of the Yankees and their fans. What other franchise would have CC Sabathia at the top of their rotation and yet feel they NEED Cliff Lee? What they NEED is someone better than Javier Vasquez and AJ Burnett to add to their rotation… how hard could it be to find someone like that?)
But a funny thing happened on the way to this two-team Battle Royale for Lee’s services. Other teams showed up with money in hand, too. So many teams showed up with so much money, in fact, that the price for Lee seems to be rising by the hour. Almost immediately, it became clear that a five year contract wasn’t going to cut it. It would take six. Reportedly, that was more than the Rangers were willing to go. The Yankees supposedly are willing to do six years… but no more. But so, perhaps, might the Nationals, Angels, Red Sox, Cubs or Orioles. Then, Tuesday, reports started coming out that one team (or possibly even two teams) might go seven years for Lee!
Speculation started about who might raise insanity to levels past all prior boundaries (a.k.a. beyond Yankee-Insanity). Immediately, eyes looked toward Washington where, it seems, the ownership has allowed the team’s close proximity to Congress to instill a total lack of fiscal restraint on the Nationals franchise. The Nats have already made the most excessive (read: dumbest) signing this year by paying Jayson Werth $126 million over the next seven seasons. But the Nationals deny they’re willing to go seven years. As do the Angels. And the Orioles. And the Cubs. And every other team that’s been asked, “Are you the crazy one?”
Which leads us to one of two conclusions: 1) Someone is lying… either about there even being a seven year offer out there (never mind two of them) or about not being the team to have made such an offer; or 2) there’s a mystery team (or two) laying in the weeds who’s willing and able to commit over $20 million a year for the next seven years for Cliff Lee’s services. The entertainment value alone of watching all the big (and small) media types chasing down the answers through the pastel-colored halls of the Dolphin and Swan hotels would almost have been worth the price of airfare to fly down there!
Speculation as to who the “mystery team(s)” might be has run the gamut from the Cubs to the Tigers to the Astros to the Brewers (seriously… the Astros and Brewers?!).
There’s every possibility that the seven year offer is nothing more than a phantom, leaked by Lee’s representatives to drive up the price or by another team just to… you know… drive the Steinbrenners a little nuttier than they already are. In either case, the end result would at least be that the Evil Empire would feel compelled to jack up their offer and overpay even more than they would have if they were only bidding against themselves (see: Jeter, Derek and Rodriguez, Alex).
But what if there IS someone out there with a seven year offer for Lee?
What sort of team would be willing to take on that sort of risk and be able to stay under the radar? Let’s look at the criteria any such team would have to meet.
Need. You have to really, REALLY, need a top-of-the-rotation difference maker. You don’t do something this crazy if you already have one of the best in the business heading your rotation… unless you’re the Yankees.
Motivation. You need to be a contender (or at least see yourself as being a contender) or close enough to being one that adding Lee would sure make you look like one. Ideally, you’re a contender who believes you may be an “ace” away from a World Series.
Resources. You need to have money. This can be tricky for outsiders to figure out because teams don’t broadcast how much money they have so the best anyone can do is estimate. Estimates are loosely based on two criteria: 1) how much you spent on payroll last year (teams supposedly dedicate about half their total revenues to their Major League payrolls); and 2) your home attendance levels.
Stealthy Insanity. You need to have ownership and front office people willing (or at least motivated, for some reason) to do something a little crazy… or a lot crazy… AND be able to keep their craziness quiet.
When you apply those four criteria, the possibilities narrow in a hurry. (Again, I say, the Astros and Brewers? Really?!)
The Red Sox, maybe. They’ve got solid starting pitching already, but they missed the playoffs last season and they could use Lee. They have no shortage of money, though they’re going to have to shell out megabucks to keep newly acquired Adrian Gonzales around more than a year. They’ve shown a willingness to do crazy stuff before (like post a bid of a gazillion dollars to Dice-K’s Japanese team a while back). They’re also motivated by Yankee-envy and could figure that even if they don’t get Lee, at least they’d have the satisfaction of knowing they made the Yankees pay more for him than they wanted to.
The Tigers, perhaps. They had over $50 million come off their payroll this year and they’re clearly intent on spending it. They have every fan’s dream: an owner who’s really just a fan with an obscene amount of money who just wants to win, no matter what it costs. In addition, despite the Detroit economy, fans are still attending their games.
But let’s quit beating around the bush. We all know where this post is heading.
What about the Twins?
Do they need a playoff-proven, Yankee killing, ace?
Are they a contender that’s perhaps one or two key pieces from a World Series?
Do they have money?
Of course, the question is, “How much money do they have?” Nobody knows. But here’s what we DO know. They posted a bid for Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakura and were rumored to have posted the second-highest bid. Oakland “won” with a $19 million bid. Let’s say the Twins bid $10 million (I suspect it was more). They would have had to be prepared to shell out a total of $15 million in 2011 for Iwakura (including posting bid and at least $5 million for his first year). In 2012, the Twins potentially have over $15 million in payroll coming off the books in just two outfielders (Cuddyer and Kubel) just as the next crop of young (cheap) outfielders should be arriving. The Twins also have every reason to expect that they’ll continue to sell out Target Field’s 40,000 seats, resulting in another 3,000,000 attendance figure next year. While their average ticket price is only about $35 (thus just over $100 million in ticket revenue), let me ask you… how much money do you suppose the average ticketholder spends at a game? Does $30-$50 over and above his/her ticket price seem unlikely? And we haven’t even talked about media rights or advertising. Is it really impossible to imagine that the Twins are pulling down $300 million in revenues?
But even if we all would agree the Twins have the need, the motivation and the resources to make a seven year play for Cliff Lee, do we have any reason to believe they’d actually do something so totally un-Twinslike? Of course not.
A year ago, Bill Smith traded for a new shortstop, signed Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson as free agents, and went out and obtained Brian Fuentes and Matt Capps during the season in order to give his team its best shot at a serious title run. All in addition to locking up Joe Mauer to about the richest non-Yankee contract in baseball. In previous seasons, losing cornerstones like Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau would have meant writing the year off and dumping contracts, not to mention trading Mauer away for whatever they could get for him or watching him sign with New York or Boston as a free agent.
This is all a long (too long, perhaps, but what do you really expect from one of my posts, by now?) way of saying that if I were a writer covering this story in Florida this week and I was trying to unearth the identity of the crazy “mystery team” who’s made a seven year offer to Cliff Lee, I’d at least ask Bill Smith if he’s the nutty GM who’s made that offer.
On the other hand, Smith’s also the GM who probably wouldn’t give a straight answer to a writer who asks what he had for breakfast, so you might not even bother asking about this.
So… do I REALLY believe the Twins might be making a seven year contract offer for Cliff Lee, just because they have the need, the motivation, and arguably the resources to do so? No, of course not. The Twins never do that kind of thing. Ever.
Despite what some may believe, I tend to be pretty supportive of the job the Twins’ front office does. I know the organization is a business and understand they aren’t going to spend more money than they take in. I know they aren’t going to go out and overpay for free agent talent the way the Yankees do. Unlike many Twins fans, I’m not one who constantly finds fault with the owner or the GM or the manager. I consider the lack of recent success in the playoffs to be a source of frustration, but not abject organizational failure.
Yet, I’ve been quite up front about my impatience with regard to the Twins seeming lack of progress toward making any sort of real improvement in the make up of the roster so far. And Day 1 of the Winter Meetings did nothing to make me feel better. Bill Smith indicated that the only non-pitching positions that are undecided already are SS and 2B. And while he didn’t come right out and say that JJ Hardy would be traded once Tsuyoshi Nishioka is signed, that is clearly where the signs are pointing.
I also understand that my Zack Greinke wish is not going to come true. In fact, given that the Royals would clearly demand from the Twins a premium of prospects over and above the premium of prospects that they’re going to demand from teams that AREN’T in their own division, I’m willing to admit it would probably be foolish for Smith to pay the Royals’ asking price.
So given that the Twins won’t be bidding on the lone remaining top of the rotation pitcher (Cliff Lee) and probably shouldn’t be bidding on the next best starting pitcher (Carl Pavano) because of his expectations regarding a three-year contract, what does constitute a reasonable expectation for a fan who strongly believes the Twins need another strong starting pitcher?
Let’s try this scenario on for size.
Near the bottom of a column he wrote on December 1, Jayson Stark mentioned that the Houston Astros were in the market for a reasonably priced, left-handed hitting outfielder. If the Twins re-sign Jim Thome, they will, coincidentally, have an arguably superfluous lefty-hitting outfielder floating around in the person of Jason Kubel.
The Astros, in return, have a certain lefty starting pitcher who’s going to start getting a bit expensive very soon. Wandy Rodriguez lost his arbitration contest with the Astros last year and ended up pitching for $5 million and now he and his agent are trying to work out an extension that will buy out his last year of arbitration and first couple of years of free agency.
Shortly after Rodriguez overmatched the Twins in a 4-1 Astro win in June, the Twins reportedly tried, unsuccessfully, to trade for the lefty prior to the trade deadline at the end of July. They should try again.
I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about the Astros. (I think they play in Houston, right?) But what I do know is that they are reportedly for sale and they’re trying to cut payroll while remaining at least competitive enough not to screw up their sale price.
I have no idea whether Houston would want Kubel. I have no idea whether they might be interested in a shortstop like JJ Hardy. Maybe, instead, it would take prospects or maybe the Twins would have to eat part of Kubel’s or Hardy’s 2011 salary. Smarter people than I would have to figure out exactly what a fair exchange would be.
I don’t even know if Rodriguez would be available, but given the current state of that franchise, it’s hard for me to believe he’s going to be an Astro beyond 2011, his final arbitration year. In any event, the purpose of writing this is simply to demonstrate that there ARE options out there, other than Lee, Pavano, Greinke, et al. The Twins need to improve their rotation and the time to do it is now, before other teams beat the Twins to the punch.
I’ve heard enough about middle-weight infielders and middle-inning relief pitchers. I don’t want to hear that we should just be satisfied to replace most of the talent being lost to free agency. If you’re standing in place, you’re falling behind and there are options out there that can, and would, actually improve the Twins roster now and in the future. The Twins have some highly compensated businesspeople who should be able to turn over a few rocks and find those options.
Either that or they should find another line of work.