Bert, Brian and the Bucs

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Duensing looked good against the Pirates

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

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

Carlos Gutierrez has been looking good all spring

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

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

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

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

- JC

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

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

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

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

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

Doc and DY are back!

Both Justin Morneau and Delmon Young are in the line up this morning for the Twins during a “B” game against the Pirates on a back field at the Twins’ complex in Fort Myers, FL.

Justin is back! (Photo: @MinnesotaTwins)

Young is hitting 3rd and Morneau 4th. Morneau is also playing first base. According to Star Tribune reports from the Twins complex, Morneau is expected to get two plate appearances in the game.

Just seeing that Morneau is back on the field in a game might just be the best news to come out of the Twins spring training site thus far.

Let’s hope all goes well and this is a sign of better days ahead for Doc and the Twins!

-  JC

UPDATE: And now, thanks to @MinnesotaTwins, we have visual evidence. What a terrific sight to see!

UPDATED UPDATE: Morneau played four innings in the field and hit a bases-loaded double down the right field line in his second plate appearance. Terrific return for the big Canadian!

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!

A Brief Look Back at Twins History

Regular readers of our little blog here will recall that during the season, we ran a weekly (yes I know, I missed a week or two here and there… get off my back!) “Twins History Lesson” feature where we looked back at notable events in Twins history*. We haven’t done that since the season ended because, frankly, there aren’t many dates that warrant reviewing during the off-season. But on the heels of news that the Twins won the bidding for negotiating rights to Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, it may be worth noting that the Twins have, in the distant and not-so-distant past, acquired new players the old fashioned way… by trading for them.

Back in 1967, the Twins had just finished a season winning 91 games and finishing one game behind the AL champion Red Sox. They were also just a couple of seasons removed from their first World Series, having dropped the 1965 Series, four games to three, to the Dodgers. Zoilo Versalles had not only won the AL MVP Award in 1965, but hit .286 with an .833 OPS in the World Series and Jim “Mudcat” Grant started three games, winning games 1 and 6 with complete game efforts, and posted a 2.74 against the Dodgers after winning 21 games during the regular season. But in 1967, both players’ productivity dropped off considerably (Versalles hit just .200 and Grant went 5-6 on the year) and on this date, November 28, they found themselves traded to their old WS opponents, the Dodgers.

In return, the Twins received catcher John Roseboro, along with pitchers Bob Miller and Ron Perranoski. The Twins definitely won that deal. Versalles and Grant each played one season with the Dodgers without distinction. Miller and Roseboro both put in two productive, if unspectacular, years with the Twins. But the star of the trade turned out to be Perranoski, who recorded 71 saves over the next three seasons for the Twins and led the AL in that category in both 1969 and 1970, helping the Twins to Division championships both seasons.

But we don’t need to go back 33 43 (oops) years for a notable trade on November 28. Just three years ago on this date in 2007, rookie GM Bill Smith made a deal that Twins fans are still debating today when he sent SS Jason Bartlett, SP Matt Garza and minor league RP Eddie Morlan to Tampa Bay in return for OF Delmon Young, IF Brendan Harris and minor league OF Jason Pridie. The two minor leaguers, Pridie and Morlan didn’t distinguish themselves for either of their new teams, while the four major leaguers have had varying degrees of success over the past three years.

Jason Bartlett

While it’s generally perceived that the Rays got the best of this deal so far, it’s interesting to note that both Bartlett and Garza have been frequently mentioned as possible targets to be traded this off-season by the Rays. Meanwhile, Young had a break out season for the Twins after a couple of somewhat disappointing years, while Harris spent the season in Rochester after the Twins signed him to a two-year extension last off-season.

Today, the Twins find themselves in need of a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher and some relief arms to replace those departing via free agency. They could also use some more speed in the outfield, in my opinion. While there are plenty of relievers on the open market, any significant improvements to the rotation and outfield may have to come via trade. So, on this, the anniversary of a couple of major trades in Twins history, I feel compelled to ask…

What’s next, Mr. Smith?

- JC

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

*As with much of the Twins History information we recounted during the season, we pulled this information from “Twins Trivia”.

About The Twins Outfield Situation

As we continue examining the options available to the Twins’ brass with regard to the formation of the 2011 roster, I think it’s worth taking a look at the outfield. I know that, on the surface, this appears to be one unit (perhaps the only one) where many people expect to see little or no change, other than seeing it revert to the unit as it was before Michael Cuddyer had to shift to first base to replace Justin Morneau.

Delmon Young

Going in to 2010, the Twins clearly decided they would be willing to sacrifice some OF defense in return for making sure they had the sticks necessary in the line up to score more runs. The hope was that Denard Span would have the range to cover not only centerfield, but left-center and right-center as well. We don’t need fancy advanced defensive metrics to know that Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are not exactly candidates for gold gloves in the outfield.

Delmon certainly held up his end of the bargain, having his most productive year as a Twin (and winning the Knuckleballs Boyfriend of the Year Award, in the process!). But outside of DY, the outfielders simply did not live up to their expectations.

To be fair, Jason Kubel wasn’t supposed to have to play rightfield every day. He was supposed to DH. Maybe he’d have had a better year with the bat if he had been able to simply play the role intended. Maybe. And Michael Cuddyer certainly wasn’t supposed to play 1B for half a season. Maybe if he had been able to just play his more familiar role in RF, he’d have hit better, too. Maybe.

Denard Span

But then there’s Denard Span. I like Denard. I like him a lot. I expected great things from him in 2010. Maybe too much. It’s not his fault, I suppose, if my expectations were elevated and, in the end, unmet. He just simply did not get on base as reliably as a lead off hitter for a contending team needs to. And I don’t even want to discuss how often he got picked off once he did get on base. In short, he needs to do better… much better. I also was disappointed with his defense. No it isn’t fair that he has to cover half the outfield instead of just a third of it, but life isn’t fair sometimes. I also was less than impressed with the way he covered his own third of the field. He seemed to get poor jumps and appeared timid any time he got within 10 feet of a fence. Maybe it was just a matter of getting comfortable with the new ballpark. Maybe.

That’s a lot of maybes, folks.

Jason Repko did a nice job as a late inning defensive replacement and he gave the Twins a CF option when Span needed a day off, but he’s really not a consideration as a starting outfielder on a regular basis. Still, the Twins will need him, or someone like him, on the roster in 2011. That means five roster spots taken up by outfielders.

Jason Kubel

Obviously, the outfield spots are also influenced by the decisions made with regard to the DH, since one could argue not only Kubel, but Young and even Cuddyer might be better DH options than outfielders. Given that, does it make sense to bring Jim Thome back, even if he’s again available at a discounted price? Yes… of course it does.

Come March, most people would probably bet that we’ll see all of these familiar faces in Twins uniforms, once again. We can hope that Kubel, Cuddyer and Span bounce back and have better years with the bat, that Delmon continues to build on this season’s success, and that we all get to witness Jim Thome belting career HR #600 in a Twins uniform in 2011.

Then again… if I were Bill Smith, I would be looking for a top of the rotation pitcher and if it takes one of these outfielders to get that need filled, I wouldn’t hesitate to make such a deal. That could result in “addition by subtraction” if it means Thome returns and gets more DH opportunities than he might otherwise and if an outfielder can be added to the line up that can both cover decent ground in a corner position and play CF on occasion.

Michael Cuddyer

It’s unlikely that the Twins would find a trade partner willing to take on Cuddyer’s contract or Span’s extension (which starts getting pricier in 2012), leaving Kubel (who’s reasonable $5.25 million option was picked up by the Twins last week) and Young (who is still locked in to arbitration) as the most likely trade chips.  I think both players have several very productive offensive years ahead of them in Major League Baseball and if those are in Twins uniforms, that’s fine. But the Twins arguably have a surplus of talent in the outfield and to shore up other needs, sometimes you have to give up good ballplayers and the Twins definitely have a couple of positions that need shoring up.

The Twins front office is not exactly known for making dramatic trades, but Bill Smith has proven he doesn’t just go in to hibernation in the off-season, either. I think this organization knows they need to improve their roster from the outside before Opening Day 2011 and I think that means Jason Kubel or Delmon Young will be wearing a different uniform in 2011.

Do you want or expect to see changes in the Twins OF next season or do you think they should keep this unit intact as is? Please use the comment section to let us know your thoughts! – 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

Baseball Means Saying Good-bye

I admit that Saturday night I was ready to forcibly and forever remove the Twins logo from the chest of almost every member of the Twins’ starting lineup. I’ve regained my perspective since then. Well, most of it.

We’ve begun to see writers/bloggers discuss various topics related to the issue of the makeup of the Twins’ 2011 roster. Some look at payroll figures and possible free agents. There’s also some good material about Twins minor leaguers who may be ready to step up on to the big stage next year.

My first reaction to reading this stuff was that it’s a bit early for all that. My team just “died” and I’m not sure I’m quite ready to look at who I’m going to be rooting for next season. But it was the first week of November last year when Bill Smith sent Carlos Gomez to Milwaukee for JJ Hardy. No doubt, the Twins’ GM is already working on piecing together the 2011 Twins, so I suppose a devoted blogger should start doing the same thing.

This is going to be a long process, however. I’m simply not prepared to ask and answer every roster question yet, so let’s do this in stages, shall we?

We’ll start with what is, perhaps for some of us, the most painful question to ask… who are we willing to say good-bye to?

To many of us, the players that make up our favorite team become pseudo-family members. This is especially true for the sort of players that traditionally make up the Twins roster. They’re good guys and they each have their own devoted following among fans. But every year, we have to say good-bye to some of them. Last year, in addition to Go-Go, we said farewell to Mike “Naked Batting Practice” Redmond, Joe Crede and Orlando Cabrera. Crede and Cabrera weren’t really with the team long enough to build much of a following, but Redmond and Gomez, despite being reserves, each had their own loyal fan base.

This year could see more dramatic changes. In fact, the number of players who are virtual locks to be on the team next year, whether because of performance or contract status, are very few. I would put Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Span, Valencia, Liriano and Nathan (assuming all are healthy) in this category. That’s it.

So let’s look at the rest.

A year ago, the Twins had five players eligible to file for free agency. In addition to Cabrera, Crede and Redmond, pitchers Ron Mahay and Carl Pavano also filed. While they followed different paths, both pitchers eventually found their way back to the Twins roster in 2010.

Will Thome hit #600 as a Twin?

This off-season, not only is the number of players eligible for free agency higher, but we’re talking about some guys who made major contributions this season. Pavano and Mahay are eligible again and they are joined by Orlando Hudson, Jim Thome, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Randy Flores. While I think we can all agree that re-signing Flores and Mahay won’t be high priorities for Bill Smith, that still leaves half a dozen significant contributors that can walk out the door and sign with the highest bidder. The truth is, some of them will not be in Twins uniforms next year. In fact, it’s possible that none of them will be.

Other players, while technically still under Twins control, still present some tough decisions for Bill Smith in terms of deciding whether to exercise team options or offer arbitration.  Is Hardy worth $7 million to keep or do you let him become a free agent, too? Jason Kubel would make $5.25 million in 2011, the final year of his current contract… but the Twins can buy out that year for just $350,000, making him a free agent, as well.

Will Nick Punto and Orlando Hudson be back?

What about Nick Punto? The Twins have been paying him “starter” money and have an option for 2011 to do the same (at $5 million). They’ll certainly pay him the $500,000 buy out instead. Does he re-sign with the Twins for less money or will his agent find him a deal with a team offering more money, more playing time, and less blogger abuse than he’ll get with the Twins?

If you offer Delmon Young and Matt Capps arbitration, they’re going to get something between $5-6 million (Young) and up to $9 million (Capps) for 2011. If you don’t offer them arbitration, their agents will find someone more than willing to pay those amounts, or more. Don’t think you need both Capps AND Brian Fuentes with Joe Nathan coming back? OK… but keeping Fuentes from free agency means picking up the team’s $9 million option for him, too.

And we haven’t even discussed possible trades yet. In addition to the possibility that the Twins could trade any of the players mentioned above who are still under team control, you have to wonder if any of the five starting pitchers not named Pavano would be trade bait in the off-season. I don’t think any of them are untouchable except Liriano.

Finally, there are a handful of guys that may just be gone next year because, even though the Twins technically still control them, their performance levels make them candidates to either be traded or simply beaten out for jobs in Spring Training. I’m looking at you, Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert, Alexi Casilla, Drew Butera, Jason Repko, Jose Mijares and Pat Neshek.

By my count, that’s 25 players who may be playing elsewhere in 2011. A small number are almost certainly gone. A couple are almost certainly staying. Most are somewhere in between. Off the top of my head, I’d break it down like this:

Almost certainly gone: Mahay, Flores, Rauch, Fuentes

Probably gone: Guerrier, Crain, Hudson, Pavano

Virtually a toss-up: Punto, Thome, Repko, Butera, Neshek, Harris, Tolbert

Probably staying: Kubel, Hardy, Capps, Baker, Blackburn, Duensing, Slowey, Casilla

Almost certainly staying: Young, Mijares

We’ll share our own thoughts about what Bill Smith should or shouldn’t do with regard to roster changes in future posts, but for now, please use the comment section to let us know your opinions.

Who are you willing to say good-bye to? Who do you think the Twins MUST bring back? – JC

PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ve had some inquiries about whether we’ll be hosting GameChats for any of the remaining postseason games and we’re more than willing to do that if anyone is interested in hanging out at the Knuckleballs Virtual Sports Bar. We’re hoping to open up a GameChat window during tonight’s Rays/Rangers ALDS Game 5 so check back later if you’ve got nothing better to do with your life than watch baseball with us! :)

GameChat – Twins @ Royals #3, 7:10

Ok, focusing on the positives!  Morneau has had 4 straight symptom free days!!!  He’s doing much better and is going to get to work out WITH the team again when they are in town.  It’s not likely that even when he can start playing that he’ll be manning his spot for the first round of the playoffs but… assuming the Twins start playing better, *knock on noggin* he may be able to join them yet for this post season.  Mauer also was looking and feeling good during BP so who knows, we may yet see him as a pinch hitter tonight…  and the swelling in JJ Hardy’s knee is gone so that is good news too. 

Now for the Twins do their part to improve the general mood in Twins Territory.

Minnesota @ Kansas City
Span, CF   Dyson, CF
Hudson, O, 2B   Aviles, M, 2B
Young, D, DH   Butler, DH
Kubel, RF   Ka’aihue, 1B
Cuddyer, 1B   Betemit, 3B
Valencia, 3B   Gordon, A, LF
Repko, LF   Betancourt, Y, SS
Butera, C   May, C
Casilla, A, SS   Miller, Ja, RF
  Baker, S, P     Hochevar, P

 

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

 

Holy CRAP!  The Twins remembered how to win a game!  But before we get all caught up in patting them on the back, I just have one thing to say as far as a criticism of tonight’s game goes: 10 LOB, 2-9 with RISP.  Ugly.

Thanks again to Kbrobaseball for making this for me - must order this someday.

But enough grousing since the goal is to win the game and we actually got more runs than we gave up!  woohooo!!  It’s really that simple!  It doesn’t take much but even that has been alarmingly difficult lately.  Scott Baker actually tried a new fad – he was striking out hitters!  Yes, he let some get on which just made him always pitch under tension.  Joe Nathan will tell you that it sure works for him so as long as the job gets done, I don’t care.  Finally, we had a starter go 100 pitches and not have runs in the double digits.  Beautiful.  Nine K’s didn’t hurt either.  For remembering how to be a starting pitcher, we proudly award Scooter his very own bowl of spicy gumbo for kicking it up a notch tonight.  Hope it reminds him of home!

And speaking of pitching, our bullpen ROCKED!  Matty G., Tito, Cappy!  y’all were fantastic and there was actually FLAILING tonight!  How pretty.  In honor of our southern theme, the whole bullpen can feast on Chicory coffee and beignets.  Eat up quick boys because they’re best when they’re hot – just like bullpen pitchers!

But there really was a unanimous star of tonight’s game.  Delmon Young has joined a fairly elite group of Twins players.  He’s apparently only the 5th Twin all time to hit 20+ Hr, 40+ 2B, & 100+ RBI in a single season.  Tonight, he sneaked his 20th HR just barely inside the foul pole to give us the lead.  And then we didn’t let them have it back.  Delmon even managed to get another RBI later in the game!  So yeah, that officially gets him tonight’s BOD.  Congrats for yet another one on his significantly large season total.

DY Clinches Boyfriend of the Year Award!

As I tend to do on many mornings, I began my Monday morning browsing through all of the Twins blogs on our blogroll. As always, I found some interesting stuff during my blog-check.

For example, Brendan Harris hadn’t posted anything in his blog for months (can’t say I blame him), but he posted a week or two ago and included a fine rant about the government apparently having grown tired of trying and failing to catch real bad guys while continuing to gun for Roger Clemens. Being prone to ranting myself, I appreciate a good rant, especially when it’s one I agree with.

I found a few pictures of the Twins rookies dressed… strangely... as part of the traditional rookie hazing festivities over at Pat Neshek’s blog.

I also discovered that Seth Stohs from over at sethspeaks.net polled virtually a Who’s Who of Twins Bloggers to conduct a vote on the Twins’ MVP, Twins’ Pitcher of the Year and Twins Rookie of the Year. You should check out Seth’s site to see how everyone voted and maybe even check in with K-bro’s Baseball Blog, North Dakota Twins Fan, Curve for a Strike, TwinsGeek, For the Love of the Game, and probably a few others I’ve missed, for some more detailed explanations concerning how they voted.

While we didn’t receive an official ballot, we’re not going to let a little thing like not being asked keep us from participating. But we do things a little differently here at Knuckleballs (what’s that? You say you’ve noticed?), so rather than have one of us give a rundown of who would have gotten our votes, we’re going to do this based on the only criteria that really matters around here… Boyfriend of the Day awards!

Yes, it’s official boys and girls… since no BOD was awarded in last night’s loss to Kansas City, Delmon Young has mathematically clinched the Regular Season Knuckleballs Boyfriend of the Year Award! DY has collected 14 BOD awards over the course of the season, while no other Twin has collected more than 7. With only six games remaining in the regular season, the regular season BOY award is all Delmon’s. To my mind, that makes him our Most Valuable Twins Player, as well.

I realize that it has once again become fashionable to trash Delmon a bit. but it seems to be pretty easy for some people to forget just how he carried the Twins on his shoulders in mid-season when it felt like he was getting the big hit almost every game. I’m not sure what “Most Valuable” is supposed to mean, but I do feel pretty strongly that without DY’s mid-season onslaught, the standings would look very different right now. Of course, I think you can probably make the same statement at least 10 of Delmon’s team mates this season. It has been a true team effort this year!

Just like the Twins, however, we at Knuckleballs will “play out the season”, continuing to name BODs for each additional win during the regular season AND do something similar for each Twins post season victory. – JC

GameChat – Twins @ White Sox, FINALE, 7:10

This is it – the final game against the White Sox this year.  Given the facial expressions on Ozzie’s face last night, he’s really not expecting much.  I hope our boys don’t take that for granted though.  I want to see full effort from them but we still have most of our starters out there so I don’t think Gardy is going easy. Repko is still out there in Kubel’s place but Kubel is still dealing with some soreness. It’s better for him to get healthy and healed up right now than wait and lose him later.

You’ll also notice that Mauer is catching Pavano tonight instead of Butera.  I think that is a way to make sure the guys are comfortable and familiar with each other again going into a possible post-season run.  If you are in a division championship series or even further, you don’t sit one of the best players in the game because your starting pitcher has a preference.  It makes me feel pretty good about the relationship between Gardy and Pavano – which one is the manager still seems to be clear.  And I don’t think it was ever a tense issue either – I just think it’s good to know that he’s keeping ALL his options open.  If it’s the appropriate move to have Mauer DH instead of catch, they have the option to put Butera out there but I don’t know if I want that to be the default position.  Pavano is a professional, a veteran, AND an excellent pitcher so he has the ability to do a fantastic job no matter who is catching him.  Go guys!

Minnesota @ Chi White Sox
Span, CF   Pierre, LF
Hudson, O, 2B   Vizquel, 2B
Mauer, C   Rios, CF
Cuddyer, 1B   Konerko, 1B
Young, D, LF   Ramirez, M, DH
Thome, DH   Quentin, RF
Valencia, 3B   Pierzynski, C
Repko, RF   Ramirez, A, SS
Hardy, SS   Morel, 3B
  Pavano, P     Buehrle, P

 

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 0 3 0 0 3 0 0 0 2 8 12 1
Chi White Sox 0 0 1 1 0 3 0 0 0 5 9 1

 

Kinda says it all, doesn't it!?

 

It was most DEFINITELY not pretty but they got it done.  We swept the White Sox and the magic number is down to 8.  Fantastic!  Homeplate ump, Jerry Crawford, made a bunch more enemies tonight and REALLY contributed to more walks in this game than I have seen in a long time.  I also think this was the longest game where Beuhrle pitched this whole season.  Sheesh.  It took forever.

There were some moments of … drama.  Pavano clipped Paul Konerko across the face early in the game.  I was glad to see that Konerko was for the most part unhurt and stayed in the game.  That’s one tough boy right there.  Of course, even though it was obviously unintentional, you knew there was going to be some retaliation.  It was a bit amusing because Twitter and the Gamechat immediately lit up with speculation that Delmon was in for it now.  I’m sure he also wondered – but breathed a sigh of relief when Cuddy, who had the first AB in front of him, took a hit to the shoulder in front of him.  He just took it quietly, and took his base… and then managed to score in the course of the inning so that was cool.  And Konerko got a little of his own back with a nice solo shot HR in his next AB.  My fears that things would start to really escalate after that were allayed.  There was another HBP later in the game that got Ozzie all riled up again because Crawford wouldn’t call a 2 strike pitch with RISP intentional… goodness.

Anyway, the whole bullpen deserves recognition for getting the job done tonight even though it made us all a little nervous.  Every pitcher on our side except Capps gave up at least one walk tonight – which reflected more on Crawford’s strike zone consistency than their pitching I think.  But for dropping the hammer when it mattered, I would like to present a whole buffet of pastries with which to treat themselves.

And the offense really had it going tonight too.  Joe Mauer hit his 200th career double.  He just keeps racking up mark after mark for himself.  It’s amazing what he has done with his career so far and I still think of him as a kid – I’m going to have to get over that one of these days.  But just as a nice reward, he gets a special order Peanut Butter and Jelly donut.  If you’ve never had one, seriously, you should try it.  It seems like something that would appeal to him.  The BOD tonight goes to Delmon Young though.  Again.  He was 3/5 with 2 Runs, 2 RBI, a towering HR and a beautiful, surprise catch in the OF.  It was a good night for Delmon.