Flipping The @MinnesotaTwins The Bird

Some of you may still recall my rant a week or so ago about the absurd, insane, unfair, and downright indefensible blackout rules that prevent me (and all of my fellow Iowans) from watching Twins (and Brewers and Cardinals and Royals and Cubs and White Sox) games online. I mentioned somewhere in that rant that this would be my 51st and final year as a Twins fan if the rules don’t change by next year… which I know they almost certainly won’t do.

Many of you, I’m sure, believed that vow to be nothing more than an emotional (over)reaction to a situation that has, after all, existed for years and that I would eventually calm down and remain a lifelong loyal Twins fan. It’s a fair assumption.

It’s also going to prove to be an erroneous assumption. I’m going to burn all of my Twins gear… 3 jerseys, 3 Spring Training sport shirts, at least 3 caps, and more t-shirts than I can count… on Opening Day 2012 if the Twins still insist on including Eastern Iowa in their “protected home market”, despite FSN not bothering to do what it takes to actually get carried on a local cable provider.

In fact, I’ve already chosen the team I plan on devoting my fandom to, in place of the Twins. I’ll be trading in my navy and red for the black and orange of the Baltimore Orioles.

As a matter of fact, thanks to those absurd, insane, unfair, and downright indefensible blackout rules, I’ve actually already watched more Orioles baseball than I have of the Twins.

And I gotta say… I’m loving this year’s Orioles team.

I expected them to be better than they have been in several years. In fact, in my “offbeat predictions” post last week, one of the limbs I went out on was to predict the O’s would finish second in the AL East this year. That was before Baltimore went on to win their first four games of the season, with a sweep of the Rays down in St. Petersburg and before the Red Sox lost their first six (and counting) games of the season!

As you may be able to tell, I’m actually getting excited for this team. The “veteran” sluggers they brought in to shore up their offense haven’t even started hitting yet. Vlad Guerrero finally hit his first HR of the season tonight, Derrek Lee has just one (as of the 5th inning of Thursday’s game, which I’m watching as I write this), and Mark Reynolds still hasn’t gone yard. (It seems the Twins aren’t the only team yet to get much thunder out of the heart of their batting order.)

JJ Hardy in his (and my) new colors

But Brian Robers has been hot and good old “number 2 in your program and number 1 in your hearts” JJ Hardy has been a double machine. He may only have three hits on the season, but they’ve all been two-baggers. And the young starting rotation has really done a nice job so far.

It’s actually kind of fun to root for a young-ish team on the rise (hopefully), that’s been built by former Twin GM Andy MacPhail and is being managed brilliantly by Buck Showalter. Only the Twins, among AL teams, had a better record from August through the end of the regular season last year than the Orioles did.

As an Orioles fan, I still get to vehemently root against the F’ing Yankees and the East Coast Bitch Sox.

Of course, the BEST part about becoming an Orioles fan is that I get to actually watch them play every game. OK… not EVERY game… for example, later this month when they host the Twins, I WON’T be able to watch those games (thanks to the absurd, insane, unfair, and downright indefensible blackout rules).

But there’s a chance I’ll be in Baltimore the last week of April and they’re hosting the Red Sox for three games that week, so there’s a very real possibility that I’ll actually be watching my first regular season MLB game in Camden Yards, instead of Target Field, this season.

I’ve even started checking out some of the Orioles blogs (scouting the future competition, you might say). There don’t seem to be nearly as many as the umpteen million Twins blogs around so I think maybe that’s a lineup that could use me!

And with that.. YESSSSSSSSS Adam Jones just tied the Tigers 4-4 in the sixth with his first HR of the season!

I wonder if there’s a song I need to learn. Ah well… until I find out, I’ll just stick with…

~You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant~

- JC

It’s All About the Pitching

A lot of the media folks that cover the Twins and a lot of the bloggers, as well, have been writing about the team’s pitching, lately. Everyone has an opinion about who should be in the rotation and who should be kept around to fill out the bullpen. I’ll probably get around to trying to sort out my own opinions on those issues eventually, too… but it won’t be at 1:30 in the morning after getting back to my Ft. Myers hotel from the Twins/Orioles game in Sarasota.

Let me just say this… for tonight anyway, the Twins pitching was really good.

Francisco Liriano was looking good against the O's

If tonight’s performance was any indication of things to come, we no longer have to be concerned with Francisco Liriano. Tonight, he demonstrated why you just don’t put a lot of stock in the first couple of Spring Training appearances. That said, in fairness, this one excellent performance doesn’t guarantee Liriano will look just as good when the regular season rolls around, either.

But Liriano did look really good. He struck out 7 Orioles in his five innings on the mound and gave up just one earned run on three hits (two by Vlad Guerrero).

And he wasn’t the only pitcher who looked good. In fact all five Twins who took the mound to face the Orioles had pretty good nights.

Joe Nathan is all smiles as he continues his successful return

Of the four relief pitchers who each threw one inning (Jose Mijares, Joe Nathan, Alex Burnett, and Glen Perkins), only Nathan gave up a run and that was unearned. In fact, Nathan’s the only one of the foursome who gave up a hit and he only gave up one.

Matt Tolbert had a big night against the Orioles

The offensive side of the ledger wasn’t quite as impressive, but the Twins did collect nine hits. Matt Tolbert may have decided not to just roll over and let Luke Hughes have his roster spot without a fight, as Tolbert was the only Twin with more than one hit… he collected three, including a line drive home run over the LCF wall in the third inning.

My seat for the game was in the first row, down the left field line, so I had a nice close-up view of our guys as they loosened up before the game. I have to admit, between seeing several Twins play up close and personal on the minor league complex Thursday and then having this vantage point on Friday, I’m getting a bit spoiled. Here are a few more pictures from Sarasota.

Sarasota gave Ed Smith Stadium a major facelift. They did it right!

Ben Revere shares a smile during warm ups before the Orioles game

 

Jose Mijares signed autographs for fans for several minutes before the game

Vlad Guerrero accounted for half of the O's four hits

Former Twin JJ Hardy went hitless in 3 at-bats against his old team mates Friday night

Saturday afternoon, the Rays visit Ft. Myers to play the Twins. We’re expecting Joe Mauer to catch a few innings for the first time in a Twins spring training game and Justin Morneau is supposed to DH, making it the first time he’s played in back-to-back games. The Twins don’t have another home game until Wednesday, so I suspect we’ll see the A-list lineup against the Rays.

This blogging thing is becoming exhausting… I need sleep!

- JC

Help Wanted: Professional Hitter

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

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

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

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

Give me a T!

Give me an H!

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

Jim Thome

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

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

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

Ah… but what options really remain out there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus Thames (Photo: Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- JC