Help Wanted: Professional Hitter

The big news last night coming out of the Twins office was about the 19 invitations to the big league camp sent out to minor league players. I’m sure that’s a big deal to those players, but I just don’t get all that worked up over who gets invited and who doesn’t when it comes to guys who are highly unlikely to break camp with the Twins. I’m looking forward to seeing Kyle Gibson throw, though, because I think he’s this year’s Danny Valencia… the guy people generally expect to get his first real shot with the Twins before the summer is over. Anyway… on to today’s topic…

I mentioned in the Sunday Snippets post a few days ago that the topic of the Twins’ need for a legitimate hitting threat off the bench probably warranted a post of its own, as opposed to the lone paragraph (albeit a lengthy paragraph) devoted to it in that post. Well, here’s that dedicated post.

Amazingly, I’m not the only person dedicating thought and written words to the subject. A couple of the TwinsCentric bloggers (both Seth and Parker) posted thoughts related to what remains perhaps the final outstanding issue for the Twins’ front office to address before Spring Training gets underway. (This assumes the long-rumored deal with Carl Pavano actually is about to be formalized and the bullpen will just be a mad scramble to be sorted out in Ft. Myers.)

Hey, here’s an idea… Maybe if we all start a good old fashioned cheer, it will carry all the way to Bill Smith’s ears and he’ll be so impressed with the outcry that he’ll immediately go out and get the big bat we want! Ready?…

Give me a T!

Give me an H!

Give me an O! … Um, wait a minute… not so fast… I may want to buy a different vowel.

Jim Thome

As I wrote Sunday, I think most of us would just love to see Jim Thome get home run #600 with the Twins. He was an absolute joy to have in a Twins uniform last season, from the perspective of fans, team mates, manager… pretty much anyone except the Bitch Sox and their fans. He was signed for low money in anticipation of being used on a part-time basis off the bench and as an occasional DH. Due to Justin Morneau’s injury, he was called upon to play a much bigger role and he did so. He deserves our gratitude.

But if he were to return in 2011, the expectations would again be that he would play a part-time role, as a pinch hitter and occasional DH. While Thome has stated he agrees that he’s at his best when he gets regular rest, he and his agent also may be intent on converting his unexpected 2010 performance (arguably one of the best statistical seasons of his career) in to a much higher salary in 2011. It seems to me that Thome can’t have it both ways… a role where he’s not expected to DH regularly AND a contract that pays him as if he is playing every day.

Maybe he can wrangle that kind of deal out of another team. It sounds like the Rangers could be interested in having him play a limited role with them and they do have some of that money they had hoped to be paying Cliff Lee still burning a hole in their pocket. If so, I would thank Thome for his inspirational performance in a Twins uniform last year, wish him the best of luck sweating his (base)balls off in Arlington, and move on to other options.

Ah… but what options really remain out there?

A lot of people seem to be advocating that the Twins simply swap out Thome for the guy the Rangers used as their DH last season, Vlad Guerrero. He’s righthanded, after all, and that’s what the Twins really should be looking for in a bench hitter, especially with the White Sox seemingly determined to add more lefties to their pitching staff. (It’s kind of a compliment, don’t you think, that the Twins have achieved a status where division rivals are making roster moves specifically intended to help them beat the Twins head-to-head?)

I think Vlad would be a really bad idea. First, Guerrero is almost as limited defensively as Thome is. Anyone who watched the World Series knows that he has no business wearing a glove on a baseball field. In addition, while he produced better than most people expected last season (I thought he was washed up before the season started), he found that fountain of youth in a very hitter-friendly environment in Texas. Guerrero could, and did, launch home runs solely on the strength of his upper body and arms. But you need strong legs to go with the rest of your body if you expect to get balls out of Target Field. I don’t think Vlad can be expected to do that.

Fortunately, it sounds like he’s only interested in playing for teams that would be able/willing to give him a regular job and 500+ plate appearances… and a contract that anticipates such. The Twins have neither the PAs nor the money to meet his expectations.

Names like Troy Glaus and Jorge Cantu have been getting some support, lately, and I’d probably be willing to give either of them a look in Spring Training if the Twins decide their bench bat should be someone who could back up their infield and, in particular, Morneau over at 1B. But neither of those hitters exactly make opposing managers or pitchers nervous when they come to the plate any more.

Andruw Jones is reportedly generating some interest from the Yankees, who are also looking at righthanded bench options. Apparently, they like the work he did in Chicago last year and his career line against lefty pitchers (.261/.361/.501). But you have to remember much of that career line was accumulated during his first decade of play with the Braves. His overall split for the past four years is a tidy .212/.312/.412. Still, he did put up some strong numbers for the White Sox last season in a part time role. Strong enough that he’s looking for more money for 2011.

Back in November when many of us posted our off-season “blueprint“… our suggestions for what the Twins should try to accomplish over the winter… I mentioned in mine that, in the absence of re-signing Jim Thome, I’d suggest calling Marcus Thames. Thames played a bench role for the Yankees last season and he’s still being considered as a possibility to return to the Bronx if the Evil Empire doesn’t roll the dice on Jones, instead.

I’d be inclined to be satisfied with whichever of the two, Jones or Thames, is available after the Yankees decide which one to overpay. That said, I hope the Bombers sign Jones, because I like Thames a bit better for the Twins. Here are a few things Thames has going for him:

Marcus Thames (Photo: Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)

Thames will turn 34 years old during Spring Training… six years younger than Thome and the same age as Jones.

Thames hits righthanded, but in addition to hitting lefty pitchers well (.838 career OPS vs. LHPs far exceeding Glaus or Cantu), he’s also hit righties better than Jones the last few years and well enough that he could step in to a full-time role in the event of an injury.

He’s a dead-pull power hitter (67 of his 113 career HRs or 59% have been hit to straightaway LF… one part of Target Field that has not been a HR death trap).

Thames has hit more career HRs (15) against the Twins than any other team, with the White Sox (14) a close second. If nothing else, Twins pitchers (especially Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano, who have given up the most and third-most HRs to Thames of all pitchers he’s faced) should be glad to see him in their own dugout.

Outside of Comerica Park (his home during his Tiger years), Thames has hit more HRs at US Cellular Field than anywhere else.

(Yes, I know much of this is a factor of having played in the AL Central with the Tigers for most of his career, but isn’t that familiarity with the division a good thing in itself?)

He isn’t the fielder that Jones is (though Jones isn’t the defender he used to be, either) and Thames may not be any better than Delmon Young or Jason Kubel in the outfield if he’s pressed in to duty out there, in fact he may even be a bit worse. But, while it certainly wouldn’t be considered a good thing to have him play first base extensively during the year, at least he has played the position enough in the past that he could give Doc a few innings off at the back end of blow-out games.

Finally, and unfortunately most importantly, he’s already accustomed to part-time duty (he’s never had 400 PAs in a season and only reached 300 twice) and should be very, very affordable. His salary with the Yankees in 2010 was $900,000 and it likely wouldn’t take much over $1 million to sign him for 2011 either. Jones is likely to command somewhat more.

So that’s where I stand on the bench bat issue… my heart says bring back Jim Thome, but my head says bring in Marcus Thames.

- JC

Cupcakes and Free Agents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- JC

Sunday Snippets

It’s Sunday afternoon, my Hawkeyes are getting drubbed by Purdue in mens’ hoops and even a Joe Posnanski in-game chat can’t get me enthused about watching the Chiefs and Ravens, so I thought this would be a good time to toss some things together and see if I could come up with enough material for a weekend post. (As if there’s any chance I won’t come up with about 1200 words without really trying!)

Unresolved Issues

The Twins really don’t have many things left to work out before Spring Training starts. This seems strange to say given that Bill Smith and his staff have made so few moves of any significance to this point. That said, there are a couple of issues yet to be addressed before camp opens up in Ft. Myers next month:

  1. The ‘Stache: If reports we’re reading are accurate, it’s just a matter of “when”, not “if”, Carl Pavano is officially signed to return to the Twins rotation in 2011. A while back, I noted that a lot of writers/bloggers who were not primarily focused on the Twins were predicting Pavano would be re-signed by the Twins, while almost all of the bloggers in Twinsville (myself included) considered it a foregone conclusion that he would NOT be returning. Guess now we see who knew what they were talking about. I’m still not able to figure out how bringing back the 2010 rotation improves your team, but maybe the thought is that Kyle Gibson will be ready to contribute by June and that’s their insurance policy in case someone is hurt or just not pitching well. He may free up one of the existing six starting pitchers to be dealt in a trade for more offense later, as well. I guess when it became clear that the Twins weren’t going to be able to trade for a legitimate top-of-the-rotation pitcher, it became a case of, “the only thing worse than re-signing Pavano would be not re-signing Pavano.” I just hope it works out.
  2. Bench bat: Assuming the Twins keep 12 pitchers to start the season, that leaves four roster spots for non-starting position players. Jason Repko, Drew Butera and Matt Tolbert are penciled in to three spots. It’s not hard to come up with players on the free agent market that would be upgrades over any/all of these three, but it would also be pointless. If anyone steals one of those spots, it will have to be an internal option that shows up in Spring Training and just wows the coaching staff. There isn’t a legitimate hitter among that group, however, so it makes it critical for the Twins to fill the fourth bench spot with a hitter who can… well… hit. Most of us expect that hitter to be Jim Thome and unless he’s really letting someone convince him he should demand over $5 million, that’s who the choice will likely be. I’m ok with that, I guess. As a fan, who wouldn’t welcome back a guy who performed the way he did last season? He’s a class act and I’d be proud to see him get HR #600 in a Twins uniform. Still… if you’re impartially looking at who the Twins really SHOULD fill that final roster spot with, you’d have to say it should be a right-handed hitter. Then again, you would have said the same thing last off-season and that didn’t stop the Twins from signing Thome then, either. If they do end up looking at right-handed options, I suspect Vlad Guerrero is too pricey, but guys like Troy Glaus and Marcus Thames may be reasonably priced alternatives. This topic probably warrants a full length post of its own and I may write one in a few days… or not.
  3. The bullpen: I wrote a whole post on this last week and nothing whatsoever has changed. Not much point in writing more now, other than to point out the obvious: there will be some interesting Spring Training battles for spots in the bullpen.

Hall of Fame Leftovers

As expected, the election of Bert Blyleven to the Hall of Fame was followed by a number of articles questioning his selection specifically and/or the selection process itself. A lot of them trotted out the, “how could his numbers get better over 14 years?” argument. I’m so tired of that line of BS. While men and women of good conscience can disagree over whether Bert and others like him had careers worthy of HoF induction, only idiots can fail to understand that it’s not a player’s numbers that can change over an extended period of time, but the perspectives of the voters and the context with which that player’s career is viewed that is worthy of re-examining. It’s why they require the five year waiting period and why they allow a player to stay on the ballot 15 years. Blyeleven’s election is proof that the system works the way it was intended. If Mike Schmidt and his buddies don’t think so, tough shit. His suggestion that a committee of current Hall members determine who gets in might be the funniest thing Schmidt’s ever said… though that isn’t saying much. He’s always been an idiot, in my humble opinion.

Which brings me to my inevitable Joe Posnanski plug. He reacted to suggestions that the HoF is not exclusive enough with this terrific post. (There’s also a post over there about his trip to see the Harry Potter World in Orlando’s Universal Studios theme park that’s a must-read if you’re a parent or were ever a kid yourself and ESPECIALLY if you’ve ever worked with kids!)

Spring (Training) Fever

Maybe it was when I put together the slideshow for this post last week or maybe it was the announcement that Twins’ single game tickets for games at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers were going on sale this past Saturday, but something motivated me to start looking seriously at potential dates for my annual trek to Spring Training in March. I figured out exactly the dates I wanted to go down there… March 13-20… and quickly discovered that airfares for those exact dates are outrageously expensive ($600-800 and up). Forget that.

Hammond Stadium, Ft. Myers

Maybe fares will come down before I actually get around to booking a flight, but I found a couple of alternatives that look pretty good. I can cut fares about in half by changing to 3/14-21 or by waiting and going down for about the final week of Spring Training, 3/20-28. Either option offers a nice blend of home and road games of drivable distances from Ft. Myers, as well as a day or two to hang out on the beach. It didn’t really help the below-zero wind chill factors feel any warmer here this weekend, but making some plans did remind me that winter won’t last forever. If you’re planning a trip to Spring Training, too, leave a comment or drop us an email (click Contact Us at the top of the page) and let us know when you’re planning on being down there.

Housekeeping items

This spring will also mark our first blogging anniversary here at Knucklballs. We hope you’ve enjoyed coming here even half as much as we’ve enjoyed this adventure. Personally, I wasn’t sure, at the onset, that this was something I’d really enjoy doing consistently, but it has turned out to be a lot of fun. That’s largely a result of the terrific reception we’ve gotten from our readers. Whether in comment sections of the posts, in our GameChats during the season, or through various opportunities to interact with other Twins bloggers, we’ve come to feel welcomed and accepted by an outstanding group of fellow Twins fans.

The upcoming anniversary also has us contemplating some changes here. We’re considering whether to remain with our current web hosting provider and may play with the format or “theme” of the blog a bit. I mention this for a couple of reasons. Since our traffic count is understandably lower in the off-season, now is a good time for us to play with things a bit. So if you come for a visit and what you find here looks a bit strange (or you don’t find anything at all… yikes!), don’t stop trying to visit us. We may just be in one of our “mad scientist” modes and one of our experiments got a bit out of control.

As always, if you’d like to share your thoughts in the comments section, feel free to do so… especially if there were particular features or regular topics that you want to make sure we continue or if you have ideas for things we could do to make your visits here more enjoyable.

OK, that’s all for now!

- JC

A Dreary Day Gets Drearier

For the second straight day, I woke to a blanket of fog outside my window. It’s slightly warmer today than yesterday, but that just means the drizzle isn’t freezing… yet.  Suffice to say, it isn’t exactly one of those days that make me want to sing, “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” as I step outside (although I can’t honestly ever remember doing that anyway).

After making my way to the office and doing the normal “first thing” stuff… coffee, check email, coffee, check calendar, coffee… I took a glance at the morning Twins news and saw, on several sights, the statement issued by my boyhood hero, Harmon Killebrew:

“I was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer.   With my wife, Nita, by my side, I have begun preparing for what is perhaps the most difficult battle of my life.   I am being treated by a team of medical professionals at the Mayo Clinic.  While my condition is very serious, I have confidence in my doctors and the medical staff and I anticipate a full recovery.

The Mayo Clinic is one of the largest and most experienced medical centers treating esophageal cancer in the world.  In the past decade, they have made tremendous advances in the treatment of this disease.  Nita and I feel blessed to have access to the best doctors and medical care.  

I thank everyone for their outpouring of prayers, compassion and concern.  Nita and I ask for privacy during this difficult journey.” 

Yeah, my dreary day just got a lot drearier. I have some personal family experience with fighting cancer (but what family doesn’t?) and with the Mayo clinic (though I understand Killebrew is being treated at the Arizona clinic, rather than at Rochester where the halls and waiting rooms of the clinic became all too familiar to my family). 

I’m sure we’ll all respect the Killebrews’ wish for privacy, but I couldn’t let the day pass without acknowledging that my own heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with Harmon and his family, as well as with the outstanding medical team working with him. 

Other Items 

I spent about half an hour last night as a guest on “Fanatic Jack” Steal’s podcast, along with Topper (from Curve for a Strike). Jack’s often a bit overly critical of the Twins for my tastes, both on his podcasts and in his blog… but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily wrong (at least not all the time!)

As you might imagine, much of our discussion centered on what the Twins have done (or, more accurately, failed to do) so far this off-season. You can download the podcast here, if you want to verify that I’m just as much of an idiot when I talk as I am when I write. 

We talked about Carl Pavano quite a bit. I’m honestly not sure which would bother me more… if the Twins re-sign Pavano or if they don’t re-sign him. This is a rare lose-lose decision for the Twins, I’m afraid. If they don’t sign him, it’s hard to figure out where they’re going to find another starting pitcher who can consistently pitch in to the 8th-9th inning to give their bullpen a rest… and with what looks like it will be a young, inexperienced bullpen, that could be important. On the other hand, it’s just hard to justify shelling out close to $10 million a year for one year, much less the multiple years that Pavano and his agent want, for a pitcher of Pavano’s age and medical history. That money could be used to bring back Jim Thome AND Brian Fuentes, combined. 

I know it’s a long shot, but I’m hoping Fuentes’ options have been reduced to the point where returning to the Twins on a one year deal with perhaps some vesting/performance provisions might start to sound good to him. I know he wanted a deal to close for someone, but there aren’t a lot of those openings still out there… especially among contenders… and with the Twins, at least he would have a fair opportunity to close some games against teams sending up lefties in the 9th inning. It’s clear to me that the Red Sox are going to be the team the Twins will have to go through to get to the World Series in 2011 and with the lefty hitters they’re going to have, I’d sure like to have a strong LH arm at the back end of my bullpen. Wouldn’t hurt to have him around when Adam Dunn comes to bat late in White Sox games either.

As for Pavano, it sure looks like he and his agent may be overplaying their hand. If the Nationals or Twins decide to move in another direction, he’s screwed. He’ll be lucky to get a deal matching what he got from the Twins last year from whichever remains the last team interested in him. Maybe the decision to reject the Twins’ offer of arbitration wasn’t such a no-brainer after all. Frankly, if I were the Twins, I wouldn’t offer more than a one year deal with maybe some kind of performance-based vesting option for 2012… and I’m not sure I’d even do that if it means I don’t have the money to beef up my bullpen and find a bench hitter who won’t induce giggles from opposing pitchers any time he pinch hits.

That’s enough dreariness for today. I’m getting out of the office and going to see the new Harry Potter movie this afternoon… maybe that will brighten my outlook!

-  JC

Smith & Gardy: The New Goose & Maverick?

“I feel the need… the need for SPEED!”

Some of you are probably too young to remember this line from Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards in “Top Gun” (is it really possible that movie is 25 years old?). The two actors portrayed Naval Aviator Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and his backseat RIO, “Goose” (20 bonus Knuckleballs points if you can tell us Goose’s character’s real name without looking it up… I couldn’t) as they piloted their F14A Tomcat from the USS Enterprise (that’s the aircraft carrier, not the starship) to Top Gun training at Miramar Naval Air Station.

Maverick, you see, was one helluva pilot (sorry… naval aviator) and there’s no doubt that if he would just “do it right”, he could be the best.

But Maverick’s personality was such that he had to go faster than anyone else. Goose would try to maintain some level of control and impress on his friend that being smart about things is important, too. In the end, however, he always went along with Maverick’s reckless “winning means doing it faster than anyone else, no matter what” approach. Goose knew better, but dangit, Maverick was such a lovable guy that in the end, all he could do is shake his head and go along for the ride.

The Twins never showed interest in bring back Orlando Hudson and now, with the addition of Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka and subsequent trade of JJ Hardy to Baltimore on the last day of MLB’s Winter Meetings, Twins General Manager Bill Smith officially bought in to Manager Ron Gardenhire’s desire to begin bringing the running game back in to the Twins’ offensive game plan.

Does Bill Smith really believe in this change in approach? Did he try to point out to Gardy that his team scored more runs than anyone else in the AL Central Division, even if Target Field proved more difficult than expected to hit a baseball out of?

It doesn’t really matter, of course, whether Smith knows the important thing is to outscore your opponents and win games, because dangit, Gardy is such a lovable guy and you know that, in the end, all Smith can do is shake his head and go get the kind of players Gardy wants.

A year ago… and really all throughout the 2010 season… a lot of us were having some fun drawing comparisons between the Twins and White Sox. Years earlier, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had given the Twins a cute nickname… the piranhas (or was it “piranyas”?)… that portrayed the Twins as a scrappy group of speedy little guys with limited real athletic ability that consistently beat Ozzie’s more talented teams by nibbling them to death. By 2010, the roles had reversed and Ozzie had apparently convinced Sox GM Kenny Williams that he needed more versatile ballplayers who would battle their tales off, while Bill Smith went out and stocked the Twins with more professional hitters.

The beefed up Twins went something like 99-1 against the Sox team that Ozzie and Kenny had built in the Twins’ former image. As a result, this off-season, I’m not sure Williams has even asked Ozzie what he “wants”. He went out and bought the ultimate power hitter, Adam Dunn, in addition to re-signing Paul Konerko. (Alas, Mark Kotsay’s days DHing for the BitchSox are over… dammit.)

I’m concerned that Gardy got bored last year. Sure, the Twins scored a lot of runs and would almost certainly have scored even more if Justin Morneau hand’t been shelved by a concussion half way through the season. But something just didn’t feel right to Gardy. There were times, no doubt, when his instincts were to steal, bunt, hit & run… all those things the piranhas did… but there wasn’t a piranha in sight. Instead he had Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome and JJ Hardy out there clogging up the basepaths.

So what if the runs still scored (perhaps because the Twins weren’t needlessly giving up outs by bunting and getting caught stealing)? It just wasn’t the kind of baseball team Gardy enjoyed managing. It was like taking Maverick out of his F14A and putting him in a “clunky” B1 bomber. Sure he might eventually inflict more damage on the enemy, but without the speed and maneuverability of his Tomcat, it’s just not as much fun for the guy at the controls.

Look, I get that Target Field isn’t built for marginal power hitters… guys that rely on balls that barely clear fences to generate their HR numbers. But Bill Smith should remember that last season’s strategy of bringing in better offensive players, even if they weren’t the fastest guys in the game, resulted in the Twins winning 94 games.

And before Bill Smith completely buys in to Gardy’s dream of bringing us Piranhas II – The Sequel, he might also keep one more thing in mind…

While “Top Gun” ended with LT Mitchell all smiles, going along with Maverick’s “need for speed” didn’t turn out so well for Goose.

- JC

Is There a Magic Wand(y) Out There?

I find myself in unfamiliar waters these days.

Despite what some may believe, I tend to be pretty supportive of the job the Twins’ front office does. I know the organization is a business and understand they aren’t going to spend more money than they take in. I know they aren’t going to go out and overpay for free agent talent the way the Yankees do. Unlike many Twins fans, I’m not one who constantly finds fault with the owner or the GM or the manager. I consider the lack of recent success in the playoffs to be a source of frustration, but not abject organizational failure.

Yet, I’ve been quite up front about my impatience with regard to the Twins seeming lack of progress toward making any sort of real improvement in the make up of the roster so far. And Day 1 of the Winter Meetings did nothing to make me feel better. Bill Smith indicated that the only non-pitching positions that are undecided already are SS and 2B. And while he didn’t come right out and say that JJ Hardy would be traded once Tsuyoshi Nishioka is signed, that is clearly where the signs are pointing.

I also understand that my Zack Greinke wish is not going to come true. In fact, given that the Royals would clearly demand from the Twins a premium of prospects over and above the premium of prospects that they’re going to demand from teams that AREN’T in their own division, I’m willing to admit it would probably be foolish for Smith to pay the Royals’ asking price.

So given that the Twins won’t be bidding on the lone remaining top of the rotation pitcher (Cliff Lee) and probably shouldn’t be bidding on the next best starting pitcher (Carl Pavano) because of his expectations regarding a three-year contract, what does constitute a reasonable expectation for a fan who strongly believes the Twins need another strong starting pitcher?

Let’s try this scenario on for size.

Near the bottom of a column he wrote on December 1, Jayson Stark mentioned that the Houston Astros were in the market for a reasonably priced, left-handed hitting outfielder. If the Twins re-sign Jim Thome, they will, coincidentally, have an arguably superfluous lefty-hitting outfielder floating around in the person of Jason Kubel.

Wandy Rodriguez

The Astros, in return, have a certain lefty starting pitcher who’s going to start getting a bit expensive very soon. Wandy Rodriguez lost his arbitration contest with the Astros last year and ended up pitching for $5 million and now he and his agent are trying to work out an extension that will buy out his last year of arbitration and first couple of years of free agency.

Shortly after Rodriguez overmatched the Twins in a 4-1 Astro win in June, the Twins reportedly tried, unsuccessfully, to trade for the lefty prior to the trade deadline at the end of July. They should try again.

I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about the Astros. (I think they play in Houston, right?) But what I do know is that they are reportedly for sale and they’re trying to cut payroll while remaining at least competitive enough not to screw up their sale price.

I have no idea whether Houston would want Kubel. I have no idea whether they might be interested in a shortstop like JJ Hardy. Maybe, instead, it would take prospects or maybe the Twins would have to eat part of Kubel’s or Hardy’s 2011 salary. Smarter people than I would have to figure out exactly what a fair exchange would be.

I don’t even know if Rodriguez would be available, but given the current state of that franchise, it’s hard for me to believe he’s going to be an Astro beyond 2011, his final arbitration year. In any event, the purpose of writing this is simply to demonstrate that there ARE options out there, other than Lee, Pavano, Greinke, et al. The Twins need to improve their rotation and the time to do it is now, before other teams beat the Twins to the punch.

I’ve heard enough about middle-weight infielders and middle-inning relief pitchers. I don’t want to hear that we should just be satisfied to replace most of the talent being lost to free agency. If you’re standing in place, you’re falling behind and there are options out there that can, and would, actually improve the Twins roster now and in the future. The Twins have some highly compensated businesspeople who should be able to turn over a few rocks and find those options.

Either that or they should find another line of work.

-JC

A Mid-Offseason Report Card

It’s been a while since I was in school (though perhaps not as long ago as one might expect for someone of my advanced years). That said, I do recall something called “mid-term grades”. The cool thing about them was that they told you how you were doing in your coursework, but they didn’t really “count”. If you were doing well, you could afford to have a few beers and relax over the weekends, but if you were coming up short, the mid-term grades served as a wake-up call of sorts.

Sometimes, I think it would be nice if I could get the same sort of feedback once out in the real world. And if I think that would be of benefit to me, certainly an intelligent man like Bill Smith must feel the same way, right?

As hard as it may be to believe, we’re approaching the half-way point between the end of the Twins’ 2010 season and the date pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, 2011.

So it’s in this spirit of helpfulness that I offer the Twins’ GM his mid-term grade: D+.

And that grade assumes Tsuyoshi Nishioka gets signed by the December 26 deadline. If Smith doesn’t bring that home, the grade drops to an F.

The good news is, just like in college, the mid-term grades don’t really count. There’s still time to bring that grade up and not screw up the GPA. But time is wasting.

Monday at the the Swan and Dolphin hotels at DisneyWorld, MLB’s movers and shakers get together for their annual Winter Meetings, which wind up Thursday with the Rule 5 draft. Over the past five years, there have been an average of just over 10 trades announced during each year’s Winter Meeting gathering. It might be a very good idea for one or two of those deals this week to involve the Twins.

Why? Well, let’s take a look at what we’ve seen so far this offseason.

Unless/until deals are reached to bring some of these guys back in to the Twins fold, the Twins have lost their most reliable starting pitcher, Carl Pavano, their most prolific power hitter, Jim Thome, and four solid (or better) relief pitchers in Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes.. The Twins have done absolutely nothing about replacing the departing talent, much less making any improvements in those positions.

Nishioka is, so far, the only meaningful addition this offseason (and he isn’t even officially on board yet). And you’ll have to excuse me if I’m not as convinced as others seem to be that he represents a certain improvement over Hudson, Hardy or whoever’s roster spot he ends up taking.

Of course, Justin Morneau should be back and healthy by Opening Day and that represents a significant upgrade over Michael Cuddyer at 1B. But the Twins have done nothing to improve their lack of speed in their outfield, they haven’t replaced Pavano’s innings in the top half of the rotation and there looks to be a significant drop off in bullpen talent between the back end arms, Joe Nathan and Matt Capps, and the rest of the pen arms.

The Tigers have added Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit, the White Sox have added Adam Dunn to the heart of their line up, the Red Sox have acquired Adrian Gonzalez and are still kicking the tires on Jayson Werth [UPDATE: Werth has signed with the Nationals], the Yankees are going to add Cliff Lee and both the Angels and Rangers are in the hunt for Carl Crawford. Meanwhile, the Twins have done little but try to strengthen the Rochester Red Wings roster.

And excuse me if I don’t believe the chatter about potentially trading JJ Hardy for middle relief pitching would constitute any sort of improvement whatsoever. There are 70 or so middle relievers on the free agent market, including the four pretty good arms that wore Twins uniforms last season. Trading Hardy for talent you could easily bring on board through free agency would be a total waste of a valuable asset.

You don’t improve your chances of success in this league by trying to simply maintain the status quo while everyone else is focused on improving. Yes, the Twins won 94 games in 2010, but those who think they don’t have to improve the roster just to have a shot at being competitive in their division next season are kidding themselves.

Smith and his front office team have shown very little progress during the first half of the “semester” and that’s what they’re mid-term grade reflects. But there’s still time to salvage a passing grade. The second half of the offseason starts this week at Mickey Mouse’s Magic Kingdom.

It’s time to get to work, Mr. Smith.

- JC

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

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! :)

Twins History Lesson: September 20 – October 3

After what can only be described as a truly ugly weekend series in Detroit, maybe what we need to get that taste out of our mouths is a Twins History Lesson “doubleheader”. Let’s look at highlights for both the past week and the upcoming week in Twins history*.

September 20 has seen a couple of interesting events:

1965: As the Twins wound the clock down toward their first World Series appearance, it’s hard to imagine just 537 fans showing up for a make-up game with the Kansas City A’s. “Catfish” Hunter beat “Mudcat” Grant 8-2 before the smallest home crowd in Twins history. I suppose the 52 degree drizzling weather kept people away. Almost enough to make you wonder if they should build a domed stadium in the Twin Cities or something.

2004: The Twins clinched the AL Central title as Carlos Silva picked up the win in an 8-2 victory over the White Sox.

Harmon Killebrew

September 21 has seen both highs and lows:

1963: Harmon Killebrew hit three home runs in the first game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, he hit another one in the second game against the Red Sox. While it would seem that Fenway would be a great place for a guy like Killebrew (a right handed hitter known for his towering fly balls to LF) to hit, it was actually the only multi-home run game for Killer at the home of the Green Monster. It was also the only 3-home run game of Harmon’s career.

1997: There weren’t a lot of Twins highlights in the late 90s, but on this day Brad Radke gave us something to cheer about. He pitched all 10 innings of a 2-1 win over the Brewers at the Dome, striking out 9, walking nobody and giving up 6 hits (including a Jeff Cirillo solo HR). The Twins won on a Paul Molitor triple that drove in Brent Brede from first base. The Twins would finish with just 69 wins on the year… and Radke won 20 of those.

Looking at September 22:

Cesar Tovar

1968: Proving he could “do it all”, Cesar Tovar played one inning at each of the nine defensive positions in a win over Oakland. Tovar pitched the first inning and not only threw a scoreless inning, he struck out future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson in the process. The game was the ONLY time a position player pitched for the Twins at a game in Metropolitan Stadium, the only time a position player has been the starting pitcher for the Twins, and the only time the Twins have ever won a game in which a position player has pitched. It was obviously a Calvin Griffith publicity stunt and I suppose you would say it worked. The game drew the second highest paid attendance among the final 10 home games of the season… 11, 340. Griffith was so moved by Tovar’s willingness to do his part to bring in the extra fans, that he gave Tovar a little bonus… a new color TV.

1969: The Twins clinched the AL Western Division title with a 4-3 win over the Royals, on the strength of Harmon Killebrew’s 47th home run of the year. Bob Miller was the winning pitcher. (See NOTE at September 28 entry)

1970: Exactly one year later, to the day, the Twins clinched their second AL Western Division title with a 5-3 win over the A’s.

September 23:

1978: California Angel (and former Twin) Lyman Bostock, Jr., was shot and killed in Gary, Indiana. He remains the only Major League Baseball player murdered during a baseball season while he was an active player.

2003: The Twins clinched the AL Central title as they defeated the Tribe 4-1 at the Metrodome, then watched the White Sox and Royals both lose their games.

Johan Santana became the first Venezuelan to record 20 wins in a season on September 24, 2004, with an 8-2 win over Cleveland. In the process, he established a new Twins record with his 13th consecutive win and also broke Bert Blyleven’s franchise single-season strikeout record.

September 25 has seen its share of eventful games:

1985: Bert Blyleven was the winning pitcher as the Twins beat the Rangers 5-1… win number 2,000 for the Twins

2000: One of those “things you don’t see every day in MLB.” The Twins beat the Indians in the nightcap of a split doubleheader. What’s odd about that? Well, it was the only game of the doubleheader that the Twins participated in. In the afternoon game, the Tribe lost to the White Sox 9-2. This sort of 3-team twinbill has occurred only twice in MLB history.

Carlos Gomez

2008: The White Sox had come to Minnesota with a 2 and a half game lead over the Twins in the AL Central, but that lead was down to a half game when the teams took the field for the final game of the series. The Sox built a 6-1 lead through the top of the 4th inning, then managed just 4 baserunners the rest of the game. The Twins scored 2 in the 4th on a Carlos Gomez triple and Denard Span double and added another in the 6th on another Gomez triple and a successful Span suicide squeeze bunt. The 8th inning saw two more Twins runs on a double by Brendan Harris, a single by Gomez and a triple by Span that tied the game at 6. The game stayed that way until the bottom of the 10th inning when Alexi Casilla singled home Nick Punto with the winning run, sending the Twins a half game ahead of the White Sox and forcing Chicago to play a make up game in Detroit the following day in an attempt to force a Game 163 with the Twins.

1965 Twins Celebrate

On September 26, 1965, the Twins clinched their first American League Pennant, with a 2-1 win over the Senators at DC Stadium. Jim Kaat got the complete-game win for Minnesota, striking out 10 and walking nobody. Kaat and battery-mate Earl Battey were among 7 Twins on that team that had played for the organization as Washington Senators in 1960, before the move to Minnesota. Surveying the crazy scene in the winners locker room after the game, Battey smiled and said, “You guys act like you have never done this before.” It had been over three decades since the franchise had won a pennant.

September 27 has witnessed a couple of games of note:

1981: In recording their last win at Met Stadium, the Twins beat the Rangers 5-2 with John Castino and Gary Ward each hitting a pair of home runs.

1987: The Twins set a team record for single game regular season attendance when 53,106 watch a day game with the Royals.

1998: Paul Molitor ended his Hall of Fame career by going 2 for 4 with a single in his final at-bat in the Twins 6-2 win over the Indians.

Of interest for events of September 28:

1969: The Twins clinched the AL Western Division championship with a 5-2 win over the Mariners in the opening game of a doubleheader in Seattle. (NOTE: As indicated in the entry for September 22, there appears to be some confusion as to exactly when the Twins clinched their title in 1969. Perhaps they clinched at least a tie on 9/22? In any event, rather than digging to find out which is accurate, I’m reporting both… I’m feeling particularly lazy today.)

1974: The Twins were on the losing end of Nolan Ryan’s third (of an eventual seven) career no-hitter as Ryan and the Angels topped Minnesota 4-0. Ryan struck out 15 Twins in the game.

1978: This is the date of “the Speech”, given by Twins owner Calvin Griffith at a Lions Club event in Waseca MN. You can read all about it here, if you haven’t before. It was… unbelievable. For me personally, the low point in Minnesota Twins history.

1987: A much higher point in franchise history was reached when the Twins clinched the AL Western Division title with a 5-3 win over the Rangers in Arlington.

Kirby Puckett

1995: Kirby Puckett’s jaw was broken by a Dennis Martinez pitch. It would be the last regular season appearance of Puckett’s career. He would go through spring training the following year, but be diagnosed with glaucoma before the regular season would begin.

On September 29, 1991, the Twins clinched the AL Western Division title despite their 2-1 loss to Toronto, when the White Sox also suffered a 2-1 loss to the Mariners.

There have been two historic Twins games held on September 30:

1981: 15,900 fans attended the final home game played at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. Roy Smalley made the final out of the final game, a 5-2 loss to the Royals.

2008: We try not to hold it against him today, but on this date, Jim Thome broke our hearts with a home run off Nick Blackburn, accounting for the sole White Sox run in their 1-0 win over the Twins in the extra “Game 163″ necessitated when the Twins and Sox finished the season tied for the lead in the AL Central.

Let’s look at October 1:

2002: Despite falling behind 5-1 after the first two innings, the Twins came back to defeat Oakland 7-5 in Game 1 of the ALDS. Corey Koskie and Doug Mientkiewicz each homered in support of winning pitcher Brad Radke.

2006: It had never happened in MLB history before but it did on this date… a team that had not held sole possession of first place in their division/league for a single prior day the entire season, claimed their title on the last day of the season. The Twins won their game and then watched with fans as the Tigers blew a 6-0 lead over the Royals before losing 10-8 in 12 innings. 23 year old Joe Mauer became the first AL catcher to win a league batting title, hitting .347 to lead the Major Leagues.

A few oddities are mixed in with the events of October 2:

1974: In a game against the Twins, Texas manager Billy Martin became the first AL manager in the DH-era NOT to use a DH… allowing pitcher Fergie Jenkins to hit instead.

1988: With a crowd of 35,952, the Twins became the first team to pass the 3 million mark in paid attendance for a season. It was a Twins attendance mark that would stand unitl… well… a few days ago, when the Twins broke that record during a game at Target Field last week.

2004: Play was suspended at the Metrodome after 11 innings with the Twins and Indians tied at 5. Why? So crews would have sufficient time to convert the playing field for the scheduled Minnesota Gopher football game that night. Hmmm… maybe they should think about building a basball-only ballpark?

2009: Joe Nathan notched his 46th save, breaking Eddie Guardado’s prior team record of 45, which he recorded in 2002. Nathan would finish the season with 47 saves.

For those who may be tempted to take the Twins recent success for granted, let me end this History Lesson with a review of the final game of the 1999 season at Comisky Park on October 3, 1999. The White Sox scored in the bottom of the first inning and neither team tallied again until the top of the 7th when Doug Mientkiewicz singled and Torii Hunter drove him in with a double, both coming with two outs. At that point, with the score tied 1-1 in the middle of the 7th, the game was called due to rain, wind, cold and, I would imagine, indifference.

The Twins simply didn’t matter in 1999.

Win or lose this post season, the Twins matter now and they’ve mattered for the past 9 seasons. It’s good to be a Twins fan! – JC

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*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”.