Enjoy the World Series With the… Kernels?

Yes, you read that right.

If you live in Eastern Iowa or have been thinking about making a trip to Cedar Rapids to check out the home of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, the Twins’ new Class A Midwest League affiliate, the Kernels are inviting you to watch a World Series game with them.

Thursday, October 25, is the date and we’re all invited to Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium to watch the World Series game that night.

Doors open at 6:00 pm and admission is FREE!

Not only will we have the opportunity to rub elbows with fellow Twins/Kernels fans, but the Twins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year, BJ Hermsen, will be on hand, as well!

Hermsen will be signing autographs and standing for pictures with fans from 6:30 until 8:00 pm.

Not only that, but if you’re new to the Kernels’ “family,” it will be your first opportunity to share in a traditional “Thirsty Thursday” event, where you can purchase 12 ounce draft beers, sodas and bottled water for $2.00 each. Of course, other standard ballpark food will be available throughout the evening, as well.

You’ll also find brand new Kernels/Twins affiliation gear on sale at the event.

So give it some thought and if you’re in the area, let’s Party at the Park!

– JC

 

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 8

Episode 8 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact, is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

In Episode 8 Paul and I discuss the Twins prospects in the Arizona Fall League, 2013 Payroll commitments, Justin Morneau and possible infield arrangements for the Twins in 2013. We take a closer look at Aaron Hicks, make our declarations for the top 3 prospects in the organization and we talk about beer.
You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at the  Puckett’s Pond.
- ERolfPleiss

Thinking the Unthinkable: Trade Joe Mauer?

This is what happens when the offseason rolls around and I really have no rooting interest among the four remaining MLB teams in the respective League Championship Series. I write 2000 words about something that will never, ever happen. At least that’s what happened to me Sunday.

But it’s not my fault. I’m blaming Eric and this Sunday morning Tweet:

@ERolfPleiss Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says Red Sox should target Mauer and/or Morneau this winter. #MNTwins http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2012/10/13/few-ideas-shore-red-sox-roster/npiJ3r49NrtnhnGInPoQ1L/story.html …

Having nothing better to do, I clicked the link to Cafardo’s article, which goes through several possible moves the Red Sox could make to get their team back on track, starting with trading for Joe Mauer. Cafardo mentions that the Red Sox are reportedly a bit gunshy about taking on more expensive long-term contracts and wonders if the Twins would eat some of his salary. On the other hand, if you’re the Twins, the only reason to deal Mauer would be to get out from under that contract. Putting those factors together, you quickly conclude that any such deal is beyond unlikely and bordering on unthinkable.

But this is the offseason and what’s the offseason for if not to think about the unthinkable?

I’m not surprised to see a Boston writer bring up Mauer’s name as a possible target for the Red Sox. In fact, given how old and fragile the Yankees line up is looking, I’d be shocked if Mauer’s name didn’t appear in more than one New York writer’s “How to Fix the Yankees” column in coming weeks, as well.

Joe Mauer (Knuckleballs photo)

But there are any number of logical reasons why Joe Mauer won’t be going anywhere. Local boy. Popular with local fans. Historically great hitting catcher. Huge contract. No-trade clause. The list goes on.

But if you’ll promise not to misinterpret this as an article suggesting that Mauer either should or will be traded, let’s at least take a look at whether there are any circumstances under which Terry Ryan might actually consider a discussion.

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that Boston GM Ben Cherington places a call to Ryan and asks the simple question, “Can we talk about Joe Mauer?”

Understand, it’s unlikely that question would even be asked. Cherington is unlikely to be looking to take on $23 million per year long-term contracts. Still, as Cafardo points out, Mauer would fit nicely in to a line up that would accommodate a catcher/1B/DH like Mauer. He might also set some kind of modern-day record for doubles in Fenway Park. Bringing in a legitimate superstar would send a strong message to Red Sox Nation that the team has no intention of taking several years to rebuild their brand. And let’s be honest, the Red Sox can afford to pay Mauer his money. They freed up a lot of payroll space with their late-season deals and if they decide to let David Ortiz walk away, they’ll have even more money to play with.

So just maybe the Red Sox could see themselves calling about Mauer. But should the Twins even answer that call? That answer may not be as obvious as many fans think.

The Twins gave Mauer an excessive contract before the 2010 season because they could not afford, from a public relations standpoint, not to sign him at any price he and his agent demanded. Opening a new stadium built largely with public funding, with virtually every seat bought and paid for through season tickets (and a waiting list of people willing to replace any holder who drops out), there was no way the Twins could allow themselves to be seen as letting the local hero get away because they didn’t want to pay for him. For the first time in franchise history, money really didn’t matter.

But those days are nothing more than a misty memory today. The Twins are coming off of consecutive seasons of more than 95 losses and attendance is dropping. Put those factors together and it wouldn’t be unrealistic to expect the Twins to slash payroll for the second straight offseason. Today, money does matter. Paying one player $23 million dollars when your total payroll is $110 million is one thing. Doing so when your total payroll is $85 million is something else, altogether.

Still, it’s not like the Twins are destitute, either. With the money coming off the books after the past season, Terry Ryan has enough payroll to work with to make improvements to his team. There aren’t a lot of top of the rotation pitchers out there, but there are plenty of more reasonably priced arms on the market and he even has a couple of trade chips he can afford to flip for pitching if he wants to go that direction. Also, despite what some folks might think, Joe Mauer is still really, really good at baseball and he’s likely to stay good for a number of years. You don’t just give that kind of talent away for a handful of magic beans (or in this case, for just a few million dollars of payroll space).

What this all means is that if, as Cafardo suggests, Cherington asks TR whether the Twins would eat any of Mauer’s contract, the answer would be (or at least should be), “hell no!” But what if Boston agrees to take on that contract?

Conventional wisdom in these kinds of trades is that the team trading a big contract either gets high level prospects back by eating some salary OR gets marginal prospects back while dumping the entire contract. That’s considered “fair return.”

Yet the Red Sox themselves managed to not only unload more debt owed to less talented players on to the Dodgers a couple of months ago, but got legitimate talent back in return, as well. They should be congratulated for that. They should also be reminded of that when they call the Twins about Joe Mauer. “Fair” is a relative term. “Fair” depends on how badly you want what I have. If you don’t want Mauer that badly, that’s fine. If you do, then shut up about “fair” and let’s get serious.

There are 3-4 players in the Red Sox system that the Twins would have to target as possible players they’d need in return. I’m not any kind of expert on minor league players, but fortunately I know how to read things written by people who are. I also have a pretty good idea what the Twins need (then again, who doesn’t at this point?).

Any discussion with the Red Sox about Mauer would have to start with the Twins dumping his entire contract AND getting at least one of the following players in return:

Allen Webster: 22 year old right-handed starting pitcher that the Sox got from the Dodgers in the Crawford, et al, trade. He’s got a mid-90s fastball and strikes out nearly a batter per inning. He pitched in AA this season and should be a AAA arm to start 2013. He was the #2 prospect in the Dodgers organization prior to the trade.

Matt Barnes: Righty starting pitcher was the Sox first round pick out of UConn in 2011 and covered both levels of A-ball in 2012. Barnes also has a mid-90s fastball and strikes out a ton of hitters. He’s likely to be a year behind Webster in terms of being Major League ready, however.

Garin Cecchini: 21 year old 3B had a .305/.394/.433 split in high-A ball in 2012. He also stole 51 bases in 57 attempts. He hasn’t shown a lot of power yet but hits a ton of doubles. With Will Middlebrooks perhaps entrenched at 3B for the Red Sox, Cecchini could be blocked unless he’s converted to a 2B. The Twins could use help in either spot.

Speaking of third basemen being blocked by Middlebrooks, the Red Sox top prospect is reportedly Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts is playing shortstop and the Sox hope he can stay there but scouts have doubts about whether he will be able to do that. They think he will more likely need to move to 3B or, perhaps even more likely, a corner OF spot or 1B. He was just 19 years old through the past season but has already shown both an ability to hit for average and power through Class A and even in a month of games at AA. It sounds like Boston has their own version of Miguel Sano, but it’s unlikely they’d trade him for anyone. I wouldn’t.

With Cecchini and Bogaerts knocking on the door, maybe Boston should consider trading Middlebrooks?

A step below these guys would be someone like Henry Owens, who is a 20 year old string bean of a pitcher with what appears to be a lot of potential. He’s 6’7” and a bit over 200 pounds and only throws in the low 90s at this point. But he had 130 strikeouts in 101.2 innings at Class A in 2012 and that would certainly move him to the top of the Twins’ starting pitching prospects list in a hurry.

If the Twins could score one of these top prospects from Boston in addition to shedding Mauer’s contract, Ryan could then be free to have conversations with his peers about Major League level pitching without being as concerned about salary. Would a trade for someone like James Shields (who has a $9 mil club option with the Rays in 2013) then be something worth considering?

Terry Ryan (Knuckleballs photo)

But even if Ryan and Cherington could come to some kind of agreement, what about that pesky no-trade clause in Mauer’s contract? Would he even consider giving approval? Let’s just say I no longer believe it’s necessarily a certainty that he’d say “no” to such a deal.

On the one hand, Joe’s a very private person and it would seem that moving to a large-market team that is as dysfunctional as the Red Sox has been would be counter-intuitive. On the other hand, he’s a really big fish in a mid-market fishbowl and you wonder if he might not welcome the opportunity to be just one of many mega-stars in the New England sports scene. As Cafardo points out, Mauer also lives in Fort Myers in the offseason. Guess who, besides the Twins, has their Spring Training facility in Fort Myers? Yep… the Sawx.

Let’s also be honest about something else. Despite the colossal belly flop of a season that the Red Sox had in 2012, if you were Mauer and were weighing the Sox against the Twins as to which organization was more likely to field a Championship level team over the remaining six years of your contract, there’s no doubt who you would see as being more likely. Boston may not always make the right decisions, but their clear goal every year is to win it all. And every year, they make moves they believe will give themselves a better shot at doing so. You simply can not say that about the Twins.

Joe Mauer is not a naïve little boy any more. Family is important. But he already lives in Florida half the year and the life of a MLB ballplayer during the season doesn’t leave much time for family anyway. With Boston training in Fort Myers, I think they might just be one team he would consider waiving his no-trade deal for.

So, IF the Red Sox call… IF Terry Ryan will listen… IF the Red Sox would take on the entire contract… and IF the Twins could also get a top prospect (or two?) in return… would Mauer agree to a trade?

Let’s just say that if, like me, you are one who never wants to see Joe Mauer in anything but a Twins uniform, we should probably hope it doesn’t come down to that last factor.

– JC

[EDIT: Changes have been made above to correct original errors regarding the timing of Mauer's contract.]

Butterflies With Hiccups – Friday Edition

Given the length of most of my posts on this blog, it may be difficult to believe, but I haven’t come up with a single topic I could muster enough interest in to write about this week. As a result, I’m wrapping up the week with another “Butterflies With Hiccups” segment where I say just a little bit about a small number of unrelated topics.

Postseason Baseball

Those of you who tune out baseball after the Twins stop playing are missing some great ballgames!

The Giants and Tigers have advanced to their respective leagues’ Championship Series after full-blown five game series. Can it get any better than that? Interestingly, the answer is, “Yes, it can.” Tonight, we’ll be treated to another fifth game as the Nationals try to keep their magical season alive in Game 5 of their series with the Cardinals, who are once again trying to turn a season in which they lucked in to a Wild Card spot in to another World Series appearance.

But before we find out how that series turns out, there’s an even better drama playing out in New York. The Yankees appearing in the postseason is hardly dramatic, but heading to a Game 5 with the Orioles after Games 3 and 4 were decided in 12 and 13 innings, respectively, sure ratchets up the drama. The Orioles will have to find a way to beat CC Sabathia this afternoon/evening in order to keep their own fairy tale season alive.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi is showing some balls, I give him that. First of all, he’s managing the Yankees with a heavy heart, having lost his father just a few days ago. On top of that, now… in the deciding game of their ALDS… he’s sitting Alex Rodriguez on the bench. That’s gutsy. A-Rod has performed poorly and Yankee fans all over the place are no doubt rejoicing at Girardi’s decision. If the Yankees lose, though, you can count on those same fans calling for Girardi’s head.

Anyway, I’ll be wearing orange and black at the sports bar later today in support of former Twins Jim Thome, JJ Hardy, Lew Ford, Luis Ayala and their teammates (including former CR Kernel Joe Saunders).

Twins Stuff

The Twins have several players participating in the Arizona Fall League, which is where MLB teams tend to send several of their most promising prospects for a few extra games against high-level competition after the regular season is over. Of particular note, pitcher Kyle Gibson is off to a pretty impressive start. It’s stating the obvious, but it sure would be a huge help if Gibson turned out to be a useful member of the 2013 Twins rotation.

Over the next week, the Twins will hold their annual “organization meetings” in Fort Myers. These meetings are obviously private and in an organization as uber-secretive as the Twins, it’s rare for any information to escape those meeting rooms. That being the case, we shouldn’t expect anything particularly newsworthy coming out of the meetings this season. Nevertheless, this week is likely to be the most critical week of the Twins offseason.

This week, the Twins brass are likely to discuss every player in their organization and examine their relative depth at every position on the field, not to mention in the coaching ranks. The strategy they come away with will plot Terry Ryan’s offseason course and determine the fate of the Twins in 2013 and beyond. I can’t recall a season in which those meetings were more important than this year.

Politics

Shortly after MLB’s World Series wraps up this fall, voters in our country will be heading to the polls to elect a President, not to mention any number of other national, state and local officeholders. As a person with a political-science degree and having run (alas, unsuccessfully) for political office myself, I have more than a passing interest in this stuff.

I did watch the first Presidential debate, but simply could not pull myself from Thursday night’s O’s/Yankees game to check in on the Vice Presidential debate… not even during commercial breaks (those were used to check in on the Tigers/A’s game). It sounds like I didn’t miss much.

I’m an undecided voter in a state that has been identified as a “battleground” state. I would love to have some reasonably strong convictions about one candidate or the other… or even about one party or the other. But I have no such convictions at this time.

I honestly feel neither candidate is likely to make things better for my country at a time when we desperately need real leadership and that makes me more than a little sad. I’m faced with choosing to vote for the leader of a party I’ve never had much affinity for or the leader of a party I’ve belonged to all my life, but which party has been hijacked by zealots, one of which, if elected, would find himself a heartbeat away from the West Wing.

It’s frustrating enough that there’s a temptation not to vote at all. I imagine I’m not alone in that department. But whenever I feel that way, I can’t help but think of all the people in our country’s history who gave so much, in some cases their very lives, to assure that we all have the right to vote. It would just feel like dishonoring those people not to vote. So, while I don’t yet know for whom I’ll vote, I will definitely vote.

Every four years, we get the opportunity to either retain or overthrow our government. I think sometimes we lose track of just how remarkable that is. God Bless America.

– JC

Thank You 2012!

Sharing from the Minnesota Twins to all Twins Fans.

Twins NewsDusting off the dirt of 2012 and getting ready for our next at bat.

That’s baseball.

Sometimes you get thrown out at the plate.

Sometimes you throw it over the first baseman’s head.

Sometimes you hit a long fly ball, only to see it get caught at the warning track.

That’s baseball.

It humbles you.

But there’s something else about baseball. Something great.

And that great thing is that tomorrow is a brand-new day. With a brand-new game. With brand-new at-bats.

Strike out one day, grab a 34 oz. piece of redemption, get back in the batter’s box, and whack it out of the park the next.

That’s baseball too.

And that’s our attitude.

Yes, we made errors and struck out.

But our tomorrow begins today.

We’re working diligently to make this team better.

Striving to get back to a level to which we know we’re capable of playing.

We have a strong list of players to build around.

Players who chased batting titles, made head-turning catches, hit towering home runs and emerged from nowhere to pitch solid innings.

We have talent in our farm system.

We have a general manager with a history of winning, who is willing to make tough decisions.

And if our own past has taught us anything, it’s that you can never count out the Minnesota Twins, no matter where they finish the year before.

So as we move toward 2013, we hope you join us in dusting the dirt off our collective uniforms and running full-speed back out onto the field, ready to play ball. We hope you’ll be there with us.

Thank you for your continued support, and we’ll see you next year in Twins Territory.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I didn’t rush right out to post reactions to the Twins’ coaching changes as the information came out on Thursday, which is probably a good thing.

StarTribune beat reporter LaVelle E. Neal III was obviously wired in to the situation at Target Field and started the ball rolling by announcing that bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek had been advised his contract was not being renewed. My immediate reaction, via Twitter, was something to the effect that blaming the Twins’ problems on Stelly was comparable to blaming the Titanic’s problems on the guy who painted the hull of the ship. Based on what I read of others’ comments, I wasn’t the only fan who felt that way.

But, as we now know, the Twins gave more of the coaching staff similar messages. Jerry White and Steve Liddle were also not renewed while Scott Ullger and Joe Vavra were assigned instructional duties. Only Rick Anderson survived the purge and Andy got just a one-year reprieve. Of course, Ron Gardenhire himself has one more year on his contract and he’s being allowed to continue in his role, at least for now.

While the media was initially assuming (or at least speculating) that Ullger and Vavra would remain on the Major League staff, both coaches were listed as minor league instructors on the Twins’ official website. Their situations have been clarified apparently and both will remain with the Major League club, which disappoints me a bit. I don’t necessarily think Vavra has done a bad job as the Twins’ hitting coach, but how easy will it be for a new coach to establish himself with the hitters with Vavra still in the clubhouse?

What this all means is that the Twins have three open coaching positions to fill in their Major League dugout and while the Twins haven’t announced who would be filling those positions, it’s pretty clear who will be making the decisions. While most MLB managers are given a great deal of latitude in terms of assembling their own coaching staffs, clearly Gardenhire is not the primary decision maker this time around. He was on record recently as saying he wanted to keep all of his coaches, but General Manager (without the “interim”) Terry Ryan pretty much put an abrupt end to that possibility.

Instead, Gardenhire and Anderson will have three new faces surrounding them next season and two of those new faces are likely to be Gene Glynn and Bobby Cuellar, who are very definitely potential replacements for Gardy and Andy should the team’s performance once again fall below expectations in 2013.

Will these two be seeing more of one another in 2013? (photo: Jim Crikket)

The purge also could make room on the Major League staff for former Twins star Tom Brunansky. Bruno was hired to coach hitting for the Twins Gulf Coast League rookie team in July of 2010. A year later, he was the hitting coach at AA New Britain and this past season he moved up to AAA Rochester. His coaching abilities have not gone unnoticed, obviously, and apparently they’ve been noticed beyond just the Twins organization. Speculation has been that if the Twins don’t find a way to promote him, other organizations will and the Twins are likely lose him.

Ryan has indicated a desire to add a Spanish-speaking coach to their Big League staff since a number of MLB-ready players do not speak much English. That might bode well for Cuellar’s chances, but one has to wonder just how much help he’d be with communication issues during ballgames from his perch in the bullpen. Personally, I’d like to see AA hitting coach Rudy Hernandez considered for one of the openings. I’ve heard that players coming through New Britain speak very highly of Hernandez. Promoting him to the Twins would allow them to give Brunansky an opportunity to actually manage a year in the minor leagues, which might not be a terrible idea.

I’ve heard a lot of comments about how it isn’t fair that the “lesser coaches” got the boot while Gardenhire, Anderson and even Ullger and Vavra (since they’ll still be with the Twins) survived. Frankly, that’s true. It isn’t fair. But this isn’t about “fair.”

Baseball coaches at the professional level all know that their jobs are only as safe as the team’s performance on the field. They work under relatively short term contracts and they all know those contracts are subject to not being renewed for any reason. In this case, the primary reason Stelly, White and Liddle didn’t have their contracts renewed was more about Terry Ryan’s desire to bring a new group of coaches in to the clubhouse than any real or perceived performance issues on those coaches’ parts. I think it’s safe to say Jerry White didn’t cost the Twins too many games this season. Ryan needed to create three vacancies to create room for his guys, pure and simple.

I’m fine with these moves, both with the coaching changes and with retaining Gardenhire and Anderson, for now. But my being fine with them is conditioned on these moves not being the last bold moves Ryan makes this offseason. In fact, if March rolls around and the coaching changes are considered to be even close to the biggest moves he’s made, I’ll be well beyond just very disappointed.

Mr. Ryan, you have gotten our attention. Now show us what you do for an encore… and it had better be good.

– JC

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 7

Episode 7 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact, is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

In Episode 7 my brother Paul and I discuss who we believe are the Twins deserving of the Talk To Contact awards for rookie of the year, starting pitcher, reliever, position player and MVP. We go on to get into the recent coaching changes, prospect talk, beer and post-season predictions.
You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at the  Puckett’s Pond.

-ERolfPleiss

News To Start Off The Post Season

Sad News:

with Gehrig John Neshek, born 10/2/12, died 10/3/12

The first thing I’d like to share came out late in the night – asking for all your thoughts and prayers to be extended toward Pat Neshek & his wife, Stephanee, and their families. Their newborn son died in his sleep in his mother’s arms suddenly and with no obvious cause of death. Little Gehrig hadn’t even finished his first full day – not that that would have made it any better. Both Pat & Stephanee have expressed their grief, confusion and pain to those on Twitter. I simply can’t imagine their feelings right now. I hope that they are able to find some closure and peace in whatever form it comes as they learn more in the next few days and months. I’m simply heart-broken for them. So many of their fans and baseball colleagues have reached out to them already. I hope they are able to gain strength from those who surround them.

 Happy News:

In better and more baseball-related news, an event happened today that has not occurred since 1967. We have a triple crown winner: leading in all three categories of Batting average, RBI, and Home Runs is Miguel Cabrera. It’s an immense accomplishment and something to be honored no matter who he plays for. Congratulations Miguel! If someone had to beat Mauer for the batting title, it’s almost worth it that you were able to do it with admirable flair!

 

BIG TWINS NEWS!

Additionally, in current Twins news, it was announced this morning that some turnover in the Twins coaching staff has already begun. Rick Stelmaszek has been let go. I have to admit that I doubt ANYONE expected them to start with the longest tenured coach in Twins history. I seriously doubt it will be the last change to take place before next spring but it really wasn’t a change that was high on my list – so they must have their own list. We’ll see what happens next!

[UPDATE] Steve Liddle has also been let go and Joe Vavra has been reassigned so the coaching shakeup has only just begun. According to LaVelle E Neal III at the Strib:

Pitching coach Rick Anderson was scheduled to meet with Ryan around noon. Bench coach Scott Ullger was to meet with Ryan at 1 p.m. and Jerry White was expected to meet with Ryan at 2 p.m.

Class AAA Rochester manager Gene Glynn and Rochester hitting coach Tom Brunansky could be in line for promotions. So could Rochester pitching coach Bobby Cuellar.

I will continue to add updates to this post as we get more information so stay tuned!

[UPDATE 2] news on a couple more members of the staff from a couple different sources: Rick Anderson will be staying AS pitching coach. Jerry White however is an additional casualty of the turnover. Head Trainer Rick McWane is also gone. According to Rhett Bolinger, Scott Ullger will oversee outfield instruction while Joe Vavra will oversee infield instruction.

It was also noted by several beat writers that Gardenhire has one year left on his contract – it may be a situation where he’s been informed or will be that it will not be renewed unless there are dramatic changes in results. I believe the same is true for every person who is still under contract with the Twins.

This is the final list of departing staff from the Twins as presented by LEN III and Phil Mackey. No word yet on who will be taking on most of the open spots for sure but as you will read, there is a lot of speculation that the AAA staff will be moving up.

ALSO: Target Field is getting another facelift – this time in the RF bleachers.