Boyfriend(s) of the Month

You may have noticed that we didn’t give “Boyfriend of the Month” awards for April or May. (OK, honestly, you probably didn’t notice.) The BOM is our way of keeping track of who’s been leading the charge for the Twins.

Jason Kubel

Frankly, the folks who join us for GameChats had relatively few opportunities to even vote Boyfriend of the Day awards in April and May, but a couple of players did stand out. It seems like a long time ago, now, but in April, Jason Kubel was one of the few bright spots for the Twins. He was also the only Twin to receive more than one BOD award here at Knuckleballs, making him the April Boyfriend of the Month.

Nick Blackburn

In May, there weren’t many more opportunities to hand out those BOD awards. It was clear that what little success the Twins had in May was due to their starting pitching. Nine of the ten BODs handed out in May went to starting pitchers and Nick Blackburn collected three of those honors, making him our BOM for May.

June, as we all know, was a considerably more successful month for the Twins. Five different players were bestowed multiple BOD awards last month. Two of them came through with three such awards. Once again demonstrating the critical role that starting pitching has continue to play for the Twins, Carl Pavano and Scott Baker are our co-Boyfriends of the Month for June.

 

Scott Baker

Carl Pavano

GameChat – Twins @ Giants, 9:15 pm, MLBN

ah… West Coast baseball…  *sigh* we’ll see if I can make it through the whole game!

Minnesota @ San Francisco
Revere, CF Torres, CF
Casilla, A, 2B Tejada, M, SS
Mauer, C Sandoval, P, 3B
Cuddyer, RF Huff, 1B
Young, D, LF Ross, C, LF
Valencia, 3B Schierholtz, RF
Hughes, L, 1B Hall, 2B
Nishioka, SS Whiteside, C
Pavano, P Bumgarner, P

 


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 9 14 0
San Francisco 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 2 9 2

Boy, if you missed the first half inning of the game tonight, you pretty much missed the whole game! The Twins started the game with eight straight hits (half of them doubles) before Carl Pavano struck out for the first out of the game. Ben Revere followed with his second hit of the inning, driving in the 7th and 8th runs of the inning and sending the Giants starting pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, to the shower. Alexi Casilla capped of the scoring in the 9th inning with his second home run in as many games. The offense truly was a team effort as all the position players not only had hits in the first inning, but scored a run that inning, too.

Carl Pavano had another typical quality performance, working eight solid innings, giving up just two runs on nine hits, not walking anyone and striking out a pair of Giants. That earns him yet another BOD award from the GameChat crew!

Carl Pavano

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GameChat – White Sox @ Twins #2 (kind of), 7:10

Lots of goings on at Target Field today – and the extra-sized press corps has returned.  Nishioka is back in Minnesota! He’s not in the lineup tonight. In fact, tonight’s lineup is exactly the same as last night.  We’ve sent a guy down to AAA to make room though – Dusty Hughes – so Nishioka will be showing up in the lineup any day now. The other news is that Mauer is also supposedly returning on Friday! His rehab is good and he and Nathan teamed up for a little joint rehab – a bit of testing each other I think. At any rate, both reportedly felt very good with the results and Mauer is champing at the bit to play.

But neither of them are playing tonight so we’ll have to hope that the boys we currently have are ready to go. I think the rain is supposed to be done once we get the game going so even if we have some sprinkles, they should be able to get the whole game in – so the weather men say. Not sure about their batting average though.

Chi White Sox @ Minnesota
Pierre, LF Revere, CF
Ramirez, Al, SS Casilla, A, SS
Quentin, RF Cuddyer, RF
Konerko, 1B Young, D, DH
Pierzynski, C Hughes, L, 1B
Rios, CF Valencia, 3B
Dunn, A, DH Dinkelman, LF
Beckham, 2B Tolbert, 2B
Morel, 3B Butera, C
Floyd, P Pavano, P

 


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Chi White Sox 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 6 0
Minnesota 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 1 x 4 11 0

Hey, guess what… one of the ESPN Baseball Tonight guys has discovered that the Twins are playing some baseball! Barry Larkin mentioned the Twins are playing well and, in his opinion, aren’t out of the AL Central race! That may be the kiss of death. But tonight, the Twins sure looked like the team we hoped they would be all season.

Revere, Casilla, Cuddyer and Dinkelman (that’s right, I said Dinkelman) all had two hits tonight, earning our undying thanks. Cuddy gets extra ice cream from the post-game dessert bar for stealing not one… not two… but THREE bases off of our old buddy AJ!

But a complete game bitch slapping of the BitchSox certainly warrants BOD honors for Carl Pavano!

Carl Pavano

GameChat – Twins @ Royals #2, 7:10pm

Something to think about… The Twins started the season with a club-record payroll just north of $113 million. At this moment, $53.2 million of that payroll (eight players) is on the Disabled List, leaving them with an active roster payroll of about $60 million. Thought about in those terms, I’d say the Twins are right about where in the standings I’d expect a team with a $60 million annual payroll to be.

We covered a few roster moves in the GameChat post before Thursday night’s game in Kansas City, but even more moves have been announced since that time. Let’s see if I can give a quick rundown on where things stand with the Twins’ roster at the moment.

The Twins moved Mauer and Nishioka over to the 60-day DL this week to make room for some guys to be added, but the other six are “only” on the 15-day DL.

Three players were dropped from the active 25-man roster. In addition to Thome and Kubel going on the DL, infielder Trevor Plouffe was sent down to Rochester.

Ben Revere returned to the Twins in time to play in Thursday’s game. He’s now going to be joined by infielder Luke Hughes and Brian Dinkelman. Dinkelman has played some infield, but he’s primarily been seeing action in the outfield in Rochester. He’s hit relatively well in Rochester and swings from the left side, which is something Ron Gardenhire considers important since his two lefty DHs, Kubel and Thome, are gone.

The Twins also obtained minor league OF Jeremy Reed from the Brewers and sent him to Rochester to shore up a Red Wings roster that’s every bit as screwed up as the Twins’ roster is.

With Nishioka and Mauer expected to return to action over the next couple of weeks, we’ll soon be speculating over which current members of the 40-man roster the Twins will drop and risk losing to another team’s claim. I personally don’t see any shortage of names I wouldn’t lose sleep over losing, but don’t be too surprised if one of those names is Dinkelman, himself. It wouldn’t be the first time the Twins promoted a guy to get short-term use, only to go ahead and try to pass him through waivers a few days later. In fact, they did exactly that less than a year ago when they brought Matt Fox up for a start (a successful start, at that), then tried (unsuccessfully) to pass him through waivers just a few days later when they needed his roster spot again.

Anyway… one thing we can be sure of is that the game of musical chairs the Twins are having to play with their roster isn’t about to end any time soon.

As for tonight’s game… I hope the gang at Smalley’s 87 Club for the TwinsCentric bash is having a good time tonight! I’ve got some plans with the family for “happy hour”, so I’m not sure when I’ll be online. Lineups aren’t posted yet and since I’m not sure whether one of us will be around to post them when they DO get released, I’m just going ahead and loading up the GameChat now. Hope everyone’s weekend is getting off to a great start! – JC

Minnesota @ Kansas City
Span, CF Gordon, LF
Casilla, A, SS Cabrera, Me, CF
Morneau, DH Hosmer, 1B
Cuddyer, 1B Francoeur, RF
Valencia, 3B Butler, DH
Young, D, LF Betemit, 3B
Revere, RF Pena, B, C
Hughes, L, 2B Getz, 2B
Butera, C Escobar, A, SS
Pavano, P Duffy, P

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 2 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 5 11 1
Kansas City 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 9 0

Two in a row! That almost constitutes a winning streak! This was almost like the old days… hits all over the place, including a double and a near inside-the-park-HR by Denard Span, guys running around the bases, trying to take that extra base (even though it doesn’t work sometimes), and a complete game by Carl noStache Pavano.

In fact, that complete game… his 100th career victory… earned Pavano our Boyfriend of the Day award for tonight!

 

,

The Kevin Slowey Dilemma

I don’t often listen in via the internet to Ron Gardenhire’s Sunday morning appearances on ESPN1500, but I did yesterday. If you’ve been reading or listening to any Twins-related news in the past 24 hours, you’re probably already aware of his comments with regard to Kevin Slowey. If not, let me give it to you in a nutshell:  Gardenhire and Slowey met together to discuss Kevin’s role with the Twins and there appears to be some agreement between them that Slowey has not worked out as a relief pitcher, so they need to get him innings in a starting role… somewhere.

Gardenhire mentioned possibly sending Slowey to Rochester to be used as a starting pitcher. Slowey hinted to reporters that perhaps the Twins are no longer a “fit” for him.

Assuming Gardy is not going to go “Ozzie Guillen” on us and implement a six-man rotation the way the BitchSox have, there really are only three options for dealing with Slowey at this point: Insert him in to the Twins rotation to replace one of the five arms already there, send him to Rochester, or trade him to another team.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

If the Twins would decide to simply move Slowey in to the rotation, say for example in place of Brian Duensing, and have Duensing take Slowey’s bullpen spot, then I suppose it is relatively simple. But the Twins don’t really need a long reliever in the bullpen and that’s pretty much what Duensing would be. They need an arm they can use in critical set up situations. Maybe Duensing could do that, but it’s hardly a sure-thing.  

This swap would also result in the Twins having just one left hander in the rotation and while it’s easy to pick on Duensing because he hasn’t had a lot of success in the past month or so, a glance at his stat line shows us that opponents have a .381 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), which is well above normal, indicating that he may be the victim of a little bit of bad luck. That particular stat, after all, was the one that fans of Francisco Liriano liked to trot out there every time a discussion about Frankie’s abilities took place over the off season (and his BABIP was only .335 last season).

So why not just send Slowey to Rochester and bring up someone else for the bullpen? Makes sense, I guess, but let’s be honest… the Twins haven’t exactly had a lot of good fortune with the bullpen arms they’ve brought up from Rochester already. Yes, Chuck James has performed well in Rochester’s pen and has arguably earned a promotion opportunity. But James is not currently on the Twins’ 40-man roster, so promoting him means someone currently on the roster has to be jettisoned. Would the world come to an end if the Twins lost Eric Hacker, Jim Hoey, or Scott Diamond? No. But I’m not sure the Twins are ready to give those guys up just to find out if James can pitch effectively at the Big League level.

That leaves us with some sort of trade scenario and the internet is abuzz today with “Twins will trade Slowey” stories. Heck, it may even happen before I can post this!

A lot of people thought the Twins should trade Slowey or one of their other starting pitchers before the season started. I disagreed, because it’s not at all unusual for a team to end up needing that sixth starting pitcher at some point during the first couple of months of the season. It turns out, the starting five stayed relatively healthy so the need to insert Slowey in to the rotation has not materialized. Certainly, none of the five guys in the rotation have been consistently effective, but despite the contention of his fans (and those fans who for one reason or another just dislike one of the current rotation members), there’s no solid evidence at all that Slowey would be an improvement over anyone currently with a starting rotation spot.

The assumption all along has been that the Twins would promote top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson from Rochester in June, once the risk of accelerating his eligibility for arbitration passes. Gibson hasn’t exactly set the International League ablaze this season, but he’s held hitters to somewhere around a .250 batting average and has a nice 41/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio, while striking out almost one hitter per inning. The point being, we’re almost at the point in the season where the Twins can afford to trade one of their six pitchers with credentials as a Big League pitcher.

I’m just not sure that should be Slowey.

If it is, so be it. It’s not like he’s demonstrated that he’s irreplaceable. But I’m just not sure that’s the direction I’d go if I were the General Manager.

Slowey is making just $2.7 million this season, so there’s bound to be a market for him. Maybe the Twins could even get a serviceable middle infielder in return. But they aren’t likely to get anyone significantly better than the mediocrity they’ve been sending out to man 2B and SS so far and adding a MLB infielder means they’re still left with the dilemma of how to fit James on to the 40-man roster so they can promote him. In any event, while I’m not ready to give up on the 2011 season yet, if I’m running the Twins, I’m not going to feel inclined to trade one of my cheaper starting pitching options.

For the same reason, you don’t trade Brian Duensing either. He’s still barely making above the MLB minimum salary.

Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker are both roughly in the $5-6 million per year range through 2012. The Twins won’t (and shouldn’t) trade Baker, but if you can get some decent prospects for Blackburn, I suppose you listen to offers. I just doubt that Blackburn’s performance has done much to create significant demand for his services, given his contractual agreement.

Does Francisco Liriano still have significant trade value? He’s making $4.3 million this year but he’s likely to get more expensive next year. Still, I suspect there are teams who would be very tempted to give up something of value for the chance to see if Liriano can grow in to a consistently dominant lefty. If so, I’d be very tempted to make him available because I just don’t see it as being likely to happen in Minnesota. Blame Liriano or blame the coaches/manager, but either way, I don’t see him ever being worth what the Twins would have to shell out to keep him beyond this season.

And then there’s ‘Stache. Carl Pavano is getting $8 million this season and is guaranteed $8.5 million in 2012. Has anyone who’s been watching the Twins seen anything in Pavano’s performance to make them feel like he’s worth that deal? He certainly has not been the “innings eater” he was last year, having averaged just about 6 innings per start. I don’t know what he’s worth on the market, but I would imagine someone would give up something for him, even if the Twins do have to eat a little of that contract.

Trading one of these guys for decent prospects would clear a roster spot for James  (or for Gibson or possibly RP prospect Carlos Gutierrez next month) without leaving the Twins significantly short-handed in the starting pitching department.  If I could get something of real value in prospects for either Pavano or Liriano, I’d make that move right now.

That said, it will probably be Kevin Slowey sent packing. If and when it happens, I suspect most of us will be underwhelmed with talent received in return.

– JC

Moving On From Toronto To The Bronx

The first series is in the books and while it didn’t go as well as we would hope, the Sunday afternoon win certainly should make everyone feel a bit better. It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win.

Honestly, I’m not concerned about getting only one win out of three games in Toronto to start the season. That’s hardly devastating.

I’m really more concerned… perhaps a better word is leery… about the way the Twins played than I am about the results themselves. I have no idea what the reason is… season opening nerves, lack of preparation, lack of Spring Training time for some of the star players, or anything in between… but I just felt there were concentration issues out there among a lot of guys.

Carl Pavano pitched like I’d expect him to pitch in Spring Training… kind of out of sync. He had a great spring statistically, though he, himself, commented several times that he didn’t feel he was pitching all that well. For some reason, I’m not optimistic that he’s going to find himself against the Yankees in his next scheduled start.

Francisco Liriano just wasn’t very good, period. He had some issues in Spring Training, too, so it will be worth watching to see how long it takes him to find a rhythm.

Justin Morneau looks like he’s just started swinging a bat after a long offseason… which is pretty much accurate. His bat looks slow to me, so let’s hope get starts seeing the ball and getting around on it more consistently.

The new middle infield hasn’t gotten off to a very good start. Interestingly, though, while most people were nervous about Alexi Casilla and felt confident of Tsuyoshi Nishioka, it’s actually been Nishioka that’s been the poorer performer, so far. Nishioka has two errors already and he’s struck out five times. Casilla was given Sunday off, but he had the only Twins extra base hit in the first two games (his only hit in five ABs, however). Nishioka frankly not only looked tight in the field, but his right handed plate appearances have been particularly ugly. He steps in the bucket on virtually every pitch.

Denard Span has gotten off to a good start at the plate, but even he got caught losing track of the number of outs when he was a baserunner at 1B early in Sunday’s game.

The bullpen has had mixed results, at best. Sunday saw solid performances by Matt Capps, Jose Mijares and Glen Perkins, but otherwise you have to look pretty hard to find a member of the pen to praise. I know Joe Nathan got a save Sunday, but that was by no means a good performance by Twitchy.

In all, the best thing you can really say about this first series of the season is that it’s over and the Twins managed to salvage one win. That’s one more than the Red Sox or Rays managed to come up with against the Rangers and Orioles, respectively. Those two teams, along with the Brewers and Astros in the National League, could still go 0-162. That’s a joke of course… though if I were an Astros fan, I might feel like it’s not so far-fetched. They could be really bad. Fans in Boston, Tampa Bay and Milwaukee, however, all have some reasonable playoff expectations and I doubt being winless at this point dampens those expectations too much.

Home of the Evil Empire

Monday night, the Twins will start a four-game road series in the Bronx against the Evil Empire. The Twins have the talent to match up with the Yankees, but we all know that doesn’t seem to matter when they go in to New York and routinely seem to play with one hand wrapped around their collective throats. I’d be pretty happy with a split of those four games.

Finally, in case anyone is inclined to put a lot of emphasis on the results of the first series of the season, allow me to just point out that the Kansas City Royals currently lead the AL Central standings after taking three of four games from the Angels in their opening series.

UPDATE: It’s not often I update a post just to link to another blog, but Jon Marthaler over at Twinkie Town posted a beaut over there this morning. Go check it out… he tells us all exactly how the rest of the season is going to play out!

– JC

Click for information on how to join JimCrkket’s Anti-MLB Blackout Movement
You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant
You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant
Walk right in it’s around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant

A “Minor” Change of Plans

When I set up my plans for this year’s trip to Ft. Myers, I knew the Twins would only have two home games during the six full days I would be here. That’s really not a big deal to me because I kind of enjoy seeing some of the other spring training sites around the state of Florida.

I planned to make the trip up to Lakeland today for my first look at the Tigers’ spring training home, not to mention seeing a bit of action from the only other member of the AL Central Division that trains in Florida. In fact, I was so certain I would be making the 2+ hour drive north that I did something I don’t normally do down here… I bought a ticket in advance.

That ticket is still waiting for me at the Will Call window, I suppose.

When the Twins announced yesterday that the batteries of Carl Pavano/Drew Butera and Matt Capps/Joe Mauer would be getting some work in during a pair of minor league games, I decided to skip the Tiger game and hang around the Lee County Complex today. I’m really glad I did.

Sure, I would have enjoyed seeing Luke Hughes hit home run number five this spring and it sounds like Dusty Hughes, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Alexi Casilla provided some highlights. But I didn’t really need to see Brad Penny drill Casilla and Delmon Young with pitches and I certainly didn’t need to see Pat Neshek give up two home runs.

Instead, I got out to the Twins complex around 9:00 this morning and spent some time watching the minor leaguers working out before heading in to Hammond Stadium where some of the Twins who didn’t make the trip to Lakeland were taking batting practice.

The last grouping included Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer (nattily attired in his WIN!/Don’t Be Denied! t-shirt) and sure enough, there next to the batting cage were none other than Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew. Oliva has been a fixture at the complex, but Killebrew just arrived Wednesday night.

Killebrew met with the media earlier in the morning and is expected to be on hand for three days. Usually, by the time I get down to Ft. Myers, Killebrew has been here and gone, but this year, his trip was delayed a bit due to his health issues. I hate that Harmon is going through the challenges related to fighting esophageal cancer, but for a child of the 60s like me, it was terrific just to get to see him on a ballfield again.

After the Twins’ BP finished up, I slipped back over to the minor league side of the facility again and struck up a nice conversation with a couple from the Quad Cities while we waited to find out which fields Pavano, Butera, Capps and Mauer would be playing at.

I’ve got to be honest… I’m not a huge Carl Pavano fan. Sure I want him to do well and since Bill Smith couldn’t/wouldn’t come up with a true top-of-the-rotation pitcher in the off-season, I was fine with bringing Pavano back as long as it wasn’t on a bank-breaking deal. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret… when media types write about what a great, fan-friendly group of guys the Twins players are, they aren’t referring to Carl Pavano. He may be a lovely human being among his friends and family and he may even love kittens, but… well… yeah I’d bet he hates kittens… almost as much as he seems to dislike baseball fans.

And in case you think this is just a JC thing… I’ll just mention that it’s an opinion I found to be shared rather widely among other fans I talked to today.

I even have to admit I found it just a little amusing when Pavano got knocked around a bit by a bunch of kids wearing Red Sox minor league uniforms. Some people just seem like they could use an occasional humility lesson. I suspect Pavano is one of those people (then again, some would say I am, too). I also could almost see him do a slow burn when one of those Red Sox punks laid down a bunt that died along the third base line for a hit.

Not to fear, however, the ‘Stache’s trusty sidekick, sweet Drew Butera, gunned down the little twerp when he tried to steal second base.

I was actually more interested in the game on an adjoining field where Matt Capps was pitching the first two innings and Joe Mauer was doing the catching.

Capps looked pretty good to me and I think the young hitters he was facing would probably agree. He didn’t give up any earned runs (a bit of miscommunication between his left and center fielders resulted in an unearned run) and it was good to see he can go more than one inning, when necessary.

Joe Mauer batted in both the first and second innings and while he was 0 for 2, he hit a couple of balls very, very hard. He hit a deep fly ball to CF and almost ended his day by hitting in to a triple play. He hit a shot at the third baseman who immediately doubled off a runner at second base. The second baseman didn’t make a throw to 1B to try to turn the triple play and probably wouldn’t have got that runner if he had made the throw… but it might have been close.

After Capps and Mauer finished up their two innings, I watched Pavano and Butera a bit more. Drew had a nice double to the gap and Pavano settled down after that nasty second inning. I watched Pavano throw five innings before heading out to a Sports Bar to watch some NCAA Tournament basketball. I don’t know if he threw another inning or not, but then again, I really didn’t care all that much.

If you’re wondering what it’s like to have Major League stars play in minor league spring training games, imagine having them show up at your local beer-league softball complex. It makes getting your picture album filled up pretty easy, that’s for sure. Here are just a few examples from the 150 or so I took today.

JIm Thome gets some BP, surrounded by Mauer, Morneau, Killebrew, and Cuddyer (Tony Oliva was behind the cage)

Michael Cuddyer's shirt says it all

From inside Hammond Stadium, looking out over the practice fields

Denard Span doing the autograph thing

Joe Mauer gets loose before his game on the minor league complex

The 'Stache delivers during his game on the minor league fields

Matt Capps was looking good against the RedSox kids

Of course, these were MINOR LEAGUE games, so we really should give a couple of those guys some love. A couple of the Twins top prospects were also playing in these games. Miguel Sano was a team mate of Joe Mauer for the day and Aaron Hicks provided some offense behind Carl Pavano.

Aaron Hicks

Miguel Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it for today. Friday night, I’ll be making the trip up the highway to Sarasota to watch Francisco Liriano face off with the Orioles (again). Rumor has it that Justin Morneau may make the trip and Joe Mauer may get a few more swings in during another minor league game in the afternoon.

I hope all of you in the great upper midwest are staying warm! Excuse me while I put something on this little sunburn before I head back to the Sports Bar for some more basketball.

– JC

It’s Mardi Gras, Let’s Celebrate!

It’s not like we really need an EXCUSE to party tonight, but we might as well get in the Mardi Gras spirit, right!?

I may not be the biggest party animal in Twinsville, but there are plenty of reasons for Twins fans to be celebrating tonight!

First and foremost, there was the return of Justin Morneau to the playing field. Check out the video of both of Doc’s plate appearances this morning in the ‘B’ game with the Pirates!

This got everyone pretty excited!

It doesn’t take much to get the Twinsville Tweeters’ fingers going (much to Gardy’s chagrin, at times… does anyone else find it just hilarious that he hasn’t quite come to grips with the fact that things he tells reporters no longer take 18 hours before those words become public?) and we certainly had reactions flying across the airwaves today. Here’s just a sampling of today’s revelry:

Justin was all smiles after the game… at least I THINK there’s a smile under that fu manchu somewhere. Check out the pic link:

@Twins_morsecode Photo of the day – #Twins 1B all smiles. Justin Morneau. http://plixi.com/p/82536411

Naturally, Carl “the ‘stache” Pavano, himself, was not easily impressed:

@JoeCStrib Pavano on Morneau: “He shaved into a handlebar moustache. You gotta be feeling really good if you are going to be wearing that around here.”
.

Joe Mauer was duly impressed… kind of:

@JoeCStrib Huge crowd was watching Mauer take swings in batting cage. I told him Morneau hit a 3-run 2B. “Did he?” Mauer said. “That’s pretty good.”

OK, so I’m not really sure this falls under the category of “revelry”… but it’s interesting anyway:

@JoeCStrib Blue Jays had 3 scouts watching B-game, one with a video camera. I’m told they like Slowey and have relievers to spare. #stribtwins

Tsuyoshi Nishioka got in to the Mardi Gras spirit:
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@TwinsNow Japanese media said Nishioka was very excited today because, for the first time with the #Twins, he started a double play.
.
and…
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@JoeCStrib Nishioka lines an opposite-field single to left and is replaced by a pinch runner. He was 1-for-2 today. #stribtwins
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Ben Revere had his own way of celebrating:
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@PMac21 Ben Revere just made a ridiculous diving catch on the left-field warning track.
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Gardy was in a jovial mood, as well:
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@TomPelissero #Twins manager Ron Gardenhire when asked how Justin Morneau looked in his spring debut: “Canadian. Real Canadian.”
.

Of course, Gardy made sure everyone knew Doc wasn’t the only guy making his spring debut today:

@TwinsNow Gardy on DY’s 2 walks today: “Haven’t seen that in a long time, ever maybe. … We thought that was historic.” #Twins
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OK I guess that’s enough celebrating for this old man tonight… and enough of stealing others’ work to fill blogspace here at Knuckleballs.
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So let me leave you with this final Mardi Gras thought… and image.
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Happy Mardi Gras, y’all!
-JC

Does the Twins Front Office kill your Offseason Optimism?

Ok, this is now the third rewrite of this post because I’m so distracted/lazy/busy/otherwise occupied that every time I’m about ready to put it up, the Twins front office goes and does something else that changes (AND ADDS TO) at least part of what I had to say.  So… if there are parts that are confusing, just keep all that in mind.

The original beginning of this post covered the seemingly rare ability our team management has to keep whatever discussions they are having so quiet and under the radar that there is virtually no discussion of it – which is a GREAT aggravation to fans who are assembling/disassembling/reassembling the 2011 roster in hopes of coming up with that perfect proposal for Bill Smith if only he would listen to us bloggers.  In fact, some fans mistake that discretion for lack of activity.  Do I know for certain that discussions are actually taking place?  Well, no, not until they do something like sign a couple contracts out of the blue.  Do I prefer to choose the optimistic viewpoint that Smith likes his job and isn’t sitting on his thumbs wondering why no one is calling him? Yes, yes I do.  I’m not sure where the overreaction to silence comes from in the blogging/sports fan community.  But then again, I have never known why there is so much overreaction to any given activity in the fan base.  It’s almost as if it’s an addiction to the drama.  The Twins fan/blogosphere is like an odd combination of American Idol+Twilight+WWE. (Besides, I’m sure that Simon Cowell is already a vampire, right?)

Of course, that’s all setup for this optimist to say I’m still looking forward to the season! Do I agree with all the moves that the team has made this offseason?  Not even close.  It’s about 50% for the moves I like vs the ones that puzzle or annoy me.  It’s hard to settle down my feelings in a general way without covering specifics for a few of them.

So, my offseason commentary will continue with the most recent activity and move backwards:

A) Pavano’s contract is exciting for me.  They stuck to their guns when a talented pitcher wanted to go three years.  It’s my biggest pet peeve that these contract extensions are just getting ridiculous.  This game is just too unpredictable to sustain that level of commitment.  And they didn’t overpay either which leads me to believe that Carl Pavano and his family actually really liked it here and wanted to come back.  I’m sure that he didn’t give the Twins a discount per se but I think he was ready to take whatever they were willing to give (within reasonable negotiations of course).  I like having him in our rotation.  Of course, that gives us 6 starting pitchers.  Yet another calculation that has some fans up in arms.  Is there a trade in the works? Who should go? Honestly? I don’t think there is going to be a trade. I’m not worried that any of my favorite arms are going to be gone (unlike my favorite fielders *sigh*). I am simply looking forward to spring training to see what shakes out. It seems more likely given the emptiness of our bullpen, that whoever doesn’t make the starting rotation in April, will occupy the BP until the inevitable bump in the road for one of the lead-off guys which will be very handy to have an experienced starter ready to step into the spot.  Whoever that pitcher ends up being is probably less happy with that option than I am.

B) Matt Capps being signed is far less interesting for me.  I know this may be hard to believe but I disagree with JimCrikket and his premise that Capps is the new Punto. Maybe I’m projecting my own feelings out there on other folk but this is my perception.  The feelings about Capps just aren’t strong enough about him personally to equate to the love/hate extremes Punto engenders. And for the record, it has NOTHING to do with Ramos. I still haven’t figured out what it is about Capps that people like. There’s just nothing there for me. Maybe it is my love of Joe Nathan and the holdover disappointment that Capps just isn’t it him. But you know, I didn’t have that reaction with any of the other temporary closers we had in Nathan’s place. I actually grew to like Rauch a lot despite his somewhat rocky second half. So, I don’t really think it’s the disappointment factor for me entirely.

I propose that Matt Capps is actually the new Delmon Young. I think he has a LOT of talent but doesn’t employ it consistently enough to give fans confidence in him when he walks out onto the grass. Those who want to see the talent develop and feel like the potential is just too high to let go (especially given Nathan’s uncertainty) are excited by this signing… I’m just not one of them. I don’t despise Capps, that would imply a level of investment that I just haven’t made with him – again much like Delmon. I just haven’t felt the ‘chemistry’ yet. His record is what it is and he could get better or worse – stats just don’t have much to do with it at this point in my book. The one thing I keep reminding myself is that, again like Delmon, he’s a much younger guy than he looks when he’s out there. He’s only 26 and that supposedly gives him time to continue to improve. I hope he does. I wish him well and would love to see him succeed – again like Delmon – I just think we’re paying him too much for I feel is at best a ‘maybe’.

C) THOME! Ok, I really like this signing and it does make me feel better about the offseason. Do I think there were other DH’s out there we could have signed that would have had fun hitting in TF? Yep.. and I could have accepted Vlad (he still scares me at the plate) or even Thames in that role but I LIKE Thome and I think he was a natural fit here and still has the ability to play for what we need in that spot. Like Pavano, I think he feels the same way and hearing that he received legitimately good offers from other GOOD teams but chose to stay here for less tells me that he has a lot of faith in what this team can do in 2011. I choose to see that as optimism.

As for the rest of the moves made this offseason (excluding the outlier event of Nishioka), I have been disappointed in the actions. I thought they should have kept more of our bullpen intact and we have a seriously depleted pen now. I would have liked to see us keep Guerrier and possible Rauch but obviously my opinion carries little weight. I’m downright depressed that Hardy is gone, and I’m not sure I will know what to do with a bench with no Punto.  But here’s the thing, I don’t think I need to agree with the moves the Front Office makes in order for me to believe they are actually trying to do what they believe is best for the team. Even when I disagree, I can trust the motive. The track record for this team’s success isn’t when they have miraculous signings or when they got that perfectly right player over the offseason. This team succeeds when they take whoever they have (or have left) and go out and play with everything they have. It’s the character of the guys in the locker room that will or won’t send us to the postseason again.  Whether it happens during Spring Training or August, they rally together and fill the holes.  That attitude is more important to the success of the team and to this fan than any single contract’s consequence.

*Per MLB Trade Rumors: Nick Punto is going to the Cardinals. *sigh* I’m going to miss him for all the flak he got around here.  Good Luck Nicky!  http://bit.ly/e1wGXg

For this optimist, I’m taking it all in stride and looking forward to Spring Training and really curious and excited to see where the 2011 season takes the MN Twins!

Cupcakes and Free Agents

While 1-11-11 may not technically qualify as an official “Cupcake Day“, we’re declaring it to be an Honorary Cupcake Day. Why? Because we don’t think anyone should have to wait another ten months for cupcakes!

Speaking of cupcakes… and having to wait… has anyone else noticed that the list of serviceable free agents who wouldn’t be considered “cupcakes” themselves has been reduced to a very short list?

At the beginning of the free agency period, MLBTradeRumors.com published their list of “Top 50 Free Agents” on the market. Thirty-nine of that Top 50 have found new teams… none of them with the Twins. Yesterday, MLBTR listed their “Top 10 Remaining Free Agents” (and noted Johnny Damon is the eleventh and final player on the list).

Today, I thought it might be interesting (even if rather pointless), to take a glance at the list to see how many might potentially still fit in the Twins’ plans for 2011.

  1. Rafael Soriano: Yeah right… dream on. The Twins won’t (and shouldn’t) spend big money to fill their remaining relief pitcher roles. Nathan and Capps already will account for about $20 million in salary (that’s almost half what the Padres plan to spend on their entire payroll this season!).
  2. Carl Pavano: We keep hearing the Twins and ‘Stache are “close” to a deal. I’m still not convinced it’s ideal to bring him back, but as I’ve said before, at this point, the only thing worse than re-signing Pavano might be NOT re-signing Pavano. Get it done, Mr. Smith.
  3. Jim Thome: Bill Smith says the Twins are still hoping to re-sign Thome, but the Rangers are also interested, now. Personally, it seems like both the Twins and Rangers should probably be looking for right-handed bats that could play some defense in a pinch, but my heart would still like to see Thome in a Twins uniform one more year. He’s not an ideal fit for the Twins, but he wasn’t last year either when he was signed. And the Twins DO need a bench bat… desperately.
  4. Vladimir Guerrero: Being righthanded makes Vlad a slightly better fit for the Twins than Thome, perhaps. But anyone who watched him try to play the outfield in the World Series last year knows that he wouldn’t really bring much, if anything, more to the defensive side of the equation than Thome would.
  5. Manny Ramirez: Fortunately, Manny is probably still looking for a full-time DH job and wouldn’t want to come to a situation where he’d be platooning with Jason Kubel. As much as it might be entertaining to see him with the Twins at times and he can still occasionally hit a ball very hard, let’s just say “no”, OK?
  6. Andy Pettite: The “Brett Favre” of Major League Baseball. Nobody knows if he’ll play in 2011 yet, but we know it won’t be with the Twins if he does.
  7. Brian Fuentes: He still gets linked to various teams every few days but is it possible his options are dwindling far enough that he’d re-sign with the Twins for an affordable amount? Probably not… but I can’t help but like the idea of having his left arm available late in games in addition to (or instead of?) Jose Mijares’. Fuentes wants an opportunity to close, but there really aren’t many teams left who are in a position to hand him that job. The best he may get is an opportunity to compete for a late-inning role in Spring Training… and the Twins can offer him that.
  8. Kevin Millwood: He’s thrown over 190 innings each of the past couple of years, so he could be considered Pavano-lite, but you really have to ask yourself if he’d be a real upgrade over any of the Twins’ existing starting pitchers. I personally don’t think so.
  9. Grant Balfour: Could Balfour return to the Twins? No, probably not. It’s not that he’d be a bad option to fill one of those open spots in the bullpen, but his Type A status means that, in addition to a pretty significant salary, he would cost the Twins their first round draft choice. No way the Twins would give that up for Balfour… nor should they.
  10. Scott Podsednik: Early in the post-season, I suggested the Twins find a way to upgrade their outfield defense. Podsednik might have been one option for doing so, though he wouldn’t have been at the top of my list of possibilities. For one thing, he’s lefthanded and the Twins already list a bit to the portside. That said, in a perfect world, I’d certainly take Pods over Jason Repko on my roster. Not gonna happen, though.
  11. Johnny Damon: This isn’t gonna happen either. Not only is Damon also a lefty, like Podsednik, but he wouldn’t even be an upgrade defensively in the outfield for the Twins… and that says a lot.

So, in the end, it comes down to this… with about $100 million already committed to the 2011 payroll, the Twins could have room to sign a couple of the remaining “Top 50″ free agents, even if it’s just players from last year’s roster that would be returning. Of course, we don’t know for sure what the payroll target is and we don’t know whether the Twins are negotiating extensions with arbitration-eligible players (like Francisco Liriano or Delmon Young perhaps?) that would add to their 2011 total.

Absent the possible signing of any of these players, the Twins will need to fill out the rest of their roster by promoting from within (Seth Stohs suggests Luke Hughes, perhaps?) or looking to the bargain bin for… well… cupcakes. Maybe they could wring a productive year out of a Troy Glaus or Marcus Thames on the cheap.

Let’s hope Bill Smith isn’t really on vacation… in fact, maybe he’s already got Pavano, Thome and Fuentes signed and he’s just waiting to make a big splashy announcement right before TwinsFest! OK… I know… probably not. Ah well.

– JC