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.


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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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Joe Mauer Grows a Spring Training Beard


Simply awesome.

I think we can safely assume that this will be the must-have facial accessory for every dude [and the occasional, overly-Nordic chick] in Minnesota this spring.

I for one will be doing everything I can to muster some semblance of respectable facial hair to emulate his Mauerness and all his stubblicious glory.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Countdown to Spring Training: 1 Day

We made it. We finally made it.

After more than three months and over 100 days, baseball is back in roughly 15 hours.

It’s been a long and winding offseason full of blockbuster deals, major trades, retirements and plenty of spurned superstars.

Tomorrow all of that ends—except for the spurned superstars thing, sorry Johnny Damon—and the boys of summer return to the fields of spring to begin gearing up for another season in the sun.

I realize that games of any kind are still weeks away and meaningful games are at least a month and a half away, but just knowing that the players will be on the field tomorrow gives me a real sense of excitement and, oddly enough, of peace.

Baseball players belong on the field.

That sentiment segues pretty nicely into today’s Major League Moment, one of the most memorable moments of my life:

September 11, 2001 is a day that holds a huge place in the hearts and minds of anyone who was alive to witness the events unfold.

I’m not going to try and talk about the magnitude of the day or the events, because the entire thing is bigger than me and bigger than anything I can put into words. Plus anything I’d say only goes as far as me. Every person has their own view, their own thoughts, and their own opinions of what happened and why it happened that day.

What I want to talk about is what came after 9/11.

For more than a week, the country sat in a standstill. No one knew what to do beyond grieving and mourning.

But on September 21, 2001, the city of New York gathered together to show that life would go on after the attacks and that things could once again have some semblance of “normality.”

September 21, 2001 was my dad’s 39th birthday. My dad, for reasons I’ll never understand, is a Mets fan. So we sat together in our living room that night watching the first baseball in more than a week.

Our biggest connection has always been baseball and this game was a healing moment for both of us, even though we hadn’t been directly affected by the attacks.

It meant baseball was back. It meant that life, as we’d known it, was slowly coming back.

When Piazza stepped up in the eighth, the Braves were leading 2-1 and appeared to have the game in hand.

It was a game that the Braves wanted to win, but more so a game that New York needed to win.

The entire city of New York needed a win.

Piazza gave them that win when he hit a monster two-run homer to deep center field to put the club ahead.

I still get goosebumps every time I hear the crack off Piazza's bat. Just knowing how important that home run was, and still is, to so many people makes it all the more memorable.

Piazza’s long-ball wound up being the difference as the Mets took the game 3-2 to begin the long, and likely never-ending, healing process for New York.

Both teams proved that night that no matter what the cause for delay—be it a long, cold offseason or something far more serious and sinister—baseball players belong on the field.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Countdown to Spring Training: 2 Days

The countdown is reaching its final hours, my friends.

As I type this, we’re roughly 38 hours away from the first official day of Spring Training.

Most rosters are set at this point, although plenty of free agents—even the high profile types—are still available, but most figure to find jobs before Opening Day.

Not everyone will break camp with the big league club, however, and that leads right into today’s clip:

FYI: There is a little F-bomb action in today’s video, so if you’re watching it at work or around kids, I’m going to recommend some headphones!

Growing up, Bull Durham was one of my favorite baseball movies of all-time and to this day, I’d say I still pop the DVD in at least half a dozen times a year.

Baseball movies, just like the real game, are as much a part of the history and allure of the game itself.

Who among us doesn’t like to bust out their copy of Field of Dreams, Major League, or For Love of the Game this time of year to get jacked up for the season?

I generally spend all winter watching baseball movie after baseball movie to help get me through until Spring Training and this year was no different.

Although they aren’t real, baseball movies have much of the same lasting impact on fans as the real-deal.

Who doesn’t remember Roy Hobbs home run at the end of the The Natural just as clearly as they remember Bill Mazeroski’s at the end of the 1960 World Series?

Every time I see an image of Babe Ruth’s “called shot,” I immediately think of catcher Jake Taylor’s “called shot” at the end of Major League.

Baseball movies have left such a lasting impression that they have their own exhibit at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

This is the time of year to celebrate the movies and the game.

Heck, you’ve still got 38 hours to kill, why not watch the Bad News Bears series or something…

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Fits Like a Glove: Nick Punto Belongs at Third Base for the Minnesota Twins

Joe Crede ain’t coming back.

That’s the message that general manager Bill Smith relayed to fans and reporters at TwinsFest a few weeks ago and with mere days remaining before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, it’s pretty evident that he was serious.

That leaves the Twins with a hole at third base, yet again.

On paper there are four likely candidates headed into Spring Training.

First and foremost we have the recently-displaced Nick Punto who just lost his job at second base to newcomer, Orlando Hudson.

Punto is heading into the final guaranteed year of his deal with the club and—in a perfect world—would be best-served as a super utility player.

Second is Brendan Harris, most commonly referred to as “that other guy in the Delmon Young trade.”

Harris, who just signed an ill-advised two-year deal with the club, seems to be the frontrunner for the job in the eyes of most fans and sportswriters.

Third in line for the job is super prospect Danny Valencia who was just ranked as the sixth-best prospect in the Twins farm system by Baseball America.

It is largely believed that Valencia isn’t quite ready for the big leagues on either side of the ball and—at best—should be ready in time for September call-ups.

The fourth—and undoubtedly least-likely—option is light-hitting Matt Tolbert.

In his defense (pun intended), Tolbert is pretty slick with the glove. Based on popular defensive metrics his work at both third and short is very solid, but he doesn’t have nearly enough time at either position to legitimately be in the mix.

Those are the four most-likely candidates. Some believe prospects Luke Hughes and Miguel Jean could eventually surpass Valencia, but for now, neither figures to factor into the mix for 2010.

With that in mind, let’s start handicapping the race for the hot corner, starting with Danny Valencia.

Even if Valencia shows up and had a great spring, the club would be wise to keep him in Rochester until mid-to-late May to push back his arbitration by a year, much like the Rays and Brewers did with Evan Longoria and Ryan Braun, respectively.

As such, Valencia is probably out as an option straight out of Spring Training.

Matt Tolbert doesn’t figure to hit nearly enough to win the job and with both Punto and Harris making more than he is, it’s hardly justifiable to leave both men on the bench.

In all likelihood, Tolbert figures to start the year in the minors unless he quickly adapts to the outfield in Spring Training and latches on as a fifth outfielder.

That brings the fight for the hot corner down to the two original frontrunners, Punto and Harris.

Harris seems to be the favorite among sports writers and Twins fans, but the belief is that Punto will win the role out of Spring Training.

Many will jump to the conclusion that Punto is only in the lineup because of his bloated salary and manager Ron Gardenhire’s affection for the scrappy Italian.

In reality, Punto is simply the better option.

That statement may raise some hairs, as Nick Punto is a very divisive figure in Twins Territory.

Some view Punto with incredible disdain and see him as a black hole in the lineup and as that dude who didn’t know when to hit the brakes in the playoffs.

Others view him as a “scrappy sparkplug” in the Twins lineup and one of the few remaining “piranhas.”

Personally, I view Punto for exactly what he is: a great defensive ballplayer that belongs in the lineup.

Punto’s career Ultimate Zone Rating—or UZR/150—at third base is an astounding 19.9. That means that over the course of a season, Punto saves the Twins nearly twenty runs with his stellar glove work at the hot corner.

Brendan Harris, however, has a career UZR/150 of -19.6 at third base. Essentially he’s the exact opposite of Punto at the hot corner. Harris’ glove figures to cost the club nearly twenty runs a year.

Without even looking at what either man can do with the bat, I’ve got to wonder why anyone in their right mind would want Harris in the lineup on a regular basis.

His defense at second base (-6.8) and shortstop (-9.9) is also bad, so he’s not even an ideal utility player.

Had the club not just signed him to the aforementioned two-year deal, there is a very real chance he could have been cut after Spring Training in favor of Tolbert and his more impressive glove work.

Offensively, Harris clearly has more upside than Punto.

Harris is just 29-years old and Punto is 32-years old, so age is clearly on his side.

Additionally, Harris offers more power than Punto. Granted, that’s not saying much, there’s a pretty good chance that everyone reading this article could post a higher slugging percentage than Punto.

Over the past two years—the length of Harris’ tenure in Minnesota—Punto has posted an average line of .255/.340/.331 compared to Harris’ equally pedestrian .263/.319/.379.

The two have largely been equals during Harris’ time in Minnesota, but with Punto posting a higher on-base percentage and playing far better defense.

When it comes to Brendan Harris, we know what we’re getting. He is a .260 hitter with an awful glove and the ability to pop a dozen homers if given sufficient at-bats.

That’s who he is, nothing more, nothing less.

Nick Punto is a wild card. We’ve seen him get hot for stretches and we’ve seen his glove save numerous games.

In 2006, his hot play invoked the “Puntober” phenomenon that still exists to this day, albeit mostly in muted whispers.

Punto is undoubtedly best-served as a super utility player. He’s a very, very poor-man’s Chone Figgins.

Until Valencia is ready for the big leagues or Brendan Harris learns the fine art of fielding, however, Punto is our best option at third base.

Personally, I’ll take a glove that’ll save nearly twenty runs and a .340 on-base percentage out of the ninth-spot in the lineup any day of the week.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Countdown to Spring Training: 3 Days

Since today is Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d post a Major League Moment that I’ve been enamored with since childhood.

Much like yesterday’s video, today’s clip is another that all baseball fans have seen time and time again over the years.

To set the scene, it’s October 3, 1951 and it’s the ninth inning in the third game of a three-game playoff between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. At stake is the National League pennant.

The winner goes on to play the cross-town New York Yankees in the World Series and the loser goes home.

The play—in and of itself—is amazing, but when you factor in the numerous background details it becomes all the more historic.

For example:

  • In early August, the Giants trailed the Dodgers by as many as 13 ½ games
  • The Giants went on an absolute tear, winning 37 of their final 44 games to tie the Dodgers on the final day of the season and force the three-game playoff.
  • In the first game of the series Bobby Thomson hit a game-winning home run off of Ralph Branca, the same pitcher he took deep for this famous home run.

The situation couldn’t have been bigger or more dramatic as this was back before playoffs were the norm.

Prior to 1969 league pennants were awarded to the team with the best overall record and playoffs only occurred in the rare instances in which teams finished the regular season in a tie.

For me, personally, the most memorable part of the entire clip is Giants announcer Russ Hodges screaming “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!

Few moments can match the pure adulation and joy in Hodges voice, plus as a fan, you can tell he’s totally geeked-out by the whole thing…and that’s pretty freakin’ cool.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Countdown to Spring Training: 4 Days

Since Spring Training awaits us all at the end of this long President’s Day weekend, I wanted to post some sort of thematic video involving the Washington Nationals.

Unfortunately, the Nationals don’t exactly have a whole lot of “Major League Moments” to display.

I think the Nationals are definitely a team on the rise, however, and in a few years time the internet could be chockfull of awesome Nats videos.

Today, however, not so much.

As such, I’ve decided to roll with a clip of my favorite player of all-time and a man who is arguably the greatest to ever lace up a pair of cleats, Willie Mays:

Obviously, I wasn’t alive to see that play live.

Heck, my parents weren’t alive to see that catch.

Although it doesn’t change the fact that I’ve seen clips of that catch about ten million times in my life.

It’s become stock footage for every “best of” reel ever produced, much like Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, Jackie Robinson’s steal of home, and Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run in the 1960 World Series and a whole host of other classic moments.

Willie Mays is—in my opinion—the greatest center fielder of all-time and without a doubt one of the best hitters ever.

Growing up, my dad would always tell me stories about baseball, but more often than not they circled back to Mays. My dad got to see the end of Mays’ career and always regretted never getting to see Mays in his prime.

I fell into a similar situation with the likes of George Brett, Robin Yount, Nolan Ryan, Eddie Murray, and Dave Winfield among many others, so I know how he felt.

I inherited a lot of fandom for Mays from my father, but having watched hours upon hours of archival footage, I know it is respect and admiration that was well-warranted.

For my money, they don’t get better than Willie Mays.

And they probably never will.

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Pat Neshek Gets the Worst Fan Mail

Minnesota Twins reliever Pat Neshek is best-known for his funky sidearm delivery and his blog.

Fans haven’t seen much of his delivery of late as he hasn’t tossed a pitch since arm troubles and an eventual go’round with Tommy John Surgery sidelined the hurler early in the 2008 campaign.

Neshek is throwing again and expects to make a successful comeback this season.

His prognosis is good thus far and a healthy and effective Neshek would go a long way toward stabilizing the back-end of what figures to be a very good Minnesota bullpen this season.

Neshek feels confident he’ll be healthy and has been giving arm updates on his aforementioned blog.

What they’ll also find on the blog is this gem of a “fan letter” posted on Thursday:

Apparently Neshek—known for being very fan-friendly and a big advocate of autographs and autograph collecting—receives letters of this ilk with some regularity as he handled it with a sense of humor saying:

“For some reason I feel like he's lying about me being his favorite player!”

The worst part of it all is that the letter was probably written by one of the parasites in the memorabilia business posing as a child.

Autograph poachers are some of the worst people in the world. These are the creepy guys in their 40s that you see elbowing kids out of the way at baseball games to get six or seven autographs, all on fresh white baseballs.

They’re pretty recognizable as they all look like the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, albeit usually in a baseball t-shirt of some type.

Either way—whether it really is from a small child who should probably re-take “Keyboarding 101” next fall or some autograph poacher—this pretty much has to qualify as the worst piece of fan mail of all-time.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Countdown to Spring Training: 5 Days

It’s officially “Truck Day” for most Major League Baseball teams.

For those who don’t know what Truck Day is all about, it’s simply the day when teams load up their bats, balls, jockstraps and other supplies on trucks and ship it all down to Florida or Arizona for Spring Training.

The “tradition” started with the Red Sox, but has expanded in recent years to include a number of other teams.

Personally, it gets me even more pumped for the season knowing that trucks full of equipment are headed down south as I type this.

With that excitement, let’s take a look at today’s Major League Moment.

Today’s installment is another relatively recent moment, a flashback to Game Four of the 2006 American League Championship Series.

Watching this game I was a little disgruntled because, as a Twins fan, I was spending my first fall in Boston and had to bounce from sports bar to sports bar to even find baseball coverage of the Twins.

I watched the Twins get swept (read: slaughtered) by the Athletics in the ALDS after making a magical run and winning the AL Central pennant on the last day of the season.

The Tigers, who came sputtering into the playoffs—thus allowing the Twins to take the division—handled the punchless Yankees in the ALDS and went on to sweep the Athletics before falling to the Cardinals in the World Series.

The Athletics/Tigers series had all the drama of the previous Twins/Athletics series (read: none), but Magglio Ordonez’s clutch ninth inning walk-off home run was still incredibly memorable.

Authors Note: Watching Placido Polanco leap around like a geeked-out 12-year-old kid after the home run is undoubtedly my favorite part of the entire thing.

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It Hurts So Good: Slugger Frank Thomas Set To Retire

Frank Thomas is officially hanging up the cleats.

Thomas, 41, has scheduled a Friday press conference in Chicago—where he spent 16 of his 19 big league seasons—to announce his retirement.

Thomas, one of the most feared sluggers of the past twenty years, will leave the game ranked 18th all-time with 521 home runs, 1,704 RBI, and an impressive .301/.419/.555 batting line.

Known as “The Big Hurt,” Thomas spent most of his career with the Chicago White Sox where he won back-to-back American League Most Valuable Player Awards in 1993 and 1994.

Thomas was undoubtedly one of the top hitters of the 1990s. Throughout the decade he posted an astounding .320/.440/.573 batting line and totalled 301 home runs and 1,040 RBI.

All the while, Thomas was one of the game’s most vocal players in regards to steroids and was the only active player to have spoken to Senator George Mitchell during his investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Additionally, Thomas—a five-time All-Star—earned a World Series ring during his last year with the club in 2005.

After a nasty breakup with the White Sox, Thomas landed a one-year, incentive-laden deal with the Oakland Athletics and did everything in his power to prove he still had something in the tank.

Thomas went on to finish fourth in the AL MVP voting that year after posting an outstanding .270/.381/.545 batting line and totaling 39 home runs and 114 RBI.

He parlayed that big year into a two-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. Although Thomas had a very solid first season with the club in 2007 hitting .277/.377/.480 with 26 home runs and 95 RBI, he slumped in his second-year with the club and was released.

He re-signed with Oakland, but injuries kept him from garnering the same success.

Following the 2008 season, Thomas was unable to find a suitor for his services and sat out the entire 2009 season.

After a year away from the game, Thomas realizes his career is done.

As such, he leaves the game with an impressive dossier that has Hall of Fame written all over it, the only question is whether or not the voters will feel the same way.

Thomas spent 1,311 games at designated hitter and just 971 at first base throughout his career.

Unlike Edgar Martinez—who is believed to be the first real test case for the Hall of Fame regarding designated hitters—Thomas had plenty of success at first base. He won both of his MVP awards while playing in the field and only later in his career, as injuries took their toll, did he become a full-time DH.

On paper, looking solely at the numbers, Thomas is a no-doubt, first-ballot Hall of Famer. Whether or not the Baseball Writers Association of America will see it the same way is another question altogether.

As far as I’m concerned, “The Big Hurt” has my vote.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Countdown to Spring Training: 6 Days

With less than a week until Spring Training kicks off, I’m getting pretty excited.

I hit up StubHub and snagged some super cheap (read: $16.50) Red Sox/Twins tickets for this coming May at Fenway and I can tell that I’ve certainly got baseball fever as I continue scouring through other ticket options.

Who needs groceries when you can get baseball tickets, right?!

Anyway, I figure after picking on the Red Sox earlier this week with the Boone home run—and receiving an ample amount of flack for it—the only fair thing to do is attack another fan-base that has suffered through numerous close calls and heartaches over the years.

As such, today we’re taking a peek at one of the darker days in recent memory for Chicago Cubs fans, Game Six of the 2003 National League Championship Series:

I remember watching “The Bartman Game,” in my dorm room sophomore year. It was a heckuva game and I really thought the Cubs had the game under control and a trip to the World Series in hand.

Heading into the eighth inning, the Cubbies were cruising. The club was up 3-0 and Mark Prior, the team ace, was on the hill and absolutely dominating the Marlins offense.

Marlins’ leadoff man, Juan Pierre ripped a one-out double to left field and that brought up second baseman, Luis Castillo.

Castillo sent a lazy pop up into foul territory and Cubs left fielder Moises Alou went up to get it, but it deflected off the hands of a fan by the name of Steve Bartman. Alou was enraged and called for fan interference, but the umpires made the right call and the play stood as a foul.

Prior eventually walked Castillo and then—with the help of a costly error by shortstop Alex Gonzalez—went into self-destruct mode. The Marlins rallied to score eight runs in the inning and went on to win the game by the score of 8-3.

The Marlins came back out the next night and beat the Cubs again 9-6 to move onto the World Series where they beat the Yankees en route to the club’s second World Championship.

A lot of people—mostly delusional Cubs fans—blame Bartman for the Cubs losing that game, but the reality of the situation is that the Cubs still lost the game.

Chicago was up 3-0 with one out in the eighth inning when Bartman deflected a ball that was in foul territory. The Cubs couldn’t hold their three run lead and then proceeded to choke again the next night with the team’s second-best pitcher, Kerry Wood on the mound.

Steve Bartman didn’t cost the Cubs a shot at the World Series, the Cubs shot themselves in the foot by letting the Marlins climb back into Game Six and then by rolling over and dying in Game Seven.

Either way, it certainly is a memorable Major League Moment.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Countdown to Spring Training: 7 Days

For today’s entry on the countdown, I’ve decided to veer away from my hometown team and—for the most part—away from my era.

Today’s Major League Moment is Kirk Gibson’s iconic pinch-hit home run off of Dennis Eckersley in the 1988 World Series.

For those who don’t know, Gibson was in pretty rough shape—as you’ll see in the video—and it was ballsy of him just to go into the game, it would be his only at-bat of the World Series.

Making it even more impressive is the way he fought off a gamer like Eckersley in the at-bat.

Back before Eck was a goofball announcer for the Red Sox, he was a bad-ass closer who was arguably the best reliever in the game at the time. With the stage set, here’s today’s Major League Moment:

I was just four at the time and don’t really remember any of this, but I grew up seeing replays of it over and over and knew it was something special.

It wasn’t until I was much older and realized the magnitude of that home run and how Gibson had picked the club up on his shoulders in a way that every player aspires to do.

The Dodgers were underdogs throughout their entire playoff run in 1988, especially the vaunted Athletics, but Gibson helped get the club over the hump with the first win and the momentum carried them the rest of the way to the World Series win.

It is undoubtedly one of the most historic moments in World Series history and one that forever defined Kirk Gibson’s career.

To see the full at-bat with all of Vin Scully’s legendary commentary CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Countdown to Spring Training: 8 Days

Today the fine folks at Yahoo! Sports opened up their vastly-improved fantasy baseball game and that means only one thing, live baseball is right around the corner.

Let’s get right back into the countdown with another Major League Moment.

As a Minnesota Twins fan it seems only right that one of the biggest moments in club history should be included in the countdown.

Personally, I cannot think of a bigger moment than last year’s play-in game between the Twins and the Detroit Tigers, or simply “Game 163.”

As a Twins fan living in Boston, this game didn’t have much appeal to the masses. In fact, it was quite a struggle to even find the game.

Two days prior to this epic clash, I’d wasted an entire Sunday bouncing from sports bar to sports bar looking for a place that was playing the must-win game for the Twins on the season’s final day and failed miserably.

I did, however, manage to find a bar that was playing this game and by the late innings the entire bar was completely enthralled by the game.

As luck would have it there were an inordinately high number of displaced Tigers fans in the bar on the same night, so there was plenty of back and forth between our two sides with many of the otherwise-neutral members of Red Sox Nation choosing sides as the game wore on.

When Alexi Casilla laced that final shot in right field and Carlos Gomez came barreling into home plate the place went nuts. It was awesome seeing so many fans, who otherwise wouldn’t have bothered to watch the game, getting so into a game that didn’t involve New York or Boston.

In the end, I exchanged some final barbs with the Tigers fans and they wished the Twins luck and I drank a long-distance victory brew for the Twinkies.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

(You know, unless you were actually there…)

Seven Suitors for Free Agent Second Baseman Felipe Lopez

It shouldn’t be like this.

For Felipe Lopez, coming off a career year, it simply shouldn’t be like this.

Lopez, 29, is coming off an incredible season in which he split time between Arizona and Milwaukee.

On the whole Lopez hit his way to an impressive line of .310/.383/.427 with nine homers and a career-best 38 doubles.

Although the numbers were better than his career averages of .269/.338/.400, it isn’t hard to believe that Lopez can continue to post good numbers going forward.

Since becoming a full-time player in 2005, the former first-round draft pick has put up a solid .281/.349/.407 line with five different clubs.

Those numbers get even better if you remove his abysmal 2007 campaign which was marred by constant shuffling in both the Washington Nationals lineup and defensive alignment.

For the same time period, with 2007 removed, his line is an even more remarkable .290/.359/.420.

Needless to say, when he is given a full-time job and a consistent spot in the lineup, he handles himself pretty well with the stick.

On the flipside of the coin is his defense.

While he’s not going to be confused for Placido Polanco or Chase Utley with the leather, he can certainly hold his own. Most statistical metrics ranked him as a top five defender at the keystone corner last season, despite his penchant for piling up errors.

That having been said, it’s February 9th and, according to the fine folks at, we’re roughly eight days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training.

For all his talents and the impressive season he just posted, Felipe Lopez is still a man without a team.

Here’s a look at six clubs who could still logically pursue the switch-hitting second sacker.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Countdown to Spring Training: 9 Days

We’re another day closer to Spring Training, so it’s time for another video to get your baseball-blood pumping.

The Yankees/Red Sox rivalry is one of the most well-known in all of sports.

The rivalry—which was, at best, simmering for much of the ‘80s and ‘90s—seemed to reach a boiling point in the past decade.

This is probably because ESPN did everything in its power to convince us that every game is a life or death exchange. Granted plenty of on-field dustups didn’t do much to dispel that notion.

Today’s moment comes from the 2003 American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Red Sox:

[Disclaimer: This isn't the actual video I was looking for, obviously, but the original video wouldn't allow me to embed the video. You can check out the original version by clicking HERE.]

I remember watching that series and, more specifically, that game from wire-to-wire, hoping and praying that the Red Sox would finally get the monkey off their back and rally past the Yankees.

As a Twins fan, I was already disgruntled with the Bronx Bombers for sending my boys back to Minnesota after the first round.

Plus, as a baseball fan, you want to see something special when you watch a game and the Sox finally getting passed the Yanks would have qualified.

Obviously it wasn’t meant to be as Boone crushed the first pitch Wakefield showed him into the seats.

In the end, the Yankees went on to lose the World Series to the upstart Florida Marlins who had rallied to get by another supposedly cursed franchise, the Chicago Cubs in what was an equally exciting NLCS.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Countdown to Spring Training: 10 Days

The countdown is officially on.

According to the first date that pitchers and catchers can report for Spring Training in February 17th.

As such, I’m going to provide my readers with a video featuring a Major League Moment or a clip from a baseball movie or whatever else gets the blood pumping for some live baseball.

So with no further ado, let’s get this thing started with a classic clip from the 1993 World Series:

I’ve actually written about this event once before. This was back in the early days of my blogging career, it was actually written for a long-since defunct baseball website.

In my mind, Carter’s walk-off home run is about as perfect of a baseball moment gets.

Carter was—for the most part—a career journeyman who, if not for this home run, would have otherwise become a minor footnote in baseball’s lengthy history.

Instead, with that one swing, Carter ensured that he’ll be remembered long after he’s gone. It was undoubtedly the biggest moment of his career and was one of the most memorable moments in recent World Series history.

As a fan who remembers watching it on TV and going nuts, it is etched in my mind as one of the first truly amazing feats I remember seeing. Carter got to live the moment all kids dream of while taking batting practice in their backyard and he showed that he wasn’t bigger than the moment in the way he hopped around the bases.

In a word, it was awesome.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Orlando Hudson, Minnesota Twins Agree on One-Year Deal

Twins fans, feel free to take a minute to pinch yourselves.

Shocking as it may seem the Twins actually signed free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson.

The deal is for one-year and is worth $5 million. There are no additional performance incentives, but reportedly the contract does contain various awards bonuses.

The contract also states that should Hudson rank as a Type A free agent after the 2010 season, the Twins cannot offer him arbitration.

Anyone who frequents Cheap Seat Chronicles has read me rant about general manager Bill Smith’s all-too quiet offseason a time or two this winter.

After Thursday night’s big move and the speculation that he’s closing in on an extension with Joe Mauer, I think maybe I’ll finally cut the guy some slack.

Hudson, 32, will take over as the club’s primary second baseman with Nick Punto shifting over to third base.

Punto is the better defender at this stage of his career, but is better suited defensively at third and will give way to Hudson who has played his entire career at the keystone corner.

Hudson, a four-time Gold Glove winner, may not be the defensive wizard he was earlier in his career. In fact, despite winning a Gold Glove last season, he posted a negative UZR/150 rating for the second year in a row.

While he holds a career UZR/150 of 2.6, he posted a -7.6 in 2008 and -3.7 in 2009.

Hudson will receive much of the same reputation-based praise for his defense that Orlando Cabrera received last year when he was one of the worst defensive shortstops in all of baseball.

Reputation goes a long way in baseball and Hudson will be no exception to the rule.

Despite what any metrics or scouts will say about his defense, he figures to be an adequate defender at second and gives the Twins a boost if for no other reason than keeping Brendan Harris and his dreadful glove on the bench.

Additionally, Hudson immediately becomes the top candidate for the two-hole in the lineup between speedy leadoff hitter Denard Span and Mauer, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player.

Hudson will provide an immediate upgrade offensively both at second base and in the lineup’s second spot.

In 2009, Twins second basemen ranked dead last in all of baseball when they combined to “hit” a putrid .209/.302/.267 with two home runs and 43 RBI.

By that same token, every player not-named Mauer who hit in the two-hole last year combined for an equally-uninspiring—yet markedly better—batting line of .232/.272/.326 with seven home runs and 66 RBI.

For his part Hudson hit .283/.357/.417 with nine home runs and 62 RBI last year.

Where I come from that’s a pretty drastic improvement no matter how you look at it.

I’d like to think that Smith read my last piece and assumed that his life was in danger if he didn’t make a move to lock up Hudson.

Whether or not I had an impact on the situation is irrelevant, what does matter is that the Twins just bumped themselves into the rarified air of World Series hopefuls.

Get ready Twins fans, it's going to be a good year.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Why the Minnesota Twins Need to Go All-In for Orlando Hudson

The Minnesota Twins currently have a good team.

Orlando Hudson could make them great.

As it stands right now—two full months before Opening Day—the Twins are the favorite in the American League Central.

The club is returning the majority of the same roster that roared back from seemingly-insurmountable odds to win the division a year ago.

The difference is that this time around, the club has a solid bullpen, an excellent shortstop, and a veteran starter from day one.

Last year, general manager Bill Smith scrambled to add Orlando Cabrera, Carl Pavano, Jon Rauch, and Ron Mahay down the stretch to improve the club.

Pavano and Rauch will return this year, but Cabrera has been replaced by the younger and, more athletic, J.J. Hardy, thanks to an offseason trade with Milwaukee.

Mahay’s presence is no longer needed thanks to the anticipated return of Pat Neshek and the signing of reliever Clay Condrey.

Additionally, at least one of the club’s three lefty starters, Brian Duensing, Francisco Liriano, and Glen Perkins figure to end up in the re-loaded bullpen.

The club addressed another issue by adding a major offensive threat to an otherwise unimposing bench with the recent signing of future Hall of Famer, Jim Thome.

There are also high hopes within the organization—and the club’s fanbase—that third base prospect Danny Valencia will be ready to join the team by midseason.

In addition to an improved Opening Day lineup is the news that oft-maligned outfielder Delmon Young will be reporting to camp in better shape than he’s been in his entire tenure with the club.

The scouting reports on the progress of the aforementioned Francisco Liriano in the Dominican Winter League have been nothing but glowing and there are rumblings around the league that we may see “vintage Liriano” this season.

Oh yeah, and it’s largely believed that reigning American League MVP, Joe Mauer is nearing a long-term extension with the club.

So where does Orlando Hudson figure into all of this?

Simply put, Hudson is the missing piece.

The Minnesota lineup figures to be an imposing one, but is currently lacking a legitimate number two hitter—and has been for the better part of a decade—and Hudson is the prototypical man to fill that hole.

Hudson has a career on-base percentage of .348 and is a switch-hitter, thus making him the ideal man to have slotted between speedy leadoff man, Denard Span and Mauer.

Hudson may be seeking more than the Twins are willing to spend, but with a new stadium—and new revenue streams—on the horizon, the club can afford to roll the dice and pay big for the O-Dog.

The Twins need to realize that even though the core of the club is young, the window to win a championship is small. On paper, 2010 projects to be one of the best shots the Twins will get.

The American League West has four teams that could legitimately take the division and all four figure to spend the majority of the season beating up on one another.

The American League East has three viable contenders in the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. Those three figure to do much of the same in-fighting as the clubs in the AL West.

The Twins already play in the most winnable division in the AL and have a chance to add an impact player that could really help the club separate themselves from the pack.

In three of the last four seasons the Twins have taken the division down to the final day of the season. In back-to-back years, the club has been forced to play an extra game to decide the division.

As a result of those late season playoff pushes, the club hasn’t fared well in the postseason.

Adding Hudson gives the offense an edge it hasn’t had in years and could allow the club to run away with the division and come into the playoffs rested and ready, not jet-lagged and battle-worn.

The Twins are the favorite in a winnable division without Hudson on the roster.

With Hudson, however, they have a legitimate shot at the pennant and a World Series.

The rotation is primed for a big year with Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey all taking big steps forward during the 2009 campaign.

Pavano will serve purpose a middle of the rotation innings-eater and the aforementioned Liriano just might return to his old form and give Minnesota a very tough rotation.

The bullpen is stocked with live arms and ready to roll. The bench has a legitimate late-game weapon. The heart of the lineup is one of the best in baseball.

The missing piece is Orlando Hudson.

It’s time for the Twins to go all-in and put the finishing touches on a championship-caliber team.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins Reach Ten-Year Extension (or Maybe Not)

Joe Mauer has made it clear that he’d love to stay with the Twins for the foreseeable future.

Earlier this afternoon WCCO-TV of Minneapolis/St. Paul reported that the ballclub had granted that wish by reaching a preliminary agree on a ten-year extension with the reigning American League MVP.

That claim was quickly refuted via Twitter by ESPN’s Buster Olney.

Olney followed up his initial tweet with a little nugget of hope, seemingly, keep Minnesotans from leaping into Lake Superior.

“The Twins remain optimistic that a deal will eventually get done, but a deal is not done yet.”

Mauer, 26, is coming off a career-year in which he set 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.

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.

He is owed $12.5 million in 2010 and it is believe he could make $20-$25 million on the open market next winter.

The usual suspects have been named as potential suitors for Mauer should he hit the market. Teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets all figure to be in the market for a catcher in the near future as well.

It was believed that if the Twins were unable to sign Mauer long-term the club would look to trade the three-time batting champion rather than let him walk via free agency.

Depending on which report you read, it would seem the Twins are doing their best to avoid any and all scenarios that involve Mauer taking his sweet swing anywhere but the Twin Cities.

Mauer was born and raised in St. Paul and most of his family and friends still reside in the area, so it seems like a perfect fit for both sides to work out a deal before the season begins to avoid any distractions.

Minnesota Inks Twins-Killer Jim Thome, but is he the Best Fit?

Jim Thome is a member of the Minnesota Twins.

Five years ago, those words would have me jumping up and down, screaming like a madman, and laying claim to the Twins’ inevitable American League pennant.

The problem is that five years is a long time.

Five years ago, Jim Thome was an absolute beast. He could be counted on for 40+ home runs a season, 100 RBI, and an on-base percentage north of .385 year-in and year-out.

Heck, five years ago he was still a pretty solid defensive first baseman.

Five years ago, the Twins were running out the likes of Matt LeCroy, Terry Tiffee, and Shannon Stewart at designated hitter.

All the while a young first baseman by the name of Justin Morneau was struggling to the tune of a .239/.304/.437 batting line in his first full-season of big league action.

Fast-forward five years and Thome, now 39-years old, doesn’t make a whole lot sense.

The Twins have one of baseball’s best designated hitters, Jason Kubel, firmly entrenched in the lineup and Justin Morneau overcame his early career struggles to become one of baseball’s best sluggers.

So where does Thome fit?

He figures to serve primarily as a left-handed bat off the bench and occasional DH against tough right-handers. In those situations Delmon Young—who historically struggles against righties—would ride the pine and Kubel would move to left field.

I can see the pros and cons of the situation.

Thome is a professional hitter who can still rake against right-handed pitching. Every closer in the American League Central is a righty. If you do the math, Thome is the guy you want at the dish late in a game.

The problem is that he doesn’t offer much beyond that scenario.

Thome is a great clubhouse presence, but he shouldn’t be taking at-bats away from Jason Kubel or Delmon Young.

Kubel proved last season he can flourish if given enough at-bats as a DH.

Young is entering a make or break season with the club and by all reports has done a lot of work this offseason to make the most of the 2010 campaign.

As such, I’ve got to wonder why the team didn’t take the money given to Thome and put it toward a position of need such as improving the infield or adding another right-handed power bat to the lineup.

The $1.5 million base salary Thome is set to earn wouldn’t have been enough to land prime targets Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez, but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt to have the extra money lying around.

Another option would have been to take that same $1.5 million and invest it in Jonny Gomes.

Gomes, 29, would have been a solid alternative to Thome. Gomes hits very well against left-handed pitching and would be a perfect complement to Kubel at DH and he would help break up a lineup that is very lefty-heavy.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m completely against the Twins bringing in Jim Thome, I just feel like there were some more versatile options available. Most of this stems from the fact that Thome is: a) old and b) a defensive non-entity.

At least we know for a fact that Jonny Gomes owns a baseball glove.

Thome hasn’t played in the field regularly since joining the White Sox prior to the 2006 season.

In fact, the last time Thome played the field at all was June 13, 2007 when Thome’s Sox played against his old club, the Phillies, in Philadelphia during an interleague game.

In the end, I can live with the Thome addition. That is assuming he doesn’t steal too many at-bats away from Young or Kubel over the course of the season.

Thome is a great clubhouse presence and a professional hitter. Sure, he’s old, left-handed, and hasn’t put on a baseball glove since the Bush administration, but he’s still a good addition.

Gomes would have given the Twins some much need right-handed pop without running the risk of stealing full-time at-bats and odds are he could have been had even cheaper, but that’s a non-issue now, because—five years too late or not—it finally happened.

Jim Thome is a member of the Minnesota Twins.

Edge Returns to WWE and Wins the 2010 Royal Rumble

Well, we all saw that one coming.

In a move that has to be described as “less than shocking,” WWE superstar Edge returned to action Sunday night in Atlanta and won the over-the-top rope battle royal to cash his ticket to WrestleMania 26.

The wrestling world has been abuzz regarding the Royal Rumble this year as, for the first time in years, there didn’t appear to be an odds-on favorite to win the Rumble.

That was, however, unless of course Edge could return in time.

For those who have forgotten, Edge went under the knife in July of last year to repair a torn Achilles tendon that he suffered in a match with Jeff Hardy.

The injury was reportedly expected to keep Edge out of action for several months, potentially as much as a year.

Fans of the WWE have grown skeptical regarding injury-timelines in recent years as we’ve been given the same grim diagnosis for superstars like Mr. Kennedy, John Cena, and Batista only to see them make “shocking” returns months ahead of schedule.

As such, numerous WWE fans were anticipating a possible Edge appearance in the Rumble and undoubtedly, if Edge returned he would likely win the match.

As expected the Rated-R Superstar entered the fray at number 29 and eliminated his former tag team partner Chris Jericho and then John Cena to win the Rumble for the first time in his decorated career.

Edge has a championship dossier that is matched by few, if any, superstars in the business today.

He is a twelve-time holder of the WWE World Tag Team Championship, a two-time WWE Tag Team Champion, a five-time Intercontinental Champion, a former WCW United States Champion, a five time WWE World Heavyweight Champion, a four time WWE Champion, the winner of the 2001 King of the Ring tournament, and the first-ever Money in the Bank ladder match winner.

Today Edge can add a new accolade to his already imposing credentials, winner of the 2010 Royal Rumble.

Where the WWE will take the angle from here is anyone’s guess.

Edge seemed to gain a very positive face reaction last night and the obvious matchup would be the Edge/Chris Jericho match that most of the internet wrestling community has been salivating over for nearly six months.

With the ridiculous Elimination Chamber pay-per-view only three weeks away, there is still time to put one of the World Titles on Jericho before WrestleMania and give a sufficient build-up for that main event.

As it stands now, Edge would be choosing between the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Undertaker—a feud we’ve seen a few too many times in recent years—or current WWE Champion, Sheamus.

Undertaker/Edge is undoubtedly entertaining, but both currently are faces and after back-to-back years of having the Rumble winner lose at WrestleMania, it seems far more likely that Edge will garner a win at Mania this year.

I just can’t foresee the WWE putting him over ‘Taker and ending “The Steak.”

Sheamus—if there is a God—won’t be the WWE Champion by WrestleMania.

I’ve made it clear a couple of times now, how I feel about Sheamus and the way he’s been crammed down our throats. Now that he’s got the gold, I can’t help but wonder if there’s ever been a world champion who was so universally ignored by the audience and—seemingly—the writing crew and front office as well.

When the dust finally settles, I’d anticipate that Jericho gets his mitts on one of the big gold belts between now and Mania and we get the match we’re all dying to see.