Gardy’s Bi-lingual!

Who’da thunk it?

We all wondered how long it would take for Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to learn to communicate with the Twins’ most recent import from the other side of the globe. Well, thanks to 1500ESPN radio’s Phil Mackey, we now know that Gardy has learned enough of his new infielder’s native language to communicate a bit… even if the player himself appears to be having a little trouble understanding exactly what his manager is saying.

Oh… you think I’m talking about Gardy knowing enough Japanese to chat with Tsuyoshi Nishioka? Heavens no… I think we’ll be seeing Gardy with his handy-dandy English/Japanese pocket dictionary all summer long.

Luke Hughes (Photo: Brian Henricksen)

But apparently he’s been much quicker to pick up enough Australian to communicate with red-hot rookie infielder Luke Hughes, as evidenced by this quote from Mackey’s post game notes:

“I asked him, ‘Mate, have you ever played shortstop.’ He went, ‘Are you serious?’ And I went, ‘Very serious.’ Then I went, ‘Nevermind the question, just go play short.'”

That’s our Twins manager… Crocodile Gardee!

One other item in Mackey’s post that I really liked to see was his quotes from Kevin Slowey.  You may have heard that Gardenhire has handed out four of the starting rotation spots already and, with one spot remaining, Slowey and Scott Baker are the last two men waiting for the music to stop in this rather bizarre cake walk game.

Slowey’s thrown 10 innings in his past three starts without giving up a run, so you could certainly understand if he was feeling a bit overlooked, and possibly even disrespected, by his manager stringing him along. But here’s Slowey’s response when asked how much he’s sweating out these last couple weeks of Spring Training:

“None, really,” he said. “It’s not really worth sweating it. I think you ask any one of the guys in this clubhouse, we’ll do anything it takes to help this team win. And I think we’ve seen that the last couple years.

“You’ve seen a guy like Jim Thome, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he doesn’t get 300 at-bats last year. He’s not complaining one bit. He’s talking about how excited he is to be a part of a championship team. I think if a guy like that can be satisfied with just being part of the team, certainly I can do the same.”

Is that a great response, or what? It also goes to show what kind of example Mr. Incredible, Jim Thome, is providing in that clubhouse.

I’m outta here!

This is it… the time has finally come… I head to Ft. Myers tomorrow (Tuesday) morning and while the weather outside isn’t TOO bad here, it’s nowhere near what I’m seeing in the forecast for Ft. Myers for the next seven days. (Wednesday through Tuesday… Highs ranging from 83-84, lows 58-62 and Sunny every day except Wednesday, when I’ll have to deal with partly cloudy skies. I’ll try to cope.)

I’m planning on spending Wednesday morning at both the Major League and minor league practice fields and then catching the Twins and Mets in the afternoon. Media reports are that Joe Mauer may very well making his Spring Training debut as a DH Wednesday and, since the following two games are on the road, I would expect to see pretty much all of the A-list position players in that game.

I am wondering a bit, though, how both Mauer and Thome will be managing to get swings in during the week I’m down there. The Twins have only two home games during the next week, Wednesday’s game with the Mets and Saturday’s with the Rays. The other four games between now and a week from today are road games with the Tigers (Lakeland), Orioles (Sarasota), Blue Jays (Dunedin), and Pirates (Bradenton). It’s hard to imagine either Mauer or Thome rattling across Florida on a bus. With minor league games getting started, maybe they’ll get a few cuts in one or two of those games.

Check in here at Knuckleballs from time to time… I’ll try to post a bit while I’m gone. I’m also going to try to send Howard a report or two that he can post over at “A Fan’s View From Section 219″… something he’s been gracious enough to let me do for several years now.

Finally, let’s sign off by sharing the following excellent Public Service Announcement, shown during Monday’s Twins/Marlins broadcast, from Michael Cuddyer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (video clip from the Star Tribune):

 

Trade Pitching? What’s the Rush?

Naturally, the big news coming out of the Twins’ “B” game against the Pirates Tuesday… the thing that had Twitter thumbs getting a workout… was the triumphant (and more importantly, healthy) return of first baseman Justin Morneau. Delmon Young’s debut, with a couple of walks in his two plate appearances, was less dramatic, but still noteworthy and smile-inducing. But once the dust settled on their stories, we started reading what arguably could be the most intriguing news to come out of that game, played before just a couple of hundred sets of eyes on a distant practice field that, starting this weekend, will be used exclusively for putting 18 and 19 year old minor leaguers through drills.

Is Kevin Slowey on the market?

It seems not all of the folks watching that game were vacationing Twins fans. Among the observers were a handful of people with well trained eyes focused on Twins starting pitcher Kevin Slowey, who according to reports from those in attendance, pitched an effective few innings against the Pirates’ “B” line-up. Reportedly, several scouts from the Blue Jays were watching Slowey and even videotaping his performance. The Rockies also apparently had a scout at the game.

The Twins entered Spring Training with two rotation spots nailed down and a number of other pitchers, with varying degrees of Major League experience, competing for the other three starting pitcher jobs. Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano were considered locks, while Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Brian Duensing constituted the pool of arms from which the remaining three rotation jobs would be drawn. Top prospects Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers would be waiting in the wings for opportunities later in the season and the Twins also have a group of pitchers (for example, Glen Perkins, Kyle Waldrop, Jeff Manship, and perhaps others) that are initially competing for bullpen jobs but could be called upon in a pinch to start games, if need be.

It was a solid, if unspectacular, group of starting pitchers and the plan looked and sounded like a reasonable approach to get through the spring and probably through the first couple of months of the season, at least. Many of us think the Twins may still need a true top-of-the-rotation guy to carry the Twins beyond the first round of the playoffs, but that’s a need that is always easier to address in July, when a number of teams have fallen out of contention and enter cost-cutting mode, than it is in March when hope springs eternal in camps all over Florida and Arizona.

Pitchers and catchers had barely put on practice jerseys when media speculation about a possible trade of Liriano to the Yankees began to circulate. Those rumors have quieted now, but in the mean time, manager Ron Gardenhire has gone on record committing two more of those coveted rotation spots to Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn. If Gardy sticks to those commitments (which I don’t think is necessarily as certain as people may tend to think), that leaves just one remaining starting role up for grabs between Baker and Slowey.

That’s one too many roosters for the rotation henhouse and thus the scouting eyes focused on Slowey’s performance Tuesday and the inevitable speculation that Slowey may be on the verge of being traded to Toronto in return for some of the Jays’ surplus of bullpen arms.

That seems to make sense to a lot of people. In fact, during his podcast last night, Jack Steal (Twins blogger “Fanatic Jack”) voiced a number of concerns that I think a lot of Twins fans have. (TwinsCentric blogger John Bonnes, of “TwinsGeek” fame, and I sparred with Jack on this and other issues… you can listen to the archived podcast at 612sports.net.)

People still aren’t comfortable with the prospect of letting Gardy and pitching coach Rick Anderson sift through the large group of relatively unknown options that GM Bill Smith brought in to camp to compete for the middle relief roles behind Joe Nathan, Matt Capps and Jose Mijares. So why shouldn’t the Twins go ahead now and trade their surplus starting pitcher to strengthen their questionable bullpen?

I’m glad you asked.

Let’s start with a basic truth. Starting pitchers good enough to hold down a spot in a Major League rotation are more important, more valuable, more difficult to find, and more difficult to replace when you need them, than even the best middle relief pitchers. They just are.

Second, you need more than five starting pitchers. Remember Scott Baker going on the Disabled List just before the Twins broke camp in 2009? Remember Nick Blackburn needing a family medical leave last April? Having six starting pitchers with a history of having success at the top levels of baseball should not be considered a luxury, it should be looked at for what it is… a potential significant advantage over the competition. Every team, including the Twins, is likely to need at least six starting pitchers, even during the first couple of months of the season. The difference between the Twins and other teams is that they have the depth to meet that need when it arises.

Will Liriano be ready to lead in April?

Has anyone read the reports about Liriano’s lack of offseason preparedness and his shoulder discomfort and not come away with some level of concern over whether he’s going to be reliable when the season opens in April? How many of the projected starting pitchers had some sort of “clean up” done on their elbows this winter? If we’re uncomfortable with the prospect of Perkins, Manship, Waldrop, et al, coming in for a couple of innings in the middle of games, just how comfortable are we going to be if those are the options to plug the holes in the rotation?

Does this mean the Twins shouldn’t ever consider trading one of their starting pitchers? Of course not. But why hurry? We’re still about three weeks away from Opening Day. Nobody can say with any certainty what the Twins’ real needs will be by then. The relief arms in camp right now have thrown about 4-5 innings each. That’s not nearly enough to conclude that the bullpen is going to need shoring up. What if one of the big sticks blows out a knee over the next three weeks? If guys like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Danny Valencia or Denard Span are forced to miss significant early time, don’t we think a surplus starting pitcher to deal away for a legitimate everyday replacement might be a nice option to have?

Making a trade now would also unnecessarily limit the market. When the Liriano rumors started flying, all anyone talked about was that the Yankees needed rotation help. Then the Cardinals lost Adam Wainright and the potential bidders doubled. Just in the last few days, the Cardinals have seen Chris Carpenter miss time with a hamstring issue, the Dodgers have found out they’ll start the season without Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland, and the Brewers announced Zack Greinke will miss time with a rib injury. How many more teams will figure out they’re short handed in their rotations over the next few weeks?

It just makes no sense to me to trade any of the Twins’ starting pitchers until (a) the Twins themselves are 100% certain they don’t need that pitcher themselves, (b) Opening Day is close enough on the horizon that the Twins know exactly what the most important position to fill via trade is, and (c) the market for starting pitchers is given enough time to fully develop, maximizing the number of potential bidders for a pitcher and therefore maximizing the value received in return.

There may come a time when it makes sense to trade from a perceived surplus of starting pitching. Now is not that time.

– JC

T.G.I.F.

I realized this morning that I haven’t posted anything here in almost a week and a half. If not for Babs’ great Farewell Photo Montage, we might very well have had our first full week without a Knuckleballs post since we started this blog 11ish months ago. I realize that there has been at least a little bit of news coming out of Twinsville that I certainly could have commented about. But there’s a good reason why I haven’t.

This week has sucked and I’ve been in a really… really… bad mood.

My family and those who report to me at my place of employment apparently realized quite early in the week that this was going to be one of those weeks where they’re better off just leaving the man alone. My boss, who works in an office about 1500 miles away from where my office is, had no way of knowing it was a bad week to talk to me… especially about things he knew (or should have known) were going to piss me off even more. I believe, after a couple of mid-week conversations, he now would agree with everyone else that avoiding me was probably in everyone’s best interests.

In the middle of all this, I’m not really sure what I could have or would have written about the Twins… but there’s a good chance it wouldn’t have been very nice.

But today is, after all, Friday. The workweek is all but over. I’m still employed (for the moment, anyway). I’m not sure my family’s continued silence isn’t indicative that they’ve permanently disavowed me, but I’m relatively certain they’ll need money at some point and will break down and talk to me again.

So to honor the end of this dreadful week in the life of Jim Crikket, let’s quickly hit on a few Twins-related items before we tackle the weekend.

Twinsfest, et al.

I think the entire 2-week period leading up to Twinsfest is very cool. I know many teams have some sort of “fanfest” event in the offseason, but I don’t know of any that do it up the way the Twins do.

I’ve never attended any of the Twins Caravan stops (they don’t get within even a couple of hours of my home), but from all reports, these are great public relations events and do a lot to not only get fans thinking about baseball in January, but also to introduce some of the younger players to the Twins community. It seems to be a bit of right of passage for players who are just now beginning to live their dream of being a Big League ballplayer.

I watched some of FSN’s webcast of the Diamond Awards Banquet last night and that looks like another pretty impressive event. Again, I don’t know how many other organizations put together a charity fundraiser out of their team awards, but it’s cool thing. I have to say I was very impressed that Jesse Crain showed up to accept the team’s Community Service Award. I don’t know how many people have faced the gut-wrenching prospect of leaving the only real employer you’ve ever worked for, but as one who has, I can only say that I understand his emotions getting the best of him a bit when he spoke. It’s tough for me to “like” anyone wearing a White Sox uniform, but Crain definitely won me over a bit last night. I appreciate class in a person, regardless of the uniform, and he showed class.

Crain will also be the last Twin to wear #28 as the Twins brass announced at the event that they’ll be retiring that number in honor of Bert Blyleven. The ceremony will take place July 16 before the Twins game with the Royals that day. It’s an appropriate… and probably long overdue… honor for Bert.

As for Twinsfest itself, I’ve only been to the event once and I won’t be attending this weekend. A few years ago, my son and I attended and while I really enjoyed the event, what I remember most about it was lining up to get inside the Dome an hour or so before doors opened and standing that entire time in about 15-below-zero temperatures. I’m not saying I’ll never attend the event again, but I have to admit that when I put together a list of my preferred places to travel to in January, Minneapolis (or even Blaine) is not anywhere near the top of the list. I’ll try to be patient and wait to see the guys in Ft. Myers in March.

Oh… and for anyone still unsure, it was absolutely the right decision to tell Justin Morneau to stay on his program at home and skip Twinsfest. If you can’t see that, I’m  not sure what to say… you’re just wrong. Period. I think we should all also stop parsing every word Bill Smith says about Doc as if he’s speaking in some sort of code that needs to be deciphered. Given the issues Morneau had last season after his injury, the prudent thing to do was make sure he gave his head a lengthy rest period followed by a workout program that gradually built up to having him ready to go full tilt on Opening Day. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, that is exactly what the Twins have done.

Jim Perry, Twins Hall of Fame inductee

I haven’t paid a lot of attention to who is and isn’t in the Twins Hall of Fame. My first reaction, though, when I read that Jim Perry had been elected this year was, “How could he just now be getting elected?”

Then I was reading another blog about Perry’s election and the very first comment under it said something about picking from the “bottom of the barrel” and how they should just stop electing people if they aren’t going to give Chuck Knoblauch his due. Well that pissed me off (then again, it didn’t take much to piss me off this week).

I guess this is where I resort to being an old curmudgeon, but I think pretty much anyone who’s been following the Twins throughout their time in Minnesota, as I have, would tell you that not only should Perry have been elected to the Twins’ HOF long before a lot of the guys who are already there, but there are still a LOT of Twins from the 1960s-70s-80s who deserve that honor. With all due respect to those who have already been so honored, it’s hard for me to take seriously any Twins HOF that doesn’t already include Perry,  Camilo Pascual, Cesar Tovar, and Dave Goltz, among others. Whoever votes for this honor isn’t anywhere near the “bottom of the barrel” yet, believe me.

Things that rhyme with “itching”

Again, it may be at least partially reflective of my overall sour mood this week, but I’ve grown REAL tired of all the bitching about the pitching.

Look, I know we need to have something to talk about and I understand that the bullpen is nothing but question marks and we didn’t get the top-of-the-rotation guy many of us (including me) hoped for. But we’ve all been spending way too much effort analyzing, cross-analyzing, re-analyzing, and most of all criticizing every move the Twins make with regard to their pitching staff.

We can all pontificate for weeks about what we think the Twins’ pitching staff should be, will be or might have been… but there’s only one thing I can say on the subject with any confidence and that’s that we would ALL end up being wrong. If there’s one thing history tells us, it’s that a team’s pitching never goes exactly the way anyone expects it to. Remember… with just a week or so before the Twins wrapped up Spring Training last year, all the chatter was about whether Francisco Liriano would be the Twins’ FIFTH starter or work out of the bullpen. People who think Brian Duensing or Kevin Slowey are destined to be sent to the pen or traded mid-year to make room for Kyle Gibson might want to keep that in mind.

And I won’t even go in to how desperate we must be for something to debate about when the best we can come up with is whether or not the Twins should have risked losing Rob Delaney to pick up Dusty Hughes from the Royals’ scrapheap.

Hammond Stadium is waiting

OK, I can tell my mood is starting to affect my writing at this point, so it’s best that I stop here.

The weekend is almost here, Twinsfest is hopping over in Blaine, and we’ll have pitchers and catchers reporting to Ft. Myers in three weeks! Thank Goodness it won’t be long before we’ll have real baseball stuff to talk about!

– JC

Things That Make Me Go “Hmmm”

George Carlin

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

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

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

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

Zack Greinke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Sweeney

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

That’s all for now! – JC

Baseball Means Saying Good-bye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s look at the rest.

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

Will Thome hit #600 as a Twin?

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

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

Will Nick Punto and Orlando Hudson be back?

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

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

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

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

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

Almost certainly gone: Mahay, Flores, Rauch, Fuentes

Probably gone: Guerrier, Crain, Hudson, Pavano

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

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

Almost certainly staying: Young, Mijares

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

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

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

How Did We Get Here? (Part 2)

Earlier, in Part 1 of this essay, we took a trip down Memory Lane back in to last offseason and through spring training and discussed some of the decisions made by Bill Smith and Ron Gardenhire as they constructed the roster that the Twins would start the 2010 season with. Now let’s take a look at how those decisions worked out.

In essence, the Twins started the 2010 season with six starting pitchers that they felt pretty good about, a bullpen that was missing its anchor in Joe Nathan, but was otherwise solid, an improved starting line up and a bench with some speed and one very dangerous bat.

When Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy and Nick Punto (3/4 of the Opening Day infield) collectively made seven trips to the Disabled List, Alexi Casilla was there to fill in because the Twins decided not to risk losing him to waivers in order to keep Matt Tolbert or Danny Valencia to begin the season. The decision to start the year with Valencia and Tolbert in Rochester and Casilla with the Twins has resulted in all three of them being available to make significant contributions when the starting infielders went down.

Danny Valencia

By the way, it’s just plain mean to say that Nick Punto’s biggest contribution to the Twins success was getting injured and thereby allowing Danny Valencia to take over full time at 3B. Mean… and not altogether accurate. The truth is that Valencia’s ticket back to Rochester had pretty much been bought and paid for when Justin Morneau bumped his head against Blue Jays’ 2B John McDonald’s knee. It was Morneau’s absence and the resulting move of Michael Cuddyer to 1B that kept Valencia in Minnesota.

Of course, it was also Morneau’s injury that made Smith’s signing of Jim Thome all the more important.

Keep in mind, this is the same Jim Thome that mlb.com columnist Hal Brody had written the following about during mid-March:

So, Thome, in the twilight of a career that should land him in the Hall of Fame, will be used mostly as a late-inning pinch-hitter. This is Spring Training, when most everyone oozes with optimism, but the dark side is if Thome’s skills diminish during 2010 he might not finish the year with the Twins.

Or it could be a swan song, his final season.

Jim Thome

In the second half of the season, Thome has hit for a .310 average, with a .450 on-base percentage and a .722 slugging percentage. That’s a 1.172 OPS in 44 games (38 of which he has started as the DH). “Swan song” indeed.

So yes, decisions to sign Hudson and Thome and to keep Casilla to start the season have proved to be huge.

But let’s look at the pitching.

Yes, the Twins have been without the services of Joe Nathan. But they have three pitchers who have racked up over 20 saves each this season (though obviously not all for the Twins). Jon Rauch did well filling in at the back end of the bullpen during the first half of the season. When he started to show some signs of faltering, the Twins traded for Matt Capps. Sure, maybe they overpaid for him, but he’s gotten the job done. Then just for good measure (and to have a shut down arm against lefty hitters), Smith went and got Angels closer Brian Fuentes.

Jesse Crain

So the Twins replaced Nathan with three closers… and yet none of them has been their best relief pitcher this year. That would have to be Jesse Crain (the same Jesse Crain who was rumored to be a non-tender candidate in December), who recovered from a shaky start to the season to become virtually unhittable for the past few months. He’s the guy who has come in to get the critical outs against the opposing team’s toughest hitters before the ninth inning rolls around.

Finally, how huge does that decision NOT to convert Francisco Liriano to a closer look right now? The Twins started the season with six starting pitchers they felt they could rely upon. The two who were battling for the final roster spot, Liriano and Brian Duensing, will pitch games 1 and 3 of the ALDS in October, but the other four haven’t been shabby either.

Those six pitchers, Liriano and Duensing along with Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and Carl Pavano, have  started all but three games for the Twins this season and nobody outside of that group has started more than one game. All six have been credited with at least 10 wins this season. (By comparison, in 2009, the Twins used 11 starting pitchers, 8 of them started at least 9 games, and only three of them notched 10 or more wins.)

So, how did the Twins get here…with a Division Championship already under their belts with another week and a half of games to play?

I don’t want to minimize the contributions of the other starting pitchers or of guys like Joe Mauer, Delmon Young, Denard Span and Jason Kubel who have all obviously played significant roles in the Twins’ success and the ironman versatility of Michael Cuddyer shouldn’t be underappreciated.

But in my mind, the decisions to retain Pavano and Crain, add Thome and Hudson, keep Liriano in a starting pitcher role and give Casilla the final roster spot out of Spring Training made the difference between the 2010 Twins once again being borderline contenders and being a team capable of blowing away the AL Central competition.

It’s been a fantastic ride so far… let’s hope the best is yet to come! – JC

Boyfriend of the Month for August: Dead Heat at the Wire

The folks who have gathered in our GameChats handed out 22 Boyfriend of the Day (BOD) awards in August (a few more than the actual number of Twins wins because we had some co-BOD games mixed in there). Heading in to the final game of the month, there were no fewer than eight players tied for the lead in the Boyfriend of the Month battle. That’s a far cry from the month of July when Delmon Young had his monster month and walked away with BOM honors.

But before we get to this month’s BOM award, let’s take a glance at where the race for Knuckleballs’ Boyfriend of the Year stands heading in to September. This race is all but over, folks. It will take someone getting awfully hot down the stretch to overtake DY’s lead in the BOY race, given that he holds a 12 to 7 lead over Francisco Liriano on the year. Frankie’s grip on “runner up” honors is much more tenuous, however. Fellow rotation members, Kevin Slowey and Carl Pavano have racked up 6 BODs each, while the group of Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel, and Danny Valencia all are still within reach of Liriano with 5 BODs a piece.

Turning back to Boyfriend of the Month… as it turns out, it was very appropriate that Valencia and Michael Cuddyer wrapped up the month of August with co-BOD performances against the Tigers on Tuesday night. Heading in to that final game, those two guys joined Mauer, Liriano, Slowey, Jim Thome, Scott Baker and Brian Duensing with two BOD awards during the month, making August by far the month with the largest number of players earning multiple awards.

But with their efforts on Tuesday, Michael and Danny did just enough to separate themselves from the pack and earn co-Boyfriend of the Month awards for August! – JC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. A huge thank you to Joe Christensen at the Star Tribune for sending out via text message (and his blog) a link to this column by Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin. It’s a terrific read for anyone who saw games at the Met, the Dome and Target Field (and a pretty darn good read even for those who didn’t). If you only have time to read one more article online today, make it that one. – JC

Twins History Lesson: August 16-22

Before we dig in to the events that transpired during the upcoming week in Twins history, I want to take a few moments to mention a bit more about one of the reference sources we use for this feature. We footnote three sources that we routinely check every week at the bottom of each Twins History Lesson post*.

One of those resources, however, warrants a little extra mention. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Twins Trivia site just provides a few obscure facts about our favorite team. There is so much more of interest to be found there. Want to know exactly which players have worn your favorite jersey number over the years? It’s there. Too young to remember what Metropolitan Stadium looked like, there are a bunch of pictures (including a link so some pictures of an abandoned “Met” that almost brought tears to my eyes). There are interviews with a boatload of former Twins, as well. And of course, there are all of the facts and figures you would expect from a “trivia” site. I highly recommend the site and you can always find the link in our Twins Blogroll list at the right.

Now, on to this week in Twins history…

Kicking off the week on August 16:

1975: You think having a multi-hit game is a big deal? On August 16, 1975, you needed at least two hits just to feel like you played a role at all in the Twins’ 9-1 win over Cleveland. The Twins set a MLB record with nine different hitters collecting at least two hits. Those hitters were Lyman Bostock, Dan Ford, Rod Carew, John Briggs, Tony Oliva, Eric Soderholm, Steve Braun, Jerry Terrell and Phil Roof.

Tom Kelly

1990: A lot has been made of Michael Cuddyer being moved around the field this season by manager Ron Gardenhire, but on this date in 1990, Tom Kelly took the title of “manager” to a whole new level during a game with the Indians. Kelly shifted Kirby Puckett from RF to SS.. to 3B… and finally to 2B while moving Al Newman from 3B to SS and back to 3B, all in the 8th inning alone.

R.A. Dickey is having a very nice season for the Mets this season after never quite having the sort of success with the Twins that the organization hoped he might in 2009. Reportedly, Ron Gardenhire had wanted a knuckleballer on the staff because he felt such a pitcher could be successful in the climate controlled Metrodome. Given Dickey’s performance for the Mariners against the Twins at the ‘Dome on August 17, 2008, it’s not real  clear what may have made Gardy draw that conclusion. On that date, Dickey tied a MLB record with four wild pitches in one inning. He could have broken the record if not for one additional pitch that found the backstop being ruled a passed ball charged to catcher Kenji Johjima.

August 18 has seen a “first” and a “last” of note over the years:

1966: It may not roll off the tongue as smoothly poetic as “Tinker to Evers to Chance”, but Rollins to Tovar to Killebrew made history on 8/18/66 when Rich, Cesar and Harmon turned the first triple play in Twins history during a game against the Angels at Met Stadium.

1986: Twenty years later, Hall-of-Famer-to-be Tom Seaver struck out 7 Twins in 8.2 innings in a Red Sox win over the Twins to earn his 311th, and final, career win.

Johan Santana

Tell me if this sounds at all familiar, Twins fans… a Twins pitcher walks off the mound during what could be a historic night with his team nursing a 1-0 lead. But having already thrown over 100 pitches, manager Ron Gardenhire puts team and the health of the pitcher ahead of “history” and lets the pitcher know he’ll be turning to the bullpen. Kevin Slowey on Sunday? Nope… on August 19, 2007, it was Johan Santana who had struck out 17 Rangers in 8 innings and was within 3 Ks of matching the MLB record of 20 in a game. There was no Jim Thome to give the Twins a cushion on that day, but Joe Nathan struck out 2 in the 9th to help set the Twins single game team record of 19 strikeouts and seal the 1-0 win. Santana gave up only two hits to the Rangers… both by Sammy Sosa.

Ken Landreaux was having a good season for the Twins in 1979 but when you’re the player a team gets back in a trade for a certain Hall of Famer like Rod Carew, living up to expectations is pretty much a lost cause. Nonetheless, On August 20, 1979, Landreaux came through with a very Carew-like performance as he ripped three extra base hits (double, triple, HR) and drove in six runs in a 10-5 win over the Red Sox.

The Beatles at Met Stadium (Photo by Sully)

Where were you on August 21, 1965? If you were at Metropolitan Stadium, you were among a packed house of screaming fans… but the Twins were nowhere to be seen. The Beatles were playing at the Met that night!

Our look back at August 22 goes back only two years to 2008. Rookie Carlos Gomez set a Twins rookie stolen base record by swiping his 27th base of the season, breaking a club record held at the time by Luis Rivas.

That’s enough for this week, I think. We’ll skip over a few August trades involving guys most of us have never heard of (sorry, Jackie Collum) or prefer to forget (that would be you, Joe Mays) as we anxiously await the inevitable demolishing of the White Sox remaining playoff hopes this week. Go Twins! – 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”.

GameChat – A’s @ Twins #3, 1:10 pm

CapitalBabs is at Target Field today, which means two things… we hope to have a first-person report of the game, complete with photos, by tomorrow AND you have to put up with me posting the lineups and setting up the GameChat today. I haven’t had this much responsibility in a while, so I hope I don’t blow it.

First, let’s cover a few team notes being reported this morning.

As was indicated last night, the Twins plan to activate Nick Punto off of the Disabled List in time for him to be eligible to play in the first game of the WhiteSox series on Tuesday. Today, Gardy indicated “a catcher” would be sent to Rochester to make room for Punto. Hmmmm… wonder who that will be. I suggest someone call Rochester to make sure Jose Morales’ RedWings uniform has been cleaned.

Matt Tolbert has been doing his “rehab assignment” with the RedWings and the Twins now have officially reactivated him and optioned him to Rochester. No surprise there. His rehab stint has gone well but there’s simply no spot on the Twins for him at this point.

Over the past week or so, there has been some discussion about what roster move the Twins would/should make when Justin Morneau is reactivated. With Morales sent down, there really isn’t any obvious position player deserving of a demotion. In any event, it turns out this discussion can wait for a while… and perhaps a long while. Doc has apparently still not had a single symptom-free day since going down with a concussion over a month ago. As much as we all want to see #33 back in the line up, you simply can not rush this thing. Take care of things the right way and be ready to provide that huge offensive and defensive lift down the stretch.

ATHLETICS @ TWINS
Crisp, CF   Span, CF
Barton, D, 1B   Hudson, O, 2B
Suzuki, K, C   Mauer, C
Cust, DH   Kubel, RF
Kouzmanoff, 3B   Cuddyer, 1B
Ellis, M, 2B   Thome, DH
Davis, R, RF   Valencia, 3B
Carter, LF   Repko, LF
Pennington, SS   Casilla, A, SS
Mazzaro, P   Slowey, P

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  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Oakland 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 2 3 1
Minnesota 0 0 1 0 0 0 3 0 x 4 10 1

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Soooooo many things to say about this game, but let’s start with the most important thing first. The SWEEEEEEEEEEEP of the Oakland A’s!

There was no shortage of drama today, either. How about Jason Repko’s amazing leaping catch in left field? Danny Valencia’s three hits! and of course, the Chairman, Joe Mauer, continuing his terrific hitting. All are deserving of assorted pastries.

The big stick today was Jim Thome, who’s 3-run homer (career number 580, for those of you counting) ended up providing the difference-making runs. Jim gets all the ice cream he can eat!

(I suppose it would just be mean to suggest we also send some “thank you baked goods” over to JJ Putz in Chicago for coughing up leads the last two games and allowing the Twins to build a 3 game lead in the AL Central race over the BitchSox headed in to their series at Target Field this week… so I won’t suggest that.)

In an ordinary day, Thome may also have been worthy of the Boyfriend of the Day award. But when your starting pitcher comes back from missing a start with a sore elbow and throws seven no-hit innings, there can be no doubt as to who wins the BOD award. (By the way, those fans who booed the decision to lift Slowey after 7 innings need to buy a clue… you simply do NOT risk hurting a pitcher who’s coming back from a sore elbow.)

Yes, you, Kevin Slowey, are our Boyfriend of the Day!

Boyfriend of the Month for July is No Surprise. DY!

Yeah, big shock huh? Delmon Young kicked some major butt in July (no doubt motivated by having to share the Knuckleballs Boyfriend of the Month award with Carl Pavano in June) and ran away with the BOM race last month. DY racked up six Boyfriend of the Day awards in July alone.

We Knuckleballers weren’t the only ones impressed with Delmon’s performance in July, however. According to The Sports Network, Delmon and Toronto’s Jose Bautista are sharing the July American League Player of the Month award.

Pavano, meanwhile, apparently believed duplicating the three BOD awards that earned him a share of the BOM prize for June would be enough to do the same in July. Silly starting pitcher.

Young is now in double figures for BOD awards on the year, tallying 11 awards with two months of games still to play. Pavano’s six BODs are good for second place, thus far, in the Boyfriend of the Year race. His grip on the runner-up spot is tenuous however, as Francisco Liriano finished July just one BOD award behind Pavano and has already made up the distance with an early August BOD.

Denard Span, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey and Denard Span round out the top 5 (and ties) with four BODs each through the end of July. (Slowey got the jump on that group with his 5th BOD Thursday.)

Will DY continue running away with the BOY race? Will The ‘Stache fend off the challengers for runner-up? Let’s just hope August brings a lot of wins and a lot of BODs! – JC