Thursday, July 01, 2010

Cheap Seat Chronicles at Wordpress...



Hey y'all-

Just a heads up that as of July 1, 2010, I've decided to stop double-posting all of my stuff, it's just become too much of a pain and it splinters my readership.

As such, my material will no longer be appearing here on Blogger, but rather only on Wordpress.

So if you'd like to continue reading my stuff, please switch any bookmarks you have so that they head to "Cheap Seat Chronicles" on Wordpress.

Thanks,

Jeremiah

Monday, June 07, 2010

2010 MLB Draft: Minnesota Twins Select Alex Wimmers with First-Round Pick


The Minnesota Twins drafted Ohio State pitcher Alex Wimmers with the 21st overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

This is the second-year in a row that the Twins have used their first-round selection on a highly-touted collegiate hurler.

A year ago the club took a gamble on injured Missouri starter Kyle Gibson with the 22nd pick. Gibson is now healthy and rapidly working his way through the minor leagues.

Keith Law of ESPN.com described Wimmers as “one of the most Major League-ready prospects in the draft.” This evaluation—from one of the top player evaluators in the business—indicates that Wimmers could be on a fast track similar to that of Gibson.

Wimmers was described by Baseball America as having “the best changeup in the 2010 draft crop” and that “few pitchers in this draft can match the depth of his repertoire.”

That repertoire includes the aforementioned changeup, a good curveball that he can throw for strikes, and a solid—if not unspectacular—low-to-mid ‘90s fastball.

His fastball currently sits right around 90-92 mph and touches 94 mph when he really dials it up. It is believed that he could add a little more velocity if he builds arm strength by using it more in pro ball.

He was described by John Manuel of Baseball America as “the closest thing to Brad Radke in this draft” and the Twins had some pretty good success with that Radke guy once upon a time. He is a reliable starter who throws strikes and likes to challenge hitters.

His three-pitch mix, solid command, and excellent presence on the mound should all help him move quickly through the system as he has been very successful throughout his collegiate career.

Wimmers won back-to-back Big Ten pitcher of the year awards after going 9-2 with a 3.27 ERA in 2009 and following it up this year by going 9-0 with a 1.60 ERA for the Buckeyes this season. He struck out 86 and walked 23 in 73 innings pitched this year.

The Twins have had a lot of success with players cut from the same cloth as Wimmers.

He is a strike-thrower who doesn’t have any overpowering raw stuff, but he possesses a very good total package that figures to project out well as a middle-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues.

If his fastball can catch up to his other pitches in a hurry, it’s entirely possible that Wimmers could make his big league debut by late 2011.

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2010 MLB Draft: Fifteen Targets for the Minnesota Twins


The Minnesota Twins are often praised for doing things “the right way.”

This sentiment—although cliché and not entirely accurate—generally defines the organizational importance placed on pitching, defense, small ball tactics, and player development.

Although the Twins have seemingly eschewed the small ball tactics in recent seasons, the club still believes heavily in defense and pitching.

It would seem that the club has an abundance of outfielders already in the system with top prospects Aaron Hicks, Ben Revere, Max Kepler, and Angel Morales all seemingly within a few years of reaching the big leagues.

As such, the Twins could logically be expected to abandon the usual philosophy of drafting the best available player—no matter what position he plays—and instead opt to improve by adding a big-armed pitcher or another infielder to the farm system.

Minnesota possesses the twenty-first overall pick in tonight’s First-Year Player Draft and could use that pick on any of a number of players.

This year’s draft—after the projected top three picks of catcher Bryce Harper, shortstop Manny Machado, and right-hander Jameson Taillon—has been deemed “wide-open” by many experts.

In fact, in describing the quality of the draft pool after those three, one unidentified NL general manager said, “there’s virtually no difference between the fourth and 44th picks.”

With that thought in mind let’s take a look at fifteen players that could join the Minnesota Twins organization tonight during the opening-round of the First-Year Player Draft.


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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

You’re Doing It Wrong: New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox Loyalty


There is no rivalry in sports more storied than the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox—or so ESPN tells me, constantly—and with that type of long-term, history-laden rivalry comes some serious battle lines, right?

Literally hundreds of books have been written on the subject.

More ink (or is it pixels) have been spilled over this rivalry in newspapers and online than any other in all of sports. In fact, it’s pretty safe to say that this rivalry alone has kept some sportswriters employed.

The rivalry has its own freakin’ Wikipedia entry and a YouTube search for “Yankees vs Red Sox” yields nearly 10,000 results.

Heck, there’s an entire television network dedicated to preaching the prominence of this rivalry.

We’re talking about the type of rivalry that divides families and tears friendships apart.

People have legitimately been beaten and killed as a result of their respective allegiances in this century-old rivalry.

With that in mind you’ve got to think that there is absolutely no reason for something like this to happen:


As much as I hate to give either the Yankees or Red Sox any more press, I can’t help but ask myself, what the heck is going on here??

Like seriously, how is something like this allowed to happen?

I’ve been in those bleachers at Fenway, I’ve been booed unmercifully by an entire section on more than one occasion for wearing Minnesota Twins gear and—on one fateful day—a vintage Tampa Bay Devil Rays t-shirt.

I’ve been to a Sox/Yankees game and seen fight after fight breakout over nothing more than someone doffing the cap of the visiting team.

So explain to me, how is it that this gal’s transgressions are allowed to pass unscathed, by either party.

I would be content if a band of rogue New York fans rose up in arms to slay her with weapons they’d fashioned from those miniature souvenir baseball bats.

I’d be equally approving if the usual Fenway bleacher creatures were to use her as a ritual sacrifice to Jon Papelbon before the ninth (they do that you know).

What I can’t stand is for this to pass, seemingly without any sort of repercussion. She’s just enjoying a beer and watching the game. What the heck is that?

I had a beer vendor refuse to serve me the day I wore the Devil Rays shirt and this is all peachy?

Let’s hear it folks, what’s your take on the situation?

Is she part of some sort of government test study to determine how long a cute gal can survive in hostile conditions?

Has she had too many of those $8 Budweisers and accidentally grabbed the wrong hat (or shirt) on her way out of the powder room?

Or does she simply work for ESPN?

Hat Tip – [Total Pro Sports]


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J.J. Hardy Injury: Minnesota Twins Shortstop Lands on DL with Wrist Injury


The injuries just keep on coming for the Minnesota Twins.

In March, the club lost All-Star closer Joe Nathan for the year after he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Last week, reigning American League MVP Joe Mauer sat out with a heel injury that threatened to land him on the disabled list.

And just today, the Twins placed shortstop J.J. Hardy on the 15-day disabled list with a left wrist contusion. Hardy initially sustained the injury sliding into third base on a triple a week ago.

The move is retroactive to May 4, meaning that Hardy can be rejoin the big league club next Thursday in Boston for the finale of a two-game set against the Red Sox.

Hardy was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers last fall for outfielder Carlos Gomez who—ironically enough—also landed on the disabled list today with a with a left rotator cuff strain.

Prior to the injury Hardy—a notoriously streaky hitter—was off to a less than impressive start at the plate. Through the season’s first 25 games Hardy posted an uninspiring .250/.299/.400 batting line to go with three home runs, eleven RBI, and four doubles.

In essence, the time off could do Hardy some good as it largely believed he’s been pressing at the plate in an effort to prove that his dreadful 2009 was an aberration.

To fill in for the injured Hardy, the club recalled infielder Matt Tolbert from Triple-A Rochester.

Aaron Gleeman of Hardball Talk said it best…

“…the Twins have added to their amazing collection of banjo-hitting utility infielders by calling up Matt Tolbert from Triple-A. Tolbert is anything but deserving after hitting .232 with a .632 OPS and six errors in 27 games at Triple-A, but he's a poor man's Nick Punto and so naturally Ron Gardenhire loves him.”

The move is nothing if not disconcerting.

As Gleeman mentions, the club is already stock-piled with prototypical “small ball” style players in Nick Punto, Brendan Harris, and Alexi Casilla.

The club could have used this opportunity to call up the supposed third baseman of the future, Danny Valencia or bring Luke Hughes back for a second go-around with the big club, but neither is doing anything overly inspiring at Rochester.

Additionally, Valencia and Hughes are both third basemen by trade, although Hughes has spent plenty of time at second base as of late, but neither of those positions appear to be open with the big club.

The Twins appear content to leave Nick Punto at third base—his best defensive position, according to UZR—and Orlando Hudson isn’t going to suit up anywhere but second base.

That leaves current Rochester shortstop Trevor Plouffe as the most logical player to call up in this situation.

Plouffe, 24, is off to a solid start with the Red Wings hitting .278/.344/.452 with two home runs, thirteen RBI, and eight doubles through 29 games.

The Twins, however, appear to be playing favorites and going with one of manager Ron Gardenhire’s favorites, the “scrappy” Matt Tolbert.

Tolbert will likely split time with Alexi Casilla who isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire with his paltry .261/.292/.304 batting line.

To their credit, UZR rates both Casilla and Tolbert are above average defenders at shortstop, albeit in very small sample sizes.

The Casilla/Tolbert combo isn’t an ideal solution for the Twins, especially with the division rival Chicago White Sox in town and a weekend series with the world champion New York Yankees looming on the horizon, but the duo should serve as an adequate defensive stopgap until Hardy returns next week.


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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Philadelphia Phillies Fan Gets Tasered


When the action on the field grows tiresome too many fans decide to create their own entertainment.

That was the case last night in Philadelphia where a 17-year-old Phillies fan hopped the fence and ran onto the field during the eighth inning.

At the time the Phillies were down 6-2 after giving up a five-run inning to the St. Louis Cardinals. This apparently was enough to encourage the young fan—whose name has yet to be released because he is a minor—to make his own entertainment.

The fan jumped the fence and led two officers on a chase around the outfield at Citizens Bank Park in front of a reported 44,817 screaming fans.

The security officers eventually ended the chase when one of the men pulled out a Taser and "subdued" the 17-year-old.

According to both teams, this is the first time a Taser has ever been used to apprehend a trespasser during a game.

Phillies spokeswomen Bonnie Clark said the police department is investigating the matter and discussing with the team whether using the stun gun was appropriate.

Police spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore told The Philadelphia Inquirer police internal affairs will open an investigation to determine if the firing "was proper use of the equipment."

The 17-year-old will be charged with trespassing and likely suffering years of public humiliation amongst his friends.

After an incident like this, one can’t help but wonder if this is taking things too far.

In the past, officers would make a half-hearted attempt to catch the trespasser and more or less wait until they would run themselves out of energy.

At which point they'd simply escort them off the field and off to spend the evening in jail. Who knew that those were simpler times?

I’m all about keeping people off the field, but the Taser seems just a bit extreme given that this guy was clearly not a threat to anyone on the field.

Let’s hear it in the comments folks, what do you think?

Was the use of a Taser too much or is it a sufficient means of crowd control in this type of situation?
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Monday, April 26, 2010

Do the Minnesota Twins Lack a Killer Instinct?



The Minnesota Twins are living the high life.

The club left behind the antiquated Metrodome and moved into their brand-new, state of the art ballpark, Target Field.

The club has an increased payroll and is coming off one of the most productive offseasons in franchise history.

The club is 13-6—second-best in all of Major League Baseball—despite the fact that much of the lineup sits mired in early season slumps.

The Twins have won six straight series to start the season for the first-time in franchise history. All the while outscoring opponents 101-70 and looking far more polished than their counterparts.

Three weeks into the season, there is very little to worry about in Minnesota, or is there?

The club has dropped the last game of a three-game series four times, seemingly phoning it in after winning the series.

This is one thing that should have the club worried.

The Twins cannot afford to let off the gas early in the season, especially against weaker competition like Kansas City and Cleveland.

If we’ve learned anything about the American League Central in recent years, it’s that every single game matters.

Two years in a row the Twins have been forced to play a 163rd game with the division pennant on the line.

A few extra wins over lesser opponents in April are just as important as dramatic September wins over Detroit or Chicago.

All 162 games count exactly the same and the Twins appear to be treating every third game as a throw-away and not a must-win situation.

Anything can happen in baseball. Much of the offense could stay locked in neutral and not overcome their early struggles. The pitching rotation could struggle as the season stretches on. The currently untouchable bullpen could breakdown at any point.

Every game is important because of those unknown factors that creep up every season.

Right now the Twins are riding high, but so were the Indians in 2002 and the Royals were looking like world beaters a year later. Neither of those teams took home the pennant.

The Twins need to establish a killer instinct and finish out some of these early season series if they want to avoid another late season pennant push that leaves the roster exhausted for the playoffs.

It may be early, but the games are important. It’s time for the Twins to start acting like it.
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WWE Extreme Rules: Ten Things We Learned


After every WWE pay-per-view event, we’re supposed to be left with a feeling of satisfaction; as if all of our questions and concerns have been answered by the events that unfolded at the pay-per-view.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. All-too-often we are left with more new questions than answers.

Sunday night’s Extreme Rules was no exception. Following the event there are plenty of important questions to be asked, but there is no doubt we learned plenty of things at the event as well.

Without any further ado, here are the ten things we learned at WWE’s Extreme Rules pay-per-view.

Check out the slide-show at BleacherReport.com.
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Sunday, April 25, 2010

2010 MLB Predictions: Better Late Than Never

It’s pretty obvious that the posts haven’t exactly been coming hot and heavy in the past month or so. Things have been very busy at work and there was a fair amount of travel in the mix as well, but rest assured I’m neither dead nor done writing.

I do want to make one thing clear, these predictions were compiled before the season started, I just never got around to posting them, so anyone who wants to get up in my grill for not giving the currently-surging Rays or Athletics enough love, my apologies.

With that in mind, here are my preseason early season predictions for how things are going to shake out in 2010.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

      AMERICAN LEAGUE

NL EAST

Philadelphia Phillies
Atlanta Braves
Florida Marlins
Washington Nationals
New York Mets

AL EAST

New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles

NL CENTRAL

St. Louis Cardinals
Milwaukee Brewers
Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
Houston Astros

AL CENTRAL

Minnesota Twins
Detroit Tigers
Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Kansas City Royals

NL WEST

Colorado Rockies
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
San Diego Padres
Arizona Diamondbacks

AL WEST

Los Angeles Angels
Seattle Mariners
Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers

NLDS: Philadelphia over San Francisco (3-1)  
NLDS: Colorado over St. Louis (3-2)  

ALDS: Minnesota over Boston (3-2)  
ALDS: New York over Los Angeles (3-0)  

NLCS: Colorado over Philadelphia (4-3)  
ALCS: Minnesota over New York (4-3)  

WORLD SERIES: Minnesota over Colorado (4-2) 

There you have it, folks…the Twins are going to top the Rockies in what will undoubtedly be the least-watched World Series of all-time. ESPN will ignore it entirely, choosing instead to focus on whether Tim Tebow’s new haircut implies he can handle the complexities of an NFL offense.

Feel free to head over to your nearest bookie and put some serious cash on these predictions.
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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins Agree on Massive Eight-Year Contract Extension


Minnesota Twins fans can now breathe a collective sigh of relief.

The biggest drama of the offseason—Joe Mauer’s contract status (or lack thereof)—has finally come to an end.

The Minnesota Twins have officially inked Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million deal that will keep the reigning American League Most Valuable Player in the Twin Cities through the 2018 season.

The deal reportedly includes a full no-trade clause and will pay the All-Star backstop $23 million per season from 2011-2018.

This is undoubtedly the largest contract in franchise history, but also one of the most important.

Mauer, 26, was born and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

In high school, he was a multi-sport star at Saint Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall. During his senior year Mauer became the first—and only—athlete to be selected as the USA Today High School Player of the Year in two sports (football and baseball).

Mauer’s multi-sport prowess led him to make an important decision in 2001 when he turned down a football scholarship to Florida State University to enter the Major League Baseball amateur draft.

The Twins selected the hometown boy with the first-overall pick in the 2001 draft and the club was widely-criticized for taking the “easy pick” over the supposedly more talented Mark Prior, who had pitched at the University of Southern California.

Less than a decade later, Prior is a footnote in baseball history and serves as one of the ultimate “what might have been” cases of the generation.

Mauer, on the other hand, has blossomed into one of baseball’s brightest stars. In the process, he has more than shown he was the right choice and not the easy choice in the 2001 draft.

The hefty payday comes as no surprise on the heels of Mauer’s MVP campaign in 2009 in which he set career-highs with 28 home runs, 96 RBI, 191 hits, and 307 total bases despite missing the entire month of April with a back injury.

He made an immediate impact upon returning to the lineup by crushing a home run in his very first at-bat and never looked back.

Additionally, he led the AL in the new age Triple Crown categories of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage by posting a very impressive .365/.444/.587 cumulative batting line.

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 currently adorn Mauer’s mantle 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.

His importance to the ballclub is undeniable, but it could be argued that it was even more important for the state of Minnesota that Mauer sign an extension rather than land in Boston or New York before Opening Day 2011.

There was speculation more than a month ago that a deal was imminent—if not completed—but that turned out to be false. Lingering negotiations led fans and media members to wonder if the deal had hit a snag or, perhaps, if Mauer had become trade bait.

Luckily, we now know those fears were unfounded. Although given the club’s history, one can’t fault anyone for being concerned.

The Twins have long-been a small-budget operation. In recent years many fan favorites such as Torii Hunter and Johan Santana exited via free agency or trade as a result of the team’s unwillingness to match the big money offers those players could garner on the open market.

This offseason, however, there were signs of change with the opening of Target Field and an anticipated increase in revenue the club has already increased payroll by roughly $30 million from Opening Day last season.

Signing Mauer to a deal of this magnitude shows that the Twins are not only committed to winning, but to pleasing the fans as well. Losing Mauer would have been devastating to the Twins fan-base and—subsequently—the franchise’s bottom line.

That situation has been avoided on what must be considered a major gamble for the organization.

Mauer is, after all, a catcher.

He plays the most demanding position in the game and has a track record of injuries to his knees and back. At 6’5” and 225 pounds, he is very large for the position and could conceivably have a limited shelf life behind the plate.

Additionally, the Twins are banking on last year’s sudden power surge becoming a trend rather than an aberration.

In the end, I think all parties involved come out okay in the deal.

The Twins have avoided any chance of a being run out of town by an angry, pitch-fork wielding mob of dejected Minnesotans and ensured themselves a pretty solid number three hitter for the better part of the next decade.

Mauer has long-term security and more money than Minnesota has lakes.

This would be a good time to make a comment about how Twins fans are the real winners in this deal, but let’s be honest, Joe Mauer just signed a deal for $184 million.

The fans come in second on this one, but I think we’re all a-okay with that.

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Joe Nathan Injury: Minnesota’s All-Star Closer Opts for Tommy John Surgery


It’s official, the Minnesota Twins will be without All-Star closer Joe Nathan for the 2010 campaign.

Nathan elected to undergo Tommy John ligament replacement surgery today after feeling continued pain and discomfort following a bullpen session with pitching coach Rick Anderson.

"Didn’t go like we hoped," Nathan said. "We knew it was a long shot, but what this did do is clear my head.”

Nathan was originally diagnosed with a “significant tear” of his ulnar collateral ligament two weeks ago after he abruptly left an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox after just 20 pitches.

At the time he decided to rest the injury and then test it one more time before deciding whether or not to undergo the procedure.

It is believed that Nathan will undergo the surgery as soon as possible in an attempt to rejoin the club by Opening Day next season.

"Any time you’re going to be out for the season—but especially the timing of this, with this ballclub, this new stadium, the excitement—it’s definitely tough," Nathan said. "But right now I’ve got to take care of myself and get myself ready for next year."

Nathan, 35, is coming off a year in which he set the franchise record for saves with 47 and posted a 2.10 ERA, a .932 WHIP and earned a trip to his fourth All-Star Game.

Needless to say, the club will have a hard time finding anyone to legitimately fill Nathan’s shoes.

The club has, however, been exploring potential replacement options for Nathan since the initial word broke two weeks ago.

In that time the Twins have been linked to the like of Heath Bell and Kerry Wood as potential trade candidates.

The more likely option, however, is that Nathan’s replacement will come from within the organization.

Right-handers Jon Rauch and Matt Guerrier are largely believed to be the front-runners with lefty Jose Mijares a distant third.

Rauch has some experience—albeit limited—in the role from his time in Washington and figures to get the first crack at the job.

Mijares has long been touted as having “closer stuff” on the mound, but many—seemingly including manager Ron Gardenhire—question whether he has the mental makeup to handle the role.

Guerrier has good stuff and a cool head to pitch late in important, high-pressure situations. He is also, however, very valuable as a setup man and Gardenhire loves to use him in multiple-inning situations.

It’s entirely possible that Guerrier’s success in his current role will prevent him from taking over as the club’s closer.

A popular dark horse candidate is current Twins farmhand Anthony Slama.

Slama has looked good in Spring Training, posting eight strikeouts, one walk, one win and a 0.00 ERA in four innings pitched.

He has a proven track record a closer in the minor leagues and appears to have all the intangibles it takes to be a big league closer.

With Opening Day just two weeks away, the race for the closer role is now officially up for grabs and—for all intents and purposes—wide open.

If nothing else, today’s unfortunate news should make for a compelling final two weeks of Spring Training.
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Monday, March 15, 2010

Minnesota Twins: Six Things Fans Will Miss About the Metrodome



After 28 long seasons spent cooped up inside a big Teflon bubble the Minnesota Twins will be moving to an exquisite new ballpark for the 2010 season.

Target Field figures to provide the Twins with not only a much better playing environment, but also much larger revenue streams.

The club has already made the most of the revenue increase by bumping the payroll nearly $40 million over last year’s Opening Day payroll. The on-field results, however, are a wait in progress.

The move will obviously have a large impact on the ballclub, but also on the fans that have trekked to the Metrodome for the better part of three decades.

With that in mind, here are six things that fans won’t miss about the Metrodome.

Also available in slide-show format at BleacherReport.com.

Minnesota Twins: Six Things Fans Won't Miss About the Metrodome


After 28 long seasons spent cooped up inside a big Teflon bubble the Minnesota Twins will be moving to an exquisite new ballpark for the 2010 season.

Target Field figures to provide the Twins with not only a much better playing environment, but also much larger revenue streams.

The club has already made the most of the revenue increase by bumping the payroll nearly $40 million over last year’s Opening Day payroll. The on-field results, however, are a wait in progress.

The move will obviously have a large impact on the ballclub, but also on the fans that have trekked to the Metrodome for the better part of three decades.

With that in mind, here are six things that fans won’t miss about the Metrodome.

Also available in slide-show format at BleacherReport.com.


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Denard Span, Minnesota Twins Agree to Five-Year, $16.5 Million Deal

 The Minnesota Twins locked up a talented 26-year-old today, but not the one that fans have been expecting.

While the club still hasn’t finalized a deal with Joe Mauer, they have ensured consistency in the outfield for the foreseeable future.

Joe Christensen of The Star Tribune tweeted today that the Twins and center fielder Denard Span have agreed to a five-year, $16.5 million contract.

The contract buys out the rest of Span’s team controlled seasons, but no free agent years. There is, however, a $9 million club option for a sixth year.

According to Kelsie Smith of The Pioneer Press, Span will earn $750,000 in 2010, $1 million in 2011, $3 million in 2012, $4.75 million in 2013, and $6.5 million in 2014. The club can also reportedly buy out Span’s $9 million option for 2015 for $500,000.

Span has been a revelation in the Minnesota lineup since joining the club as a replacement for an injured Michael Cuddyer in 2008.

In 2009, Span hit .311/.392/.415 with eight home runs, ten triples, 68 RBI, and 23 stolen bases as Minnesota’s primary leadoff hitter.

When he was selected in the first round of the 2002 amateur draft it was obvious the club envisioned him as the eventually successor to Torii Hunter in center field.

Unfortunately, Span’s success in the minor leagues wasn’t immediate. He posted solid—but not spectacular—numbers for five years between rookie ball and Triple A.

In fact, from 2003 to 2007, Span had posted a batting line of .281/.352/.341 while totally just seven home runs and never stealing more than 25 bases in a single season.

After the 2007 season, however, Span underwent LASIK eye surgery and immediately noticed a difference. Most notably that he felt he was able to tell which pitches not to chase.

In addition to increased vision heading into the 2008 campaign, Span also had increased motivation.

Torii Hunter, the man he’d be drafted to replace, had departed via free agency and the job—in theory—should have been Span's lose.

The front office, however, felt otherwise.

The dynamic—if not erratic—Carlos Gomez had been acquired as the key component of the Johan Santana trade with the New York Mets. Gomez was a superior defender to Span and much faster.

He did, however, have one small weakness; a complete and utter inability to get on-base.

His ability to reach base notwithstanding, the Twins—who otherwise had nothing at the big league level to show for the Santana trade—tossed Gomez into the mix for the starting center field job, despite his obvious need for more time in the minors.

Span showed up to Spring Training claiming he was ready to “battle” and had no intentions of being a forgotten outfielder. He lived up to his hype that spring and completely outplayed Gomez.

That fact made it all that much harder on Span when the club chose Gomez to be the club’s starting center fielder and sent Span back to Triple A.

Span responded by tearing the cover off the ball in Triple A. He posted an eye-popping .340/.434/.481 batting line with fifteen stolen bases in just 40 games.

Denard Span was proving the Twins had made the wrong choice.

When Cuddyer went down with an injury and Span was called up he continued doing his best to prove the doubters wrong.

He went on to hit .294/.387/.432 with six home runs, seven triples, 47 RBI, and eighteen stolen bases in 93 games whilst playing all over the outfield.

Span finished sixth in the rookie of the year voting and by season’s end had established himself as a cornerstone of the Twins outfield and one of the most dynamic leadoff hitters in the big leagues.

The five-year pact proves that the club is now well-aware of what they have in Denard Span. The offseason trade of Gomez didn’t hurt matters either.

Span’s defensive range and arm may not matchup to Gomez’s and, in all actuality, may be better suited for left field than center fielder, but he figures to hold down the position for the foreseeable future.

In all likelihood, Span will be a left fielder by the end of the deal with Aaron Hicks or Ben Revere taking his role in center field, but for the time being the job is all his.

Just the way it was meant to be.
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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Eddie Guardado Released by Washington. Is a Minnesota Homecoming Next?

Eddie Guardado, known largely for piling up strikeouts, was given his walking papers today.

The Washington Nationals released the veteran Southpaw after two less-than-stellar exhibition performances. Guardado posted an ERA of 18.00 in just two innings of work this spring.

Guardado, 39, is best-known for his tenure as closer for the Minnesota Twins.

He was christened “Everyday Eddie” by Twins fans and sportswriters for his willingness to take the ball whenever he was asked.

Guardado began his career as an unsuccessful starter way back in 1993 and was eventually transitioned to a full-time relief role after stints as an equally-unsuccessful spot starter.

He was a serviceable middle reliever for most of the ‘90s, but “Everyday Eddie” really hit his stride in the 2000s.

Guardado lopped nearly a full point off of his ERA and became an effective late-inning weapon.

During the 2001 season, Guardado seized the closer role from the struggling LaTroy Hawkins and never looked back.

From 2001 to 2003, “Everyday Eddie” notched 98 saves with a 3.11 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, an 11-9 record, and 197 strikeouts in 199.2 innings pitched.

Guardado left the Twins after the 2003 season to sign a big money contract with the Seattle Mariners.

In Guardado’s absence the Twins decided let a no-name middle-reliever they’d acquired from the San Francisco Giants in the infamous AJ Pierzynski trade have a run at the closer’s role.

That no-name middle-reliever was Joe Nathan, undoubtedly the greatest closer in club history.

Nathan, however, may be finished for the year—and perhaps his career—after the announcement that he has a torn ligament in his arm that may require Tommy John surgery.

As such, one has to wonder whether or not the front office will look to “Everyday Eddie” as a potential solution to the projected vacancy at the backend of the club’s bullpen.

There is certainly an emotional attachment to Guardado among Twins fans and players. After all, he ranks third on the club’s all-time saves list with 116 and is remembered as a big part of the club’s renaissance early in the early 2000s.

The front office is known for making decisions based on emotion rather than practicality (see: Jones, Jacque and LeCroy, Matt) and it isn’t entirely out of the question to worry it could happen again with Guardado.

The big difference here is that Guardado would—in theory—be expected to fill a major role. Jones and LeCroy were both brought back on minor league deals intended to give both a chance to jump-start their fledgling careers.

Guardado’s days as an effective late-inning weapon are clearly behind him.

He hasn’t posted an ERA under 4.15 or served as a full-time closer since 2006 with Seattle. That same season he lost the closer’s role to J.J. Putz and was jettisoned to Cincinnati in a mid-season trade.

He showed signs of returning to form in early 2008 with Texas when we went 3-3 with a 3.65 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP, and 23 holds. All the while Guardado held opponents to a stingy .220 batting average.

So impressive were those numbers that the Twins brought the lefty back to Minnesota prior to the August 31st trade deadline to bolster the bullpen down the stretch.

Guardado responded by going 1-1 with a 7.71 ERA, and a 2.00 WHIP over seven innings. The only ones basking in Guardado’s homecoming were opposing hitters who raked to the tune of a .387 batting average off of the lefty.

In a season that required the Twins and Chicago White Sox to play a 163rd game to determine the division winner, one has to think that had Guardado stayed in Texas, the Twins would be bringing an extra pennant to Target Field this season.

Long story short, Guardado is toast.

He posted an abysmal 4.46 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and a .267 BAA last season after returning to Texas. At season’s end, the Rangers—who had obviously been looking to catch lightning in a bottle for a second-time—wisely parted ways with Guardado.

Despite his history with the Twins, the club would be wise to follow the Ranger’s example and let “Everyday Eddie” ply his trade elsewhere.


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Nomar Hangs Up His Overly Adjusted Batting Gloves…As a Member of the Red Sox


Hey y'all, today is a special treat. This entry comes from my good friend and new contributor over at the official CheapSeatChronicles.com, DGobs.


This morning, Nomar Garciaparra signed a one-day minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox so that his dream of retiring in a Sox uniform could be realized. After GM Theo Epstein unveiled the signing at a press conference, Nomar took the mic and announced his retirement from Major League Baseball.

It's the end of an era.

Maybe not for your average baseball fan, but it is for the citizens of Red Sox Nation, and it certainly is for me.
You see, Nomar and I go way back. In fact, it's for this very reason that Jeremiah decided to pass the proverbial pen to me today, and why a random contributor is gracing the front pages of CSC. (Hi!) JG knew that Nomar's retirement would mean something to me, and figured I'd have a few things to say about it. And I do. Please bear with me as I get all misty-eyed and rambly.

Growing up, my favorite player on the Red Sox was John Valentin, mostly because he played shortstop like I did. When I heard that he was being shifted to 3rd to make room for this hotshot new guy with a weird name, I have to admit I was a little miffed. Who did this "Nomar" character think he was?!

As the years went by and my waning interest in baseball began to un-wane, I realized that Nomar was - for lack of a better term - freakin' awesome. He had this electric quality that was hard to describe... just the way he launched curving ropes up the middle, or leapt like a gazelle to throw to first after making what was inevitably an amazing snag at short... he was just really fun to watch. I was jealous of his skill with the glove, in awe of the bombs he could hit for such a skinny guy, amused by his OCD glove-pulling and toe-tapping routine at the plate, and, yes, a victim of a massive crush on him. To a 15-year-old girl obsessed with baseball, he was way beyond dreamy. I had a poster of him in my room that declared him "The Blessing" and "The Anti-Curse" (heh...), and for a few-week stretch during junior year of high school, I would start my day by stroking Poster Nomar's nose five times. (I'm weird. I'm okay with that.)

Nomar's prime was cut short when the Sports Illustrated Jinx struck, and after his wrist injury and ensuing rehab... well, he just wasn't the same. He couldn't hit the ball with the same laser intensity, he couldn't come through in the clutch like he used to, he became injury-plagued. And the predatory Boston media started creeping in. People started saying we should trade him. Amidst the encroaching dark clouds, I kindled my flame of hope and love (how's that for imagery?), declaring to any naysayer I came across that I would gladly whup some GM ass if anyone laid a finger on my Nomar. I naively thought he was untouchable. I mean, at the time, he and Pedro Martinez were the Boston Red Sox. They were fan favorites. They couldn't possibly be traded... right?!

The day I found out Theo traded him to the Cubs... well, I'll let a vintage blog post speak for me on that one.

Basically, I was gutted. A shortstop-sized hole was left in my heart... and funnily enough, the same hole was left in the Red Sox. As Jeremiah wrote so eloquently a few months back, the team hasn't had a reliable starting shortstop since The Dreaded Trade. It's been a veritable revolving door out there at short since August 2004, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't shake my head, tut, and say, "told ya so" every time New Shortstop X doesn't pan out.

It's funny how being so enamored with a player can make you blind to the fact that your team might not be better off with him. Sure, the Sox have been weak in that position since Nomar left. But could Nomar himself have made things better? He really never was the same after getting plonked on the wrist by Al Effing Reyes, and it seemed like almost every other month I was hearing reports that he was injured again, on the DL again. He drifted from Chicago to Los Angeles, and then again to Oakland, and it was getting to the point where it seemed like teams were reluctant to give him - and his age, and his numerous injuries - a chance.

And while he may have faded a bit from some memories, I was still kindling that flame. I'm a proud owner of a Nomar Cubs shirt and a Nomar Dodgers shirt, and I even finagled some crappy tickets to a Sox-A's game last season in hopes that I'd get to see him play again. (He sat out the game I attended... figures.)

And you know, only now am I realizing what that little flame of hope was even for. I wanted to see Nomar back in a Sox jersey again, and I wanted to see him finish his career in Boston. If the Hall of Fame comes a-courtin', I want him to be wearing a blue cap with a red B. And I want to see a 5 hanging up among the other retired numbers over right field at Fenway someday.

Those last two may or may not happen, but at least I can gently snuff out my candle with a smile, knowing that Nomar ended his baseball career at home, with the Red Sox.

And I still think he's freakin' awesome.


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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Joe Nathan Injury: Minnesota Closer Tears Elbow Ligament, Twins Look to Plan B


Joe Nathan reportedly has a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

At best, it’s partially torn and he’ll be able to avoid surgery and pitch through the pain this season, albeit with a seriously diminished skill-set due to the injury.

At worst, it’s a complete tear and Nathan will have to decide whether or not to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Nathan, 35, is coming off a year in which he set the franchise-record for saves with 47 and posted a 2.10 ERA, a .932 WHIP, and earned a trip to his fourth All-Star Game.

He is also, however, coming off a year that ended with the site of Nathan imploding against the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series.

That implosion had fans and sportswriters alike calling for his head and demanding that the best closer in franchise history be jettisoned out of town.

This was a notion I completely disagreed with, especially when we later learned that Nathan had bone chips in his throwing elbow. He underwent a procedure last fall to remove the chips and was on track to be ready for Spring Training.

All seemed well through the winter as Nathan was throwing free and easy and reportedly felt great on the hill.

After his first performance this spring—a performance that lasted just two batters and roughly twenty pitches—Nathan felt pain in his surgically-repaired elbow and was pulled from the game for precautionary reasons.

It was initially believed to be some scar tissue that had broken loose. Nathan flew back to Minneapolis to have an MRI done. The results, however, were far more dire than Nathan or the Twins’ staff had anticipated.

The club has decided to give Nathan’s arm two to three weeks to allow the swelling and pain to die down before figuring out how to proceed.

In this morning’s clubhouse mini-press conference, manager Ron Gardenhire said that the final say regarding surgery would be totally Nathan’s decision.

As is often the case, the club will operate under the guise that Nathan is lost for the season and potentially longer. It is a serious blow to a club that has made such big strides this offseason to improve and build for a potential championship push.

Nathan is slated to make $11.25 million in each of the next two seasons and the club holds a $12.5 million option for the 2012 campaign.

The current list of in-house candidates for the closers role is headed big right-hander Jon Rauch who has some experience in the role from his time in Washington.

Following Rauch on the list are set-up men Pat Neshek and southpaw Jose Mijares.

Neshek is probably a long shot as he’s coming back from Tommy John surgery himself and figures to be eased back into late-inning situations.

Mijares reportedly showed up to camp in good shape this year and has made strides as a member of the club’s late-inning attack in recent years.

The Twins other late-inning specialists include Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier, neither of whom figures to legitimately play into the battle for closing duties.

A final dark horse option is Francisco Liriano.

Liriano is coming off a great stint in the Dominican Winter League and currently seems poised to win the fifth starter’s job out of Spring Training.

He does, however, have a number of incentives worked into his contract regarding work done in the bullpen. After last season’s collapse the club envisioned Liriano as a weapon out of the ‘pen and it’s entirely possible that the club could use him as a makeshift closer.

It’s a long shot, but there’s still a shot.

For now the club will monitor the health of Nathan and hope that things progress well in the coming weeks.

All the while, expect an intense battle to heat up for the seemingly-vacant closer role.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Is Mike Lowell an Option for the Minnesota Twins?


The Minnesota Twins had a great offseason.

Mike Lowell did not.

The Minnesota Twins revamped a previously punchless middle infield, added a big bat to an otherwise lackluster bench, retained an innings-eater for the rotation, and brought in a solid groundball specialist for the bullpen.

Mike Lowell watched the Red Sox sign another third baseman, was reportedly traded to the Texas Rangers (with Boston paying the bulk of his salary), was diagnosed with a torn ligament in his thumb, saw the proposed trade called off, and underwent thumb surgery.

It was clearly a tale of two very different winters for the Twins and Lowell, but the two sides could ultimately have a lot in common by the end of Spring Training.

The current favorite to win the third base job in Minnesota is defensive stalwart Nick Punto.

Although Punto is the real deal with the leather, he doesn’t bring much at the plate and would be best-served in a super utility role.

Right behind Punto on the depth chart is Brendan Harris who—despite signing a two-year, $3.2 million extension—offers no real upside on defense or with this bat.

The club has high hopes for prospect Danny Valencia to serve as the eventual successor at the hot corner, but few expect the 25-year-old to win the job out of Spring Training.

Enter Mike Lowell.

Lowell has no place in the Red Sox future plans.

He is currently being touted by the club as a potential backup at both corner infield positions and as a right-handed compliment to David Ortiz at designated hitter.

In reality, the Red Sox are likely doing their best to appear as though they aren’t desperate to trade the 2007 World Series Most Valuable Player.

Lowell will make $12 million this season and has a no-trade clause.

As such, we won’t be easy to trade and the Sox certainly don’t want to pay him $12 million to ride the pine all season.

The Sox were reportedly willing to pay $9 million of Lowell’s salary in the aborted trade with Texas. Obviously the club will have to eat a big portion of Lowell’s salary in any trade, but first things first, Lowell needs to prove he’s healthy.

Lowell took batting practice Monday for the first time since undergoing the aforementioned thumb surgery and reportedly felt great afterward.

His hitting, however, isn’t what has kept teams from beating down the door to acquire the 36-year-old. In fact, Lowell proved last season that he can still be a major offensive contributor.

Lowell posted a solid .290/.337/.474 line with 17 home runs and 73 RBI in 419 at-bats last season, despite lingering pain in his hip from surgery the previous offseason.

If inserted into a lineup that can get runners on in front of him consistently, Lowell could still be a big-time run producer.

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.

His offense figures to play well anywhere, but would prove especially valuable if inserted into a Twins lineup that figures to be very lefty-heavy in the power department.

Michael Cuddyer is the only right-handed hitter on the team who showed significant power last season by hitting 32 home runs. Cuddyer, however, is anything but a sure thing in the power department as his previous career highs were 24 in 2006 and 16 in 2007.

Delmon Young and J.J. Hardy both have significant power potential, but both have obstacles that could keep them from producing at the level at which they are capable.

Hardy is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2009 and figures to be more focused on getting on base rather than swinging for the fences.

Young is simply hoping to hit well enough to stave off the all-too-popular plan of moving designated hitter Jason Kubel to left field and giving Jim Thome the everyday job at DH.

Lowell would provide another reliable right-handed bat with some serious punch and a penchant for getting on base at a good clip.

Mike Lowell can still hit, period.

As I said, hitting isn’t what has kept teams from kicking the tires on the third-sacker.

The real questions surround his defense, or more accurately, his range. Lowell’s glove is still as slick as ever, but he struggled last season ranging after balls hit in the hole and up the line.

As a result, he posted the worst UZR/150 of his career, largely as a result of the aforementioned lingering effects of hip surgery.

Lowell is now more than a full year removed from that surgery and—barring an unforeseen injury—figures to leave Spring Training healthier than he has been in two seasons.

The Twins will see a lot of the Red Sox and, more specifically, Lowell in Florida this spring as both clubs make Fort Myers their home for Spring Training.

The two clubs square off seven times in March, giving Minnesota a front-row seat to see if Lowell has what it takes to play third base on an everyday basis in 2010.

If Lowell is healthy and has regained some of his range, he’d be a huge addition for Minnesota.

For the deal to work the Twins would need to be open to taking on more salary, something that wouldn’t initially seem likely.

The Twins' projected Opening Day payroll has already reached an all-time high of $96 million, an increase from $65 million a year ago.

That figure includes just base salaries for the projected 25-man roster and does not account for any incentives or bonuses.

The Twins probably don’t want to push that figure any higher, but—to add an impact bat like Lowell—it could be worth the investment; especially if that additional investment is largely subsidized by Boston.

Minnesota is currently favored by many to win the American League Central and is considered by many experts to be a dark horse candidate to win the World Series.

Adding a player of Lowell’s caliber could be what it takes to put the Twins over the top.

Lowell has plenty of postseason experience (and success) and is well-renowned as a positive presence in the clubhouse.

Ideally, Lowell would spend most of his time at third base, allowing Punto to shift to the aforementioned super utility role.

Additionally, he could get some starts at DH against tough lefties as he’s a career .288/.355/.494 hitter against southpaws, drastically better than both Thome and Kubel.

With the Twins expected to field arguably the best roster in decades, it only makes sense to go all-in and add what figures to be the missing component for a legitimate World Series run.


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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Minnesota Twins Part Ways with a Fan Favorite

The Twins have officially parted ways with one of the most popular figures of the last decade.

Don’t worry Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau aren’t going anywhere, for now anyway.

The Dome Dog, however, has been granted an outright release.

The Twins and Hormel—the company that makes Dome Dogs—released statements today regarding the split, which reportedly only pertains to hot dogs as Hormel is believed to be the supplier for other products at Target Field.

"Hormel and the Twins decided to part ways after a great…corporate relationship," said team spokesman Kevin Smith via e-mail.

The future of the Dome Dog—or some re-branded version of the Dome Dog—has been in limbo for more than a year.

In the end, it seems that the increased cost of sponsorships and advertisements at Target Field was the breaking point.

"After reviewing the change in cost for sponsorships at the new stadium, we decided to focus on different marketing initiatives in 2010," said Julie Craven, vice president of corporate communications at Hormel Foods.

The Dome Dog was a staple at the Metrodome since 2001 when the Twins partnered up with the local company based out of Austin, Minnesota.

Over the years Hormel played a major role in the Metrodome and not just by filling up hungry baseball fans. Hormel has also played a major role in numerous marketing campaigns and special deals for fans.

Hormel sponsored both the “Hormel Dollar-A-Dog Night” on Wednesdays and the “Hormel Hot Dog Row of Fame,” a nightly event that rewarded one lucky row of fans with free hot dogs.

It was on one of the aforementioned “Dollar-a-Dog Nights” that one of the more infamous events in recent memory took place.

Chuck Knoblauch returned to the Metrodome to play left field for the New York Yankees in 2001 and was showered in cheap—yet tasty—hot dogs from the stands.

The situation got so bad that both club’s managers and legendary public-address announcer Bob Casey had to beg the fans to stop so that the Twins wouldn’t be forced to forfeit the game.

Depending on who you ask, Dome Dogs were either one of the best things about the Metrodome or one of the worst.

No matter your opinion, it is undeniable that the Dome Dog has become just as much a part of watching a Twins game as cheering Joe Mauer and waving homer hankies in October.

As such—be it for taste or merely for nostalgia—the Dome Dog will be missed.

Luckily, Target Field will not be without the baseball staple for long as the organization has already lined up a new local vendor to fill the void the Dome Dog will leave behind.

"Hot dogs and baseball go together hand in glove,” Smith said. “We will be making an announcement in the weeks ahead about what the future of the hot dog is in Target Field."


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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2010 MLB Predictions: Ten Burning Questions for the Minnesota Twins



Spring has officially sprung for the Minnesota Twins.

Pitchers and catchers for the defending American League Champions reported to Fort Myers, Florida, for Spring Training on Sunday.

That means that the Twins’ incredible playoff run in 2009 is officially part of the past and it’s time to look forward to the season ahead.

The 2010 season figures to be an exciting campaign for a club that is definitely in transition.

After 28 years, the Twins will be leaving the antiquated Metrodome for state-of-the-art Target Field.

Additionally, the club has—for the first time in recent memory—made some significant offseason additions to address some glaring weaknesses.

In doing so, the franchise gave a considerable boost to the usually diminutive payroll.

The payroll isn’t the only thing increasing in Minnesota this spring.

Expectations are also soaring as many are claiming the Twins could be a legitimate World Series contender this season.

While we won’t know if the Twins are championship caliber team until October, we can start addressing some concerns for the 2010 campaign today.

With no further ado, here are the ten biggest questions facing the Twins in 2010.





Can Carl Pavano stay healthy all season?

Carl Pavano is expected to be an innings-eater and veteran presence for Minnesota’s rotation this year, the same role he was brought in for late last season.

He excelled in the position for the club down the stretch and earned himself an encore performance with the Twins when he was offered arbitration last December.

Pavano, seeing a less-than-stellar market for free agents, accepted the offer and signed a one-year, $7 million deal to avoid arbitration.

Although Pavano, 34, was solid last season, going 14-12 with a 5.10 ERA in 199 1/3 innings, he is hardly a safe bet to stay healthy. Prior to last season Pavano spent four wasted years with the New York Yankees.

During his stint with the Yankees, Pavano pitched in just 26 games for a grand total of 145 2/3 innings over four years and missed the entire 2006 season with a collection of small injuries.

The Twins have depth if Pavano suddenly becomes susceptible to the injury bug once again, but with a $7 million price tag attached to his name the club is expecting a full, healthy season out of Pavano.




Who is the odd-man out in the rotation?

Assuming the aforementioned Pavano stays healthy, the Twins are in an enviable position this spring as the club currently has more starters than rotation spots.

The current list of potential starters includes: Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Pavano, all of whom figure to be locks for rotation spots.

That leaves a competition between the likes of Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak, Mike Maroth, and a smattering of other dark horse candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Liriano is coming off a very impressive showing in the Dominican Winter League and is considered the front-runner for the final slot with Perkins and Duensing following closely behind.

Perkins may face a rougher road than the other candidates following a litany of arm issues last season coupled with his since-resolved grievance.

Depending on whom you ask Perkins is either deep in management’s doghouse or in good standing with the club. Either way he’s got a steep hill to climb this spring.

One or more of the odd-men out could land a spot in the bullpen, but the others figure to start the season at Triple-A Rochester where the Red Wings would seemingly boast a top-flight rotation.





Is Francisco Liriano ready to be an ace again?

In 2006, Francisco Liriano was touted as the second-coming of incumbent Minnesota ace, Johan Santana.

By year’s end he’d gone under the knife for Tommy John surgery and his future was in doubt. Since then we’ve seen a lot of Jekyll and Hyde action from Liriano.

He missed all of 2007 recuperating. He struggled out of the gates in 2008, then dominated in the minors and briefly in the big leagues, and finally struggled down the stretch.

In 2009, however, Liriano never got on track. He appeared out of shape and uncomfortable on the mound on Opening Day and was never able to right the ship during the season, eventually losing his spot in the rotation.

As such, Liriano re-dedicated himself this offseason and it showed in the Dominican Winter League.

Liriano was solid in the regular season, but did real damage in the playoffs.

He went 3-1 with a 0.49 ERA in seven postseason appearances for Leones del Escogido, including a one-hit, 10-strikeout, five-inning masterpiece in the championship game. All the while he recorded 47 strikeouts and just five walks in 37 innings.

Scouts say that he looks just as nasty on the mound as he did in 2006 and appears to have found the confidence and swagger that played such a large role in his previous success.

If Liriano can translate his DWL success to the big leagues and become an ace again, the Twins rotation should be a force to be reckoned with this season.





Can J.J. Hardy bounce back?

J.J. Hardy was acquired in November with two goals in mind.

First and foremost, he figures to finally solidify the revolving door situation the Twins have been dealing with at shortstop in recent years.

Secondly, he figures to help add some serious right-handed punch to a lineup that is otherwise very lefty-heavy in the power department. Michael Cuddyer is the only right-handed hitter in the lineup to have hit more than fifteen long balls last season.

Hardy is no sure thing as he is coming off a very rough 2009 that saw his numbers and confidence plummet. Things got so bad that Hardy was demoted to Triple-A for a brief stint in August.

Prior to last season’s struggles, the slugging shortstop had put together back-to-back seasons that inspired a lot of confidence. Hardy put up a cumulative batting line of .280/.333/.470 in 2007 and 2008 while averaging 25 home runs and 77 RBI.

His efforts in 2007—his first full-season as an everyday starter—led to an All-Star bid for the slick fielding shortstop.

Hardy figures to start the season hitting low in the lineup, but a return to form could propel Hardy up the lineup and the Twins to the top of the American League Central.

Another disastrous campaign, however, could derail both Hardy’s career and Minnesota’s postseason aspirations.





Will the Twins miss the Metrodome?

The Minnesota Twins spent 28 long years playing in the albatross that is the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

The Metrodome is an awful venue for baseball, both for players and spectators. There is absolutely no denying that fact.

The Metrodome did, however, offer a significant home field advantage for Minnesota.

Whether it was another club losing flyballs in the white roof, misplaying a ball off the baggy in right field, or simply being overwhelmed by the noise, the Metrodome certainly equated to home field advantage.

Target Field figures to be a drastically better place to watch a game and certainly a better park to play in for the club. If nothing else, getting off the turf should add a year or two to the career of everyone on the 25 man roster.

The weather, a non-factor for the better part of three decades, will suddenly have a major impact on game play. The field itself will be just as foreign to the Twins as any out of town visitor for at least half a season.

The capacity has been cut drastically and with it much of the noise and intimidation factor has evaporated.

The Twins figure to enjoy the new stadium for its aesthetics and the increased revenue streams, but there’s a very real chance that in early April or in a postseason clash, they’ll miss the cozy confines of the Metrodome.





Can Delmon Young reach his potential?

Delmon Young is just that, young.

Despite being just 24-years-old it feels like Young has already been around forever. Most of this is because of the considerable hype he received as baseball’s top prospect during his tenure with Tampa Bay.

Thus far, Young has yet to live up to the hype and is widely believed to be on his last legs with Minnesota as a result.

Last year, Young dealt with plenty of adversity on the field (limited playing time) and off the field (the death of his mother) and struggled accordingly. Late in the season, however, something seemed to click.

With Justin Morneau’s back injury, Delmon Young became a fixture in the lineup and proceeded to go on a tear down the stretch. He hit a combined .353/.380/.576 over the season’s final three weeks and helped propel the club into the playoffs.

Young seems well aware that 2010 may be his last chance to prove he belongs as an everyday outfielder in the big leagues and he’s shown that awareness by dropping nearly 30 pounds this offseason.

He showed up to camp looking chiseled and appears to be in great shape—both physically and mentally—for the first time during his tenure with the club.

The question now becomes whether he can translate that preparation and late-season hot streak into legitimate results all season long.





Will there be enough at-bats for Thome?

Jim Thome is a future Hall of Famer.

With a resume that includes 564 home runs and a cumulative batting line of .277/.404/.557 there’s simply no doubting his abilities.

There is, however, cause to debate whether or not he’ll be able to garner enough at-bats with the Twins to make a significant impact this season.

The Twins already figure to have a very limited bench and Thome’s inability to play the field limits him to strictly pinch-hitting duties and the occasional spot start as a designated hitter.

There was some initial talk of using Thome as the primary DH against right-handed pitchers and moving the incumbent DH, Jason Kubel, to left field.

Doing so would give the Twins the best statistical lineup on the field, but would figure to negatively impact the growth of Young as an everyday player and would expose Kubel’s fragile knees to excessive wear and tear.

Thome is a beast when given ample at-bats, but the roster—as currently comprised—doesn’t figure to provide him with enough opportunities to do what he does best, crush the ball and get on base.

As great as it is to have a legitimate masher like Thome on the bench, one has to wonder if it was the right move given his inability to play the field will likely keep him from garnering consistent at-bats.





Does the club have enough depth?

Minnesota isn’t known for keeping a bench full of mashers like other clubs in the American League.

Manager Ron Gardenhire, perhaps using more of a National League mindset, generally employs a small legion of good glove, no bat types who offer positional flexibility above all else.

That’s a great system, in theory, but in practice is may leave the Twins in a bind this season. The club currently figures to have a four man bench. We already know that one of those four will be a backup catcher and the other will be the club’s backup DH, the aforementioned, Jim Thome.

That leaves two spots and a whole lot of needs.

Brendan Harris was locked up on a two-year deal, so he’s a lock for a bench role despite his less than impressive glove-work and his average-at-best offensive prowess.

The club could still use a legitimate fourth outfielder who can play center field to spell Denard Span.

The club missed out on the likes of Eric Byrnes, Willy Taveras, and Endy Chavez earlier this offseason. Any of those three would have made a fine fourth outfielder and come at a reasonable price.

The club has a small platoon of players vying for the fourth spot, none of whom is overly inspiring.

The biggest victim, however, may be second baseman Alexi Casilla who is out of options and would benefit from a year under the tutelage of Orlando Hudson, but likely doesn’t offer enough positional flexibility to make the club.





Can Michael Cuddyer repeat last year’s success?

Michael Cuddyer has been a mainstay in the Minnesota clubhouse for the better part of a decade.

In that time he’s bounced around the field and the lineup, but has proven that when he’s healthy, he can be a legitimate middle of the lineup force.

Last season Cuddyer hit .276/.342/.520 with 32 home runs and 94 RBI. It was a monster campaign that prompted the club to exercise his $10.5 million option for 2011.

The question becomes whether or not Cuddyer can replicate last season’s success in 2010. He is a career .270/.344/.457 hitter, so most of those averages were in line with his career marks.

His 2009 power spike, however, may not be as easy to duplicate.

Prior to going yard a career-high 32 times last season, Cuddyer had only hit more than 12 home runs in a season twice. He hit 24 long balls in 2006 and then followed it up with his then-second-best total of sixteen home runs in 2007.

Given that he’ll be 31-years old this season, it isn’t out of line to expect a regression in 2010 and another in 2011.

It is entirely possible that the Twins will regret not “selling high” on Cuddyer this offseason.





Can the Twins sign Mauer long-term?

The Minnesota Twins cannot win without Joe Mauer.

Period.

Joe Mauer is the face of the franchise and a local icon. He is also the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, a three-time batting champion, a three-time All-Star, a three-time Silver Slugger, and a two-time Gold Glove Award winner.

Oh yeah and he’ll be just 27-years old this season. Needless to say, he’s pretty good. He’s also currently set to be a free agent at season’s end.

The Twins have been working to sign Mauer to a long-term deal for most of the winter and— despite considerable hype—have yet to accomplish that feat.

The club is no doubt aware of Mauer’s importance both to the club’s chances in 2010 and the long-term success of the franchise.

If the club is unable to work out a long-term deal, Mauer would undoubtedly become the hottest commodity on the trade market and could reap a huge return for the club.

There is no way that the Twins could withstand the public backlash the club would receive if the biggest star since Kirby Puckett were allowed to simply walk away at season’s end.

Luckily for Twins fans, the common belief is that a deal will get done and is more a matter of when and not if.




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