The Twins Are Taking a Huge Risk

After signing starting pitcher Jason Marquis to a $3 million contract for 2012, it would appear that GM Terry Ryan is bumping up against that $100 million payroll limit that he and other Twins brass have been talking about ever since Ryan took over the club. The question tossed about throughout Twinsville since then has revolved around just how hard or soft that limit is.

I think we now have our answer. It’s a pretty darn hard cap.

I’ve heard and read a lot of comments about how there are still several weeks before Spring Training kicks off and that the Twins always seem to be adding more pieces to their roster after we all ring in the new year. In order to determine whether that’s fact or myth, I did a little research (actually, VERY little research) and came up with the following roster additions in January and February over the past three years:

Luis Ayala, as a Twin in March 2009

2009: Joe Crede and Luis Ayala

2010: Jacque Jones, Jim Thome and Clay Condrey (Edit: And Orlando Hudson! Hat tip to reader Gamerscrows for pointing out the omission!)

2011: Jim Thome, Carl Pavano and Dusty Hughes

Obviously, Thome and Pavano last year were re-signings, but they were free agents so they “count” for our purposes. Thome and Hudson in 2010 and Crede in 2009 certainly constituted significant signings.

I spent all of about 20 minutes looking this stuff up, so if I missed any “new year” additions, I apologize, but based on their activity the past three seasons, I’m not optimistic that the Twins will be shocking all of us with big roster changes before pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers in February.

I keep going back and forth on this $100 payroll cap thing. At first, I was somewhat livid about it. After a while, I tried to understand where the Twins were forecasting lower revenues and why this might reasonably lead them to lower the payroll.

For a while, I arrived at an uneasy peace with the decision, as long as it comes with plenty of payroll space to add significant help at midseason if the Twins are somewhere approaching contention at that time. After all, isn’t it reasonable for ownership to tell the returning core of the team to put up some numbers to prove they aren’t as bad as those 99 losses in 2011 makes them appear to be?

But in the end, I still think it’s just a terrible decision, both from a competitive standpoint and a public relations perspective. For an organization with a long-time reputation as being one of the better run teams in baseball, I’m afraid they’ve really screwed things up with this decision and they’ll be fortunate if things just happen to fall right and prevent another long-term dark era, similar to the mid-to-late 1990s.

Think for just a moment about how different things would feel (both to fans and to the returning players) if Terry Ryan had made all the same moves he’s already made PLUS signing a Mark Buehrle or Edwin Jackson type of pitcher. The result would be a payroll roughly at the same level as last season, but the message would have been: “We aren’t satisfied with just getting back up to 2010 level of competitiveness, we believe 2011 was a fluke and we’re going to go out and compete with the Tigers in 2012.”

True, if Mauer, Morneau, Span and Baker don’t return to give healthy production, the team would likely be out of the race by July and you could expect dwindling attendance in the final couple of months. But at that point, the Twins could stage their own fire sale and shed payroll to the extent that they still end up spending somewhere near $100 million… maybe less.

Instead, the Twins are recklessly (and needlessly) risking their future financial health. If key players are not healthy (again) and/or underperform (again), an already restless fan base will stay away from Target Field in droves and blame management for perpetrating a fraud on the public in order to get their fancy new publicly funded stadium, only to return to their tight-fisted ways within three seasons. That became the predisposition of much of the fan base as soon as the brass announced the mandate to slash the payroll by more than 10% and nothing short of an unlikely Division Championship is going to turn fans around now.

Why would the Twins take that risk?

I was still contemplating that question as I re-watched Ken Burns’ classic “Baseball” series (or what could have more accurately been titled, “My Love Letter to Baseball in New York with Just a Few Casual References to Baseball Being Played Elsewhere”) over the Christmas weekend. Then I got a chill down my spine as I heard this quote from Connie Mack:

“It is more profitable for me to have a team that is in contention for most of the season but finishes about fourth. A team like that will draw well enough during the first part of the season to show a profit for the year, and you don’t have to give the players raises when they don’t win.”

Seriously… does that sound like anyone we know?

As long as the Twins regain just enough luster to get competitive again, fans are likely to continue filling TF seats. But would getting “too good” provide diminishing returns? Championship teams are often created when almost everyone on the roster has a career year and thus many of those players tend to get expensive more quickly than their true abilities warrant. Would a World Series appearance result in enough additional revenue (from media contracts perhaps?) to pay for the resulting increase in payroll just to maintain the status quo?

I have no idea.

What I know is the same thing everyone knows… the Twins did not enter the season intent on building a championship team. That means someone had to make the conscious business decision NOT to do so. Someone had to essentially say, “We don’t care that our community has paid for a new stadium or that more than three million fans have shown up to watch games each of the past two years, we’re not going to pay for a championship caliber team. We’re going to cut payroll by over 10% because that’s the only way we can be absolutely certain we’ll maintain current profit levels… and we don’t care that we’re going to be so blatant about it that the entire fanbase will know that’s exactly why we’re doing it.”

I’m afraid the front office is either vastly overestimating the fanbase’s willingness to continue filling Target Field seats to watch bad baseball or significantly underestimating the number of years it would take them to win back fans if 2012 turns out to be as bad as 2011. Worse yet, they may be guilty of both.

Of course, just because the Twins are adopting a poorly thought out strategy doesn’t mean it won’t work. The core players may all bounce back to productivity levels we’ve wanted and expected to see previously. Willingham, Carroll, Doumit and Marquis may turn out to be significant improvements over the players they are replacing on the roster. Nishioka may even end up showing us what scouts saw in him in the first place.

The AL Central is entirely up for grabs. Sure the Tigers are favorites to repeat… just like the Twins were a year ago… but that is no dynasty in Detroit. If things fall right for the Twins, they could win enough games to win the Division and make Terry Ryan and the rest of the office look like geniuses.

But to my mind, it won’t make them right. They’re adopting a strategy with much more downside risk than upside potential and this longshot had better come in or I’m afraid we’re all in for a very long stretch of bad baseball.

- JC

P.S. If you haven’t done so yet, make sure you cast your “Hall of Fame” vote(s) over in the right hand column. Just like the BBWAA members, you can vote for up to 10 players. We’ll leave the ballot up until January 9, the date we’ll find out who’s been elected this year.

 

Christmas Sunday Morning Comic Relief

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM KNUCKLEBALLS!

We hope you have a wonderful holiday and we wish you all the best for whatever comes in the next year for you! Our readers are a wonderful gift to us every day because we can’t imagine that people voluntarily want to just listen to us rant about baseball or whatever comes to mind. You guys are the BEST!

Now, I’m off to go celebrate Christmas with MY crazy family (already did Christmas Eve with the new in-laws last night) then off for yet another Christmas dinner with the new family tonight… if you don’t hear from me for awhile, I’m probably in a food coma!

Hall of Fame Ballot (Poll)

Over on the right, we’ve added a poll that allows visitors to cast your own votes for this year’s Hall of Fame. The ballot there lists the players in the same order that the official BBWAA ballot lists them. Those players that received enough votes last year to qualify to be on the ballot again this year are listed first, in the order of their vote totals. Then those players who are on the ballot for the first time are listed in alphabetical order.

A year ago, I ranted a bit about the Hall of Fame voting (and the BBWAA voters). I won’t do that again this year, but if you care about my views on the subject, by all means click here and to go back and read what I wrote a year ago. My feelings on the subject haven’t changed.

Suffice to say that I would not withhold my vote from a player on the basis of his known or suspected use of Performance Enhancing Drugs. I don’t feel morally superior to those players, given the lax views of MLB itself concerning PEDs while those guys were playing ball and I certainly don’t feel that members of the BBWAA are in any position to assume the role of guardians of morality for baseball. Yes, this means Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro both get my vote.

I’m a “Big Hall” guy, as anyone who read my post last week knows. That means I want Jack Morris in the HoF.

Will Barry Larkin be the sole BBWAA choice for HoF?

I also believe Barry Larkin and Alan Trammell belong. They may have been the best shortstops of their era, if not of all time.

To my mind, there is no excuse for anyone not to support Jeff Bagwell and I feel just about as strongly about Tim Raines. While I did not support Edgar Martinez a year ago, I’m voting for Martinez this year. If we’re going to have the DH in baseball, it’s wrong to consider those who make a living at that position ineligible for the HoF.

Dale Murphy gets my vote again, too. I understand that I’m in the minority on this vote, but I’ve always felt Murphy has been under-appreciated.

That leaves me one remaining vote to cast and I’m checking the box next to Brad Radke. No, I don’t honestly believe his career was HoF-worthy, but I believe it was better than most people (outside of Twinsville, anyway) give him credit for. I think he deserves a better fate than to be eliminated from future consideration after just one year on the ballot.

I realize that Bernie Williams is quite likely to be the only newly eligible player on the ballot to get the requisite 5% of the vote to remain on the ballot next year. I just can’t vote for him for much the same reason you won’t fine Don Mattingly’s name checked on my ballot. Yes, it has everything to do with the team they played for and the fact that they’ll both get more votes than they deserve simply because of where they played their home games. They don’t need mine, too.

What say you? We’ll leave the poll up over in the right-hand column until the BBWAA gets around to making the official announcement of who, if anyone, gets the necessary 75% support to garner election to the Hall this year. (I’m betting it will be Barry Larkin all by his lonesome.)

And with that, have a wonderful Christmas everyone!

- JC

Cuddyer says Thank You!

No matter what your feelings were about his abilities on the field, his worth to the team at any particular point in the process, or his possible future with the Twins, it’s really hard to argue that he was perhaps one of the classiest individuals to ever wear a Twins uniform. He wrote one final blog entry for FSN and I thought that you guys might like to see it.

Cuddyer: Thank you … and you … and you

 Michael Cuddyer played 11 seasons with the Twins, and his experiences in Minnesota have left him grateful as he leaves to continue his career with the Colorado Rockies.

 
Michael Cuddyer ARCHIVE | EMAIL
Outfielder Michael Cuddyer will be writing an exclusive column for FOX Sports North this season, offering the inside perspective only an 11th-year player can provide.

December 21, 2011

I wanted to write one last article for FOXSportsNorth.com conveying what it has meant to me to have played for the Minnesota Twins and lived in the Minneapolis area.As I sit down and reflect, words cannot express the relationships that my wife, Claudia, and I have developed. I could sit and think about which game I remember the most or pick out which moment of my Twins career is most memorable. However, it’s the people – not the events – who have made my time here so unique and special. In this final article, I wanted to make a list — a list of what I am grateful for and of the friendships and relationships I cherish.I guess it’s fitting for me to start with the media. If it weren’t for my relationship with them, I would not have a forum, such as this, to show my appreciation. I want to thank the local media, whom I have had my share of talks with over the years, for giving me a fair shake throughout my career. There were times when I didn’t agree with some of the things that were said, but I never was crossed, and I always felt like you treated me with respect. For that, I say thank you!To all of the charities Claudia and I have had the pleasure to work with: Thank you for all you do for the community. Your work never will cease to amaze me. You all truly define what it means to be a hero. Thank you for always treating my wife and me well, and we hope to continue to help your efforts in improving society as a whole.To all of the stadium workers: Thank you for always treating my family and me with the utmost respect. Whether it was to help my wife out in her section of seats or when my family was in town to watch a game, you always helped them with what they needed, no questions asked. You made it a joy to work at The Metrodome and Target Field as well as to watch a game there as well. Thank you!

To Cindy and all of the babysitters that do a wonderful job of taking care of our kids throughout the year: Thank you for always treating my son, Casey, like he was yours. You always made him feel special, and Claudia and I always felt at ease knowing that he was in great hands during the course of the games. Thank you for that!

To all of the clubhouse “kids” that I have had the opportunity to develop such great friendships with over the years: I hope I was able to treat you all with as much respect as you showed me. You are all some of the most important people in my life, and I thank you for always going above and beyond your call of duty in order to make life easier in our clubhouse! You guys are the best!

To the trainers: Thank you for always being there for me. No matter what it was that I needed, you always did your best to provide it for me. You all treated me as a friend, and I will always value our friendship. Thank you.

To Gardy and all the field staff, coaches and managers that I have had throughout my 15 years in the Twins organization: Thank you for teaching me how to play baseball at the professional level. Thank you for teaching me how to be a man at the professional level. If it were not for your knowledge, your caring, your tough love and your professionalism, I would not be the player or person I am today. I am in great debt to you, but I hope that the way I play the game and approach each and every day makes you proud and goes a little way toward repaying that debt. Words do not do justice, but thank you.

To all of the teammates I have had throughout the years: Thank you for having my back. There is no greater feeling than knowing that the guys you compete with are all in it for the same reason as you. I consider you all brothers and friends. I am honored to have worn the Twins uniform with you, and I hope I have been someone you are proud to have called a teammate. Thank you.

To Terry Ryan, Bill Smith, Dave St. Peter, The Pohlad Family and the entire Twins
front office:
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to fulfill my dream of becoming a major league baseball player. Thank you for treating my family and me with respect and love. I have given everything I have to the Twins organization and its community. Thank you for giving me the same for the entire 15 years I was fortunate enough to be a part of this fantastic group.

Last but absolutely not least, thank you to the fans of Twins Territory. You have all accepted my family and me as one of your own since Day 1 of my career as a Twin. Whether you were a Cuddy Buddy, attended a Twins Unplugged event, supported one of my family’s causes or were just a casual fan who cheered at the game, thank you. I tried to play the game with you all in mind. I knew that the Twins or Minnesota inscription that was across my chest represented each and every one of you. I hope I did you proud in the 11 years I got to wear your uniform. You all always will be very dear to my family and me, and I thank you for being so supportive.

There are countless others who have helped make the last 15 years of my life so enjoyable, and I appreciate everyone’s impact on my experience here. As difficult as it is to leave, I am extremely excited to be a part of another wonderful organization in the Colorado Rockies. I am really looking forward to developing similarly substantive relationships and giving everything I have as a player and a person to them, just as I have with the Twins. Minnesota always will be a part of who I am and what I stand for. For that, I thank you.

 Thank you, Michael Cuddyer. You make baseball fans proud.

From the MN Twins to Twins Fans!

This was emailed to me from the Twins – all graphics and copyrights and all such things belong to them. But I had to share it with you – it’s actually rather entertaining if you click their link to go see Gardy Claus!

 

  Dear Twins fan,

From all of us at the Minnesota Twins, we wish you
every happiness this holiday season and throughout
the coming year.

We look forward to seeing you at Opening Day 2012!

Happy Holidays,
Minnesota Twins

Click here to see what Gardy Claus
wants for Christmas this year!
Meet Gardy Claus
He sings, he dances and he’s more than happy to
tell you all about what’s on his Christmas list!

tree

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© 2011 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All Major League Baseball trademarks, service marks and copyrights used herein are the property of the applicable MLB entity. All rights reserved. Any other marks used herein are trademarks of their respective owners.

Twins Projections, Reactions & Words From @TwinsPrez

I spent the weekend doing almost no thinking about baseball, as difficult as that is to imagine. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ve totally run out of opinions, so here are a few things on my mind at the moment.

Focus on Pitching

I think it’s almost a given that Terry Ryan will be bringing in at least one more pitcher and probably some more potential bullpen help, but I really don’t expect that to happen until at least January some time (and perhaps even right up to the date pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers in February). Honestly, I think waiting out the market at this point is probably the smart thing to do.

Paul Maholm can pitch in inclement weather. That could be handy, right?

I advocated in my “blueprint” for consideration of adding Rich Harden and/or Paul Maholm to the rotation and I wouldn’t mind seeing the Twins pick up either guy (or both, if Ryan is feeling particularly ambitious with the Pohlads’ credit card). Frankly, however, the difference between those guys and any of about half a dozen others that are still floating around out there is so marginal that it probably makes sense to see who’s still available in a few weeks when the players and their agents start getting nervous about not having a roster spot and the prices come down.

If you’re just going to sign a guy to compete for the 5th spot in the rotation and maybe a guy to pitch the 6th or 7th inning out of the pen, what’s the hurry?

Exit Kubel

Jason Kubel

We formally bid farewell to Jason Kubel this week as Kubes signed on with the Diamondbacks. I didn’t expect to see him return to the Twins (like Cuddyer and Nathan, it was pretty clear he wanted out of Minnesota). That said, I sure didn’t see the D’Backs as a logical landing spot. They’ve kind of got a pretty full roster of outfielders already and it’s not like they have a DH spot to offer. Maybe they have additional irons in the fire to open up a spot for him and, if so, I can certainly see him having a big year in that ballpark in Arizona.

I can’t help but wonder what kind of player Kubel could have turned out to be for the Twins if he hadn’t blown up his knee in the Arizona Fall League just as he was getting ready to become a regular in the Twins outfield. In any event, I wish him well in Arizona.

Will the Twins be Better?

Since it is now likely that the Twins are done shopping in the free agent market for position players this off season, I was comparing the Opening Day line up the Twins fielded in 2011 with the line up we would anticipate opening the season in 2012.

2011 Opening Day   2012 Projected
Span CF   Span CF
Nishioka 2B   Carroll SS
Mauer C   Mauer C
Morneau 1B   Morneau 1B
Young LF   Willingham RF
Cuddyer RF   Doumit DH
Kubel DH   Valencia 3B
Valencia 3B   Casilla 2B
Casilla SS   Revere LF
  _Pavano P     _Pavano P

Yes, I know the Twins could still trade away one of the projected starters for some pitching and/or payroll relief and that, even if they don’t, the line up could see Willingham hitting 4th and Casilla may be 9th, but these are the players in play right now and this projection is good enough for comparison purposes. Keep in mind, many of us had every expectation that the 2011 line up was at least good enough to compete in the AL Central Division. Essentially, you’re replacing Nishioka, Cuddyer, Young and Kubel with the foursome of Carroll, Willingham, Doumit and Revere.

We could debate whether or not that’s an overall upgrade or downgrade offensively, depending upon which offensive categories you value over others, but I think we would reasonably have every hope that the replacements constitute an improvement on the defensive end. I’d give Cuddyer an edge over Willingham in RF purely based on Cuddyer’s arm and Willingham’s lack of recent experience playing in that corner of the OF. But while Revere’s arm doesn’t have half the oomph that Young’s does, I’d still take Revere in the outfield over Young every day. I think it’s also clear that we all expect the combination of Carroll/Casilla will out-defend the Casilla/Nishioka pairing that opened 2011 in the middle infield.

Of course, the factors that will likely determine whether the 2012 Twins improve their run production and scoring defense enough to restore some level of pride to the organization are the guys hitting in the 1, 3, and 4 spots. Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have to return healthy enough to put up the kind of numbers we expected a year ago. If that happens, I can see it being enough to lead this team to 81 wins and a .500 record.

To improve more than that, it’s going to take similar significant improvement from the pitching staff and we’ll have to wait a while longer to even project the likelihood of that happening.

Executive Communes with the Masses

Twins President Dave St. Peter (Photo: John Mowers)

Twins President Dave St, Peter continues to make himself available to fans via Twitter (@TwinsPrez) and I think you have to give him credit for putting himself out there. Every so often, he sits down and just responds to one question/comment after another. I certainly don’t agree with everything he writes, but he’s by far the most accessible member of the Twins organization when it comes to interacting directly with fans.

Here are a few interesting things I learned from St. Peter’s tweets on Monday night:

  • The Twins’ special event calendar will be announced in February, but he did whet fans appetites with news about one thing planned for 2012: The Twins will have a promotion this season that will involve wearing 1951 Minneapolis Millers throwback uniforms. The opponent will be the Kansas City Royals, with the Royals wearing KC Blues throwbacks. The Millers throwback jerseys and caps will, of course, be available for sale.
  • In response to a question from TC Bear (@TC_00), St. Peter was noncommittal concerning TC getting a Millers throwback jersey to wear, as well. He asked TC whether the Millers had a bear for mascot. TC asked if that meant he would get a night off. The Prez’s response: “No chance!!!!” I guess you can’t blame a bear for trying.
  • He believes the Twins can overcome the losses of Nathan, Cuddyer and Kubel much the way they did the losses of Santana, Hunter and Koskie.
  • Spring Training tickets go on sale January 14.
  • The autograph schedule for Twinsfest will be made public in early January.
  • He likes Bing Crosby Christmas carols. Then again, who doesn’t?!

Again, I could take issue with St. Peter on some issues and I’m certainly not on board with the organization’s mandate to slice payroll more than 10%, but I like that he is willing to answer fans’ questions and even respond to criticisms occasionally. If you’re a Twins fan and aren’t yet following him on Twitter, you definitely should be!

- JC

Off-season chat for the rest of us…

Ok, so Slowey & Cuddy are in Colorado now; Kubel is in Arizona (???) and Nathan is in Texas… oh yeah, but we’re keeping Capps so we should all feel better right? And so far we still have Span and we have a few new guys that we’re supposed to feel ok about signing.

I’m going to make a huge admission here… I don’t have a clue about where to expect the Twins to fall now on the team expectation spectrum.

I read all the experts/not-so-experts/think-they-are-experts and JC’s stuff and it all sounds entirely reasoned and plausible to me. I can even occasionally have a rational counter argument – at least in my own mind – to some of the proposals. But this is always the stage of the year when I give up trying to figure it all out. It’s always a list of names I really don’t know (I’m sorry but no matter how many years I have played fantasy baseball, I still just don’t pay that much attention) and a bunch of holes in the field that I can see but I have no clue how on earth the Twins are going to fill…  I go into Spring Training every year wondering who the hell is going to have to step up and do better than they have before to make them worth being on the big league team. I wonder which new guy – whatever his name is – is going to surprise or disappoint me when they hit the diamond.

I know I can’t be alone in this…

Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that I quit following every single rumor that comes out about our local 9 and I try to go look up the latest name and figure out if I think the poor guy has a chance. I still sigh every time one of my favorites moves on elsewhere and cheer everytime someone who I think has been holding us back is finally let go..  These are the Twins afterall. We fans are fairly used to VERY quiet off-seasons and Spring Training openings with less than confident expectations. I’m also used to us getting rated at the middle to bottom of the years’ performance expectations and being pleasantly surprised when we somehow manage to overcome the experts declarations.

I miss those days…

I knew last off-season that there were some MAJOR problems with the infield & pitching (and several of the experts thought so too) but there was always the justifications that the players we lost cost too much or were too close to the management and had outlived their usefulness to us… yeah, you know who I mean and you know that having them would have made a BIG difference to this team last year.. and those players turned out to be valuable to the teams they went to and were probably worth the money they were payed – by someone else. I’m not going to say the moves were WRONG because you can’t guarantee anything in this game but the results were pretty predictable.

I see a similar scenario happening this year…

We have what looks to be a fighting chance with the infield now – although I don’t really know the new guys – but now the outfield seems more than a little bare despite the fact that we picked up Willingham (another player that others are high on but I’m sorry, I just don’t KNOW him at all). Seriously? We’re now depending on the arms of Ben Revere and Denard Span in the OF because they are quick? I LOVE Revere on the bases and as a person but.. I always hold my breath when he makes a catch deep in the field because I’m looking to see where the baserunner is going to go… Don’t get me wrong, he’s made some spectacular catches and they are a lot of fun to see but still.. Where are they going to play these guys? Willingham has been a LF most of his career and they are talking about playing him in RF now. I think he’s going to be busy.

And they pitching still sucks…

With all the drama of last off-season, then the season and now THIS off-season, I haven’t seen any improvement to our general scenario – whether SP or RP – and I don’t know who the Twins could get that would relieve my mind. I’m sure that those who pay much more attention than I could offer a few names that would sound great  and plausible and maybe even make sense to my off-season muddled brain. 

But I’ll just end up where I always end up..

I’ll be looking forward to Spring Training and hoping someone steps up and surprises us, some kid will do better than he has any right to expect and some new guy will make himself a home by fitting in where bereft fans are looking for any sign of genuine personality.

Oh yeah, and given the results so far? the experts are probably going to pick the Twins to finish in the middle or worse in the Central division.. Is it too much optimism to say I almost relish the familiarity of that particular designation and hope that the Twins are able to meet and exceed those expectations in ways I have always enjoyed?

Getting to Cooperstown

Now that the whole Michael Cuddyer/Josh Willingham drama is resolved, we wish Cuddyer well in Colorado and move on to other things. Today, for me, the “other things” include a discussion of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I’ve never been to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I guess you’d say it’s on my “bucket list”, but I can’t honestly say it’s high on the list. It seems like it’s one of those things you should do with your dad, especially when your dad is primarily responsible for having instilled in you a love for baseball. Anyway, my dad’s been gone for over 20 years now, so I guess that ship has sailed. I’d like to visit the HoF with my son someday, though.

There has been no shortage of Hall of Fame chatter around Twinsville this offseason, with former players Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Luis Tiant being considered for, but ultimately falling short of, selection by the Veterans Committee. Going forward, we will continue to discuss the likelihood of Jack Morris getting the votes necessary to be selected for enshrinement.

One of the things that makes discussions regarding HoF credentials fun is that there’s very limited formal criteria established. There’s a pre-screening process for players to be placed on the BBWAA ballot, but once a player is on the ballot, the voters get just the following guidance with regard to how they should evaluate candidates: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

That leaves an awful lot of room for debate with regard to whether this player or that player “deserves” enshrinement.

There was a lot of discussion about Bert Blyleven’s credentials over the past decade-plus. A number of writers have held up Blyleven as an example of the dilution of the Hall of Fame resulting from election of players who were very good, but didn’t measure up to the level of excellence that some felt the standard should be. How many times have we heard, “it’s not the Hall of Very Good”?

That’s a good point. Then again, it’s also not the “Hall of Statistical Excellence” either. In fact, a player’s “record” is just one of the listed criteria for voters to consider. Yes, “playing ability” can arguably be measured statistically, but such “ability” can extend beyond the numbers, whether certain statistic-bound segments of the baseball community want to admit it or not.

My criteria for judging whether a player should be in the HoF is as much art as science. It’s not just an “eyeball test”. It’s more of a memory test. Certainly, statistical excellence over a period of a player’s career should be a consideration, but not the sole consideration.

It’s the Hall of FAME. So tell me what these players accomplished during their careers that stood out, that was remarkable, that made an impression on baseball in their era, that made memories, that fans of that era and beyond still talk about and recognize, that made the player famous or added to the general level of fame bestowed upon the game of baseball itself.

My personal memories of Big League baseball go back just over 50 years, to 1961, and when I think about players from that era who stood out for remarkable careers, I think of Killebrew and Mantle and Aaron and Mays. They and many of their peers have been rightfully elected to the HoF.

But the specific memories that leap to mind include Roger Maris and his “61 in ’61″. I think of Denny McLain and his 31 wins. I think of Carlton Fisk waving that ball fair in 1975, followed by Reggie Jackson’s three home runs in the World Series a year later. I think of Kirk Gibson’s pinch hit home run in the ’88 Series one year after the 1987 Twins’ World Series heroics. I think of the night Cal Ripken moved past Gehrig.

And I think of Jack Morris’ ten-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

It bothers me that so many of the players that made my greatest baseball memories are not recognized for what they did. You could certainly argue that a guy like McLain fails the “integrity” and “character” tests, but baseball’s FAME has been built just as much on the unforgettable performances of Maris and Gibson and Morris as it has on Fisk, Jackson and Ripken.

Why shouldn’t players that found something in themselves that allowed them to rise above their otherwise good-but-not-excellent career performance levels to give the baseball world something remarkable to remember for a lifetime be recognized for their contributions to baseball’s fame?

I’m happy for the family of Ron Santo and for Cubs fans everywhere that Santo was chosen by the new “Golden Era” Veterans Committee to be honored with HoF enshrinement. It’s sad that it didn’t happen while he was alive to enjoy the honor. I hope some day Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat will live to realize the same honor. I think they deserve it.

But what I can not understand is why Roger Maris wasn’t even on that ballot. With all due respect to Santo, Oliva, Kaat and the others, there was NOBODY on that ballot more worthy of recognition… more famous… than Roger Maris. Yet he wasn’t even on the ballot?

And then there’s Jack Morris. This may indeed be his last best chance to be voted in to the HoF by the writers, as pointed out in North Dakota Twins Fan’s excellent blog post this week. It’s his 12th year of eligibility and there aren’t many truly statistically exceptional players on the ballot this year, so maybe writers who feel they want to vote for at least one player will choose Morris. But it’s not likely he’s going to gain enough votes to make the grade and in the remaining years of his eligibility, we’ll see several more famous players qualifying for consideration for the first time, meaning Morris could actually see his vote total slip after this year.

But I don’t care what anyone says, what Morris accomplished makes him Hall of Fame material in my book. On baseball’s biggest stage, with fans around the world tuned in, he gave the most remarkable pitching performance I’ve ever witnessed and, in the process, delivered a World Series Championship to the Minnesota Twins. It’s not like it was a fluke. Morris was not a mediocre pitcher who got lucky one night. He was an accomplished starting pitcher who had produced in big moments before… and would do so again after… that night.

But that performance made him famous. It added to the greatness of Major League Baseball… to its lore. And it should make Jack Morris a Hall of Famer.

If there isn’t room for Jack Morris in Cooperstown, then I propose they rename the museum the “Hall of Statistical Accomplishment over the Course of Many Years of Playing Baseball” and see how many fathers and sons bother to visit the place.

- JC

Room for Willingham AND Cuddyer?

First, we finally get the big news about the Twins officially signing free agent outfielder Josh Willingham to a 3 year/$21 million contract, then quickly there were follow up reports that the Twins were also still holding out some hope to re-sign Michael Cuddyer, as well.

That’s big news! How big? Big enough that I couldn’t convince myself to post my already-written and ready to post column regarding my feelings about the Baseball Hall of Fame, that’s how big!

Instead, we have to discuss the possibility of having both Willingham and Cuddyer as members of the 2012 Minnesota Twins.

Josh Willingham (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Media reports indicate that Willingham’s paycheck pushes the Twins payroll to $96 million. I have no idea how accurate that is, but since checking the accuracy would require me to do the math myself, let’s just say it’s accurate. That means adding another $8+ million for Cuddyer pushes the payroll over the $100 million ceiling that GM Terry Ryan has been operating under. What we don’t know, of course, is how hard or soft that ceiling really is.

So that’s part of the question regarding “room” for both players. Is there room in the payroll for both? The other part of the question concerns whether there’s room on the field for both players.

On paper, Willingham is primarily a left fielder and Cuddyer a right fileder, so technically there’s room for each. You simply sandwich them around Denard Span and tell Denard to go after anything he can possibly get to, because Willingham and Cuddyer aren’t likely to be covering a lot of ground in the corners.

It would make for a pretty fair offensive line up, as the Strib’s Joe Christensen points out, inviting us to picture this line up:

1. CF — Denard Span (bats L)
2. SS — Jamey Carroll (R)
3. C — Joe Mauer (L)
4. LF — Josh Willingham (R)
5. 1B — Justin Morneau (L)
6. RF — Michael Cuddyer (R)
7. DH — Ryan Doumit (S)
8. 3B — Danny Valencia (R)
9. 2B — Alexi Casilla (S)

The Twins need to score more runs than they did in 2011 and that line up, when healthy, would do so.

Michael Cuddyer

Then again, the Twins also need to prevent opponents from scoring as many runs as they did in 2011. There’s little doubt that asking Span and Ben Revere to cover most of the expansive grass of Target Field’s outfield while Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Delmon Young manned the corner positions contributed to the elevated ERAs among Twins pitchers. You have to ask yourself whether an outfield with only one legitimate defender is the smart thing to do in Minnesota.

On the other hand, the only way you end up with that defensive alignment intact for most of the season is if you get full, healthy and productive seasons out of Morneau, Mauer, Doumit, Cuddyer, and Willingham. How much are you willing to bet on THAT happening?

I guess what I’m saying is that I like the chances of seeing Span and Revere side-by-side in the outfield an awful lot, assuming they both stay healthy themselves. Having Willingham and Cuddyer both just provides a lot more depth.

So, yes, I think there’s room for both free agents on the field.

But what about that payroll?

I’m not going to get too deep in to this because I’m still not convinced the Twins need to, much less should, reduce their payroll dramatically from last season. If they believe having both of these players will make the team better and if both will sign for what the Twins have established are amounts that the players are worth to the organization, then they should do so.

The only consideration is that screwed up “ceiling”. If Ryan truly has to stick to a number close to $100 million, he has to realize that scoring more runs is only half the challenge. He needs pitching that will prevent more runs from scoring and he needs a little more money for that, as well.

The Twins have enough money to sign both Willingham and Cuddyer, as well as adding another decent, but not top of the order, starting pitcher and still stay at or below last year’s payroll level. So long as that’s the case, then yes, Mr. Ryan, go ahead and sign both of these guys.

But if signing both means you have no money to improve the rotation or, worse yet, that you have to trade away Span or other critical returning players, well… that would be a really bad idea.

For now, I have to say I’m allowing myself to ponder the possibility of having Willingham and Cuddyer both in the line up and I like that thought.

- JC

 

The Punto-Cuddyer Syndrome

First off, I like Michael Cuddyer. Let’s get that out of the way right up front. I’m a fan of the man and assuming there’s no 12th hour change of heart on the part of Cuddyer and/or the Twins, I’ll miss watching him in a Twins uniform and wish him success with whatever team he suits up for in 2012.

That said, I’ve been around long enough to know that baseball is first and foremost a business these days, not only for the people running the teams but for the players, as well. And both parties have had to weigh a number of factors as they decide whether Cuddyer would continue being a member of the Twins.

Michael Cuddyer

For the Twins, it is perfectly reasonable to step back and question what the player’s worth is to the organization. They should be (and I’m certain they have been) considering his age, his level of past productivity, not just in the most recent season but over the course of the past several years, the value of his clubhouse presence, the value of his work in the community, and the value of the draft picks they get when he signs elsewhere. They also are clearly looking at other available options to replace his presence on the roster and what those options would cost, compared to the cost to bring Cuddyer back. It certainly sounds like it’s going to be cheaper to sign Josh Willingham and he certainly appears to be a comparable talent.

Cuddyer, as well, has things to consider as he weighs whether to return to the Twins. He and his agent have established what they think he should be worth on the open market. The Twins haven’t been offering that, so Cuddyer and his family have to decide if being a career Minnesota Twin is worth potentially leaving a few million dollars on the table. I wonder how many of us would do that. Cuddyer also has to determine how important having a better shot at winning a championship is to him. The chances of doing so in Minnesota over the next three years are probably not as good as they would be in Philadelphia, Boston or, arguably, even Colorado. I think it’s fair for him to wonder just whether it might be best for his career to move on.

In other words, I can see plenty of reasonable factors for either the team or Cuddyer to decide either that they should or shouldn’t continue their relationship.

But what I have never understood is the level of venom that a very vocal segment of the fan base (at least among those who haunt the internet) express in Cuddyer’s direction. At at time when many of us question the toughness of some of the Twins “stars” and their willingness to play through bumps and bruises, Cuddyer is one guy who has consistently tried to do that. Yes, he’s had some injuries over the years and yes, he’s had years that have been better or worse than others. He’s not a superstar. He has weaknesses.

But he’s played a pretty significant role in whatever levels of success the Twins have had in recent years.

Is the problem that people think he’s overpaid? Maybe, but is that his fault? He, like every player, has an agent who’s responsible for getting the best contract terms he can. We should dislike Cuddyer for that?

I think there’s a certain segment of Twins fans that take a particular joy, or at least satisfaction, it tearing down players that they view as being “liked” too much. These people think they’re smarter than most Twins fans and so they trot out this statistic or that criteria to demonstrate that anyone the rest of us dumb fans “like” isn’t as good as we think they are. It happened with Nick Punto and it’s happening now with Cuddyer.

So, in all likelihood, Cuddyer will move on now. That means the haters can joke and feel smug and superior to the rest of us who have valued his contribution to the team and the way he seemed to genuinely enjoy and appreciate the fans… just as they did when Punto finally signed elsewhere.

Most of us have been on this earth long enough to realize that there are people who can only feel better about themselves by denigrating others. I don’t like spending much time with such people on either a social or business basis. I’ve found myself with much less patience for that personality type in the virtual world lately, as well.

I’m not saying there’s no room for debate about the abilities and contributions of players, coaches, managers, GMs or any other member of the Twins organization. Debate and discussion is what we’re all about. Criticism is fair. If someone isn’t doing their job well, pointing that out is fine.

But when it turns personal or when it clearly has less to do with abilities than it does simply wanting to trash a guy that others happen to like just to be contrary… to show us all how much smarter you are than the rest of us… to point out how stupid we all are for liking the way a guy conducts his life on and off the field… you’re not showing us how smart you are, you’re just being a jerk. You’re showing the rest of us a lot more about yourself than you are about anything or anyone else.

These folks threw a little party when Nick Punto was shown the door and we’re already seeing evidence of the same thing as Cuddyer’s time as a Twin appears to be drawing to a close. It makes me wonder who these brilliant people who are so much smarter than the rest of us will choose to pick on next. I guess Matt Capps will be around for a little while longer, but he really isn’t popular enough with fans, in general, to make picking on him all that fun.

Punto had to leave to get the championship jewelry that every player wants. Now he’s signed with the Red Sox, giving him a helluva lot better shot at more such opportunities than anyone associated with the Twins has. And I’d be willing to bet Cuddyer will land in a situation with a better shot than he’d have had in Minnesota, too (just as Joe Nathan did).

So if you are one of those people who enjoy hating on a guy who has done nothing but give 100% to his team, his team mates, his fan base and his community, congratulations… it looks like you’re getting what you want.

But we all know it won’t make you happy. You’ll just need to find someone else to put down in order to make yourself feel superior again.

And that’s sad.

- JC