To DH Or Not To DH? There’s NO Question

This is how my mind works at times.

I read a simple Tweet… in this case from Joe Posnanski… and the next thing I know, my mind is moving from point A to point B and all the way to about point R.

In the wake of the MLB AllStar Game Tuesday night, Posnanski posed the following question, via Twitter:

So wait because Venters got outs and Quentin made outs, David Ortiz won’t start in 4 World Series games? Still don’t understand.

Obviously, Joe isn’t fond of the practice of awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the representative of the league that wins the AllStar Game. Hardly a revolutionary viewpoint, I know.

But you know what? No matter what method MLB uses to determine home field advantage in the Fall Classic, the result will be the same… whether it’s David Ortiz or Travis Hafner or Jorge Posada or, better yet, Jim Thome… a critical member of the AL representative in the ultimate contest to determine the champion of Major League Baseball is likely to play a reduced role for his team.

If you read my posts here often, you have probably figured out I have limited respect for Bud Selig. The truth is, it’s not just Bud… it’s Bud and everyone else who determines baseball policy that just make me shake my head almost on a daily basis. These people have no clue how to address problems. They’re all about treating symptoms, not finding cures for underlying issues. If these guys had been in charge of polio research, you’d have the best iron lung in the world, but no polio vaccine (blatant “West Wing” ripoff quote).

The problem isn’t that the AllStar Game determines home field advantage in the World Series. The problem is that MLB continues to force two teams who play by significantly different rules to compete against one another to determine the championship.

It’s long past time to put an end to this nonsense. It’s time for Bud Selig to step up and tell the National League that they WILL adopt the Designated Hitter.We all know it’s going to happen eventually. Sure, there was a time when it might have been possible for baseball to turn back the hands of time and force the American League to drop the DH, but those days are long gone.

I know there’s a stubborn resistance to the DH by fans of National League teams. That dumfounds me a bit. It’s bad enough that they seem to enjoy watching pitchers flail helplessly with a bat, but don’t they realize their best hitters are almost all destined to end their careers in the American League? Is that really what they want?

Let’s say you’re a St. Louis Cardinal fan. You’ve got the biggest star in baseball playing first base for your team right now, but he’s coming up on free agency. He expects to get paid fair market value and rightfully so. But that market value is higher in the American League than it is in the National League and, unfortunately, your team plays in the NL.

Albert Pujols will be 32 years old when next season kicks off. An American League team can offer him an eight year contract and figure that, if it turns out that age catches up to him a bit and he can’t continue to play competent defense, he could spend the last few years of that contract DHing. The Cardinals don’t have that luxury.

Bud Selig

So, Cardinal fans, when Albert ends up turning his back on you because an AL team is able to offer a longer contract than St. Louis reasonably can or should, don’t blame Pujols. Don’t blame the team he signs with. Blame yourself for not wanting the DH to “taint” your NL game. Blame your owner and his friends who refuse to adopt the DH.

Or better yet, blame the guy I blame for everything that’s wrong with baseball.

Blame Bud Selig.

- JC

Tellin’ it like it is.

I’ll be honest. While I’ve watched almost every inning of the Twins games this week, I haven’t been devoting as much time to really focusing on the games or on the Twins in general. My mind has been occupied elsewhere (Nebraska in the Big Ten? Where will the Longhorns go? Isn’t it time for the Irish to give up the “independent” foolishness and join the Big Ten?). I know they’ve won some games and lost some games and some guys have looked good and some guys haven’t looked good… and some guys aren’t even showing up. It’s time to do something about those guys. Not the end of July at the trade deadline. Not in a month at the All Star break. Not in a couple of weeks. The time is now. Right now.

We were all excited about the team Bill Smith built during the offseason and, for the most part, about the choices made with regard to who constituted the 25 man roster coming out of Spring Training. This was, arguably, going to be the most talented gathering of players to don Twins uniforms in years… perhaps even decades. This team was no longer going to send minor leaguers out to play on Sundays. Even the “B” lineup would have can’t miss Hall of Famer, Jim Thome, in the DH spot. This team, we felt, wasn’t going to have to overachieve to win the Central Division. They SHOULD win the Division and the talent was there to do some damage in the playoffs once they got there.

It wasn’t all that long ago that we felt that way. But let’s tell it like it is, gang. Twins fans can not feel that way right now. This team, as currently constituted, is still competitive… but it is far from GOOD. In fact, that lineup card Gardy turned in Sunday was an embarrassment.

Yes, there have been injuries. The nagging kind where you really don’t know if you should put the guy on the Disabled List or let him rest a couple of days. And in almost every instance (or so it seems) the result has been an extended absence from the lineup.

One of the things that has endeared the Twins to its fan base over the years has been the way we could enjoy watching young players come up through the organization and be ready to contribute when they get their chance. All five of the starting pitchers came up that way. Denard Span thrived when he got his shot. The list is long.

Suddenly flush with revenues as a result of moving in to their new stadium, the organization uncharacteristically brought in help to fill a couple of holes in the infield this offseason, even while giving Mauer and others big raises, where in the past they may have been traded away at this point in their career. It has been very encouraging.

Now many people weren’t thrilled with opening the year with Nick Punto as the 3B. Personally, I have been in the “as long as the Twins have improved offensive production from 2B and SS, they can afford one mediocre bat in the 9 position” camp. The problem is… they are no longer getting improved (or any) offense from those other infield positions.

A significant sector of Twins Territory (or at least the Twins Blogosphere neighborhood of the “Territory”) is insistently enthusiastic about “giving the kids a shot” whenever someone with the Big League team either gets hurt or is performing so poorly that replacement appears inevitable. That’s fine. I like to see guys who have worked their way up through the organization get their shot, too.  But the time has come to admit that the Twins do not have infield options that are Major League ready right now. Maybe Trevor Plouffe, Danny Valencia and Matt Tolbert will go on to have fine Big League careers. They seem like good guys who are easy to root for.

But they have no business being on the Major League roster of a team that sees itself as a World Series contender. Not as starting infielders and not really even as utility options off the bench. They just aren’t ready.

And what about that pitching staff? There are some talented young pitchers both in the rotation and in the bullpen. And they seem to be really good guys, too. Lots of reasons for fans to “like” almost all of them. Every member of the rotation has had some very good starts… and some that were pretty ugly. Bert pointed out during today’s broadcast that the Twins’ bullpen has the best ERA in the American League. That’s nice. Everyone out there has had some impressive appearances. But why is it that whenever virtually ANY reliever comes out of the pen, at least one person in any group you may be watching the game with is likely to say, “I wish I felt more confident with him coming in to pitch”?

Maybe JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson will come back from their DL stints healthy and productive. Maybe one or two of the starting pitchers will become a legitimate #1 guy (I’d settle for legitimate and reliable #2 guys at this point). Maybe Ron Mahay and Jose Mijares and Jesse Crain will become more consistently reliable. Maybe Jon Rauch will add a couple MPH to his fastball and we won’t always have to hold our breath every time he comes in with less than a 3-run lead.

But that’s a lot of “maybes” for a team with expectations at the level we have for the Twins.

It’s mid June. The Twins are 2 and a half games ahead of the Tigers, with whom they have a series in Target Field to close out the month. Between now and then, both teams have 4 interleague series. The Twins with the Rockes, Phillies, Mets and Brewers. The Tigers with the Senators (missing their phenom Stephen Strausburg), D’Backs, Mets and Braves.

The truth is, the Twins will not be leading the AL Central Division at the end of the month with a lineup featuring three starting infielders every game from the group of Valencia, Harris, Plouffe, Tolbert and Punto. Unless changes are made now, look for the Twins to be playing catch-up in the second half of the season… again.

I know the Twins have already stretched their payroll beyond anything remotely close to what they’ve historically spent on MLB ballplayers. I also know they don’t like to send their precious prospects around the country in return for more expensive veterans that may or may not be a part of the team beyond the end of the current year. I can’t argue with any of that when you’re trying to build a competitive team over time.

But if the Twins organization is really serious about being more than just competitive in 2010, it’s time to bring in some reinforcements. In recent weeks, the Twins have been linked to several players who are, or may become, available via trade. The names include top of the line starting pitchers like Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee and 3B/1B Mike Lowell, in addition to a variety of middle relief pitchers, such as former BitchSox David Aardsma.

It’s fair to debate whether each of these players, or any others that may become available, would be good “fits” for the Twins. Would they upset team chemistry? Would they stay healthy? Have their better years passed them by? Are they overpriced?  All fair questions for discussion. But there’s really only one question that should matter.

Will the Minnesota Twins win more games… now and potentially in the post season… with this player than with the player currently in that role? If the answer is “yes”, it’s time to make the deal, Mr. Smith. And when the names you’re looking at replacing are Harris, Valencia, Tolbert, Plouffe, Mahay, Crain, and Mijares, how could the answer not be “yes”?

My preference? I want Mike Lowell in my lineup as quickly as he can get to Minnesota. If/when Hardy and Hudson come back, we finally get Little Nicky Punto-Tiny Super Hero in his proper role as utility infielder. I also want one of those top of the rotation guys, Oswalt or Lee (heck, even Jake Peavy is making noise about wanting to be trade again). I know, I know… somebody’s favorite current starting pitcher is going to be asked to move to the bullpen (which shores up the pen, by the way), but when you have World Series aspirations and pitchers like that are available, you go get one. That’s how the big boys play.

Now we find out if the Twins front office believe they have truly joined that exclusive club. The clock is ticking, Mr. Smith.

Tick. Tock.

-JC

Twins History Lesson: June 7-13

It’s that time of the week again so before the Twins kick off their homestand tonight against the Landed Gentry, let’s take a quick look back at this week in Minnesota Twins history*

There isn’t much all that notable connected to June 7, unless your name is Kent Hrbek. On June 7, 1986, Hrbie singled three times, doubled once and hit a HR as he backed up pitcher Bert Blyleven with the first and only 5-hit game of his career as the Twins beat the Royals 4-1.

June 8 hasn’t been all that much more remarkable:

1965: MLB conducted its first free agent draft for HS and college players. The Twins drafted SS Eddie Leon out of the University of Arizona. Leon did not sign with the Twins, opting to stay in school.

1976: Gene Mauch caleds on his “closer”, Bill Campbell, to relieve Pete Redfern in the 4th inning with 2 Cleveland Indians on base. Campbell faced only 17 hitters (one over the minimum) as he finished out the game to earn the 3-1 win. It was Campbell’s 6th appearance in an eight day period during which he threw 16 innings and it was the fifth game already that season that he had thrown at least four innings. That year, Campbell would go on to pitch in 78 games and record 17 wins as a relief pitcher! He led the Twins in those categories, as well as ERA (3.00). It’s the only time in Twins history that a pitcher has led the team in all three of those categories. My, how times have changed.

1978: The Twins drafted Kent Hrbek in the 17th round of the free agent draft.

June 9 has seen a couple of the more unique events in the organization’s history:

1966: Rich Rollins, Zoilo Versalles, Tony Oliva, Don Mincher and Harmon Killebrew all homered in the 7th inning of their win over the Kansas City A’s. It’s the first time in American League history that a team hit five HRs in one inning.

1975: Twins Manager Frank Quillici turned in a lineup card to the umpires that differed from the one he turned in to the press box and posted in the dugout for his team. The official version, given to the umpire, had Dan Ford hitting 7th and Danny Thompson 8th, but the version posted in the dugout had them reversed… and that’s the way they batted through the 8th inning. Indians manager Frank Robinson never brought the matter to the attention of the umpire. For some reason, Ford decided to hit in his correct spot in the order, ahead of Thompson, in the 9th inning. After a 9th inning HR by Vic Adbury tied the game at 10-10, Ford and Thompson again hit in their correct spots in the 11th inning, when Thompson’s single scored Eric Soderholm with what would eventually be the winning run.

Ah interleague play. On June 10, 2004, the Twins completed a 3-game sweep of the NY Mets with a 15-inning, 3-2 win. Kyle Lohse gave up 2 runs in the first 3 innings but he, along with help from five relievers shut down the Mets on 5 hits through the following 12 innings. Trailing 2-1 in the 9th, Jose Offerman doubled home Matt LeCroy all the way from 1B to tie the score. In the top of the 15th, with a Met runner on 1B, Torii Hunter ran down two potential gappers to maintain the 2-2 tie. In the bottom of the inning, three straight Twins singled to load the bases. Michael Ryan (who entered the game as a pinch runner for Joe Mauer in the 8th inning) slapped a single to RF to win the game.

Hmmm let’s see… June 11…

1964: The Twins traded 1B Vic Power and OF Lenny Green to the Angels for OF Frank Kastro. Ouch. And fans today think Bartlett and Garza for Young and Harris was a bad trade?

1972: Twins pitcher Jim Kaat homered off of the Tribe’s Vince Colbert during the Twins 5-2 win. It’s the last HR, to date, hit by a Twins pitcher.

2005: Forty seasons after the Twins lose 3 World Series games to the Dodgers in the 1965 Classic, Justin Morneau’s single, HR and 4 RBI helped the Twins win for the first time in Dodger Stadium, 5-3.

June 12 has been eventful in a couple of recent years:

2006: Joe Mauer earned Player of the Week honors by going 15 for 24 (a .625 clip) and reaching base four times in five consecutive games.

2009: It was just a year ago that the Cubs’ Milton Bradley provided comic relief in the 8th inning of their contest with the Twins by catching Joe Mauer’s 1-out sacrifice fly ball to RF… and promptly tossing the ball in to the bleachers. Bradley had lost track of the number of outs and was charged with an error, allowing Brendan Harris to advance to 3rd base.

On June 13, 1997, the Twins played their first regular season interleague game at the Astrodome in Houston. Manager Tom Kelly got his first lesson in NL customs as he had to borrow a lineup card from the Houston manager (seems in the AL, the home team provided cards to both teams and in the NL, each team provided their own). Behind Chuck Knoblauch’s 4 for 4 night, Paul Molitor’s 2 run HR… on a night when he made his second non-DH appearance (at first base) of the year… and Brad Radke’s 8 innings of 1-run, 6-hit pitching, the Twins mob the Astros 8-1. It’s the first of what becomes an annual Twins tradition of feasting on NL teams in interleague play.

That’s it for this week’s history lesson. Let’s hope the Twins get healthy and kick the Royals around a bit before commencing to whup some NL butt as interleague play resumes this weekend. Personally, I’m just glad the games are returning to a more reasonable starting time this week. – JC

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*We pull this information from a few different sources, including (but not necessarily limited to) Dave Wright’s excellent book, “162-0, The Greatest Wins!”, as well as some  internet sites like “Twins Trivia” and “National Pastime”.