Episode 60: Jon Rauch’s Terrible Neck Tattoo

Episode 60 of the Twins baseball podcast, Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Eddie Rosario during an AFL game. Phot Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Eddie Rosario during an AFL game. Phot Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

60 is a number worn my several Twins throughout the years, including current “closer” Glen Perkins from 2006-2007, and most recently by Pedro Hernandez (2013) and Jeff Gray (2012), but most notably by Jon Rauch and his terrible neck tattoo in back to back seasons (2009-2010). This week on the podcast we discuss a plethora of minor league happenings, including the pending 50-game suspension of Eddie Rosario and recent 40-man roster moves. The debate wages on over which starting pitchers make sense for the Twins to sign, as Eric, Cody and Jay each make their cases of Ricky NolascoBronson Arroyo and Matt Garza. Who would you take? There’s a considerably lengthy discussion about the true value of the Metrodome baggie and who the real winner is in the Prince Fielder Ian Kinsler trade. Also, if you are a Leinenkugel Beer affectionado, you may want to stick around for the “Beers from Around the World” segment. This episode also features an interview with noted sabermatrician, FanGraphs writer/editor and BBWAA member, Carson Cistulli (@cistulli). This is a long episode, almost 2 hours, but it’s pure gold from beginning to end.

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan, and you can find Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) and read his writing at PuckettsPond.com!

If you enjoy our podcast, please take a couple extra minutes and rate and review us on iTunes. Ratings and reviews have magical iTunes powers, which helps the Twins pitching prospects break the 93 MPH barrier.

Everyone Needs a Break

Considering the lack of any games of real importance going on in Major League Baseball at the moment, there sure seems to be a lot of “stuff” flying around the perimeter of the game, agitating the media which, in turn, agitates the masses (or is it the other way around? I’m honestly not sure).

I’ve tried to get fired up about some of it or at least interested enough to give a damn about any of it, but it’s just not happening. But I’ve been embarrassingly absent as a contributing member of this group of bloggers lately, so I’m determined to say SOMETHING about at least a few of the items that have passed for “news” in and around the Twins and the rest of MLB the past few days.

R.A. Dickey’s snub

Dickey deserved to be the starting pitcher for the National League in the All Star Game. He knows it. So does Tony LaRussa. So does Buster Posey, the catcher that the voters erroneously voted to start behind the plate for the NL.  He deserves to start more than Matt Cain does. Even Matt Cain knows it and apparently said so out loud. In fact Dickey deserves to start more than Posey does, but that’s immaterial, I guess.

He’s not starting for one reason and one reason only. He throws an 80 mph knuckleball. Posey has seen it as a hitter, I would imagine, and since he’s apparently never caught even a 60 mph amateur version of a knuckleball, he’s none too anxious to learn how to catch Dickey’s for the first time in front of 40,000 fans and at least a handful of people who tune in to watch the ASG on TV.

As a former knuckleballer myself (though I doubt mine ever even reached the 60 mph level), I should be outraged at the injustice of this discrimination against Dickey. But I’m just not. Hopefully, he got to spend some time yesterday working in the bullpen with one of the NL’s catchers so neither party gets embarrassed out there when Dickey inevitably enters the game.

I’m really happy for the guy because he’s a great story, but I just can’t get worked up about the fact that he’s not starting the game.

Reggie’s dis of Bert, Puck and other Hall Members

I really stopped caring what Reggie Jackson said about anything the day he became a Yankee, but if there was one of these items that did get under my skin a bit, it was Jackson spouting off about how certain recent Hall of Famers didn’t deserve the honor of being enshrined in Cooperstown. The first Tweets I saw indicated he specifically referred to Bert Blyleven and Kirby Puckett. The next Tweet I saw pointed out that Reggie’s results when facing Bert in their careers were… well let’s just say that Reggie didn’t get to Cooperstown based on how he hit against Blyleven.

Bert Blyleven

Eventually I saw that Bert himself Tweeted that Jackson had called to apologize, relying on the old, “my comments were taken out of context,” line of BS. But whatever, at least the guy apologized. He apparently did likewise to others that he lumped in to the “unworthy” category. Again, however, I just couldn’t get too worked up over this. After all, as much as I loved both Puckett and Blyleven as players, I have to admit that their on-field HOF credentials were both marginal, so while Jackson should probably keep that kind of opinion to himself, he’s entitled to it and it’s not an altogether unreasonable opinion. I don’t think the BBWAA gets it right all the time, either, and I’m actually a “big Hall” guy.

I did care enough, however, to seek out the actual SI article that the quotes came from. I came away thinking that it’s really too bad he said the stuff he said about the HOF, because the rest of the article is very good. Ironically, the underlying theme of the article is how Reggie has changed and no longer prone to making outlandish comments and feeding an oversized ego.  Then he has to go and say that he’s going to get up in front of the HOF dinner next year and tell the other members that they all need to do something about keeping guys like Puckett, Blyleven, and others, out of their club in the future. It’s a shame.

Now we read that he’s been invited to stay away from Yankee Stadium for daring to say that A-Rod’s accomplishments are tainted because he admitted to using PEDs. Again, should he have given that quote, considering he’s still collecting a “special assistant” check from the Yankees? No. But he’s not exactly alone on an island with that opinion.

Anyway, it all just seems like more drama than it really should be.

Royals fans dis Cano

Speaking of things that are made bigger than they should be, apparently thin skinned Yankee fans took a major exception to the way the Kansas City crowd treated Robinson Cano during the Home Run Derby Monday night. Fans booed Cano loudly when he was introduced, mostly because after originally publicly stating that putting Royal Billy Butler on the Derby team would be the right thing to do, he changed his mind and didn’t select him after all. Of course, I think just the fact that he’s a Yankee makes him worthy of a pretty loud boo, but maybe Kansas Citians need more than that.

Anyway, not only did they boo him beforehand, but lustily cheered every “out” Cano made when the defending Derby champ came to the plate for his cuts in the first round. They got lots of opportunities to cheer, too, because Cano got completely shut out. No home runs in 10 cuts. With his dad pitching to him.

Anyway, Yankee fans apparently lit up Twitter with comments bashing KC fans’ treatment of Cano. I guess it’s easy to see why they’d be upset, though. After all Yankee fans are generally so well known for how politely they treat players of other teams, right? I guess the rest of us are all just supposed to acknowledge that anyone associated with the F’ing Yankees is entitled to be shown due respect.

Yeah, this is another not-so-big deal to me. Get over it and move on.

Prince Fielder wins the HR Derby

Yeah, I enjoyed watching the Derby. Prince Fielder can hit a baseball a LONG way. I also love the remodel job done on the stadium in Kansas City and it remains very high up on my list of favorite ballparks, so I enjoyed seeing it host the event. But neither the Derby nor the winner matter to me at all.

Mauer the lone Twins representative at the ASG

I’ve covered this before. Mauer deserves to be at the ASG, in fact the voters screwed up voting Ranger Mike Napoli as the starting catcher. I’d have liked to see Josh Willingham go, but there are just a lot of All Star worthy outfielders and very few catchers. And when you’re on a team that appears headed to its second consecutive 90+ loss season, you probably will just get one representative. Joe was the correct choice and anyone who doesn’t think so, while entitled to their opinion, is simply wrong.

By the way, Napoli is one of THREE former Cedar Rapids Kernels on the AL All Star Game roster. Napoli joins two other former Kernels (both now with the parent Angels) Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout. Trumbo represented well in the Derby Monday night and Trout is… well… if you don’t know who Mike Trout is, then you clearly care less about Major League Baseball than I care about the Home Run Derby.

Home Field Advantage

It’s been a decade now since the infamous tie game that led Bud Selig to decide that the ASG should matter more and declared that the winning league’s representative in the World Series would have home field advantage.

Bud Selig

I swear I have heard this thing bashed on every sports talk show for a week. I feel like I should care, but I don’t. It’s not a perfect solution to the trend of these games becoming poorly played and poorly managed exhibitions, but after the sham of a Pro-Bowl the NFL put on a few months ago, MLB needs to make sure the game counts for something if they want players to give any kind of effort whatsoever… or even bother to show up.

And at least it gives me another excuse to post my favorite Bud Selig picture of all time.

That’s it… enjoy the All Star Game if you care to watch it. If not, hold on tight and we’ll begin the second “half” of this exciting Minnesota Twins season in a few days!

–          JC

GameChat – 2012 All Star Home Run Derby, 7:05pm

AND WE HAVE A WINNER!

In a return to the form we all know and love so well, TC Bear has managed yet another victory amid his mascot colleagues. I don’t think we Twins fans really appreciate how hard that bear works to represent Twins baseball at its finest. Can you imagine trying to hit baseballs with paws not to mention that limited field of vision???

We just want to say CONGRATS and THANK YOU for all your hard work.

And now that we have the important stuff covered, we’re ready for the other Home Run Derby. If you’re planning to watch it, you can hang out and chat with others!

Participant RD1 RD2 RD1&2 FINALS
Fielder 5 11 16 12
Bautista 11 2 13 7
Trumbo 7 6 13 -
Beltran 7 5 12 -
Gonzalez 4 - 4 -
McCutchen 4 - 4 -
Kemp 1 - 1 -
Cano 0 - 0 -

Here’s the way things went down! Prince Fielder just KILLED the competition this year. He’s officially the first player ever to win the HR Derby representing both the NL & AL Leagues. Interestingly enough, both of his Derby wins were also in Missouri – one in St. Louis, one in Kansas City. Congrats Mr. Fielder!

 

GameChat – Detroit Tigers @ Minnesota Twins #3 1:10pm

 

The Twins need a win this afternoon to avoid being swept at home by the Detroit Tigers.  Minnesota will send P.J. Walters (2.95 ERA) to the hill to face off against Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and the rest of the suddenly smashing Detroit lineup.  The Tigers counter with Rick Porcello (5.29 ERA) who has managed to completely baffle both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau throughout their careers.  Mauer and Morneau COMBINED are hitting just 7/37.  The good news is that 5 of those 7 hits are for extra bases, so if they can get wood on the ball, they should be in good shape.

Tough to know for sure which version of the Twins we will see today.  They were playing solid fundamental baseball for about 10 days, and then the wheels fell off in Chicago and they have not been the same since.  Baseball is fun to watch when it is plated the right way, and it is agonizing when done poorly.

Ron Gardenhire mentioned on 1500ESPN this morning that the Twins would be bringing up another pitcher after this series.  They’re looking for another relief arm to replace Francisco Liriano‘s spot in the bullpen.  Shortly thereafter the Twins tweeted that they’ll be calling up Jeff Manship to replace Erik Komatsu who has been DFA’d for release or assignment.  This is an interesting move for the Twins as Komatsu (claimed off waivers from St. Louis) was the Cardinal’s Rule 5 Draft Selection from the Nationals so if no other team puts in a claim on him he’ll either need to be returned to Washington or the Twins will need to work out a trade to keep him in their system.

Here are the lineups:

Detroit Tigers

@

Minnesota Twins
Berry, CF Span, CF
Dirks, LF Revere, RF
Cabrera, Mi, 3B Mauer, C
Fielder, 1B Willingham, LF
Boesch, DH Morneau, 1B
Avila, C Doumit, DH
Peralta, Jh, SS Plouffe, 3B
Kelly, RF Casilla, A, 2B
Raburn, 2B Carroll, SS
_Porcello, P _Walters, P

 

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Detroit 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 4 12 1
Minnesota 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 0 0 3 12 0

 

And just like that, Detroit sweeps Minnesota.

The Twins took a lead into the top of the 9th inning and then Miguel Cabrera took a hanging Matt Capps breaking ball to deep center field to give the Tigers a 4-3 lead.  The top of the Twins order couldn’t scrape a run together in the bottom of the 9th and that was the ballgame.

Despite the loss the Twins again received a quality start from P.J. Walters, giving the Twins 6 innings and giving up just 2 runs (both in the first inning).  Alexi Casilla had a nice game for the Twins as well, going 3 for 3 with a walk, a stolen base and an RBI.

Have a happy Memorial Day tomorrow, everyone.

-ERolfPleiss

Gloom, Despair and Agony

The Hee Haw Gang (Photo: AP)

Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Most of you are too young to remember this little ditty from Roy Clark and Buck Owens from the old “Hee Haw” TV show, but it sure describes much of the reaction around Twinsville to the news that the Tigers had signed Prince Fielder on Tuesday.

I guess it’s understandable, to a degree. It was just a week ago that news of Victor Martinez’s ACL injury gave us all a glimmer of hope that the team that pretty much lapped the rest of the AL Central Division in 2011 might fall back to the pack a bit. Now, just like that, they push themselves out further in to the frontrunner role. If the Twins were 32 games worse than Detroit last year, without Fielder, just how much deeper is that hole likely to be this season?

I’m just not sure it’s worth quite the level of gloom, despair and agony I’ve been reading and hearing. What I am sure of is that this signing doesn’t warrant additional criticism of the Twins more conservative approach to building their 2012 roster. In fact, if anything, it might just be evidence that the Twins’ philosophy will turn out to be the right one, as much as many of us (myself, chief among that group) don’t want to admit it.

My initial reaction to the news of Fielder’s signing with Detroit was something along the lines of, “they must be out of their minds over there!” However, I held off on posting that reaction because, frankly, my initial reactions to things frequently turn out to be wrong and I thought if I waited a bit, maybe I would come to see what the Tigers saw and understand how smart this was. That hasn’t happened. In fact, from what I’ve read of most national baseball writers’ reactions, it appears my initial reaction is pretty much in sync with the “experts.” Of course, that doesn’t necessarily make us right.

But just for kicks and giggles (and perhaps to lessen the degree of gloom, despair and agony around here), let’s try to list exactly what this means for the Tigers and for the Twins in the short term and long term.

  • Immediately, it means the Tigers have replaced Victor Martinez in their batting order with a potentially powerful bat. How many more wins that equates to over and above what they would have had with Martinez is at least questionable. They were clearly the best offensive team in the Division already.
  • They have to find places for everyone to play, since the AL does not allow several DHs at a time. This means Detroit could field a defensive lineup in which Delmon Young is perhaps only the fifth worst defensive player on the field. If he’s still in left field when Victor Martinez returns, he may be among the Tigers BEST defenders. Think about that for a moment.
  • When Justin Verlander is pitching, defense doesn’t really matter. But the Tigers are likely going to have to win a lot of 9-7 games when the other 4/5 of the rotation takes the mound.
  • 82-year-old Tigers owner Mike Illitch is clearly willing to mortgage his team’s future… a future he may or may not be around to enjoy anyway… to buy a championship now. That probably means he’s going to be willing to spend even more money in July, if that’s what it takes to win the Division.
  • So, short term, signing Fielder makes the Tigers pretty much the same favorite to win the Division that they were without him and, long term, it could mean the team is stuck with a rapidly aging former star with detiorating skills that they’re paying $23 million a year to, whether he plays or not.

For the Twins, it probably means:

  • They were right not to spend wildly to try to close a 32 game gap with the a team owned by a desperate old man willing to spend like a drunken sailor on shore leave.
  • Before the Tigers signed Fielder, it was going to take all the stars aligning right for the Twins to compete… meaning everyone healthy and productive and a much improved defense. If that happens, there’s still a similar chance that the Twins will be within range of the Tigers, even with Fielder in their lineup. I just don’t see the Tigers winning many more games… they’ll just win by an extra run or two.
  • The Twins will have flexibility in July. If they’re in the race, they have money to spend on exactly the positions they need at the time. If they’re out of the race, they can sell off parts that they won’t be counting on in 2013 and beyond anyway.
  • Long term, the Twins have to like this deal. Any signing that virtually assures that your competition will eventually be flushing $20+ million a year down a rabbit hole is a good signing. That’s money that could have been spent for younger talent that you’d have to be facing for years to come.

Seriously, those of you who think the Twins are nuts to commit $23 million a year to Joe Mauer, leaving a measly $80 million or so to fill out the rest of the roster, just imagine if the Twins made that deal on top of paying two other players north of $20 million a year. The Tigers have done just that. They’ve got over $60 million in salary going to three players for at least the next three seasons.

Maybe Detroit’s broadcast media rights will be skyrocketing like the Rangers, Angels, and seamingly everyone else’s (except the Twins, naturally) looks to be or maybe their owner really just doesn’t give a damn about money at this point in his life.

All I know for sure is that as much as I may disagree with the Twins front office on various philosophical issues (and I continue to do so), I’m absolutely certain at this point that they are not collectively the dumbest front office in baseball. We have a new leader in the clubhouse in that contest.

– JC

Twins History Lesson: June 14 – 20

It’s no wonder that Major League Baseball came up with interleague play as a gimmick to generate interest in games played during the month of June. Based on the relative lack of notable events taking place in Twins history this month, baseball certainly needed something to keep fans from turning their attention elsewhere. Nevertheless, there’s been a smattering of noteworthy milestones, transactions and general an entertaining event or two that we felt worth bringing to the attention of Knuckleballs Nation. (Yeah, we know… it’s a REALLLLLLY small nation. But we can dream!) Now on with this week’s Twins History Lesson.*

Even to someone like me who had the pleasure of following Jim Kaat’s Twins career as it was playing out, it’s still somewhat amazing to me how often his name comes up in these peeks back in Twins history. June 14, 1964, may not have been a monumental date in the organization’s history, but the game that day did demonstrate just the sort of player Kaat was. It was questionable whether would even take his turn in the rotation against the Washington Senators because of a sore shoulder that had caused him to leave a game five days earlier. Kaat got a shot of Novocain in the shoulder the day before his start and took the mound vs. the Senators. He not only threw a complete game, but hit a 2-run home run in the sixth inning of the Twins 9-2 victory in the second game of a double header. It was Kaat’s second HR of the season.

There have been a couple of notable events on June 15 over the years:

On June 15, 1964 (the day after Kaat’s big game mentioned above), in a deal that would prove critical to their AL Championship season a year later in 1965, the Twins acquired pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant from the Cleveland Indians in return for pitcher Lee Stange and OF/3B George Banks.

Forty-four years later, on June 15, 2008, pitcher Scott Baker became the first Twins pitcher to strike out four hitters in one inning, when he K’d Brewers Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder (who reached 1B on a wild pitch on strike 3), Russell Branyan, and Mike Cameron.

June 16 has seen a pair of events, one personal and one more team oriented, that proved indicative of greater things to come:

The Twins’ rookie starting pitcher Frank Viola threw seven innings while giving up just one run on June 16, 1982, to earn his first career victory… a 5-2 win over the Kansas City Royals.

Nine years later, on June 16, 1991, the Twins scratched out a 4-2, 10-inning, win over the Indians. It was the Twins’ 15th straight victory and moved them in to first place in the Western Division for the first time since the final day of their 1987 championship season. Not a bad comeback for a team that lost 9 of their fist 11 games of the year and didn’t reach .500 until May 15.  The winning streak ended the following night, but by the time they finished their road trip a week later, they held a 3 1/2 game lead in the Division… and never looked back.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and Astros manager Cecil Cooper became the first managers fined by MLB for failing to comply with the league’s “pace of game” regulations on June 17, 2008. A month earlier, teams were instructed by MLB to help enforce rules intended to cut the amount of time it took to play games. (Apparently the Yankees and Red Sox still haven’t received that memo.)

Washington Nationals rookie Stephen Strasburg has drawn a lot of attention recently as he continues to be heralded as the next “can’t miss” superstar pitcher. But he’s far from the first phenom to garner that kind of attention and the events of June 18, 1973, could provide a cautionary lesson to those singing Strasburg’s praises. On that date, the Rangers’ David Clyde took the mound for his first Major League start… just 20 days after pitching in the state championship game for his high school team. The 18 year old Clyde gave up just one hit to the Twins in the 4-3 Ranger victory, in front of the first sell-out crowd at Arlington Stadium. Clyde, the $125,000 bonus baby, would go on to win a total of 18 games in his five year MLB career.

June 19 has been an eventful day for a trio of famous Twins:

On June 19, 1968, in a game against the Washington Senators at Metropolitan Stadium, slugger Harmon Killebrew became the first Twin to drive in 1000 runs in a career.

Twenty years later, on June 19, 1988, Jeff Reardon notched his 20th save of the year as he closed out a 3-1 win over the Mariners. It was the seventh consecutive season he accomplished that feat. The game also marked Bert Blyleven’s 250th career victory.

On June 19, 2007, on the team bus to Shea Stadium for that night’s interleague game with the Mets, Blyleven, who as a broadcaster never misses the opportunity to complain about starting pitchers failing to complete games, told Johan Santana he’d allow his head to be shaved if Santana throws a complete game shutout that night against the Mets. Not a single Met so much as reached third base  against Santana and before the next night’s game, Blyleven was shorn.

On June 20, 1965, the Twins played in front of the largest crowd ever to see the team play on the road, as 71,245 showed up for a double header at Yankee Stadium. In the first game, the Twins broke a 4-4 tie in the ninth inning when Zoilo Versalles and Sandy Valdespino scored runs on two separate wild pitches thrown by two different Yankee pitchers in the Twins 6-3 win. 20-year old pitcher Dave Boswell was credited with the win in the second game but, once again, a wild pitch played a role when Versalles reached first base after swinging and missing at a 3rd strike knuckleball ahead of a Harmon Killebrew home run. The 7-4 win capped a sweep of the Yankees on their home turf and served notice that the Twins were for real and they went on to win the ’65 AL pennant.

This week has the potential to create some new “history” as the Twins are scheduled to face the current odds-on favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award, the Rockies Ubaldo Jimenez, on Thursday before heading to Philadelphia for a weekend series against the defending NL champion Phillies. Let’s hope the Twins get healthy in a hurry and return to their traditional dominant ways over NL opponents. – JC

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

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

Ramos, Mauer and Morneau… who’s gonna go?

Warning: This is another lengthy post from JC with the occasional use of numbers.

There have been a number of interesting things going on in the past few days and weeks that seemingly have nothing to do with one another and there’s been no shortage of media and blog attention to them individually. But I’m a “connect the dots” kind of person who tends to see patterns and conspiracies in just about any set of random events.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that I would look at the new contracts of Joe Mauer and Ryan Howard, along with the remarkable Major League debut of Wilson Ramos, and see threads that bind them together.

Just so we’re all coming at things from the same starting point, let’s review a few things. All of Twins Territory knows Joe Mauer begins making $23 million a year next year and has a no-trade contract through the following eight years.

Phillies 1B Ryan Howard signed a lucrative (some would say absurd) extension that will pay him $20 million a year in 2012 and 2013 and $25 million from 2014 through 2016. By comparison, a couple of years ago, Justin Morneau signed a deal with the Twins that pays $14 million a year through 2013.

The Twins have generally spent about 50% of their revenues on their Major League payroll. With 2010 estimates coming in around $200 million in revenues and just south of $100 million in payroll, they seem to be continuing along the 50% path. It’s tough to imagine those revenues increasing much (if at all) as the newness of Target Field begins to wear off, so it’s also tough to imagine their payroll being allowed to increase significantly, either. But this isn’t a post about the Twins’ payroll anyway… well maybe it’s a little bit about payroll.

It’s not so much that the Twins may not have room in their payroll to afford their current stars, as it is that they may not have room on the field for them.

How could this possibly be? What happened? Things have been humming along nicely so far this season with nothing but the occasional “Kubel or Young?” debate among Twins faithful.

In short, Wilson Ramos happened.

Not that Ramos has come out of nowhere. Ramos has been one of the Twins top 3 prospects as ranked by Baseball America (and pretty much anyone else who ranks such things) for the past couple of years. In fact, he was BA’s Winter Player of the Year this past off season. There’s no such thing as a “sure thing” where baseball prospects are concerned, but the last time the Twins had a catcher in their system this close to being a “sure thing”, his name was Mauer.

The Twins didn’t have a lot of leverage in their negotiations this spring with Mauer and his agent, but what little they did have was named Ramos. If Mauer were not a Twin Cities native and/or if he and his agent had insisted on A-Rod money, Wilson Ramos might already be the Twins’ regular catcher.

In other words, while nobody should make too much of the hot start to his Major League career, nobody should make too little of it, either.  He’s good.

Seth Stohs posed the question of what to do about Ramos and Mauer in his TwinsCentric blog at the Strib. He proposed that the Twins have four options, though at least one of them arguably is not an option at all. Joe Mauer isn’t going to be traded any time soon and Ramos is almost certainly headed back to Rochester when Mauer is healthy enough to play every day again.

But what about next year? How long do you keep a guy like Ramos “down on the farm” once he’s demonstrated to you (and everyone else in baseball) that he’s ready to contribute at a high level in the Bigs?

The answer is, “you don’t”. In 2011, absent injury, Wilson Ramos will be a starting Major League catcher… somewhere.

The easy solution, when you’re the GM of a team that sees itself as a World Series contender, is that you trade a valuable, yet blocked, talent like Ramos to a team who is building for the future and has an established Major League ballplayer who’s getting too expensive for a team in that situation to keep. You don’t trade Wilson Ramos for washed up 35 year-olds, for one-year rentals, or for another team’s “prospects”. You get someone you KNOW will add wins to your record immediately.

But what if you want to keep Ramos? Well, despite what some people (who likely never played the game) seem to think, you can’t simply give Ramos a different glove and turn him in to a Major League third baseman. Everyone reading this has watched Nick Punto and Brendan Harris charge slow rollers or leap to their left or right to snag a ball, then make some sort of acrobatic throw to 1B for an out. And by now, everyone has gotten a look at Wilson Ramos. Seriously… do you see this guy making those plays? To my eyes, Wilson Ramos is a catcher and a very good catcher. He hits well, for a catcher. He is not and never will be a 3B. You don’t waste time making him your DH either. He’s just too valuable a commodity as a catcher.

No, if you want Wilson Ramos on the field for the Twins in 2011, Joe’s gotta go… probably 90 feet up the line to either 3B or 1B. Unlike Ramos, it’s not hard to imagine Joe Mauer excelling at either corner infield spot, given enough work at the job. He could also probably perform well in a corner OF spot, but the Twins have a pretty solid supply of corner OFs both on the Major League level and in the minors.

People I respect continue to maintain that Danny Valencia will become the Twins’ answer at 3B by 2011. If not, a couple of years behind him, they have Miguel Sano coming up. Sano is the Dominican prospect that the Twins shelled out over $3 million for last winter. But try finding a legitimate offensive threat among the first basemen in the Twins organization, not named Morneau.

And what about Morneau?

Well, this is where payroll comes in. See… I told you this was a “little bit” about payroll.

As I mentioned, Doc is locked in at $14 million a year through 2013. That seemed like a lot of money a couple of years ago. But that was before someone in the Phillies organization went insane and gave Ryan Howard a deal that will pay him $25 million annually starting in 2014… coincidentally, the same year that Morneau’s next contract will start.

But Howard’s deal is just the beginning. Between now and the time Morneau’s agent will begin negotiating his next deal, fellow star 1Bs Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and some guy in St. Louis named Pujols will have new deals. All of those players are likely to exceed Howard’s contract and they’ll be setting new bars for Morneau and his agent to be aiming for.

As much as I would love to see the Twins’ M&M boys ride off in to the sunset of their careers together in Twins uniforms, I simply can’t envision a scenario where that happens.

So if I’m the Twins’ GM and I look in to my crystal ball and see no Justin Morneau being re-signed and nobody in my farm system looking like the “next Morneau”, what do I do?

I trade Justin Morneau before the 2011 season.

In the next year or so, the Cardinals, Padres and Brewers are going to be faced with negotiating new deals with  Pujols, Gonzalez and Fielder for anywhere between $25 and $30 million a year (or trading those players to another team who will meet their respective prices). The market for Morneau, who will still have three years at a comparatively modest $14 million per year remaining on his contract, will never be higher.

The Twins are almost certainly going to lose Morneau, either by trade before his final contract year, or to free agency following 2013. Postponing the inevitable makes sense if you have nobody to replace him of comparable abilities. But that’s not the case, if you move Joe Mauer to 1B.

The bottom line is this. This off season, the Twins will have two valuable trade chips in Ramos and Morneau.

If the Twins won’t trade Ramos, they need to create a spot for him in the everyday lineup and the only logical spot is at catcher. Moving Mauer to 1B allows them to put Justin on the market. Morneau would likely bring back pitching and infield talent to upgrade multiple roster spots immediately and in to the future.

Of course, trading Ramos instead could also bring immediate help at other positions and if the Twins are prepared to say unequivocally that Joe Mauer will be catching for the foreseeable future, then trading Ramos makes perfect sense.

But that means that a couple of years later, they’ll have neither Ramos nor Morneau and, considering the abuse any catcher takes over the course of a couple of seasons, it’s a fair bet that the Twins will be forced to move Mauer to a new position by then anyway.

If I’m the GM, I listen to offers for Wilson Ramos this summer and if, say, the Royals decide they don’t want to pay Zach Grienke the $13.5 million they’re going to owe him starting next season, I’ll deal Ramos and strengthen my team right now. But absent that kind of “knock me off my feet” offer, I’m holding on to Ramos this year and if everyone stays healthy, I’m going to look for a good deal in return for Morneau after this season… and buy Joe Mauer a new first base mitt.