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.

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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.