Deja vu all over again.

The St. Louis Cardinal organization is dealing with a situation this off-season that has a very familiar ring to it. Between reading stories about the Twins’ off-season moves (or lack thereof), you may have heard that the Cardinals have a certain superstar a year from reaching free agency that they are trying to negotiate a contract extension with before the 2011 season gets rolling.

Albert Pujols, at age 31 as of today (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ALBERT!), is a bit older than Joe Mauer, is certainly more of a power hitter than the Twins’ catcher, and playing first base is certainly not as difficult to do well as catching is, but make no mistake… Cardinal fans are every bit as concerned about the unthinkable possibility of Pujols leaving St. Louis as Twins fans were about Joe just one year ago.

While it’s true that Pujols is not a “home grown” player, the way Mauer is in the Twin Cities, Cardinal fans nonetheless consider him their own. He was drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 draft and has never played for another organization.

Can Cards afford Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols?

The Cardinal and Twin organizations are similar, as well. While the teams don’t publicly release revenue figures, they both fill their new stadiums for almost every home game and, you would think, would generate similar revenue streams. Accordingly, they spend about the same amounts on their Major League payrolls.

If you have trouble imagining how the Cardinals could possibly let Pujols walk away as a free agent, imagine for a moment if the Twins were only just now having to negotiate an extenson with Mauer… on top of the current year’s payroll levels.

The Cards still owe Matt Holliday $17 million a year through 2016 and they will be paying Kyle Lohse over $12 million for each of the next two seasons. Pitchers Jake Westbrook and Adam Wainwright will both be earning between $8-9 million in 2012, as well. And Pujols isn’t the only potential free agent the Cardinals have to deal with… Chris Carpenter will earn $15 million this season and it won’t be cheap to retain his services next year, either.

Last year, Mauer and the Twins knew that it was important to get a deal worked out before the season started so everyone concerned could avoid the distraction that an unresolved contract status would cause during the season. Likewise, Pujols and his agent have made it clear they are not interested in letting negotiations drag on in to the season.

The Cardinals face a difficult challenge. A player’s value is really determined by two primary factors… what other players of similar ability are making and how competitive the market for his services will be on the open market. In this case, however, Pujols really has no directly comparable players in terms of age and performance. Some have suggested he should be compared with Alex Rodriguez at the time A-Roid got his most recent contract extension with the Evil Empire. Others have pointed out that Pujols plays a much less “valuable” defensive position than Rodriguez.

On the other hand, many of the biggest spending teams in baseball are pretty well set at first base for the next few years. Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Howard aren’t likely to be going anywhere for a while. Would teams like the Mets, Cubs and Angels alone really drive Pujols’ price up to the $30 million range?

I ultimately expect the Cardinals to re-sign Pujols before Opening Day for something around $26-27 million per year for about 8-9 years. That’s about $10 million more per year than they’re paying Pujols now and you have to wonder whether it means they’ll be saying good-bye to Carpenter next year and possibly even mean trading away one of their other high-dollar starting pitchers. In other words, once they’ve satisfied Pujols, will they be able to continue assembling a competitive team around him?

Does that question sound familiar? It should.

Even with Jim Thome back in the fold and the anticipated return of Carl Pavano, the Twins have done very little to improve their team in 2011. I’m sure they feel the new middle infield of Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka is an upgrade over JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson, but that remains to be seen and isn’t guaranteed, by any means.

Why haven’t the Twins done more? You don’t have to look far to find out. This season is when Mauer’s new contract kicks in and he’ll be making about $10 million more in 2011 than he did last season and it’s not unfair to question whether the extra money going to Mauer is going to keep the Twins from being able to surround him with championship-level talent. See?… I told you the questions should sound familiar.

Some Twins fans have been critical of Mauer and/or the Twins for giving him the contract he signed a year ago. They seem to expect that the contract should guarantee MVP-level stat lines every year of the deal. That’s neither reasonable nor fair. While there’s no question that Mauer didn’t have the same kind of year last year that he had the season before, it’s not like Mauer sat the year out.

With the Pujols situation in mind, it’s interesting to ponder what the market would have been for Joe Mauer if the Twins had not been able to reach an agreement with him last March. It’s unlikely the Twins would have immediately traded Mauer during Spring Training so you have to figure the situation would have unfolded one of two possible ways:

What would Yankees have paid Joe?

First, the Twins might have traded Mauer at mid-season. But keep in mind, Mauer was dinged up and not playing particularly well going in to July (remember the bunting incident?). Would the Twins have been able to get anything approaching a good deal in return for Mauer? One would assume that Wilson Ramos would not have been traded to Washington if the Twins had been looking at losing Mauer, so would the Twins have still been competing for a Division title without Mauer? What would fan reaction have been… would the experience of a new stadium have been enough to keep fans filling Target Field, even when it became clear that it wasn’t enough to motivate the Twins to keep their home-town hero?

Maybe the Twins would have kept Mauer and made their run. Assuming the media distraction of having to answer the, “would you like to play here next season?” question in every city on every road trip wouldn’t have negatively affected the results on the field, maybe the Twins would have continued on toward their AL Central championship. Then what? Is there ANY team on the “big spender” list that you wouldn’t imagine making a strong play for Mauer on the open market? If the Steinbrenners are willing to give a set-up relief pitcher $12 million a year, what do you think they’d have thrown at a catcher in his prime with batting titles and an MVP award already on his resume?

Mauer’s “down year” in 2010 might have dropped his value to the Twins, but I doubt it would have mattered one bit to any other team bidding for his services.

Will Albert turn his back on Cards?

It’s fair to ask whether the Twins could have put $23 million to better use by adding high-quality players at two or even three other positions for the money that is going to Mauer. But given the situation with a new stadium and the revenue bump that comes with it, the organization literally had no choice but to make sure Joe Mauer stayed a Twin for the foreseeable future. Whether the Twins ultimately can afford to surround Joe with championship caliber team mates remains to be seen.

The Cardinals are faced with a similar situation. They risk a considerable fan backlash if they don’t offer whatever it takes to keep Pujols in Cardinal red. It will be interesting to see if they make the same decision the Twins did or whether they’re willing to say “no” to their superstar and let him walk away next year.

- JC

Middle Age and Insomnia Induced Ramblings

This post has absolutely nothing to do with the Twins, so if the only reason you visit us is to read (and/or mock) our regular postings related to our views about the Twins, you have my permission to just hit the back-arrow and keep surfing. Frankly, I just don’t have much to write about the Twins right now that we (and probably 100 others) haven’t already written. Maybe Babs or KL will have something soon and we can get our Twins fix.

I read one of Joe Posnanski’s “curiously long posts” late last night and it really struck a chord with me… so much so that I didn’t sleep much at all (which shall be my built in excuse if this post becomes something I’ll be embarrassed about having written later).

The title of the post is “The Promise”… which is also the title of a Bruce Springsteen song that Posnanski weaves through the story he’s telling. I’ve never been a huge Springsteen fan (Bob Dylan was more to my tastes). I like some of his stuff ok. I have a ‘greatest hits’ CD of some sort laying around and a few songs on my IPod… somewhere. I think. I haven’t actually listened to my IPod in quite some time. It’s one of the original models and I guess I got tired of all the smirks from people with the newer models. Not tired enough of them to actually buy a new model, but tired enough that I quit carrying mine on trips. But I digress.

I almost just skipped past reading this Posnanski post because, frankly, I just couldn’t imagine why I’d be interested in reading a column about Springsteen written by a sports writer/blogger… even my favorite sports writer/blogger. And it was late. And I was tired. But then, it was Posnanski, so I read the column.

As always, I was glad I did (though perhaps I would have preferred reading it earlier so I didn’t lie awake thinking most of the night).

Posnanski’s “The Promise” post has nothing to do with sports, only a bit to do with Springsteen, a lot to do with life, and is exactly the sort of writing that has made him my favorite writer/blogger. The column is about a summer during his early college years when he was working in a yarn factory with his father, to make enough money to buy the old Pontiac that he and his dad drove to the factory every morning. I know that premise, by itself, is a bit yawn inducing. But like good writers do, he hooked me within the first two paragraphs.

I remember the first time I heard The Promise. It was about a decade ago. The song had been around for a long time before I first heard it — Bruce Springsteen would say it was the first song he wrote after Born To Run made him a rock and roll star in 1975. It figures that this was the first song. Born to Run, the whole album, was about longing, open highway, the amusement park rising bold and stark, the poets who write nothing at all, the ghosts in the eyes of all the boys Mary sent away. Born to Run is about that brilliant age when you know dreams don’t come true, but you still believe they might come true FOR YOU.

And The Promise is about the every day numbing of those dreams.

I admit that timing, as is often the case, may be playing a big part in why this particular column hit me so hard. I’ve been feeling my age lately… even older than usual. Even older than I really am. Maybe it’s been brought on by the funeral I attended for an elderly aunt last week. Maybe it was spending Saturday with my mother on her 83rd birthday. Maybe it’s the benefit “chili supper” I’m supposed to go to this week to help pay medical bills for a man I barely remember working with back in my burger-joint-managing, college drop-out era. Maybe it’s the nagging “WTF am I going to do if my company decides, after 33 years, they don’t need me any more?” question I’ve been wrestling with. Maybe it’s all of the above… or none of them.

I didn’t work in a factory at the age of 18. I worked construction. Ten hours a day, five days a week, and it ruined my baseball career. Well, that and the fact that I couldn’t run, hit or throw all that well to begin with, I suppose. But it wore me out to the point that, even with a bit of help from modern chemistry (if you know what I mean), I was bone tired before the first pitch of every game I played my senior season. I worked with men who did that work their whole adult lives, to make sure their families were provided for… not just to make money for a couple of months before heading off to college. I did the job just long enough to learn, as if I didn’t already know, that I didn’t want to do that kind of work for the rest of my life.

I honestly don’t remember what my dreams were back then. Those were the days of Watergate and Woodward & Bernstein. I had edited my HS newspaper and had been working part-time as a sportswriter and photographer for the local daily newspaper during my senior year of HS. I was going to be a journalism major at the University of Arkansas. So maybe my dream was to be the next great investigative reporter or sports writer. If so, obviously those dreams have been numbed away long ago.

Then again, perhaps contributing to this blog has allowed me to realize, in a small way, those dreams. In any event, I’ve enjoyed this opportunity during the past season and I want to thank CapitalBabs and KL for allowing me to share this outlet for whatever odd thoughts or opinions might cross my mind from time to time… as well as thank those who have stopped by to read those ramblings.

With that, I now return you to your regularly scheduled Twins chatter. So… What do you think Dan Uggla would look like in a Twins uniform and what could/should the Twins offer for the Marlins’ second baseman? [EDIT - Well thanks to the Braves, that has to be the quickest any question I've ever posed has become irrelevent!]

- JC

GameChat – ALCS Game 5: Rangers @ Yankees

The game is already in to the 2nd inning as I post this, but let’s see if we can all send our positive, if somewhat (at least in my case) margarita-influenced, energies in the direction of the Rangers. I’d like nothing more than to see them beat Captain Cheeseburger and his buddies and celebrate on the field in front of the Yankee faithful (at least those that don’t leave early, like they have en masse the last two games). – JC

RANGERS @ YANKEES
Andrus, SS Jeter, SS
Young, M, 3B Swisher, RF
Hamilton, CF Cano, 2B
Guerrero, DH Rodriguez, A, 3B
Cruz, N, LF Thames, DH
Kinsler, 2B Berkman, 1B
Francoeur, RF Posada, C
Treanor, C Granderson, CF
Moreland, 1B Gardner, LF
Wilson, C, P Sabathia, P

.

I’ll conveniently ignore the Yankee win and mention what a great game the SF/Phil game was. Maybe Manuel should have joined the Giants in arguing about that hit-by-pitch before the game winning Sac Fly?

Oh… and something really should be done about the length of these games. OMG, they just DRAG on!

.

One Year Ago: Twins of Tomorrow

One year ago today, I was able to attend a Rochester Red Wings game as part of a trip to visit a friend in upstate New York. She and I weren’t sure how the game was going to go after it rained our entire drive there (a couple hours or so as my memory serves), but the weather ended up being perfect. Since we weren’t sure if the game was going to work out in advance, we bought our tickets when we arrived and were able to get seats in about the second row very near home plate.

I don’t really remember much about the game itself (this is pretty normal for me), but if you want to check out the details, please visit this link. The Red Wings won in the 10th inning, but I actually had to leave the game before it was quite over (not normal for me) because I had somewhere else in Rochester to be, but we heard the win from the parking lot across the street. I will say that if you ever find yourself in the Red Wings’ neck of the woods during their season, it’s totally worth attending a game.

Something that has been fun for me this season is seeing a few of the guys I watched a year ago as “Twins of Tomorrow” become “Twins of Today,” even if some of them haven’t been around very long. A few photos of the more familiar faces follow.

butera

Drew Butera, now our regular backup catcher.

swarzak

Anthony Swarzak, who, okay, was technically already a “Twin of Today” last year, and hasn’t actually been up this year as far as I recall, but he could be up in September, right?

plouffe

Trevor Plouffe, who has been called up for three short stints, I believe.

valencia

Danny Valencia, who’s been up since early June. (Sometimes I wish I had brought the camera with decent zoom to New York.)

warden

Okay, so this guy isn’t a Red Wing or Twin, but Jim Ed Warden was a pretty fun sidearm guy to watch that day. He’s with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs (part of an independent league) now.

GameChat – WhiteSox @ Twins #1, 7:10

Scrambling to get GameChat up since Babs and KL are leaving this to me and I worked late tonight. I know, I know… enough with the excuses.

The good news is THE CHAIRMAN IS BACK! (Oh, and so is Orlando!)

The bad news is JJ has gone on the DL with the bum wrist (and Matt Tolbert is up from Rochester to fill the roster spot).

Regardless… it’s time to put another hurtin’ on the BitchSox!

White Sox @ Twins
Pierre, LF Span, CF
Pierzynski, C Hudson, O, 2B
Jones, An, RF Mauer, C
Konerko, 1B Morneau, 1B
Rios, CF Cuddyer, RF
Quentin, DH Kubel, DH
Teahen, 3B Young, D, LF
Beckham, 2B Harris, B, SS
Ramirez, A, SS Punto, 3B
Garcia, F, P Slowey, P

OK… well there’s not much to say about that game except it totally sucked.

GameChat – Twins @ Tigers #2, 6:05

Welcome to the Bigs, Luke Hughes!  Another crazy lineup but after last night, it looks halfway normal!

Minnesota @ Detroit
Span, CF   Jackson, A, CF
Hudson, O, 2B   Damon, DH
Mauer, C   Ordonez, RF
Thome, DH   Cabrera, M, 1B
Cuddyer, 1B   Boesch, LF
Kubel, RF   Inge, 3B
Young, D, LF   Raburn, 2B
Hardy, SS   Avila, C
Hughes, L, 3B   Santiago, SS
  Baker, S, P     Scherzer, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 2 0 1 3 0 0 0 0 0 6 13 1
Detroit 1 0 0 4 0 6 0 0 x 11 13 0

 

oh man, OUCH, I am kind of glad that I didn’t hear or see anything past the 4th inning!  From the looks of the boxscore, I got to see all the really good parts – including Luke Hughes’ first major league at bat and the kid likes to do things in style!  Congratulations Luke!  We’re glad to have you on board!  I’m never going to complain about having an aussie cutie on the bench!

photo courtsey of Brian Henricksen

GameChat – Royals @ Twins, WFTC 29

My deepest apologies for the lack of gamechat yesterday!  Sadly, my laptop harddrive decided to go into a coma right as I was attempting to post the appropriate lineup information.  *sigh*  I’m not entirely sure if the harddrive will recover so I’ll limp along with the desktop until such time as a new harddrive is acquired and/or sufficient recovery happens with the current one.

There was really some incredibly baseball yesterday too! Kyle Lohse was not the only former Twin involved in a memorable game. Livan Hernandez threw a complete game shutout for the Washington Nationals yesterday – it’s the first this season which isn’t saying much since it’s pretty early – so good job Livo! It’s saying a lot more to congratulate Ubaldo Jimenez for throwing the first NoNo in Colorado Rockies history – quite an accomplishment.

All that aside, here’s TODAY!  Quick injury updates – Mijares is on the DL which means young Mr. Burnett comes back to MN for a bit – Neshek got a cortisone shot *crosses fingers* – Punto should be back on Tuesday – and sadly, Blackburn is dealing with some elbow soreness so his start has been pushed back.  Who knew the start of the season would be so plagued??  I’m just glad that it doesn’t seem to be getting in the way of putting marks in the Win column *knocks on wood*.

Kansas City @ Minnesota
DeJesus, D, RF   Span, CF
Podsednik, LF   Hudson, O, 2B
Butler, 1B   Mauer, C
Guillen, J, DH   Morneau, 1B
Ankiel, CF   Cuddyer, RF
Callaspo, 2B   Kubel, DH
Kendall, C   Young, D, LF
Gordon, A, 3B   Hardy, SS
Betancourt, Y, SS   Harris, B, 3B
  Hochevar, P     Pavano, P

 

ouch… um, I am kind of glad that I only got to see the first couple innings today. 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Kansas City 0 0 6 1 0 0 0 0 3 10 16 2
Minnesota 2 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 5 8 0

Captions That Write Themselves… almost

Tuesday’s spring training game with the Red Sox was a night game and I’m too tired to come up with much to say about it except that the Twins won… again. By the way, for those of you keeping score at home, the Twins are a perfect 5-0 in spring training games since I’ve arrived in Ft. Myers to attend their games. I’m waiting to hear from the team about my free season tickets to assure at least 81 wins this season.

To give you something to pass your time while I’m taking in my final spring training game of this season on Wednesday (vs. the Marlins), here are a few pictures taken before the Tuesday night game (and one from DURING the game that I just added to the end this morning, after reading Howard Sinker’s blog at the Strib). They just begged for clever captions and I was coming up blank. Help me out here, will ya?

And for the late morning edition of this post, inspired by Howard Sinker’s post today in his “A Fan’s View from Section 219” blog on 5′ 3″ Chris Cates…