Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Trying Times in Twins Territory...

Okay…so as a Twins fan, these are somewhat trying times.

I knew coming into this postseason that Torii Hunter was as good as gone. You don’t come off a career year and enter a VERY thin free-agent market and actually expect to return to your low-budget, small-market team. Torii knew this. I knew this. All the residents of Twins Territory knew this.

There have been a lot of Torii haters coming out lately, mostly uneducated fans pissing and moaning about how he “took the money and ran” or “turned his back on the Twins” or simply “left.” There are also tons of idiots who are pissed at new General Manager Bill “I have the lamest name, ever” Smith for “letting him go.”

Now I can see where both of these arguments come from, but let’s be honest, everyone (who knows anything about the Twins, that is) knew coming in that they weren’t going to be able to match the offers that Rangers and White Sox would put on the table, heck even the Royals were willing to pony up for 5 years at $75 million. Unfortunately, with Carl Pohlad still alive (and come on…no ill-will intended, honest!) that puts Torii lights years away from anything the Twinkies could offer.

So when the Angels waltzed into town with a five-year pact and $90 million to spend, Torii probably crapped his pants and thought…“Seriously?! Do these guys know that I’m a career .271 hitter with 192 homers?” Honestly, I can’t blame the dude for bailing and I wish him the best.

Then less than a full week later comes the trade rumors. In the last week the Twins realized that they are roughly $40 million apart from Johan Santana’s agent on an extension and—although Alex Rodriguez probably makes $40 million brushing his teeth under his new contract—that’s still a lot of money, especially to the Twins.

As such, the Twins are exploring trade offers for Santana; and low-and-behold who’s first to come knocking at the Twins’ door? Well what do you know; it’s none other than the New York Yankees. The mighty, mighty Yankees; the team that everyone expected to go ahead and scoop Santana up after 2008 when it was apparent the Twins wouldn’t be able to re-sign him. It just so happens that the Twins came to this realization early on and decided that, unlike the Hunter situation, they’re going to be proactive and get more than a compensation draft pick for this big fish. They’re going to rape and pillage anyone who is willing to meet their asking price.

SMART F’n MOVE!!!

As I mentioned in previous blogs, roughly five teams are actually in the hunt for Santana because only those five teams have the coffers to sign him to a long-term deal, a requirement for him to wave his no-trade clause. Personally, I think that’s Johan’s way of doing the Twins a favor. He knows they can’t afford him, so he’s demanding a long-term deal before he accepts a trade. This helps the Twins because they can demand a better return from a big market club and it helps Santana because it—most likely—lands him with a consummate contender. Anywho, the big five who are in the Santana hunt would include the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Angels and Dodgers. Although recent reports state that the Mariners think they have some sort of puncher’s chance of jumping in and wooing the Twins over with both of the prospects they have in their farm system?! Whatever…it’s the big five and no one else.

The only real uprising I’ve heard from any of these cliques has been from the fans of—you guessed it—the Yankees. Apparently, Yankees fans think that by trading for Santana they are doing the Twins some sort of favor. As such, most fans continue to throw out packages that include Mike Mussina, Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, Shelly Duncan, Wilson Betemit and Ian Kennedy. These same fans have labeled Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera untouchable to the Twins.

Let me get this straight Yankee fans. The Twins will give you the best pitcher of this era and in return you think the Twins should take the fat, bloated contracts and washed up players that the Twins clearly can’t afford—thus the mass exodus of home-grown talent—and you offer career minor leaguers and the third-best of the “big three.”

Hmmmmm…now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the Yankees biggest issue the last, oh I don’t know, half-decade or so has been pitching, correct? Wouldn’t it make sense to gamble some prospects (believe it or not Yankee fans—Joba and Hughes are not Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver—they are still unproven rookies) for the single greatest pitcher in baseball?

Honestly, I hope the Yankees own arrogance about their “untouchables” comes back to bite them in the ass and the Red Sox swoop in and offer some sort of three player deal involving Bucholz, Lester, Ellsbury, Crisp, Lowrie, Moss and/or Delcarmen. Then I hope Johan continues his career brilliance (2.66 ERA) against the Yankees and the Red Sox go on to win multiple division championships with the two-headed monster of Santana and Beckett staring down at the oddly-Pulsipher, Isringhausen, Wilson-like trio of Chamberlain, Hughes and Kennedy.

Wow, that was a lot of Johan ranting and Yankee-bashing. Let’s move on to the trade that is almost complete. That involves sending arguably the Twins best young pitching prospect Matt Garza, starting shortstop Jason Bartlett and set-up man Juan Rincon to the Tampa Bay Rays for outfielders Delmon Young, Jason Pridie and middle infielder Brendan Harris.

This one is pretty much a lock right now and I think it benefits both sides. Although I hate to see so much of the Twins core go. I think the return works out pretty well. Clearly the Twins have enough confidence in Pat Neshek and a healthy return of Jesse Crain to assume that Rincon can go. They also must believe that some combination of Alexi Casilla and Harris will work in the middle infield, despite the defensive lapses and obvious offensive short-comings of both men. However, the biggest plus here is the addition of Young.

Young, 22, was second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 to the Red Sox’ Dustin Pedroia. As a rookie last season, Young started all 162 games for the Rays, hitting .288 with 13 home runs, 93 RBIs and 10 steals. Young was Tampa Bay's top choice in the 2003 amateur draft, and named “Baseball America's” Minor League Player of the Year in 2005. Adding Young to an outfield that currently includes Michael Cuddyer, Craig Monroe and Jason Kubel is a big coup for the Twins. (Rumor also has the Twins pursuing the likes of Coco Crisp and/or Jacoby Ellsbury in a potential trade with the Red Sox.)

The biggest loss obviously is Garza who is a righty with some nasty stuff and a very high-ceiling. With the expected losses of Santana and Carlos Silva this puts even more pressure on a very young rotation which (barring the return on Santana’s trade) should include Boof Bonser, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, Scott Baker, potentially Nick Blackburn, and—returning from Tommy John surgery—new staff ace…Francisco Liriano.

Finally, the Twins current closer and future trade bait, Joe Nathan. Nathan emerged as a huge presence and one of baseball’s best closers after his trade from the Giants following the 2003 season. With Francisco Cordero and Mariano Rivera recently raising the bar for closers’ salaries, smart money is on the Twins moving Nathan this winter. Nathan is a Houston native and the Astros recently dispatched troubled closer Brad Lidge to the Phillies. The Astros have the money to spend; although so do the rival Texas Rangers who are also in need of a late-inning stopper. In addition, many other teams include the Cubs, Brewers, Red Sox, Mets, Tigers and Yankees could all be interested.

If the Twins do, in fact, dismantle and are left with what they view as the “new core” of the franchise—Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer (and potentially Delmon Young)—expect them to dole out long-term deals quickly to avoid these problems in the foreseeable future and to lock up a solid roster for the Twins’ move to their new ballpark in 2010. At the same time, one can expect a hearty return for the likes of Santana and Nathan. Hopefully, new GM, Bill Smith will be able to build the team for the future without completely alienating the fans who have been here all along.


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Just a heads up to anyone who isn't aware, once the trade became offical the Rays received highly-touted minor league pitching prospect Eduardo Morlan in the trade and not Juan Rincon as was originally rumored.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Santana Swapping

I’ve read some very interesting blogs and theories regarding the Twins potential trade of Johan Santana and some completely ludicrous ones as well. Only five teams–the Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and Angels--can realistically afford to sign Santana long-term…which is something Santana has made clear would be a necessity for him to agree to a trade.

As such, I’ve taken my stab at determining what it will take for one of the “Big Five” to wrangle arguably the best pitcher in the game. The teams are listed in the order of whom I feel has the best shot of acquiring his services…


RED SOX:

In my mind the Sox probably have the best shot given the depth of their farm system and their desire to keep him from joining the Yankees. Any package with the Red Sox would begin with Clay Bucholz as he is deemed vastly superior to Jon Lester. However, if the Twins prefer Jacoby Ellsbury over Coco Crisp, they’d probably have to settle for Lester; I foresee those four balancing one another out…Ellsbury and Lester or Bucholz and Crisp. That would be the center-piece of the return, but the Twins would probably look to add another bat and/or bullpen help as well. In that regard, I think that a proven spot-start and reliever like Julian Tavarez could be in the mix straight-up middle inning men like Manny Delcarmen or Craig Hansen. As far as bats are concerned I’d expect to see Jed Lowrie or Brandon Moss thrown into the mix.

YANKEES:

The Yankees are probably next in line because they offer a plethora of big-league ready starters to send back in return as well. The Yankees could give up less talent overall by sending Chien-Ming Wang and Melky Cabrera straight up. However, if the team is looking to hang onto Wang, they’ll probably have to send at least one of the young guns with Phillip Hughes being the front-runner with Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy falling in behind. This would still probably cost them Melky Cabrera and/or Robinson Cano and a solid minor league arm such as Humberto Sanchez.

DODGERS:

The Dodgers would probably have to offer roughly the same package they’ve got on the table for Miguel Cabrera if they strike out on acquiring his services. That would include the likes of Matt Kemp, Andy LaRoche or James Loney and either Johnathon Broxton or Chad Billingsley. However, one has to question whether or not the Dodgers are close enough to contend with the squad they have to afford giving up such a large portion of their top prospects.

METS:

The Mets are in an unfortunate place as they are in dire need of pitching and, as such, don’t have much they could afford to send back to the Twins. The best bet to snag Santana would probably cost the Mets Mike Pelfrey and Phil Humber…perhaps even both depending on what set of young outfielders the Mets are willing to give up. Any two of Fernando Martinez, Carlos Gomez or Lastings Milledge would net a solid return. Other names that could be in the mix for the Mets to make this work are Oliver Perez, Aaron Heilman and – if the rumors are true – potentially even Jose Reyes.

ANGELS:

The Angels—currently the front-runners for Miguel Cabrera—are probably not in the mix as much as any of the aforementioned teams due to their depth of young arms and lack of offensive firepower. If the team does acquire Cabrera, one would assume they’ll no longer have the prospects necessary to net Santana. Although if they strike out (pun intended) in pursuit of Cabrera expect them to jump into the mix offering roughly the same set of players which includes as a base outfielder Reggie Willits and second baseman Howie Kendrick. After that the Twins would probably want to acquire another bat such as OF/DH Juan Rivera and/or 3B/SS Brandon Wood…although Wood may be untouchable given the recent trade of Orlando Cabrera. On the pitching front the Twins could command any of the following: Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders or class AA right-hander Nick Adenhart.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanks for Everything Torii

I guess it’s appropriate that today is, in fact, Thanksgiving because I want to use this opportunity to send a shout-out to one of my favorite baseball players, Torii Hunter. It was reported early this morning that Torii has signed a five-year pact with the Angels for roughly $90 million.

I could get into semantics about how the Angels overpaid for a guy who essentially offers a great glove in centerfield and is in the midst of a two-year offensive spike that deviates from his career norms, but I don’t care about all that. Everyone overpays in this market, and Torii would be a great addition to any ball-club that wants someone who is a leader on and off the field and a great ambassador for the game. Torii Hunter is just that.


Torii has been the face of the Twins franchise for years, pretty much ascending to that roll with the retirement of Kirby Puckett. His highlight reel catches and balls-to-the-wall style of play endeared him not only to the residents of Twins Territory, but to fans and players everywhere.

Torii is worth every penny of that contract, skill notwithstanding. He will be an incredible presence in the clubhouse and in the community, much as he was in Minnesota. He’ll lead the team on the field with his passion and desire to succeed and he’ll lead the team off the field with his compassion and caring for the fans and for promoting the game to the youth of America. Torii has long pushed to get more black youths involved in the game and playing in a bigger market will help him in that cause.

I wish nothing but the best for Torii in Los Angeles and I want to thank him for all of the memories and great times in Minnesota.

Thanks Torii…

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Blueprint for the Twins

It’s that time of year folks. The air is crisp. The leaves are nearly all gone. The lights at your local baseball venue have long been dim. Oh yes, it’s that time of year.

No…I’m not talking about Christmas and all that crap. I’ll let all of the major media conglomerates take care of pimping Christmas and cramming it down your throat for the next twenty-odd plus shopping days that remain…no, no…I’m talking about the down-time lull for baseball fans.

The World Series has been over for nearly a month already and the members of Red Sox Nation have already moved on and are planning their Patriots Super Bowl parties. The biggest fish on the free agent market, Alex Rodriguez has returned to the fold and will don pinstripes for the rest of his inevitable march to pass Barry Bonds’ all-time home run record. A few trades have been made and a few options have been exercised. Tom Glavine has completed his homecoming and will be a Brave once more and all the while the aforementioned Bonds appears to have no home, no suitors and potentially no shot at staying out of jail?!

With all of these storylines running amok its time for me to exercise my right as a fan who thinks he knows it all—and by golly, I am a fan who thinks he knows it all—and rant my ass off about what my team could do to improve this off-season.

Unfortunately, as a Twins fan, I am contractually required [as are all Twins fans] to lead off my ranting blog with a precursor filled with bitching and moaning about Carl Pohlad and his unwillingness to “loosen the purse strings” and how its hurting his team and blah blah blah. I know Pohlad’s cheap. You know Pohlad’s cheap. We all know the dude has got more money than A-Rod has advisors [Warren Buffet, really?!]…so let’s go ahead and get past the fact that the stingy old bastard isn’t going to spend a ton of money and focus on what the Twins can do with what they have.

**DISCLAIMER: This doesn’t, however, change the fact that I’m still pulling for the Twinkies to re-up with Hunter and then promptly sign Cuddyer, Morneau, Santana and Nathan to long-term pacts.**

Okay, now that we’re through with all the formalities and the sad, misguided optimism, let’s look at the most glaring holes the Twins will seemingly need to fill to compete in 2008.

CENTERFIELD

The team will most likely be looking to bring in a centerfielder who can cover some ground to make up for the loss of Hunter and lighten the workload for whichever combination of Monroe, Kubel and Cuddyer is on the field at any given time. At the same time, some sort of offensive presence would be nice, but the team is clearly banking on productive seasons from Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel and Monroe.

[Realistic] Free Agent Options: Torii Hunter [if he gives a home-town discount and/or decides he really doesn’t want to leave the Twins], Corey Patterson, Mike Cameron, Milton Bradley, Darin Erstad, Kenny Lofton and Steve Finley.

[Realistic] Trade Options: Matt Kemp/Juan Pierre – LAD, Elijah Dukes/Delmon Young/BJ Upton/Rocco Baldelli – TB, Johnny Damon/Melky Cabrera – NYY, Lastings Milledge/Carlos Gomez/Fernando Martinez – NYM, Coco Crisp – BOS

BEST BET(S)

Via Free Agency: I think that the two most reasonable options are probably Corey Patterson and Mike Cameron. Both players offer the same risk and reward. Both have the potential to hit 20-25 HR and play Gold Glove defense. Both will also probably hit in the .250s with 100+ strikeouts. However, that type of risk is generally offset by the defensive skills and the speed the both men possess on the base paths.

Patterson is flying very much under the radar right now with all the hoopla surrounding Hunter, Rowand and Jones and could probably be signed to a reasonable contract if the move is made soon, although I’m sure the Twins don’t want to give Hunter any sort of indication that they’ve already moved on before he makes his decision. Lest us not forget that Patterson was also thought to be the next big thing as recently as 2004 following his 24 homer campaign with the Cubbies.

Cameron has proven his is a big time CF and has played in markets of all-sizes. His gamer attitude would be a great fit in the Twins clubhouse and his work ethic would almost mimic what the Twins were losing in Hunter. However, Cameron also comes with a buyer-beware tag as he’ll miss the first 25 games of 2008 while serving a suspension for using a banned substance.

Via Trade: The majority of the outfielders who could be acquired through a trade are factored in under the assumption that the Twins move Johan Santana. This theory, however, doesn’t apply to the Red Sox and/or Devil Rays nearly as much. I feel that moving one top-tier pitching prospect and a position player could bring a solid return.

If that were the case, I like the thought of Coco Crisp’s above average defense roaming centerfield at the dome. Crisp plays great defense and thrived in the AL Central with the Indians. His offensive numbers have dropped off significantly in Boston, but a return to a smaller market could bring back big rewards for the Twins and the slick-fielding Crisp.

THIRD BASE

Third base has been a relatively barren place for the Twins since the departure of Corey Koskie. Michael Cuddyer tried his hand at the hot corner, unsuccessfully. The highly touted and easily forgotten Terry Tiffee washed out of the Twins system when it was learned he couldn’t play the position he was groomed for. Tony Batista was…well…Tony Batista and Nick Punto’s feel-good story of 2006 turned out to be just that, a story of 2006 and only 2006. As such it is definitely time for an upgrade.

[Realistic] Free Agent Options: Pedro Feliz, Corey Koskie, Mike Lamb, Mark Bellhorn, Russell Branyan, Shea Hillenbrand and Aaron Boone.

[Realistic] Trade Options: Scott Rolen – STL, Ian Stewart – COL, Morgan Ensberg – SD, Andy LaRoche/Tony Abreu – LAD, Wilson Betemit – NYY, Andy Marte – CLE

BEST BET(S)

Via Free Agency: Pedro Feliz is, in my humble opinion, the best option on the free agent market and a player the Twins should pounce on immediately. Feliz will be 33 this season and could probably be locked up in a 3-year pact at a reasonable value given the explosion in the market for third basemen.

The Twins should act quickly given that two of the three highest-profile third basemen have already returned to their respective teams. This leaves the bidding war for Miguel “The Pillsbury Doughboy” Cabrera as the only thing keeping attention off of Feliz for the time being.

In his four years as a regular starter with the Giants Feliz has authored a fairly impressive set of averages that fit right in-line with the Twins’ needs at third base. He has averaged 21 home runs, 84 runs batted in, 31 doubles all while playing a very solid third base defensively. Those offensive numbers would look even better at the Metrodome which is a much better hitter’s park than AT&T Field in San Francisco.

Via Trade: Many of the potentially available third basemen in trade talks—that aren’t named Cabrera—bring some sort of baggage and/or buyer beware issues. Rolen may cost too much if the Cardinals stick to their current mantra that they won’t eat any of the remaining dollars on Rolen’s contract. Stewart is an ubber-prospect, currently stuck behind Garrett Atkins. The team is more likely to deploy Stewart at 2B if Kazou Matsui leaves via free agency and if they do move Stewart, he’d still be a rookie and could have an Alex Gordon-like rookie season or a Ryan Braun-like rookie season. Ensberg has a Jeckyl and Hyde complex, but if the Twins get the monster who can mash balls to the tune of 400 feet…that’d be just fine. The trades involving the Dodgers and Yankees are based upon moving Santana and as such, won’t be delved into until that dark, dark day falls upon all fans in Twins Territory.

That leaves Marte. It seems that Marte was a can’t miss prospect in Atlanta where he was saddled behind Chipper Jones but the Indians were less than impressed with Marte and gave the starting third base job to Casey Blake. Rumors have been swirling that the Indians were also sniffing around and kicking the tires on the likes of Lowell, Rolen and a few others implying that they may want an upgrade beyond Blake, thus making Marte, seemingly, expendable. Whether or not either the Twins or Indians would be willing to trade within the division is a large question mark, but it is definitely an option worth exploring for both teams.

In my opinion, snagging Feliz is the smartest move as the trade market for third basemen is guaranteed to be out of hand this off-season, especially once Cabrera has settled into a new home.

DESIGNATED HITTER

The Twins haven’t had a really reliable designated hitter in…um…you know, a really long time. Sure they had David Ortiz, but they were nice enough to let him mosey on over to Boston and become a folk hero. Granted in doing so they gave up one of the most prolific power and clutch hitters of the 21st century, but that’s neither here nor there. What is here AND there is the glaring hole the Twins have had at DH in recent years and the obvious necessity to find a reliable bat.

[Realistic] Free Agent Options: Mike Piazza, Sean Casey, Cliff Floyd, Sammy Sosa, Mike Sweeney, Luis Gonzalez, Jose Guillen, Reggie Sanders and Rafael Palmeiro.

[Realistic] Trade Options: Adam Dunn…yeah, I said it.

BEST BET(S)

Via Free Agency: This one is tough, because of all the names on this list, I feel like I am repeating a bunch of them from last year…which clearly goes to show how right I was last year?! I usually snag one comeback player dead-on. In 2006 it was Frank Thomas. Last year it was Sammy Sosa (sorta) and Dimitri Young. As far as 2008 goes, it could really be anyone on this list.

Piazza may still command too much money, but a rather dismal debut in his first stint as a full-time DH in Oakland might have driven his value down just enough for him to fall into a one-year deal with incentives. If he’s got some pop left in the bat and is willing to grow the ‘70s porno ‘stache back, the Twins would love to add the 20+ homers he could provide.

However, I like some of the bigger gambles on this list. Floyd has proven that when he’s healthy he can be a great offensive contributor. I think if he can be healthy for a full-season and avoid injury by DHing, he has a shot to be a solid 30 HR, 85 RBI producer in the middle of a solid lineup.

Jose Guillen is an intriguing, and oft-injured, option as well. Getting him out of the field most days would be good for keeping him off the DL and for putting runs on the board. His attitude has come into question many a time, but I think Ron Gardenhire might be the right type of manager to help squelch that problem before it starts. Guillen has, however, been linked to Senator Mitchell’s steroid probe and could face a suspension to start the 2008 season.

Easily the most intriguing name on this list is the last one, the long since forgotten about Rafael Palmeiro. He has been in exile for two seasons now. Whether or not he’s in shape or even thinking about making a comeback is entirely up for debate, but if he is and he can still put up numbers even remotely close to his career averages the Twins would be fools not to take a one-year incentive-laden chance on the would-be Hall of Famer. Palmeiro is probably chomping at the bit for a chance to comeback and not only clear his name, but to prove he can still perform and has had two years robbed from him. If he can in fact do so, I’d be more than willing for him to take that gamble in a Twins uniform.

Via Trade: Let’s be honest folks. Not a lot of teams are willing to give up big boppers, especially if they aren’t going to see much on the return. The Reds, however, are in an interesting position. They have a team overloaded with outfielders and prospects who are currently handcuffed to AAA as a result. Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. are probably the two biggest stars on the team and as such, are also two of the most expensive. The Reds probably foresee Dunn walking away via free agency next year to take over left field for the Yankees or Angels and would be willing to move him this off-season, potentially even eating some of his salary, if they received worthwhile compensation in the form of young pitching and a position player. The Twins could make a move and then try to sign Dunn for the same offer they currently have on the table for Torii Hunter. After all, a dude who can mash 40 home runs in his sleep is hard to come by.

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And that ladies and gentlemen concludes my game plan for the Twins to put together a competitive and relatively affordable lineup in 2008. Now I realize that a lot of this hinges on what happens with Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva. If Silva goes, then the direction in the off-probably turns to either a) acquiring a veteran starter or b) shipping Santana and Nathan out for prospects and beginning the rebuilding mode.

Either way, I still feel [as all good fans do] that the Twins are on the verge of being a very good team with the core they have established. I’d like to think that 2007 will prove to be an aberration and the majority of the squad that made the improbable comeback in 2006 will be together again next year working to start another string of division titles in Minnesota.