Monday, November 30, 2009

CM Punk's Cult-like Crusade




CM Punk is NOT wasting away.

Despite what many fans and critics have said lately—myself included—the WWE appears to know exactly what they’re doing with CM Punk.

In my Survivor Series recap I stated that I felt his talent was being wasted in subpar midcard feuds with the likes of R-Truth and referees.

I’ve since been involved in many conversations regarding Punk’s future direction and I’ve found myself repeating the same dream scenario for Punk.

I want Punk to become a cult leader.
His recent ranting and raving on Smackdown has him coming off as preacher of sorts and logically the next step should be to acquire followers.

The WWE took the first step in the right direction on last week’s Smackdown by having Luke Gallows, formerly Festus, accompany Punk down to the ring.

Punk then proclaimed that he had “saved” Gallows from a life of drugs and neglect.

Festus—who was last seen as a balding, overweight mental patient—was “born again” as Luke Gallows, a menacing giant with new-found loyalties to his personal savior, CM Punk.

Gallows aided Punk in his match with Matt Hardy and eventually laid Hardy out with a sloppy, yet effective new finishing maneuver.

When it was all said and done, fans saw a brilliant pose as Gallows sat overtop of a fallen, beaten Hardy and Punk stood over Gallows as though he were his personal hound who had done his master’s dirty work.

Punk figures to continue his “crusade” to convert those in need to a straightedge lifestyle.

My hope is that they’ll use this as a chance to build Punk an army of his own, a church of followers much like Raven’s Flock from ECW/WCW.

This would serve multiple purposes.

First and foremost it would allow Punk the chance to shine as the leader of his cult.

He has become a more impressive heel with each passing week and having an army of ruthless—and eternally loyal—minions would only paint him as a more despicable heel as he works his way back into the World Heavyweight Title picture.

Imagine a Royal Rumble that consists of Punk and half a dozen of his reborn, straightedge slaves. The thought is very intriguing.

The second major purpose of a CM Punk Church of Followers would be to put over some lower midcard talent.

Rebranding Festus as Luke Gallows is the first of what could be many superstars shedding dead in the water gimmicks to be “reborn” as Punk’s disciples.

The list of superstars currently going nowhere in WWE is a lengthy one and if WWE pushes through with a CM Punk faction, superstars like Carlito, Primo, Chris Masters, Evan Bourne, and dozens of others could be brought in to revive their faltering careers.

Thirdly, this faction would provide opportunities for other midcarders who are currently searching for a storyline. John Morrison is currently without any real direction. The same could be said for Matt Hardy and, for the most part, Christian in ECW.

Any of these midcard faces could use a feud with a diabolic heel stable to push them to new heights in the WWE.

In the end, the WWE may decide that Gallows is all Punk needs for a sidekick and that’ll be the end of the story.

If the WWE decides to press on with this storyline and give Punk the reins of his own heel stable, it could finally be the move that puts Punk on top for good and helps rebuild an otherwise floundering midcard in the process.

Either way, I’m very impressed with what I saw out of CM Punk last Thursday and I now know for sure, that Punk is not wasting away on Smackdown.

Rather, he’s still evolving and we’re all going to be the benefactors of his evolution.

Boston Blunder: Red Sox Continue to Strike Out in Pursuit of Shorstops



The Boston Red Sox need a shortstop.

It’s as simple as that.

It’s time for the club to forget about acquiring ace Roy Halladay or a slugging first baseman like Adrian Gonzalez or Miguel Cabrera.

The Red Sox number one priority needs to be acquiring a legitimate starting shortstop.

The club hasn’t had a reliable shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra left town in the infamous 2004 trade that aided the Sox in breaking an 86-year championship drought.

Since 2004, the Red Sox have run out 19—count ‘em 19—different shortstops, all with middling levels of success.

Here’s a quick look at the main players in the Red Sox shortstop rotation of the past half-decade.

After the club traded away Garciaparra, Orlando Cabrera manned the position admirably for the remainder of 2004. The club chose to let him walk via free agency and the black hole opened.

In 2005, the club trotted out Edgar Renteria and his newly minted four-year, $40 million contract. After one uninspiring season at the plate and thirty errors in the field, he was shipped to Atlanta.

In stepped Alex Gonzalez for the 2006 campaign. Gonzo played solid defense but, as is his trademark, couldn’t hit to save his life.

In 2007, the club finally got the shortstop they had coveted for years, Julio Lugo.

Lugo was signed to a very Renteria-like four-year deal, this one for $36 million. He was expected to bring defensive stability to the infield and a legitimate leadoff hitter to the lineup.

Instead, he struggled early on in his Boston tenure and never recovered. Injuries and ineffectiveness lead to Lugo losing playing time to prospect Jed Lowrie and journeyman Nick Green.

In 2009 things got so bad that the Sox cut Lugo, despite owing him more than $13 million that remained on his contract.

The Sox made a late season trade to bring back Gonzalez for a second tour of duty in Boston. Gonzalez responded by hitting well for the Sox. He hit .284/.316/.453 with five home runs down the stretch.

Gonzalez’s strong showing didn’t impress the club enough to warrant exercising his $6 million option for 2010, but the club was rumored to be interested in bringing him back at lesser salary.

The Red Sox, however, wanted to kick the tires on some other options before inking Gonzo to another deal.

The club reportedly showed interest in J.J. Hardy, but he was dealt from Milwaukee to Minnesota in a very busy opening weekend to the offseason.

The club also has reportedly made overtures to Arizona regarding shortstop Stephen Drew, all the while assuming that Gonzalez would still be waiting by the phone for Theo Epstein’s call.

Unfortunately for the Sox, that’s not exactly what happened.

Last Thursday morning, while Epstein was no doubt preparing for a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, new Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous was busy signing Gonzalez to a one-year, $2.75 million with a $2.5 million club option for 2011.

In doing so, the Red Sox options immediately became very limited.

The club has basically three free agent options.

Marco Scutaro, who will no doubt be overpaid wherever he lands, is the first and seemingly most popular option, especially among Red Sox Nation.

Miguel Tejada, who at this stage in his career is far more suited for a corner infield position, is the second option.

Former Red Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera is the popular third option.

The Red Sox have shown interest in Scutaro, but it is believed that Scutaro, 34, is looking for a multi-year deal coming off a career year.

If and/or when he regresses to his career averages, the Sox would be on the hook for yet another light-hitting shortstop with diminishing defensive skills.

Additionally, the Blue Jays are expected to offer Scutaro arbitration.

As a Type A, signing Scutaro to an ill-advised multi-year deal would cost a first-round draft pick, in addition to the money the Sox would undoubtedly be throwing down the drain.

Tejada will be 36-years old next season (in theory) and is a liability in the field, but would offer the offensive production the Sox could definitely stand to have inserted into the lineup.

It also isn’t known what type of contract Tejada is looking for, but anything longer than a one-year pact would be risky business for any club.

Orlando Cabrera, 35, has two Gold Gloves to his name and a history of helping clubs reach the postseason.

He also has a lot of miles racked up and is quickly becoming a shell of the player he was just a few short years ago.

He is a liability in the field and more suited for a shift to second or third base.

Offensively, he has gone from a table-setter and ideal number two hitter to a prototypical bottom of the order hitter.

Making Cabrera even more of a long-shot is that he’s currently looking for a two-year, $10 million deal.

Another free agent who hasn’t been mentioned much is Felipe Lopez.

Lopez, 29, makes a lot of sense if the Sox are willing to sacrifice a ton of defense, as he hasn’t played shortstop regularly since 2007 and hasn’t played it well since—ahem—ever.

He does, however, offer some serious offense.

Lopez posted a very solid .310/.383/.427 line in 2009, which is higher than his career norms, but not out of line with what could be expected if he spent a full-season hitting in a bandbox like Fenway Park.

Beyond the aforementioned free agent options, the Red Sox still have Jed Lowrie, but he’s only hit .235/.313/.372 in the big leagues and has missed considerable time with wrist injuries.

For now it seems that the Sox don’t appear sold on Lowrie as a legitimate answer at shortstop.

None of the other prospects in the Sox farm system are anywhere near ready to make the leap to the big leagues.

That leaves the trade market.

The Sox have already been linked to the aforementioned Stephen Drew and J.J. Hardy, but recent reports have the club interested—yet again—in their former top prospect, Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins.

Ramirez is exactly the player the club needs going forward. He’s young, athletic, speedy, powerful, and—here’s the best part—he’s rapidly improving at shortstop.

After posting abysmal numbers in his first two seasons, he’s quickly becoming a solid defender up the middle.

Undoubtedly, acquiring Ramirez would take a major coup for the Marlins.

The kind of coup that would make Marlins fans forget that an already notoriously stingy front-office just shipped off the club’s franchise player who was under a very reasonable long-term contract.

That kind of coup would probably equate to starter Clay Buchholz, shortstop/starter Casey Kelly, and reliever Daniel Bard.

The scary part is that it may even cost more than that, and rightfully so. The Marlins have absolute no incentive to move Ramirez unless they are absolutely blown away in a deal.

In the end, the Red Sox may be best served to sign a one-year stopgap.

In doing so, the club could hope for an extreme amount of growth by 19-year old prospect Jose Iglesias and/or hope that top-prospect Casey Kelly proves he can hit at the big league level and becomes a full-time shortstop.

If neither of those options pan out, the club can simply wait for next offseason when the crop of potential free agent shortstops includes more enticing options such as Jhonny Peralta, Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, and Jose Reyes.

The options are currently very limited for Epstein and company to do much in the way of improving the situation without destroying the farm system or overpaying for diminishing veterans.

As such, I think we can all safely assume that Epstein is already scribbling out his offseason goals for 2010-2011 in one simple sentence.

The Boston Red Sox still need a shortstop.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bert Blyleven Makes Another Pitch at Cooperstown



Bert Blyleven belongs in the Hall of Fame.

In fact, he’s belonged in the Hall of Fame for twelve years.

Yet, for twelve years in a row, the Baseball Writers Association of American has erred by leaving him out in the cold when the voting results are announced.

Now in his thirteenth year of eligibility, Blyleven is down to his final three strikes.

Blyleven’s inability to get inducted has never been a case of talent.

For Bert Blyleven the numbers have always been there, however, the votes have not.

In a 22-year career that spanned five teams and both leagues, “The Flying Dutchman” put up some very impressive numbers.

Those impressive numbers include 287 career wins, which is good enough for 27th on the all-time list. Almost every eligible player ahead of Blyleven on the wins list is enshrined in Cooperstown.

In fact, plenty of pitchers with less wins that Blyleven have be inducted. Some notable examples include: Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal, Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale, and Catfish Hunter, among others.

Wins aren’t the only statistic where Blyleven’s numbers are Hall-worthy.

Blyleven’s 3,701 career strikeouts rank him fifth all-time, he’s 11th in games started with 685, he’s ninth all-time with 60 shutouts, and he’s 13th on the all-time innings pitched list with 4,970.

Blyleven’s career 3.31 earned run average tops current Hall of Famers Phil Niekro, Fergie Jenkins, Robin Roberts, and Dennis Eckersley.

Clearly the numbers are there, so what’s the issue?

It seems that voters haven’t yet made a big push to get Blyleven in because of his lack of the so-called “benchmarks” for entry into the Hall of Fame.

Blyleven never won a Cy Young Award, he didn’t reach the 300 win plateau, he was only an All-Star twice in 22 years, he won 20 games in a season just once, and he only led the league in one of the key pitching categories once, in 1985 when he paced the American League with 206 strikeouts.

Despite his lack of a standout season or any of the archaic benchmarks, one needs only look so far as his overall body of work in comparison to his modern day counterparts to see that he belongs.

How many starters will ever reach 287 career wins?

How many starters will ever strike out more than 3,000 batters again, let alone reach his lofty mark?

How many starters—in the age of pitch counts, specialty relievers, and the six-inning quality start—will ever come close to pitching 242 complete games or 60 shutouts?

Blyleven’s already rock-solid numbers, although unchanged since he retired following the 1992 season, figure to grow more impressive as the era of the workhorse pitcher fades farther into the past.

Blyleven was a pitcher cut from a different cloth.

He wanted to start and finish a game on the mound with the ball in his hand. Too many pitchers now are content to earn the quality start and hit the showers.

Take for instance Blyleven’s 242 complete games and 60 shutouts.

Randy Johnson is the active leader in complete games pitched with 100. The modern-era workhorse, Roy Halladay has just 49.

Johnson is also the active leader in shutouts with 37, followed by Tom Glavine with 25.

No one is going to catch Blyleven any time soon, meaning that his lofty, Hall of Fame-worthy rankings will remain intact long passed the end of his fifteenth year of eligibility.

Arguments can be made that Blyleven’s numbers are a product of his lengthy career, that he lost too many games, or that he never had one standout season to hang his hat on.

All of those arguments could be valid, but all are easily disputed by simple facts.

Blyleven’s career spanned just as many years as Gregg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens. All of whom are considered to be first-ballot Hall of Famers.

No one would ever claim that their successes were a result of pitching for two decades, as opposed to raw talent.

All four of the aforementioned pitchers also had the good fortune to pitch for winning, playoff-caliber teams for most of their careers.

Blyleven pitched in two World Series, in 1979 with Pittsburgh and in 1987 with Minnesota. He only played in the postseason one other time, in the 1970 ALCS with the Twins.

Most of his career was spent toiling for mediocre clubs that hovered at or below the .500 mark, no doubt that impacted his won-loss record in a big way.

Finally, the lack of a standout season is a moot point. How many pitchers have won a Cy Young Award or 20 games only to fade into oblivion?

A pitcher’s Hall-worthiness shouldn’t hinge on whether or not he had one stellar year somewhere along a 22-year journey that saw him finish among the game’s elite in numerous categories.

Blyleven didn’t need to win an award or have a standout year to show that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

The numbers, as they always have been, are there.

Now it’s time for the BBWAA writers to finish what Blyleven, and his infamous curveball, started and vote him into the Hall of Fame.

The voters, despite not yet making the right decision, have been moving in the right direction.

After receiving just 17.5 percent of the vote in 1998, his first year of eligibility, his totals have grown nearly every year.

Last year he finished with 338 total votes for 62.7 percent, still shy of the 75 percent required for induction to the Hall of Fame.

Blyleven’s slow march toward the 70 percent mark is important as well, because every player who has reached 70 percent of the vote has subsequently been elected to the Hall of Fame.

Even more encouraging is that since 1980, only four players have received over 60 percent of the vote and not ended up in Cooperstown.

All signs point toward Blyleven’s eventual induction.

With no sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famers on the ticket this year and a whole slew of holdovers, this could finally be the year that Blyleven gets his due.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Alex Gonzalez Signs with Toronto



Shortstop Alex Gonzalez will be taking his slick defense up north next summer.

Gonzalez, 32, signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Blue Jays on Thursday.

The contract includes a $2.5 million option for 2011.

The deal comes just one day after the club re-signed utility man John McDonald to a two-year contract, leading to speculation that he would be the club’s starting shortstop.

With both Gonzalez and McDonald under contract, this should officially spell the end of Marco Scutaro’s time with the Blue Jays.

Scutaro was high on many club’s wish lists this offseason, including Gonzalez’s most recent employer, the Boston Red Sox.

The Blue Jays still figure to offer Scutaro arbitration to obtain draft picks for the Type A free agent.

Gonzalez became a free agent when Boston declined his $6 million option for 2010.

The club was rumored to be interested in re-signing the shortstop to a one-year deal at roughly half the cost.

It appears as though Boston wasted too much time poking around the free agent and trade markets and was beaten to the punch by new Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos.

Gonzalez, split last season between the Cincinnati Reds and the aforementioned Red Sox, playing his usual Gold Glove-caliber defense with both clubs.

On the whole, Gonzalez hit .238/.279/.355 with eight home runs last season. He hit much better after coming to Boston in an August trade with Cincinnati.

Gonzalez has been hampered by persistent knee problems in recent years, but he appeared in 112 games last season, his highest total since 2005.

Gonzalez was an All-Star in 1999 and a World Series winner in 2003.

Overall he is a career .247/.294/.395 hitter with 114 home runs and 521 RBI in 1,229 games.

The move saves Toronto the cash it would have cost to lock up Scutaro, essentially earns the club compensation picks when Scutaro signs elsewhere, shores up the club’s middle-infield defense, and offers Gonzalez a sense of security for the next two seasons.

All-in-all the deal is a major win-win for all parties involved.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Shelley Duncan's Free Agency Offers a Long Overdue Opportunity



Shelley Duncan is finally free.

After nine years of indentured servitude in the New York Yankees’ farm system, Duncan is a free agent for the first time.

Unfortunately, Duncan is no longer the long-ball hitting prospect who was drafted in the second-round of the 2001 draft.

He’s now a 30-year-old with just 68 games and 146 at-bats in the big leagues on his resume.

Duncan, the son of St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan, is best remembered for his thunderous debut in the Bronx back in 2007.

Through his first 16 games, Duncan looked like the second-coming of Babe Ruth (or Shane Spencer).

Duncan hit an astounding .317/.391/.756 with six home runs and 13 RBIs in his first 46 big league at-bats. He looked like a star on the rise, until someone decided to start tossing him breaking balls.

He only received another 37 at-bats after his hot start, and rightfully so, over his next 18 games, Duncan “hit” .182/.250/.303 with one home run and four RBIs, all the while piling up strikeouts.

In the two years that followed his Jekyll and Hyde debut, Duncan has only appeared in 34 games, amassing a total of 72 at-bats.

Duncan hasn’t exactly made the most out of his limited opportunities, having produced a dreadful .181/.250/.264 batting line with just one home run and seven runs batted in over various stints the last two seasons.

Numerous teams could show interest in Duncan who can play either corner of the outfield or first base. He’s not going to win any Gold Gloves, but he isn’t a butcher in the field either.

Duncan has shown that he can hit left-handed pitching pretty well and, if nothing else, could serve as part of a platoon.

He did, however, post a cumulative line of .271/.368/.533 with 68 home runs and 226 RBIs in parts of four seasons at Triple-A.

In those four partial seasons his total at-bats equaled out to roughly two-full seasons of big league at-bats, thus making his production all the more impressive.

Obviously, the big-time power potential is there, so a starting gig isn’t entirely out of the question.

Given his attachment to the city of New York, it is conceivable that Duncan could sign-on with the Yankees’ cross-town rival, the New York Mets.

The Mets currently have question marks at both left field and first base. Additionally, the club is looking to add more power to the lineup.

The Mets are just one of many logical options for Duncan.

The St. Louis Cardinals are another seemingly perfect fit.

Duncan could be reunited with his father and—barring the club’s attempts to bring back Matt Holliday—there may be an opening in left field next season.

These are just two of the potentially limitless options Duncan should have this offseason.

He is finally free and should be able to choose from what should be a hearty stock of suitors this offseason.

His positional flexibility and power potential will make him intriguing to numerous clubs looking for cheaper alternatives to high-priced marquee free agents.

Duncan should use his new found freedom to choose a team that offers him the one thing the Yankees failed to in nearly a decade, a real opportunity.


Minnesota Twins Gave Plenty to be Thankful for in 2009


Thanksgiving is upon us once again.

We all know that Thanksgiving is supposed to be about families and turkeys and a rapidly-depleting supply of shopping days until Christmas.

In the minds of baseball fans, Thanksgiving is just a pit stop between the end of awards season and the beginning of the Winter Meetings.

I’ve decided to combine the more traditional Thanksgiving festivities with my burning need for more baseball.

In doing so, I’ve created a list of things that the Twins have given me to be thankful for in 2009.

Check out the special Thanksgiving slideshow at BleacherReport.com.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Joe Mauer Wins American League MVP


Joe Mauer can now add American League Most Valuable Player to his already imposing resume.

Mauer received 27 out of 28 first-place votes to runaway with the award.

Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera received the other first-place vote but the first baseman finished fourth overall.

Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees finished second and third, respectively.

Mauer finished with 327 total points, well ahead of Teixeira, 225, and Jeter, 193. Despite garner the other first-place vote, Cabrera, finished a distance fourth with 171 points.

Mauer becomes just the second catcher in the past 33 years to win the MVP.

Ivan Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers won the award in 1999 and prior to that the last AL catcher to win the award was Yankees legend, Thurman Munson in 1976.

Mauer, 26, becomes the fifth Twin to win AL MVP honors, joining Zoilo Versalles (1965), Harmon Killebrew (1969), Rod Carew (1977) and Justin Morneau (2006).

In a historical aspect, Mauer’s season may have been the most impressive of them all.

Mauer accomplished the “modern triple crown” as he led the American League in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage with his amazing .365/.444/.587 line.

It was the first time anyone had accomplished the feat in the AL since Hall of Famer George Brett put up a .390/.454/.664 line to pace the league in 1980.

Mauer’s MVP season also saw him reach career highs in other categories including home runs (28), runs batted in (96), hits (191), and total bases (307).

Making Mauer’s accomplishment all the more impressive is that he spent the entire first month of the season on the disabled list recovering from a lower-back injury.

He returned on the first of May and made an immediate impact by hitting a home run in his first at-bat.

After his extraordinary return to the lineup, Mauer played in 138 of the team's remaining 141 games.

Despite missing a month, and starting 28 games at designated hitter, Mauer managed to catch 939 innings, ranking fifth in the American League.

The MVP is just one of many awards that will adorn Mauer’s mantle this winter as he also won his third Silver Slugger, his third batting title, his second Gold Glove, and was voted the winner of the 2009 Players Choice Award for AL Outstanding Player, an award voted on by his peers.

Additionally, Mauer made his third All-Star team and lead the Minnesota Twins back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

The Twins were 11-11 while Mauer was out in April, but went 76-65 after he rejoined the club. In September, Mauer played a big role as the Twins overcome a seven-game deficit to win the AL Central.

Mauer is entering the final year of the four-year, $33 million deal he signed prior to the 2007 season. He is owed $12.5 million next season.

The Twins are currently trying to work out a contract extension with Mauer and his agent Ron Shapiro to the keep the MVP in Minnesota for the long haul.

It is routinely believed that Mauer will be traded this offseason or during the 2010 campaign if the club is unable to reach an extension.

Joe Mauer’s Potential Trade Destinations, Minnesota’s Worst-Case Scenario



It’s almost time to let the real “Hot Stove Season” begin in earnest.

Barring some unforeseen blunder by the Baseball Writers Association of America, Joe Mauer will be crowned the 2009 American League Most Valuable Player on Monday afternoon.

When that announcement becomes official, the clock starts.

The clock will be counting down the remaining days of Joe Mauer’s relationship with the Minnesota Twins.

By the time pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training the clock very well may have reached zero—as it did for Johan Santana two years ago—or it may have restarted to the tune of six-years and $100+ million.

Mauer’s agent, Ron Shaprio, has no doubt avoided starting any real negotiations regarding an extension with Minnesota until after the MVP announcement, and for good reason.

It’s one thing to ask for $100+ million for a three-time batting champion and it’s a whole different business to ask for $100+ million for a three-time batting champion and reigning AL MVP.

If Shapiro had started negotiations before the announcement, he’d have been going into a gunfight with an empty chamber.

After Monday’s announcement, he’ll come out fully-loaded and guns a-blazing.

It should be noted, however, that Shapiro was the agent for both Cal Ripken and Kirby Puckett, both of whom were able to work out deals to stay with their original clubs.

Shapiro is the antithesis of Scott Boras, in the sense that although he’s looking for a big payday for his client, he’s not looking to loot and plunder the organization in the process.

Mauer, 27, is due $12.5 million next season and, despite saying he is unconcerned with being the highest-paid player in the game, he is due a hefty raise going forward.

In fact, to say he is due a “hefty raise” may be underscoring his overall value.

Mauer is just entering his prime, plays a premium position, and is undoubtedly one of the game’s best pure hitters.

In just five full-seasons in the big leagues, Mauer has been voted to three All-Star teams, won three batting titles, three Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves, and should win his first AL MVP Monday afternoon.

It would be pure naiveté to assume that Mauer isn’t at least thinking about the big money he could make if he played in Los Angeles, New York, or Boston.

Despite historically being one of baseball stingiest franchises, Minnesota figures to make an honest attempt to extend Mauer’s contract beyond 2010 and well into the next decade.

No one in the front-office has so much as batted an eyelash at rumblings of the first $100+ million contract in franchise history.

That fact notwithstanding, there is still a chance that, much like with Santana, the extension talks could crumble.

If that is the case, one has to wonder what Mauer’s trade value would be.

Obviously, Mauer would command far more than the package general manager Bill Smith received for Santana two years ago.

Any team dealing with the Twins may be reluctant to give up front-line talent, given that acquiring Mauer will also include a substantial monetary investment, but the fact of the matter remains the same as it was with Santana, it’s now or never.

You pony-up the prospects and trade for him, or you’ll never get your hands on him.

Period.

Many fans in New York and Boston were lobbying for the Yankees and Red Sox, respectively, to hold onto their precious young talent rather than trade for Santana two years ago.

The mindset among those fans was that their clubs could just buy Santana and, in turn, keep their prospects too the following offseason. Santana, however, never hit free agency.

The Mets stepped in with an offer that was considerably less desirable than any the Yankees or Red Sox had reportedly offered, but it was the only offer left and the Twins took it.

Take heed now delusional fans of big market ballclubs, Joe Mauer will not hit free agency after next season.

His contract situation has an endgame with one of two possibilities.

A) The Twins will re-sign the hometown boy to the largest contract in franchise history and the fairy tale will come to a happy ending. Fans along the upper east coast will cry.

B) The Twins will trade Mauer to one of baseball’s big market clubs in exchange for a slew of top prospects and the big market club will promptly sign him to one of baseball’s richest contracts. Everyone in Minnesota will cry.

With those two options in mind, it’s time to take a look at the potential suitors that could arise for Mauer’s services if contract negotiations with the Twins fall through.

The Dark Horses

Texas Rangers

The Rundown: The Rangers don’t seem like a natural fit for Mauer.

The Rangers are in serious financial distress, the club has more important needs in the rotation and outfield, and the franchise is already stocked with three solid young catchers in Taylor Teagarden, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Max Ramirez.

The Rangers don’t make a lot of sense, but the club also lacks a real breakout star. Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton are there, but neither player has proven they can stay healthy and consistently put up the numbers that Mauer can.

The Return: Logically, the Twins would ask for one of the Rangers top pitching prospects in Neftali Feliz or Derrek Holland and then a combination of one of the club’s catchers and a position prospect such as Julio Borbon, Justin Smoak, or Chris Davis.

The Result: The price would no doubt prove too steep for a club that is already suffering from financial struggles. The club seems to have learned a lesson in recent years about gutting the farm-system for quick fixes and would no doubt pass on Mauer.
----------------------------

Chicago Cubs

The Rundown: The Cubs—depending on what kind of money the Ricketts family wants to spend—could be major players this winter, or they could sit back and roll with the in-house talent.

The club has been linked to a number of players in trade discussions and figure to be more active on the trade market than in free agency this winter.

Chicago is still relatively close to Mauer’s St. Paul home and would seemingly be a good fit for the Midwestern grown catcher.

The club does, however, already have a former All-Star catcher in Geovany Soto on the roster and under club control at far cheaper rates for the foreseeable future.

The Return: Many of the top prospects including third baseman Josh Vitters, shortstop Starlin Castro, and right-hander Andrew Cashner have all been touted as potential trade candidates in previous discussions.

The Twins would no doubt ask for two of the three in any deal and current Cubs’ backstop, Geovany Soto as well. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Twins ask for outfielder Sam Fuld as well to round out the Minnesota outfield rotation.

The Result: In the end, the Cubs would need to clear way too much salary and with seemingly unmovable contracts belonging to Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley on the books, the Cubs would be a real dark horse to get involved in discussions for Mauer.

The Contenders

Los Angeles Angels

The Rundown: The Angels don’t figure to be overly interested in Mauer as the club already has Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis under contract at vastly more reasonable salaries for the next three years.

The club has the financial means to sign Mauer long-term, there’s no doubt there and the club could probably pull together a solid package to send back to Minnesota in return.

The price, in terms of big league talent, would be steeper than for other clubs, but the Angels minor league depth has faded in recent years and most of the “young talent” is in the big leagues.

Additionally, the Twins would be wary about trading their best player to another legitimate contender, without receiving some immediate return on the deal.

The Return: It wouldn’t be out of the question to assume that Ervin Santana or Joe Saunders would front the return package. Either Howie Kendrick or Bandon Wood would have to be included with one of the suddenly-displaced catchers as well.

The Result: Although the Angels would no doubt “kick the tires” on a potential swap for Mauer, the cost in terms of talent and dollars would ultimately be too prohibitive for a club with question marks all around the diamond as is.

The Angels should be far more concerned with landing a third baseman, starting pitcher, and some outfield depth. Mauer would be a luxury the club doesn’t need at the moment.
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Los Angeles Dodgers

The Rundown: The Dodgers would have made more sense before the McCourt’s divorce threw a monkey-wrench into the team’s offseason plans.

Mauer would be a very good compliment to a relatively young and talented lineup for years to come. He would also allow the Dodgers to move Manny Ramirez out of the three-hole in the lineup and let Mauer, a natural number three, takeover that role.

Much like the aforementioned Angels, the Dodgers would be forced to give up more players from their big league roster in a deal as general manager Ned Colletti has moved much of the club’s best minor league talent (ie: Josh Bell & Carlos Santana) in recent deadline deals.

The Return: The Twins would start a package around the Dodgers' own talented, young catcher, Russell Martin.

The Twins would be wise to inquire about Chad Billingsley and one of Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier. There is no guarantee the club would move any of the three.

Martin, Billingsley, and shortstop prospect Devaris Gordon could potentially get the deal done if the Twins are as high on Gordon as many scouts are following his 2009 campaign.

The Result: The Dodgers won’t have the money or prospects necessary to make the deal feasible.

Additionally, the club is more concerned with bolstering a rotation that proved very vulnerable last season.

Mauer would certainly draw some interest from the Dodgers, but it would never get beyond the first phone call.
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New York Mets

The Rundown: The New York Mets need a whole lot more than just Joe Mauer to be competitive again, but he’d be a great step in the right direction.

The Mets are currently in the market for at least one frontline starter, a corner outfielder, a first baseman, bullpen help, and potentially looking to add a new second baseman.

The club could also inquire about an additional catcher, rather than go forward with Omir Santos and Josh Thole. If the Mets were serious about a major upgrade at catcher, Mauer would be a good fit.

The club could use him as the number two hitter, thus getting him more at-bats, for the next few seasons while Wright and Beltran man the heart of the order. After Beltran moves on he could slip into his customary spot in the three-hole.

The Mets obviously could find the money to sign Mauer long-term, as they did when they acquired Johan Santana from Minnesota two years ago. The question is whether or not they’d have the right prospects and/or be willing to part with them.

The Return: The Mets would have to start with their two best positional prospects outfielder Fernando Martinez and catcher/first baseman Josh Thole. Period. There’d be no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

After that the Twins could ask about infield prospects Wilmer Flores and Reese Havens and would undoubtedly inquire about the availability of pitching prospects Jon Niese and Jenrry Mejia.

The Result: Although the Mets can’t be totally ruled out, the enormity of their flaws figures to put Mauer on their backburner this offseason.

The Mets are still reeling from a number of trades that depleted the farm system and trading off the best prospects, again, to plug one hole wouldn’t help the club much going forward.

I’d expect the Mets to look toward the free agent market for most of their moves and trades as a secondary option.

The Favorites

New York Yankees

The Rundown: If a player of Mauer’s caliber is available, the Yankees will no doubt come sniffing around. It doesn’t need to be mentioned, but the Yankees clearly have the right combination of talent and money to make a deal of this magnitude work.

The Yankees also have the need. Current backstop, Jorge Posada is 38 and still has two years and $26 million remaining on his current contract. It’s entirely possible that Posada will be a full-time designated hitter by the end of next season and certainly won’t finish out his contract as a starting catcher.

The club has promising prospects at the position in Francisco Cervelli, Jesus Montero, and Austin Romine. Although, none of the three project to be anywhere near as talented as Joe Mauer.

Hank Steinbrenner drew a line in the sand, more or less, during discussions for Johan Santana two years ago and it cost the Yankees the dominant left-handed starter they wanted, for a year anyway.

This time the club would have to be more open-minded in trade talks. Unlike Santana, Mauer contributes everyday and is just entering his prime.

The Return: The Twins inquired about Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy last time around. The Yankees promptly shut them down. A lot has changed in two years and all three figure to be available in a deal for Mauer.

The Twins would also be wise to make top outfield prospect Austin Jackson a must-have in the deal. If the Yankees balk at Jackson, general manager Bill Smith would be wise to simply hang up the phone and end the conversation.

Any of the three catcher prospects would make sense as well. Cervelli is the only one of the three with any significant big league experience, so he would make the most sense for an “immediate” return.

The Result: The Yankees would be interested, but with $26+ million committed to Posada and three young replacements on the way it makes far more sense for the club to improve elsewhere.

The Bronx Bombers are rumored to be interested in acquiring another frontline starter and are reportedly on the market for a left fielder as well.

Much like many of the team listed above, I could see the Yankees showing interest and having the right package of prospects and big league talent to entice the Twins, but with Derek Jeter’s contract expiring at the end of 2010, one has to legitimately wonder if the club would have enough money to add yet another $20 million per year contract.

With Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and presumably Derek Jeter all topping $20 million per season going forward, Mauer might just be too much, even for the Yankees.
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Boston Red Sox

The Rundown: Prior to last season’s deal for Victor Martinez, the Red Sox appeared to be the most desperate of all the teams linked to Mauer.

At the time, the Red Sox were relying on 37-year-old Jason Varitek who had regressed so much on both sides of the plate that the club nearly let him go as a free agent last offseason.

The move for Martinez shores up the position in the short-term, but Mauer is the better catcher—by far—and figures to have a longer shelf-life behind the plate than Martinez.

Acquiring Mauer would allow the Red Sox to move Martinez to first base and Kevin Youkilis to third base. As such, incumbent third baseman Mike Lowell could be moved to another team.

Mauer would give the club the best pure hitter the Sox have had since Nomar Garciaparra’s heyday.

Additionally, with the contracts of Lowell and David Ortiz expiring after 2010, the club has the money to sign Mauer long-term.

The Return: The Twins would no doubt want a better return than the Cleveland Indians received for Martinez last season. As such, the package would start with Clay Buchholz and, if Smith were feeling gutsy, he could inquire about Jon Lester.

The Red Sox depth has been somewhat compromised in recent years by trades and the amount of talent that could contribute at the big league level is limited.

Starting pitcher Michael Bowden, who seemingly has no place with Boston, would be a solid addition to any deal. Additionally, starting pitcher/shortstop Casey Kelly and outfielder Josh Reddick could both contribute down the line.

Ultimately, the Twins would be wise to ask for Buchholz and reliever Daniel Bard up front as a starting point. It would be a steep price, but the Twins would be unwise not to go all out for Mauer.

The Result: The Red Sox obviously make the most sense as a trading destination for Mauer and the Twins.

Boston has plenty of money to grant him the extension and dollars he’ll merit and they have a solid crop of prospects that are either blocked at the big league level or still far enough off that trading them wouldn’t impact Boston’s immediate future.

If Mauer does become available, expect him to land in Boston.

WWE Survivor Series: Five Things We Learned


At the end of every pay-per-view, we are left with many questions and few answers.

However, last night at Survivor Series—in a rare change of pace—we were left with plenty of definitive answers.

Sure, there are plenty of questions we can still ask:

Who’s next in line for Undertaker’s title?

Will JeriShow be able to co-exist as partners?

Is Rey Mysterio ever going to be the same?

Why do they still book awful women’s matches?


The list could go on and on, but questions notwithstanding, here’s a look at five things we learned at last night’s Survivor Series.

Check out the slideshow at BleacherReport.com

Friday, November 20, 2009

Frugal Fish: Josh Johnson and Florida Falter on Four-Year Pact



Once a cheap team, always a cheap team.

The Florida Marlins have reportedly “reached an impasse” with ace Josh Johnson regarding a proposed four-year contract extension.

Matt Sosnick, Johnson’s agent, was reportedly seeking a deal very similar to the fout-year, $38 million-pact that Zack Greinke signed a year ago.

The notoriously stingy Marlins, however, were only willing to guarantee the 25-year-old right-hander three years.

The proposed deal would have bought out Johnson’s first two years of free agency.

Currently, Johnson remains under club control through for two more seasons.

According to Sosnick, this now means that Johnson will enter free agency after 2011 rather than make another attempt at signing an extension.

"Based on our conversations, there's no chance of doing a long-term deal with the Marlins," Sosnick said. "We made it clear that it was going to be this year or it wasn't going to happen. It was now or never."

Johnson, coming off a season in which he posted a 15-5 record with a 3.23 ERA and struck out 191 batters in 209 innings, is one of baseball’s brightest young stars.

He was an All-Star for the first-time and became the unequivocal ace of a young Marlins pitching rotation.

Additionally, Johnson is an outstanding 22-6 with a 3.42 ERA in 47 starts since returning from Tommy John surgery midway through the 2008 campaign.

It seems apparent to everyone—excluding the Marlins, that is—that the deal would have been a steal for Florida.

“We were willing to give the Marlins what we thought was a significant break,” Sosnick said, “but they just weren’t comfortable going to the fourth year."

Although a long-term deal is now off the table, this opens the doors for discussion about a potential trade.

Numerous teams figure to show interest if Johnson is made available as he’d immediately be one of the top pitching options on the market.

Making a trade seem all the more likely is the Marlins reputation for trading away arbitration-eligible players.

Recently the club traded arbitration-eligible outfielder Jeremy Hermida to Boston.

Last offseason starter Scott Olsen and outfielder Josh Willingham were moved to Washington to avoid arbitration.

Recent reports have the club exploring offers for second baseman Dan Uggla, who is expected to earn $7 million or more via arbitration this offseason.

Johnson earned $1.4 million in 2008, and figures to earn more than $4 million next season via arbitration.

"It seems to me that based on his age and performance,” Sosnick said, “Josh falls into that group of two or three starting pitchers out there whose next contract could very well exceed $100 million."

As it currently stands, Johnson will enter the 2011-2012 free agent class of pitchers that could include Matt Cain, Felix Hernandez, Edwin Jackson, Wandy Rodriguez, and Justin Verlander.

Déjà Vu: Mike Lowell May Be on Red Sox's Trading Block



The Boston Red Sox are considering acquiring a marquee first baseman.

The club is reportedly interested in San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera.

If either one is acquired in a trade, the Red Sox would move incumbent first baseman Kevin Youkilis to third base on a permanent basis.

Sound familiar?

It certainly does to Mike Lowell.

“I figure I am no stranger to trade rumors,” Lowell said. “I understand the team’s desire to always look to upgrade.”

The Red Sox third baseman was in a similar situation a year ago when the club was looking to acquire All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira.

The difference between now and then is that Lowell, for the most part, is healthy.

A year ago, Lowell was recovering from hip surgery, and it was likely that he would spend spring training rehabbing with Boston, simply to showcase himself for potential suitors.

Lowell is now a full year removed from surgery and figures to head into spring training healthier than he has been in two seasons.

He was used sparingly down the stretch last year to rest his hip and because the additions of Victor Martinez and Casey Kotchman created a logjam for playing time.

If the Sox are able to acquire Cabrera or Gonzalez, Lowell would have considerable value on the trade market.

He is still an above average defender at third base, despite hip-related limitations on his range, and he can still hit.

Despite struggling through lingering pain, Lowell posted a solid .290/.337/.474 line with 17 home runs and 73 RBI in 419 at-bats last season.

If inserted into a lineup that can get runners on in front of him consistently, Lowell could be a major offensive force.

He did much of his damage in 2009 with runners in scoring position, posting an outstanding .313/.359/.516 line with seven home runs and 57 RBI coming in those situations.

Lowell will be 36 next season and has one year at $12 million remaining on his contract.

That number may be too steep for many teams to take on, but the Red Sox could easily absorb some of the monetary hit to facilitate a deal.

There are a number of teams with a vacancy at third, and Lowell could be just the man to fill that hole.

Personally, Lowell has made it clear that his preference is to remain in Boston, but he also understands the nature of the business and would not combat a potential trade.

“I treat this offseason like any other and maintain how much I like Boston, but this is a business and there are certain things I cannot control,” Lowell said. “I am focused on enjoying my family, working hard, and getting ready for a successful 2010 season.”

Garrett Atkins and Colorado: Stuck Between a Rockie and a Hard Place



Garrett Atkins is a man without a job, yet he is still gainfully employed.

It may sound like the ultimate contradiction, but it’s merely a sign of the times in Major League Baseball.

Many teams are currently at a tipping point with overpriced, underperforming veterans.

It is becoming more common for big league clubs to non-tender players who have become too pricey, rather than risk overpaying them in arbitration.

Garrett Atkins and the Colorado Rockies are the latest example of this situation.

Atkins, 29, is still with the Colorado Rockies, but only as a formality.

On Friday, the Rockies announced that Atkins would remain with on the club’s 40-man roster.

This move serves only to delay the inevitable, as Garrett Atkins has undoubtedly played his last game for Colorado.

Thanks to arbitration, the Rockies paid Atkins more than $7 million last season.

That was $3 million more than he’d made in 2008, despite posting a second-consecutive year of declining numbers.

Many in the Colorado front-office were hoping for a bounce-back performance in 2009, unfortunately, they didn’t get one.

For their $7 million investment, Atkins gave the club a dismal .226/.308/.342 line with nine home runs and 48 RBIs. By mid-season, he’d become a backup infielder after losing his job to rising star, Ian Stewart.

As such, Colorado is only keeping Atkins on the 40-man roster to allow more time for general manager Dan O’Dowd to try and facilitate a trade before the December 12 non-tender date.

O’Dowd has been actively trying to move the slumping slugger since last offseason.

A year ago, most clubs were wary about pulling the trigger, as Atkins’ numbers suggested that his success had been more a product of Coors Field than his actual talent.

This offseason, the interest has been even more tepid given Atkins’ continued downward spiral at the plate.

His numbers have been in steady decline since his breakout campaign in 2006, when he posted an astounding.329/.409/.556 line with 29 home runs, 120 RBIs, 117 runs scored and 48 doubles.

His below-average defense at third could be put up with when he was posting mammoth power numbers, but a no-hit, no-field third baseman simply won’t do. At this point he projects as a first baseman rather than a third sacker.

A small handful of teams have reportedly shown some interest, including the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers.

Both clubs could use him at either corner or in a designated hitter role and Atkins could benefit from playing in another renowned hitters park.

Neither club, however, wants to give the Rockies anything in return, nor should they.

O’Dowd has three weeks until the non-tender deadline. In that time he will make a strong push to move Atkins, for anything he can get in return.

If he is unable to do so, he will undoubtedly have to cut Atkins loose and be left with nothing to show for the former fifth-round draft pick.

In these economic times, this situation is becoming more and more common.

Clubs like the Rockies can’t afford to throw $7 million at underperforming players and other clubs refuse to trade their young, cheap talent for reclamation projects.

And why should then when, in three weeks time, Atkins figures to be available on a minor-league deal.

If Atkins had posted better numbers, it would make far more sense for a club to make a trade, rather than risk another club beating them to the punch.

Atkins’ wretched season has torpedoed his value, both to himself and to Colorado.

In three weeks, he’ll be a free agent just hoping to catch on with a club for the Major League minimum.

The Rockies will be off-the-hook for more than $7 million, but they’ll have nothing to show for all of the time and effort they spent developing Atkins.

It's a lose-lose situation, but it's also business as usual in the new baseball economy.



Thursday, November 19, 2009

Minnesota Twins: Jason Kubel’s Long Road Back Leads to the Top



Jason Kubel is finally where he belongs, at the top.

After a career-best season in 2009, Kubel, 27, proved to be one of baseball’s premier designated hitters, working at a considerably lower rate than many of his contemporaries.

At this point, however, Kubel isn’t worried about getting a big payday.

That will come in time. He’s still young and has plenty of time to earn David Ortiz or Travis Hafner money.

For now, he seems content to be healthy and guaranteed a spot on the roster.

That may seem odd, but it hasn’t always been this way for Kubel.

In 2004 he was named the Twins Minor League Player of the Year after posting an impressive .352/.414/.590 line with 22 home runs, 100 RBIs, 42 doubles, and 16 stolen bases.

He destroyed minor league pitching all-year long, working his way up from Double-A to Triple-A, and eventually earning a September call-up.

In the majors he put up an impressive .300/.358/.433 line in 23 games and continued to establish himself as one of baseball’s most promising young hitters.

Kubel was so highly-regarded within the organization that he was placed on Minnesota’s postseason roster for the club’s first-round clash with the New York Yankees.

Kubel saw limited action in the postseason, but showed the poise and demeanor of a player who belonged in the big leagues.

After the Twins were eliminated, Kubel went to play in the Arizona Fall League to prepare for Spring Training where it was believed he would compete for the right field job.

It was during an AFL game that an outfield collision with AFL teammate Ryan Raburn changed Kubel’s career trajectory forever.

The collision caused severe ligament damage, including a torn ACL and meniscus. It was described in some reports that Kubel’s knee had “exploded” in the collision.

Then-general manager Terry Ryan didn’t try to cut any corners when describing the injury to the media.

“It's a bad deal,” Ryan said. “It's going to be a long ordeal.”

Those pointed comments led many to question whether or not Kubel would ever make it back from the injury, let alone play at anywhere near the level he had before.

Kubel underwent major reconstructive surgery on his knee and missed all of the 2005 season while recovering from the career-threatening injury.

He showed some improvement by Spring Training and was named the club’s Opening Day right fielder in 2006, but struggles relegated him Triple-A by mid-April.

Back in the minors he put up good—but not great—numbers and appeared to regain his once-vaunted stroke at the plate.

Kubel returned re-joined the Twins in May and put up solid numbers, hitting .291/.324/.485 in the first-half. It appeared as though he’d taken the express lane on the road to recovery.

Unfortunately, his surgically-repaired knee proved it couldn’t handle the strain in the second-half as his numbers slipped badly, to .163/.209/.233

In the end he was limited to just 235 at-bats, as a result of lingering knee pain.

He finished the season with a disappointing .241/.279/.386 line and just eight home runs and 26 RBIs.

Kubel knew as well as anyone that 2007 would be an important year.

After fading down the stretch the year before, he showed up with the intention of proving himself healthy and capable of playing every day.

Early in the 2007 season, his performance, or lack thereof, left many wondering if the knee injury had completely destroyed his career.

After his weak finish in 2006, Kubel hit just .237/.287/.301 through his first 100 at-bats in 2007, however, he seemed to finally get things on track in mid-May and hit an astounding .283/.349/.492 over his final 100 games.

By season’s end, Kubel had appeared in 128 games and garnered 418 at-bats, bouncing between designated hitter and left field.

Despite the shaky start to the year, he put up a solid .273/.335/.450 line with 13 home runs, 65 RBI, 31 doubles, and even managed to swipe five bases.

It appeared that he was well on his way back to the top.

In 2008, Kubel became the club’s permanent DH after Minnesota acquired left fielder Delmon Young from Tampa Bay in the offseason.

It was in that role that Kubel began to thrive. With less pressure on his knee from not playing the field he appeared in 141 games and received 463 at-bats.

Kubel made the most of those at-bats by posted a career-best .272/.335/.471 line with 20 home runs and 78 RBIs.

His big 2008, prompted the club to sign him to a two-year, $7.2 million deal that bought out his remaining arbitration years and contains a $5.25 million option for the 2011 campaign.

Kubel showed his gratitude for the investment by busting out in a big way in last season.

He set career-highs across the board by appearing in 146 games, tallying 578 at-bats and posting an imposing .300/.369/.539 line with 28 home runs, 35 doubles, and 103 runs batted in.

He was ranked among the top designated hitters in all of baseball last year. In fact, he was statistically neck-and-neck with Toronto’s Adam Lind for the best in all of baseball.

Kubel finished third in total runs behind Lind and Boston’s David Ortiz. He finished just behind Lind in nearly every other category including home runs, RBIs, doubles, total bases, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.

Five years ago, it looked like Jason Kubel’s career was over before it had ever really begun.

Today, he’s finally reached the end of the long road back and can look forward.

And rumor has it the view is pretty good from the top.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Starting Five: A Look at the Contenders for the NL Cy Young Award



On Thursday afternoon the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce who they’ve voted as this year’s National League Cy Young Award winner.

Unlike the American League Cy Young, there is no single front-runner for the award.

Rather, there were many impressive performances in the NL this season, leading many to wonder who will be crowned the winner.

A compelling argument could be made for a number of different NL hurlers, but in the end only one will walk away with the hardware.

Here’s a quick look at the top candidates for the National League Cy Young.

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Dan Haren – RHP – Arizona Diamondbacks

Starts: 33
Innings Pitched: 229.1
Wins: 14
ERA: 3.14
WHIP: 1.00
Strikeouts: 223
Run Support: 5.77

Season Review: In 2009, Dan Haren did what he always does, he dominated. The right-hander pushed over 200 innings and 30 starts for a fifth straight year.

All the while he posted his usual 200+ strikeouts, allowed very few walks, kept his ERA well-below the league average, and earned a third-straight trip to the All-Star Game.

Haren did all of that while getting the least run support of any other Cy Young candidate.

In addition to all of the positives listed above, Haren continued another yearly tradition, the second-half fade.

Prior to the All-Star break, Haren was 9-5 with a 2.01 ERA, an astounding 0.81 WHIP and has an amazing 8.06 K/BB ratio.

After his mid-summer trip to St. Louis for the All-Star Game, Haren went 5-5 with a 4.62 ERA, a 1.26 WHIP and his K/BB ratio fell to 4.27.

Haren was, undoubtedly, the first-half Cy Young winner, but fell apart down the stretch.

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Javier Vazquez – RHP – Atlanta Braves

Starts: 32
Innings Pitched: 219.1
Wins: 15
ERA: 2.87
WHIP: 1.03
Strikeouts: 238
Run Support: 6.44

Season Review: Vazquez, acquired last offseason, thrived in his return to the senior circuit. He posted the best ERA, WHIP, and K/BB ratio of his career.

His meager win total is largely a result of a serious lack of run support early in the season.

In June he put up his best statistical month of the season with a 1.98 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP, and a 5.57 K/BB ratio.

Despite those impressive numbers, Vazquez went 1-3 for the month as the Braves offense averaged 1.49 runs per start for him.

Given a more dynamic offense, he might have run away with the award.

On paper, there’s no reason why he doesn’t deserve it. Zack Greinke just proved that big win totals aren’t a prerequisite to taking home the coveted award.

It does seem, however, that Vazquez, 33, always flies under the radar despite being an annual lock for 200+ innings and 200+ strikeouts while always piling up double-digit wins.

His low-profile may be his worst enemy.

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Adam Wainwright – RHP – St. Louis Cardinals

Starts: 34
Innings Pitched: 233
Wins: 19
ERA: 2.63
WHIP: 1.21
Strikeouts: 212
Run Support: 7.07

Season Review: Sometimes a pitcher is simply locked in and can be relatively untouchable. For most of 2009, Adam Wainwright was just that, locked in and virtually untouchable.

He’s shown flashes of brilliance in his short career, but 2009 was the season that the 28-year-old finally seemed to put it all together and became a legitimate ace.

Wainwright posted career bests in wins, ERA, starts, strikeouts, and total innings this season.

He was lucky enough to receive the best run support of all the candidates, but proved that he didn’t need the extra offense.

Wainwright allowed two runs or fewer in 26 of his 34 starts, always giving the Cardinals a chance to win, which the club did in 23 of those starts.

He came up huge for the club when fellow-ace Chris Carpenter was on the shelf early in the year and proved to be even better down the stretch.

Wainwright went 11-3, with a 1.95 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and 5.37 K/BB ratio from July onward as the Cardinals ran away with the NL Central.

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Tim Lincecum – RHP – San Francisco Giants

Starts: 32
Innings Pitched: 225.1
Wins: 15
ERA: 2.48
WHIP: 1.05
Strikeouts: 261
Run Support: 5.83

Season Review: Tim Lincecum could very well become the first back-to-back Cy Young winner since Randy Johnson’s four-year run from 1999-2002.

He certainly pitched like he wanted to make it two in a row when he hit the ground running in 2009.

“The Freak” went 10-2 before the All-Star break with an imposing 2.33 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9.

Lincecum didn’t let up in the second-half as he posted an equally impressive 2.67 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 10.3 K/9. The Giants’ lackluster offense, however, failed him and he went 5-5 after the break.

Despite his pedestrian win totals, Lincecum set new career-bests in ERA, WHIP, complete games, and shutouts.

Additionally, he continued his yearly trend of reducing his home runs allowed by allowing a meager ten long balls.

Lincecum could very easily take home a second-straight award, but there is one man in St. Louis who may stand in his way…

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Chris Carpenter – RHP – St. Louis Cardinals

Starts: 28
Innings Pitched: 192.2
Wins: 17
ERA: 2.24
WHIP: 1.01
Strikeouts: 144
Run Support: 5.84

Season Review: Carpenter has been waylaid by injuries in recent years and hasn’t had a full, healthy season since the 2006 campaign.

In that time he’s suffered through Tommy John surgery and various shoulder issues, which left many questioning whether or not he’d be able to return to the same level of brilliance that had earned him the 2005 Cy Young Award.

In 2009, things started off auspiciously as the veteran missed five weeks early on, but came just as good as ever before.

The right-hander posted a career-best earned run average of 2.24, a mark that led the entire league.

June proved to be his worst month. He lost for the first time on June 14 and went 2-3 with a 3.67 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP, and gave up a season-high 17 earned runs over six starts.

From June onward, Carpenter got things back on track by going 12-1 with a 2.12 ERA, and a 1.12 WHIP to propel the Cardinals into the postseason for the first time since his last healthy season.

Needless to say, when a 3.67 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP is your “worst month” of the year, you’re the rightful heir to the Cy Young Award.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Minnesota Twins' Ron Gardenhire, is he the AL Manager of the Year?




Ron Gardenhire has long been considered one of baseball’s best managers.

In 2009, he proved his mettle once again by leading the Minnesota Twins to yet another division title in the American League Central.

The pennant marked his fifth division title in eight seasons as the Twins’ skipper.

It very well could have been the sixth, but Minnesota lost to the Chicago White Sox in a one-game playoff to determine the division champion after the 2008 regular season ended with both clubs in a tie for first-place.

In addition to the five pennants, Gardy has also amassed a record of 709-558, ranking him 79th all-time on the career wins list and 11th among active managers.

With Gardenhire at the helm, Minnesota has never finished lower than third in the AL Central and the club has only finished with a sub .500 record once, in 2007 when the team finished a mere four games below the mark.

He has also led the club to six seasons with 87-plus wins and four seasons with 90-plus wins.

At this point, I think you get the idea.

Gardenhire is a pretty good manager.

He often gets credited for “doing the most with the least.”

And let’s be honest, anyone who can win with Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, and Matt Tolbert receiving regular playing time deserves all the credit he gets.

Yet, despite all his success and obvious skills as a field general, he’s yet to win the coveted Manager of the Year Award.

In 2002, his first season as manager after eleven years as the club’s third base coach, he finished third in the voting.

Since then he’s finished as the runner-up, four times including: 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2008.

Gardenhire’s four runner-up finishes are second only to Tony LaRussa, who has finished second five times. For LaRussa the sting of finishing in second-place was lessened by the fact that he’s brought home the hardware four times.

This season, however, Gardenhire may finally get his due.

In mid-September the Twins were on the skids.

The club had lost seven of ten and sat two games below .500 with just twenty left to play. To make matters worse an already injury-riddled squad lost All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau with a back injury.

The Twins could have folded and simply played out the stretch and blamed the lost season on injuries and bad-luck, but Gardenhire wouldn’t let that happen.

He took the same fiery energy and passion that’s gotten him ejected nearly 50 times in his career and led the club on a torrid stretch, winning 16 of the their final 20 games and forcing a historic one-game playoff with the Detroit Tigers for the division crown.

That final month alone could win him the award, but when you realize what he dealt with all year long, the mere fact that the club was within striking distance that late in the season is a miracle.

Here’s a quick rundown of the mess Gardenhire had to muddle through during the season.

MVP candidate, Joe Mauer missed the first month of the season with lower back inflammation.

Free agent signee, Joe Crede was limited to just 90 games with back issues before undergoing season-ending surgery in August.

As such, when Alexi Casilla flaked as the full-time second baseman, the club was forced to using a rotating crew of benchwarmers at three infield positions.

The club saw three-fifths of its Opening Day rotation rendered useless by injury and ineffectiveness and had to rely on Carl Pavano as a rotation anchor down the stretch.

And that was all before Morneau’s season-ending injury in September.

Yeah, I’d say Gardy is pretty good at what he does.

Perhaps this will be the year that the Baseball Writers Association of America finally gets it right.

Miguel Tejada: Plan-D for the Minnesota Twins



“Miguel Tejada signs with the Minnesota Twins.”

Reading that headline wouldn’t elicit the excitement it would have five years ago, but it’s still an intriguing proposition.

Five years ago, Tejada was one of baseball’s best players and had recently signed a massive (at the time) six-year, $72 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles.

In the five years since, he has suffered through multiple steroid allegations at the hands of former teammates, inclusion in the Mitchell Report, a perjury charge, and it was revealed that he was two years older than he’d claimed.

Those off the field controversies took their toll and, along with Father Time, lead to the slow and steady erosion of Tejada’s on field production.

The former American League Most Valuable Player has lost most of his power, having slipped from 34 home runs in 2004 to a meager 14 last season.

Additionally, his defense at shortstop has gone from below average to downright ugly.

As a result, Tejada’s next starting gig figures to be as a corner infielder, with third base making the most sense given his strong throwing arm.

No doubt, Tejada is far-removed from his glory days with Oakland and Baltimore, but he can still be a valuable asset to a ballclub.

He’s certainly no team’s first or even second-choice this offseason, but he makes a lot of sense as Plan-D for Minnesota.

Tejada, a six-time All Star, can still hit and knows how to get on base at a good clip, despite not drawing many walks.

His ability to get on base would make him an ideal two-hole hitter for the Twins. He would also serve to break-up lefties, Denard Span and Joe Mauer.

His .313/.340/.455 line in 2009 was roughly in line with his career averages and, at 35 years old (or so we’re told), he figures to still have a few good years ahead of him before his skills relegate him to bench duty or retirement.

With that in mind, it makes sense for the Twins to at least consider signing Tejada to man the hot corner for most or all of next season.

Tejada, despite his age, has an incredible track-record for durability.

Since 1999 he’s played in 158 games or better every year, except for 2007 when a fractured wrist limited him to 133 games.

He had an incredible six-year run from 2001-2006 where he appeared in all 162 games every year.

Given the durability, or lack thereof, shown by last year’s third baseman, Joe Crede, Tejada would be a breath of fresh air.

After years of flip-flopping players in and out, there’s no doubt that Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire would relish having a name he could consistently pencil in at third on his lineup card.

Durability notwithstanding, Tejada—much like the aforementioned Crede—only makes sense for the Twins on a one-year deal.

Unlike other third base options (ie: Adrian Beltre), Tejada can only be viewed as a short-term placeholder for eventual successor, Danny Valencia/Luke Hughes.

At his age and with his skill set declining, Tejada shouldn’t be expecting much more than one-year offers, especially in a deflated market that is overrun with younger, more talented third basemen.

Tejada could seemingly be had on a one-year deal in the $5-7 million range for a base salary with plenty of reachable incentives that could push the total value up to $10-12 million.

Tejada certainly won’t play for pennies, but someone as durable and steady as he is shouldn’t be worried about playing for incentives that he would figure to reach if he remains his usual healthy-self for an entire season.

Obviously Tejada is not the best option on the market and, in all honesty, probably not even a top five option, but he is still an option.

If nothing else, he’s certainly a more appealing alternative to seeing Matt Tolbert or Brendan Harris in the starting lineup every day.

No one knows what the free agent market will look like when it opens on Friday and it is entirely possible the Twins will miss out on other far more attractive options.

If that’s the case, Tejada would make a solid Plan-D.

“Miguel Tejada signs with the Minnesota Twins.”

It may not be nearly as exciting as it once was, but it sure does have a nice ring to it.