Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hot New Option at the Hot Corner

For the second off-season in a row the Twins may be importing some infield help from down south. The difference is, this time it would be the right move to make, as opposed to last off-season’s Adam Everett and Mike Lamb debacles.

Ty Wigginton was non-tendered by the Houston Astros on Friday night as part of a cost-cutting measure to reduce payroll. In doing so, the Astros have given the Twins an enticing new option at third-base, a position the team has been seeking to upgrade this off-season.

Prior to his re-signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, there was much speculation that the Twins were front-runners to land Casey Blake to man the hot-corner. The two sides ran into a sticking-point in regards to contract length and the deal fell through. The other big-name free-agent at the position is the oft-injured Joe Crede who is coming off another back surgery and represented by Scott Boras.

The Twins main targets via trade appear to be Garrett Atkins of Colorado and Adrian Beltre of Seattle, but neither seems to be available at a cost the Twins deem reasonable.

Thus the entry of Ty Wigginton into the free-agent picture has to make the Twins very excited. Wigginton compares very well statistically to all of the other third-base options available and comes at a much more sensible price for the penny-pinching Twins.

In the chart below you’ll see a comparison of the top options the Twins are/were considering and Wigginton. All five players listed are right-handed hitting third-basemen with some pop which is exactly what the Twins are seeking. The numbers are pretty streamlined across the board in terms of power production, but Wigginton offers it with a cheaper price tag.

Here’s to hoping Bill Smith pounces on this opportunity.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Handing Out the Hardware

The post-season is upon us. A few major moves have already been made and starting tomorrow at midnight, it’s going to be a free-for-all on free agents. With these major events transpiring and the impending arrival of the Winter Meetings just around the corner, I figured now would be the right time to dish out my awards for the year that was. That’s right folks, it’s time for the 2008 Graveys!!

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Manager of the Year

Ron Gardenhire – Minnesota Twins – 88-72 (2nd Place – AL Central)

Okay, here it comes. This is the point where I’m expecting a plethora of insults for being a homer and going with the Twins, but let’s be real here folks. I know that Joe Maddon’s magic touch in Tampa is the feel-good story of 2008, but everyone expected the Rays to be in the mix. Look back at all of the preseason rankings from the “experts” the Rays were set to contend and merely arrived a year early than expected.

The Twins were left for dead after the losing Torii Hunter and Johan Santana in the offseason. The team only returned three regulars to the lineup and featured Livan Hernandez as the team ace for the first half of the season. In the end the Twins found themselves tied with the equally surprising Chicago White Sox after 162 games and lost to the ChiSox in a one-game tiebreaker to miss the playoffs. Call me crazy, but that’s a pretty good turnaround for a team that was expected to finish in the AL Central. Gardenhire works his magic every year and never receives the appreciation he deserves, well this year, he’s getting it from me. Enjoy your Gravey, Gardy…you’ve earned it!!

My Preseason Pick: N/A

Rookie of the Year

Evan Longoria – Tampa Bay Rays – .272 / 27-HR / 85-RBI

Longoria was the favorite to win this award from day one; the question was whether or not the Rays would call him up early enough to allow that to happen. As it turns out they did and he had a rookie season that was far more Ryan Braun than Alex Gordon. The Rays benefitted greatly when Longoria was in the line-up. In addition to his outstanding offensive contributions, he also played Gold Glove defense at the hot corner and served as one of the major motivators for a very young, very hungry ballclub.

Longoria possesses the presence and poise of a cagey veteran, not that of a 22-year-old rookie. The fact that he put up those numbers despite missing time at the beginning of the year in the minors and then late in the season due to an injury only further hit home the fact that this kid is something special and will be a major force for a long, long time.

My Preseason Pick: Evan Longoria

Cy Young

Roy Halladay – Toronto Blue Jays – 20 W / 246 IP / 206 K / 2.78 ERA / 1.05 WHIP

I had a very good feeling about ‘Doc’ Halladay in Spring Training. Reports were that he showed up to camp looking and feeling better than he had in years and it showed through out the season. Halladay returned to form as a dominant strikeout pitcher in 2008, a flashback to his 2003 Cy Young campaign, by recording 206 strikeouts his best since ’03 and the best of his career. He logged 246 innings by pitching nine complete games, an unheard of amount in today’s game. His overall record took some hits due to the Blue Jays ineffective offense in the season’s first-half, but he showed down the stretch that when he’s on, he’s as dominant as ever.

I know many will disagree with this selection and want to give the nod to Cliff Lee, who had an amazing year as well, but one look at the head-to-head numbers shows that Halladay, given more innings, a better WHIP, more strikeouts and five more complete games was clearly the more dominant pitcher in 2008.

My Preseason Pick: Roy Halladay

Most Valuable Player

Kevin Youkilis – Boston Red Sox - .312 / 29 HR / 115 RBI

The American League MVP race is a tight one this season, as no one player stands head and shoulders above the competition. Dustin Pedroia, Carlos Quentin, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Josh Hamilton and Kevin Youkilis all put up great numbers and could logically win the award, but my vote goes to Youk.

In a season that saw the Red Sox suffer through numerous injuries to big-time run producers David Ortiz and Mike Lowell; and the loss of Manny Ramirez, Youkilis was a constant. He was bashing the ball all over the yard all season long, he came up in clutch situations and he played Gold Glove defense at first-base and then shifted over to third base when Mike Lowell went on the DL. Without Youkilis stepping up to shoulder the load throughout the season the Red Sox very well may have been sitting in third or fourth place in the standings this season. Without a doubt, the most valuable player in the AL for 2008 is Kevin Youkilis.

My Preseason Pick: Alex Rodriguez


National League


Manager of the Year

Fredi Gonzalez – Florida Marlins – 84-77 (3rd Place – NL East)

Again, I’m bucking the general trend of choosing the manager who led his team to the best record or a League Championship. Personally, I’m of the belief that the sign of a good manager is someone who is able to win when he isn’t expected to. Lou Pinella? Charlie Manuel? Is there anyone who didn’t forecast those two talent-laden teams to be in the playoff mix? Gonzalez took a Marlins team that traded away its ace and star player in the offseason and guided them right into the thick of the NL East and Wild Card races for most of the season, a prospect no one would have expected entering the season.

My Preseason Prediction: N/A

Rookie of the Year

--TIE--
Geovany Soto – Chicago Cubs - .285 / 23 HR / 86 RBI
Joey Votto – Cincinnati Reds - .297 / 24 HR / 84 RBI

This one was a tough call, and ultimately, one I couldn’t bring myself to make.

Soto generally gets the nod because he plays a premium position. I’ll give him that. It takes some serious moxie to catch 136 games and still put up solid offensive numbers. Soto’s ability to handle the Cubs dynamic pitching staff, coupled with his extraordinary offensive prowess earned him a spot on the NL All-Star team and propelled him into the elite class of catchers in the majors.

Votto’s season started out well-enough as he beat out incumbent first-basemen Scott Hatteberg and proceeded to rake from then on. Many predicted that one of his Reds’ teammates, Jay Bruce or Johnny Cueto, would be the biggest impact rookie of 2008, but Votto’s quiet approach led to a very solid, very under-the-radar campaign that earns him his first-ever Gravey.

My Preseason Pick: Johnny Cueto

Cy Young

Johan Santana – New York Mets – 18 W / 234 IP / 206 K / 2.53 ERA / 1.14 WHIP

Okay, here come the boos again assuming I’m making this call in favor of Santana because I’m a fan. Well safe to say, that’s not the case. Once again, I refuse to buy into the feel-good story for the Cy Young. Yes, “Tiny” Tim Lincecum had a great season. Just like Cliff Lee did in the AL, but statistically Lincecum and Santana were right on the same page. As such, I’m going to give the edge to Santana. He was adjusting to a new league, a new team, new opponents and had to deal with batting regularly for the first time in his professional career. In addition, the abysmal Mets bullpen cost him more than a half-a-dozen games along the way. There is no doubt that Santana with 20 wins runs away with this award in everyone’s eyes. Well Johan, you may not get the real hardware, but you’ve earned another Gravey!

My Preseason Pick: Johan Santana

Most Valuable Player

Albert Pujols – St. Louis Cardinals – .357 / 37 HR / 116 RBI

Without a doubt, the most underappreciated star in all of baseball. Pujols put up a very typical Pujols year again in 2008 and, as usual, flew largely under the radar. In addition the gaudy numbers above it is notable to mention that he also scored 100 runs—a feat he’s only missed once in his eight big-league seasons (99 runs in 2007)—and posted a ridiculous .462 on-base percentage.

Pujols’ value, however, extends beyond his mammoth offensive contributions. He plays a great first-base defensively (he posted a .996 field percentage in 2008, the same as Gold Glove winner Adrian Gonzalez) and he boosts the line-up around him both on and off the field. Pujols is without a doubt the clubhouse leader and the heart-and-soul of the Cardinals franchise. In addition, his presence in the line-up helped generate career years for Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel. Without Pujols the Cardinals would not have stuck around the NL Central and NL Wild Card races until September, without a doubt Pujols win the 2008 NL MVP.

My Preseason Pick: Matt Holliday


So there you have it folks, the end of the 2008 Graveys. It was a great season and it figures to be an exciting offseason. We’ve already seen numerous players switch uniforms and free-agency hasn’t even opened up to the masses yet. Expect much more baseball commentary, insights and opinions as the offseason heats up.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ray of Hope


Cole Hamels is out of the way. That’s right Rays fans (or bandwagon jumpers) even though Tampa Bay took the loss in the World Series opener, there’s one big ray of hope for games two through four and that’s the lack of Hamels.

Hamels continued his impersonation of Josh Beckett with another dominating post-season appearance on Wednesday night by hurling seven innings of two run baseball; there by boosting his record to 4-0 with a 1.55 ERA this postseason. With Hamels now out of the picture until Game 5—unless Philly moves him up in the rotation—the Rays will get to take their chances against the likes of Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton.

All fine pitchers, but definitely not nearly the same caliber as Cole Hamels.

Hopefully with Hamels out of the way the offense—which only mustered five hits—can get into a rhythm. The Rays' 2-3-4 hitters—BJ Upton, Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria—were a combined 0-for-12 with five strikeouts in Game 1, with Upton twice grounding into double plays.

If the Rays offense fails to jump out of the blocks in Game 2, the predictions/hopes of a competitive seven game series may go by the wayside very quickly, especially if the good-version of Brett Myers shows up and the Phillies late-inning knockout punch of Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge are waiting in the wings to turn out the lights.

The Rays, however, weren’t the only ones who suffered from disappointing production in Game 1. The Phillies were 0-for-13 wither runners in scoring position and are ‘hitting’ a meager .195 with RISP in the postseason. Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard went 0-for-4 with a walk and three strikeouts and leadoff man Jimmy Rollins went 0-for-5 with a pair of strikeouts as well. Not exactly inspired play from the two most recent NL MVPs.

Neither team is head-and-shoulders above the other at this juncture, but all of that could change with some big-time pitching performances or a sudden infusion of life into either lineup. Either way, I fully expect Game 2 will bring the same type of dogfight that will hopefully carry on through a full seven game set.

Friday, September 26, 2008

ESPN Rant...


I am sick and tired of ESPN's lame-ass east coast bias. I'm sick and tired of ESPN leading with stories about how the Yankees are out of the playoffs and how the Mets are "choking" again or how the Red Sox (who are already a lock for the playoffs) are still fighting an uphill battle.

The best race in baseball all-season long has been in the AL Central where the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox have been trading blows in their battle for first place and a division title. What makes this all the more intriguing is that neither of these teams was given a snowball's chance in hell when the season started.

The Cleveland Indians, last year's AL runner-up, and the Detroit Tigers were both slated to be battling it out to the final days of summer. The Tigers were supposed to score twelve billion runs and the Indians were supposed to finish what they started last year when they ran away with the division and were on the brink of a World Series berth.

Instead what happened was the dismantled Twins--after losing their ace in Johan Santana and the face of the franchise in Torii Hunter--proved all of the naysayers wrong with a combination of solid young pitching and timely hitting. Contributions from new faces played a big role in the Twins battle for AL Central supremacy.

On the other side of the coin are the 2005 World Series Champion Chicago White Sox. The Sox had regressed in the two years following their championship and many people had written them off as possible contenders. Pundits viewed them as not having enough rotation depth or enough youth in their aging lineup to compete. Instead, GM Kenny Williams acquired MVP candidate Carlos Quentin, gold glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera, Cuban import Alexei Ramirez, the enigmatic Nick Swisher and bullpen stabilizers Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink. Pitchers Gavin Floyd and John Danks stepped up and were major forces in the back-end of the rotation and the offense powered it's way to the top of the standings.

So now here we sit...the final week of the regular season. The Yankees are done. The Mets are clinging to a shot at the Wild Card. The Red Sox, essentially, clinched two weeks ago given their five game lead over the next team in the AL Wild Card standings. In the AL Central the Twins and White Sox came into a three-game set at the Metrodome with two and a half games separating them and what happens. The Twins sweep the White Sox in three great games. The third game is full of drama as the Twins rally after being down six to one in the fourth inning and force extra innings. The Twins win with a walk-off in the tenth. Good stuff right. Right.

However, on ESPN--as has been the case for weeks--the AL Central gets no love. During Oregon State's huge upset of USC there is a cut-in, just minutes after the conclusion of the Twins game. I assume it's going to be about the Twins and how they've just taken over first. No, no...it's a baseball update, but there's no mention of the Twins/White Sox game at all. Instead they show the Mets' ninth inning rally and then they show the Brewers' walk-off grand-slam. Both huge moments, no doubt...and honestly...I'm okay with that. I don't even care if they play those clips first and for whatever reason put more emphasis on a Wild Card race, but whatever. What I do care about is that after showing clips from the playoff racing involving the Mets...they go back to the game. No mention of the Twins/White Sox...no clips...no nothing.

*sigh*



http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?mid=200809253550680

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Breaking Down the Playoff Races (09/24/2008)

Tuesday night fans were treated to some very big, very important games with playoff implications galore and as a result saw many teams step it up with big-time performances. Here’s my take on some of the more impressive games.

------------------------------------

Mets def. Cubs 6-2

One year ago the Mets were in the midst of a tremendous collapse and when they needed a big-game pitcher they turned to—Tom Glavine?! Sure Glavine might have been the go-to guy in the mid-90s but he is by no means a modern stopper. Johan Santana, however, is exactly that. With a career 57-17 record after the All-Star break and some of the most dominating pitches in all of baseball, Santana is exactly the guy the Mets needed to add this season and last night he proved why. Santana spun eight beautiful innings. He gave up two earned and struck out ten while doing some damage with the stick as well. This is why the Mets traded the top-half of their farm-system to acquire Santana. Interesting note: Santana will be available to go in the season finale Sunday if necessary.

Twins def. White Sox 9-3

“Keep the ball in the yard.” That’s the mantra for any team looking to defeat the White Sox. The ChiSox have proven all-season long that they do their damage with the long-ball and a relatively lights-out bullpen. Essentially, they’re the anti-Twins. This year the Twins’ bullpen has been horrendous due to the loss of Pat Neshek and the Twins have the second-fewest home runs in all of Major League Baseball. It was, however, the aforementioned mantra that would prevail on Tuesday night as the Twins only allowed one bomb (Ken Griffey Jr’s 610th) and went on to scorch the White Sox 9-3. The team was carried offensively by Jason Kubel who had a breakout game with two home-runs of his own and a triple. On the hill Scott Baker hurled seven impressive innings to help vault the Twins within a game and a half of the AL Central lead.

Brewers def. Pirates 7-5

Prince Fielder hit a towering walk-off home-run, the type of home-run that seemed oddly reminiscent of David Ortiz’s ALCS bombs in 2004. That one round-tripper could be just what the Brew-Crew need to carry them into the playoffs. Everyone knows that the best teams make the playoffs, but the hottest teams win in the playoffs. The Brewers have been one of baseball’s best teams all-season long and if that homer causes a ripple effect throughout the clubhouse, they may very well be one of the hottest teams playing deep into October.

Red Sox def. Indians 5-4

Cleveland’s Cliff Lee has been outstanding this season. Without a doubt he’s the AL Cy Young winner and--after working his way back from a demotion to Triple-A last season-- he’s earned it. Tuesday night, however, he had one bad inning against the powerful Red Sox lineup and it cost him the win. This game wasn’t big so much because the Red Sox clinched a playoff berth, that was pretty much a given as both of the AL Central contenders faded in the past two weeks. This biggest impact of this game was that it officially put the final nail in the coffin on the Yankees hopes of making a 14th consecutive post-season appearance.

Dodgers def. Padres 10-1

The game itself was a laugher, but it proved the Dodgers’ resiliency in a big way. The D-Backs are getting hot again and the Dodgers were coming off the heels of a tough 1-0 loss to the Giants on Sunday. The Dodgers looked loose given the pressure, which further proves that this year’s mix of veterans and youngsters are blending much better to create a more cohesive clubhouse at the most important time of the year. Joe Torre is pretty much a lock to make the playoffs—barring unforeseen tanking by the Dodgers—and the way he handled this roster is a big reason why.

Rays def. Orioles 5-2, 7-5

The Rays sweeping a double-header when they’re already a lock for the playoffs shows why these guys are going to be scary in the post-season. They know they could be resting starters and playing out the string, but these guys want to win. They want to take the AL East and force the Red Sox to enter the playoff fray as the Wild Card team. I think taking this double-header proves that Tampa Bay is going to be wrecking crew in October, best of luck to whomever wins the Central.

Braves def. Phillies 3-2

The Phillies are not a lock for the playoffs. They have the Mets breathing down their necks in the NL East and then the Brewers in the NL Wild Card chase. This is a team that cannot afford to give away games to Atlanta when their ace is on the hill. Cole Hamels pitched a fine game (7IP/2ER/7K) and only got two runs of support from one of the most potent lineups in the National League. If the Phillies want to be considered a serious championship contender they need to play like one, day-in and day-out. I don’t think this team has the chops and I feel like they’re going to be the odd man out at the end of this weekend.

Cardinals def. Diamondbacks 7-4

Randy Johnson got roughed up by the Cardinals in another must-win game for the D-Backs. The loss serves as a serious blow to Arizona's postseason chances. The D-backs trail the first-place Dodgers by three games in the National League West with just five games remaining. This comes after the D-Backs were anointed the NL Champs back in April and then proceeded to regress through the summer. Any team that is sitting one-game over .500 in the final week of the regular season would normally be long-since eliminated, but as has often been the case in recent years in the NL, it makes them alive—albeit on life-support. In my opinion, we can go ahead and assume that starting this Sunday afternoon Arizona fans can go ahead and start looking forward to Suns basketball.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Twins Looking to Match First-Half Success

The Minnesota Twins entered the season with low expectations, but will exit the All-Star break just a game and a half out of first place in the American League Central. With a legitimate shot at the post-season the Twins must be considered buyers as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches. As such, I've taken a look at some of the Twins best options to improve on offense and on the mound, both internally and externally...

OFFENSE

The Twins biggest need right now is someone who can provide legitimate power for a lineup that ranks at the bottom of the American League in total home runs. The team is near the top in most other offensive categories, but is in dire need of a home run hitter given the power outages of Justin Morneau, Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer.

External Options

Adrian Beltre – 3B – Seattle Mariners

-The Mariners are looking to distance themselves from the Bill Bavasi Era and should be looking to restock their recently depleted farm system in any trade. The Twins could provide the Mariners need while bringing in a Gold Glove third baseman with the potential to hit 20-25 HRs and provide the right-handed power-bat the Twins expected Michael Cuddyer and/or Delmon Young to be between the left-handed duo of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. The upside is that the Twins would control Beltre through 2009 at a reasonably $13.4 million which is roughly what Torii Hunter was making prior to his exodus.

Dallas McPherson – 3B/1B – Florida Marlins

-The Florida Marlins are in a playoff race of their own in the NL East and are currently looking for a veteran catcher to handle their staff and provide some offense now that Matt Treanor has hit the DL. As much as it would hurt to lose Mike Redmond, the potential return of McPherson—who is hitting .296/.403/.674 with 32 HRs and 71 RBI in 300 at-bats at AAA—would probably help the healing process.

Hank Blalock – 3B/1B – Texas Rangers

-Blalock has been injured for much of the previous two seasons, but—when healthy—he has shown glimpses of returning to the player he was from 2003 to 2005 when he made two All-Star teams and hit 86 home runs to go with 192 runs batted in. His lefty bat doesn’t fit the exact need the Twins’ current need, but if he is healthy down the stretch, his bat can help carry an offense.

Richie Sexson – 1B/DH – Free Agent

-Another product of the Bavasi Era who can be had for a prorated portion of the league minimum. In theory, Sexson will probably be gobbled up by the Mets, Yankees, Dodgers or Angels as soon as he clears waivers and won’t even be an issue for the Twins. However, Sexson amounts to the ultimate gamble. After-all it was just two years ago that he crushed 34 homers and 107 runs batted in. It is possible that a change of scenery could rejuvenate the beleaguered slugger. His career .261 average is right on par with Jason Kubel the left-handed portion of the Twins’ DH-platoon, but is roughly 50 points higher than Craig Monroe and his right-handed portion of the platoon. In fact, Sexson is hitting .344 against lefties this season…call me crazy but for a prorated portion of the league minimum that’s not a bad investment.

Barry Bonds – DH – Free Agent

-I know, I know…this is the part where the booing and hissing begins, but let’s be honest there isn’t a better hitter on the market. Bonds led all of baseball in OBP last season and jacked 28 homers in just 340 at-bats. He hits righties, he hits lefties, he just flat-out hits. Throw in the fact that he is willing to play for the league minimum and is focused on winning a championship and this seems like the move to make. Throw in the fact that he is only 65 hits away from 3,000 and there is the chance for him to make history in a Twins uniform while helping the team make and excel in the playoffs.

Internal Options

Michael Cuddyer

-If Cuddyer can get healthy and return to the lineup he could be a large catalyst for the Twins offense down the stretch. Cuddyer is a streaky player, offensively, but provides great defense in right field and is a leader in the clubhouse. A healthy return from Cuddy could propel the Twins offense and allow more options at DH and in the OF with Denard Span proving he belongs on the major league roster.

Delmon Young

-It’s not that Young isn’t producing; in fact, he’s had a fine first season in Minnesota thus far. What’s lacking, however, has been his power stroke. Young has legitimate 25-30 home run power and although he is still growing into that power should probably have more than three. Young is set to have a huge second-half and could provide the big bat the Twins are in need of without costing the Twins a thing.

PITCHING

The Twins aren’t generally one to dabble in the pitching market because of the team’s depth at the position. As such, the Twins are far more likely to make an internal move to bolster both the starting rotation and the bullpen.

Internal Options

Francisco Liriano

-“The Franchise” has been absolutely dominate as of late in Triple-A. Liriano is 7-0 with a 2.73 ERA in his last eight starts and has thrown 21.1 consecutive scoreless innings. Apparently he has returned to his old three-quarters arm angle and has regained his power and control. Needless to say, if the Twins can gain the Liriano of 2006 for the stretch run, the balance of power in the AL Central has shifted.

Bobby Korecky

-Korecky, a minor league veteran of seven years, could serve in a role that the Twins desperately need to fill, the role of eighth inning set-up man. Since Pat Neshek hit the DL, the Twins have struggled to find a dominant set-up man for Joe Nathan and Ron Gardenhire’s policy of using Nathan only in the ninth inning has cost the Twins a handful of games already. Since being promoted to Rochester last season, Korecky has tallied 47 saves, 114 K and 3.57 ERA.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

That's Why They Play the Games...

There’s an old adage in sports that championships are won on the field, not on paper and that’s why they play the games.

On paper the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians figured to battle one another all-season long for supremacy of the American League Central. The Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals were both expected to improve over dismal showings in 2007 and battle for the moniker of “third-best team in baseball’s best division.”

And then there was the Minnesota Twins, left for dead by most “experts” following a tumultuous off-season that began with the resignation of longtime General Manager Terry Ryan and saw the team lose the face of the franchise in Gold Glove centerfielder, Torii Hunter when he signed a big-money deal to take his highlight reel defense and streaky offense to Hollywood as the second marquee centerfielder acquired in two years by the Angels.

Reliable innings-eater Carlos Silva, channeling Steve Miller, decided to take the money and run when the Seattle Mariners came calling with an ill-conceived four-year, $48 million offer under the assumption that adding the sinkerballer would put the Ms over the top.

Then there was the Johan Santana debacle. Throughout the entire off-season everyone questioned whether the Twins would trade arguably the best pitcher in the game or try to sign him long-term. The answer was both. The Twins made numerous contract offers only to be rebuffed by Santana who was more than content to play out his final season with the Twins and test the waters of free agency.

In lieu of watching Santana walk away for nothing more than two compensatory draft picks, the Twins fielded offers from various suitors only to learn that no one wanted to pony up the price the Twins were asking. In the end Santana became the highest paid pitcher in baseball as a New York Met and the Twins gained a package of prospects that was largely panned by those same experts who predicted a last place finish for the Twins.

That was all before Opening Day. Since Opening Day, things haven’t worked out exactly how they were predicted on paper and that, my friends, is why they play the games.

As we enter the All-Star break, the Twins are nipping at the pale heels of the White Sox for the division lead. The “mighty” Indians have already packed it in by jettisoning team ace, CC Sabathia, to Milwaukee for a package of prospects and letting beleaguered sluggers Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner marinate on the DL instead of rushing back to the lost cause that is the Indians defense of the AL Central crown.

The Tigers who entered the season with what was deemed “the greatest offensive team of all-time” have largely underachieved and are hovering at .500 with just an outside chance of contending. The Royals, are—well—the Royals. They’ve got talent, but they’re underachieving and will have to fight and claw to stay out of the AL Central cellar for a fifth straight season.

There are still 67 games left to be played in this surprising 2008 season and sure the Twins could fall in the second half and both the Tigers and Indians could reverse their fortunes, but even if that is the case, the first 95 games of this magical season have shown us exactly why they play the games. Here’s to hoping the Twins can keep proving everyone wrong…on the field and, now, on paper (or at least pixels) too.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Scouting for the Twins

Today is Major League Baseball’s draft, unfortunately the most unheralded of all the professional drafts. There are numerous reasons why this is the case, such as:

-Due to the lack of televised games, college and high school baseball players are far less familiar to the sporting public than players eligible to be drafted in the NBA and the NFL.

-Although the same is true of all drafts, all too often a player who goes in the first-round of the MLB draft is never seen or heard from again.

-Due to the minor league system in baseball, draftees almost never have any sort of immediate impact, thus limiting the number of Rays fans running out to by Tim Beckham jerseys today.

Despite those glaring facts and the fact that the media seems to have no real interest in the draft, I certainly do and I know many other baseball fans do as well. As such, I’ve been scouting the crop of talent available in this year’s draft a lot in recent weeks and I’ve gone through and made a list of the top three players I’m hoping my boys--the Minnesota Twins--can snag with their first pick in the draft (number 14).

-- My Top 3 --

(1) Jemile Weeks, 2B, University of Miami

As we've seen in recent years the younger brothers of former first-rounders (Justin Upton and Stephen Drew) have done pretty good for themselves at the professional level. As such, I'd like to see the Twins take a stab at Rickie Weeks' younger brother Jemile.

Even though he plays the same position as his older brother, Jemile is not the same kind of player. The younger Weeks is a switch-hitter who doesn't have, and likely will never have, the kind of power Rickie does. Weeks is a line-drive, slashing type of hitter who squares the ball up well and can really get things going with leadoff-type skills. He runs extremely well and could steal a ton of bases in the pros. His defense is somewhat in question, but could definitely be improved by coaching at a higher level.

(2) Brett Lawrie, C/3B, Brookswood SS, Langley, B.C.

Lawrie brings two very important things to the table for the Twins. First he has the ability to play third-base, obviously the biggest hole in the Twins lineup since Corey Koskie departed via free-agency. He also has the ability to contribute behind the dish, a move that would allow the Twins to rest Joe Mauer's knees more often and/or eventually move him to a different position.

Due to the fact that scouting Canadian players can sometimes be difficult because of the lack of opportunity to see them the information on Lawrie is a little limited, but scouts know all about Lawrie and his plus power potential. At present he's mostly a pull hitter without a true position, though he's shown the tools -- raw though they may be -- to handle being a catcher and playing the hot corner. It may take a while, but putting that bat behind the plate could one day make him a premium player.

(3) Brett Wallace, 1B/3B, Arizona State

Wallace, from all reports I've read, is one of the best hitters in college and perhaps in the entire Draft class. He possesses unbelievable plate discipline and has the ability to hit .300 with 25+ homers in the majors on a yearly basis.

What limits Wallace--and is driving him down on many people's draft projections--is his body. At 6'1" 245lbs he is a pretty big boy. Odds are this will limit his ability to play 3B at the Major League level and will be relegated to first base detail, which makes Justin Morneau an immediate roadblock. The Twins could groom Wallace as a 1B/DH, but would be more inclined to draft him and put him on a training regimen that would allow him to play third base in the pros, thus immediately increasing his value.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dealing with Papi's Big Injury

David Ortiz hit the DL this week with a tear in the sheath that surrounds the tendon in his left wrist and although Big Papi thinks he can be back in a month, many think that the injury won’t heal in that time and may require season-ending surgery. If that is in fact the case, I can't help but think that the Red Sox will be looking to their crimson brothers-in-arms, the Cincinnati Reds for an offensive boost.

Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. both figure to be available and both could help the Sox in multiple ways.

Griffey and Dunn are both left-handed hitters who could provide solid numbers in the three-hole for the Red Sox. Both have significant power. Both have the ability to play the corners at Fenway and/or DH-alternatively with Manny Ramirez.

But most importantly...Cincy is most-likely looking to move both of them in order to save some serious cash and gain more prospects for the team’s on-going youth movement.

Let’s take a look at the Sox options:

Ken Griffey Jr.

In Griffey, the Sox would essential acquire a rent-a-player for the season, but if they are successful, perhaps Griffey would want to stay longer and make another championship run...something he isn't likely to do if he returns to Seattle as most people are predicting he will. They would also acquire one of the best players of this era--albeit on the downside of his career--and someone who would seemingly fit in very well with the Boston clubhouse.

Adam Dunn

In Dunn, the Sox would receive a powerful 28-year-old who appears to just be entering his prime and has raked to the tune of 40 homers (or better) for each of the last four years and is on pace to do it again in 2008. Dunn would be a wise signing if the Sox decided not to exercise Manny's option after 2008, as he could play the small left field at Fenway just as admirably as Manny and put up similar offensive numbers. However, with the uncertainty surrounding Big Papi's injury and his history of wrist-injuries, perhaps it'd be in the Sox best interest to sign Dunn and Ramirez and "worst-case scenario", David Ortiz comes back healthy and mashing and the Sox find that they have an overload of offensive talent. What a sad situation that would be for Sox, huh?!

What would it take to land Griffey or Dunn?

To get Griffey it would probably cost the Sox at least one solid pitching prospect (not named Masterson) most-likely Charlie Zink or Craig Hansen. The Reds would probably also want to land an outfielder in the deal such as Jeff Bailey or Chris Carter.

It may cost the Sox a little more to land Dunn, due to his age and current value to the Reds line-up, it might take Justin Masterson and some combination of Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, Zink, Bailey or Carter. Although given the proven skills of both Masterson and Lowrie the Sox may be able to get away with one of those two and a lower level prospect.

Final Analysis

Either way the trade makes sense for both sides. Ortiz's injury is a serious one and even if he is able to come back this season, there is a good chance he will be hampered by the injury all year, and it figures to sap his power and thus damages his on-base abilities as pitchers would be less-inclined to pitch around him. This gives the Sox a definite back-up plan and an option in the corners to help spell Manny and keep him from having another of his yearly late season "injuries."

It benefits the Reds because, even with the youth-movement in full swing, they don't appear set to contend in 2008. If the team doesn't choose to sign Dunn long-term (which would be a mistake) then he and Griffey both should be moved before walking away and leaving the team with nothing to show for it. The Reds can gain some high-ceiling prospects from the Red Sox and continue to keep their farm system stocked and keep the infusion of young talent coming, that way the team isn't forced to rely on the likes of Corey Patterson beyond the 2008 season.

Thoughts? Opinions? Blatant insults regarding my horrible use of ellipses? Etc…

...I'd love to hear 'em?!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why Barry Bonds Will Have a Job in 2008...

So here we are at the quarter mark of the 2008 season. The time of the season when General Managers take a step back to look at what they’ve assembled. It is now that teams begin to decide whether or not they’re going to be legitimate contenders as the season wears on.

Once that decision is made it’s up to the GMs to determine what the next course of action should be. If the team has decided it’s not likely to contend; the next move is generally a sell-off of high-priced veterans with an eye toward the future. However, if the team believes it has a shot—that’s when things get interesting.

Coming into the 2008 season the Mariners, Blue Jays and Tigers were all thought to be potential contenders and in the case of the Tigers, one of the odds-on-favorites to win the World Series. Right now all three are struggling offensively and could use a serious shot in the arm (pun VERY MUCH intended) by the name of Barry Bonds.

I’m going to take a look at all three teams and how Barry Bonds does or does not fit into their playoff hopes going forward.

SEATTLE MARINERS


The Mariners entered 2008 on the heels of a successful campaign that led to the resigning of Ichiro Suzuki and saw the team improve the rotation with the additions of Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva. Many picked the Mariners to unseat the Angels atop the AL West on the back of the retooled pitching staff, strong bullpen and a solid offense. Unfortunately, someone forgot to inform the offense.

The offense currently ranks 23rd with a .250 average and 29th with an on-base percentage of .309. These low totals explain why the team has only amassed a whopping total of 165 runs thus far.

The team is predominantly right-handed with lefties, Ichiro and Raul Ibanez, and switch-hitter Jose Vidro being the only regulars to mix up the parade of right-handed hitters. Bonds is--without a doubt--the best lefty on the market and even at age 43 can still produce at a high level both in terms of power and on-base percentage (28 homers and .480 OBP in 340 at-bats in 2007).

The Mariners—who are currently ten games under .500 and 8 ½ games out of first in the AL West—have already made attempts to shake up the lineup by jettisoning Brad Wilkerson and Greg Norton and replacing them with minor league standouts Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien. There were discussions regarding Frank Thomas, when the slugger was released by the Blue Jays in late April, but Thomas’ decision to rejoin Oakland quickly put an end to any chances of the Big Hurt bringing his Hall of Fame credentials to the Pacific Northwest.

Why It Will Happen: Current DH Jose Vidro is “hitting” .193 with two home runs and a .244 OBP, Bonds could hit better than that right-handed…and blind-folded. Needless to say Bonds would be an immediate upgrade and would love having Ichiro on base in front of him all season long, almost as much as Ichiro would love having Bonds batting behind him.

Why It Won’t Happen: The oft-rumored Ken Griffey Jr. to the Mariners deal seems more likely than Bonds landing in Seattle. Griffey would provide the offensive upgrade and the left-handed bat the team so desperately needs. Throw in the fact that he is a hero in the Emerald City and it only makes sense for Griff to return to Seattle for a storybook ending to his career.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS


As is the case every season in recent memory, the Blue Jays entered the season as a popular “dark horse” candidate to make a playoff run in the powerful AL East. The team boasts one of the best rotations in all of baseball and was supposed to have a dynamic offense with Alex Rios, Frank Thomas, Aaron Hill and the returns of a healthy Scott Rolen and Vernon Wells.

What the Blue Jays got was one of the lowest scoring offenses in the American League. The Jays currently sit at 153 runs scored with a .255 team average. As a result of the low output (and the unattractive vesting option he was closing in on) Frank Thomas was released in late April and Seattle cast-off Brad Wilkerson was brought in along with the streaky, yet underachieving Kevin Mench from Texas.

The Blue Jays currently sit in last place in the AL East, five games out of first-place and the only reason they’re that close is because the pitching has been stellar thus far. Without some sort of offensive wake-up call the Jays can right off contending in 2008 and potentially beyond with the window closing on much of the team’s aging core.

The Blue Jays have gotten sufficient results from Matt Stairs, but Adam Lind is overmatched and belongs in Triple-A. Wilkerson, Mench, Shannon Stewart and the plethora of other outfielders the Jays have sent out are not getting it done. The team would be wise to move Stairs to left and put Bonds in the DH slot and use both Bonds and Stairs to split up the right-hander heavy core of Wells, Rios and Rolen.

Why It Will Happen: Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi has shown that he's not afraid of shaking up his roster. He's already made a handful of transactions this season in an attempt to improve his struggling offense and as a student of Billy Beane’s on-base percentage philosophy, Bonds is the perfect fit for this squad and wouldn’t deal with nearly the level of media scrutiny north of the border.

Why It Won’t Happen: The Jays are a middle-of-the-pack spender and don’t figure to increase their payroll. Signing Bonds, even at a discount, wouldn’t be in line with the team’s spending philosophy. The Blue Jays are far more likely to deal from their strength, young pitching, to acquire a slugger such as Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, etc…rather than spend to bring in Bonds.

DETROIT TIGERS


Ask just about any baseball “expert” and coming into the 2008 season the Tigers were neck-and-neck with the Red Sox as the odds-on-favorite to win the World Series. Now, with a month and a half of the season in the rearview mirror the Tigers are mired in last-place in the American League Central, four and a half games behind the overachieving Minnesota Twins.

What makes things even more interesting is that the Tigers vaunted offense, which sputtered out of the gates, has finally gotten on a role and the Tigers are in the top five in the AL in team average, on-base percentage and runs scored. The Tigers are getting destroyed by their own overrated starting rotation and the one thing that most experts overlooked in the preseason, the absolute void that is a bullpen.

Detroit currently ranks dead last in ERA (5.03) and saves (5). They are also the only team in the AL without a complete game and one of only two (the Mariners) that have yet to produce a shut-out.

So why am I recommending the Tigers bring in Barry Bonds when he surely can’t help where the team needs him most? What the team lacks—offensively—is a consummate presence at DH and another reliable lefty bat. Bonds could fill both of those voids.

Gary Sheffield and his ailing shoulder have moved back to the outfield with the end of Jacque Jones’ month-long tenure in left-field. That leaves a rotation of aging stars and overweight sluggers like Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera to take their turns at DH and super sub – and dispatched starter – Brandon Inge to fill-in around the diamond. The logical move would be to bring in Bonds, plug him in at DH and watch the lineup continue to rake in an attempt to overcome the inequities of the pitching staff.

Why It Will Happen: The Yankees have proven that a team can make the playoffs without a pitching staff and the Tigers appear to be built in the same mold. With a rapidly aging core and much of the youth sold off in offseason the Tigers’ window to win a championship is closing fast. Throw in the fact that Jim Leyland has proven he can manage Bonds in the past, the Tigers appear to be a perfect fit.

Why It Won’t Happen: The offense is set and with Brandon Inge around the team can afford to appoint Carlos Guillen and Miguel Cabrera as the full-time DHs and let Inge get plenty of at-bats whilst upgrading the defense at third-base. The priority right now is pitching and guys like Joe Blanton, Rich Harden, Huston Street, George Sherrill, etc are more likely to be on the Tigers’ radar than another aging slugger for their collection.

DARKHORSE CANDIDATES


KANSAS CITY ROYALS

It seems that the Royals have put together a respectable rotation and a solid bullpen. What the team lacks is someone to generate runs. The Royals currently own one of the lowest OBPs in the AL as well as the fewest home runs and runs scored. Kansas City would be wise to give Billy Butler a first-baseman’s mitt and give Barry Bonds the DH-role for as long as he’d like to crush baseballs in the Midwest summer heat.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

Sure, sure they’re in first in the AL East and sure, they’re not expected to compete all season long, but let’s throw logic out the window and just say…what if. What if the Rays brought in Bonds and let him DH all season long. With the likes of BJ Upton and Carl Crawford on base in front of him and sluggers Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena behind him in the lineup—I feel like that offense could hang with the Red Sox and Yankees until September.

NEW YORK YANKEES

This isn’t a logical move for a team that is lefty-heavy and possess about half-a-dozen DHs already, but with Hank Steinbrenner at the helm, anything is possible.

NEW YORK METS

This is another move that doesn’t seem logical, especially given Bonds’ diminished skills in the outfield. However, a left-field platoon of Bonds and Moises Alou would allow Alou to stay healthy and would work to get them both sufficient at-bats throughout the course of an entire season. Also, the luxury of having Endy Chavez as a late-inning defensive replacement nullifies any damage they could do in crunch time while still allowing Willie Randolph to have one or the other on the bench as a pinch-hitter.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Belated Pre-Season Rankings

Every year, I enjoy spending the weekend before baseball starts stowed away on my couch feverishly pounding away at my laptop to write up my omniscient pre-season picks. This year, however, with the season beginning mid-week half-a-world away and then pausing for a few days and then restarting, with a one-day match-up solely intended to pimp the Nationals new stadium, I found myself having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that the season was—in fact—beginning.

It grew even harder to believe when I was trudging around Minneapolis’ snow-filled streets in a blizzard on my way to the Metrodome to watch the Twins’ home opener. I mean seriously…a blizzard…on Opening Day?! Can’t wait until that new open-air stadium opens up in Minneapolis!!

Either way, after dropping close to $70 on overpriced Dome Dogs, nachos and warm beer…there is now no doubt that baseball season is upon us. With nearly a week of exhilarating play already under our belts, it’s about time I get my butt in gear and hammer out my belated pre-season picks.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

CY YOUNG

My Pick – Roy Halladay – Toronto Blue Jays

Doc Halladay might not be the strikeout machine he once was, but he is still a stud on the hill and the unquestioned ace for one of the best rotations in all of baseball. As is often the case for Halladay, health will be the major concern heading into this season. With other potential front-runners for the AL Cy Young such as Scott Kazmir, John Lackey and Josh Beckett all spending time on the DL early in the season, Halladay needs to remain healthy himself to distance himself from the pack.

Halladay’s 2008 Line: 19 W – 3.48 ERA – 156 K

In the Mix: Erik Bedard – Seattle Mariners & CC Sabathia – Cleveland Indiants
Dark Horse: Javier Vazquez – Chicago White Sox
Really Dark Horse: Rich Harden – Oakland Athletics


ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

My Pick – Evan Longoria – Tampa Bay Rays

I realize Longoria is the fashionable pick—but there’s a reason he’s the fashionable pick—the dude can flat-out rake. In Spring Training he hit .262 with three home runs and ten runs batted in. Throw in his .407 on-base percentage and his .595 slugging percentage and there’s no doubt why the rest of the roster was begging the Rays management to insert Longoria into the Opening Day lineup. Unfortunately, fiscal rationale took over and the Rays sent Longoria back to Triple A where he’ll wait until May for his call-up, ala Ryan Braun last season, at which point one can expect Longoria will be entrenched at third base for a long, long time.

Longoria’s 2008 Line: .280 – 21 HR – 89 RBI

In the Mix: Joba Chamberlain – New York Yankees & Jacoby Ellsbury – Boston Red Sox
Dark Horse: Carlos Gomez – Minnesota Twins
Really Dark Horse: Alexei Ramirez – Chicago White Sox


MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

My Pick – Alex Rodriguez – New York Yankees

Honestly, given the way A-Rod absolutely obliterated everything in his path last season, it’s really hard to knock the guy. Plus, who was even close to touching A-Rod for overall stats last year? Who’s that you say? No one. Sure his numbers have historically dipped off following his MVP seasons, but let’s take note that we’re talking about a guy who has had multiple MVP seasons for this statement can be made. How many multi-time MVPs are still hanging out in big league locker-rooms? I bet you can count them all on one hand. Things could always change as the season progresses, but hands down A-Rod is still the best player in the game today and now that he has the whole “biggest contract in the history of history” thing taken care of…now he wants a ring, expect an even more focused A-Rod in 2008 and beyond.

Rodriguez’s 2008 Line: .317 – 53 HR – 121 RBI

In the Mix: David Ortiz – Boston Red Sox & Miguel Cabrera – Detroit Tigers
Dark Horse: Vladimir Guerrero – Los Angeles Angels
Really Dark Horse: Josh Hamilton – Texas Rangers


NATIONAL LEAGUE

CY YOUNG

My Pick – Johan Santana – New York Mets

Let’s be honest, I’d be a fool not to pick Santana. Although, I’d also be an even bigger fool if I tried to act like the NL wasn’t full of quality pitching with the likes of Jake Peavy, Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Zambrano, Rich Hill, Chris Young, etc…etc…etc…

However, of all those names, Santana is still the best of the bunch. Anyone who looks at the numbers Santana put up in Minnesota would have to expect an increase with a move to the lighter line-ups of the NL and the lack of a designated hitter. Santana has always been a pitching machine, but now he’s got long-term security, a strong line-up behind him and most importantly he has the best shot to win a ring he’s had in his entire career, be afraid National League…be very afraid.

Santana’s 2008 Line: 23 W – 2.87 ERA – 234 K

In the Mix: Jake Peavy – San Diego Padres & Brandon Webb – Arizona Diamondbacks
Dark Horse: Roy Oswalt – Houston Astros
Really Dark Horse: Pedro Martinez – New York Mets


ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

My Pick – Johnny Cueto – Cincinnati Reds

Sure, by the time I’ve written this I’ve already had the advantage of watching him humiliate the Diamondbacks, but anyone who has been following Cueto’s already impressive career knows that he is for real. In just 348 minor league innings Cueto struck out 357 batters and notched a 3.28 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. For those of you who aren’t stat junkies, let me break that down so you’ll get what I’m saying…CUETO IS AWESOME!!! Yeah, I think that sums it up. Throw in the fact that he’s slotted into the third-spot in the rotation behind Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo and just keep looking better…the only potential threat to Cueto’s success is the man in the dugout, Dusty Baker. With young arms Edison Volquez and Homer Bailey in addition to Cueto all in the fold for the Reds, many are nervous that Baker will wear them out as he is believed to have done with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. Here’s to hoping that Cueto, Volquez and Bailey can all avoid the wrath of Dusty the Destroyer.

Cueto’s 2008 Line: 13 W – 3.48 ERA – 178K

In the Mix: Jay Bruce – Cincinnati Reds & Geovany Soto – Chicago Cubs
Dark Horse: Kosuke Fukudome – Chicago Cubs
Really Dark Horse: Cameron Maybin – Florida Marlins


MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

My Pick – Matt Holliday – Colorado Rockies

Last year should have been Holliday’s year, no doubt about it. Sure Jimmy Rollins had a great season, but much like Ryan Howard the year before, he wasn’t the Most Valuable Player in the National League. This year Holliday figures to leave no doubt that the award belongs on his mantle. He just turned 28 in January and is gaining not only more power as he gets older, but also a better eye at the dish. With the incentive of playing for a long-term deal also in the mix and a chance to return to the World Series, Holliday has nothing but motivation heading into the 2008 campaign and it’s a well-known fact that when great players get motivated, they get down-right scary. Expect Holliday to put up some scary numbers in 2008.

Holliday’s 2008 Line: .331 – 41 HR – 138 RBI

In the Mix: Albert Pujols – St. Louis Cardinals & David Wright – New York Mets
Dark Horse: Rickie Weeks – Milwaukee Brewers
Really Dark Horse: Ryan Zimmerman – Washington Nationals


AMERICAN LEAGUE

EAST


Red Sox
Blue Jays
- WC
Yankees
Rays
Orioles

CENTRAL

Indians
Twins
Tigers
Royals
White Sox

WEST

Angels
Mariners
Rangers
Athletics

NATIONAL LEAGUE

EAST


Mets
Phillies
- WC
Braves
Nationals
Marlins

CENTRAL

Brewers
Cubs
Reds
Astros
Cardinals
Pirates

WEST

Padres
Rockies
Diamondbacks
Dodgers
Giants

DIVISIONAL SERIES

Padres over Phillies (3-1)
Mets over Brewers (3-2)

Blue Jays over Angels (3-1)
Red Sox over Indians (3-2)

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

Mets over Padres (4-2)
Red Sox over Blue Jays (4-1)

WORLD SERIES

Mets over Red Sox (4-3)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

So Long Santana

It’s a dark day in Minnesota, but a bright future is on the horizon.

Tuesday’s trade of ace Johan Santana to the Mets for outfielder Carlos Gomez and pitchers Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra is being viewed as drastically lopsided right now, but let’s not forget the Frank Viola, Chuck Knoblauch and AJ Pierzynski trades all looked one-sided at the time as well.

I’ve written plenty about Johan Santana this winter and I’ve spent way too much time dreaming up improbable scenarios where he re-signed with the Twins and led them to multiple World Series titles. The simple fact of the matter is that one pitcher cannot and will not win his team the World Series. A stellar ace is always a plus, but he can’t pitch every game, thus why the Twins ultimately will benefit the most from this trade.

Any time you gain four players with high ceilings and limited miles on the tires, it’s a positive thing. Here’s a look at what the Twins are getting out of the deal.

Carlos Gomez, OF: The most Major League-ready of the pack, Gomez retained rookie status in 2007 because of a broken bone in his left hand in July, which sidelined him for two months after he made his Major League debut in May. At 21, he was the youngest player in the National League at the time.

Before his call-up, Gomez had been somewhat overlooked when discussing Mets outfield prospects because of all the talk surrounding teenage sensation Fernando Martinez. But Gomez had cruised through the organization, skipping from Class A Hagerstown in 2005 to Double-A Binghamton in 2006, showing no apparent need for some time at Advanced A. He hit .281 with 41 steals in the Eastern League at age 20. He has all the tools you look for in a premier outfielder, with the speed for center and the arm for right. He was hitting .286 at Triple-A New Orleans with 17 steals before his spring promotion, and then batted .232 with 12 more swipes in 125 at-bats with the Mets before his injury.

The Twins' current outfield mix features Michael Cuddyer, newly acquired Delmon Young, Jason Kubel and veteran Craig Monroe battling for corner spots and Jason Pridie and Denard Span in the mix for the opening in centerfield. Look for Gomez to charge right into that pack to make a claim for one of the spots, most likely centerfield.

Philip Humber, RHP: With a strong spring, Humber could factor into the wide-open, but still competitive, battle for a Twins rotation spot. Drafted out of Rice University with the third-overall pick in 2004 and signed for a $3 million bonus, his pro career got off to a sluggish start as he posted a 4.99 ERA at Class A Advanced St. Lucie in 2005 before undergoing Tommy John surgery in July. He's yet to really come back in pre-surgery form, but his trademark curveball is still a plus pitch.

He spent most of '07 in New Orleans, where he was 11-9 with a 4.27 ERA in 25 starts, striking out 120 batters in 139 innings. He finished the summer with three games in New York, posting a 7.71 ERA in seven innings. He is no longer the untouchable can't-miss prospect he was when he signed in '04, but at 25 years old and now two years removed from his surgery, 2008 could be a big one for him.

Kevin Mulvey, RHP: Though his name is not generally mentioned in the same breath as the elite pitching prospects in the Mets system (Guerra, Humber and Mike Pelfrey), Mulvey is no slouch either. Drafted out of Villanova in the second round with the Mets' first pick in 2006, he appeared in just a handful of games that summer before earning the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2007. A Futures Game selection and Eastern League All-Star, the 22-year-old went 11-10 with a 3.32 ERA at Double-A Binghamton before finishing his season with one scoreless start at Triple-A New Orleans. Without one dominating pitch, he mixes four solid offerings highlighted by his slider with good control. He is likely to begin 2008 at Triple-A Rochester and a strong first half could keep his name on people's lips should the need for a starter arise.

Deolis Guerra, RHP: The 6-foot-5 Venezuelan prospect, who won't turn 19 until April, ranked just behind the apparently untouchable outfielder Fernando Martinez when it comes to Mets prospects, but he is likely to be the last to arrive in Minnesota. When he gets there, however, it should be for good.

Guerra made his pro debut in stellar style in 2006 when, at age 17, he posted a 2.20 ERA at Class A Hagerstown, limiting South Atlantic League hitters to a .208 average. In '07, still at 17, he was the Opening Day starter for Class A Advanced St. Lucie and pitched in the Futures Game as well. He battled some shoulder tendonitis, which limited his innings, but posted a 4.01 ERA in 90 innings in the Florida State League with a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and a plus changeup, which ranked as the best in the Mets' system. He continues to work on improving his curveball and refining his overall game.

While he could start the season at Double-A New Britain, it is more likely that the Twins will opt to keep him back in warmer climate of Fort Myers, Fla., before sending him to the Eastern League later in the summer.


…at this point it’s too soon to tell who will ultimately get the better end of this trade. Twins fans have lost a lot of fan favorites this off-season and the loss of Santana only further amplifies the direction the team appears headed in the near future, however, the trade does leave the fans with hope that within a few years time the Twins could be contenders again.

Best of luck to Johan in New York, but as always…

GO TWINS!!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Long Overdue Rant...

Attention New York and Boston baseball fans…this may come as a rather large shock so please sit down.

Are you sitting? Okay…here goes.

Baseball does, in fact, exist outside of New York and Boston.

I’ll give that just a minute or two to sink in. Feel free to continue reading whenever you feel physically and emotionally able. However, I am going to warn all of you Yankees and Red Sox fans out there that this entire blog will actually be bashing BOTH of your respective fan-bases. So don’t go thinking you can skim the article--as fans from the upper east coast are wont to do--and then promptly go on a comment adding tirade about why your team is superior to the opposition.

Instead, I’d prefer it if when this little ride is over, ya’ll just sat back and took a few minutes to think about how ridiculously short-sighted and egomaniacal you really are.

-----------------------------------

Chapter One – All About the Benjamins

First and foremost, I realize that the Yankees and Red Sox both just made the playoffs…again. I also realize that the Red Sox just won the World Series…again. However, let’s also take a moment to note that the Yankees and Red Sox led all of baseball in terms of payroll…again. (with the New York Mets coasting in third-place)

The Yankees and Red Sox combined payroll in 2007 was roughly $338 million. All four of the National League playoff teams combined paid out roughly $296 million worth of salary in 2007. Not a one of those teams had made the playoffs since the Cubs NLCS run in 2003.

So brag all you want about your successes, but until you can win with small payrolls like the Athletics, Twins, Rockies, Padres, Indians and Diamondbacks have done in recent years—keep your mouth shut. The Pirates and Royals could win the World Series with a $150 million payroll too…or at least make the playoffs and choke in the first round.

Chapter Two – Pie in the Sky Expectations

I have three names for you. Bill Pulsipher. Jason Isringhausen. Paul Wilson. In the mid-1990s, the trio were all widely hyped as the next generation of New York Mets' superstars. The group received considerable press attention and the nickname “Generation K.” These three were viewed as the future of the franchise and injuries derailed all of their career significantly. Pulsipher finished his career with thirteen wins and a 5.15 earned run average. Wilson had a better career finishing up with 40 wins and 4.86 ERA, despite being touted as a future Hall-of-Famer straight out of school. Only Isringhausen managed to patch together a solid career as a closer after multiple injuries derailed his highly-touted starting career.

Anyone get where I’m taking this?

Let me drop some more names for you in the upper east coast…Jacoby Ellsbury, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Clay Buchholz and Ian Kennedy. All are highly-touted prospects and apparently every one of you thinks that all of the pitchers are going to turn into Bob Gibson and Ellsbury is going to be better than Ken Griffey Jr. That’s pretty much the only reason why I can assume none of you wants to trade any of those players for Johan Santana.

Ever since December, all I’ve read about is how neither Red Sox nor Yankees fans want to give up any of their prized prospects. Yankees fans seem to think they’re doing the Twins some sort of favor by even offering to “take Santana off the Twins’ hands.” I’ve read trade proposals from Yankee fans that include overpriced and under-talented players at the end of their careers and contracts such as Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina and Johnny Damon. Call me crazy, but why would the Twins trade the best pitcher in baseball for a bunch of overpaid, worn-out has-beens who won’t be under contract for more than a year?

In fact, far too many Yankees fans have made the argument that they should wait until Santana hits free agency and just buy him. Well, long story short Santana will not hit free-agency. He’ll be traded and locked up to an extension and you’ll never get your hands on him unless you make a trade.

Red Sox fans are too unwilling to throw in Buchholz or Ellsbury and act like giving up Jon Lester in addition to Coco Crisp and two prospects is some kind of sin. Let’s be honest Red Sox fans, look at the horrible trades the team has made in the last two years. In acquiring Eric Gagne last year and reacquiring Doug Mirabelli the year before the Sox gave up plenty of promising young talent and received very little in return. No one complained about the talent given up in those deals and all you received in return was a back-up catcher who’s lucky to hit above the Mendoza line and a closer who buckled under the pressure of a big market.

Until any of those five players lives up to the hype, consider yourselves idiots for passing on the greatest pitcher in baseball because you’ve bought into your own hype.

Chapter 3 – Uneducated Homers Shouldn’t Talk Baseball

This is a simple request I’m making to each and everyone of the Yankees and Red Sox
fans out there who thinks it’s necessary to leave a comment on every thread of every baseball story posted on every website on the internet.

It’s as simple as this, not every article is about the Red Sox or Yankees…don’t try to make the comment thread about the Yankees or Red Sox.

If you know nothing about another team, for the love of the Baseball Gods, please keep your mouth shut. Everyone outside of the upper east coast assumes you’re all only paying attention to yourselves anyway, no need to prove us right.

And please, please, pretty please…don’t try to argue for the value of your hometown team when it’s completely ludicrous. You just look like an idiot.

Example 1: Recently someone wrote a blog ranting about Bernie Williams and how he should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Let me repeat that in case anyone didn’t catch it correctly. Someone was trying to defend an argument that Bernie Williams was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

I’m not even going to go into explaining why that is absolute baseball blasphemy, because if I have to you, you’re either not a baseball fan or you’re in the group of people who agrees, in which case, color yourself dead to me.

Example 2: There was an article on FoxSports.com about the top four teams that have a chance to surprise this year. The article had nothing to do with the Red Sox or the Yankees. In the article Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins was referenced as being the best all-around catcher in baseball. On the comment thread someone immediately posted a reply that basically took a big ole dump all over the article simply because of the Mauer comment.

His argument? Jason Varitek is the best overall catcher in baseball. To further establish his “argument” he put up the head-to-head career statistics of Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada, completely taking Mauer (or Russell Martin or Victor Martinez or Brian McCann) out of the argument altogether and making it a Yankees vs. Red Sox piece.

Again, if there is any need for me to explain the absolute lack of mental capacity it takes to try and label Jason Varitek as the best all-around catcher in the game you are either not a baseball fan or you are part of the problem.

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That my east coast loving friends shall be the end of my tirade if for no better reason than I’m already a little nauseous knowing that I just wrote yet another piece that focuses on the Red Sox and Yankees…like roughly 80% of the baseball stories that are turned out by the media in a year.

Just do me a favor fans in New York and Boston, pull your heads out of the sand and read about other teams every once in awhile, get your shit together and then you can start talking baseball all you want.

But as long as you’re going to sit back with your uneducated, simple-minded arguments of “my team is better than yours…” just keep it to yourselves or your friends down at the pub and spare the rest of us—who know what we’re talking about—the time and suffering.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Weighing in on the Clemens Saga

I want to believe Roger Clemens. I really do.

In my eyes, Clemens is the greatest pitcher who’s ever lived. He’s got seven Cy Young awards, 354 career wins, eleven All-Star game appearances, two World Series rings and countless other records and accolades. Needless to say he’s proven himself on the field, but now he needs to prove himself in court of public opinion—a battle proving to be far more daunting.

Clemens good name and Hall of Fame career came under question with the release of the Mitchell Report on December 13 of last year. In the report Clemens’ personal trainer, Brain McNamee implicates former clients, most notably Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch.

The Mitchell Report alleges that McNamee helped acquire performance-enhancing drugs including steroids, amphetamines and human growth hormone, for some or all of the players he trained. McNamee told the Mitchell Commission that he began injecting Clemens with steroids in 1998, and that he continued to provide these steroids through 2001.

Clemens’ appearance on “60 Minutes” Sunday was met with mixed responses. Some believe his adamant, and almost furious, denials were proof that he was a wronged man who’d grown emotional due to the immediate public crucifixion, despite a lack of evidence beyond the testimony of a former trainer. Others saw his borderline tirade as further proof of his guilt and the unwillingness of his ego to be done in by a mere “clubhouse lackey.”

Clemens had a phone conversation with McNamee on January 4, two days prior to the “60 Minutes” interview. In that conversation Clemens stated he just wants the truth from someone, never actually telling his former trainer to come out and clear the pitcher's name. Clemens stated many times in the conversation that the steroid accusations were false, and when this was stated McNamee never agreed or disagreed, simply asking "tell me what you want me to do."

At this point, both Clemens and McNamee have been asked to testify before a congressional committee. In addition to the once chummy training duo, Pettitte, Knoblauch and former Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski have also been asked to appear and give their testimony.

As a life-long fan of Clemens, I’m very much torn. I want to believe him. I want to believe that he’s been clean his entire career. I want to believe that he rose above the temptation to take the easy road. I want to believe that he saw others taking short-cuts and decided he’d rather work harder to keep up and, for the most part, stay ahead of those around him.

But one can’t help but wonder how a man in his forties is throwing just as well as, if not better than, pitchers half his age. One can’t help but wonder how a man in his forties manages to avoid any major injuries or nagging set-backs in recovery time. One can’t help but wonder whether or not all their heroes are tainted.

It pains me to question the integrity of one of my favorite players of all-time. I can only liken it to the way it would kill my father if Willie Mays were to suddenly come under question for having been using some sort of early performance-enhancer.

It hurts when a hero falls, but it hurts even more when you can’t sit there and listen to them declare their innocence without skepticism taking over.

Here’s to hoping I’m wrong and that the Rocket can prove we were all wrong.