Drafting WAR

The next crop of Twins draftees.

These champion Twins are (maybe) the next crop of Twins draftees.

Major League’s amateur draft came into existence in 1965.  Since that time the Twins have drafted thousands of players.  Many of those players failed to reach the Big Leagues.  Some of the players that eventually made it to The Show ended up never playing for the Twins.  Of the players the Twins drafted, the ten players to accumulate the most value (judged by Wins Above Replacement, WAR) in a Twins uniform were Kirby Puckett, Bert Blyleven, Brad Radke, Joe Mauer, Chuck Knoblauch, Kent Hrbek, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti, Torii Hunter, and Dave Goltz.

  1. Kirby Puckett (48.2 WAR) – 1st round – 3rd overall – 1982 – Triton College (River Grove, IL)
  2. Bert Blyleven (46.3) – 3rd round – 55th overall – 1969 – Santiago HS (Garden Grove, CA)
  3. Brad Radke (42.6) – 8th round – 206th overall – 1991 – Jesuit HS (Tampa, FL)
  4. Joe Mauer (37.0) – 1st round – 1st overall – 2001 – Cretin HS (St. Paul, MN)
  5. Chuck Knoblauch (36.3) – 1st round – 25th overall – 1989 – Texas A&M University (College Station, TX)
  6. Kent Hrbek (35.7) – 17th round – 432nd overall – 1978 – Kennedy HS (Bloomington, MN)
  7. Frank Viola (25.0) – 2nd round – 37th overall – 1981 – St. John’s University (Queens, NY)
  8. Gary Gaetti (24.8) – 1st round – 11th overall – 1979 – Northwest Missouri State University (Maryville, MO)
  9. Torii Hunter (24.7) – 1st round – 20th overall – 1993 – Pine Bluff HS (Pine Bluff, AR)
  10. Dave Goltz (22.5) – 5th round – 97th overall – 1967 – Rothsay HS (Rothsay, MN)

It certainly takes some time for players to accumulate enough playing time, even at elite performance levels, to produce the career WAR totals that would put a player on this list.  Joe Mauer, drafted in 2001, is the only player on this list that remains active and with the Twins (Torii Hunter is active and playing for the division rival Detroit Tigers), and if he can remain healthy for a couple more seasons he should find himself on top of this list before his current contract expires.

The Twins have been in Minnesota for more than 50 years, but seven of the players on this top ten list were all drafted within the 15 year period betwee 1978 and 1993.  Unsurprisingly, these players contributed to some of the best Teams in Twins history.  If the Twins are to return to success in the near future, successful drafting will be a big part of their reappearance at the top of the standings.

-ERolfPleiss

Who will be the Twins’ Opening Day Starter?

With the Twins likely done making moves this winter, and with Spring Training games just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to put my predictive powers to the test and try and suss-out the Twins’ plan for the Opening Day starter.  With the Twins opening the season at home this year, the Opening Day start has a little more significance than it has the past couple of years when the Twins started the season on the road.  The Twins have not started the year at home since 2009, and the last Twins pitcher to win the Opening Day game at home was Livan Hernandez in 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels.  In fact, the Twins haven’t won an Opening Day game since 2008, working on an 0-4 streak losing 6-1 in 2009 against the Mariners, 6-3 against the Angels in 2010, 11-3 in 2011 against the Blue Jays, and 4-2 a year ago in Camden Yards against the Orioles.  An Opening Day win would be a nice change of pace.

opening day optimism

Since the Twins moved to Minnesota to start the 1961 season, Opening Day starters are just 14-25, with 12 no decisions.  Not exactly a great track record on baseball’s biggest day, but with names like Camilo Pascual, Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, Bert Blyleven, Frank Viola, Brad Radke, and Johan Santana, the Twins’ Opening Day starter has historically been some of the most beloved players in Twins history.

Looking over the current 40-man roster, and some non-roster invites to Spring Training, there are several players who have a shot at being the Opening Day starter.  I’ll rank them from least likely to start to most likely to start on Opening Day.

Rafael Perez  (1% chance to start Opening Day) – Perez was just signed to a Minor League deal with the club a week ago.  He’s spent his entire big league career working out of the bullpen, and has not had a K/9 above 6 since 2008.  He has put up strong ERAs every year except 2009, but with the declining strike out rates and a ballooning walk rate, his ERA has been propped up by an above average strand rate.  Perez has an uphill battle to even make the team as a left-handed reliever, and an even tougher climb into the starting rotation.

Rich Harden (4%) – Like Perez, Harden is with the Twins on a Minor League deal.  Harden has not pitched in the big leagues since 2011, and while he has had a consistently above average strike out rate, he has not been an above average pitcher since 2009.  There is some question as to whether or not Harden’s shoulder can stand up to the high pitch counts associated with starting, so there is a pretty decent chance that if he makes the team at all, the Twins would prefer that he work out of the bullpen to keep him healthy for the entire season.  I like him more than Perez because Harden has a track record as a starting pitcher, and because the Twins are so desperately in need of strike outs, but he is still a long shot to even break camp with the Twins.

Mike Pelfrey (7%) – Pelfrey signed a 1-year deal with the Twins this offseason hoping to rebuild his value coming off of Tommy-John surgery.  Pelfrey is still not a ful year removed from surgery, so there are concerns about his ability to be ready to start the season in the rotation.  Unlike Harden and Perez, if he is healthy, Pelfrey has a guaranteed spot in the rotation.  If I was confident that Pelfrey would be healthy when the Twins break camp I would have him higher, but it is early in camp and I anticipate that he will end up needing an extra few weeks go get all the way up to speed.

Liam Hendriks (10%) – Hendriks is a fringe candidate to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training, but with questions about health among several of the arms ahead of him on the pecking order, he is likely to be the next man in if any one of the projected five starters are not ready to start the season.  Even a healthy Liam Hendriks is a long shot to take the ball for the Twins on Opening Day as Ron Gardenhire usually likes to reward his veterans.

Kevin Correia (12%) – Poor Kevin Correia has been written off since before the ink was dry on his shiny-new 2-year $10 million dollar contract.  Correia certainly is not the type of pitcher that would typically get the ball on baseball’s biggest stage, but the Twins seem to like his veteran leadership and clubhouse presence, something that went a long way for Carl Pavano (who started back-to-back Openers in 2011 and 2012).  Pavano had almost a year and a half of starts with the Twins under his belt prior to taking the mound on Opening Day, but with no other experienced veterans on the roster, Correia might end up pitching by default.

Kyle Gibson (13%) – The Twins seem dead set on starting the year with Aaron Hicks in center field field despite not having any Major League experience.  If the Twins are trying to build excitement in 2013 and invite fans to buy into the Twins future, Gibson could wind up pitching on Opening Day to help build momentum toward 2014 and beyond.  But like Pelfry, Gibson is coming off of Tommy-John surgery, and unlike Pelfrey, Gibson figures heavily into the Twins future plans, so they are likely to treat him with kid gloves.  The Twins are looking to limit his inning totals in 2013, so putting him on the mound from Day 1 does not do a lot to aid that effort.

Scott Diamond (15%) – After playing the role of savior for the 2012 Twins, Diamond was the overwhelming favorite to take the ball on Opening Day.  If Diamond is healthy he will undoubtedly be pitching on April 1st.  But Diamond had surgery in December to remove some bone chips from his throwing elbow and is reported to be progressing through his rehab slower than anticipated.  There is still an outside chance that Diamond is healthy when the Twins open 2013, but the Twins want Diamond healthy long-term, so if any question marks remain about his health, expect the Twins to take things nice and slow.

Vance Worley (38%) – Vance Worley seems to have become the Twins de facto Opening Day starter because there really is not anyone else with a real shot at keeping him from it.  He has a lot of things working in his favor; he is healthy, he is young and exciting, has a chance to be a long-term part of the Twins ballclub, and he is not Kevin Correia (which is to say he is not old, ineffective, and overpaid).

When the Twins traded away Ben Revere for Worley and Trevor May I would not have though Worley had any shot to pitch on Opening Day, but he seems to be the last man standing.

-ERolfPleiss

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 20

Episode 20 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

This week Eric and Paul are joined by Ken Boehlke from WBBM Chicago to take a closer look at the Twins division rival Chicago White Sox. After talking with Ken we discuss Bert Blyleven’s place in Twins history, the baseball HOF’s induction process (or lack thereof), and reveal each of our top ten prospect lists going into 2013. We discuss beer, baseball, and not a whole lot else, join us for the twentieth installment of the Talk to Contact Podcast.

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 help us become mini-versions of Keith Richards.)

You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.

– ERolfPleiss

Will Past Be Prologue? Part 2 – Lessons to be Learned

Yesterday, I asked readers to endure a recitation of my childhood memories as I looked back at the most exciting Twins season in my memory, 1967. It was Rod Carew’s Rookie of the Year season and, while the Twins ultimately lost out to the Red Sox for the AL pennant, it was followed shortly by a couple of very successful seasons in 1969 and 1970 when Carew helped lead the Twins to the first two AL West Division championships.

Today, I’m going to discuss lessons that I believe should be learned from the years that followed those incredible seasons.

While Carew would never again reach the postseason with the Twins (and would never play in a World Series for anyone), he did have several more pretty amazing years with the Twins. He won six more batting titles to go with the one he won under Billy Martin in 1969. He won an MVP award in 1977, when he put up a 1.019 OPS (long before we knew what OPS was) for a 4th place team.

A sparce crowd at Metropolitan Stadium in 1972 (Photo: Steven R. Swanson)

A sparce crowd at Metropolitan Stadium in 1972 (Photo: Steven R. Swanson)

I missed most of that, though.

By the mid 1970s, I had pretty much tuned the Twins out. I wasn’t the only one, apparently. By 1974, the Twins were averaging just over 8,000 fans for their home games.

Twins owner Calvin Griffith could have gone one of two directions at that point. He had a couple of legitimate stars on his team, Carew and pitcher Bert Blyleven, both in the prime of their careers. He could have chosen to build a better team around them over the next couple of years and make an effort to compete. Charley Finley was starting to disassemble his powerhouse Athletics and the Seitz decision would soon set Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally free of their contracts and open the door to free agency. Griffith’s other option was to trade away Carew, Blyleven and anyone else who might command real money soon and attempt to rebuild his team with young (and inexpensive) prospects. Obviously, Griffith being Griffith, the latter was the only option with any chance of happening.

But what if Griffith had been willing and able to invest, rather than divest? Would the team have improved and brought fans back to the Met? Would the Twins then have been in a better position to command a new stadium of their own rather than being forced to share the Metrodome with the Vikings?

There’s no way to know, of course. What we can and do know, however, is that a lot of fans lost interest in the Twins during the mid to late 1970s. I was one of them.

As I think back through my 52 years of Twinsfandom, that era is probably the stretch when I was the least interested in what was going on with the Twins. I can only distinctly remember three trips to the Twin Cities to watch baseball from the time I graduated from high school in 1974 through the rest of the decade. I think about how many more times I would have watched two future Hall of Famers play baseball if only the owner had shown some kind of commitment to winning. It wasn’t until guys like Puckett, Gaetti, Hrbek and Brunansky developed in to a talented core in Minnesota in the mid 1980s that I got interested enough again to regularly drive up to the Twin Cities for games.

I believe that the people running the Twins now are flirting dangerously with the possibility of history repeating itself.

Those who advocate for the idea of blowing up the roster and rebuilding gradually with the highly touted group of prospects in the organization seem to think that letting the Twins continue to lose close to 100 games over the next year or two is a necessity. We’re told that, if we’re patient, the team will be much improved and be ready to compete by 2014 or 2015.

But do we really believe that Miguel Sano, Kyle Gibson, Eddie Rosario, Alex Meyer and Byron Buxton are going to be ready to win… not just contribute… at the Major League level by then? Maybe Griffith was planning on first round picks like Rick Sofield, Paul Croft and Lenny Faedo being ready to lead the Twins back in to contention by the late 70s, too. Instead, the Twins continued to play in front of more empty seats than filled seats at Met Stadium for several more years and continued to spiral deeper in to oblivion until they won only 60 games in 1982. Even the move to a new indoor stadium couldn’t significantly rebuild the fan base at that point.

What if we’re wrong about the next wave of uber-prospects being ready to seriously compete in the Big Leagues by 2015? What if it takes them longer? What if, like with Hrbek, Gaetti and Viola, this group loses big chunks of games for a few years even after they arrive in Minnesota and it’s 2019 or 2020… or later… before they reach their potential? That’s not exactly unlikely, is it?

The past two years have seemed hellish to Twins fans, but how many people will be watching Twins games at Target Field if the Twins go the better part of a decade or more during which coming even close to a .500 record is unlikely? How many will even be watching on television?

I wish I had watched Rod Carew play baseball more than a handful of times in the 1970s. How many young fans will grow old regretting not showing up to watch Joe Mauer play baseball in his prime because the team wouldn’t put enough talent around him to make a trip to the ballpark worthwhile? How long will it take to get those fans interested again?

Some people will tell us that Griffith had no other choice than the one he made… the advent of free agency was a paradigm shift that he could neither foresee nor afford financially to adapt to. That may be true. I have no way of knowing. But the advent of free agency clearly made owning and operating a competitive Major League Baseball team difficult for all but the wealthiest owners.

Today, I believe Major League Baseball is quite possibly nearing another era of potentially dramatic change in how the business is run. I don’t think any of us can predict, with any certainty, the state of television five years from now. It’s quite possible that it will be significantly different than it is today. The billion dollar media rights deals that large market teams are signing could create even more significant chasms between the “haves” and “have nots” in baseball than the eras of free agency and new stadiums did.

And what happens when cable operators and their subscribers (and potentially even the government) step up and refuse to allow continuance of an environment where subscribers must pay dramatically higher rates for cable television, driven almost solely by the cost of carrying sports programming? If that bubble bursts before teams in middle markets, like Minnesota, get their turn at the trough, the resulting competitive imbalance could last for a generation.

Those issues will have to be addressed by whoever baseball decides will succeed Bud Selig as Commissioner. But in the mean time, the people running the Twins have to be making long term plans for the continued financial viability of their franchise. They probably genuinely believed that a new stadium would allow them to field consistently competitive teams a few years ago when they were lobbying for public financing, but clearly Target Field no longer guarantees anything. MLB’s financial model appears to be taking another dramatic turn and a nice stadium is no longer enough to assure long term solvency, much less competitiveness.

As a result, I believe that the deeper the Twins allow this competitive hole they’re in to get, the greater the risk that we’ll see another 1970s-like loss of interest by the fan base that will simply perpetuate the problem.

I see it as imperative for the Twins to invest enough money in their roster to be competitive EVERY year if they’re going to remain a viable organization in to the future. They must keep fans coming to the ballpark and they absolutely need to make the team valuable enough to cash in on other media revenue streams sooner, rather than later. Doing otherwise risks dooming the franchise to being non-competitive until such time that large market teams finally agree to a more equitable business model… and we know that won’t happen any time soon.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the next crop of kids coming up will hit the ground running and immediately capture the imagination and interest of Twins fans far and wide, leading to the next great golden era of Twins baseball, which will lead to vast riches for the Twins owners and secure the franchise’s future for generations to come.

I just think the odds of that happening are long… too long for the Twins front office to bet the organization’s future on it.

I was 14 years old when Rod Carew’s 1970 Twins won the AL West Division and I turned 31 before my favorite team gave me something to cheer about again in 1987. I hope it won’t be 2027 before kids who cheered on Joe Mauer’s 2010 Central Division Champions get to feel that excitement again.

– JC

Everyone Needs a Break

Considering the lack of any games of real importance going on in Major League Baseball at the moment, there sure seems to be a lot of “stuff” flying around the perimeter of the game, agitating the media which, in turn, agitates the masses (or is it the other way around? I’m honestly not sure).

I’ve tried to get fired up about some of it or at least interested enough to give a damn about any of it, but it’s just not happening. But I’ve been embarrassingly absent as a contributing member of this group of bloggers lately, so I’m determined to say SOMETHING about at least a few of the items that have passed for “news” in and around the Twins and the rest of MLB the past few days.

R.A. Dickey’s snub

Dickey deserved to be the starting pitcher for the National League in the All Star Game. He knows it. So does Tony LaRussa. So does Buster Posey, the catcher that the voters erroneously voted to start behind the plate for the NL.  He deserves to start more than Matt Cain does. Even Matt Cain knows it and apparently said so out loud. In fact Dickey deserves to start more than Posey does, but that’s immaterial, I guess.

He’s not starting for one reason and one reason only. He throws an 80 mph knuckleball. Posey has seen it as a hitter, I would imagine, and since he’s apparently never caught even a 60 mph amateur version of a knuckleball, he’s none too anxious to learn how to catch Dickey’s for the first time in front of 40,000 fans and at least a handful of people who tune in to watch the ASG on TV.

As a former knuckleballer myself (though I doubt mine ever even reached the 60 mph level), I should be outraged at the injustice of this discrimination against Dickey. But I’m just not. Hopefully, he got to spend some time yesterday working in the bullpen with one of the NL’s catchers so neither party gets embarrassed out there when Dickey inevitably enters the game.

I’m really happy for the guy because he’s a great story, but I just can’t get worked up about the fact that he’s not starting the game.

Reggie’s dis of Bert, Puck and other Hall Members

I really stopped caring what Reggie Jackson said about anything the day he became a Yankee, but if there was one of these items that did get under my skin a bit, it was Jackson spouting off about how certain recent Hall of Famers didn’t deserve the honor of being enshrined in Cooperstown. The first Tweets I saw indicated he specifically referred to Bert Blyleven and Kirby Puckett. The next Tweet I saw pointed out that Reggie’s results when facing Bert in their careers were… well let’s just say that Reggie didn’t get to Cooperstown based on how he hit against Blyleven.

Bert Blyleven

Eventually I saw that Bert himself Tweeted that Jackson had called to apologize, relying on the old, “my comments were taken out of context,” line of BS. But whatever, at least the guy apologized. He apparently did likewise to others that he lumped in to the “unworthy” category. Again, however, I just couldn’t get too worked up over this. After all, as much as I loved both Puckett and Blyleven as players, I have to admit that their on-field HOF credentials were both marginal, so while Jackson should probably keep that kind of opinion to himself, he’s entitled to it and it’s not an altogether unreasonable opinion. I don’t think the BBWAA gets it right all the time, either, and I’m actually a “big Hall” guy.

I did care enough, however, to seek out the actual SI article that the quotes came from. I came away thinking that it’s really too bad he said the stuff he said about the HOF, because the rest of the article is very good. Ironically, the underlying theme of the article is how Reggie has changed and no longer prone to making outlandish comments and feeding an oversized ego.  Then he has to go and say that he’s going to get up in front of the HOF dinner next year and tell the other members that they all need to do something about keeping guys like Puckett, Blyleven, and others, out of their club in the future. It’s a shame.

Now we read that he’s been invited to stay away from Yankee Stadium for daring to say that A-Rod’s accomplishments are tainted because he admitted to using PEDs. Again, should he have given that quote, considering he’s still collecting a “special assistant” check from the Yankees? No. But he’s not exactly alone on an island with that opinion.

Anyway, it all just seems like more drama than it really should be.

Royals fans dis Cano

Speaking of things that are made bigger than they should be, apparently thin skinned Yankee fans took a major exception to the way the Kansas City crowd treated Robinson Cano during the Home Run Derby Monday night. Fans booed Cano loudly when he was introduced, mostly because after originally publicly stating that putting Royal Billy Butler on the Derby team would be the right thing to do, he changed his mind and didn’t select him after all. Of course, I think just the fact that he’s a Yankee makes him worthy of a pretty loud boo, but maybe Kansas Citians need more than that.

Anyway, not only did they boo him beforehand, but lustily cheered every “out” Cano made when the defending Derby champ came to the plate for his cuts in the first round. They got lots of opportunities to cheer, too, because Cano got completely shut out. No home runs in 10 cuts. With his dad pitching to him.

Anyway, Yankee fans apparently lit up Twitter with comments bashing KC fans’ treatment of Cano. I guess it’s easy to see why they’d be upset, though. After all Yankee fans are generally so well known for how politely they treat players of other teams, right? I guess the rest of us are all just supposed to acknowledge that anyone associated with the F’ing Yankees is entitled to be shown due respect.

Yeah, this is another not-so-big deal to me. Get over it and move on.

Prince Fielder wins the HR Derby

Yeah, I enjoyed watching the Derby. Prince Fielder can hit a baseball a LONG way. I also love the remodel job done on the stadium in Kansas City and it remains very high up on my list of favorite ballparks, so I enjoyed seeing it host the event. But neither the Derby nor the winner matter to me at all.

Mauer the lone Twins representative at the ASG

I’ve covered this before. Mauer deserves to be at the ASG, in fact the voters screwed up voting Ranger Mike Napoli as the starting catcher. I’d have liked to see Josh Willingham go, but there are just a lot of All Star worthy outfielders and very few catchers. And when you’re on a team that appears headed to its second consecutive 90+ loss season, you probably will just get one representative. Joe was the correct choice and anyone who doesn’t think so, while entitled to their opinion, is simply wrong.

By the way, Napoli is one of THREE former Cedar Rapids Kernels on the AL All Star Game roster. Napoli joins two other former Kernels (both now with the parent Angels) Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout. Trumbo represented well in the Derby Monday night and Trout is… well… if you don’t know who Mike Trout is, then you clearly care less about Major League Baseball than I care about the Home Run Derby.

Home Field Advantage

It’s been a decade now since the infamous tie game that led Bud Selig to decide that the ASG should matter more and declared that the winning league’s representative in the World Series would have home field advantage.

Bud Selig

I swear I have heard this thing bashed on every sports talk show for a week. I feel like I should care, but I don’t. It’s not a perfect solution to the trend of these games becoming poorly played and poorly managed exhibitions, but after the sham of a Pro-Bowl the NFL put on a few months ago, MLB needs to make sure the game counts for something if they want players to give any kind of effort whatsoever… or even bother to show up.

And at least it gives me another excuse to post my favorite Bud Selig picture of all time.

That’s it… enjoy the All Star Game if you care to watch it. If not, hold on tight and we’ll begin the second “half” of this exciting Minnesota Twins season in a few days!

–          JC

Monday, Grumpy Monday

I’m in a bit of a grumpy mood this morning. That’s not an altogether unusual thing for me on a Monday morning, but I generally try to avoid human contact until noon or later on Monday so I can spare others having to deal with my mood and spare myself the chances I’ll say something I’ll regret later. I certainly avoid publishing written work on Monday mornings for a broad audience to read. But, despite that, here I am writing this.

Here are just a few things I’m feeling a bit… what’s the word my mom used to use?… “owlish”?… about this morning. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Twins Stuff

My mood isn’t only reflected in Twins-related topics, but since this is primarily a Twins blog, let’s start with those topics.

Brian Dozier

I like Brian Dozier. I think he has a chance to be a decent infielder, but I’m not optimistic that he’s going to be the long-awaited “answer” to the Twins’ revolving door at shortstop. But even if he is, I simply don’t get why he’s being called up now to be inserted as the everyday shortstop.

It’s not that I think Jamey Carroll is irreplaceable, nor is Alexi Casilla necessarily entitled to be an everyday infielder at the Major League level. But if you start a list of all the things that have worked WELL for the Twins this season, middle infield defense would be one of a very short number of things on that list.

Have Carroll and Casilla turned EVERY double play opportunity in to two outs? No. But if you can’t see the improvement over the swisscheese-like pairings that were on the field last year for the Twins, your memory sucks. The Twins’ pitchers are, by and large, awful and the results aren’t going to get better by changing the middle infield defense.

Speaking of the Twins pitching… talk about your mood dampeners. Can these guys get ANYONE out? If the Twins sent their entire rotation to Rochester and brought up the Red Wings’ starting pitchers, Wings fans would complain about getting the raw end of the deal… and rightfully so. Not that the starting quintet in Rochester has been all that good, but the Twins’ rotation has been THAT bad. Sending Hendriks down and bringing Scott Diamond up is a start, I guess, but both the Dozier and Diamond moves feel an awful lot like the proverbial, “rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic,” to me.

I don’t envy Terry Ryan these days. There are no easy answers to fixing the Twins. There really aren’t even any difficult answers, if you’re thinking in terms of salvaging anything this season. He’s got a fan base spoiled by a decade of relative success, at least as measured by contention at the Divisional level. He’s got ownership that ‘s providing payroll levels at least 30% higher than the Metrodome days and expecting at least competence in return. That combination is resulting in fewer people showing up at Target Field, which means lower revenues, which means lower future payrolls, which means a tougher job to assemble a roster that can turn things around any time soon.

But while I may not envy Ryan, I don’t feel sorry for him, either. He may have just recently taken over Bill Smith’s mess, but his hands weren’t clean. He was playing a significant role in the scouting and player evaluation process, even while Smith sat in the GM chair. As a result, the players on this team right now and in the minor league pipeline are just as much Ryan’s responsibility as they were Smith’s.

I don’t consider Ron Gardenhire blameless, either, but I really don’t know what manager could win with this collection of pitchers. I don’t know enough about the pitchers individually to know whether better “coaching” from Rick Anderson would help. But I do know that the organization is fast approaching a need to DO “something” to keep fans’ interest… or at least give us some sign that they’ve at least noticed that the wheels have come off.

Maybe it’s my mood this morning, but if I were Terry Ryan, I’d probably make a change right now in my manager and pitching coach. The problem is, I wouldn’t necessarily want to promote anyone from within my organization to the manager’s job that would give the impression he was going to be my manager for the next decade. Maybe Gene Glynn or Tom Brunansky or Jeff Smith will be logical selections or maybe I’d want to open up the search to outside candidates, but I don’t want to make such an important decision hastily.

Paul Molitor

So here’s my Monday Morning suggestion to Terry: Get on your knees and beg Paul Molitor to finish out 2012 as your manager. He’s supposedly not been interested in a field job with the Twins, but maybe on an interim basis, he could be convinced to take things over.

As for the pitching coach…  I really have no idea who in the organization would work on an interim basis, but try this name on for size: Bert Blyleven. OK, OK… once you’ve stopped laughing, think about it… he couldn’t screw the staff up any worse than they are already and at least he wouldn’t be up in the booth the rest of the year. Then again, I’m not sure how they’d get the monitor hooked up in the dugout in a way that would allow him to circle fans in the stands, so maybe it wouldn’t work after all.

Vikings Stuff

I’m a Vikings fan, not necessarily a “Minnesota” fan, so I’ll root for the Vikings wherever they call home in the future. That said, I’d REALLY prefer they stay in Minnesota. It’s where they belong, in my mind.

Philosophically, I understand the opinion that public money shouldn’t be used for stadiums. Then again, I think we use public money for a lot of crap that it shouldn’t be used for, while our health care system in this country is the laughingstock of the rest of the world’s modern civilizations.

Some things just are what they are and among those things is that communities that want major league professional sports teams have to pony up enough public financial support to provide modern playgrounds for those teams every quarter-century or so. This is particularly true with regard to NFL franchises, which are, whether we baseball fans want to admit it or not, the most popular major sports organizations in virtually every community that has one.

For the past couple of decades, this has been a difficult truth for Minnesotans and their political leaders (and I use the term “leaders” loosely here) to grasp.

So, sometime late tonight, I expect the Minnesota legislature to defeat a bill that has been negotiated in good faith by the Vikings, the city of Minneapolis, the Governor of Minnesota and legislators  from both political parties.

And that’s a damn shame.

I’ve been a registered Republican for over three decades and over that period, I’ve been relatively active in state and local politics where I live. While I don’t want to turn this in to a political discussion, I’ll say that I’m disappointed by the way my party has been hijacked by extremists over the past several years at the national level. But if there’s one thing that makes me feel better about what’s happened to the GOP at the national level, it’s seeing what a bunch of political hacks seem to be running the GOP in Minnesota.

Sure, there were missteps along the way by all parties and governing is often about compromise. “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” is more inherent to American politics than separation of powers.

If, as a legislator, you oppose public funding of a stadium, in principle, so that’s how you will cast your vote, I can respect that. But what the GOP leadership is essentially telling the Governor… and the people of Minnesota… is that it’s not so much opposition to the bill in principle that could likely cause its demise tonight, it’s that the Governor wouldn’t give them his signature on a couple of tax and bonding bills and they’re going to vote against the Vikings stadium bill as political “payback.”

If that means the Vikings are playing in LA or Toronto in 2013, so be it… at least the GOP won’t have let a Democratic Governor “win.”

If that’s what passes for statemanship in Minnesota these days, that’s unfortunate.

– JC

Three “Golden Era” Twins on HOF Ballot

On the heels of Bert Blyleven’s induction in to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, three more former Twins have renewed chances to join Bert, Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett in Cooperstown. Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Luis Tiant have been nominated for consideration by the Baseball HOF’s new “Golden Era Committee”.

Tony Oliva

The Committee, made up of 16 voters consisting of executives, veteran media members and existing HOF members, will be choosing from among ten players and executives that made their greatest contributions to the game of baseball between the years 1947 and 1972.

The committee will be meeting during MLB’s winter meetings in December and each member can vote for anywhere from zero to five candidates. It takes being included on 75% of ballots cast to gain election. This committee will be holding similar elections just every three years, so anyone who doesn’t gain election this year will have to wait another three years just to find out if they’ll be considered again. Given the age of most of these guys, that could literally be a lifetime.

Jim Kaat (photo: S. Grile/Palm Beach Post)

Oliva, Kaat and Tiant are joined on the ballot by Ron Santo, Buzzie Bavasi, Ken Boyer, Charlie Finley, Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso and Allie Reynolds. For a fan in his mid-fifties like me, those names bring back a flood of memories and it’s hard to believe that none of them are in the HOF already.

Luis Tiant

Interestingly, the three former Twins all played together, along with Blyleven, Carew and Killebrew, on the 1970 team that won the AL West Division. Think of that for a moment… it could very well turn out that the 1970 Twins included SIX future Hall of Famers!

At a time when many of us are trying to figure out how the Twins should rebuild their roster in an effort to regain some level of competitiveness, take a look at some of the numbers that members of that 1970 team put up:

Tony Oliva: .325/.364/.514 .878 OPS, 23 HR, 107 RBI in 157 games.

Harmon Killebrew:  .271/.411/.546 .957 OPS,  41 HR, 113 RBI in 157 games.

Rod Carew:  .366/.407/.524 .930 OPS, 4 HR, 28 RBI, in just  51 games.

And just to prove they weren’t the only guys hitting the ball…

Cesar Tovar: .300/.356/.442 .798 OPS, 10 HR, 54 RBI and 30 stolen bases in 161 games.

The pitchers had some pretty decent seasons, too:

Jim Kaat: 14-10, 3.56 ERA, 34 starts, 4 complete games, 230.1 IP

Bert Blyleven: 10-9, 3.18 ERA, 25 starts, 5 complete games, 164 IP

Luis Tiant: 7-3, 3.40 ERA, 17 starts, 2 complete games, 92.2 IP

Not bad, but not one of those pitchers was even the ace of that staff in 1970. That honor went to…

Jim Perry: 24-12, 3.04 ERA, 40 starts, 13 complete games, 278.2 IP… and a Cy Young Award.

Congratulations to Tony-O, Kitty-Kaat and El Tiante on their nominations and here’s hoping the voters recognize that all three of these guys are deserving of the honor to stand with their peers as among the best to ever play the game.

– JC

Bert Blyleven – #28 – HOF

Bert Blyeleven #28 HOF: That’s how Bert will get to sign his autograph for the rest of his life. If you think that’s not a big deal, you’re wrong.

I wrote a post last week in tribute to Blyleven getting his number retired by the Twins, so I won’t duplicate that effort today, but I can’t let the day of Blyleven ‘s induction in to Cooperstown go without a mention.

This has been such a long time coming, with the annual disappointment of coming up short, that it almost seems like today’s induction is anticlimactic. And that’s too bad.

In my post last week, I wrote that I felt Bert had become almost a parody of himself as a result of his broadcasting career. His somewhat corny approach in the booth has endeared himself to legions of Twins fans, young and old, even if his schtick is not universally appreciated by self-appointed “hard core” fans.

Bert was honored by the Pirates during Spring Training

The amazing thing to me is the way he has turned his reputation around. A fan favorite? This is a guy who flipped fans the bird as a player… more than once… and a guy who walked away from the Pirates for a couple of weeks and demanded to be traded. “Endeared” is probably the last word anyone would have used to describe his relationships with fans and media during his playing days.

Given his personal reputation as a player, it’s not as surprising that it took him so long to get elected to the Hall as it is surprising that he got elected at all. The saying, “Nice guys finish last,” is not applicable to Hall of Fame voting. The voting members of the media are real big on rewarding and penalizing players based on their behavior, as much as their performance. It’s somehow appropriate that Bert is entering the Hall alongside Roberto Alomar. There’s no doubt that Alomar was penalized by the media voters for his “spitting incident” with an umpire, leaving him with a “bad boy” reputation to overcome, as well.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Bert needed to “rehabilitate himself” after his playing career in order to have any shot at the Hall. And he did just that.

I’ve never met the man, personally. I don’t know if the “real” Bert Blyleven is the surly player or the broadcaster that comes across as a guy you’d love to sit in a bar with while you watch and talk baseball. I think perhaps he’s mellowed over the years as a lot of us tend to do. But whatever the case, there’s no doubt in my mind that, absent the rehabilitation of his reputation that the Twins organization has helped him achieve, Bert would not be getting honored today. And that would have been unfortunate.

I’m glad the Twins pushed back the start of today’s game so fans could watch the induction ceremony. It was the right thing to do, because this is a REALLY big deal, folks. In my mind, there is no bigger honor in sports than being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It changes lives.

Blyleven wanted this honor. Badly wanted it. He probably wanted it too much, frankly. In fact, if there has been one flaw in Bert’s “character” for the past decade, many people would consider the way he lobbied for HOF votes to be that flaw. It wore on some people. Then again, I can’t say I would have felt any differently in his shoes.

I just hope that his induction in to the Hall doesn’t change Bert going forward. I happen to enjoy his broadcasting style. Yes, he could do a better job of analysis, but I don’t care. He comes across as someone who actually likes the game and the fans and the players. Now that he’s a Hall of Famer, we don’t have to endure that chip on his shoulder that he’s always had about not being elected. And that’s a good thing.

So I hope you all enjoy watching Bert and Roberto being inducted in to the Hall (broadcast, I believe, begins at 12:30 on MLB Network and MLB.com).  It’s a big deal for them and it’s a big deal to those of us who were fans of these players. It will be a long time before another player who spent a significant chunk of his career as a member of the Twins gets this honor, though Jim Thome should be a lock five years after he retires, and we can all share that day with his fans in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago.

But today is Bert’s day and I’m happy for him. Congratulations, Bert.

Happy Bert-day To You!

Today is the day the Twins retire Bert Blyleven’s number 28. Blyleven will join Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett, and Kent Hrbek in being so honored. It’s somewhat amazing to realize Bert played with all of the others. He virtually bridged the gap between  the early glory days of “Tony, Killer and Carew” and the group headed by Puck and Hrbie that brought the franchise back in to relevance almost two decades later.

Bert Blyleven

Blyleven is just five years my senior, so I remember well both of his terms with the Twins (1970-76 and 1985-88), not to mention the period in between when he toiled for the Rangers, Pirates and Indians.

Of course, in those days, you didn’t get to watch every MLB game played on TV or a computer. There were no sports bars to go watch games on satellite. If you didn’t live in a “home market”, you saw the Game of the Week on Saturdays and that was it, at least until the Superstation days that brought the Cubs and Braves to a national audience.

So when I watched a baseball game, I REALLY watched the game. I particularly watched pitchers, since that was what I was… or at least saw myself as being (my coaches didn’t always seem to concur).

Watching Blyleven was amazing, to me. Specifically, that curveball made my jaw drop. I couldn’t imagine trying to hit that thing.

Of course, his talent wasn’t all there was to like about Blyleven. Even in days before the internet, there were stories about his practical jokes. I swear, if you were a team mate of his and your game was on the Game of the Week (and he wasn’t pitching that day), you really had to expect to have your shoelaces set ablaze or something equally absurd AND to have the whole thing broadcast to a national audience.

I even liked when he demonstrated a distaste for reporters.

Of course, it’s quite possible that his open disdain for the media at times went a long way toward assuring he would have to wait longer to be elected to the Hall of Fame than he otherwise may have had to wait.

Dick and Bert at Spring Training 2011

Sometimes I think Bert’s work as a broadcaster has come close to almost creating a caricature of himself. I think a lot of us have grown weary of the “circle me Bert” routine, perhaps even Bert, himself. But there is clearly still a significant segment of the fan base that eats the corniness up and playing to the broader fan base is a big part of a home-team broadcaster’s job these days. Even his infamous F-bomb broadcast a few years ago did nothing but make him more popular with the fans. He really does seem like “one of us”.

His broadcast gig has ingrained himself even deeper in to the fabric of the Minnesota Twins. Despite spending less than half of his service time as a Twin, it’s the organization that he is… and likely always will be… most closely associated with.

And it’s right that it should be so. There’s no doubt in my mind that his #28 should be retired by the Twins. In fact, I’ve always felt it should have been done long ago.

So, Bert, congratulations on the honor the Twins bestow on you today and congratulations on your election in to the Hall of Fame. I’m looking forward to hearing your acceptance speech from Cooperstown.

Don’t F*** it up.

-JC

Bert, Brian and the Bucs

I think I saw something in Bradenton Monday that I haven’t seen at any of the other Spring Training games I’ve watched over the past week. There were, in fact, a few clouds in the sky. I had almost forgotten what they looked like, though I suspect I’m going to be reminded pretty dramatically in a few hours, when I get back to Iowa.

McKechnie Field, Spring Training home of the Pirates... and a few clouds

I also hadn’t seen Bert Blyleven yet down here until today, though I did see Dick Bremer behind the batting cage last week exchanging a man-hug with Hall of Famer (and Bremer’s former broadcast partner) Harmon Killebrew. Not only did Dick and Bert broadcast today’s game with the Pirates to the folks back home, but Bert also threw out the first pitch. I thought that was kind of cool, given that he did pitch for the Pirates and they took this opportunity to recognize Blyleven’s recent election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Bert Blyleven donned a Pirates jersey to throw out the first pitch, in honor of his election to the HOF

This was my second opportunity to see Brian Duensing start a game on the mound and he looked sharper today. I know there’s a lot of healthy debate around Twinsville about whether Duensing should start the season in the rotation or the bullpen, but I’ve felt strongly all along that he should be in the rotation and I’ve seen nothing this week to change my mind. It allows Ron Gardenhire to go Righty-Lefty-Righty-Lefty-Righty with the rotation and assures that teams see a variety of looks during a three-game series.

Brian Duensing looked good against the Pirates

Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Delmon Young were the only starting position players to make the 90 minute bus ride up to Bradenton for the game, but they gave the sizable contingent of Twins fans in the crowd plenty to cheer about. Span had a double in four ABs, while Mauer and Young each had two hits to lead the Twins 4-1 win over the Pirates.

The Bucs’ only run was unearned, which means that, once again, the whole parade of Twins pitchers shut down an opponent. Today, in addition to Duensing, that included Glen Perkins, Matt Capps, Carlos Gutierrez and Chuck James. The relief appearances were clean, though not dominating. Perkins had a couple of balls hit hard off of him, including a line drive to first base that became a double play ball. Gutierrez was getting ground balls, while James got all three outs on fly balls.

Carlos Gutierrez has been looking good all spring

While the Twins travel to face the Marlins tomorrow, I’ll be heading home to Cedar Rapids. I don’t leave until the afternoon, though, so I may hang out for a while in the morning at the Twins practice facility and maybe even watch some minor league games. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the Twins playing in those games, while few of the regulars make the long drive across the state to Jupiter FL where the Marlins train.

I’ve had a lot of opportunities to watch a lot of baseball this week and I’ve drawn a few conclusions concerning what I think Gardy and the Twins will be doing about those few remaining roster spots that are still up in the air… and about what I think they SHOULD do (I wish they were the same thing, but they’re not). In any event, I’ll think a bit more about that stuff and throw a post up in the next couple of days with my thoughts.

It’s been a fun trip… as always. The weather has been terrific and while I’d love to hang around here and watch more baseball, it will also feel good to get home again (at least right up until the time I have to show up for work Wednesday morning).

With that, I’ll leave you with a few more pictures from my day in Bradenton.

– JC

How close was my seat to the field? I had to move my knees to make room for this young man to get Matt Tolbert's autograph

I had a pretty good view of Denard Span taking the field, as well.

The Pirates mascots force two children to do the chicken dance... talk about child abuse!

Joe Mauer chats up Pirate 1B Lyle Overbay in order to avoid having to talk to 1B coach Jerry White

Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven get ready to go on the air before the game