Monday in the Off-season: Winter Mtgs & Twins Fest

Ok, this isn’t what I had originally intended to post today and I thought to myself, “..the plans of mice and men..” at which point my brain wandered to thoughts about what if I was a mouse or a man… Yeah, it’s just been that kind of Monday.

At any rate, today is the beginning of the Winter Meetings. Given that there is a percentage of the Twins fandom that is unhappy with the lack of news from the Front Office, now would be a good time for there to be at least some good reportable rumors! Obviously, there is going to be some discussion of Nishioka and whether or not progress is being made on signing him and we have that little problem of filling all the holes due to free agency. I think the sheer amount of work that has to happen during this off-season is adding more pressure than normal to the expectations of news from Smith and friends. You’d think Twins fans would be used to the “not hearing anything over the winter” but Smith broke that mold last year when he was so much more active (to our benefit) than previous general managers had been. He set the bar high for himself.

ESPN radio’s Phil Mackey is down in Florida covering the Winter Meetings and wrote up a great report covering what needs to be done.  If you need a quick catch up, I would give it a read.  Seth also has a good write-up with more of the player detail over at Seth Speaks.

As far as what’s going on here at HOME vs sunny Florida, TwinsFest tickets go on sale today.

Here’s the general details:


Friday, Jan. 28 4 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 29 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 30 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Ticket Prices

Adults: $9 in advance
($15 at the door)
Children:
(14 & under):
$5 in advance
($8 at the door)

Tickets on sale Dec. 8
Advance pricing ends on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011

Here’s a link for more information.  I don’t know if I’m going this year or not yet but I’m sure that turn out will be high.  And also, I honestly don’t remember exactly what ticket prices were in previous years but it seems like these are lower than I recall.  Can anyone verify my recollections or set me straight (if only for ticket prices)?

More Sunday Morning “Goofiness”

Since the baseball off-season kind of sucks for those of us who aren’t needing the vacation, I’m watching a lot of football.  Most of us seem to do some of that on Saturdays and Sundays lately.

So even though is a baseball oriented blog, I thought I would share a little entertainment in the vein of our current sports distractions.

A Mid-Offseason Report Card

It’s been a while since I was in school (though perhaps not as long ago as one might expect for someone of my advanced years). That said, I do recall something called “mid-term grades”. The cool thing about them was that they told you how you were doing in your coursework, but they didn’t really “count”. If you were doing well, you could afford to have a few beers and relax over the weekends, but if you were coming up short, the mid-term grades served as a wake-up call of sorts.

Sometimes, I think it would be nice if I could get the same sort of feedback once out in the real world. And if I think that would be of benefit to me, certainly an intelligent man like Bill Smith must feel the same way, right?

As hard as it may be to believe, we’re approaching the half-way point between the end of the Twins’ 2010 season and the date pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, 2011.

So it’s in this spirit of helpfulness that I offer the Twins’ GM his mid-term grade: D+.

And that grade assumes Tsuyoshi Nishioka gets signed by the December 26 deadline. If Smith doesn’t bring that home, the grade drops to an F.

The good news is, just like in college, the mid-term grades don’t really count. There’s still time to bring that grade up and not screw up the GPA. But time is wasting.

Monday at the the Swan and Dolphin hotels at DisneyWorld, MLB’s movers and shakers get together for their annual Winter Meetings, which wind up Thursday with the Rule 5 draft. Over the past five years, there have been an average of just over 10 trades announced during each year’s Winter Meeting gathering. It might be a very good idea for one or two of those deals this week to involve the Twins.

Why? Well, let’s take a look at what we’ve seen so far this offseason.

Unless/until deals are reached to bring some of these guys back in to the Twins fold, the Twins have lost their most reliable starting pitcher, Carl Pavano, their most prolific power hitter, Jim Thome, and four solid (or better) relief pitchers in Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes.. The Twins have done absolutely nothing about replacing the departing talent, much less making any improvements in those positions.

Nishioka is, so far, the only meaningful addition this offseason (and he isn’t even officially on board yet). And you’ll have to excuse me if I’m not as convinced as others seem to be that he represents a certain improvement over Hudson, Hardy or whoever’s roster spot he ends up taking.

Of course, Justin Morneau should be back and healthy by Opening Day and that represents a significant upgrade over Michael Cuddyer at 1B. But the Twins have done nothing to improve their lack of speed in their outfield, they haven’t replaced Pavano’s innings in the top half of the rotation and there looks to be a significant drop off in bullpen talent between the back end arms, Joe Nathan and Matt Capps, and the rest of the pen arms.

The Tigers have added Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit, the White Sox have added Adam Dunn to the heart of their line up, the Red Sox have acquired Adrian Gonzalez and are still kicking the tires on Jayson Werth [UPDATE: Werth has signed with the Nationals], the Yankees are going to add Cliff Lee and both the Angels and Rangers are in the hunt for Carl Crawford. Meanwhile, the Twins have done little but try to strengthen the Rochester Red Wings roster.

And excuse me if I don’t believe the chatter about potentially trading JJ Hardy for middle relief pitching would constitute any sort of improvement whatsoever. There are 70 or so middle relievers on the free agent market, including the four pretty good arms that wore Twins uniforms last season. Trading Hardy for talent you could easily bring on board through free agency would be a total waste of a valuable asset.

You don’t improve your chances of success in this league by trying to simply maintain the status quo while everyone else is focused on improving. Yes, the Twins won 94 games in 2010, but those who think they don’t have to improve the roster just to have a shot at being competitive in their division next season are kidding themselves.

Smith and his front office team have shown very little progress during the first half of the “semester” and that’s what they’re mid-term grade reflects. But there’s still time to salvage a passing grade. The second half of the offseason starts this week at Mickey Mouse’s Magic Kingdom.

It’s time to get to work, Mr. Smith.

- JC

Twins: Foreign/Domestic, New/Old, Friend/Foe

Just a few things that have come up around TwinsWorld lately that we haven’t gotten around to commenting about yet.

International Flavor:

Hope this is "our" Javier Pimentel. If not... oh well, worth a try, right?

In the past week, the Twins have submitted the high bid for the rights to negotiate with Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka and signed the supposed #10 prospect in the baseball-rich Dominican Republic, 17-year-old infielder Javier Pimentel. This continues the trend, started a couple of years ago, of the Twins flexing their international muscles more than a bit. They’ve had a strong presence in Australia for some time, but they’ve now made a name for themselves in the European, Latin American and Japanese markets, as well.

You have to give the Twins front office credit for not waiting for the increased revenues from Target Field before starting to bolster their international scouting organizations. Rather than waiting until the ballpark opened to start the long process of establishing a presence, learning how things worked, and getting to know the markets, they started doing all of that pretty much as soon as they had a deal in place to build the ballpark. As a result, now that the money is available, they’re already a recognized “brand” in those markets and it appears we’re seeing the fruits of those labors starting to be realized.

Red Dog gets a gig:

The Big Lug

Our old friend Mike “Naked Batting Practice” Redmond has been announced as the new manager of the Blue Jays Midwest League affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts. It will be interesting to hear whether his BP style (if you can call being naked a “style”) is passed along to his players. Red Dog will be hanging out with Lansing mascot “The Big Lug”, who is certainly no TC Bear (but then, who is?). In any event, I’m already looking forward to seeing Red when the Lugnuts travel to Cedar Rapids to face the Kernels in 2011. Good luck NBP!

Keeping an Eye on the Competition:

It’s starting to look like it may be difficult to recognize some of the Twins’ AL Central competitors in 2011. The Tigers have been the media’s big “winner” in the free agent market so far, having added Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit to their ranks. It doesn’t look like they’ll have familiar faces Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Maglio Ordonez  around any more (though word is that they could still re-sign Mags). Detroit had something like $50 million in contracts come off their books after this season, so they’re still looking to add more. I have to say, though, that I think they’re overpaying for what they’re buying. I understand they probably had to overpay to get the guys they wanted, but in a year or two, I think they’ll be saddled with contracts they wish they didn’t have.

The bitchiest Bitch Sox?

The White Sox could very easily have neither Paul Konerko nor our old friend AJ Pierzynski in uniform next season. GM Kenny Williams always pulls some sort of surprise signing out of his butt so I’m sure they’ll make a splash yet. But they apparently don’t have a lot of salary room and his deals seem to almost always blow up in the Sox’ face, so it’s hard to worry too much about them getting a lot better. Admit it though… it won’t be nearly as much fun hating the Bitch Sox if their chief bitch, AJ, isn’t around, will it? On the other hand, if he gets no other offers and has to return to Chicago on some sort of minimum wage deal, that might be kinda humorous. As for Paulie, I hope he finds a nice place to play ball… preferably in the National League. I don’t want to see him back in Target Field unless it’s in the World Series… or he’s wearing a Twins uniform (or both). [UPDATE: Appears I may have spoken too soon. The Sox have signed Adam Dunn to a 4-year, $56 million deal and still are interested in bringing Konerko back. If they manage to sign both, there's no doubt they'll be improved. Twins should hope they stop at Dunn and let him play 1B]

Media experts keep talking about how the Royals have all these great young players coming up through their system and that now is the time for them to trade Zack Greinke. I’m on record already as wanting the Twins in on that action if the Royals are serious about letting him go, but after reading that his “partial no-trade” clause expires at mid-season (meaning after that date, the Royals are not limited with regard to who they can trade him to), I don’t really expect KC to get serious about letting him go until the trade deadline. And as for the Royals actually getting competitive… I’ve heard it all before, so pardon me if I’m skeptical until I see evidence on the field above the AA level.

Finally, there’s the Indians. I haven’t really heard or read anything of interest about Cleveland except that they’re the only team I’ve read about (other than possibly the Twins, of course) having an interest in signing Nick Punto. I guess if there’s one franchise around who could use a Tiny Superhero, it’s the Indians. By the way,we’re hearing that one of the things Nishioka is known for over in Japan is… wait for it… yes… sliding head first in to first base. Sigh.

New Road Jersey:

In case you missed it, the lone change to the Twins’ uniform options in 2011 will be a new alternate road jersey. It’s a navy blue jersey with the same “script Minnesota” across the chest that the grey road jersey has.

The Twins dropped the very popular navy “block MINNESOTA” road jersey from their options a couple of years ago and, since then, the only alternate road jersey has been the same “script Twins” jersey that’s also worn at home.

Twins new "alternate" road jersey for 2011

As others have pointed out, the Twins tended to wear their navy jersey most of the time, at home and on the road, through the middle third or so of the season. The home whites and road greys seemed to be worn regularly early and later in the season and some people wondered if it had to do with superstitions among the players.

While I’m certainly not going to reject that possibility, because ballplayers are notoriously superstitious, I think there’s actually a more likely reason. The navy jerseys are made of much lighter weight material and during the dog days of June, July and August, the players (especially the starting pitchers, who have traditionally chosen the jersey they want to wear for their starts) opt for the coolest jersey among their choices. Conversely, they were more likely to wear the heavier (and warmer) white or grey jerseys during the cooler spring/fall parts of the season.

While the new road jersey will hopefully give them a second light-weight option, the real question that you would think someone would get around to asking is, “Why can’t they make a second set of white/grey jerseys out of the cooler material?”

Anyway… maybe we should keep track, here at Knuckleballs, of how many times each jersey is worn by the Twins next season. It seems like one of those interesting, if not at all important, pieces of information that would fit in nicely around here.

- JC

Giving Starting Pitchers Their Due

This week, we have another one of those topics that bloggers across the Twins blogging community were invited to discuss at (roughly) the same time. This time, it’s “What is the most important position in baseball?”

Last night (or was it REALLY early this morning?) CapitalBabs posted her opinion and, while I agree that she makes some excellent points in support of her position… well… she’s wrong. The starting pitcher is, by far, the most important position on any baseball team (once you get past T-ball level, anyway).

It might sound like I leapt to this conclusion without even considering other possibilities. I did.

Yet, in my defense, after I made that leap, I did go back and consider other positions. The catcher, admittedly, is pretty important. Ask any team who doesn’t have a good one. Centerfielder is pretty important, too, especially if your team has a couple of cement statues playing the corner OF positions (we do know all about that, don’t we?).  Closer? If you really think that, you need to go read this Joe Posnanski piece (in fact, go read it anyway).

I also gave some thought as to what constitutes a “position”. Maybe we should look at position in the batting order. Is the leadoff hitter, perhaps, the most important “position” on the team? Maybe it’s the most important position in the first inning of a game, but after that, it’s arguably just another spot in the batting order. Yes, it’s important all game long, in that the leadoff hitter needs to get on base in front of the power sticks coming up behind him. But in that sense, it’s no different than the #9 or #2 hitters (and, some might say, with the Twins, the #3 hitter as well).

But, you may argue, starting pitchers only start every fifth game! Not true. There’s a starting pitcher EVERY game… and the question was not, “Who is a baseball team’s most important player?”.

Starting with the first pitch of every ballgame, the starting pitcher’s performance gives his team it’s best… or worst… chance of winning that game. I’m quite certain there are some of those fancy, new-fangled, advanced statistics that will back me up on this opinion, but I’m not going to bother looking for them. Why? Because I’m also certain there are some of those fancy, new-fangled, advanced statistics that will contradict my opinion. (That’s just kind of the nature of those fancy, new-fangled, advanced statistics, isn’t it?)

So how do I know the starting pitcher is the most important position? Easy… I played the game. In fact, at one time or another in my ballplaying career (ok, I never got paid, so it wasn’t really a career… but you know what I mean), I played every position on the field. Mostly, I pitched and played first base. I played a lot at other infield positions, too. I played quite a bit of outfield, when I was younger and coaches figured out I could catch line drives and fly balls, including some centerfield (until coaches realized my lack of speed made me one of those cement statues referred to earlier).

So with all of that experience behind me, how do I know starting pitcher is the most important position? Because I can honestly say, that in no game where I played first base or shortstop or outfield or catcher or even came in as a relief pitcher, did I feel after the game that I cost my team the game with my defense. On the other hand, I can’t begin to count how many times I felt that way after a poor start on the mound… almost always with good reason.

-JC

In addition to CapitalBabs’ post below, you can find other bloggers’ views regarding the “Most Important Position in Baseball” by clicking these links:

Andrew at Twins Target (I believe he’s responsible for hatching this idea… if you don’t like it, blame him!)

k-bro’s baseball blog (k-bro seems to agree with me… perhaps she should rethink her opinion.)

The Common Man and Bill at The Platoon Advantage (two writers who share a blog but don’t agree… hard to imagine, isn’t it?)

Jesse at Twinkie Town 

Andrew at Off the Mark

Cody at North Dakota Twins Fan

There may be more, but this is what I’ve seen so far!