Less than Great Facial Hair from Former Twins

A less than informative blog post follows:

The Twins were off yesterday.  So naturally I was thinking about facial hair because Luis Perdomo has been called up to replace the injured Anthony Swarzak.  Which reminded me of an excellent tournament of Twins mustachioed men recently moderated by The Platoon Advantage.  This entry is not nearly as all-encompassing or interesting as said tournament.  But it is something, and by definition that means it is not nothing.  Enjoy this not nothing.

 

Delmon Young once lackadaisically roamed left field for the Minnesota Twins, now he grows fantastic mustaches.

Delmon Young’s fine mustache. Image captured from Fox Sports Detroit

 

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Wilson Ramos used to throw out base stealers for the Twins in the Minor Leagues.  Then someone tried to steal him.  Now, apparently, someone has stolen his mustache.

Wilson Ramos’ missing mustache. Photo Credit: David Phillip, AP.

 

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Ron Davis says more by saying less, with his mustache.

Do the glasses make the mustache better, or vice versa. Photo stolen directly from NotGraphs.

 

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Then there is Jon Rauch, sporting some type of death metal goatee/beard combo.  Perhaps tied to the death of his success as a reliever.

Jon Rauch and his unkempt facial hair. Photo Credit Sports Illustrated

 

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Are you Gary Gaetti?
Sqinty eyes? Check.
Beaver teeth? Check.
Walrus-esque mustache? Check-PLUS!

Gary Gaetti says, “Hello, Ladies.”

 

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And finally Jose Mijares, amidst a trio of bearded Royals, using his beard as a chinstrap to keep his hat firmly attached to his head.

Jose Mijares: Football player wanna-be. Photo Credit John Sleezer, Kansas City Star

 

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This has been a collection of less than great facial hair from former Minnesota Twins.

-ERolfPleiss

Matt Capps: The “New Nick Punto”?

UPDATE: Just a quick midafternoon update. MLB.com’s Kelly Thesier’s report from the Twins Caravan  included a couple of notable items: She reported that Dave St. Peter announced that the Twins will be unveiling a bronze statue of Tony Oliva outside Gate 6 at Target Field on/about Opening Day (YAY!).  In addition, she (and other various media reporters) provided an update on Harmon Killebrew’s ongoing battle with cancer. Kelly also included this link to the Get Well, Harmon Blog for anyone wishing to pass on messages to Killebrew. – JC 

Based on early returns, it’s starting to look to me like relief pitcher Matt Capps could give Michael Cuddyer a run for the money in the race to replace Little Nicky Punto as the Twins’ MOTO (Most Often Trashed Online… a term I just made up) player for 2011 among the “blexperts” (blogger/commenter experts… another term I just made up. Am I on a roll here, or what?). I have to say, I really don’t understand the disdain so many people have for Capps.

Photo: Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner

On Tuesday, the Twins announced they had reached a contract agreement with Capps that avoided arbitration. They signed Capps to a one-year, $7.15 million deal for 2011. Based on the electronic reaction, you would have thought the Twins just signed Brett Favre to pitch.

I’ve been trying to figure out WHY Capps’ signing caused so much consternation.

I know that it’s widely believed among the blexperts that closers are overpaid because the Save statistic is overvalued. They are and it is.

It’s kind of funny, though, how two years ago so many people downright demanded that the Twins, with a new stadium on the horizon, give then-34-year-old Joe Nathan whatever it would take to stay in a Twins uniform. And the Twins did… to the tune of a contract that guaranteed Nathan something like $35 million over three guaranteed years plus an option year. The primary concern at the time, as I recall, was simply that the signing may have made it difficult for the Twins to also afford also re-signing Joe Mauer (which, of course, it didn’t).

But now, folks are downright apoplectic that Bill Smith would give Matt Capps $7+ million, while letting Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch leave town via free agency and trading away JJ Hardy. The argument is something like, “the Twins could have kept two of those pitchers or a starting shortstop instead of Capps.”

Well… first of all… no they couldn’t have. Hardy was no longer going to be the Twins’ starting shortstop regardless of what the Twins did with their bullpen… the two things weren’t related whatsoever… and Guerrier, Crain and Fuentes all signed elsewhere for multi-year deals with total values well above what the Twins have committed to Capps.

Still, some maintain that, “the Twins could have paid Rauch half as much and had a pitcher just as good as Capps.” Seriously? Even totally forgetting the Save statistic, when you compare the two over the last half of 2010, you would have to get very creative to make a statistical case that  Rauch is “as good” as Matt Capps. There was a reason the Twins traded for Capps, whether a person wants to believe it or not.

Photo: AP/Ted S Warren

And Fuentes? Look… I’d have loved to have him back with the Twins because he absolutely shuts down lefty hitters. But there’s a reason the Angels gave him up and it has nothing to do with “Saves”. It has to do with his .747 OPS against him in the first half of the season, on the heels of an even worse .830 OPS the second half of 2009. The guy has not been strong against right handed hitters in a while.

As for Guerrier and Crain, hey… both guys have served the Twins well and they were entitled to go after the free agent money. But it would have been absolutely nutty to match the three-year deals they ended up signing elsewhere. The Twins offered arbitration to Crain and he (wisely) turned it down. They didn’t offer it to Guerrier because they were afraid he wouldn’t turn it down and they’d be stuck paying a 30-something middle reliever they have no confidence in ever being more than a middle releiver $5+ million.

While the Twins appear hopeful that Joe Nathan will be fully recovered to start the year, there’s no way they can be sure and absolutely need a Plan B in place. Since Crain and Guerrier were certainly not returning and Fuentes has not been effective enough to provide reliable back up in case Nathan isn’t his old self, Capps is obviously the best Plan B. So why do so many blexperts think keeping Matt Capps is a mistake?

Could it really be that people think Capps is taking a spot that should go to someone that came up through the Twins’ system (e.g. Crain, Guerrier, Pat Neshek, or a prospect such as Anthony Slama) and still hold it against him that Bill Smith traded catching prospect Wilson Ramos to get him? 

There’s really no other good reason not to like having this guy (and frankly, even this reason is damn silly… it’s time to get over the Ramos-love, folks!). Capps throws harder than any of the bullpen arms that left, with the possible exception of Crain. He throws harder than Joe Nathan. Is his fastball more hittable than we’d like? Yes… but that’s exactly what a lot of people have criticized Crain for over the years and Capps’ career strikeout/walk ratio is better than any of the departing guys (especially when you factor out the oddly high number of intentional passes the Pirates ordered Capps to give out… could he really have faced Barry Bonds THAT often?).

Photo: Knuckleballs/Jim Crikket

Capps, at just 27 years old, may just improve a bit yet, as well. Of the departing arms, only Crain (at 29) is still south of 30. Go back and look at where Joe Nathan (or pretty much any of today’s top relievers not named Mariano Revera, for that matter) were at age 27 and compare them with Capps. How many of them already had four seasons of entering games in critical situations under their belts?

By the way, a closer may not be getting used most efficiently by always being saved for the 9th inning, but almost every time he enters a game, he’s coming in to a situation where having a bad night is very possibly going to cost his team the game. A guy who comes in and coughs up a 3 run lead in the 6th inning can take a seat and tell himself, “I just didn’t have it tonight,” while he watches his team mates try to fix the damage. The closer who has that kind of night doesn’t have that luxury. Closers may not deserve to get paid 10 times what middle relief pitchers do… but getting paid 2-3 times that going rate is not outragious. While you’d like to think every pitcher at the Major League level has that sort of mental toughness, it’s simply not the case.

One final thought on Matt Capps…

The stat website baseball-reference.com performs some sort of calculation (supposedly using a method adopted originally by the patron saint of stat-heads, Bill James) to determine each Major Leaguer player’s top 10 “most similar” players. According to that site, Matt Capps’ closest comparable player is the Padres’ closer, Heath Bell. The same Heath bell that many blexperts were crying for the Twins to trade for when Joe Nathan blew his elbow out a year ago.

Capps is six years younger than Bell and the Padres avoided arbitration with Bell on Tuesday by signing him to a $7.5 million contract… $385K more than the Twins are paying Capps. And, just for context, Bell’s salary accounts for just about the same percentage of the Padres’ anticipated 2011 payroll as Capps’ and Nathan’s pay… combined… do of the Twins’ payroll.

I’m glad Matt Capps is a Twin and I expect others will be, too, by the end of the season.

– JC

Let’s Not Rush to Judge “the Trade”

Matt Capps

As I went to bed last night, I still wasn’t sure how I felt about the Twins trade of premier catching prospect Wilson Ramos along with minor league pitcher Joe Testa to the Nationals for closer Matt Capps and half a million dollars cash. This morning, I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

I admit I haven’t had time yet to read many of the reactions from the rest of the Twins blogosphere, but I do feel most of this community tends to overvalue the Twins’ prospects, so I’m guessing the reaction in the blogs will be largely negative. TwinsGeek John Bonnes found eight things he didn’t like about the trade, while over in Section 219, Howard Sinker seemed to offer a conditional thumbs up to the deal.

I’m not a terribly patient person, by nature, but I’m going to suggest we all try to exercise some patience here. There’s no doubt in my mind that this trade makes this year’s Twins better. How much better? That’s certainly a fair topic for debate. Capps is probably a moderately better closer than Jon Rauch, but that’s only part of the story. Adding a reliever at the top of the bullpen food chain has a ripple effect which means (or should mean, anyway) that the Twins would actually be replacing their LAST arm in the pen with Capps.

Who you feel that person is depends on how you personally feel about Ron Mahay, Jose Mijares and Nick Blackburn. Mahay and Mijares are lefties and with Brian Duensing in the rotation, it seems unlikely they’ll be sent packing. There’s also an argument to be made that Blackie, if he’s ever going to regain his effectiveness, needs to pitch regularly in Rochester rather than waiting around for a long relief spot in Minnesota. But if he leaves, who exactly IS the Twins long reliever who can go 3+ innings if the starting pitcher struggles early? [EDIT: I realized I should have also included Anthony Slama on the list of guys that could be bumped to make room for Capps. Sitting here thinking about it, unless they decide Blackburn needs regular starts, he's probably the guy on his way out for now.-JC]

Then there’s that $500,000 that the Twins are getting back from the Nationals. What’s that all about? We can certainly all speculate about just how close the Twins are to being maxed out on their payroll for the year, but it just seems odd that half a mil would have a major bearing on that issue. I mean, that’s a good chunk of change for you and me, but for a Major League Baseball team?

Weighing all of this brings me to only one logical conclusion. Bill Smith isn’t done yet.

I realize MLB Trade Rumors is reporting that the Cubs and Dodgers are talking about a deal to send Ted Lilly to LA and they mention that the Twins (and other teams) have “cooled” on Lilly. But whether it’s Lilly or someone else, I’m betting (or at least hoping) Smith is fairly certain he’s going to land a lefty starting pitcher. It may or may not be before Saturday’s non-waiver deadline, but that’s really a pretty soft deadline these days because of the size of contracts the players involved have. They pass through waivers pretty freely.

If the Twins do pick up a LH starter, it frees them to push Duensing back in to his role as the team’s long reliever AND top lefty out of the pen. That sends either Mahay or Mijares packing (I’m guessing Mijares to Rochester). Of course, the Twins don’t have Ramos around to deal for a top lefty SP any more, but I have to figure the teams they’re talking to about such players weren’t after Ramos (if they were and Smith dealt him for a reliever, then I’m completely baffled at the logic). And maybe that $500K gives the Twins some flexibility in terms of taking on more of the next trade target’s salary and thus not having to part with as much talent in the deal? I dunno. Just spitballing here.

So I’m holding off on passing judgment… for now. If it turns out this is it… and the Twins spent arguably their top trade chip for a relief pitcher, then that’s going to be tough for me to swallow. I was all for trading Ramos, but it just seems like that’s not a fair return, given Capps’ contract situation (he’s going to start getting very expensive the next year or two… probably too expensive for the Twins to keep). But after the series of deals Bill Smith made in August last year that, despite not all being widely popular at the time, turned out very well for the Twins, I’m going to sit back and hope this is all part of a larger plan to strengthen more than one area of the roster and prepare the Twins for a playoff run. – JC

Who “Aces” the Twins test? (poll)

This is another long winded JimCrikket post. If you want to skip all of JC’s BS… I mean all of his in-depth and well thought out analysis… and just respond to the poll, scroll on down to the bottom and let us know what you think.

We’ve had our share of debates here, whether in the comments sections or during our GameChats, about whether adding Cliff Lee or another starting pitcher is needed, desired, a good idea at the right price, or none of the above. Lee seems to have resulted in the most divisive responses, particularly when we mentioned Bleacher Report’s contention that a Lee for Ramos/Duensing/low prospect deal had been made before Ramos’ recent injury.

But the Twins have been linked in the media with a few other possibilities as well, notably the Astros’ Roy Oswalt and the D’Backs’ Dan Haren.  In fact, I read somewhere over the weekend that the Mariners were now going to hold on to Lee until closer to the trade deadline because the offers they were getting didn’t provide the value they wanted  and they felt the market would improve if they waited. Reportedly, this was because of the significant number of other potential top-of-the-rotation guys on the market now.

All of which got me to wondering. Who are these “aces” that are supposedly available and, most importantly, which of them would look good in a Twins uniform? So, I set out to find out which ace we’ll be watching lead the Twins to a World Series title this fall.

To begin with, it seemed to me that I needed to set some parameters on the search. First of all, I don’t think many of us are interested in adding another middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. If we’re going to cough up Wilson Ramos and/or other players at or near the top of the Twins’ prospect list for a starting pitcher, it has to be someone with a legitimate ace-type pedigree. But where do you find those guys?

Aces get to be aces by missing bats, plain and simple. Pitching to contact is all well and good. You can have yourself a nice little career inducing lots of ground balls and not walking hitters, especially if you have some decent gloves behind you. But if you want to sit at the top of my rotation, you need to sit a lot of hitters down. I decided that if you aren’t currently among the top 40-50 in baseball in Ks, you aren’t likely to qualify to be the ace of my favorite team.

The next criteria I considered was availability. Again, simplicity required an arbitrary decision. I decided that no team that was currently less than 10 games out of their division’s lead was likely to start cleaning house and, conversely, any team that IS at least 10 games out would at least listen to offers at this point. This narrowed the list of potential trade partners for the Twins to nine teams. That seemed convenient, since I was hoping to come up with about 10 potential targets.

Even more conveniently, when I went down the list of pitchers with the most strikeouts this season and looked for those currently toiling for one of the nine potential trade partners, I reached 10 names with the 40th pitcher on the K list… just barely allowing Cliff Lee to squeak his way on to my list!

In addition to Lee, the other candidates for future Twins ace include: Dan Haren (DBacks), Ryan Dempster (Cubs), Felix Hernandez (M’s), Roy Oswalt (Astros), Zach Greinke (Royals), Ian Kennedy (DBacks), Edwin Jackson (DBacks), Kevin Millwood (Orioles), and Brett Myers (Astros).

Yes, I know… there are guys on that list that will certainly NOT be wearing a Twins uniform any time soon. But including a pitcher like King Felix as we do a little more analysis does, if nothing else, provide a bit of perspective in terms of the quality of whatever arm the Twins would actually bring in.

Likewise, I added an 11th name to the list before going beyond just looking at strikeouts. I added the 13th name on the K-list, one Francisco Liriano. The idea is that we’re looking for an ace and that means whoever we bring aboard should, at the very least, be as valuable in that role as the current Twin pitcher who comes closest to being a legitimate ace (and no, mustache or no mustache, I just can’t get my head around Carl Pavano being “ace” material). For comparison purposes, I also included numbers for Nick Blackburn since he would likely be the current starter bumped from the rotation (yes, I could have used Kevin Slowey instead, but for this purpose, trust me, it doesn’t matter because they’ve both been, shall we say, mediocre).

Now comes what either constitutes the fun part or the part that makes your eyes glaze over, depending on how you feel about statistics. I don’t particularly enjoy debating them for hours, myself. But as much as some of you would like to, we just can’t decide who the Twins should trade for based on facial hair, stirrups, or what their butts look like in baseball pants. We have to look at a few stats. Sorry.

Again, I chose to look at a few that would indicate to me that the pitcher is more than just successful. Those that indicate some level of dominance this year (after all, this may be the only year we have the guy and we want to win it all this year). In addition to total stikeouts, I also chose to look at Innings Pitched (IP), Earned Run Average (ERA), Walks+Hits/Innings Pitched (WHIP), Strikeouts per 9 innings (K/9), Strikeouts to Walks ratio (K/BB) and Wins Above Replacement player (WAR). (All stats were through Sunday’s games. For the sake of brevity, I’ll explain my reasons for choosing these stats in the ‘comment’ section.)

Name and strikeouts IP WHIP ERA K/9 K/BB WAR
Haren 109 108.1 1.31 4.65 9.1 5.19 0.9
Dempster 105 110.2 1.17 3.58 8.5 2.84 2.2
Hernandez 105 112.2 1.19 3.28 8.4 3.00 1.6
Oswalt 97 104 1.13 3.55 8.4 3.34 2.3
Greinke 89 104 1.19 3.72 7.7 4.45 1.4
Kennedy 89 100.1 1.23 3.77 8.0 2.23 1.9
Jackson 85 107 1.38 4.63 7.1 1.89 1.3
Millwood 81 101 1.51 5.22 7.2 2.61 0.4
Myers 77 100.1 1.36 3.20 6.8 2.20 2.5
Lee 76 86.2 0.91 2.39 7.9 19.00 2.5
Liriano 100 92.2 1.22 3.11 9.7 4.00 2.7
Blackburn 26 79.2 1.67 6.10 2.9 1.18 -0.5

So just at a glance, what can we see?

First, the obvious, every one of these guys would be a significant improvement over our current #5 starter.

Second, a little more surprising, Liriano actually is leading all the others in two of these categories… Ks per 9 innings and Wins Above Replacement. Does this mean we already have our ace? (Granted, it didn’t look like it Monday night!)

Third, there’s a reason a lot of people like Cliff Lee. He’s the best (or tied for the best) in this group of potential additions in four categories… WHIP, ERA, K/BB and WAR. You could make a pretty good case that he would likely also lead in Ks and IP if he hadn’t gotten a late start to his season.

Now, it’s time to thin the herd a bit. Let’s remove the pitchers that (a) the Twins have no realistic shot at obtaining, or (b) the Twins shouldn’t even want because they aren’t truly top-of-the-rotation guys.

The Mariners aren’t going to give up Hernandez and the DBacks aren’t going to let go of Kennedy (who’s still working for MLB’s minimum wage). Despite his recent no-hitter, Jackson’s numbers just don’t stack up well neither do Millwood’s (though either might be worth adding for the right… much lower than what people have been discussing… price). Admittedly, the odds of the Royals and Cubs letting go of Greinke and Dempster, respectively, aren’t very good, but we’re just spitballing here anyway.

Now things get trickier. We have half a dozen guys who could lead the Twins to the Promised Land.  But at what cost… in trade and in dollars?

Let’s assume, for our purposes, that the trade would involve Wilson Ramos, one other “major league ready” prospect not currently on the active 25 man roster (think Manship, Swarzak, etc.) and one lesser prospect from the A-AA level. That settles the trade “cost.”

Here’s the hard money cost and contract situation for each of the six still in consideration (assumes existing team would not pay any of remaining contract):

Haren(RH): half of $8.25 mil for 2010. $12.75 mil for each of 2011 and 2012. $15.5 mil club option for 2013 with $3.5 mil buyout. Total commitment:  $33.125 mil (if buyout exercised)

Dempster(RH): half of $10.5 mil for 2010. $13.5 mil for 2011 and $14 mil Player Option for 2012. Dempster agreed to defer $3 million of his $13.5 mil 2010 contract to make room for the Cubs to sign Xavier Nady this offseason. As a result, his 2010 salary is $10.5 million and he gets $1 million by Feb 1 of the next 3 years. That amount gets added to what the Twins would have to pay out. Total commitment: $35.75 mil (if player option exercised)

Oswalt(RH): half of $15 mil for 2010. $16 mil for 2011. $16 mil club option for 2012 with $2 mil buyout. Full no trade clause. Total commitment: $25.5 mil (if buyout exercised)

Greinke(RH): half of $7.25 mil for 2010. $13.5 mil for each of 2011 and 2012. Total commitment: $30.625 mil.

Myers(RH): half of $3.1 mil for 2010. $8 mil mutual option for 2011 with $2 mil buyout. Total commitment: $9.55 mil (assumes player exercises option)

Lee(LH): half of $9 mil for 2010. Type A free agent in 2011 (team gets 2 compensation draft picks). Total commitment: $4.5 mil

So if you’re the Twins, what goes in to your decision-making process?

If you want a lefty, the decision is pretty easy. Cliff Lee is the only southpaw among our ‘final 6’.

Do you want to minimize your total financial commitment? Again, Lee makes sense, but Myers also becomes an interesting option. With Lee, you know he’s leaving at the end of the year and you get your draft picks. With Myers, he’s most likely going to opt for free agency after the season (and would, at best, be a Type B FA, netting the Twins one supplemental pick if they offer him arbitration) so he likely would only cost the Twins about $1.5 million for half a season. if he DOES exercise the option for 2011, you’re still only on the hook for less than $10 million and you have him around for next year, too. I would add that, since everyone would assume he would be a half year rental, the cost in trade should be less than the package we assumed above, as well.

Do you want more than a half year rental? Then toss out Lee and Myers and focus on the other four options. Greinke can be yours through 2012. Oswalt, too, and if he bombs, you can walk away after 2011 by buying out 2012 for a couple mil. You’d have Haren for the same two years plus an option on his 2013 season. Dempster would be around for at least 2011 with a possibility that you’d be stuck paying him a fair amount in 2012 if he exercises his option (players generally only exercise a player option if they think their value on the market has decreased).

Add it all up and who do I think the Twins should pursue? I went through all this exercise and I still want Cliff Lee (but I could live with some of the others).

But you’re all smarter than I am, so what say you? Play Bill Smith for a day and tell us what you do. Make a choice in the poll below and feel free to leave a comment, as well. – JC

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.

GameChat – Twins @ Indians #3, 12:05, WFTC 29

This is just personal opinion but this is an “alternate” lineup that I’m a LOT more comfortable with.  Obviously I would prefer to have Mauer in the lineup whenever possible  but as a day game, I would have expected something different today anyway.  And we have the major league debut of Wilson Ramos – the word from Gardy is that he will be the starting catcher while Mauer is healing up instead of Drew… yeah, I think that is ridiculous. But at least he gets to start with a fantastic pitcher on the mound. Drive them batshit crazy Frankie!!

Minnesota @ Cleveland
Span, CF   Cabrera, A, SS
Hudson, O, 2B   Sizemore, CF
Cuddyer, RF   Choo, RF
Morneau, 1B   Kearns, LF
Thome, DH   Peralta, J, 3B
Young, D, LF   Grudzielanek, 2B
Hardy, SS   Marte, A, 1B
Ramos, W, C   LaPorta, DH
Punto, 3B   Marson, C
Liriano, P   Huff, D, P
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Minnesota 2 0 0 0 2 0 2 0 2 8 20 1
Cleveland 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 3 9 1

Wow, coming up with a Boyfriend of the Day was tough today. When your guys rip 20 hits, your pitcher goes 7 strong innings, and guys are making good defensive plays all over the field, it’s tough to single out one guy!

Little Nicky Punto had what might have been his best day in a couple of years and earns an assortment of pastries, while DY and Liriano both certainly earned cookies. Jim Thome gets ice cream for tying Palmiero’s career HR mark. But I think the group in the GameChat largely agreed that when you’re the first Twin to get four hits in your Major League debut since Kirby Puckett in 1984 AND you hang on to the ball to get a key out at the plate, you’ve had a BOD-worthy day. So Wilson Ramos, you are our BOD.

Wilson Ramos... 4 hits in his Major League debut wins you BOD!

Twins’ prospects rip former Cy Young winner!

I confess. I’m not a fan of the former Twin starting pitcher that started for the Mets in their spring training game against the Twins today. It’s fine with me if my fellow Twins fans want to continue to worship him, even if I don’t agree with it. Just don’t expect me to fawn over his greedy, overpaid, New York loving, butt. :)

So, having said that, you might imagine that I rather enjoyed watching the game today in Port St. Lucie (is there really a St. Lucie?)  You would be right.

I don’t wish any sort of serious life-threatening evil to befall this particular former Cy Young winner. I’m not that kind of person. Do I hope he wins more Cy Young awards? No. Do I hope he ever reaches the playoffs with the Mets? No. Do I hope the investment the Mets made in him turns out to be the biggest waste of money since Barry Zito? Absolutely. I wish him and the Mets all the luck in the world… all the really, really BAD luck. And given the length of the Mets’ DL the last year or so, my wishes seem to be right on the mark.

But back to today’s game. Yes, I realize it’s only spring training. Yes, I realize this pitcher seldom pitches real well in spring training (and as Twins fans came to realize over the years, “spring training” generally runs through April and in to May for this particular pitcher).

So, here are some pictures from some of my favorite moments during the Twins’ win over the Mets on Friday:


Mets’ pitcher #57 delivers a pitch to Brendan Harris as Denard Span taunts him from 1B.


Too much of a stud to be DH’d for, this former Twin Cy Young pitcher grounds out meekly.


Twins 3B prospect Danny Valencia strolls toward home plate after taking the Mets’ multi-bajillion dollar pitcher “yard.” Manager Ron Gardenhire punished Valencia for homering off of the former Cy Young winner by demoting him to Rochester after the game.


Twins Prospect Wilson Ramos rounds 3B after launching a HR off of a former Twin Cy Young winner


The “best pitcher in baseball” delivers with Twins Delmon Young and Danny Valencia at the corners. Both would eventually score.


The official line was worse than the scoreboard showed as #57 left the mound… 2 more runners he left on base would score.