To Quote Or Not To Quote

I wish I had some great Twinsfest stories to recount today. However, my weekend did not include a trip to Blaine to rub elbows with the players, front office execs, fellow bloggers or the 25,000 other Twins fans who enjoyed (to some degree or another) the festivities over the weekend. I could fill you in on some terrific symphonic band performances at Wartburg College on Sunday, but I suspect you don’t come here to read that.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of Twinsfest reports in the blog community. There’s some really good stuff out there at Off The Mark, North Dakota Twins Fan, Fanatic Jack Talks TwinsSethSpeaks, and others (I’m also sure we’ll see more posted as the week goes on, based on how many bloggers reportedly attended).

In addition, one of the advantages of getting all the players and management types together in one place in January is that the people who report on the Twins for a living with the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press and MLB.com get a weekend full of opportunities to do interviews and write articles about our guys. There are some great articles on Danny Valencia, Brian Duensing (that one’s a must-read, if you haven’t yet), Pat Neshek, Denard Span, and perhaps the most encouraging article I’ve read lately about Justin Morneau.

Reading through the various articles and posts got me thinking more about an issue I’ve been wrestling with a bit lately, though, and I’d be interested in others’ thoughts.

I’ve got a post (or, if I’m lucky, maybe a series of posts) in the percolating stage about minor league baseball, from the perspective of the fans of minor league teams and those who labor to provide communities all over the country with quality, affordable entertainment at the ballpark. I’m not sure yet what direction this will go, but I’ve started working on an outline.

(I bet you thought all that blogging involved was writing whatever crap comes to mind and posting it on the blog site. Well, you’re wrong!.. OK, mostly you’re right, but occasionally we do give some pre-thought to what we write and this post on minor league ball will be one of those times… if I ever get around to writing it.)

I have some friends who have worked on the “inside” with the local minor league team and I’m planning on buying them a beer or four some time and taking the opportunity to ask them some questions about how things work… what directors and GMs of minor league teams do… how the relationship with Major League affiliates works… that kind of thing. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since long before I started writing for a blog, but now I really want to ask those questions.

But what I’ve been wondering about is this… do I tell them WHY I’m asking the questions, or not?

I think the answer is obvious. Even if they might be more inclined to open up about things if it was just between  a couple of old friends and even if it’s just going to be in a blog that, let’s face it, isn’t exactly getting thousands of readers a day (though we’re very proud that we’re sneaking up on 25,000 visits in less than a year since going online!), I can’t imagine NOT telling them that I may end up writing a blog post about the subject. I think they’ll probably still talk to me… after they get done laughing at me. (No… my closest friends and family still have no idea I lead this double life as a blogger. It’s not something respectable people do, you know.)

I understand that part of the freedom of blogging is the ability to exercise our First Amendment right of free speech without the confinements that “real writers” are hamstrung with by the people who pay them. But even though I dropped out of the Razorback School of Journalism before taking an ethics course, I just don’t think writing for a blog instead of a newspaper or magazine means I shouldn’t at least make an attempt to follow some basic ethical standards.

That means that when I include quotes from others’ articles or posts, I attribute it to the original author and/or link to the source. You may also notice that we try, whenever possible, to use photographs that one of us at Knuckleballs has taken ourselves. It isn’t always possible and, when we use someone else’s photo, we try to include the photo credit if we know that information. That’s pretty basic stuff and, while we’re not perfect, we make an honest effort considering we’re still beginners at this stuff.

But here’s the question I’m pondering… the question that arises at the intersection of my planned minor league posts and some of the other blog posts I’ve read about Twinsfest over the weekend. What responsibility do I, as a blog author, have to let someone I’m talking to know that what they say might end up published in my blog?

I’m not interested in appointing myself the blog ethics cop and I’m not here to throw any blogger under a bus. But when I read accounts of conversations had with players, coaches and/or front office people, I wondered about whether or not that person knew (or should have assumed) he/she was talking to someone who was going to publish their comments for attribution.

It’s probably not much of an issue in 99% of the situations. Most people aren’t going to open up to a random fan and say something they’re likely to be embarrassed by or get in some sort of trouble for. But I could see it happening, either at an event like Twinsfest or something less formal like the “Unplugged” events… or even just sitting in a bar or restaurant having a beer.

It’s also probably not an issue for a few of the best known Twins bloggers. I’d imagine some of them have become so well known within the Twins organization that almost anyone who talks to them knows they’re talking to a blogger/writer. But if a random unknown fan like me, for instance, happens to find himself having a conversation with a player or a coach or front office person, am I ethically bound to tell them up front that I write for a Twins blog? Wouldn’t that be a bit awkward? But if I don’t do that, can I still publish an account of that conversation or even include a quote from that person?

These are the types of questions I need answers to now… before I become a famous blogger!

- JC

T.G.I.F.

I realized this morning that I haven’t posted anything here in almost a week and a half. If not for Babs’ great Farewell Photo Montage, we might very well have had our first full week without a Knuckleballs post since we started this blog 11ish months ago. I realize that there has been at least a little bit of news coming out of Twinsville that I certainly could have commented about. But there’s a good reason why I haven’t.

This week has sucked and I’ve been in a really… really… bad mood.

My family and those who report to me at my place of employment apparently realized quite early in the week that this was going to be one of those weeks where they’re better off just leaving the man alone. My boss, who works in an office about 1500 miles away from where my office is, had no way of knowing it was a bad week to talk to me… especially about things he knew (or should have known) were going to piss me off even more. I believe, after a couple of mid-week conversations, he now would agree with everyone else that avoiding me was probably in everyone’s best interests.

In the middle of all this, I’m not really sure what I could have or would have written about the Twins… but there’s a good chance it wouldn’t have been very nice.

But today is, after all, Friday. The workweek is all but over. I’m still employed (for the moment, anyway). I’m not sure my family’s continued silence isn’t indicative that they’ve permanently disavowed me, but I’m relatively certain they’ll need money at some point and will break down and talk to me again.

So to honor the end of this dreadful week in the life of Jim Crikket, let’s quickly hit on a few Twins-related items before we tackle the weekend.

Twinsfest, et al.

I think the entire 2-week period leading up to Twinsfest is very cool. I know many teams have some sort of “fanfest” event in the offseason, but I don’t know of any that do it up the way the Twins do.

I’ve never attended any of the Twins Caravan stops (they don’t get within even a couple of hours of my home), but from all reports, these are great public relations events and do a lot to not only get fans thinking about baseball in January, but also to introduce some of the younger players to the Twins community. It seems to be a bit of right of passage for players who are just now beginning to live their dream of being a Big League ballplayer.

I watched some of FSN’s webcast of the Diamond Awards Banquet last night and that looks like another pretty impressive event. Again, I don’t know how many other organizations put together a charity fundraiser out of their team awards, but it’s cool thing. I have to say I was very impressed that Jesse Crain showed up to accept the team’s Community Service Award. I don’t know how many people have faced the gut-wrenching prospect of leaving the only real employer you’ve ever worked for, but as one who has, I can only say that I understand his emotions getting the best of him a bit when he spoke. It’s tough for me to “like” anyone wearing a White Sox uniform, but Crain definitely won me over a bit last night. I appreciate class in a person, regardless of the uniform, and he showed class.

Crain will also be the last Twin to wear #28 as the Twins brass announced at the event that they’ll be retiring that number in honor of Bert Blyleven. The ceremony will take place July 16 before the Twins game with the Royals that day. It’s an appropriate… and probably long overdue… honor for Bert.

As for Twinsfest itself, I’ve only been to the event once and I won’t be attending this weekend. A few years ago, my son and I attended and while I really enjoyed the event, what I remember most about it was lining up to get inside the Dome an hour or so before doors opened and standing that entire time in about 15-below-zero temperatures. I’m not saying I’ll never attend the event again, but I have to admit that when I put together a list of my preferred places to travel to in January, Minneapolis (or even Blaine) is not anywhere near the top of the list. I’ll try to be patient and wait to see the guys in Ft. Myers in March.

Oh… and for anyone still unsure, it was absolutely the right decision to tell Justin Morneau to stay on his program at home and skip Twinsfest. If you can’t see that, I’m  not sure what to say… you’re just wrong. Period. I think we should all also stop parsing every word Bill Smith says about Doc as if he’s speaking in some sort of code that needs to be deciphered. Given the issues Morneau had last season after his injury, the prudent thing to do was make sure he gave his head a lengthy rest period followed by a workout program that gradually built up to having him ready to go full tilt on Opening Day. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, that is exactly what the Twins have done.

Jim Perry, Twins Hall of Fame inductee

I haven’t paid a lot of attention to who is and isn’t in the Twins Hall of Fame. My first reaction, though, when I read that Jim Perry had been elected this year was, “How could he just now be getting elected?”

Then I was reading another blog about Perry’s election and the very first comment under it said something about picking from the “bottom of the barrel” and how they should just stop electing people if they aren’t going to give Chuck Knoblauch his due. Well that pissed me off (then again, it didn’t take much to piss me off this week).

I guess this is where I resort to being an old curmudgeon, but I think pretty much anyone who’s been following the Twins throughout their time in Minnesota, as I have, would tell you that not only should Perry have been elected to the Twins’ HOF long before a lot of the guys who are already there, but there are still a LOT of Twins from the 1960s-70s-80s who deserve that honor. With all due respect to those who have already been so honored, it’s hard for me to take seriously any Twins HOF that doesn’t already include Perry,  Camilo Pascual, Cesar Tovar, and Dave Goltz, among others. Whoever votes for this honor isn’t anywhere near the “bottom of the barrel” yet, believe me.

Things that rhyme with “itching”

Again, it may be at least partially reflective of my overall sour mood this week, but I’ve grown REAL tired of all the bitching about the pitching.

Look, I know we need to have something to talk about and I understand that the bullpen is nothing but question marks and we didn’t get the top-of-the-rotation guy many of us (including me) hoped for. But we’ve all been spending way too much effort analyzing, cross-analyzing, re-analyzing, and most of all criticizing every move the Twins make with regard to their pitching staff.

We can all pontificate for weeks about what we think the Twins’ pitching staff should be, will be or might have been… but there’s only one thing I can say on the subject with any confidence and that’s that we would ALL end up being wrong. If there’s one thing history tells us, it’s that a team’s pitching never goes exactly the way anyone expects it to. Remember… with just a week or so before the Twins wrapped up Spring Training last year, all the chatter was about whether Francisco Liriano would be the Twins’ FIFTH starter or work out of the bullpen. People who think Brian Duensing or Kevin Slowey are destined to be sent to the pen or traded mid-year to make room for Kyle Gibson might want to keep that in mind.

And I won’t even go in to how desperate we must be for something to debate about when the best we can come up with is whether or not the Twins should have risked losing Rob Delaney to pick up Dusty Hughes from the Royals’ scrapheap.

Hammond Stadium is waiting

OK, I can tell my mood is starting to affect my writing at this point, so it’s best that I stop here.

The weekend is almost here, Twinsfest is hopping over in Blaine, and we’ll have pitchers and catchers reporting to Ft. Myers in three weeks! Thank Goodness it won’t be long before we’ll have real baseball stuff to talk about!

- JC

Off-season Photo Farewell

With all the off-season signings that took several of our Twins to other teams, we thought we would take a moment to bid a fond farewell with a little photo montage of some of our memories of their time with the Twins.  Obviously, for those that had been with us longer, I had a LOT more time to take pics of them.

Since we won’t get to see their adorable faces (or other features of choice) on the field this spring, here’s an opportunity for you to get one last look of Guerrier, Crain, Fuentes, Rauch, Hardy, Punto, Hudson and Harris in Twins uniforms.  We really do with you all the best with your new teams guys!

Does the Twins Front Office kill your Offseason Optimism?

Ok, this is now the third rewrite of this post because I’m so distracted/lazy/busy/otherwise occupied that every time I’m about ready to put it up, the Twins front office goes and does something else that changes (AND ADDS TO) at least part of what I had to say.  So… if there are parts that are confusing, just keep all that in mind.

The original beginning of this post covered the seemingly rare ability our team management has to keep whatever discussions they are having so quiet and under the radar that there is virtually no discussion of it – which is a GREAT aggravation to fans who are assembling/disassembling/reassembling the 2011 roster in hopes of coming up with that perfect proposal for Bill Smith if only he would listen to us bloggers.  In fact, some fans mistake that discretion for lack of activity.  Do I know for certain that discussions are actually taking place?  Well, no, not until they do something like sign a couple contracts out of the blue.  Do I prefer to choose the optimistic viewpoint that Smith likes his job and isn’t sitting on his thumbs wondering why no one is calling him? Yes, yes I do.  I’m not sure where the overreaction to silence comes from in the blogging/sports fan community.  But then again, I have never known why there is so much overreaction to any given activity in the fan base.  It’s almost as if it’s an addiction to the drama.  The Twins fan/blogosphere is like an odd combination of American Idol+Twilight+WWE. (Besides, I’m sure that Simon Cowell is already a vampire, right?)

Of course, that’s all setup for this optimist to say I’m still looking forward to the season! Do I agree with all the moves that the team has made this offseason?  Not even close.  It’s about 50% for the moves I like vs the ones that puzzle or annoy me.  It’s hard to settle down my feelings in a general way without covering specifics for a few of them.

So, my offseason commentary will continue with the most recent activity and move backwards:

A) Pavano’s contract is exciting for me.  They stuck to their guns when a talented pitcher wanted to go three years.  It’s my biggest pet peeve that these contract extensions are just getting ridiculous.  This game is just too unpredictable to sustain that level of commitment.  And they didn’t overpay either which leads me to believe that Carl Pavano and his family actually really liked it here and wanted to come back.  I’m sure that he didn’t give the Twins a discount per se but I think he was ready to take whatever they were willing to give (within reasonable negotiations of course).  I like having him in our rotation.  Of course, that gives us 6 starting pitchers.  Yet another calculation that has some fans up in arms.  Is there a trade in the works? Who should go? Honestly? I don’t think there is going to be a trade. I’m not worried that any of my favorite arms are going to be gone (unlike my favorite fielders *sigh*). I am simply looking forward to spring training to see what shakes out. It seems more likely given the emptiness of our bullpen, that whoever doesn’t make the starting rotation in April, will occupy the BP until the inevitable bump in the road for one of the lead-off guys which will be very handy to have an experienced starter ready to step into the spot.  Whoever that pitcher ends up being is probably less happy with that option than I am.

B) Matt Capps being signed is far less interesting for me.  I know this may be hard to believe but I disagree with JimCrikket and his premise that Capps is the new Punto. Maybe I’m projecting my own feelings out there on other folk but this is my perception.  The feelings about Capps just aren’t strong enough about him personally to equate to the love/hate extremes Punto engenders. And for the record, it has NOTHING to do with Ramos. I still haven’t figured out what it is about Capps that people like. There’s just nothing there for me. Maybe it is my love of Joe Nathan and the holdover disappointment that Capps just isn’t it him. But you know, I didn’t have that reaction with any of the other temporary closers we had in Nathan’s place. I actually grew to like Rauch a lot despite his somewhat rocky second half. So, I don’t really think it’s the disappointment factor for me entirely.

I propose that Matt Capps is actually the new Delmon Young. I think he has a LOT of talent but doesn’t employ it consistently enough to give fans confidence in him when he walks out onto the grass. Those who want to see the talent develop and feel like the potential is just too high to let go (especially given Nathan’s uncertainty) are excited by this signing… I’m just not one of them. I don’t despise Capps, that would imply a level of investment that I just haven’t made with him – again much like Delmon. I just haven’t felt the ‘chemistry’ yet. His record is what it is and he could get better or worse – stats just don’t have much to do with it at this point in my book. The one thing I keep reminding myself is that, again like Delmon, he’s a much younger guy than he looks when he’s out there. He’s only 26 and that supposedly gives him time to continue to improve. I hope he does. I wish him well and would love to see him succeed – again like Delmon – I just think we’re paying him too much for I feel is at best a ‘maybe’.

C) THOME! Ok, I really like this signing and it does make me feel better about the offseason. Do I think there were other DH’s out there we could have signed that would have had fun hitting in TF? Yep.. and I could have accepted Vlad (he still scares me at the plate) or even Thames in that role but I LIKE Thome and I think he was a natural fit here and still has the ability to play for what we need in that spot. Like Pavano, I think he feels the same way and hearing that he received legitimately good offers from other GOOD teams but chose to stay here for less tells me that he has a lot of faith in what this team can do in 2011. I choose to see that as optimism.

As for the rest of the moves made this offseason (excluding the outlier event of Nishioka), I have been disappointed in the actions. I thought they should have kept more of our bullpen intact and we have a seriously depleted pen now. I would have liked to see us keep Guerrier and possible Rauch but obviously my opinion carries little weight. I’m downright depressed that Hardy is gone, and I’m not sure I will know what to do with a bench with no Punto.  But here’s the thing, I don’t think I need to agree with the moves the Front Office makes in order for me to believe they are actually trying to do what they believe is best for the team. Even when I disagree, I can trust the motive. The track record for this team’s success isn’t when they have miraculous signings or when they got that perfectly right player over the offseason. This team succeeds when they take whoever they have (or have left) and go out and play with everything they have. It’s the character of the guys in the locker room that will or won’t send us to the postseason again.  Whether it happens during Spring Training or August, they rally together and fill the holes.  That attitude is more important to the success of the team and to this fan than any single contract’s consequence.

*Per MLB Trade Rumors: Nick Punto is going to the Cardinals. *sigh* I’m going to miss him for all the flak he got around here.  Good Luck Nicky!  http://bit.ly/e1wGXg

For this optimist, I’m taking it all in stride and looking forward to Spring Training and really curious and excited to see where the 2011 season takes the MN Twins!

Matt Capps: The “New Nick Punto”?

UPDATE: Just a quick midafternoon update. MLB.com’s Kelly Thesier’s report from the Twins Caravan  included a couple of notable items: She reported that Dave St. Peter announced that the Twins will be unveiling a bronze statue of Tony Oliva outside Gate 6 at Target Field on/about Opening Day (YAY!).  In addition, she (and other various media reporters) provided an update on Harmon Killebrew’s ongoing battle with cancer. Kelly also included this link to the Get Well, Harmon Blog for anyone wishing to pass on messages to Killebrew. – JC 

Based on early returns, it’s starting to look to me like relief pitcher Matt Capps could give Michael Cuddyer a run for the money in the race to replace Little Nicky Punto as the Twins’ MOTO (Most Often Trashed Online… a term I just made up) player for 2011 among the “blexperts” (blogger/commenter experts… another term I just made up. Am I on a roll here, or what?). I have to say, I really don’t understand the disdain so many people have for Capps.

Photo: Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner

On Tuesday, the Twins announced they had reached a contract agreement with Capps that avoided arbitration. They signed Capps to a one-year, $7.15 million deal for 2011. Based on the electronic reaction, you would have thought the Twins just signed Brett Favre to pitch.

I’ve been trying to figure out WHY Capps’ signing caused so much consternation.

I know that it’s widely believed among the blexperts that closers are overpaid because the Save statistic is overvalued. They are and it is.

It’s kind of funny, though, how two years ago so many people downright demanded that the Twins, with a new stadium on the horizon, give then-34-year-old Joe Nathan whatever it would take to stay in a Twins uniform. And the Twins did… to the tune of a contract that guaranteed Nathan something like $35 million over three guaranteed years plus an option year. The primary concern at the time, as I recall, was simply that the signing may have made it difficult for the Twins to also afford also re-signing Joe Mauer (which, of course, it didn’t).

But now, folks are downright apoplectic that Bill Smith would give Matt Capps $7+ million, while letting Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch leave town via free agency and trading away JJ Hardy. The argument is something like, “the Twins could have kept two of those pitchers or a starting shortstop instead of Capps.”

Well… first of all… no they couldn’t have. Hardy was no longer going to be the Twins’ starting shortstop regardless of what the Twins did with their bullpen… the two things weren’t related whatsoever… and Guerrier, Crain and Fuentes all signed elsewhere for multi-year deals with total values well above what the Twins have committed to Capps.

Still, some maintain that, “the Twins could have paid Rauch half as much and had a pitcher just as good as Capps.” Seriously? Even totally forgetting the Save statistic, when you compare the two over the last half of 2010, you would have to get very creative to make a statistical case that  Rauch is “as good” as Matt Capps. There was a reason the Twins traded for Capps, whether a person wants to believe it or not.

Photo: AP/Ted S Warren

And Fuentes? Look… I’d have loved to have him back with the Twins because he absolutely shuts down lefty hitters. But there’s a reason the Angels gave him up and it has nothing to do with “Saves”. It has to do with his .747 OPS against him in the first half of the season, on the heels of an even worse .830 OPS the second half of 2009. The guy has not been strong against right handed hitters in a while.

As for Guerrier and Crain, hey… both guys have served the Twins well and they were entitled to go after the free agent money. But it would have been absolutely nutty to match the three-year deals they ended up signing elsewhere. The Twins offered arbitration to Crain and he (wisely) turned it down. They didn’t offer it to Guerrier because they were afraid he wouldn’t turn it down and they’d be stuck paying a 30-something middle reliever they have no confidence in ever being more than a middle releiver $5+ million.

While the Twins appear hopeful that Joe Nathan will be fully recovered to start the year, there’s no way they can be sure and absolutely need a Plan B in place. Since Crain and Guerrier were certainly not returning and Fuentes has not been effective enough to provide reliable back up in case Nathan isn’t his old self, Capps is obviously the best Plan B. So why do so many blexperts think keeping Matt Capps is a mistake?

Could it really be that people think Capps is taking a spot that should go to someone that came up through the Twins’ system (e.g. Crain, Guerrier, Pat Neshek, or a prospect such as Anthony Slama) and still hold it against him that Bill Smith traded catching prospect Wilson Ramos to get him? 

There’s really no other good reason not to like having this guy (and frankly, even this reason is damn silly… it’s time to get over the Ramos-love, folks!). Capps throws harder than any of the bullpen arms that left, with the possible exception of Crain. He throws harder than Joe Nathan. Is his fastball more hittable than we’d like? Yes… but that’s exactly what a lot of people have criticized Crain for over the years and Capps’ career strikeout/walk ratio is better than any of the departing guys (especially when you factor out the oddly high number of intentional passes the Pirates ordered Capps to give out… could he really have faced Barry Bonds THAT often?).

Photo: Knuckleballs/Jim Crikket

Capps, at just 27 years old, may just improve a bit yet, as well. Of the departing arms, only Crain (at 29) is still south of 30. Go back and look at where Joe Nathan (or pretty much any of today’s top relievers not named Mariano Revera, for that matter) were at age 27 and compare them with Capps. How many of them already had four seasons of entering games in critical situations under their belts?

By the way, a closer may not be getting used most efficiently by always being saved for the 9th inning, but almost every time he enters a game, he’s coming in to a situation where having a bad night is very possibly going to cost his team the game. A guy who comes in and coughs up a 3 run lead in the 6th inning can take a seat and tell himself, “I just didn’t have it tonight,” while he watches his team mates try to fix the damage. The closer who has that kind of night doesn’t have that luxury. Closers may not deserve to get paid 10 times what middle relief pitchers do… but getting paid 2-3 times that going rate is not outragious. While you’d like to think every pitcher at the Major League level has that sort of mental toughness, it’s simply not the case.

One final thought on Matt Capps…

The stat website baseball-reference.com performs some sort of calculation (supposedly using a method adopted originally by the patron saint of stat-heads, Bill James) to determine each Major Leaguer player’s top 10 “most similar” players. According to that site, Matt Capps’ closest comparable player is the Padres’ closer, Heath Bell. The same Heath bell that many blexperts were crying for the Twins to trade for when Joe Nathan blew his elbow out a year ago.

Capps is six years younger than Bell and the Padres avoided arbitration with Bell on Tuesday by signing him to a $7.5 million contract… $385K more than the Twins are paying Capps. And, just for context, Bell’s salary accounts for just about the same percentage of the Padres’ anticipated 2011 payroll as Capps’ and Nathan’s pay… combined… do of the Twins’ payroll.

I’m glad Matt Capps is a Twin and I expect others will be, too, by the end of the season.

- JC

Deja vu all over again.

The St. Louis Cardinal organization is dealing with a situation this off-season that has a very familiar ring to it. Between reading stories about the Twins’ off-season moves (or lack thereof), you may have heard that the Cardinals have a certain superstar a year from reaching free agency that they are trying to negotiate a contract extension with before the 2011 season gets rolling.

Albert Pujols, at age 31 as of today (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ALBERT!), is a bit older than Joe Mauer, is certainly more of a power hitter than the Twins’ catcher, and playing first base is certainly not as difficult to do well as catching is, but make no mistake… Cardinal fans are every bit as concerned about the unthinkable possibility of Pujols leaving St. Louis as Twins fans were about Joe just one year ago.

While it’s true that Pujols is not a “home grown” player, the way Mauer is in the Twin Cities, Cardinal fans nonetheless consider him their own. He was drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 draft and has never played for another organization.

Can Cards afford Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols?

The Cardinal and Twin organizations are similar, as well. While the teams don’t publicly release revenue figures, they both fill their new stadiums for almost every home game and, you would think, would generate similar revenue streams. Accordingly, they spend about the same amounts on their Major League payrolls.

If you have trouble imagining how the Cardinals could possibly let Pujols walk away as a free agent, imagine for a moment if the Twins were only just now having to negotiate an extenson with Mauer… on top of the current year’s payroll levels.

The Cards still owe Matt Holliday $17 million a year through 2016 and they will be paying Kyle Lohse over $12 million for each of the next two seasons. Pitchers Jake Westbrook and Adam Wainwright will both be earning between $8-9 million in 2012, as well. And Pujols isn’t the only potential free agent the Cardinals have to deal with… Chris Carpenter will earn $15 million this season and it won’t be cheap to retain his services next year, either.

Last year, Mauer and the Twins knew that it was important to get a deal worked out before the season started so everyone concerned could avoid the distraction that an unresolved contract status would cause during the season. Likewise, Pujols and his agent have made it clear they are not interested in letting negotiations drag on in to the season.

The Cardinals face a difficult challenge. A player’s value is really determined by two primary factors… what other players of similar ability are making and how competitive the market for his services will be on the open market. In this case, however, Pujols really has no directly comparable players in terms of age and performance. Some have suggested he should be compared with Alex Rodriguez at the time A-Roid got his most recent contract extension with the Evil Empire. Others have pointed out that Pujols plays a much less “valuable” defensive position than Rodriguez.

On the other hand, many of the biggest spending teams in baseball are pretty well set at first base for the next few years. Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Howard aren’t likely to be going anywhere for a while. Would teams like the Mets, Cubs and Angels alone really drive Pujols’ price up to the $30 million range?

I ultimately expect the Cardinals to re-sign Pujols before Opening Day for something around $26-27 million per year for about 8-9 years. That’s about $10 million more per year than they’re paying Pujols now and you have to wonder whether it means they’ll be saying good-bye to Carpenter next year and possibly even mean trading away one of their other high-dollar starting pitchers. In other words, once they’ve satisfied Pujols, will they be able to continue assembling a competitive team around him?

Does that question sound familiar? It should.

Even with Jim Thome back in the fold and the anticipated return of Carl Pavano, the Twins have done very little to improve their team in 2011. I’m sure they feel the new middle infield of Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka is an upgrade over JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson, but that remains to be seen and isn’t guaranteed, by any means.

Why haven’t the Twins done more? You don’t have to look far to find out. This season is when Mauer’s new contract kicks in and he’ll be making about $10 million more in 2011 than he did last season and it’s not unfair to question whether the extra money going to Mauer is going to keep the Twins from being able to surround him with championship-level talent. See?… I told you the questions should sound familiar.

Some Twins fans have been critical of Mauer and/or the Twins for giving him the contract he signed a year ago. They seem to expect that the contract should guarantee MVP-level stat lines every year of the deal. That’s neither reasonable nor fair. While there’s no question that Mauer didn’t have the same kind of year last year that he had the season before, it’s not like Mauer sat the year out.

With the Pujols situation in mind, it’s interesting to ponder what the market would have been for Joe Mauer if the Twins had not been able to reach an agreement with him last March. It’s unlikely the Twins would have immediately traded Mauer during Spring Training so you have to figure the situation would have unfolded one of two possible ways:

What would Yankees have paid Joe?

First, the Twins might have traded Mauer at mid-season. But keep in mind, Mauer was dinged up and not playing particularly well going in to July (remember the bunting incident?). Would the Twins have been able to get anything approaching a good deal in return for Mauer? One would assume that Wilson Ramos would not have been traded to Washington if the Twins had been looking at losing Mauer, so would the Twins have still been competing for a Division title without Mauer? What would fan reaction have been… would the experience of a new stadium have been enough to keep fans filling Target Field, even when it became clear that it wasn’t enough to motivate the Twins to keep their home-town hero?

Maybe the Twins would have kept Mauer and made their run. Assuming the media distraction of having to answer the, “would you like to play here next season?” question in every city on every road trip wouldn’t have negatively affected the results on the field, maybe the Twins would have continued on toward their AL Central championship. Then what? Is there ANY team on the “big spender” list that you wouldn’t imagine making a strong play for Mauer on the open market? If the Steinbrenners are willing to give a set-up relief pitcher $12 million a year, what do you think they’d have thrown at a catcher in his prime with batting titles and an MVP award already on his resume?

Mauer’s “down year” in 2010 might have dropped his value to the Twins, but I doubt it would have mattered one bit to any other team bidding for his services.

Will Albert turn his back on Cards?

It’s fair to ask whether the Twins could have put $23 million to better use by adding high-quality players at two or even three other positions for the money that is going to Mauer. But given the situation with a new stadium and the revenue bump that comes with it, the organization literally had no choice but to make sure Joe Mauer stayed a Twin for the foreseeable future. Whether the Twins ultimately can afford to surround Joe with championship caliber team mates remains to be seen.

The Cardinals are faced with a similar situation. They risk a considerable fan backlash if they don’t offer whatever it takes to keep Pujols in Cardinal red. It will be interesting to see if they make the same decision the Twins did or whether they’re willing to say “no” to their superstar and let him walk away next year.

- JC

Spring Training Guide – Part 3

Image: TD Davis

BULLETIN! We interrupt this post to bring this news… Mr Incredible, Jim Thome, is coming back. Reports are coming through that the Twins signed Thome to a $3 million contract (plus incentives) for 2011. That’s at the top end of what I would have paid for Jim and, while you could still argue the Twins need RH hitting more, I can’t complain about this. It just feels good to have Thome back for another year.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled post… – JC

In the first two parts of this Spring Training Guide, we’ve discussed issues to consider as part of the planning process for a trip to visit the Twins’ Spring Training site in Ft. Myers FL and what to expect in terms of the games themselves. But let’s be honest, if all you’re doing is going to some ballgames, you might as well wait a couple of extra weeks and go watch the Twins at Target Field. Spring Training games are, after all, just practice games. So why travel over 1500 miles to watch the Twins practice?

OK, I honestly don’t have a good answer to that question. It’s not easy to explain. Suffice to say that, if you have to ask that question, it’s not likely that you’d understand any answer I could come up with anyway. Maybe you should just accept that those practice games take place in southwest Florida and any reason to spend time in March down there is a good reason to go. But let’s ask some related questions anyway.

What do you do other than go watch baseball games?

Go watch baseball practice, of course! No… seriously… I mean it.

Minor League pitchers at work

I enjoy watching baseball practice. Maybe I’m odd that way or maybe it goes back to the days I spent as a kid on practice fields with my dad while he was coaching high school baseball in Albert Lea. But I can spend hours wandering the practice fields at the Lee County Complex watching players at all levels in the Twins organization practice. Maybe it’s teenagers, barely out of high school, fielding ground balls or Class A/AA level players getting on-field instruction from Tom Kelly and Paul Molitor. Then spending time watching the AAA players wander the outfield during batting practice… no more than 20-30 feet from the outfield fence of the Major League practice field… and catching them take occasional glimpses to that adjoining field, almost able to read their minds as they imagine taking that final step toward realizing their dreams. So close, yet so far away.

One thing the Twins do, which I really appreciate as a fan, is put the names on the back of the Spring Training jerseys of their minor leaguers. With 150 or more players on 4-5 different practice fields, you’re going to see several guys wearing the same jersey number. Without a name on the back, as well, most of us would have no clue who we’re watching, even if we’re armed with Seth Stohs’ handy-dandy Prospect Handbook.

Twins Pitchers go through spring drills

Over on the Major League practice field, you may find the Big Leaguers (WITHOUT their names on their practice jerseys… guess we’re supposed to recognize all of them by face and/or number by the time they get to this level) taking infield/outfield practice or maybe the pitching staff will be working on fielding bunts or covering first base on a ground ball to that side of the infield. Drilling… always drilling… over and over. So much that you can’t help but be shocked when one of those same pitchers is late to cover 1B in a July game at Target Field. Then again, if you’re really lucky, you may get the opportunity to be entertained by the pitchers actually taking batting practice. See? There is occasional humor to be found on the practice field. There are also batting cages under the Hammond Stadium seating area, visible from outside the stadium, where you can watch today’s Twins getting in extra hitting practice, under the watchful eyes of the staff which, on any given day, may include former Twins greats like Tony Oliva and Paul Molitor.

You may even decide to save your money and pass on buying tickets for the Twins game that afternoon. Instead, pull up a seat on the 4-5 rows of bleachers behind the chain link “dugouts” of the minor league fields and watch the Twins prospects take on the kids from the Orioles or Red Sox organizations. If you’re lucky, you may even get a close up look at one of the Major Leaguers getting some extra work in with the minor leaguers on a day he’s not scheduled to play with the Twins.

And if you’re an autograph collector, it won’t take you long to figure out most of the kids on these diamonds still think it’s kind of cool to be asked for their autograph. As I write this, I’m looking at a practice ball I picked up during minor league batting practice a couple of years ago… and got signed by Joe Benson, Steve Singleton, BJ Hermsen and others.

Isn’t there a beach or something down there?

Fort Myers beach

Yes… and after making several trips to Spring Training, I finally found my way to Ft. Myers Beach last year. It’s nice. I don’t happen to think it’s as nice as Clearwater Beach, a couple of hours north of there, but if beaches are your thing, I definitely recommend a trip to Ft. Myers Beach. You can catch a trolley in a mall parking lot a couple of miles from the Twins complex that will take you down to the beach and all of the shopping/eating/drinking activities that can be found in that area.

Sanibel Island is just a drive across the Sanibel Causeway (and a $6 toll) away from the Ft. Myers coast, as well. I have to admit that I haven’t been as big a fan of Sanibel Island as a lot of other people, but I think I’m in the minority.  Ft. Myers also has an Imaginarium (kind of a combination museum and aquarium) that I confess I’ve never been to. I’m not sure why I haven’t gone… I actually kind of enjoy aquariums. Maybe one of you will go check it out and let me know how it is?

What about food?

I recommend it. Sometimes, it’s easy to get wrapped up in all the baseball stuff and forget to eat, but eventually you are likely to get hungry. When you do, I strongly recommend eating… preferably somewhere other than Hammond Stadium. You can find the traditional ballpark fare at Hammond, but that’s about it. The food is just one of many differences you’ll notice between Hammond and Target Field.

Fortunately, there are other places to eat in the area that offer much better options. I admit that I tend to look for seafood when I’m down there because we don’t exactly have an abundance of seafood options in Iowa.

LaVelle E. Neal III of the StarTribune has authored an annual blog post listing restaurant recommendations for the area and I’ve seldom been disappointed with the listed places that I’ve tried. I like places that have an outdoor seating area but even the sports bars down there all seem to have those, so they aren’t hard to find. (Shoeless Joe’s and Pott’s Sports Cafe have been my favorites, I suppose, since I keep going back to them.) Keep an eye out, though, for this year’s post by LaVelle.

Aren’t there theme parks or something down there somewhere?

No. You’re probably thinking of Orlando FL. Mickey Mouse and his Disney friends live up there, as do Harry Potter and his buddies at Universal. Orlando is about a 3 and a half hour drive from Ft. Myers. Tampa (two hours or so away) has Busch Gardens which, I’ve been told, is quite a lot of fun if you really need the theme park experience.

There’s also a dog-racing track a few minutes south of Ft. Myers, where you may also find a poker room. I know that’s not exactly a theme park, but hey… I thought I’d mention it.

I think this brings to a close this series of posts. I can’t think of much I haven’t covered at this point, but if you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section or click the “Contact Us” link at the top of the screen and drop an email. There isn’t much more for me to say except that I can’t recommend strongly enough a trip to Florida to hang out with our Twins, whether for a day or two or a week or more. You won’t be disappointed.

I’m know looking forward to my trip to Ft. Myers in March and it would be great to see a few of you down there, as well. Let us know if you’re planning to go!

- JC

Spring Training Guide – Part 2

Hopefully, Part 1 of our Spring Training Guide made you feel all warm inside as you pondered the possibility of spending time in March down in Ft. Myers FL with the Twins at the Lee County Sports Complex, their Spring Training home.

Today, I’ll continue the series by sharing a couple more things I’ve learned over the years on my trips to catch a bit March baseball with the Twins.

What time do I need to go to the ballpark?

Most game times at Hammond Stadium are at 1:00pm ET, though there is an occasional night game mixed in. Game times at other Grapefruit League ballparks vary a bit but the vast majority are afternoon games. I like to get to the ballpark a bit early, especially since I usually don’t have my tickets ahead of time. But even if I do have tickets, if I’m at the Twins complex, it’s really easy to wander around both the Major League and minor league practice fields in the morning. I don’t try to go quite as early to road games because of the time it takes to drive to them, but I do like exploring the different ballparks a bit before the game.

What’s the ticket situation? Do I need to buy them in advance?

Hmmm… “need”? No.

Up close with Jim Thome and Justin Morneau

I prefer to wait to buy my tickets when I get down to Florida. That’s partially due to necessity and partially due to personal preference. It’s certainly not the cheapest approach, but I still prefer to wait for a number of reasons:

  1. I never make my ST plans early enough that I know which games I want to attend by the time single game ST tickets go on sale.
  2. If there are tickets available from the team by the time I am ready to buy, they’re not likely to be terrific seats. This, of course, is a relative thing. The ST ballparks, including Hammond Stadium, are essentially very nice minor league ballparks. This means the worst seats are comparable to tickets most of us would snatch up in a heartbeat for a game at Target Field. But, for me, one of the things I like about ST is the ability to get a much closer view of the action on the field. I don’t need the “best” seats… but I like to get “good” seats. Those are seldom, if ever, available from the box office for the Twins home ST games.
  3. Sometimes it rains (not often… but it CAN happen). I’ll sit through a rain delay without a problem. But if it’s raining enough that the game gets canceled, it’s not like I can exchange my ticket for another game later in the season. I’m there for a fixed number of days.

The night before each game I’m going to attend, I check the next day’s forecast to see if there’s a chance the game may get rained out.

Then I’ll check the team’s own site to see if tickets are available direct. This isn’t likely to be the case for the Twins, but if I’m heading to a road game the next day, it’s a possibility. For example, the Rays have very cheap “general admission” tickets for their games in Port Charlotte and I kind of like sitting at a table out on the outfield boardwalk at their ballpark. (Yes, I know this might seem to contradict my “good seats” rule, but not being shoehorned in to a stadium seat and having the freedom to move around, watch the game at a table near a tiki bar, and holler down at the outfielders and in to the bullpen meets my personal definition of “good seat”. I’m fickle that way.)

If there’s nothing I like available from the team, I’ll check StubHub or other online ticket options that have the option of downloading and printing the ticket at my hotel. I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever bought a ST ticket this way, but that doesn’t stop me from checking.

Joe Mauer and David Ortiz

Most of the time, I find myself without a ticket the morning of the game when I get in my car and head to the ballpark. No problem. I’ve never gone to a ST ballgame and and not found a way to get inside to watch the game. I prefer to get there early enough to have a good set of options from the ticket brokers outside the gates and I’m generally willing to pay a bit of a premium for the seats I want. But if you think prices are really high, you can take a chance by waiting until close to game time when the brokers face having to eat any unsold tickets. It all comes down to how much of a risk you’re willing to take that you’ll get shut out. Personally, I go down there specifically to see the games so I usually get my ticket earlier rather than trying to save a few bucks by waiting.

The demand for Twins home games has increased progressively since I first started making trips to ST. That’s another reason to shop early. You won’t have trouble finding the ticket brokers… they’ll find you as soon as you park your car in the complex parking lot. If you don’t see one there, there should be at least 2-3 of them in the parking lot near the box office.

As for seating preferences, the big deal for me is that I prefer not to sit in the shade. I’m sure the shady seats are popular for minor league games in July, but in March, the temperatures simply aren’t that hot. In fact, it’s not unusual for the weather to be cool enough that sitting in the shade is what makes it uncomfortable. For those of you with longer memories, you may recall from guest reports I did for Howard Sinker’s Strib blog a few years back, I’ve even been known to buy more than one ticket for the same game… just because the first ticket turned out to be in the shade. Get some sun, folks… you’ll be back up north in a few days!

What about tickets for road games?

Rays' home in Port Charlotte

If you follow the Twins on the road, you can have a little better luck with ticket prices in some places. Despite their recent successes, the Rays tickets in Port Charlotte aren’t too bad and while I haven’t been there in a couple of years, I suspect tickets in Bradenton for Pirate games are still inexpensive. Prices in Sarasota were pretty reasonable when the Reds trained there and I can’t imagine why things would have changed dramatically when the Orioles moved in. On the other hand, prices across town in Ft. Myers for games at the RedSox ballpark won’t be any cheaper than at Hammond and if you want to see games at the Phillies (Clearwater) or Yankees (Tampa) facilities, be prepared to spend a bit more, as well.

Games on the road at Port Charlotte (Rays), Sarasota (Orioles) and Bradenton (Pirates) are easy 60-90 minute 4-lane drives from Ft Myers. The Phillies, Yankees, and Blue Jays all play in the Tampa/St Petersburg metropolitan area, which is 2+ hours up the interstate or more. The Tigers (Lakeland) are well over 2 hours away as well. If you want to see a game in Port St. Lucie (Mets) or Jupiter (Cardinals and Marlins), plan on driving over two hours across the state on slower 2-lane roads to Florida’s east coast.

Ted Williams statue outside Red Sox Stadium in Ft Myers

I enjoy road games because I get to see different ballparks and more of the regular players of the opposing teams play. Just keep in mind that you won’t see as many of the Twins’ own regulars play on the road. The longer the bus trip for the team, the fewer veteran regulars make the trip. Of course, that also means that road games just across town at the Red Sox facility are more likely to feature a higher number of Twins regulars. Likewise, home games against the Sawx means better odds you’ll see more of their stars, as well.

Do players really “try” in ST games?

Of course they try. But what they “try” to do is different than when the games count in the standings.

Some fans seem to forget that the ST games are really just “practice” for the players. A pitcher may go in to a game with instructions to solely focus on one pitch. When he throws 15 straight fastballs, there’s a pretty good chance opposing hitters will figure out what he’s trying to work on and are likely to get some good swings in. The pitcher’s stats may look crappy and he may have “lost the game” for his team, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t accomplish exactly what he and his coaches wanted.

And don’t be shocked when Joe Mauer’s spot in the order comes up in the 6th inning with bases loaded in a close game and you see a kid who looks like he’s 15 years old, wearing a jersey number in the 90s, walking up to pinch hit for Joe.

The point is that these are practice games and you need to keep your expectations in check, accordingly.

In the next (and final) post of this series, I’ll wrap things up by discussing things you might want to consider doing beyond just going to the Spring Training games, themselves.

- JC

Help Wanted: Professional Hitter

The big news last night coming out of the Twins office was about the 19 invitations to the big league camp sent out to minor league players. I’m sure that’s a big deal to those players, but I just don’t get all that worked up over who gets invited and who doesn’t when it comes to guys who are highly unlikely to break camp with the Twins. I’m looking forward to seeing Kyle Gibson throw, though, because I think he’s this year’s Danny Valencia… the guy people generally expect to get his first real shot with the Twins before the summer is over. Anyway… on to today’s topic…

I mentioned in the Sunday Snippets post a few days ago that the topic of the Twins’ need for a legitimate hitting threat off the bench probably warranted a post of its own, as opposed to the lone paragraph (albeit a lengthy paragraph) devoted to it in that post. Well, here’s that dedicated post.

Amazingly, I’m not the only person dedicating thought and written words to the subject. A couple of the TwinsCentric bloggers (both Seth and Parker) posted thoughts related to what remains perhaps the final outstanding issue for the Twins’ front office to address before Spring Training gets underway. (This assumes the long-rumored deal with Carl Pavano actually is about to be formalized and the bullpen will just be a mad scramble to be sorted out in Ft. Myers.)

Hey, here’s an idea… Maybe if we all start a good old fashioned cheer, it will carry all the way to Bill Smith’s ears and he’ll be so impressed with the outcry that he’ll immediately go out and get the big bat we want! Ready?…

Give me a T!

Give me an H!

Give me an O! … Um, wait a minute… not so fast… I may want to buy a different vowel.

Jim Thome

As I wrote Sunday, I think most of us would just love to see Jim Thome get home run #600 with the Twins. He was an absolute joy to have in a Twins uniform last season, from the perspective of fans, team mates, manager… pretty much anyone except the Bitch Sox and their fans. He was signed for low money in anticipation of being used on a part-time basis off the bench and as an occasional DH. Due to Justin Morneau’s injury, he was called upon to play a much bigger role and he did so. He deserves our gratitude.

But if he were to return in 2011, the expectations would again be that he would play a part-time role, as a pinch hitter and occasional DH. While Thome has stated he agrees that he’s at his best when he gets regular rest, he and his agent also may be intent on converting his unexpected 2010 performance (arguably one of the best statistical seasons of his career) in to a much higher salary in 2011. It seems to me that Thome can’t have it both ways… a role where he’s not expected to DH regularly AND a contract that pays him as if he is playing every day.

Maybe he can wrangle that kind of deal out of another team. It sounds like the Rangers could be interested in having him play a limited role with them and they do have some of that money they had hoped to be paying Cliff Lee still burning a hole in their pocket. If so, I would thank Thome for his inspirational performance in a Twins uniform last year, wish him the best of luck sweating his (base)balls off in Arlington, and move on to other options.

Ah… but what options really remain out there?

A lot of people seem to be advocating that the Twins simply swap out Thome for the guy the Rangers used as their DH last season, Vlad Guerrero. He’s righthanded, after all, and that’s what the Twins really should be looking for in a bench hitter, especially with the White Sox seemingly determined to add more lefties to their pitching staff. (It’s kind of a compliment, don’t you think, that the Twins have achieved a status where division rivals are making roster moves specifically intended to help them beat the Twins head-to-head?)

I think Vlad would be a really bad idea. First, Guerrero is almost as limited defensively as Thome is. Anyone who watched the World Series knows that he has no business wearing a glove on a baseball field. In addition, while he produced better than most people expected last season (I thought he was washed up before the season started), he found that fountain of youth in a very hitter-friendly environment in Texas. Guerrero could, and did, launch home runs solely on the strength of his upper body and arms. But you need strong legs to go with the rest of your body if you expect to get balls out of Target Field. I don’t think Vlad can be expected to do that.

Fortunately, it sounds like he’s only interested in playing for teams that would be able/willing to give him a regular job and 500+ plate appearances… and a contract that anticipates such. The Twins have neither the PAs nor the money to meet his expectations.

Names like Troy Glaus and Jorge Cantu have been getting some support, lately, and I’d probably be willing to give either of them a look in Spring Training if the Twins decide their bench bat should be someone who could back up their infield and, in particular, Morneau over at 1B. But neither of those hitters exactly make opposing managers or pitchers nervous when they come to the plate any more.

Andruw Jones is reportedly generating some interest from the Yankees, who are also looking at righthanded bench options. Apparently, they like the work he did in Chicago last year and his career line against lefty pitchers (.261/.361/.501). But you have to remember much of that career line was accumulated during his first decade of play with the Braves. His overall split for the past four years is a tidy .212/.312/.412. Still, he did put up some strong numbers for the White Sox last season in a part time role. Strong enough that he’s looking for more money for 2011.

Back in November when many of us posted our off-season “blueprint“… our suggestions for what the Twins should try to accomplish over the winter… I mentioned in mine that, in the absence of re-signing Jim Thome, I’d suggest calling Marcus Thames. Thames played a bench role for the Yankees last season and he’s still being considered as a possibility to return to the Bronx if the Evil Empire doesn’t roll the dice on Jones, instead.

I’d be inclined to be satisfied with whichever of the two, Jones or Thames, is available after the Yankees decide which one to overpay. That said, I hope the Bombers sign Jones, because I like Thames a bit better for the Twins. Here are a few things Thames has going for him:

Marcus Thames (Photo: Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)

Thames will turn 34 years old during Spring Training… six years younger than Thome and the same age as Jones.

Thames hits righthanded, but in addition to hitting lefty pitchers well (.838 career OPS vs. LHPs far exceeding Glaus or Cantu), he’s also hit righties better than Jones the last few years and well enough that he could step in to a full-time role in the event of an injury.

He’s a dead-pull power hitter (67 of his 113 career HRs or 59% have been hit to straightaway LF… one part of Target Field that has not been a HR death trap).

Thames has hit more career HRs (15) against the Twins than any other team, with the White Sox (14) a close second. If nothing else, Twins pitchers (especially Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano, who have given up the most and third-most HRs to Thames of all pitchers he’s faced) should be glad to see him in their own dugout.

Outside of Comerica Park (his home during his Tiger years), Thames has hit more HRs at US Cellular Field than anywhere else.

(Yes, I know much of this is a factor of having played in the AL Central with the Tigers for most of his career, but isn’t that familiarity with the division a good thing in itself?)

He isn’t the fielder that Jones is (though Jones isn’t the defender he used to be, either) and Thames may not be any better than Delmon Young or Jason Kubel in the outfield if he’s pressed in to duty out there, in fact he may even be a bit worse. But, while it certainly wouldn’t be considered a good thing to have him play first base extensively during the year, at least he has played the position enough in the past that he could give Doc a few innings off at the back end of blow-out games.

Finally, and unfortunately most importantly, he’s already accustomed to part-time duty (he’s never had 400 PAs in a season and only reached 300 twice) and should be very, very affordable. His salary with the Yankees in 2010 was $900,000 and it likely wouldn’t take much over $1 million to sign him for 2011 either. Jones is likely to command somewhat more.

So that’s where I stand on the bench bat issue… my heart says bring back Jim Thome, but my head says bring in Marcus Thames.

- JC

Cupcakes and Free Agents

While 1-11-11 may not technically qualify as an official “Cupcake Day“, we’re declaring it to be an Honorary Cupcake Day. Why? Because we don’t think anyone should have to wait another ten months for cupcakes!

Speaking of cupcakes… and having to wait… has anyone else noticed that the list of serviceable free agents who wouldn’t be considered “cupcakes” themselves has been reduced to a very short list?

At the beginning of the free agency period, MLBTradeRumors.com published their list of “Top 50 Free Agents” on the market. Thirty-nine of that Top 50 have found new teams… none of them with the Twins. Yesterday, MLBTR listed their “Top 10 Remaining Free Agents” (and noted Johnny Damon is the eleventh and final player on the list).

Today, I thought it might be interesting (even if rather pointless), to take a glance at the list to see how many might potentially still fit in the Twins’ plans for 2011.

  1. Rafael Soriano: Yeah right… dream on. The Twins won’t (and shouldn’t) spend big money to fill their remaining relief pitcher roles. Nathan and Capps already will account for about $20 million in salary (that’s almost half what the Padres plan to spend on their entire payroll this season!).
  2. Carl Pavano: We keep hearing the Twins and ‘Stache are “close” to a deal. I’m still not convinced it’s ideal to bring him back, but as I’ve said before, at this point, the only thing worse than re-signing Pavano might be NOT re-signing Pavano. Get it done, Mr. Smith.
  3. Jim Thome: Bill Smith says the Twins are still hoping to re-sign Thome, but the Rangers are also interested, now. Personally, it seems like both the Twins and Rangers should probably be looking for right-handed bats that could play some defense in a pinch, but my heart would still like to see Thome in a Twins uniform one more year. He’s not an ideal fit for the Twins, but he wasn’t last year either when he was signed. And the Twins DO need a bench bat… desperately.
  4. Vladimir Guerrero: Being righthanded makes Vlad a slightly better fit for the Twins than Thome, perhaps. But anyone who watched him try to play the outfield in the World Series last year knows that he wouldn’t really bring much, if anything, more to the defensive side of the equation than Thome would.
  5. Manny Ramirez: Fortunately, Manny is probably still looking for a full-time DH job and wouldn’t want to come to a situation where he’d be platooning with Jason Kubel. As much as it might be entertaining to see him with the Twins at times and he can still occasionally hit a ball very hard, let’s just say “no”, OK?
  6. Andy Pettite: The “Brett Favre” of Major League Baseball. Nobody knows if he’ll play in 2011 yet, but we know it won’t be with the Twins if he does.
  7. Brian Fuentes: He still gets linked to various teams every few days but is it possible his options are dwindling far enough that he’d re-sign with the Twins for an affordable amount? Probably not… but I can’t help but like the idea of having his left arm available late in games in addition to (or instead of?) Jose Mijares’. Fuentes wants an opportunity to close, but there really aren’t many teams left who are in a position to hand him that job. The best he may get is an opportunity to compete for a late-inning role in Spring Training… and the Twins can offer him that.
  8. Kevin Millwood: He’s thrown over 190 innings each of the past couple of years, so he could be considered Pavano-lite, but you really have to ask yourself if he’d be a real upgrade over any of the Twins’ existing starting pitchers. I personally don’t think so.
  9. Grant Balfour: Could Balfour return to the Twins? No, probably not. It’s not that he’d be a bad option to fill one of those open spots in the bullpen, but his Type A status means that, in addition to a pretty significant salary, he would cost the Twins their first round draft choice. No way the Twins would give that up for Balfour… nor should they.
  10. Scott Podsednik: Early in the post-season, I suggested the Twins find a way to upgrade their outfield defense. Podsednik might have been one option for doing so, though he wouldn’t have been at the top of my list of possibilities. For one thing, he’s lefthanded and the Twins already list a bit to the portside. That said, in a perfect world, I’d certainly take Pods over Jason Repko on my roster. Not gonna happen, though.
  11. Johnny Damon: This isn’t gonna happen either. Not only is Damon also a lefty, like Podsednik, but he wouldn’t even be an upgrade defensively in the outfield for the Twins… and that says a lot.

So, in the end, it comes down to this… with about $100 million already committed to the 2011 payroll, the Twins could have room to sign a couple of the remaining “Top 50″ free agents, even if it’s just players from last year’s roster that would be returning. Of course, we don’t know for sure what the payroll target is and we don’t know whether the Twins are negotiating extensions with arbitration-eligible players (like Francisco Liriano or Delmon Young perhaps?) that would add to their 2011 total.

Absent the possible signing of any of these players, the Twins will need to fill out the rest of their roster by promoting from within (Seth Stohs suggests Luke Hughes, perhaps?) or looking to the bargain bin for… well… cupcakes. Maybe they could wring a productive year out of a Troy Glaus or Marcus Thames on the cheap.

Let’s hope Bill Smith isn’t really on vacation… in fact, maybe he’s already got Pavano, Thome and Fuentes signed and he’s just waiting to make a big splashy announcement right before TwinsFest! OK… I know… probably not. Ah well.

- JC