ST – Twins @ Red Sox, MLB.tv & am1500

Boy do I like typing post titles like that!  I’m not sure how many people are going to have access to listening to the game on the radio today like me so I don’t think anyone would USE a gamechat – however, if I get a couple comments from people who would like one, I’ll put it up ASAP.  So if you pop in and want to chat with other fans, let me know in the comments and I’ll add it.  But for now, here’s the lineups for today!  Pitchers for today are expected to be: Blackburn, Slowey, Perkins, Slama, Hoey, Guerra, Bromberg, Hacker, Waldrop

Minnesota @ Boston
Revere, LF   Ellsbury, CF
Plouffe, SS   Pedroia, 2B
Kubel, DH   Crawford, LF
Hughes, L, 3B   Ortiz, D, DH
Bailey, J, 1B   Drew, J, RF
Dinkelman, RF   Varitek, C
Tolbert, 2B   Dlugach, B, SS
Rivera, Re, C   Sutton, 1B
Repko, CF   Navarro, Y, 3B
  Blackburn, P     Matsuzaka, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 1 0 3 0 2 0 0 0 0 6 10 1
Boston 0 0 3 0 0 2 2 0   7 11 2

 

Well unfortunately, that leaves the Twins and Red Sox tied up for the Mayors Cup trophy so far with a win a piece.  Don’t forget that you can click on any name in the lineups and get that player’s stats MLB stats page or any spot in the box score and get the MLB detail page for the game.

We did get one request (almost) for a game chat for this game and I’m more than happy to put them up for these day games if people will use them but I’m not going to worry about the effort if folk don’t speak up.  There are a LOT of day games during spring training and I just don’t know how many people have access to the radio during the day.  LET ME HEAR FROM YOU!

FIRST SPRING TRAINING GAME!

Hey folks – tonight at 6 pm, the Twins will be hosting the Boston Red Sox which means Carl Pavano will be facing Josh Beckett so turn on your MLB.tv or your radio am1500 (or affiliate).

We aren’t going to have a chat during this game yet but we will be returning to those for the full season and for some of the spring training games as well.

So consider this your reminder that there is Twins baseball being played tonight!

Twins lineup for spring opener: Span 8, Nishioka 4, Kubel 9, Thome DH, Valencia 5, Parmelee 3, Repko 7, Casilla 6, Butera 2

Twins pitchers for tonight’s game: Pavano, Neshek, Hughes, Burnett, Manship, Diamond, Swarzak, Bazardo

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Boston 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 1 4 9 2
Minnesota 0 1 0 0 4 1 0 2 x 8 12 1

Morneau is “Old School”

In ancient days, when I was in school and Tony, Killer and Carew were patrolling the field at Met Stadium with Billy Martin chewing umpires up and spitting them out, players from opposing teams did not play buddy-buddy with one another. I don’t know if those were the “good old days” or not, but there’s something “old school” about players genuinely carrying the same disdain for rivals and rival players that we, as fans, carry for those bums.

So I loved reading the piece by Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago with the following quotes from Jesse Crain and Mark Teahan (who was Justin Morneau’s workout partner in Arizona this offseason):

“He never congratulated me; he’s the one guy who didn’t,” Crain said. “Even [Michael] Cuddyer and [Denared] Span and all those guys, [Joe] Mauer, everybody did. But Morneau was the one guy who never did it.”

Told that Morneau still hadn’t congratulated his buddy Crain on landing a financially solid deal and winding up with a winning team at the same time, Teahen didn’t seem too surprised.

“You know that there’s that rivalry there, but with Morneau, he seems to take it hard even off the field,” Teahen said. “It was fun to see and it lights your fire to want to have the same passion back the other way.”

So when it was time to end the workout routine and head in their respective directions for the start of spring training, was Morneau able to wish Teahen well?

“He gave me a little fist pump and said, ‘All right, I’m going to act like I don’t know you until the end of the season,’” Teahen said. “I told him I was cool with that.”

LaVell E Neal III at the StarTribune went straight to the source for the information, posting this reaction from Morneau in LaVelle’s Twins Insider blog:

I got reaction from Morneau about a ESPN Chicago article in which Jesse Crain claimed Morneau was the only Twin not to congratulate him for signing a three-year deal. Morneau said he jokingly texted Crain.”The White Sox? Are you kidding me?”

But, at the end of our talk, he referred to comments from Alex Rios about Chicago being the favorite to win the division.

“They said they are the team to beat in the division, so whatever,” Morneau said.

So from accounts, Doc has a particular dislike for the White Sox. I knew there was a reason I liked that guy!

- JC

News From the ‘Bad Guys’

I’m a contrarian by nature, so naturally that means I would pick the date that the Twins begin official Spring Training workouts for position players to write about what’s going on with other teams.

It’s not that there isn’t anything to write about the Twins. There’s no shortage of daily media updates, so whether it’s Joe Mauer’s knee (or his shampoo commercial), or Justin Morneau’s long awaited return to the diamond, or Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s first appearance in Twins gear (or perhaps his ‘fight song’ is of greater interest to you), there are finally a number of Twins-related news items to read and ponder. I have already and if you haven’t yet, you should.

But not here.

Here, I’m going to offer some commentary about a few items coming out of the enemy camps this week. Specifically, from our primary divisional rival White Sox, our “made up inter-league rival” Brewers and everyone’s least favorite team, the F’ing Yankees.

White Sox

Our friends on the South Side appear to be the preseason consensus pick to win the AL Central Division. In addition to re-signing Paul Konerko to a big-money deal, they bulked up their lineup by giving slugger Adam Dunn a contract guaranteeing him $56 million over the next four years.

Kenny Williams (Photo: Ron Vesely/MLB Photos)

So, it was interesting to read Sox GM Kenny Williams’ comments about the state of baseball. He essentially made three points:

  1. Anyone who pays $30 million a year for a ballplayer is “insane”.
  2. The MLB financial model sucks and needs to be replaced by something that gives the fans of every team some kind of hope that their team will eventually at least compete for a championship AND if it takes the “game being shut down” to accomplish that reform, Kenny’s fine with that.
  3. The White Sox could lose money this year.

It’s not so much that I disagree with his points (in fact, I find it a bit disconcerting to be in so much agreement with anything Kenny Williams says… to the point where I have to consider whether I might be wrong in my views). I happen to agree that no player, not even Albert Pujols, is worth $30 million a year and particularly not for a contract term that would pay him that amount well beyond any period for which one could reasonably expect him to be among the top players in the game.

I also think the MLB financial model sucks. Of course, I have no idea if the White Sox are actually in danger of losing money, but I wouldn’t find that surprisng.

What’s odd is that this rant is coming from the GM of a major market team that will start the season with something approximating a $125 million payroll. What takes it from odd to amusing is that Williams is essentially complaining about having to overspend to the point of flirting with losing money in order to have a shot at overcoming the Minnesota Twins! How cool is that?

Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall anyone with the White Sox complaining about MLB’s financial model when the Twins were spending about $50 million a year less than the Sox. But now that the Twins… who had been kicking their collective Bitchy Sox almost every season even when being outspent for talent… are able to afford to spend every bit as much as the Sox do, suddenly their GM doesn’t like how MLB is being run.

I have to admit, however, that this does bring up an issue I’ve been struggling with a bit. Now that the Twins are one of the “haves” in terms of revenue streams, how am I supposed to feel about the whole “revenue sharing” subject? More about this later when we get to the subject of the Evil Empire.

Brewers

Over at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, columnist Michael Hunt wrote a piece on the Brewers’ new “ace” starting pitcher Zack Greinke. I found the column interesting perhaps because I’m still playing “what if”, given that Greinke topped my offseason wish list for the Twins.

Zack Greinke (AP Photo)

In any event, while it’s not the first or the most in-depth article about Greinke’s social anxiety disorder, Hunt does what I think is a balanced job of shedding some light on the relative pros and cons of having Greinke topping the Brewers’ rotation. Whether you choose to believe it’s a justifiable by-product of his ability to deal with his disorder or that it’s just another overpaid pitcher who doesn’t want to have to deal with media and fans, Greinke’s approach is to avoid having to talk whenever he can, but when he does talk, he’s going to tell you exactly what he feels. It seems to be a coping mechanism for him and I’m fine with that, personally, and I hope he has a great season for the Brewers.

That said, I couldn’t help but wonder how his statements would be going over with Twins fans and other Twins players right now, had he been opening up Spring Training in Ft. Myers instead of Phoenix. Throwing him in to the mix along with Nishioka certainly would have given everyone more to chew on this year, that’s for certain.

(And, yes, typing the Milwaukee columnist’s name did cause me to have a “Porky’s” flashback.)

Yankees

The Steinbrenners are back in the news, again. Hank gave an interview which touched on a couple of subjects.

The comment that most of the NY media latched on to most fiercely was when Steinbrenner implied that the reason the Yankees didn’t repeat as WS champions last year was that some players got complacent following the 2009 championship. Specifically, he said, “Some of the players are too busy building mansions and doing other things, not concentrating on winning. I have no problem saying that.”

Apparently Derek Jeter was the only Yankee anyone could identify as having built a new “mansion” during the 2009-10 offseason, so naturally the media assumed this was aimed at Jeter. Steinbrenner denies that his comment was directed at The Great One. To his credit, Jeter responded appropriately. He laughed at his idiot owner.

Bud: "Tell Hank to shut up" (Photo: Cataffo/NY Daily News)

As entertaining as that little exchange was, the Steinbrenner comment that I found spinechilling was with regard to a much broader topic… the MLB financial model (see, I told you we’d get back to this subject). It seems that, like Kenny Williams and me, Hank Steinbrenner thinks the MLB financial model is broken. He sees the problem a bit differently than Kenny and I do, however. Here were his comments about the revenue sharing system that resulted in the Yankees shelling out about $130 million to other teams last year:

“We’ve got to do a little something about that and I know Bud (Selig) wants to correct it in some way,” Steinbrenner said. “There’s a way. Obviously we’re very much allied with the Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers and Cubs in that area. At some point if you don’t want to worry about teams in minor markets, don’t put teams in minor markets or don’t leave teams in minor markets. Socialism, communism – whatever you want to call it – is never the answer.”

I found this comment both refreshing and deeply disturbing.

Refreshing because just when I was growing concerned about agreeing with Kenny Williams about an issue, a Steinbrenner spoke up and argued the opposing side and, thus, reassured me that I’m still on the right side of this debate.

On the other hand, just a hint (regardless of whether there’s even a kernel of truth to it), that the future direction of Major League Baseball and specifically the issue of competitive/financial balance might actually be decided behind closed doors by Bud Selig and the Steinbrenners is just about the worst kind of nightmare possible for fans in virtually every other market.

While Selig apparently was not amused by the comment, he hasn’t exactly jumped at the opportunity to deny anything, either. I do admit, however, that I found it kinda funny that Bud didn’t call Hank and tell him to shut up. He called Hank’s brother, Hal, and told HIM to tell Hank to shut up! Hilarious.

OK, I think I’ve killed enough time not talking about the Twins today… let’s all go check in on Mauer’s knee lubricant, shall we?

- JC

Slow News Days

For all the build up about Spring Training “reporting day”, once that day comes and goes, things kind of grind to a halt in terms of interesting stuff going on. In fact, just about the only things that pass for “news” coming out of Fort Myers is bad news… sore arms, shoulders, knees, etc. That’s what happens, I guess, when there are no games to report about.

That’s not meant to downplay the importance of the information being reported out of the Twins’ camp about Scott Baker’s elbow and Francisco Liriano’s shoudler. In fact, I think people now understand why having six experienced starting pitchers does not mean you have an “extra” starting pitcher. It may be a cliché that, “these tends to work themselves out,” but it’s a cliché because it’s true.

Francisco Liriano

Speaking of Liriano’s sore shoulder, I just have to say right now that this thing smells funny to me. A year ago, he was coming off a very successful winter ball season and everyone was wondering whether that meant we were going to finally see “the Franchise” again. Liriano didn’t play winter ball this year (a bit of rest was certainly in order), so he essentially disappeared somewhere in to Latin America and none of us (including the Twins, apparently) knows what he’s been doing.

Now he shows up to Spring Training with a sore shoulder and gets an MRI done by some doctor in Miami that nobody in the organization knows which supposedly is “clean”. What’s with that?

The Twins caught a lot of grief around Twinsville for not locking Liriano up for 3-4 years this off-season, but is it possible they had reason to be a bit suspicious about his health? Maybe, maybe not. But from what we read of GM Bill Smith’s comments that clearly indicated the Twins were not interested in doing anything but going year-to-year with Frankie, there’s obviously some reason they don’t trust their young pitching star.

I remember when Johan Santana was a Twin, there were several articles in the media written every season about Santana’s work ethic… his Spring Training routine… his offday workout routine during the season… from all reports, this was a guy who took care of his body and worked very hard to be the best pitcher he could be.

I have never read anything from any reporter that gives even a hint that anyone thinks Liriano is a hard worker. If he does anything beyond just the required bullpen sessions, I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning it.

I hope Liriano has another fantastic year, but his spring has not gotten off to a start that makes me feel optimistic.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka Arrives

Of course, there is one non-injury item that’s generating “news” this spring and that’s the arrival of Tsuyoshi Nishioka. I’m not sure what the Twins or anyone else expected to see when Nishioka arrived at camp, but if they expected him to show up, don the same Twins workout gear that everyone else wears and join his team mates on the field for their informal pre-reporting workouts, then the Twins folks have to be disappointed.

In a post immediately after the Twins signed Nishioka, I wrote, “I’m not sure any of us really are prepared for what comes next.” I think we’re starting to see a bit of what I was referring to.

The Twins agreed to provide am interpreter, but Nishioka showed up with what can only be called a posse. Media reports have him being followed around the field not only by his interpreter, but his personal trainer and a third person who’s role is somewhat of a mystery (some have suggested perhaps it’s his massage therapist). While he’s spent a bit of time taking some ground balls with team mates, most of his workouts have been alone, off on a distant field and in the bowels of the minor league batting cage area.

Once you find out where he’s working out, he’s not hard to identify, however. In a black sleeveless Addidas shirt and pants that have been described as “capris” with neon piping, rather than the navy blue Twins gear, he obviously stands out. Oh… and no Twins cap (or any cap, for that matter), either.

As Lou Brown, the fictional manager of the Indians in the “Major League” movie said, “We wear caps and sleeves at this level, son.”

Let’s just say, Nishioka’s first priority obviously is not to just blend in with his new team.

A lot has been written about the “risk” the Twins are taking by jettisoning experienced middle infielders Orlando Hudson and JJ Hardy, in favor of Nishioka and Alexi Casilla. Generally, the risks referred to are related to what can reasonably be expected in terms of performance levels from the lesser known entities.

But what I’m going to pay closer attention to will be the effects of introducing an unproven potential prima donna with his own posse and a sizable media contingent whose questions will focus exclusively on that player, with little or no concern for the team’s results on the field.

A part of me thinks this organization could use a shot of personality… something to generate a bit of an edge in the clubhouse and on the field. But make no mistake, Nishioka and all that comes with him will be a distraction, the Twins have invited this distraction in to their midst, and in doing so, they’re taking a sizable risk that goes well beyond the risk of turning over their middle infield to a couple of younger ballplayers.

Other News from Florida

Finally, the lack of anything terribly compelling in terms of news about baseball has resulted in me watching a lot of racing from Daytona this weekend. Now, I’m NOT a racing fan… at all. But I was with family at a sports bar Friday night and sat with my brother-in-law, who IS a big race fan and we watched most of the truck series race that kicked off Daytona weekend.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed it. It was different watching with someone who knew what the hell was going on. I also found myself watching the Nationwide Series race on Saturday, which ended with one car beating another car by about a foot. I admit I was kind of in to it.

Today, the “real” Daytona 500 is about ready to start. I’m not sure how much of it I’ll be able to watch because I’ve got a family dinner to go to. But I find myself hoping I’ll get home in time to see a fair amount of the race.

I’m not yet sure what to make of this new-found interest, but I’m pretty sure I’ll find myself exceeding the speed limit at some point on my drive across town to dinner.

- JC

Being Rich and Stupid

Now that our Boys of Summer are actually on the fields in Fort Myers, there’s plenty of people down there writing about it. I’m not down there yet (25 days and counting before I’m there, though!), so I’ll write about other stuff today.

Albert Pujols

I know I already wrote a full post on the subject a while back, but now that Albert Pujols has reported to the Cardinals’ Spring Training without a contract in place and has reaffirmed that the negotiations won’t resume until November when he hits free agency, it’s hard not continue drawing parallels with the Joe Mauer situation a year ago.

I know some people say one difference is that Mauer certainly would have had both the Yankees and Red Sox bidding for him on an open market, but that those two teams would likely not be bidding up the price on Pujols, since they both will have All-Star first basemen already on board with multi-year contracts. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe for a moment that, should Pujols actually file for free agency, one, or more likely both, of those teams wouldn’t make a serious play for the best hitter in baseball.

Boston has a ton of money coming off the books after this season (none of it regarding players they should try too hard to keep) and everyone knows the Yankees don’t have a payroll limit. Anyone who thinks that these teams wouldn’t go after Pujols because they already have first basemen under contract apparently hasn’t heard that the American League has adopted this new-fangled thing called a Designated Hitter. David Ortiz’s contract with the Red Sox is up after 2011 and they’d happily let him go to make room for Pujols; and last I heard, the Yankees were looking for Jorge Posada to be their primary DH. Hmmmm… Posada or Pujols… I dunno… that’s a REAL tough choice.

Here’s another thing I don’t understand about the Pujols deal. Why the heck would Pujols’ agent let him do something so stupid as to set a purely artificial “deadline” for reaching an agreement, like the “opening of Spring Training”? In doing so, he’s yielded the high ground to the Cardinals, who get to say, “we are willing to talk whenever Albert wants to talk”. They come off looking like the only reasonable parties while Pujols let’s himself get cast as the greedy jerk who’s trying to blackmail his mid-market ballclub.

The whole “I don’t want it to be a distraction” thing is bull. Does he really think nobody is going to talk about the situation all year just because he’s said he won’t negotiate? When he won’t answer questions about it, reporters will just keep asking his team mates about it (no distraction there, right?). EVERY series with the Cubs is going to be accompanied by sidebar articles written about the likelihood Pujols could be calling Wrigley Field home next season and that will happen whether the two sides are still talking or not. So why not keep talking? By the way, yes, I thought the same thing when Mauer’s side set a deadline of the end of Spring Training for reaching a deal last year. It’s just stupid, to me.

Stupid Owners

Speaking of stupid… I’m not sure whether anyone still is under the misperception that the wealthiest people in the world all got that way because they are inherently smarter than the rest of us, but if so, I think we can now officially put that theory to rest.

Sure, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are examples of people who had brilliant ideas and earned bajillions of dollars by bringing those ideas to the marketplace. But for every Steve Jobs, there’s also a Fred Wilpon. Whenever I even think for a moment about questioning the way the Pohlad family runs the Twins organization, all I have to do to feel better is spend 10 minutes reading pretty much anything written about these owners:

Fred Wilpon – Mets: Just when we thought he couldn’t make ANY decision worse than hiring Steve Phillips and Omar Minaya as GMs, we find out he also find a way to not only get swindled by Bernie Madoff, but also manage to get sued by the other victims (each of them a rich and stupid person in his/her own right, most likely) of Madoff’s scheme… and he could lose his baseball team as a result. By the way… hey, Johan, how’s that decision to force a trade to the Mets looking right now?

Jamie and Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt – Dodgers: Note to all owners… never let your spouse help you run your baseball team… even if she’s actually better at it than you are (in fact, ESPECIALLY if she’s better at it than you are)… and if you’re dumb enough to do that, don’t compound your stupidity by trying to throw her out over something as trivial as a little infidelity. After all, in Los Angeles, isn’t that pretty much expected?

Arte Moreno – Angels: Face it, we knew he was stupid when he gave Torii Hunter a deal that was worth twice what anyone else was offering, but to trade with Toronto for the privilege of taking over their payments to Vernon Wells is an even dumber move. If only the Twins had known they could have given Torii an absurd long term contract and just kept him for one or two productive seasons and then dumped him on the Angels for the last few years!

UPDATE… Miggy: In the comment section, AW appropriately inquires how I could do a “Being Rich and Stupid” post and not mention Tigers’ All-Star Miguel Cabrera. As I responded in the comments, I felt it was a sad situation and was inclined to hold off jumping on him immediately… hoping he’d finally get the help he needs. Then I read thisand this (via Baseball Outsider’s links)… and now, I’m officially ready to say, “Wow are you stupid!” Not so much at Miggy (though clearly he has behaved stupidly), but for now, assigning the label to the Tigers organization. They’re going to pay this guy $106 million over the next five years and despite his past and current behaviors, the first words out of the mouths of their GM and Manager are to reassure the fans that they want their All-Star drunk in camp as soon as possible and that he won’t miss any playing time. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be more concerned with looking at how to make sure I’m not throwing money down a well for the next five years than whether he’s going to miss any time for the next few weeks. A little tough love might be in order here, but get the man some help, for cryin’ out loud.

A Couple of Non-stupid Links

I like Brian Wilson (the Giants’ closer, not the Beach Boy… well I like Beach Boys music, too, but that’s a bit off subject). Check out this Q&A with Wilson from Jon Wertheim at si.com. I think the Twins should trade for Wilson. After all, if you’re going to have two closers on your team, why not just go ahead and have three? And Wilson thinks a lot like I do… or at least a lot like I would like to think I would think if I were a Major League pitcher.

Joe Sheehan, also at si.com, might have had the best single line I read this week, in his article on the opt-out clause in Captain Cheeseburger’s contract with the Yankees: “Opt-out clauses are the most player-friendly part of baseball since groupies.” Hmmm… opt-out clauses and groupies… I really should have worked harder to develop a good sinking fastball when I was in high school. Ah well, probably too late to do anything about it now.

That’s it for today. Have a great weekend!

- JC

SPRING TRAINING IS FINALLY HERE!!

There are finally Twins players playing baseball!!! Yes, it’s down in Ft. Meyers so most of us don’t get to see any of it but Pitchers & Catchers officially reported today. Obviously, several have already been there and working and several of our position players are getting some early work in as well – including Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Since we don’t get to see that happen on TV for a bit yet, I thought I would give you a little video taste of his workout down there courtesy of ESPN:

But obviously, the position players will mostly get their day in the sun later. Today is all about pitchers and catchers. Of course, the one getting all the attention on the catching front is Joe Mauer. ESPN talked with him about what kind of shape his knee is in and if he’s feeling ready for spring.  He’s still treating it very gently and is pretty up front about the fact that it was never anyone’s intention to be 100% by February – he’s aiming for April 1st – but he’s still feeling pretty good.  Given his history of cautionary language, I think that is about as solid an answer we’re ever going to get from Joe on his knee.  So, I’m good with it.  But it’s still good for all of us to remember that he was actually on crutches about 2 months ago so it’s probably a wise precaution if he’s being a little less aggressive about his catching workouts early this spring yet.  I don’t think that is reason for concern if they are giving Butera and the other 7 non-roster invitee catchers some reps.

And the OTHER big question out there of course, is the other Joe!  It sounds like Joe Nathan is doing very well in his rehab – but as always the team puts on the cautiously optimistic front.  If he continues to improve at the pace he seems to be pushing himself, I do think he’ll be a legitimate contender for the closing role.  He’s highly motivated to return quickly given his age and the fact that Twins retained Matt Capps.  Do I think it’s LIKELY that this will be the case? Well, no. I think the odds are against him but people do occasionally beat the odds and Nathan always had an intensity to pitch that set him apart from others.  We’ll see what happens.

The discussion that seems to be lighting up the blogging community is at what point of improvement does Nathan have to be at for Gardy to say, “you’re the guy”? Obviously, if his return goes more on a traditional schedule, this really wouldn’t be under discussion but when he’s already throwing 40-50 pitches in an outing, he’s getting higher velocity, his location is good and in general WANTS to be the guy which shows the mental fortitude necessary to be a closer, we definitely have to talk about it.  He’s not a starter – this isn’t a guy who is going to need to pitch for 7 innings or even start the season at 5.  Joe Nathan COULD pitch two innings when necessary but we all have to admit that none of us really ever wanted to see that happen.  We want one inning of balls to the wall pitches that make opposing batters look silly.  Nathan is in a perfect position to be able to produce that if he can get that perfect location he was known for back.  Obviously, his velocity is still about 3 mph slower than his average before surgery but that may yet come along in ST AND he’s a savvy experienced pitcher who knows how to get the job done even when he doesn’t have his best stuff… if anyone could come back in a single year, it’s Nathan.

BUT

Do we want him to push it that hard and do we really think that he’ll be ready?  How ready is ready?  If Nathan is 80% of his former self at the beginning of the season, is that enough to give Matt Capps the setup role?  Especially since multiple innings and tighter scores are frequently within the domain of the 7th inning setup man. We don’t have Guerrier or Crain anymore for whom that spot always pointed to.  What about a 60% Nathan?

Honestly, I don’t know but I’m REALLY REALLY REALLY looking forward to seeing some games so I can see him throw in a real mound situation.

I’m also looking forward to seeing how much progress Pat Neshek has made.  I am giddy with hope for the return of the crazy sideshow! I am certain that our depleted bullpen would be ecstatic to have that arm back with the ability to perform that we all remember.  I’m sure that he’s itching more than anyone to have his surgery ordeal completely behind him.

EDIT: We have another post-surgery update – totally forgot about Scott Baker! Yes, things are progressing.  But he’s not quite where he wanted to be at this point of the pre-season.  In discussions with the training staff and his docs, they have actually backed off his program just a little bit because the elbow was flaring up a bit.  I think that is a wise move since he IS a starter that we would like to start the season being able to pitch MULTIPLE innings.  Funny how it works that way.  He estimates that his season-readiness is about a week behind the rest of the pitching staff.  My only issue with that is that I don’t see how someone coming back from surgery “catches up” but a week of the long baseball summer is really negligible.  It’s just sometimes hard to remember that.  Every game counts.

And of course all of this plays into who of the 6 starters currently on our roster makes the cut on opening day and who is helping the team at the back end of the game instead.

Also – in readiness for the new baseball season, I have changed our countdown to reflect the Season Opener! And you will all be wanting to see the Spring Training Schedule so that you will be able to join us for any game chats you are free for.

Yes, it’s THAT time of year again!  Knuckleballs will be return to the regularly scheduled game chat so watch for posts announcing the days selection so that you can join whoever else is taking a break from the weary dregs of MN winter to catch whatever baseball can be found.  I’m not exactly sure what the broadcasts will be but anything that is either televised or radio broadcast, we’ll try to have a chat for.  That should get us back into the habit for the regular season!

Late Night: Joe Mauer & Jimmy Fallon

For all those who didn’t stay up late enough to catch Joe’s late night TV debut, I thought I would pass it along. Quite frankly, this kind of thing is just as well watched the next day in my opinion.

But it is nice for the Twins to get a little national attention of the positive variety! And I love that Joe is called Baseball’s Anti-LeBron!

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

With spring training opening this week, we’ve had almost four months to dissect literally every aspect of the Twins roster as they head in to the new season. You would think we should all pretty much have it all figured out now, wouldn’t you?

Then again, it’s educational, entertaining, and more than a little bit humbling, to go back in to the archives and take a peek at what the Twins’ perceived strengths and weaknesses have been as pitchers and catchers reported to spring trainings past and compare those to what actually happened.

Glen Perkins, Spring Training 2009 rotation lock (Photo: Jim Crikket)

Two Years Ago

How well do you remember the winter leading up to the 2009 season? Our guys had wrapped up 2008 with a heartbreaking Game 163 loss to the White Sox, despite a gallant pitching effort in that game by Nick Blackburn. In fact, the Twins rotation had finished the season strongly enough that if there was one area part of the roster that seemed set heading in to 2009, it was the rotation. All five members of the Twins’ young rotation (Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey) were returning. Four of them (all but Liriano) had won 10 or more games the previous season and the future looked bright.

The Twins finally seemed to have someone they could plant at 3B with the newly acquired Joe Crede, leaving Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, Brendan Harris and a few others to mix and match in the middle infield and fill the utility role.

We thought the set-up roles in the bullpen were a bit questionable, but when the Twins brought on Luis Ayala just before camp opened up, that seemed to add the depth necessary to make most people more comfortable. After all, the team still had Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier. Jose Mijares was also coming off an impressive 2008 and was the guy a lot of people thought was set to take on the 8th inning role.

Joe Mauer had been dealing with a kidney issue, but word from the Twins’ office was that he was working his way back in to shape and expectations were that he would be ready to go by Opening Day. A lot of people weren’t so sure and, as it appeared to turn out, with good reason. Mauer missed the first month of the regular season. There was significant angst over who the catchers should be, especially with Mauer’s season in doubt.

The Twins didn’t even open the season with their rotation intact. Baker went on the Disabled List just before camp broke and RA Dickey started the season as the fifth starter. Mijares started the season at AAA Rochester and Ayala never impressed.

As July turned to August, Slowey’s season was finished due to wrist surgery and Liriano had a 4-10 record, a sore forearm, and the worst ERA in the League. The rotation, which was “set” in February, was a mess. The Twins were led down the stretch by newly acquired Carl Pavano and newly promoted Brian Duensing. Crede never seemed to be on the field and the Twins brought in Orlando Cabrera from Oakland to provide some semblance of stability in the infield. Oh… and that catcher everyone fretted about ended up turning in an MVP season that ended after a successful Game 163 and a quick exit from the playoffs.

One Year Ago

As for a year ago, everyone was relieved that Mauer was returning healthy, but there was concern with his M&M partner, Justin Morneau, who had missed the final several weeks of the 2009 season with a back injury. Everyone agreed Jim Thome’s days as a regular contributor were probably behind him but it was good to have him aboard to provide depth at DH and a pinch hitting option that wouldn’t make opposing pitchers giggle when he stepped in to the on deck circle. The arrival of JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson gave the infield the appearance of having more stability, but now third base was once more a concern with the overly-reviled Nick Punto the likely heir. Fortunately, the back of the bullpen was returning virtually intact, so at least nobody had be concerned with the late inning arms!

Joe Nathan's 2010 season was over before it started (Photo: Jim Crikket)

Oops… that lack of concern, as we now know, lasted all of one week in to March, when Joe Nathan’s season came to an abrupt end. By the time the season started, all anyone could talk about was the one thing nobody had had to talk about before camp opened… who would the Twins use as their closer? A significant number of people felt the job should go to Liriano. Maybe he wouldn’t ever be a reliable starter again, but perhaps the Twins could salvage something by turning him in to a closer. In the end, Ron Gardenhire gave the closer role to Jon Rauch and the final rotation spot to Liriano. Neither decision was met with unanimous (or even consensus) approval in the Twins blogdom.

Once again, by the time the Twins were preparing to enter the final couple of months of the regular season, they had needs that weren’t apparent in February. The perennial black hole at 3B had been filled by Danny Valencia, but the bench depth that Thome was to provide had disappeared when he was pressed in to near-everyday service following Morneau’s July concussion. The rotation once again seemed one solid arm short and the back end of the bullpen was showing signs of wear. Once again, it was Brian Duensing who provided a stabilizing force to the rotation, while Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes were brought in from outside the organization to shore up the bullpen.

Which brings us to today

As camp opens this week, the rotation seems six arms deep, led by Liriano at the top, filling the “ace” role in the minds of many (if not the Twins front office, themselves). There’s understandable concern about the health of both Mauer and Morneau, but the outfield is set. In fact, the only non-pitching spot arguably up for grabs is the utility infielder role. Most of the concerns being expressed focus on the likely performance of the new middle infield and the rebuilt bullpen.

So here’s my final pre-spring training prediction: On March 30, there will be a position causing consternation that few of us are talking about right now and by the July 30 trading deadline, we’ll be pleading for the front office to go get help to fill a role that nobody sees as a major issue today.

Today, we just don’t know what we don’t know.

But I’m sure glad that we’re all finally about to find out.

- JC

The Frankie Affair: Stats v. Scouts

Can’t we all just get along?

It was inevitable, I suppose.

It happens every so often.

For a while everyone coexists well enough, but sooner or later, the battle begins.

(Image: Stephen Webster, Picture: AP)

Which camp are you in? Do you judge a player based on what you see with your own eyes… or do you believe a player’s value is found by perusing his baseball-reference.com pages?

Make up your mind… you can’t serve two Masters (as much fun as that may sound to some of you… you know who you are).

Every season… at least once a season… an issue comes up that gets hackles up on one side or the other and that’s when the uneasy truce between baseball’s modern version of the Hatfields and McCoys gets interesting.

This week, the battle erupted around Francisco Liriano and all it took to light the fuse was for someone to point out that Twins’ lack of interest in a multi-year contract extension with “the Franchise” indicates he’s not currently a factor in their long term plans and might possibly… maybe… could be… sorta… made available on the trade market for the right price.

It’s curious that Liriano would be such a polarizing figure because it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t “like” Frankie. Sure, we may have grown a bit impatient with him as he worked his way back from Tommy John surgery. He just wasn’t his old self in 2009 and heading in to spring training last year, there were plenty of questions about what expectations should be. There was even speculation that he might be destined for the bullpen. Even then, however, we all WANTED to see Liriano have a strong season and reestablish himself as a front line starting pitcher. Which he certainly did… there’s nobody really debating that.

There’s also a pretty solid consensus that, while the Twins have six experienced starting pitchers at the moment, they aren’t exactly top heavy. Carl Pavano is being counted on to provide a lot of solid innings. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn have each shown the ability to get outs at various points in their careers and still have the potential to be effective big leaguers. Brian Duensing certainly has shown promise during late season stints in the rotation the past two seasons. But none of those five pitchers is the kind of legitimate “ace” that conventional wisdom says a team must have to be considered a championship caliber ballclub.

No, the only pitcher on this staff that even resembles an ace is Liriano. That’s another thing that pretty much everyone agrees on.

So why didn’t the Twins front office negotiate a multiple year contract extension with Liriano and lock him up for a few years, like they’ve done in recent years with Baker and the less impressive Blackburn? General Manager Bill Smith has been remarkably frank about the organization’s lack of interest in committing big money to Liriano long term… at least at this point.

This is what has some fans up in arms. If you do nothing but look at the stat sheet, you see a young pitcher who strikes out a lot of hitters and who, despite having a very respectable numbers last season, arguably could have had an even better year if not for a bit of bad luck that resulted in a few more batted balls finding grass than the statisticians tell us should have been expected. In short, based on his 2010 stat pages, Francisco Liriano arguably is not a potential ace… he already is an ace.

Liriano: To trade or not to trade?

The Twins, however, aren’t so sure. This organization is not exactly known for using advanced statistical analysis to evaluate players. There are certainly people in the Twins organization that know how to use a computer (even Twins President Dave St. Peter is now Tweeting), but it’s quite possible there’s more time spent in the front office playing solitaire than looking up a pitcher’s WAR, ERA+, xFIP, or any other advanced metric. They may very well be the last front office in Major League Baseball to rely almost exclusively on human scouting… the old “eyeball test”… to make player personnel decisions.

Of course, the anti-stat clan of fans are quick to point out that these dinosaurs in the Twins front office have managed to put together teams that have won a Division Title or two… or six… recently. So why should they change the way they do business? If their eyes tell them that Frankie’s delivery is too violent to stay healthy over the long run or so quirky that it is too difficult to consistently be repeated, who are we to tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about? It’s a fair question.

Personally, I think the advanced statistics (at least those that I’ve bothered to learn something about) provide some interesting comparative data. I don’t believe, however, that numbers are infallible. The Twins employ scouts and coaches who have watched hundreds of pitchers throw hundreds of thousands of pitches. They’ve seen more than their share of career shortening injuries resulting from unusual and/or inconsistent pitching mechanics. In short, if the Twins have serious questions about the likelihood of Liriano remaining healthy through the length of a pricey 3-4 year contract extension, just maybe they know what they’re talking about.

Does that mean I think it’s just fine for the Twins to continue to virtually ignore advanced metrics while virtually every other MLB team commits considerable resources to analyzing those statistics and relies more and more on those numbers in making their personnel decisions? In a word… no. In fact, hell no!

Here’s how I look at it… If I ran the Twins and I learned that many of my competitors had come to the conclusion that redheaded players were likely to outperform players with brown and blond hair, I would think they were out of their minds. But you can bet I would make sure I knew the hair color of every player in MLB and every minor leaguer, as well. Why? Because at some point I’m going to be talking to the other GMs about trades and I want to know everything I can about what the competition considers important, even if I don’t share their opinions.

To put this in to more practical context, let’s say that the Twins really do decide they’re going to listen to offers on Francisco Liriano because the Twins’ scouts doubt his mechanics will ever allow him to reach and maintain true “ace” status. Maybe they think last season is likely to be as good as he ever gets. But if you’ve had someone in the organization seriously study the guy’s advanced statistics, then you at least are in a position to know how other GMs will value the player (AND how they value the players in their own organization). That knowledge allows you to negotiate the best possible deal.

And who knows? Maybe once you have your own people doing the statistical analysis, you may just discover there’s some value in using those numbers to supplement the work of your scouting department.

I don’t mind so much that the Twins continue to rely primarily on the opinions of their scouts, coaches and other “baseball people” to decide whether to trade a player. However, I DO mind if they don’t bother to do basic statistical research that would allow them to make the best deals possible. That’s just bad business.

Anyway… at least the Liriano issue has given all of us something to chew on during the final few days before pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers. It beats the heck out of arguing about trees, like we were last week! – JC