MN Swarm Lacrosse Home Opener!

swarm logoOk, so it’s not my usual comic break today.. I’m a little focused! Believe it or not, while the rest of the world is watching hockey and football and going nuts (ok, yes, I’m probably doing that too), I’m looking forward to the first live MN Swarm game!!!!!

If you haven’t ever seen box lacrosse in person, you really need to find an opportunity to do so. The hubby and I are season ticket holders (a much cheaper option than the bigger pro-sports teams) and every single person we bring to a game ends up coming again on their own – and/or becoming ticket holders as well! While baseball is all the strategy, intrigue, planning and set up of well-played chess, box lacrosse is playing slap jack with your nephews while high on sodas and cookies. It’s SO much fun and so high energy … it’s genuine all ages family fun.

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You truly never know who you’re going to run into during a Swarm game!

If you are free today and in the area, you should definitely check out the game today – starts at 2pm in Xcel Center. Get there a bit early if you want to really check out all the fun you can find! Heck, keep your eyes out for me because our seats are right on the glass and the size I am these days with Baby Smith on the way, I’m kind of hard to miss! If you can’t get to the game, you should check it out online as well – all the info you need can be found on the MN Swarm website.

Twins Caravan/Kernels Hot Stove

UPDATE: After publishing just the pictures last night and sending out a few quotes via Twitter, I’ve now updated this post with some additional observations and quotes from the Caravan participants. The updates are all in this cool blue color, so you can tell what’s been added. – JC

For the second straight year, the Cedar Rapids Kernels and Minnesota Twins joined forces Monday night, combining the Kernels’ annual Hot Stove Banquet with a stop on the Twins Caravan.

Pitchers Brian Duensing and Ryan Pressly joined new Twins coach Paul Molitor, Kernels manager Jake Mauer and, of course, TC Bear, in Cedar Rapids. The emcee for the evening was Twins broadcaster (and former Cedar Rapids sportscaster) Dick Bremer.

I had a chance to talk to Molitor, Duensing, Pressly and Mauer before the event got underway and, as is part of the Caravan routine, they all answered questions posed by Bremer as part of the program. They also answered a number of questions from members of the crowd.

Without a whole lot of thought, formatting or context, below are some of the comments from the Caravan participants during the evening.

Paul Molitor talked about his move from minor league roving instructor to full-time Major League coach with the Twins. Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter Jeff Johnson and I kind of double teamed Molitor during the media interview session before the night’s festivities. Rather than me typing a bunch of quotes out, you should just click here to go to Johnson’s story at the Gazette’s site and watch the video he recorded of Molitor talking about his new gig.

During the question and answer segment of the Caravan program, Molitor was asked from the crowd for his feelings concerning expanded use of instant replay in Major League Baseball. He’s clearly not a fan.

“I don’t like it. I had trouble with the home runs, originally. I understand why they want to do it, because of football leading the way and we have the technology. I’ve already gotten emails from Terry Ryan about this list of what you can contend against and what you can’t and you can throw the flag once before the sixth inning and twice after the seventh inning. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I, I don’t like it.”

Molitor was also asked what other moves he thought the Twins might still make before the season starts to add more offense to the lineup.

“I know Terry is still out there looking at the free agent list. Some of the better hitters remaining, Morales and (Cruz), have a draft choice attached and really aren’t very good fits for our club. There’s some potential trades out there, but Terry’s very protective of the players in our minor league system. He’s not going to give up some of our top guys to improve our offense.”

“Last year was a rough year offensively. We struck out too much. We didn’t hit the ball over the fence enough. Baserunning wasn’t very good. There’s a lot of room for improvement. But that doesn’t mean the guys who are coming back won’t have a chance to improve in some of those areas, either, through experience, through whatever it takes for them to get better. We have to find a way to score more runs, that’s the bottom line.”

After you check out the Molitor video and while you’re clicking, go on over to MetroSportsReport.com and read through Jim Ecker’s story on Jake Mauer. Jake and his wife, Rachel, are due to have a baby on February 4 and Mauer said all’s going well on that front.

During the question and answer segment, Mauer was asked whether he thought the addition of starting pitching via free agents might potentially block some of the young pitchers moving up through the organization.

“I think having too much pitching is a pretty good problem to have. I think I speak for everybody (saying) we would definitely love to have that problem. The cream kind of always rises to the top and sometimes it’s not a guy that you expect. It’s always good to go in to spring training with competition. If pitching’s one of those competitions, that just makes the ballclub a lot better.”

Mauer’s best line of the night may have come during the question and answer segment when a member of the crowd asked if he thought his brother Joe might return to his MVP form with the move from catcher to first base.

“I hope so. He’s a lot easier to deal with when he’s on the field, I can tell you that. He’s an ornery guy when he’s not playing.” The crowd laughed, appreciating the candor.

“I think the move to first base will be a very good one for him. I know the concussion that he had last year, plain and simple, scared him.”

“I think he still feels he’s a catcher and he still feels he can be a very good catcher. But I think he understands what could happen if he gets dinged in the noggin again. That’s probably my fault from beating on him when he was a little kid.”

“I think it will be good for him. Not to say he doesn’t like first base, but I think he’s going to fall in love with it in August and September when his body feels pretty good and the bat speed is still there. I know he’s looking forward to getting back on the field with these guys and hopefully making something good happen.”

I talked to Brian Duensing and Ryan Pressly about their impressions of the moves Terry Ryan has been making in the offseason to add a number of pitchers to the roster (and the relative lack of moves to shore up the offense) and about the number of pitchers who will be in the Twins’ spring training camp when it opens.

Duensing: “It’s tough. I think the situation we’re going to be in, it’s got to be heavy one way or the other, in order for us to get back (where we want to be). We need to focus on more or less one spot and then try to fill the bats back in. I think Terry Ryan’s up to going with starting pitching. That’s our most important aspect we need to improve on and then we’ll find hitting as we get confidence going deep in to games. I think that’s maybe how we’re going about it. As relievers, I think we’re excited about it.”

“Unfortunately, our starters kind of struggled last year so we got worked pretty good. Maybe if we get a little deeper in to games, we can be even better.”

I brought up the fact that, although the new pitchers being added thus far are rotation help, there are a number of pitchers who started last year who are out of options going in to 2014 and they could find themselves competing with last season’s relief corps for spots in the bullpen.

Pressly: “You’ve got to love competition. I look forward to going to spring training and seeing what everyone’s been working on in the offseason. But yeah, not having a lot of options I guess can kind of hurt you in the long run.”

Duensing: “Unfortunately, it’s part of the business. A lot of these guys coming in to camp that don’t have options are our friends. We hang out with them a lot. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the beast. But competition doesn’t hurt anybody.”

I asked Pressly for his thoughts on the Rule 5 draft experience last year:

Pressly: “It all kind of sparked in the Arizona Fall League. I went out and threw really well there and the Twins picked me up in the Rule 5. I came to spring training and it just kind of carried over to that. It was an awsome feeling having Gardy tell me, especially at the Red Sox facility, ‘hey you made our team.’ I didn’t even get one step in to the dugout and he told me, so it was pretty fun.”

Finally, pictures from the festivities:

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Ryan Pressly (standing) answers questions from Dick Bremer, as Brian Duensing (seated) waits his turn
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Jake Mauer talks about his expectations for 2014
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The full dias with TC Bear, Brian Duensing, Ryan Pressly, Dick Bremer (standing), Paul Molitor and Jake Mauer
The autograph line in Cedar Rapids (from top down): Mauer, Pressly, Duensing, Molitor and TC
The autograph line in Cedar Rapids (from top down): Mauer, Pressly, Duensing, Molitor and TC

Episode 66: The Hall of Fame and Other Nonsense

Episode 66 is out for your listening enjoyment. You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

Tom Glavin is nonplussed receiving his Hall of Fame phone call.
Tom Glavin is nonplussed receiving his Hall of Fame phone call.

We snuck in some hall of fame talk towards the end of the podcast, but for the most part we stayed away from the hall (Just like Jack Morris – ZING!). This week we feature Stuart Turner, the Twins 2013 3rd round draft pick, we talk about what Eddie Rosario‘s 50 game suspension and Miguel Sano‘s possible Tommy John surgery could mean for their development and Twins debuts and argue over whether the Twins should sign a couple of the free agents who are still out on the market, most notably Johan Santana and Stephen Drew.

We are also joined this week by special guest Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present (@grahamdude) to talk about the 50 best players not in the HOF.

Enjoy the podcast.

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, probably.

Episode 65: Tom Kelly’s Zubaz versus Nelson Prada

Episode 65 is out for your listening enjoyment. Happy New Year from all of the gang at Talk to Contact. We debated titling the podcast after Twins Coach Nelson Prada who wore #65 a few years ago, but anytime Tom Kelly‘s zubaz come up on conversation you are required to title said conversation after those wonderful pants.  You can download the new Talk to Contact (@TalkToContact) episode via iTunes or by clicking here.

tom-kelleyAfter a holiday hiatus the Talk to Contact podcast returns will all of the usual contributors. Up for discussion this week is Chris Colabello declining a trip to Korea, the make-up of the Twins opening day outfield, former Twins making comebacks and a rousing of debate of whether or not Kurt Suzuki will play a meaningful role for the Twins in 2014.

 We go down on the pond and take a look at the Twins 2013 4th round draft pick, Stephen Gonsalves (LHP), discuss whether a shandy should even be considered a beer and talk about moves from around the rest of the MLB, including possible landing spots for Masahiro Tanaka and the potential for the Houston Astros to contend in the AL West this coming season. All of that and more on this week’s podcast.

 Enjoy the podcast.

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, that will help Liam Hendriks make the major league club in Baltimore and hopefully pitch against Danny Valencia and the Royals, beaning him in the middle of the back.

Hello 2014! Happy New Year!

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2013 is now officially behind us. All the disappointments of the last baseball season, the frustrations with management and the starting roster we’re used to seeing for that matter are all officially in the past of “last year”… that being said, this is the day when we as a culture seemingly are addicted to saying what one thing we want to do better.

So I’m curious. What baseball related resolution have you made? What one resolution do you think the Twins should make?

And of course, we all realize that resolutions rarely make it 3 months into the new year so congrats to any and all resolutions that actually make into the start of baseball season.

MY resolution is: See a minor league game in person. (that gives me plenty of time to work on it).

Your turn!

Episode 64: Twins Trade Ryan Doumit

Episode 64 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

The Twins are wearing this patch on their hat and jersey every single day next season.
The Twins are wearing this patch on their hat and jersey every single day next season.

Paul is away celebrating his birthday but this week on the podcast, Cody and Eric spend 60+ minutes talking about the Ryan Doumit trade, if Josmil Pinto needs a real backup, what to do with all of the Twins’ mediocre pitching, and the awful All-Star Game Logos that the Twins are putting all over everything.

Down on the Pond we take a look at the 2014 Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook and the profile of Bryan Haar. They also talk beer, and baseball news.

A fun podcast from two 29-year-old morons.

Enjoy the show.

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which are probably useless.

Can Terry Ryan Truly Change His Stripes?

There’s a lot of chatter on this here interweb thingy lately concerning what Twins General Manager Terry Ryan’s next moves will be and should be. He came out of the gate fast this offseason, immediately setting out to shore up – if not completely rebuild – the Twins’ starting pitching rotation by signing free agents Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey.

But there’s still more than a little doubt as to whether this is truly a new Terry Ryan, willing to spend Pohlad money to make the Twins more competitive (or at least more watchable) immediately. There seems to be two schools of thought concerning what Ryan is likely to do next.

Can Terry Ryan change his stripes?
Can Terry Ryan change his stripes?

First, there’s still some smoke out there indicating Ryan is not done shopping for starting pitching. The top tier of free agent starters haven’t really fallen in to place yet while the world waits to hear whether Masahiro Tanaka will be posted by his Japanese team. Would Ryan make a play for Matt Garza, Bronson Arroyo or even Tanaka, himself? There are at least a few people out there who think he might.

The more prevalent thought, however, seems to be that Ryan is done shopping for starting pitching and is shifting his focus toward addressing what was a pretty anemic offense in 2013. He swung and missed at the top catching free agents, but may still be kicking the tires on backups, especially now that Ryan Doumit has been shipped to Atlanta to make room for Pelfrey on the 40-man roster.

Ryan has added a pair of former Twins, Jason Bartlett and Jason Kubel, on minor league contracts with invitations to the big club’s spring training. But, as people far smarter than I am have been pointing out, no combination of the Prodigal Jasons and a new backup catcher is going to result in significantly improved run production for the Twins.

The good folks at MLBTradeRumors.com pointed out recently that, of their “Top 50 free agents” list going in to the offseason, only five position players remain unsigned. That list includes Stephen Drew, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez.

A while back, there was some buzz that the Twins were one of the teams that agent Scott Boras was talking to about Drew. I’m not sure which surprised me more, that the Twins were actually considering signing a player that would cost them a draft pick as compensation (Drew rejected the Red Sox’ Qualifying Offer) or that Terry Ryan apparently sat down in the same room with Scott Boras.

Certainly, the Twins have had Boras clients in their organization (and still do). But Boras has clients and then he has CLIENTS. Players like Drew are Boras CLIENTS – the kind that Boras uses every bit of leverage he can find to pull every last nickel and every last year out of a team to sign.

From what I’ve read among the Twins blogosphere and twittersphere, it’s hard enough for most Twins fans to believe Ryan would allow a draft pick – even a second rounder – to be pried from his hands in order to sign a free agent, but to give up that pick for a free agent represented by Scott Boras is just not something fans can get their heads around.

If you’re one of those fans, that’s okay. I understand. I do. But you might want to stop reading at this point, because if you can’t grasp that concept, what I’m going to propose next could make your head explode.

If I were Terry Ryan, I wouldn’t sign one of those five remaining “Top 50” MLBTR prospects. I wouldn’t sign one of the free agents that would cost me a draft pick. I wouldn’t sign one of Scott Boras’ CLIENTS.

I’d sign two.

First, I would absolutely sign Stephen Drew. He’s okay defensively and he’d be an offensive upgrade at one of the very few positions that the Twins could logically expect to upgrade at this point, given that third base and centerfield will be getting upgraded with top prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton soon enough that it is likely impossible to attract strong free agents at those positions.

If you or Terry Ryan have concerns over losing that second round draft pick, I suggest you glance over the list of recent second rounders that Andrew Bryz-Gornia assembled over at Twinkie Town earlier this week. Or you could just take my word for the fact that giving up a second round pick for multiple current years of Stephen Drew is a no-brainer.

And, once I had a deal with Boras for Drew, I’d tell him I want Kendrys Morales, too.

Morales makes sense for the Twins.

Trust me, it feels as peculiar for me to say that as it does for you to hear it. But it’s true.

Morales turned down Seattle’s Qualifying Offer, as Drew did Boston’s. But if Drew is worth coughing up a second round pick, then the third round pick that Morales would cost the Twins is barely worth mentioning.

Morales was the Mariners’ primary designated hitter, but also filled in at first base occasionally. He’s a switch hitter with better results on the right side, which is something the Twins could make use of.

Certainly, you could make the argument that the Twins already have a relatively crowded DH corps with Kubel, Chris Parmelee and Chris Colabello already on board. But, seriously, those are exactly the types of players the Twins should be looking to improve upon. Having their presence keep you from signing a Morales is even more absurd than letting the presence of Bartlett, Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar keep you from adding Drew. A guy like Florimon at least has some defensive value to consider, which is more than you can say for Kubel, Parmelee and Colabello.

But even if Ryan could be convinced that the two draft picks are worth giving up for Drew and Morales, could he find the money to pay what Scott Boras would extort from the Twins to sign them?

Heck, that’s the easy part.

After jettisoning Doumit’s salary commitment, my back-of-the-napkin math estimates the Twins are on the hook for about $80 million for 2014 (and that assumes that Kubel makes the team and gets the roster bonus that’s part of his minor league agreement with the Twins). So, as things stand, even after adding multi-million dollar deals for Nolasco, Hughes and Pelfrey, the Twins are still a couple million dollars BELOW their 2013 Opening Day payroll.

The Twins, by pretty much any reasonable estimate, operated a year ago well below their often self-stated goal of spending just over 50% of revenues on Major League payroll. They, like every other MLB team, are benefiting from new TV money that is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $25 million per team.

Conservatively – VERY conservatively – the Twins should be able to absorb a $110 million payroll in 2014 without so much as breaking a sweat concerning whether they will end up spending more than 50% of their revenues on payroll. Remember, that new national TV money comes with zero additional expenses to offset it. If the Twins took in $200 million in revenue a year ago (again a conservative estimate), those revenue projections just went up to $225 million.

That’s all a long way of saying that, yes, Terry Ryan can afford to add the $25-28 million in annual salary it may take to get Drew and Morales on board. From that point, you’re just talking about how many years and who has what options, etc.

But, would Drew and Morales actually sign on to join one of the worst MLB teams to take the field in 2013?

I grant that neither of them, nor Boras, certainly, had joining the Twins in mind when they rejected their old team’s Qualifying Offer. But times change.

Who else will give enough money to either of these two players to make rejecting those Qualifying Offers a good decision? The list of teams with enough payroll flexibility to afford one of them is short. When you cross off those teams that have no need for a shortstop or a designated hitter (no matter what Boras claims, I can’t see any NL team paying Morales to actually field a defensive position every day), the list all but disappears.

The Red Sox and Mariners, the players’ former teams which would not have to give up draft pick compensation to re-sign them, have recently added new talent at the players’ positions, quite possibly eliminating chances for return engagements.

The Yankees could use Morales, if not for the fact that they already have a boatload of over-the-hill position players that they’ll almost certainly need to rotate through the DH spot. The other free-spending clubs (the Dodgers, Rangers, Angels, Phillies, Tigers, Giants) look to me to be pretty set at Drew’s and Morales’ positions.

From where I sit, Terry Ryan and Scott Boras need one another.

Ryan’s Twins represent the kind of “surprise” team that Boras loves to pull out of his hat to prove how smart he is and that, when he tells a player he’s going to get paid, he gets paid.

Boras and his clients can provide Terry Ryan with what are realistically perhaps the only two true offensive upgrades that match his needs and will prove, once and for all, that he and his bosses are done sitting and waiting for “someday” to come.

Tell me this line up wouldn’t score runs:

  1. Presley CF
  2. Dozier 2B
  3. Mauer 1B
  4. Morales DH
  5. Drew SS
  6. Willingham LF
  7. Arcia/Kubel RF
  8. Pinto C
  9. Plouffe 3B

And now, with just a couple of adjustments later in the year or by 2015:

  1. Buxton CF
  2. Dozier 2B
  3. Mauer 1B
  4. Sano 3B
  5. Morales DH
  6. Drew SS
  7. Rosario LF
  8. Arcia/Kubel RF
  9. Pinto C

If you like Hicks in there somewhere to provide more OF defense, OK. Certainly, we could debate who should hit where in that line up. But the point is, that is a line up that suddenly looks very different than what the Twins trotted out there every day in 2013.

And it still wouldn’t project the Twins to be above the middle third of MLB team payroll on Opening Day (which is about where they rightfully should be), nor would it hamstring them from making future moves. In a worst case scenario, Drew and Morales are likely to be marketable assets, assuming Boras doesn’t talk the Twins in to full no-trade clauses.

Of course, none of this is likely to happen.

I expect Boras to let things play out for Drew and Morales, much like he did for Kyle Lohse a year ago before matching him up with the Brewers shortly before spring training camps opened up.

In the mean time, maybe Terry Ryan will find creative ways to improve the Twins’ offense.

But if February rolls around and it still looks like the Twins are counting on Jason Kubel to provide their improved offense and Scott Boras is still looking for face-saving options for these two CLIENTS, then Ryan and Boras need to get back in a room together.

Of course, I’d prefer they do so right now.

– JC