Will Strasburg Become a Noun and a Verb?

I’m kind of tired of reading and hearing about Stephen Strasburg and the decision by the Washington Nationals to shut him down for the season. That being the case, I’m not sure why I’m choosing now to actually write about him. But I am.

I suppose the reason is that I’ve been trying to put myself in the shoes of those directly and indirectly involved with the decision to put an end to the hard-throwing phenom’s season because he’s reached what seems to some to be an arbitrarily reached innings limit in his first full season following “Tommy John” surgery. I find the exercise of shoe-filling to be helpful when it comes to second-guessing the decisions of others. Sometimes, it’s pretty easy to know how I would feel and what I would do. Sometimes, not so much.

Have a seat son… for the rest of the season (Photo: Patrick Reddington/Federal Baseball)

If I’m Stephen Strasburg, 24 year old pitcher, living my life-long dream of playing Major League Baseball, with a record breaking (for a draftee) $15.1 million 4-year contract in my pocket assuring me of being able to live comfortably for the rest of my life, and the competitive juices flowing through my veins that have driven me to reach this level, then I want to friggin pitch! Are you kidding me? My team is about to make the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s history and the first time in my adopted home city since most likely before my grandfather was born and now I’m not going to be there for the end of the ride? You gotta be kidding me!

If I’m Scott Boras, Strasburg’s super-agent, I’ve got an investment to think about. Yes, I made a couple nickels off that $15+ million contract, but this is a pitcher who, if he hit the free agent market today, would easily bring in ten times that figure. Who knows how much he’ll be worth by the time he actally has enough service time in to hit the open market? It’s understandable that my client is focused on what he’s missing out on now, rather than on his future career and the earnings that come with it. It’s my job to focus on that for him. Of course I want to avoid risking career threatening injury that could come from throwing too many innings too soon and I’ll use every bit of influence and leverage I have to protect this investment.

If I’m Mike Rizzo, Nationals General Manager, I’ve got an investment to think about, too. But it’s not quite as cut and dried for me as it is for Mr. Boras. Somehow, I’ve got to balance protecting the $15+ million asset I’ve already put in to Strasburg (and, if you believe the comments made by Boras in this Washington Post article, I also need to balance my relationship with Boras), with the need to not totally alienate my team’s fan base. This is a fan base that is starved for success they’ve never… ever… felt. If I screw this up and the fans stay away from the ballpark next year, I won’t have to worry about this team’s future, because someone else will have my job. On top of that, I’m risking my relationship with a clubhouse full of players that are seeing me take away a key component of their team just three weeks before the postseason begins. (Then again, a big chunk of that clubhouse seems to be represented by Boras.)

If I’m a Washington Nationals fan, how do I feel? My chosen team is thissssssss close to the brass ring and Strasburg is a big reason “we” are in this position (make no mistake, as a fan of a team with the best record in baseball, I’m identifying myself with that team, so it’s all about what Rizzo is doing to “us”). Maybe if I were a Yankees fan (God forbid) and felt that sense of entitlement that comes from buying enough talent every year to almost assure my team of making the playoffs, I would have a longer term view of things. But in a town that hasn’t seen postseason baseball since 1933, this is a tough pill to swallow. On the other hand, it’s not like Strasburg is the only pitcher the Nats have. In fact, he’s arguably been among the least effective members of the rotation in recent weeks. But still…

The fact is, as Twins fans, we may get the opportunity to  find out exactly how we would feel if we filled the shoes of Nationals fans. Of course, we’d have to get pretty lucky.

Kyle Gibson (Photo: Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com_

You see, the Twins have a young pitcher named Kyle Gibson that they think a lot of and he had TJ surgery right about one year after Strasburg did. He’s thrown a few innings late this year in the minors and he’ll pitch some more in a fall league. But before Opening Day, 2013, the Twins will need to come up with a plan for Gibson.

I’m not sure how the Twins will approach Gibson’s season, but I’m hoping they’re a bit smarter about it than Rizzo, Boras and, yes, even Strasburg himself, were about their situation this year.

See, I don’t really have a problem with limiting Strasburg to 160-ish innings, in accordance with his doctors’ recommendations not to overwork the recently repaired elbow. In fact, I find it refreshing. I would think that any fan, especially one who cringes whenever an old schooler clearly thinks a WHIP is something Indiana Jones carries and a K/9 is a police dog, would applaud the Nationals’ willingness to apply modern medical philosophy to Strasburg. I do, however, have a problem with them being stupid about how they applied that innings limit.

No matter who’s shoes I put myself in, I keep coming back to one thing.

If you’re dealing with a guy who’s going to pitch in the minors or if you absolutely know you’re MLB team is going to suck, sure, just send your guy out there for 160 innings and shut him down. But if you are talking about, thinking about, or even just giving lip-service about being competitive, why the hell do you even think about putting your guy in the rotation before May 1 (and probably a couple weeks later, to be safe)?

No matter which one of the roles in this little melodrama you step in to, wouldn’t it occur to you that it would be far more important to have your ace available for a stretch drive and the postseason, than to have him throwing in April’s potentially chilly evenings? Yes, games in April count as much as games in September, but games in October count a hell of a lot more than games in either of those months!

The Nats have provided a service to the rest of Major League Baseball, I suppose. They’ve made a mistake smarter GMs can learn from. In the future, any GM who doesn’t hold back his tender-elbowed pitcher at the beginning of the season and thus is forced to shut him down just when things get interesting will be known to have “Strasburged” his pitcher… and there’s really no excuse for another pitcher to ever be Strasburged again.

So watch closely this spring, folks. Follow along to see if Kyle Gibson starts the season in the Twins rotation or spends a month or so back in Fort Myers just keeping his arm warm until May rolls around. At the very least, he should spend a month or more in the bullpen, allowing him to stretch his innings through the full season without overworking that repaired elbow.

We can expect the Twins front office to tell fans they believe the Twins will be competitive in 2013. But if Kyle Gibson is in the rotation to open the season, we’ll know the truth… that the front office does not expect their team to contend in 2013, so they’re willing to Strasburg Gibson.

Either that or they’re just being as stupid as the Nationals.

– JC

M is for Monday (and Manny) and More

Next weekend, the Iowa Hawkeyes open up their 2010 season hosting the mighty Eastern Illinois University Panthers and, being a Hawkeye football season ticket holder, I’ll be in Iowa City Saturday for the game. Likewise, my Saturdays for the next few months will be at least partially focused on the Hawkeyes. (I realize that it’s difficult for those of you in Minnesota to understand that level of dedication to college football. That’s understandable. Perhaps if there’s ever a Big Ten football program in Minnesota, you’ll understand the feeling better.)

But this weekend was still all about baseball and there have been so many interesting things going on in and around Major League Baseball lately, that my mind has had trouble focusing on writing about just one or two items. It seems like every day, I see a couple of things in the news and think, “Oh, I need to write about that!” So that’s what I’m doing today… I’m just tossing out my views (and perhaps a few links) about several things. If you came here looking for in-depth research and thoughtful commentary, boy did you come to the wrong place today. Instead, you get my ramblings.

MLB and Money

There has been a whole lot written, both in the traditional media and the blogosphere about the financial statements for several MLB organizations that were released over at Deadspin this past week. Among the teams for which documents were released were the Pirates, Marlins, Rays, Mariners, Angels, and Rangers.

In a nutshell, what the disclosure demonstrates is that even teams that have had very low payrolls, like the Pirates and Marlins, have managed to show a profit (thanks to MLB’s revenue sharing program). What I don’t understand is the extreme reaction in some circles to this revelation. But isn’t that exactly what revenue sharing is intended to accomplish? Sure, ideally, it provides competitive balance, but I would argue that it largely has done just that (with the glaring exception of the financial advantage the Yankees are allowed to maintain).

Did the Marlins use revenue sharing dollars to pay down debt instead of increase payroll? Yes. Bad boys. But they also got their wrists slapped by MLB for it and they’re now coughing up money on payroll AND let’s not forget, the Marlins have been a lot more competitive than a lot of other teams with much higher payrolls. So whether they used the revenue sharing dollars to do it or not, they HAVE been competitive.

Did the Pirates make $10-15 million a year in profits while taking revenue sharing dollars and selling off their top players? Yes. But they’ve been investing heavily in the international market and developing their minor league organization. And let’s face it… does anyone REALLY think spending an additional $10-15 million on major league players would have made the Pirates any more competitive?

There are changes that need to be made to make MLB more competitively balanced and if these disclosures lead to that, terrific. But I suspect all it does is give a bunch of fans more reason to bitch and moan about the big bad rich owners not being willing to spend more money than they take in on their teams. One thing is clear from the little bit I glanced over the documents. Teams that had good attendance had more money for payroll. Owners seldom jack up payroll in the hope of generating more attendance. It just doesn’t work that way no matter how much some fans wish it did. You want the owner to spend more? Go to more games.

Memories

I don’t like the White Sox.

AP Photo

That said, even I’ve got to appreciate Frank Thomas. The Whities had a ceremony Sunday where they honored Thomas by including his face on their outfield “wall of fame” (or whatever they call it… I don’t pay attention to that kind of thing). In my opinion, Frank Thomas is singularly responsible for elevating that organization in to relevancy during the 1990s. You think the Twins had some bad years? Check out the White Sox history before Thomas showed up.

I don’t know the man. Maybe his actions and words toward the end of his time in Chicago warranted how he was treated (some would say mistreated) there at the end. I know he and GM Kenny Williams had some pretty harsh public disputes. I don’t care about any of that, actually. What I do know is that I absolutely hated seeing Frank Thomas come to the plate against the Twins. He deserves to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and I’m glad the White Sox are finally showing him the love and respect he deserves.

Muscle (is it really a good thing?)

Stephen Strasburg’s 2010 season is finished. So is his 2011 season. He’s going to be spending the next 12-18 months recovering from Tommy John surgery.

A lot of Twins fans (myself included) have lamented the fact that the Twins don’t have an “ace”… a starting pitcher with arm strength to generate upper 90s velocity, with good control, who can “miss bats.” There are complaints that the Twins don’t even draft guys like that.

Ignoring for the time being that most guys who have that kind of “velo” AND control are not available by the time the Twins get to draft, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really such a bad thing that they don’t spend a lot of bonus money on those guys. Whether it’s a starting pitcher like Strasburg or relievers like Detroit’s Joel Zumaya (who can’t seem to stay healthy), it just seems like those hard throwers break down sooner or later (or both). Do you REALLY want to spend millions of dollars on guys who are almost certainly going to blow out their elbow before you see any value from them?

The human arm is not built to throw a baseball overhand that hard. And as this column points out, even though organizations are beginning to be ultra-conservative about their pitchers’ innings and pitch counts, the truth is that with all of the innings kids as young as 12 years old are throwing as they play year-round in multiple leagues, there’s a good chance the damage has been done long before draft day.

Moves (of the roster variety)

Loek Van Mil

UPDATE (September 1, 2010): The Twins announced that Loek Van Mil is the “Player to be Named Later” in the Brian Fuentes deal, meaning Loek now becomes the property of the Angels. Best of luck to Loek! – JC

The media keeps telling us that we’re down to the wire on roster moves. I suppose that’s true to a degree, in that a player coming in from another organization has to be on the new team’s roster by September 1 to be eligible to play for them in the playoffs. To make room for Brian Fuentes, the Twins had to designate minor league pitcher Loek Van Mil for assignment. Van Mil may or may not have a major league future ahead of him, but I hope the Twins manage to hang on to him if for no other reason than it would keep alive the possibility of seeing a pitcher even taller than Jon Rauch on the mound (Van Mil is 7′ 1″).

As this article over at the Pioneer Press indicates, the Twins are going to be using the Disabled List to maximize their flexibility in building their playoff roster. So don’t be surprised when Clay Condrey and Joe Nathan are on the Twins “official playoff roster” announced this week.

Manny

So Manny Ramirez is taking his show on the road to Chicago this week. That’s going to be fun to watch. I personally don’t think there’s anything Ramirez can do to enable the White Sox catch the Twins. If the Twins don’t win the Central Division, it will be because they totally fell flat on their collective faces (I think after last year, we can call that “pulling a Tiger”… though that could be confused with the sort of self-destructive behavior for which a certain pro golfer has recently become notorious), not because Manny came in and turned the Southsiders in to a real baseball team.

I enjoy watching Manny. I enjoy watching him hit when he wants to. I enjoy watching him be totally oblivious about anything going on around him. I enjoy the way others are so fixated on him. He’s a phenomenon that I simply am entertained to follow… as long as he’s not part of MY team. That said, I’ve noticed a lot of White Sox fans are willing to say, “If this is what it takes to help us win, I’ll welcome him.” Interestingly, however, I don’t think I’ve read or heard a single Sox fan suggest that the team should bid for his services beyond the rest of this season.

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I was going to include some thoughts about all of the Twins’ pending free agents after the season and how I think they may try to juggle roster spots with available payroll, but I’ve decided there is plenty of time for that later. For now, let’s just enjoy the final month of the regular season and hope for a successful postseason! – 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

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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”.

Friday Hot Dish

Way down south, where I’m living (in Iowa), it’s called a casserole. But as I recall from my younger years in Minnesota, up there it’s a hot dish. Either way, to me it’s still a bunch of stuff thrown together, cooked, and if you’re really good at it (or really lucky), it turns out tasty, satisfying and filling. So that’s the purpose of this post… throw a few things together and, since I’m not likely to be really good, I’ll hope to be lucky.

It didn’t take long for the Twins to completely disregard my suggested roster moves. In fact, not only did they NOT make the moves I recommended, even the one move that I said “we all know WILL happen this weekend” isn’t going to happen this weekend. JJ Hardy won’t be rejoining the Twins for their series against JJ’s former team, the Brewers, this weekend. I’m getting a bit more concerned about this slow-healing wrist. A couple of our readers added comments taking issue with my suggestion that it might be time for Brian Duensing to slide in to Kevin Slowey’s spot in the rotation. Whether my suggestions turn out to be as far off base as they’re already starting to look, only time will tell. Let’s see where things stand in 2-3 weeks.

By the way, given that Hardy isn’t ready yet, it makes perfect sense to have Trevor Plouffe join the team this weekend. Luke Hughes is on the DL and Matt Tolbert can’t return to the Bigs until 10 days after he was sent down, so Plouffe makes sense. Let’s just hope Gardy isn’t tempted to use him as a late-game defensive replacement in a close game. Trevor has eight errors already this year.

Joe Mauer... moving up TSN's "Best Player in Baseball" list.

The Sporting News polled 125 baseball “experts” (apparently my ballot was lost in the mail) to find out who they thought the best 50 players in baseball are. Guess what!? Joe Mauer isn’t #1! Yeah, that Pujols guy over in the National League (or as I call it, Class AAAA) got the nod for the second year in a row. But Joe’s on Albert’s heels at #2 after moving up 37 spots from last year’s poll. Seriously… these experts thought Joe was the 39th best player a year ago? I mean… I know he missed April with back issues so maybe the votes last year were influenced by what was then Mauer’s “current performance”, but 39th?

Doc not impressing the TSN 'experts'?

The Twins’ other representative in the top 50 is another head-scratcher. Justin Morneau is ranked 23rd by these experts. If current performance is important, how is Doc’s 2010 not being recognized? He’s off to arguably the best start of his career. And he’s DROPPED 9 spots from last year?

The panel, as described by TSN, “included 18 Hall of Famers, 12 Cy Young award winners, 8 MVPs, 15 rookies of the year, 3 batting champions, 3 home run champions, 9 Silver Slugger award winners, 18 Gold Glove winners, 6 ERA champions, 4 World Series MVPs, 2 relievers of the year, 7 managers of the year, 5 former executives, 6 media members and 9 team broadcasters.” Sounds like a bunch of old men, to me.

Apparently senility has set in among some of those old “experts”.

It wouldn’t be a JimCrikket link fest without something from Joe Posnanski, of course… so I’m going to link to two of Joe’s recent efforts. Don’t worry, they’re both short.

First, Poz (I don’t know if that’s really a nickname he uses, but if it isn’t it should be) looked at the Hanley Ramirez fiasco and posed the question “What if it had been Jeter?”  He’s also given us a peek inside the Sports Illustrated tent and, as someone who’s giving some thought to buying an iPad in the near future, I found his “Sports Illustrated for iPad” posting of some interest.

You may have noticed how I’ve avoided any mention of last night’s loss to the East Coast Bitch Sox in Boston. It was aggravating on so many levels, but I think the thing that stood out the most, right from the start of the game, was the absolute joke that particular umpiring crew has become. Since the Twins have a “history” with some of those guys (remember Brendan Harris not being allowed a time out and having a pitch zip by him while not even looking?), it was probably predictable. But rather than me ranting today, I’ll just send you over to k-bro’s place to see her scientific (I’m sure) diagram of the strike zone last night.

I guess I need to get a little real work done this morning, so that’s enough for now. Check back later… if I come across any other interesting ingredients for today’s hot dish, I’ll add them as the day rolls on. – JC

UPDATE 1: I did mean to include this post from Jim Manelaro concerning the Stephen Strasburg “event” in Rochester. Strasburg, the uber-phenom of the Washington Nationals who is being kept busy mowing down minor leaguers until the Nats can be sure he won’t qualify for “super 2″ arbitration status in a couple of years, pitched against the Red Wings Wednesday night.

He pitched well (although newly promoted Twin Trevor Plouffe did get one hit off him). As you’d expect, the Rochester stadium was overflowing (with a significant number of fans wearing Strasburg T-shirts sold at the stadium by the Red Wings!) and when Strasburg was finally relieved of duty, he was given a huge ovation as he left the field. However, he apparently did not acknowledge the ovation with the traditional “cap tip”, causing much of the ovation to turn to boos. This has apparently become a bit of a “thing” now. So my questions, working backwards a bit, are:

1- Why is it a big deal that Strasburg didn’t tip his cap to the opposing crowd?

2- Why would an opposing crowd be THAT enthusiastic in the first place toward an opposing pitcher?

3- What the heck were the Red Wings thinking when they printed up T-shirts and turned their entire crowd in to an 8,000-strong Syracuse/Strasburg love fest? (Yes, I know, money.)

4- I want to know what the Red Wing players… and for that matter the Twins organization… thinks of Rochester’s bizarre promotion of an opponent? (If I were a Red Wing player, I’d have been pissed!)

UPDATE 2: This one made me laugh and almost cheer a bit, as well. Seems the people who run the city of Los Angeles decided they should boycott the state of Arizona over the issue of their controversial immigration law. Now, this blog is not the place for me to express my feelings regarding the law itself, but I REALLY don’t like it when the people on either coast (who think they know everything and that the rest of us should do things the way the folks on the coasts tell us to) start throwing their weight around.

So THAT’S why I found this response from an Arizona Corporation Commission (an oddly named agency that oversees electrical power plants in Arizona) member to the Mayor of Los Angeles hilarious:

“If an economic boycott is truly what you desire, I will be happy to encourage Arizona utilities to renegotiate your power agreements so Los Angeles no longer receives power from Arizona-based generation.”

Seems Los Angeles gets about 25% of their electricity from power plants in Arizona. Oops.

Yeah, I know it’s unlikely they could actually withhold electricity from LA, but any time someone is willing to stand up and say “stick it, jerk!” to bullies, I love it. I also know this article has almost nothing to do with baseball… except let me say that if Bud Selig actually does change his mind (what mind?) and pull the 2011 AllStar game from Arizona over this issue, the good people of Arizona should tell Bud to “stick it”, too. Immigration is a serious issue and should be dealt with by serious people… and that leaves out Bud Selig (and the LA City Council, too).

The Twins Roster – What to do, what to do?

I’ve stayed away from watching the Twins the last couple of games, partially of necessity and partially by choice, but I’m ready to get back in the game. I figured a good way to jump back in would be to share my wisdom with Gardy and Bill Smith on the subject of what roster moves should be made.

I know they say you don’t mess with something that isn’t broken, but let’s be clear… even though the Twins have won several more games than they’ve lost, this roster is at least cracked, if not broken. You don’t carry 13 pitchers, even for just a couple of days, and even pretend that all’s well.

One roster move we all know WILL happen this weekend is that JJ Hardy will be coming off the Disabled List. What’s less clear is who will be removed from the 25-man roster to make room for Hardy. The most likely move will be to send pitcher Jeff Manship back to Rochester since, according to media reports, he was brought up just to give the Twins some bullpen depth in Boston after the pen got used and abused in Toronto earlier in the week. In all likelihood, that’s the only move the Twins will make this weekend… but that doesn’t make it the only move they SHOULD make or even the best move they COULD make.

Casilla should have been Hardy's replacement.

But before I get to my wish list of roster moves, let me take a step back and discuss the Hardy situation briefly. Yes, it will be good to get JJ back and yes, he’s been a very good defender and no, you dare not underestimate the value of his defense to his team and specifically to his pitching staff. That said, I really would love to know why the heck Gardy hasn’t simply plugged Alexi Casilla’s name in to the lineup in Hardy’s absence instead of moving players around the infield like chess pieces. Specifically, I’d like to know what it is that Brendan Harris has done to warrant getting as many starts in Hardy’s absence as Casilla has.

Look, I like Casilla… always have. But I’ve also been a bit of a fan of Harris, so this is not a personal preference thing on my part. This is a “the numbers couldn’t possibly make things any more obvious” thing. Hardy’s offensive contribution so far this year has been pretty pedestrian, but that’s OK for your #8 hitter. His .250/.299/.400 line (batting average/on base pct/slugging pct) isn’t great but it’s tolerable at this point in the season.

But when faced with replacing Hardy for a couple of weeks, why in the world would you give as much playing time to Harris (.181/.277/.264 on the season and .148/.179/.185 the past two weeks) as you do to Casilla (.273/.351/.364 on the season and .294/.400/.471 the past two weeks)? It’s not like Harris is better defensively at SS, either. It just baffles me. In fact, even with Hardy coming back, I’m not sure I wouldn’t be starting Casilla until I’m sure JJ is 100%. Ah well.

Now about that roster.

Valencia isn't ready to replace LNP... yet!

What you won’t hear from me is a loud cry to “bring up the guys from AAA!” I believe there is generally a reason why some players are in the Bigs and some are in Rochester. And let’s face it, the Red Wings aren’t exactly ripping up the International League folks. After getting blown away by Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg last night, they’ve got the worst record in the I-League. So I’m not going to rant about how half their roster should be promoted while the Twins send a bunch of guys packing who have been contributing (in various degrees) to the Twins success this season. For example, count me as one vote against bringing Danny Valencia  and/or Trevor Plouffe up until they show more (Valencia more power and Plouffe more glove) in Rochester.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone down there who could improve things for the Twins, either.

First, there’s no point in screwing around with the position players. You add Hardy and leave it at that. But the pitching staff… oh my… yes there are some improvements that could and should be made there.

This is perhaps a good time for me to say I wish people would stop with the “Rauch is doing so well that the Twins don’t really miss Nathan” crap. Jon Rauch has been great. But wouldn’t you love to have him being great as Nathan’s set-up man, instead? You’d basically be shortening every game the Twins led after 7 innings to a 7 inning game.

But we’ve got to deal with the situation as it is, without Nathan, and they’re going to have to get down to a 12-man staff to make room for Hardy. As I mentioned, sending Manship down to Rochester is the easy call. But is it the only call or even the right call? Well, kinda.

I do believe you send Manship down. In fact, I don’t quite understand why he was the choice to be brought up in the first place since he really hasn’t been Rochester’s best pitcher (or even their best starting pitcher… among a group of pretty poor starting pitchers). In fact, I can only think of one reason to keep Manship with the Twins… and that’s so you can use him as your long reliever while you send Brian Duensing down to Rochester.

Why send a guy who’s pitched as well as Duensing has down to AAA? Only one good reason… to have him stretch his arm out so you can bring him back up and plug him in to the rotation. When he’s ready, you call him up and give him Kevin Slowey’s spot, move Slowey to the long relief role and send Manship back down.

Now, last but not least, we come to the obvious question everyone is asking. When are the Twins going to give up on Jesse Crain? The answer should be “now”. It is time to designate him for assignment and, if the Twins can’t get anything for him in a trade, eat the $1 million or so they’d owe him and release him. Even saying that, I believe Crain will go on to have a productive career somewhere else. I just don’t think the Twins, in a year in which they believe they have World Series expectations, can afford to have even one pitcher that they clearly have lost all confidence in.

Anthony Slama and his old school stirrups are ready NOW!

So when Crain is gone, who takes his place in the bullpen? Here’s where the Twins have a number of options. Rob Delaney, Kyle Waldrop and Anthony Slama have all been very effective in Rochester and, that being the case, it makes even less sense to keep calling Crain’s number and holding your breath, closing your eyes, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best when he takes the mound. My preference, for what it’s worth, would be Slama.

Will any of these moves actually happen this weekend? Besides the Hardy-for-Manship swap out, probably not. Slama probably won’t make his Twins debut until June so the Twins can postpone his arbitration eligibility an extra year. By the way, I think that kind of thinking is fine when you are just trying to be competitive and build for the future, but when you have a chance to win NOW, it’s just silly… and I feel the same way about the Nationals delaying Strasburg’s MLB debut for the same reason. They’re going to end up a game or two out of making the playoffs and have only their frugalness to blame. I just hope the Twins aren’t looking back and feeling the same way.

 In any event, whether it’s this weekend or two weeks from now when the service time issue is no longer a concern, here’s my recommended roster:

Starting position players: Mauer, Morneau, Hudson, Hardy, Punto, Young, Span, Cuddyer, Kubel.

Bench position players: Thome, Casilla, Harris, Butera (yes, I agree with having Morales and Ramos in AAA… for a little while longer).

Starting Pitchers: Liriano, Baker, Pavano, Blackburn, Duensing.

Bullpen: Rauch (closer), Guerrier (set-up), Slama (set-up/mid relief), Burnett (mid relief/set-up), Mahay (mid relief/LOOGY), Mijares (LOOGY), Slowey (long relief/spot start).

Now… would someone please pass this along to Gardy and Bill Smith? They don’t seem to be returning my calls. Or maybe I should try Tweeting it… I heard Pat Neshek say Gardy really likes the whole Tweeting thing, right? – JC