159-3 is not so Bad

The Twins were swept out of Baltimore in their first series of the year, three games to zero.  Over those three games the Twins managed just 5 runs, and 15 hits to go along with two errors and 16 strike outs.  As bad as those numbers are, it could have been worse, as the Twins scored late in all three games, with all 5 runs coming in the 8th inning or later.  Eerily similar to 2011, the Twins have found themselves down early, offensively challenged and relying on an inexperienced bullpen.

All of that means that the Twins are going to fight an uphill battle to come out of 2012 with a winning record, but it is only three games.  In2006, the 5th best team in Minnesota’s franchise history, the Twins won 96 games.  That teams started the year just 1-5, and had losing streaks of 3 or more games 8 times.  On May 1 that teams was 9-16 and was just routed 8-2 (giving up 19 hits) by a Mariners team that would go on to lose 86 games.  That team would go on to lose to the Cleveland Indians by a score of 11-0 TWICE and another 18-1 loss at the hands of the Detroit Tigers.  Every team is going to have a couple of bad days.

I am certainly not trying to say that the current version of the Minnesota Twins is going to be 30 games over .500, but I think we can hold on to the doomsday conversations for a couple more weeks, after all, those 3 games represent less than 2% of the 2012 schedule, and three losses are only three losses.

For those fans (and players) that may not remember what it looks like, this is Target Field

There are still a couple of positives to take away from this poor start, and the Twins can build on the things they’re doing well in the home opener later today.

  1.  Justin Morneau continues to hit the ball hard.  He’s hitting .400 with 2 doubles and a walk, and a couple of hard line drives that were hit right at defenders for outs.  Focusing on hitting the ball is working for Morneau, if he continues to hit the ball like this, it will not matter what Parmelee is doing with the bat (assuming he starts hitting better than the .125 he’s showing now).
  2. Brian Duensing has made two appearances out of the bullpen, has yet to give up a run and has recorded 2 strike outs.  With the exception of newcomes Matt Maloney and Jared Burton, the Twins bullpen has yet to give up any runs.  Alex Burnett, Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing,  and Jeff Gray have combined to go 5.1 innings with a 0.00 ERA along with 4 strike outs and just 2 hits.  Granted, Maloney and Burton have been bad, but the bullpen is not as bad as it seems, there are plenty of guys going out there and succeeding.
  3. Josh Willingham has a home run, a double, and an outfield assist, throwing out Nick Markakis at home plate in the season opener.  Willingham has not looked great in left field (two errors on Saturday), and he will have to turn that around going forward, but if the rest of the Twins lineup warms up a little bit, this team is going to have an offensive to help mitigate some of the problems with the starting rotation.
  4. Jamey Carroll appears to be a real shortstop.  He is not going to win any Gold Gloves, and he might not be as fresh after 40 games at short, but for the time being Carroll is making all the plays and getting to all the balls in his area.  Outside of J.J. Hardy‘s injury plagued 2010 season the Twins have struggled to find consistent play from their shortstops for the better part of the last decade.  Carroll might just be keeping the spot warm for Brian Dozier, but as long as he’s here, he’s doing everything that’s been asked of him (except hit, despite being a high On Base Percentage guy he has yet to tally a base hit in three games, and has just one walk).

Five runs in three games will not be the norm for this bunch of ball players, unfortunately five runs in three games to start the season takes off a lot of the opening weekend optimism held by fans.  But hang in there, 159-3 is still within reach.

-ERolfPleiss

Great Expectations

With Opening Day upon us, everyone is making their predictions for how this season will unfold. And why not? It’s harmless fun.

But here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about pre-Opening Day prognostications:

  1. They tend to be based way too much on the previous season. I’m amazed every year by how many people who are supposed to be “experts” about Major League Baseball seem to come up with their predictions apparently by doing nothing more than looking at a team’s record the previous year.
  2. There’s a lot of “groupspeak” going on. Once a couple of these “experts” render an opinion about a team, that’s the end of the discussion. Everyone else falls in line with that “conventional wisdom.”
  3. The pre-Opening Day conventional wisdom turns out to be wrong as often as it’s right… and sometimes it’s very wrong.

Don’t believe me? Take a glance at the picks by the ESPN staff (all 45 of them), FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Yahoo Sports trio of writers, and just to make sure the computer projections are represented, take a look at a composite of several such projections (James, PECOTA, etc.). That’s  an even 50 prognostications you can go back to look at.

Or, if you trust my math skills, I’ll save you the trouble of looking:

  • 37 of the 50 picked the Red Sox to win the World Series (the computers didn’t pick a WS champion, but they did project the Sawx to have the best record in baseball). In case you’ve forgotten, Boston collapsed and didn’t make the playoffs. Oops.
  • None… zero… picked the Cardinals to win the World Series… or even be in the World Series. Only ESPN’s Doug Glanville, Peter Pascarelli, Bobby Valentine, Dave Winfield, Joe McDonald and Mark Mulder foresaw the Cards to make the post-season. That’s six out of 50 who believed that the eventual NL champion would even play post-season ball.
  • But what about their AL Central predictions… and specifically, what did they think the Twins would do? Twelve out of the 50 predicted the Twins would win the Division. Then again, why shouldn’t they? They won the AL Central the previous season, right? So who DID the experts like to claim this Division? Well, for 33 of the 50, that would have been the White Sox. The Tigers, who eventually pretty much lapped the field in the AL Central, were the choice of just five prognostications. Give the computers credit, though, they were the consensus pick of the machines (though the same machines did predict that the Twins would win about 84 games).

All of that considered, why shouldn’t we retain some optimism for our Twins?

Last year’s Opening Day roster was good enough that nearly every media “expert” believed they should at least compete in the AL Central Division. What’s changed? While many don’t believe the rotation is any better, I think that’s just a matter of people having short memories of recent failures. I expect the rotation to be stronger. I also expect the bullpen to be better (there are decent arms on this staff AND a couple of guys in Rochester capable of coming up to help, when necessary).

Newcomer Ryan Doumit adds versatility (Photo: Jim Crikket)

The bench depth is considerably better. The starting line-up is better, just considering how much healthier Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are, compared to a year ago. Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit are at least the equals of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel offensively. Is there reason to question whether young players like Chris Parmelee, Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes can perform at Major League levels over the course of a full season? Of course. Then again, they’re bound to be better than Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Drew Butera and Jason Repko.

So, the question I keep asking myself is this: If last April’s roster was expected to win enough games to contend within the AL Central Division, why shouldn’t the expectations for this roster be similar? To my mind, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have similar expectations, last year’s record aside.

It’s fine to keep expectations in check. There remain concerns with the health of key players like Morneau and Scott Baker. Denard Span still speaks of occasional lingering concussion issues. But from top to bottom, I like the looks of this roster much more than I expected to.

The Tigers are still the smart-money choice to win the AL Central Division and, outside of the White Sox, perhaps, the rest of the division could be better than last year, as well. But I fully expect the Twins to be contending at mid-season. If that turns out to be the case, we’ll find out whether ownership is willing to step up and make a deal or two, even if it means nudging the payroll a bit closer to last year’s level.

No team has ever made the playoffs a year after losing 99 games. Then again, few 99-game losers had as many health issues contribute to their lousy season as the Twins had a year ago, nor have others likely had two former MVPs (both still 30 years old or younger) returning from injury the following season.

Am I expecting greatness out of this Twins team? No, of course not. I’m not expecting more than I expected going in to last season. Then again, I’m not expecting a lot less, either.

My point is… there is reason for hope. And hope is really all that fans of any team have this time of year, because no matter how good the experts say your favorite team is, there are no guarantees. Just ask Red Sox fans.

– JC

 

Twins Predictions

Real live baseball (in America) begins tonight, before ramping up on Thursday, leading to the Twins’ opener on Friday in Baltimore.  With opening ceremonies in mind, here are the Knuckleballs Twins Predictions for 2012:

Pitcher of the Year: Scott Baker (minor early season DL stint not-withstanding) Baker was the best of a bad Twins pitching staff in 2011, despite missing chunks of the season on the Disabled List.  I couldn’t tell you why I think he’s going to be healthy and productive this year (which already seems like a bad idea), but I think he will be great.  Jim Crikket thinks that Francisco Liriano will be the best pitcher of the year.   His spring numbers were very positive, he limited his walks and earned plenty of strike outs.  Unfortunately, if you look back just a little farther to his Winter numbers, they’re terrible.  Let’s hope the recent results tell more of a story for 2012.

Hitter of the Year: Justin Morneau  “Morneau is swinging like I haven’s seen him swing in a couple of years. Vicious cuts.” – Jim Crikket  Again, these are only Spring Training at bats, but ever since Morneau flipped the switch and hit two home runs in a game a couple weeks ago he’s been a man on fire.  Moving into the DH position and focusing solely on hitting seems to be working for Morneau.  Success in 2012 will help distance Morneau from his 2010 concussion and he could be playing first base everyday by the All-Star Break.

Defender of the Year: I wanted to select Alexi Casilla as the defender of the year, hoping against hope that he will remain focused, healthy, and attentive at second base and play more than 100 games for the first time in his career.  Jim wanted to go with Denard Span, because for the Twins to succeed in 2012 Span is going to need to cover huge amounts of ground in the left field and right field gaps (gaps which are now wide open with the move to put Josh Willingham and some combination of Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit in the corners).

Rookie of the Year: Chris Parmelee/Liam Hendriks If Parmelee continues to hit like he did last September and this Spring he’ll be a top choice for the Twins’ best rookie.  The other candidate, who made the 25 man roster and will open the season in the starting rotation is Liam Hendriks.  Hendriks was probably slated to come up after 5-10 AAA starts, but because Scott Baker and Jason Marquis are not ready to start the season Hendriks gets a chance to showcase his skills earlier than anticipated.  If he keeps his spot in the rotation when both Baker and Marquis are back you’ll know he’s pitching well and on track to steal a Rookie of the Year award from Parmelee.

Most Valuable Player: Justin Morneau The engine that makes the Twins go is Joe Mauer, but Mauer is even better with a healthy Justin Morneau hitting behind him, forcing pitchers to attack Mauer allowing him to hit doubles all over spacious Target Field and driving in runs for the Twins.  If Morneau comes back and is indeed the hitter of the year, selecting him as the MVP will be as much about what he does as an individual, as what he does in the lineup to help those around him.

Comeback Player of the Year: Francisco Liriano Obviously Justin Morneau is a candidate here if he hits well and helps the team succeed, but after a horrendous 2011, if Liriano returns to his 2010 form he’s one of the best players in baseball.  If Morneau and Liriano are both All-Stars, this team will be lucky to two potential comeback players on their squad.

Expected Record: The Marcel projections peg the Twins for just a 70-92 record, relying heavily on the Twins’ 2011 results as a predictor of 2012 success (and a heavy dose of regression to the mean).  Even if Joe Mauer’s Cindarella Spring Training Clock strikes midnight and he turns in another injury plagued 2012, simply trading Drew Butera for Ryan Doumit means turning a -1.2 WAR into a 1.2 WAR, 2.4 additional wins, and that’s not even factoring in upgraded seasons the Twins are likely to receive from Denard Span, Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll (vs. Tsuyoshi Nishioka), Danny Valencia, and at least half of the Twins’ pitching staff.  Assuming then that the 70-92 record is the worst that the Twins could do in 2012, what is a reasonable expectation for the Home 9?  My best guess, 82-80, Jim Crikket is more optimistic, suggesting even 86-76 for the Twins.  Either way, the Twins are going to be competitive, entertaining and might even be relevant in September.  Will any of this come to pass?   I don’t know, but we’ve got 162 games to find out.  Bring on the baseball!

-ERolfPleiss

Who’s On First?

Media reports coming out of Ft. Myers point out that Justin Morneau hasn’t played first base for the Twins in the past ten days. The conclusion being drawn is that, at best, Morneau is likely to open the season as the team’s Designated Hitter and, at worst, could open the year on the Disabled List.

Justin Morneau

The Twins entered Spring Training with a lot of question marks, not the least of which concerned Morneau’s health. With under two weeks before Opening Day, there’s been good news and bad news about #33. The good news is that we’ve heard nothing to indicate Justin has had any recurrence of the concussion symptoms that have largely kept him off the field for most of the past season and a half. The bad news is that he’s clearly not hitting the baseball like the old Justin and now, apparently, there’s reason to doubt he’s ready to man first base defensively.

While there’s been no official word about Morneau being unfit for defensive duty from Terry Ryan, who’s assumed responsibility for all communication regarding players’ health, clearly the team doesn’t feel Justin is ready to man his position. So, if that remains the case, who will be the Twins’ regular first baseman when games start to count?

Ryan Doumit would, on the surface, seem like the most likely option. He had been penciled in to the regular DH spot, but if Morneau is going to play that role, how better to get Doumit’s bat in the line up regularly than to simply allow him to swap positions with Morneau? This makes perfect sense… except for the pesky fact that he’s barely been asked to play the position this spring for the Twins. If they truly planned to simply swap Doumit and Morneau around, certainly Ron Gardenhire would be getting Doumit a lot more innings at first base.

So, if not Doumit, who?

If the past is predictive of the future, the best way to figure out who’s in the Twins plans if Morneau can’t take the field on Opening Day may be to look at who’s been playing there lately.

Morneau last played first base in a game on March 13 against the Blue Jays. The Twins have played ten games since then. Here’s the list of players that have taken throws at the first sack:

Doumit and Hughes: 1 game each (both yesterday vs. the Yankees)

Mauer: 2 games

Hollimon: 3 games (none of them as a starter)

Bates: 5 games (two as a starter)

Parmelee: 6 games (five as a starter)

As I write this, Joe Mauer is scheduled to start at 1B against the Rays today, with Morneau once again DH’ing.

Chris Parmelee and Paul Molitor

Looking at these numbers, it’s clear that neither Ryan Doumit nor Luke Hughes will be the Twins’ regular first baseman. Hollimon and Bates are also unlikely candidates. That appears to leave two possible scenarios that the Twins may be considering.

1. Keep Chris Parmelee to open the season and play 1B. Parmelee clearly won’t be kept unless he’s going to play every day, but he’s hit well enough this spring to warrant consideration if Morneau can’t go. This option becomes almost a certainty if Morneau should find himself on the DL to start the year. If Morneau is the regular DH, however, this option means Doumit becomes purely a bench player, backing up at catcher and the corner outfield positions. It also means one less bench position is available for the current group of middle infielders battling for those spots. [EDIT: Parmelee is getting a start in RF today, which certainly indicates he’s getting a long look for an Opening Day roster spot.]

2. Make Joe Mauer the regular first baseman and Ryan Doumit the starting catcher. If Morneau is the DH, then the entire expected line up remains intact, with only a shifting of defensive positions.

Of course, the bigger question yet to be answered is whether Justin can get his swing back to the point where he can turn on the ball and drive it the way he used to. It was good to see him drive a double over the center fielder against the Yankees on Friday and we’re all hoping that’s an indication of better days to come because the Twins can’t afford to start the season with a cleanup hitter struggling to reach Drew Butera’s offensive output levels.

– JC

T-Minus 30 Days And Counting

Yes, we are now under a month before Twins pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers for Spring Training. It won’t be long now, gang, before we’re seeing pictures of our guys in uniforms on real baseball diamonds and we’re reading media reports straight from their complex on Six Mile Cypress Parkway.

Terry Ryan

Terry Ryan seems to be pretty much done with his off-season shopping. Whether he SHOULD be done with his shopping is another question entirely and I tend to agree with John Bonnes’ take, which he posted over at his TwinsGeek blog. With so many serviceable and quite affordable veterans still on the market, the Twins are flat out of their minds if they don’t take advantage of the depressed marketplace to pick up some more help.

Todd Coffey and other similar relief arms have to be starting to get pretty anxious about where they’re going to be pitching in 2012. Joel Zumaya may be a low risk-high reward signing, but you certainly can not be serious about counting on him to throw 50 Major League innings this season.

And then there’s Justin Morneau. As TwinsGeek points out, there’s nothing warm and fuzzy feeling about Doc’s comments to the media lately. He certainly doesn’t sound like a guy who’s feeling top of the world and ready to hit the field. I’m not sure a guy like Derrek Lee would be desperate enough to sign on to be the Twins’ fallback option in the event Morneau can’t answer the bell, but there are plenty of other players out there who aren’t going to have many other options.

There’s no rush. The remaining players on the market are largely interchangeable and the prices are only going to go down over the next 3-4 weeks. This is what the Twins are supposed to be good at… scraping the bottom of the free agent barrel and coming up with something worthwhile. Orlando Hudson was barely signed in time to show up for the first workouts of Spring Training a couple of years ago and that turned out pretty well. They don’t need a critical starting infielder this time, just a couple of reliable spare parts.

On the other hand, if the Twins really want to add one more front line player, not many of us would complain. One rumor that’s gotten a little traction has involved starting pitcher Roy Oswalt. Oswalt was never on my list of preferred targets for the Twins this off-season, but I certainly wouldn’t mind if they could sign the guy.

Roy Oswalt (Photo: AP)

He and his agent had reportedly been looking for a multi-year deal for more than $10 million per year after the Phillies bought out his option rather than pay him $16 million for 2012. He had some back problems which certainly would be considered a red-flag, but word is he’s been considering one-year offers lately, with the hope of re-establishing his value and taking another run at a bigger contract next off-season.

The thing is, I really just can’t figure out what the market for Oswalt is. I get the feeling that he’s one of those second-tier pitchers that had to wait until the top-tier guys landed before he would see what the true level of interest in him would be. The problem is, those top-tier guys still haven’t all landed. Edwin Jackson is still out there.

But now that the Rangers have signed Yu Darvish for megabucks, that’s probably one less team that will be willing to throw $8-10 million at Oswalt.

We do know that Oswalt is nearing the end of his career, so you have to figure he wants to play for a legitimate contender if all things are equal. That wouldn’t seem to bode well for the Twins, but speculation seems to be that Terry Ryan might be willing to take a walk up the street to ask Jim Pohlad for approval to exceed that $100 million payroll limit in order to lure Oswalt to Minnesota by offering a multi-year deal.

I honestly think it’s a long shot, but it gives us something to chatter about anyway.

Over the past few years, the final month before Spring Training starts has seen a lot of usable veteran free agents scrambling for jobs and there are bargains to be had out there. Most years, the Twins would be sifting through that bargain bin and picking up a couple of useful parts.

This season should be no exception.

After all, we have another month to kill before we get to actually see baseball. We need something more to talk about!

– JC

Twins Projections, Reactions & Words From @TwinsPrez

I spent the weekend doing almost no thinking about baseball, as difficult as that is to imagine. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ve totally run out of opinions, so here are a few things on my mind at the moment.

Focus on Pitching

I think it’s almost a given that Terry Ryan will be bringing in at least one more pitcher and probably some more potential bullpen help, but I really don’t expect that to happen until at least January some time (and perhaps even right up to the date pitchers and catchers report to Ft. Myers in February). Honestly, I think waiting out the market at this point is probably the smart thing to do.

Paul Maholm can pitch in inclement weather. That could be handy, right?

I advocated in my “blueprint” for consideration of adding Rich Harden and/or Paul Maholm to the rotation and I wouldn’t mind seeing the Twins pick up either guy (or both, if Ryan is feeling particularly ambitious with the Pohlads’ credit card). Frankly, however, the difference between those guys and any of about half a dozen others that are still floating around out there is so marginal that it probably makes sense to see who’s still available in a few weeks when the players and their agents start getting nervous about not having a roster spot and the prices come down.

If you’re just going to sign a guy to compete for the 5th spot in the rotation and maybe a guy to pitch the 6th or 7th inning out of the pen, what’s the hurry?

Exit Kubel

Jason Kubel

We formally bid farewell to Jason Kubel this week as Kubes signed on with the Diamondbacks. I didn’t expect to see him return to the Twins (like Cuddyer and Nathan, it was pretty clear he wanted out of Minnesota). That said, I sure didn’t see the D’Backs as a logical landing spot. They’ve kind of got a pretty full roster of outfielders already and it’s not like they have a DH spot to offer. Maybe they have additional irons in the fire to open up a spot for him and, if so, I can certainly see him having a big year in that ballpark in Arizona.

I can’t help but wonder what kind of player Kubel could have turned out to be for the Twins if he hadn’t blown up his knee in the Arizona Fall League just as he was getting ready to become a regular in the Twins outfield. In any event, I wish him well in Arizona.

Will the Twins be Better?

Since it is now likely that the Twins are done shopping in the free agent market for position players this off season, I was comparing the Opening Day line up the Twins fielded in 2011 with the line up we would anticipate opening the season in 2012.

2011 Opening Day   2012 Projected
Span CF   Span CF
Nishioka 2B   Carroll SS
Mauer C   Mauer C
Morneau 1B   Morneau 1B
Young LF   Willingham RF
Cuddyer RF   Doumit DH
Kubel DH   Valencia 3B
Valencia 3B   Casilla 2B
Casilla SS   Revere LF
  _Pavano P     _Pavano P

Yes, I know the Twins could still trade away one of the projected starters for some pitching and/or payroll relief and that, even if they don’t, the line up could see Willingham hitting 4th and Casilla may be 9th, but these are the players in play right now and this projection is good enough for comparison purposes. Keep in mind, many of us had every expectation that the 2011 line up was at least good enough to compete in the AL Central Division. Essentially, you’re replacing Nishioka, Cuddyer, Young and Kubel with the foursome of Carroll, Willingham, Doumit and Revere.

We could debate whether or not that’s an overall upgrade or downgrade offensively, depending upon which offensive categories you value over others, but I think we would reasonably have every hope that the replacements constitute an improvement on the defensive end. I’d give Cuddyer an edge over Willingham in RF purely based on Cuddyer’s arm and Willingham’s lack of recent experience playing in that corner of the OF. But while Revere’s arm doesn’t have half the oomph that Young’s does, I’d still take Revere in the outfield over Young every day. I think it’s also clear that we all expect the combination of Carroll/Casilla will out-defend the Casilla/Nishioka pairing that opened 2011 in the middle infield.

Of course, the factors that will likely determine whether the 2012 Twins improve their run production and scoring defense enough to restore some level of pride to the organization are the guys hitting in the 1, 3, and 4 spots. Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have to return healthy enough to put up the kind of numbers we expected a year ago. If that happens, I can see it being enough to lead this team to 81 wins and a .500 record.

To improve more than that, it’s going to take similar significant improvement from the pitching staff and we’ll have to wait a while longer to even project the likelihood of that happening.

Executive Communes with the Masses

Twins President Dave St. Peter (Photo: John Mowers)

Twins President Dave St, Peter continues to make himself available to fans via Twitter (@TwinsPrez) and I think you have to give him credit for putting himself out there. Every so often, he sits down and just responds to one question/comment after another. I certainly don’t agree with everything he writes, but he’s by far the most accessible member of the Twins organization when it comes to interacting directly with fans.

Here are a few interesting things I learned from St. Peter’s tweets on Monday night:

  • The Twins’ special event calendar will be announced in February, but he did whet fans appetites with news about one thing planned for 2012: The Twins will have a promotion this season that will involve wearing 1951 Minneapolis Millers throwback uniforms. The opponent will be the Kansas City Royals, with the Royals wearing KC Blues throwbacks. The Millers throwback jerseys and caps will, of course, be available for sale.
  • In response to a question from TC Bear (@TC_00), St. Peter was noncommittal concerning TC getting a Millers throwback jersey to wear, as well. He asked TC whether the Millers had a bear for mascot. TC asked if that meant he would get a night off. The Prez’s response: “No chance!!!!” I guess you can’t blame a bear for trying.
  • He believes the Twins can overcome the losses of Nathan, Cuddyer and Kubel much the way they did the losses of Santana, Hunter and Koskie.
  • Spring Training tickets go on sale January 14.
  • The autograph schedule for Twinsfest will be made public in early January.
  • He likes Bing Crosby Christmas carols. Then again, who doesn’t?!

Again, I could take issue with St. Peter on some issues and I’m certainly not on board with the organization’s mandate to slice payroll more than 10%, but I like that he is willing to answer fans’ questions and even respond to criticisms occasionally. If you’re a Twins fan and aren’t yet following him on Twitter, you definitely should be!

– JC

M&M: Time to Step Up or Shut Up

I’ve grown tired of complaining about the Twins’ stated plans to slash payroll by over 10% and that’s probably indicative that anyone who stops by here from time to time is probably tired of reading those complaints. It’s not like the Twins front office is going to bother explaining their thinking to a blogger and the “traditional media” seems uninterested in asking for justification from the Twins. 

GM Jim Crikket (image: clkr.com)

So, I’m going to do what I usually do when I can’t get anyone to answer my questions. I’m going to assume the role of a person who knows the answer and provide it myself. In that vein, then, here is what I believe to be our blog’s first exclusive interview… with “GM” Jim Crikket.

Knuckleballs: Mr. Crikket, thank you for taking time out of your busy day to talk to us. We know you’ve got the Winter Meetings coming up in Dallas and you certainly have a lot of work to do to prepare.

GM Jim Crikket: I’m glad to have the opportunity and actually there isn’t a whole lot of preparation necessary for the Winter Meetings. It’s not like we’re going to actually do any work there. May go check out the JFK Museum in the old School Book Depository.

Knuckleballs: Um. OK. So that means we shouldn’t expect the Twins to be making any big deals at the Winter Meetings swap meet?

GM JC: Oh the swap meet? Sure! There’s a HUGE swap meet over at a place across the street from Love Field. It’s like a giant indoor flea market. Now that you mention it, that may be better than the JFK Museum.

Knuckleballs: Mr. Crikket, Twins fans all over have been asking why the front office is imposing a significantly reduced payroll for 2012. Can you explain the reasoning?

GM JC: I’m glad to get this opportunity to do just that. I had been hoping someone in the media would ask the question so we could get the facts out there, but all they seem to ask about is whether we’re talking to Michael Cuddyer.

Knuckleballs: So, why cut payroll?

GM JC: The simple answer is, because we expect revenues to drop.

Knuckleballs: Yes, Twins president, Dave St. Peter, Tweeted something to that effect, but didn’t specify what revenues or how much they’ll drop.

GM JC: I think he did provide those details, but that darn 140 character limit might have cut that part out. Anyway… here’s the bottom line:

We don’t think three million people will show up to watch a bad baseball team… or at least they won’t do that two years in a row. Season ticket sales may stay high, but if people don’t actually attend the games all season long, they don’t buy $8 beer or $10 sandwiches and they certainly won’t be buying many $125 jerseys with the names of players who don’t even play very often. That stuff adds up.

Knuckleballs: You’re referring to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau?

GM JC: Yes… and Denard Span and Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano and that shortstop from Japan who’s name I haven’t figured out how to pronounce yet. Pretty much everyone but Pavano. That guy can be a bit of a prick but at least he shows up for work every day.

Knuckleballs: So you don’t think the unusual amount of time Twins players spent on the DL in 2011 was just a fluke?

GM JC: It might have been. Then again, who knows?

Knuckleballs: What DO you know?

GM JC: We know we signed a lot of guys to a lot of multi-year contracts that have made them all multi-millionaires just to play baseball and that most of them didn’t play much baseball last year. We also know we lost 99 games.

Knuckleballs: But what kind of message does it send to fans and, more importantly, to your core of players, when you decide already that you aren’t going to spend the money it might take to surround your stars with proven players?

GM JC: It should tell our fans that we at least noticed that the team sucked last season and we’re not going to spend $115 million on another team that sucks in 2012. As a matter of fact, it should tell our “stars” the same thing.

Knuckleballs: Won’t guys like Mauer and Morneau wonder whether the front office is committed to winning?

GM JC: They might. But then again, that’s only fair, because the front office is wondering just how committed Mauer and Morneau and a few of the others, for that matter, are to winning.

Knuckleballs: You don’t think they want to win?

GM JC: Of course they want to win. Everybody wants to win. But you don’t always get everything you want. You have to do more than want it.

Look, for a bunch of guys who have a reputation for being “quiet leaders”, some of these guys have sure felt free to speak up about what they want. They wanted the trees dug up in center field because they kept them from hitting. We dug them up. That didn’t work so they wanted the “batters eye” changed. We did that and they still didn’t hit. Now they want the fences brought in, but at this point, we’re not convinced that will do anything except increase the number of home runs our pitchers give up.

When we were negotiating all these contracts, they all said they wanted to see our commitment to spending enough money on payroll to win. We did that and we got 99 losses for our efforts. It’s time for the players to show the front office that they’re going to live up to their end of the bargain.

Some of these guys talk about how they demonstrate leadership not by talking a lot but by leading on the field. That’s fine, but it’s time to start doing that.

Knuckleballs: So you’re saying the $100 million mark is a hard limit?

GM JC: I don’t believe in setting hard limits, but it’s a fair estimate of what our Opening Day payroll will be. I can say with certainty that it won’t be what the payroll is at the end of the season. There will be plenty of room to add quality players at mid-season if Mauer, Morneau and the rest have been healthy and productive the first half of the season and the team is playing well enough to be in contention.

Think about it. If our guys get off their butts and play baseball, we’ll have $15 million we can spend over the last three months of the season without exceeding 2011’s payroll. That means we could, theoretically, add rental players that are getting paid $30 million annually, since we’d only be paying them for half the season.

But if our studs sit on their asses from April through June, with weak legs and headaches and sore wrists and stiff whatevers… we’ll be looking to dump just about any player making over $1 million per year that any other team shows an interest in and we’ll start over from scratch a year from now.

But one way or another, the players who wear Twins uniforms in August and September this season will be guys who want to play baseball, not just hang around the clubhouse, wear a Big League uniform and do commercials.

Knuckleballs: Well that’s hard to argue with. Thank you for explaining the club’s position.

Yes… I know… this was nothing but a bit of fictional blogdom fantasy. But you know what? If Terry Ryan or Dave St. Peter would just come straight out and send this message to fans, I’d stand up and applaud. And I’d certainly get off their backs about the payroll.

– JC

 

Reinforcements: Hendriks, Dinkelman, Waldrop

Media reports have Liam Hendriks joining the Twins in time to start Tuesday’s game and he’ll be joined on his trip to the “Show” by Brian Dinkelman and Kyle Waldrop.

Liam Hendriks

The interesting thing is that apparently none of the three players are currently on the Twins’ 40-man roster. There is one opening on that roster currently, so that means a couple of guys are going to have go.

There are a couple of players I certainly wouldn’t shed tears over if they were sent packing for good, but waiving players is only one way to clear room for the new arrivals. Players placed on the 60-day Disabled List are exempted from the 40-man roster.

Denard Span has returned to Minnesota from his home in Florida and is reportedly working out at Target Field. All the same, given the state of the Twins’ season (in the crapper), it might make sense to just shut Denard down for the season and tell him to focus on coming back ready to go in Spring Training 2012. That would open up one spot on the roster for one of the new arrivals.

As for the other… how about this for an idea. Given that Joe Mauer missed several weeks with “general soreness”, can’t we pretty much assume he’ll miss at least the remaining three weeks of the season with his current bout with “general congestion”, too? If so, let’s just throw him on the 60day DL, too and send him home to Ft. Myers. Maybe by Spring Training, he’ll be over his cold (and hopefully will have found his manhood, as well).

While we’re at it, why not just shut Justin Morneau down, too? Is there really any point in having him continue to try to fight his way back on to the field this month?

Brian Dinkelman

Seriously… there is simply no reason to have any of these guys on the field at this point. The next three weeks are about seeing the young players and letting guys like Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel try to finish out their seasons strong enough to make them Type A free agents so the Twins can get an extra draft pick if they decide to play elsewhere next year.

In any event, congratulations to Liam, Brian and Kyle… make the most of your opportunities, gentlemen!

– JC

GameChat – Twins @ Tigers #3, 6:05

Grr… still having a few issues with the service provider but here we are!

The most I have to add to tonight’s pre-game is that I really hope this is one of those Pavano outings that amaze us and give us a series win. We could sure use it right about now and the bullpen would owe him a beer – at the very least.

 

Minnesota

@

Detroit
Revere, CF   Dirks, CF
Plouffe, 2B   Boesch, RF
Mauer, C   Young, D, LF
Morneau, 1B   Cabrera, Mi, 1B
Kubel, RF   Martinez, V, DH
Thome, DH   Avila, C
Valencia, 3B   Peralta, Jh, SS
Tosoni, LF   Kelly, 3B
Nishioka, SS   Santiago, 2B
  Pavano, P     Penny, P

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Minnesota

0

1

0

0

0

0

2

1

2

6

10

0

Detroit

0

0

1

0

0

1

1

1

1

5

12

2

 

YES!!! we actually won a SERIES!!!! Getting 2 of 3 in Detroit really seemed like an impossibility while watching the fielding disaster that was the series in Cleveland – and I’ll admit that the the recurrance of such hellish glovework last night didn’t make me overly confident for tonight.

But actually? This was a surprisingly good game of baseball (despite some oddities) that included a couple different incredibly fun catches for Ben Revere – both off Delmon Young’s bat if I recall correctly – and for that he gets a rootbeer float. The lead went back and forth several times instead of the Twins either giving up a big one and dying or trying to catch up for 9 innings. Pavano had a decent night and they didn’t screw too much up for him this time so Pavano gets a quality beer. Perkins had a bit of trouble but Capps & Nathan came in and got the necessary outs. They too can have a beer of their choice.

But tonight’s story was really about the fact that we had some OFFENSE! There was actual HITTING and RUNS tonight! Thome & Tosoni BOTH hit homeruns which is FANTASTIC. I like that kind of thing but it was fun to see Tosoni go from bunting to a full-swinging homerun. They both get full access to the baked-goods buffet – all you can eat donuts is nothing to sneeze at.

BUT the big prize, today’s BOD goes to Justin Morneau. Timely hitting is timely hitting and he actually knocked in the winning RBI breaking the tie in the top of the 9th. Yeah, that was good stuff. Congrats Doc!

 

 

News for tomorrow: there will be a roster move announced tomorrow when they figure out a couple things going on – Span is not likely to be playing, Kubel will be gone for family reasons and the Twins are recalling Hughes.. again. Not sure how that room will be happening but they’ll let us know tomorrow.

I’m just excited that they are coming back to Minnesota in such a good mood.

If The Price Is Right

If it’s the All-Star Break, then it must be time for fans to start talking about trades. We are, after all, just past the mid-point of the season and the non-waiver trade deadline is less than three weeks away.

At this point there are three kinds of teams… obvious buyers, obvious sellers and everyone else. The Twins are in that “everyone else” category because they haven’t established themselves as an obvious contender nor have they fallen so far back in the standings that they have virtually no chance of becoming contenders.

So, that means everyone is (or soon will be) posing the question, “Should the Twins Buy or Sell?” To me, the answer is… “Yes, if the price is right.”

What’s that you say, it wasn’t a “yes or no” question? Too bad.

Bill Smith

July trades generally are made between two parties, one a contender and one… well… not. The contender (or “buyer”) has a spot or two to fill to help push them to the top of the standings and/or prepare them to be a stronger playoff team. Their GM has to be willing to do one of two things… or both… (a) give up highly rated prospects or young (read: cheap) MLB-ready players; and/or (b) take on significant salary owed to an established (and often overcompensated) veteran player.

The other party to these trades (the “seller”) has some highly paid veteran players that are either having good seasons or have put up good numbers recently enough that a contending team might be willing to bet they could help put their team over the top this season and that team is looking to restock with young players that will help next season… and for several years to come. They also are likely looking to shed some salary because they recognize attendance is going to be dropping the rest of the season.

I think the Twins, thanks to the very weird season they’ve endured, find themselves in a unique position… they’ve pressed a lot of young players in to Major League action and many of them have performed well enough to demonstrate that they fit the “MLB-ready” criteria that “sellers” are wanting in return for established players. They also find themselves with an abundance of veteran outfielders and pitchers… many of whom will be free agents at the end of this season… that could be attractive to contending “buyers”. Finally, they’re already certain to exceed 3 million in paid attendance, so there’s no need at all to consider shedding salary to be a factor.

Denard Span

It amazes me how many suggestions I’ve read that the Twins trade a Denard Span or a Delmon Young for established relief pitching. That’s absurd on two levels. First, nobody who has top veteran relief pitching to trade is likely to look for expensive veterans in return. They’re going to want young players they can continue to pay the league minimum to for a while. Also, you simply don’t trade players of the quality of Span, Young, Cuddyer, etc., for relief pitching. Ever.  MAYBE you trade your Rene Tosonis and Trevor Plouffes… legitimate prospects (but not future superstars), guys you can (and likely will) find a way to live without in the future… for relief pitchers. The Twins SHOULD be “buyers”… they SHOULD get relief help… and they have enough decent young talent to use for that purpose. There are a lot of decent relievers (meaning better than what the Twins have been trotting out there for middle relief) on the market so it should be a buyer’s market. There’s no need to overpay.

At the same time, the Twins have demonstrated that they can compete without the likes of Delmon Young, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel in the line up. The question is… should they trade away a veteran or two and continue to try to compete without them? If the price is right, sure, why not?

Delmon Young

Of course, you do not just give any of these guys away. Even those who are going to be free agents are likely to be good for compensatory supplemental draft picks if they walk away at the end of the season. But because guys like Ben Revere, Luke Hughes, Anthony Swarzak, and Glen Perkins have demonstrated they can be relied upon to play a role with a contending team, the Twins CAN afford to deal SOME of their veterans and still remain in contention in the AL Central Division. If Twins GM Bill Smith can get real prospects in return for one of his outfielders or one of his pitchers, he should go ahead and do it. Would that mean running a risk in the event the Twins get hit with more injuries? Absolutely… but a GM’s job is to evaluate and take acceptable risks.

But what if the Twins do none of this? What if Smith takes a summer vacation and leaves his phone in the Twin Cities? Can the Twins compete if they do nothing at all?

Well, I still think getting some relief help is important, but otherwise… yeah… the Twins could stand pat and make a serious run the second half of the season… and in to the playoffs. How is that possible?

Justin Morneau

It’s possible because, even if Bill Smith takes that long summer vacation, he will be adding three quality veteran players by the July 30 deadline and another… a former MVP… by the August 30 waiver-deal deadline. Delmon Young has been reactivated and Denard Span sounds like he won’t be far behind. Jason Kubel should be returning not long afterward. Justin Morneau’s recovery seems on target for mid August. Name me a contending team that wouldn’t give a boatload to get four players like that over the next 5 weeks! And Smith doesn’t have to give up a thing.

And here’s the bonus, in my mind… many teams (including past Twins teams) expend so much emotion and energy trying to make the surge necessary to dig out of a deficit in the standings that their tank is empty in September and October. They’re worn out mentally and beat up physically. But most of the Twins top players shouldn’t be feeling worn down. Mauer, Morneau, Young, Kubel, Span… they’ll all be far fresher than most players at that point in the season.

The Twins also have enough starting pitching, with Swarzak, Kevin Slowey and Kyle Gibson (again, we’re assuming the GM makes no deals) ready to step in, that any member of the current rotation who gets as much as a hangnail could be DL’d for 14 days, allowed to get rested up, and come back strong.

This is not the time for Bill Smith to overspend. He doesn’t need… in fact can’t afford… another trade where he gives up a top prospect for a relief pitcher, like the Ramos-for-Capps deal a year ago. He can afford to wait for a trading partner who’s willing to overspend and, if necessary, settle for a moderate deal for middle relief help.

I hope he shows patience because God knows the blogging world is likely to urge otherwise.

– JC