Fun Twins Things


(photo: Foxsportsnorth.com)

10-24: The Twins record through their first 34 games, roughly 20% of their season.  Going in to 2012 I thought the Twins would be slightly better than a .500 ballclub, optimistically projecting them to win 83 games.  Yet here they are, 14 games under .500 with little reason to expect the Twins will be much better in the 128 games left on the schedule.  With that in mind, here is a list (of arbitrary length and order) of fun Twins Things from 2012.

  1. Josh Willingham – Willingham is leading the Twins in just about every offensive category you can think of, batting average, RBIs, on-base percentage, home runs, etc.  He’s come to Minnesota and established himself as a fan favorite.  Plus he looks like he’d be right at home chopping down trees in the forest with another Twins newcomer, Ryan Doumit.  Offense and tree chopping, two of my favorite things.
  2. Scott Diamond – Not exactly a success story in 2011, in his two starts since being called up in 2012 he has been perfect.  He’s pitched 14 innings without giving up a run and now has as many Wins in just two starts as any other Twins pitcher.  Also, Dick and Bert think that he looks like Cliff Lee, so take that for what it’s worth.
  3. Jamey Carroll – Before Sunday’s game FSN showed clips of some Twins players wishing their mothers (and sometimes their wives, too) a happy Mother’s Day.  During his segment Jamey Carroll referred to his mom as “the Bomb dot com.”  That was one of the best moments of 2012.  He’s also playing pretty great defense and was even rocking some variant of the Fu Manchu for a couple weeks.  Great stuff.
  4. The Joel Zumaya Saga – It is unfortunate that Zumaya couldn’t stay healthy and wound up heading back to the operating table before Spring Training was even in full swing because Zumaya had an opportunity to be the flame throwing reliever the Twins desperately need in their bullpen.  While the signing ultimately did not work out, there was plenty of fan excitement over the winter, speculating on the health and possible impact of a guy like Zumaya playing for the Twins.  Plus I liked saying, “Zoom-zoom”.
  5. Trevor Plouffe‘s hair – Love it or hate it, Plouffe’s curly locks have provided more humorous commentary in the Knuckleballs GameChat’s than just about any other Twins topic in 2012, follicle related or otherwise.
  6. Brian Dozier – For a while there when Dozier was hitting .400+ in AAA and it seemed like just about everyday some Twins blogger would be pining for the Twins to bring Dozier up to replace Carroll or Casilla.  Carroll and Casilla, in the meantime, managed to play pretty solid defense, but ultimately their lack of success in the batter’s box (and pretty much ever other Twins hitter as well) forced the Twins’ hand and they called up Dozier to be the everyday shortstop and he has not disappointed.  He’s been fun to watch defensively, getting to balls deep in the hole and showing off some pretty decent arm strength.  And he hit a home run yesterday!  Dozier is having fun playing baseball, and he’s even more fun to watch.
  7. Ryan Doumit’s defense – Just kidding.
  8. Lots of Roster Movement – 33 players have made appearances for the Twins this season.  Of those 33 players, 13 made the Twins debut (Jamey Carroll, Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit, Jeff Gray, Jared Burton, Clete Thomas, Sean Burroughs, Matt Maloney, Erik Komatsu, Brian Dozier, Jason Marquis, Darin Mastroianni and P.J. Walters).  Lots of new faces, lots of action on the waiver wire and plenty of evidence that Terry Ryan and crew realize the on-field product stinks and are looking at ways to make it better (Like when they sent Danny Valencia down to Triple-A, that was my favorite).

So it is not all bad.  There are some fun things to watch and follow every day.  If I missed any, feel free to fill me in.  

Baseball is still fun, even if 10-24 is not.

-ERolfPleiss

Twins Won’t Sign Cliff Lee… Will They?

My posts are too long. I know. This one is even longer than usual. Sorry. -JC

It’s impossible. It would be lunacy. And say what you will about the Minnesota Twins front office, they aren’t prone to lunacy. Sure, they occasionally screw up and overpay a light-hitting utility infielder by a couple million dollars or so. But the Twins don’t out-lunatic the lunatics in New York when it comes to bidding for the services of 30+ year old starting pitchers.

But still…

I have to admit that I find the Cliff Lee storyline 100 times more fascinating than the laughable Derek Jeter drama we endured last week. While they both involve the Yankees and thus share the same prospect of the Evil Empire ending up looking foolish, that’s about all the two have in common. There are many more compelling reasons to become enthralled with the unfolding Lee scenarios. For starters, Cliff Lee is still really good at baseball.

Cliff Lee

To bring people up to date (though “up to date” in this unfolding drama is, to say the least, a very fluid moving target), Lee is by far the best free agent starting pitcher on the market this off-season. In fact, if you look at pitchers with contracts expiring next year, we’re probably not going to see anyone better at what he does hit the market then either. The term “ace” is thrown around pretty loosely these days, to the point that I’m not even sure what it means any more. But Lee pretty much is everything a team would want in an ace. He’s left-handed. He works deep in to games and saves your bullpen. He has excellent command of multiple pitches. He (generally) stays healthy. He rises to the occasion in the post-season. He beats the Yankees.

The bidding for Lee had the potential to be a story worth following even before the Winter Meetings started this week in Florida. The Yankees and the Texas Rangers were expected to do battle for the right to pay him over $100 million over the next five seasons. In the end, of course, everyone expected the Yankees to get their man. After all, they “need” Lee and they always get what they need when the only determining factor is money. (By the way, I find this concept of the Yankees “needing” Lee to be typical of the Yankees and their fans. What other franchise would have CC Sabathia at the top of their rotation and yet feel they NEED Cliff Lee? What they NEED is someone better than Javier Vasquez and AJ Burnett to add to their rotation… how hard could it be to find someone like that?)

But a funny thing happened on the way to this two-team Battle Royale for Lee’s services. Other teams showed up with money in hand, too. So many teams showed up with so much money, in fact, that the price for Lee seems to be rising by the hour. Almost immediately, it became clear that a five year contract wasn’t going to cut it. It would take six. Reportedly, that was more than the Rangers were willing to go. The Yankees supposedly are willing to do six years… but no more. But so, perhaps, might the Nationals, Angels, Red Sox, Cubs or Orioles. Then, Tuesday, reports started coming out that one team (or possibly even two teams) might go seven years for Lee!

Speculation started about who might raise insanity to levels past all prior boundaries (a.k.a. beyond Yankee-Insanity). Immediately, eyes looked toward Washington where, it seems, the ownership has allowed the team’s close proximity to Congress to instill a total lack of fiscal restraint on the Nationals franchise. The Nats have already made the most excessive (read: dumbest) signing this year by paying Jayson Werth $126 million over the next seven seasons. But the Nationals deny they’re willing to go seven years. As do the Angels. And the Orioles. And the Cubs. And every other team that’s been asked, “Are you the crazy one?”

Which leads us to one of two conclusions: 1) Someone is lying… either about there even being a seven year offer out there (never mind two of them) or about not being the team to have made such an offer; or 2) there’s a mystery team (or two) laying in the weeds who’s willing and able to commit over $20 million a year for the next seven years for Cliff Lee’s services. The entertainment value alone of watching all the big (and small) media types chasing down the answers through the pastel-colored halls of the Dolphin and Swan hotels would almost have been worth the price of airfare to fly down there!

Speculation as to who the “mystery team(s)” might be has run the gamut from the Cubs to the Tigers to the Astros to the Brewers (seriously… the Astros and Brewers?!).

There’s every possibility that the seven year offer is nothing more than a phantom, leaked by Lee’s representatives to drive up the price or by another team just to… you know… drive the Steinbrenners a little nuttier than they already are. In either case, the end result would at least be that the Evil Empire would feel compelled to jack up their offer and overpay even more than they would have if they were only bidding against themselves (see: Jeter, Derek and Rodriguez, Alex).

But what if there IS someone out there with a seven year offer for Lee?

What sort of team would be willing to take on that sort of risk and be able to stay under the radar? Let’s look at the criteria any such team would have to meet.

Need. You have to really, REALLY, need a top-of-the-rotation difference maker. You don’t do something this crazy if you already have one of the best in the business heading your rotation… unless you’re the Yankees.

Motivation. You need to be a contender (or at least see yourself as being a contender) or close enough to being one that adding Lee would sure make you look like one. Ideally, you’re a contender who believes you may be an “ace” away from a World Series.

Resources. You need to have money. This can be tricky for outsiders to figure out because teams don’t broadcast how much money they have so the best anyone can do is estimate. Estimates are loosely based on two criteria: 1) how much you spent on payroll last year (teams supposedly dedicate about half their total revenues to their Major League payrolls); and 2) your home attendance levels.

Stealthy Insanity. You need to have ownership and front office people willing (or at least motivated, for some reason) to do something a little crazy… or a lot crazy… AND be able to keep their craziness quiet.

When you apply those four criteria, the possibilities narrow in a hurry. (Again, I say, the Astros and Brewers? Really?!)

The Red Sox, maybe. They’ve got solid starting pitching already, but they missed the playoffs last season and they could use Lee. They have no shortage of money, though they’re going to have to shell out megabucks to keep newly acquired Adrian Gonzales around more than a year. They’ve shown a willingness to do crazy stuff before (like post a bid of a gazillion dollars to Dice-K’s Japanese team a while back). They’re also motivated by Yankee-envy and could figure that even if they don’t get Lee, at least they’d have the satisfaction of knowing they made the Yankees pay more for him than they wanted to.

The Tigers, perhaps. They had over $50 million come off their payroll this year and they’re clearly intent on spending it. They have every fan’s dream: an owner who’s really just a fan with an obscene amount of money who just wants to win, no matter what it costs. In addition, despite the Detroit economy, fans are still attending their games.

But let’s quit beating around the bush. We all know where this post is heading.

What about the Twins?

Do they need a playoff-proven, Yankee killing, ace?

Are they a contender that’s perhaps one or two key pieces from a World Series?

Do they have money?

Of course, the question is, “How much money do they have?” Nobody knows. But here’s what we DO know. They posted a bid for Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakura and were rumored to have posted the second-highest bid. Oakland “won” with a $19 million bid. Let’s say the Twins bid $10 million (I suspect it was more). They would have had to be prepared to shell out a total of $15 million in 2011 for Iwakura (including posting bid and at least $5 million for his first year). In 2012, the Twins potentially have over $15 million in payroll coming off the books in just two outfielders (Cuddyer and Kubel) just as the next crop of young (cheap) outfielders should be arriving. The Twins also have every reason to expect that they’ll continue to sell out Target Field’s 40,000 seats, resulting in another 3,000,000 attendance figure next year. While their average ticket price is only about $35 (thus just over $100 million in ticket revenue), let me ask you… how much money do you suppose the average ticketholder spends at a game? Does $30-$50 over and above his/her ticket price seem unlikely? And we haven’t even talked about media rights or advertising. Is it really impossible to imagine that the Twins are pulling down $300 million in revenues?

But even if we all would agree the Twins have the need, the motivation and the resources to make a seven year play for Cliff Lee, do we have any reason to believe they’d actually do something so totally un-Twinslike? Of course not.

But still…

A year ago, Bill Smith traded for a new shortstop, signed Jim Thome and Orlando Hudson as free agents, and went out and obtained Brian Fuentes and Matt Capps during the season in order to give his team its best shot at a serious title run. All in addition to locking up Joe Mauer to about the richest non-Yankee contract in baseball. In previous seasons, losing cornerstones like Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau would have meant writing the year off and dumping contracts, not to mention trading Mauer away for whatever they could get for him or watching him sign with New York or Boston as a free agent.

This is all a long (too long, perhaps, but what do you really expect from one of my posts, by now?) way of saying that if I were a writer covering this story in Florida this week and I was trying to unearth the identity of the crazy “mystery team” who’s made a seven year offer to Cliff Lee, I’d at least ask Bill Smith if he’s the nutty GM who’s made that offer.

On the other hand, Smith’s also the GM who probably wouldn’t give a straight answer to a writer who asks what he had for breakfast, so you might not even bother asking about this.

So… do I REALLY believe the Twins might be making a seven year contract offer for Cliff Lee, just because they have the need, the motivation, and arguably the resources to do so? No, of course not. The Twins never do that kind of thing. Ever.

But still…

-JC

Things That Make Me Go “Hmmm”

George Carlin

I was a big fan of the late George Carlin back in the days of my misspent youth. I mean, I liked Bill Cosby and Gallagher, too… but Carlin always made me laugh. My favorite part of his stand-up routine was when he’d come up with the “Things That Make You Go Hmmm”. You know what I mean… like “Why don’t you ever see the headline ‘Psychic Wins Lottery’?”

Well, since Bud Selig and the other geniuses at MLB decided we should all take what seems like a month off between the end of the LCS and the World Series, I thought this would be a good time to share some of what I’ve read lately that made me go “hmmm.” So that’s what I’m going to do. Below are a few things I found interesting and links to where you might read more.

I’ve been a big fan of Zack Greinke and have been up front for some time about wishing there was a way to get him in to a Twins uniform. So this tidbit from Seth Stohs’ post on Sunday caught my attention:

Speaking of the offseason, the Zack Greinke rumors are already in full gear. Apparently the Twins are among the teams that Greinke would accept a trade to. There is talk that due to his social anxiety disorder, he would prefer to stay in a small market. Travis Aune (of) TravisTwinsTalk.blogspot.com tells me that he has heard rumors of a potential deal involving Greinke and David DeJesus coming to the Twins in exchange for Kevin Slowey, Delmon Young and Aaron Hicks.

Zack Greinke

Greinke is due $13.5 million for both 2011 and 2012. DeJesus gets $6 million for 2011. Together, that’s about $12 million more than the Twins would be paying Slowey and Young next season (Hicks would remain a minor leaguer for at least another year with the Twins). I’m not sure the Twins have room for that kind of payroll bump, but it’s an interesting thought.

Meanwhile, the Yankees are chomping at the bit to get moving on making sure they don’t fail to reach the World Series two years in a row. Frustrated, I’m sure, by not being able to throw gazillions of dollars at Cliff Lee while Lee is still pitching for his current team, the Rangers, in the World Series, the Yankees decided to do something immediately to begin the process of fixing their team… they fired their pitching coach, Dave Eiland. Right, guys, it wasn’t your overpaid, underperforming, arms that cost you the World Series berth you feel entitled to, it was your pitching coach.

Coincidentally, while the media seems to have determined it’s a foregone conclusion that Lee will be a Yankee in 2011, those classy Yankee fans at Yankee Stadium may have screwed up GM Brian Cashman’s plans. According to USA Today, it seems Cliff’s wife Kristen was none too impressed with how she was treated at Yankee Stadium during the ALCS.

Perhaps the Rangers’ greatest sales pitch simply was having Kristen sit in the visiting family section at Yankee Stadium during the playoffs. She says there were ugly taunts. Obscenities. Cups of beer thrown. Even fans spitting from the section above.

“The fans did not do good things in my heart,” Kristen says.

“When people are staring at you, and saying horrible things, it’s hard not to take it personal.”

Wouldn’t it be a gas if the typical Yankee fan behavior turned out to be a critical factor in Cliff Lee telling the Yankees  to “shove it” and staying with the Rangers?

While on the subject of the Yankees, I’ve read the following “rumors” about Cashman’s offseason plans (beyond the obvious intent to throw money at Cliff Lee):

  • While Derek Jeter’s value on the open market to teams other than the Yankees would be about $7 million on a one-year deal, the Yankees are likely to sign him to a 3-year contract for about $45 million. HOWEVER… as part of that deal, they should let him know that he should no longer expect to always hit in the top two spots in the order and he should be made aware that he’ll not be playing shortstop every day. He may transition to other positions, including possibly DHing. (Where do I sign up for a gig that gets me paid, by my current employer, twice what I’m worth to anyone else, on the condition that I accept the fact that I won’t be working as much?)
  • One writer speculated that Jeter would begin transitioning to 3B, with Alex Rodriguez beginning to DH.
  • Jorge Posada will not be catching as much next year but would be used as the primary DH. In fact, the Yankees may carry three catchers including current part-time catcher Francisco Cervelli and uber-prospect Jesus Montero, with the plan being to gradually get Montero MLB catching experience and using both Montero and Posada as DHs.
  • In an effort to figure out how to justify spending even more Steinbrenner money to bring in Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth for 2011, there’s speculation that the Yankees might trade current RF Nick Swisher or… if the Yankees find no takers for Swisher and his $9 million contract… move Swisher to DH.

All of which has me wondering just how soon Bud Selig will be proposing a new rule allowing the Yankees to use five DHs in their line up.

Mike Sweeney

Finally, I’ve gone several weeks now without linking to a Joe Posnanski “Curiously Long Post” so I’m going to link/recommend two of them that should be considered “must reads”. One is about Mike Sweeney (caution… if you’re anything like me, reading this may make you feel inclined to wish the Twins would offer Sweeney a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, just to see if they could wring a little more magic out of him as a right handed DH/PH) and the other is actually a re-post of an article he wrote about accompanying Tony Pena on a trip to his native Dominican Republic several years ago when Pena was the Royals’ manager. I have to admit, I loved the way Pena ran a team from the catcher position and wish there was a bit of Pena’s fire in Mr. Mauer.

That’s all for now! – JC

Twins History Lesson: September 13-19

I know, I know… I skipped a couple of weeks of History Lessons*. My bad. What’s that? You hadn’t noticed? Gee, thanks a lot! I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that. You know what they say… “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” And the Twins have a lot of history that they really don’t want to repeat, trust me.

I’m not going to go through the last two weeks and bring everything up to date, but I will mention a few events that I missed the opportunity to recount.

After all, we really do need to pause for a moment and acknowledge the longest home run hit by a Twin at the Metrodome. That would be a 480 ft shot off the bat of Kent Hrbek, launched on September 9, 1984 off of Rangers’ knuckleballer Charlie Hough.

Did you know that Harmon Killebrew’s last home run as a Twin, on September 11, 1974, was a walk-off 2-run shot to beat the A’s 5-3? If you claim you were there to see it, I’m going to need to see ticket stubs to prove it. Paid attendance that day was 3,982.

Eric Milton

Twenty-five years later, on September 11, 1999, Eric Milton tossed the fourth no-hitter in Twins history, beating the Angels 7-0. Only 11,222 were there for the game, which was one of those infamous 11:00 am starts to accommodate a Gophers football game scheduled for that evening (no, I didn’t check to see if they happened to lose to South Dakota U that Saturday, too). The Twins alllowed anyone showing up in their pajamas to get in to the game free. (I wonder if the wait-staff at the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant took advantage of the offer.)

We also can’t let this  event of September 3, 2006, pass without noting it (although I’m sure Bert Blyleven would prefer we would all forget). They say that, during his suspension, Twins fans attending games often broke out in to chants of “Free Bert!” and the organization eventually relented and reinstated him. I wonder though… were they absolutely certain it wasn’t just a bunch of confused, drunken clubbers hollaring for the Twins to play “Free Bird!” on the PA?

Anyway… on to this week’s History Lesson:

Terry Ryan

On September 13, 1994, the Twins named Terry Ryan as the team’s General Manager. Exactly thirteen years later, on the same date in 2007, Ryan announced his resignation from that position, effective at the end of the season. Ryan has remained a Senior Advisor to the team.

Looking at September 14:

1989: With his save of a 2-0 Twins win over the the Blue Jays, closer Jeff Reardon became the first pitcher to rack up at least 30 saves in five consecutive seasons.

1994: Already a month in to a players strike, MLB owners officially vote to cancel the rest of the season and the postseason.

2003: Ever wonder what F-9-8 means on a scorecard? On this date, it meant Twins RF Mike Ryan lost a fly ball off the bat of the Tribe’s Jhonny Peralta, had the ball hit him on the top of the head, and fall cleanly in to the glove of CF Dustan Mohr.

And on September 15:

1961: Those of you too young to ever see Sam McDowell pitch may have trouble believing this one, but on this date, “Sudden Sam” made his MLB debut against the Twins and left in the 7th inning after throwing so hard that he broke two of his own ribs. McDowell K’d 7 and left with a 2-0 lead, which the Twins were able to overcome eventually for a 3-2 win. Lee Stange, pitching in relief for the Twins, notched his first career victory. (In his recent SI.com post about the “32 fastest pitchers” in baseball history, Joe Posnanski listed McDowell at #10.)

2002 Twins Celebrate ALDS

2002: Some things are worth waiting for. On this date, the Twins clinched the AL Central Division Title with a rain-delayed 5-0 win over the Indians, combined with a White Sox loss to the Yankees. Kyle Lohse limited the Tribe to no runs on just 2 hits in his 6 innings of work, but the Twins were having trouble solving the young lefty that Cleveland had sent out to make his MLB debut against the Twins… Cliff Lee. A Denny Hocking 7th inning single drove in 2 runs to give the Twins a 3-0 lead before the rains came. Once play resumed, relief pitchers Johan Santana and Eddie Guardado completed the shut out. The Twins had to wait out a couple of rain delays in New York, where the Yankees led the Sox but were in their third delay of the evening, before they could celebrate. Eventually that game was declared over and the Twins were free to start popping champagne.

It was the first championship of any kind for the Twins since their 1991 World Series Championship and came just months after they were threatened with contraction in the prior preseason. This is the earliest date the Twins have ever clinched a title.

September 16 has seen a few notable events:

1983: Twins rookie Tim Teufel not only went 5 for 5 with a triple and his first two career home runs in an 11-4 win over the Blue Jays, but in the process became the first Twin to get 5 hits in a game at the Metrodome AND the only Twins player to ever get 5 hits and score 5 runs in a single game.

Paul Molitor

1993: With a single off of the A’s Dennis Eckersley during a Twins’ 5-3 13-inning win over Oakland, Dave Winfield became the 19th member of Major League Baseball’s 3,000-hit club.

1996: Three years after Winfield’s accomplishment, Paul Molitor joined the same exclusive club with a triple off of the Royals’ Jose Rosado during a 6-5 Twins loss in KC. Molitor was the first to record a triple as his 3,000th hit and the first to rack up 200 hits in the same season that he notched his 3,000th hit.

On September 17, 1988, Jeff Reardon became the first pitcher to record 40-save seasons for teams in both leagues as he closed out the White Sox in a 3-1 Twins win. He had previously recorded 42 saves for the Montreal Expos in 1985.

Looking at September 18:

1975: In an ironic, and yet somewhat fitting, manner, Harmon Killebrew launched his 14th and final home run of the year… and the final of his career… in a 4-3 win for his Kansas City Royals against the Twins at Metropolitan Stadium. Another embarrassing crowd of just 3,201 fans witnessed Killer’s final home run.

2002: “Everyday Eddie” Guardado set a Twins record with his 43rd save of the season (he would end the year with 45 saves), his first season as a closer.

Cesar Tovar

On September 19, 1972,the Twins’ Cesar Tovar became the first Twin to hit for the cycle at Met Stadium. Not only that, but in doing so, he also became just the second player in MLB history to not only hit for the cycle, but end the game with a walk-off home run, beating the Rangers, 5-3. Ken Boyer had accomplished the same combination in 1961 and subsequent to Tovar doing so, three more players have done the same (George Brett in 1979, Dwight Evans in 1984, and Carlos Gonzalez just this season in 2010).

I think that’s enough “history” for this week.

Things are getting exciting right now, folks. The 6 game lead the Twins take in to Chicago this week is enough that fans can smell that Championship. Sure, it would have been nice to be close enough to clinching to do so on the field at The (Prison) Cell in Chicago in front of the Bitch Sox and their fans, but that lead just isn’t big enough to allow that to happen. The Twins can put a pretty big dent in any remaining hope the Sox and their bitchy fans might still have, so let’s hope for that.

The celebration can wait until the Twins get back to Target Field anyway, right? (Not that I would dare to presume anything, of course…. you know, just in case the baseball gods are reading this.) – JC

*************************************

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

So, What’s Next?

UPDATE: OK so maybe I was premature in handing Lee to the Yankees, since NY Post reporter Joel Sherman is now (at 2:44 pm) tweeting that the Ms are going in “another direction.” the Rangers have acquired Lee from the Mariners in a deal that is somewhat puzzling, but sure looks to me they paid a VERY high price. Nevertheless, while my comments about the Yankees below are now virtually irrelevant, my views about the Twins needing to just get busy and move on to other targets remain as strong as ever. – JC

UPDATE #2: Interesting stuff. Seems the Yankees are pissed off. This is interesting, in that the Yankees were frustrated with the Ms just a year ago when they were trying to trade for Jarrod Washburn. The Ms did get two of the Rangers top 20 prospects in addition to two lesser minor leaguers, one of which (2B Josh Lueke) has some past “character issues” (to say the least). -JC

I’ve always been a big fan of TV’s “West Wing” series. Throughout the seven seasons that Martin Sheen portrayed the fictional President Bartlet in that series, I’m pretty sure he uttered the question, “What’s next?” more than any other phrase. It virtually became a catch phrase. In one episode, he expounded on the phrase in a terse admonition to his staff. “When I ask, ‘What’s next?’, it means that I’m ready to move on to other things. So, what’s next?”

I’m not sure I can describe my feelings about the impending Cliff Lee to the Yankees trade much better than that.

Yes, I was all in favor of making a deal to bring Lee to the Twins, even if it meant overpaying in prospects a bit. But Cliff Lee is going to be a Yankee. OK, fine. I’m ready to move on to other things. So, what’s next?

There are a couple of things you can do when you don’t get what you want. You can whine and cast blame on those who made the decision to deprive you of getting what you want (we’ll call this the Dan Gilbert approach, named for the Cleveland Cavaliers owner who pretty much provided a prime example of it with his reaction to being jilted by his prize free agent player last night). You can also throw a tantrum and set things on fire.

I’m just not sure those approaches are altogether productive and, fortunately, I can’t quite envision Twins GM Bill Smith going with those options either.

I prefer the “What’s next?” approach because, let’s be honest, the Twins need some help and the sooner, the better. So if Lee is not coming to town to help former team mate Carl Pavano deliver us all to the Promised Land (which, in this case, would be the World Series), then let’s focus on other options to get us there.

I know we’ve said a few times that it would be nice to have another option at 3B, but like it or not, I think Michael Cuddyer has become that “other option”. I’m not thrilled, but if it means we get more 420 foot HRs out of Jim Thome’s bat in the lineup, I’ll try to live with it. Frankly, the available 3B options on the market right now don’t exactly excite me anyway. So do your best out there, Cuddy, and try not to hurt yourself.

But for goodness sake, someone please find us some pitching. A top of the rotation starting pitcher like Dan Haren or Roy Oswalt? Terrific! The Cubs are supposedly about ready to start selling off spare parts, so let’s give them a call about Ted Lilly. He’s a rung below these other guys, but on this team, he’d be a marked improvement (but then, the list of pitchers that would constitute marked improvement over what we’ve seen on the mound lately wouldn’t be a short one).

Maybe we shouldn’t be content to settle for just getting one of those guys because, as long as we’re being honest, I think we have to admit we have more than one starting pitcher who isn’t exactly giving his team a great chance to win very often lately. And while we’re in a shopping mood, maybe we should think about a little bullpen help, too.

Is that asking for too much? I don’t think so! A year ago, there was a great deal of debate (and considerable skepticism) concerning whether Smith would make any deals significant enough to really be difference makers. In the end, he brought in Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay, Orlando Cabrera and Carl Pavano. While we could quibble about each player’s ultimate contribution to the Twins winning the Central Division title, there can be no questioning that the Twins were uncharacteristically active in their effort to strengthen their roster for the late season push.

I fully expect Bill Smith to be even more aggressive this month. The Twins can still contend for their Championship rings this season and if you take the time to really look at what their payroll and roster could look like next year and beyond, you recognize that this opportunity could be the best it’s going to get for a couple of years.

“But what about the F’ing Yankees?”, you ask, “Haven’t they wrapped up the World Series by trading for Cliff Lee?”

No. In my mind, they’ve not increased their chances of advancing in the playoffs much at all. What they HAVE done is increase their chances of reaching the playoffs. But wasn’t that pretty darn good anyway? Adding Lee to a rotation that already includes Sabbathia, Pettitte, and Hughes will make them tougher competition for the Rays and Red Sox over the second half of the season, but really what they did was save themselves a first round draft pick which they would have lost to Seattle (or whatever other team Lee ended this season with) by signing Lee in the offseason instead of trading for him now. Bully for them.

But once in the playoffs, they were going to have a tough starting pitcher every game, with or without Lee. It’s not like they were going to be trotting Javier Vasquez out there to start any games, anyway.

So frankly, if the Twins weren’t going to get Lee, I can’t think of many places (at least in the AL) where he would have a less problematic effect on the Twins than with the Yankees. The Twins are done playing the Yankees during the regular season and he’s not going to result in nearly the kind of upgrade to their rotation that he would have to the Rays, Rangers or, God forbid, the White Sox or Tigers.

So the proper response to this turn of events is not to wail about how the Yankees always get what they want (though they do) or to cast aspersions toward the Mariners for getting the Yankees to overpay in prospects even more than the Twins would have (though they did).

Instead, let’s fix our gaze toward Bill Smith and simply ask, “So, what’s next?”  -JC


Who “Aces” the Twins test? (poll)

This is another long winded JimCrikket post. If you want to skip all of JC’s BS… I mean all of his in-depth and well thought out analysis… and just respond to the poll, scroll on down to the bottom and let us know what you think.

We’ve had our share of debates here, whether in the comments sections or during our GameChats, about whether adding Cliff Lee or another starting pitcher is needed, desired, a good idea at the right price, or none of the above. Lee seems to have resulted in the most divisive responses, particularly when we mentioned Bleacher Report’s contention that a Lee for Ramos/Duensing/low prospect deal had been made before Ramos’ recent injury.

But the Twins have been linked in the media with a few other possibilities as well, notably the Astros’ Roy Oswalt and the D’Backs’ Dan Haren.  In fact, I read somewhere over the weekend that the Mariners were now going to hold on to Lee until closer to the trade deadline because the offers they were getting didn’t provide the value they wanted  and they felt the market would improve if they waited. Reportedly, this was because of the significant number of other potential top-of-the-rotation guys on the market now.

All of which got me to wondering. Who are these “aces” that are supposedly available and, most importantly, which of them would look good in a Twins uniform? So, I set out to find out which ace we’ll be watching lead the Twins to a World Series title this fall.

To begin with, it seemed to me that I needed to set some parameters on the search. First of all, I don’t think many of us are interested in adding another middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. If we’re going to cough up Wilson Ramos and/or other players at or near the top of the Twins’ prospect list for a starting pitcher, it has to be someone with a legitimate ace-type pedigree. But where do you find those guys?

Aces get to be aces by missing bats, plain and simple. Pitching to contact is all well and good. You can have yourself a nice little career inducing lots of ground balls and not walking hitters, especially if you have some decent gloves behind you. But if you want to sit at the top of my rotation, you need to sit a lot of hitters down. I decided that if you aren’t currently among the top 40-50 in baseball in Ks, you aren’t likely to qualify to be the ace of my favorite team.

The next criteria I considered was availability. Again, simplicity required an arbitrary decision. I decided that no team that was currently less than 10 games out of their division’s lead was likely to start cleaning house and, conversely, any team that IS at least 10 games out would at least listen to offers at this point. This narrowed the list of potential trade partners for the Twins to nine teams. That seemed convenient, since I was hoping to come up with about 10 potential targets.

Even more conveniently, when I went down the list of pitchers with the most strikeouts this season and looked for those currently toiling for one of the nine potential trade partners, I reached 10 names with the 40th pitcher on the K list… just barely allowing Cliff Lee to squeak his way on to my list!

In addition to Lee, the other candidates for future Twins ace include: Dan Haren (DBacks), Ryan Dempster (Cubs), Felix Hernandez (M’s), Roy Oswalt (Astros), Zach Greinke (Royals), Ian Kennedy (DBacks), Edwin Jackson (DBacks), Kevin Millwood (Orioles), and Brett Myers (Astros).

Yes, I know… there are guys on that list that will certainly NOT be wearing a Twins uniform any time soon. But including a pitcher like King Felix as we do a little more analysis does, if nothing else, provide a bit of perspective in terms of the quality of whatever arm the Twins would actually bring in.

Likewise, I added an 11th name to the list before going beyond just looking at strikeouts. I added the 13th name on the K-list, one Francisco Liriano. The idea is that we’re looking for an ace and that means whoever we bring aboard should, at the very least, be as valuable in that role as the current Twin pitcher who comes closest to being a legitimate ace (and no, mustache or no mustache, I just can’t get my head around Carl Pavano being “ace” material). For comparison purposes, I also included numbers for Nick Blackburn since he would likely be the current starter bumped from the rotation (yes, I could have used Kevin Slowey instead, but for this purpose, trust me, it doesn’t matter because they’ve both been, shall we say, mediocre).

Now comes what either constitutes the fun part or the part that makes your eyes glaze over, depending on how you feel about statistics. I don’t particularly enjoy debating them for hours, myself. But as much as some of you would like to, we just can’t decide who the Twins should trade for based on facial hair, stirrups, or what their butts look like in baseball pants. We have to look at a few stats. Sorry.

Again, I chose to look at a few that would indicate to me that the pitcher is more than just successful. Those that indicate some level of dominance this year (after all, this may be the only year we have the guy and we want to win it all this year). In addition to total stikeouts, I also chose to look at Innings Pitched (IP), Earned Run Average (ERA), Walks+Hits/Innings Pitched (WHIP), Strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9), Strikeouts to Walks ratio (K/BB) and Wins Above Replacement player (WAR). (All stats were through Sunday’s games. For the sake of brevity, I’ll explain my reasons for choosing these stats in the ‘comment’ section.)

Name and strikeouts IP WHIP ERA K/9 K/BB WAR
Haren 109 108.1 1.31 4.65 9.1 5.19 0.9
Dempster 105 110.2 1.17 3.58 8.5 2.84 2.2
Hernandez 105 112.2 1.19 3.28 8.4 3.00 1.6
Oswalt 97 104 1.13 3.55 8.4 3.34 2.3
Greinke 89 104 1.19 3.72 7.7 4.45 1.4
Kennedy 89 100.1 1.23 3.77 8.0 2.23 1.9
Jackson 85 107 1.38 4.63 7.1 1.89 1.3
Millwood 81 101 1.51 5.22 7.2 2.61 0.4
Myers 77 100.1 1.36 3.20 6.8 2.20 2.5
Lee 76 86.2 0.91 2.39 7.9 19.00 2.5
Liriano 100 92.2 1.22 3.11 9.7 4.00 2.7
Blackburn 26 79.2 1.67 6.10 2.9 1.18 -0.5

So just at a glance, what can we see?

First, the obvious, every one of these guys would be a significant improvement over our current #5 starter.

Second, a little more surprising, Liriano actually is leading all the others in two of these categories… Ks per 9 innings and Wins Above Replacement. Does this mean we already have our ace? (Granted, it didn’t look like it Monday night!)

Third, there’s a reason a lot of people like Cliff Lee. He’s the best (or tied for the best) in this group of potential additions in four categories… WHIP, ERA, K/BB and WAR. You could make a pretty good case that he would likely also lead in Ks and IP if he hadn’t gotten a late start to his season.

Now, it’s time to thin the herd a bit. Let’s remove the pitchers that (a) the Twins have no realistic shot at obtaining, or (b) the Twins shouldn’t even want because they aren’t truly top-of-the-rotation guys.

The Mariners aren’t going to give up Hernandez and the DBacks aren’t going to let go of Kennedy (who’s still working for MLB’s minimum wage). Despite his recent no-hitter, Jackson’s numbers just don’t stack up well neither do Millwood’s (though either might be worth adding for the right… much lower than what people have been discussing… price). Admittedly, the odds of the Royals and Cubs letting go of Greinke and Dempster, respectively, aren’t very good, but we’re just spitballing here anyway.

Now things get trickier. We have half a dozen guys who could lead the Twins to the Promised Land.  But at what cost… in trade and in dollars?

Let’s assume, for our purposes, that the trade would involve Wilson Ramos, one other “major league ready” prospect not currently on the active 25 man roster (think Manship, Swarzak, etc.) and one lesser prospect from the A-AA level. That settles the trade “cost.”

Here’s the hard money cost and contract situation for each of the six still in consideration (assumes existing team would not pay any of remaining contract):

Haren(RH): half of $8.25 mil for 2010. $12.75 mil for each of 2011 and 2012. $15.5 mil club option for 2013 with $3.5 mil buyout. Total commitment:  $33.125 mil (if buyout exercised)

Dempster(RH): half of $10.5 mil for 2010. $13.5 mil for 2011 and $14 mil Player Option for 2012. Dempster agreed to defer $3 million of his $13.5 mil 2010 contract to make room for the Cubs to sign Xavier Nady this offseason. As a result, his 2010 salary is $10.5 million and he gets $1 million by Feb 1 of the next 3 years. That amount gets added to what the Twins would have to pay out. Total commitment: $35.75 mil (if player option exercised)

Oswalt(RH): half of $15 mil for 2010. $16 mil for 2011. $16 mil club option for 2012 with $2 mil buyout. Full no trade clause. Total commitment: $25.5 mil (if buyout exercised)

Greinke(RH): half of $7.25 mil for 2010. $13.5 mil for each of 2011 and 2012. Total commitment: $30.625 mil.

Myers(RH): half of $3.1 mil for 2010. $8 mil mutual option for 2011 with $2 mil buyout. Total commitment: $9.55 mil (assumes player exercises option)

Lee(LH): half of $9 mil for 2010. Type A free agent in 2011 (team gets 2 compensation draft picks). Total commitment: $4.5 mil

So if you’re the Twins, what goes in to your decision-making process?

If you want a lefty, the decision is pretty easy. Cliff Lee is the only southpaw among our ‘final 6’.

Do you want to minimize your total financial commitment? Again, Lee makes sense, but Myers also becomes an interesting option. With Lee, you know he’s leaving at the end of the year and you get your draft picks. With Myers, he’s most likely going to opt for free agency after the season (and would, at best, be a Type B FA, netting the Twins one supplemental pick if they offer him arbitration) so he likely would only cost the Twins about $1.5 million for half a season. if he DOES exercise the option for 2011, you’re still only on the hook for less than $10 million and you have him around for next year, too. I would add that, since everyone would assume he would be a half year rental, the cost in trade should be less than the package we assumed above, as well.

Do you want more than a half year rental? Then toss out Lee and Myers and focus on the other four options. Greinke can be yours through 2012. Oswalt, too, and if he bombs, you can walk away after 2011 by buying out 2012 for a couple mil. You’d have Haren for the same two years plus an option on his 2013 season. Dempster would be around for at least 2011 with a possibility that you’d be stuck paying him a fair amount in 2012 if he exercises his option (players generally only exercise a player option if they think their value on the market has decreased).

Add it all up and who do I think the Twins should pursue? I went through all this exercise and I still want Cliff Lee (but I could live with some of the others).

But you’re all smarter than I am, so what say you? Play Bill Smith for a day and tell us what you do. Make a choice in the poll below and feel free to leave a comment, as well. – JC

Tellin’ it like it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tick. Tock.

-JC