Your place for Minnesota Twins and New Britain Rock Cats coverage, analysis and opinion.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Michael Cuddyer: The Value of Magic Tricks

Make no mistake, I like Michael Cuddyer. He seems like a great guy, what with the magic tricks, the good-natured smile and his reported clubhouse leadership. I was also on board with the Twins' decision to pick up his option for 2011, following his 2009 year. I believe that his month of September, 2009, alone, warranted that extension. Whether you like him or not, without his production and versatility down the home stretch after Justin Morneau broke his back, the Twins don't win the division (and then go on to lose to the Yankees). In 153 games, Cuddyer racked up 32 HRs, 94 RBIs, and was actually 6th in the American League in extra base hits. He deserved to have his option picked up, and he deserved a raise.

2010, however, was a different story. Cuddyer is coming off of a 2010 that sharply contrasted with his 2009 production. To be sure, he stayed healthy, playing in all but 5 games, and was versatile (remember the couple games at second base?), but his average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, RBIs and HRs all declined. And if it felt like Cuddyer grounded into many double plays, that's because he did: 26 times, which was second in the American League. Long story short, even though his statistics weren't awful, or even that far off compared to his average, it just didn't feel like he had a very good season at the plate.

What should we expect in 2011? Sure, he will be the vocal clubhouse leader, the soundbite-giver to the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press, and the judge of the Kangaroo Court, but we need more for $10.5 million. Make no mistake: Cuddyer is playing for a contract, and has indicated that he wants to finish his career in Minnesota. He needs to justify a raise, or even a wage freeze, with a career year, or face the consequence that, as a player who will be 33 on opening day 2012, his best years in terms of both production and dollars are behind him.

Some people are great at predicting contracts and the like. I'm not. But my gut feeling is that, unless Cuddyer replicates his 2009, the Twins are going to take a harder line in negotiations than we might expect. Though he may be the unofficial captain of this Team and its longest tenured member, $11 million is a lot of money to spend on a right fielder whose best years are long behind him, especially at a time when approximately 99 percent of Twins Territory would like to see substantial money invested in established starting pitching, and when there are multiple outfield prospects waiting at AA and AAA.

The Twins will offer Cuddyer a contract simply because he is an extremely likeable Minnesota Twin. Here are 2 scenarios: If Cuddyer comes close to 2009 numbers and stays healthy, I see the Twins and Cuddyer settling for 3 years and $27 million; if he continues to decline and proves that he cannot hit for much power any longer, 3 years and $18 million. I would love to see Cuddyer have the kind of year that makes the Twins want to resign him, but I have a sinking feeling that 2011 might be more similar to 2010, than to 2009.

Any thoughts? Am I way off-base on my contract predictions?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Following the Twins from Afar

Though I am a Minnesota native, I have been living in New England for over seven years. I try to make it back for at least one Twins game a year in Minnesota, but I have had good success traveling to stadiums within driving distance of my home in the suburbs of Hartford, Connecticut. Because this blog is titled "Twins Fan From Afar," I thought I would provide a quick recap of recent Twins-related travels:

In April, 2009, my wife and I took an ill-fated trip to Fenway Park at the beginning of the season, for the Twins only series there. It's close to a three hour drive to get to Boston from where I live, and that doesn't account for rush hour traffic, so we had to take time off of work to get there for the night game. As soon as we found our seats (which were good, but quite expensive), it began to pour. And then it rained some more. Everyone congregated in the closed-off concourse. Fenway is a fantastic stadium, but it was not built to accommodate 32,000 fans in the concourse area. One adjective to describe the atmosphere would be sweaty. The game was eventually cancelled and rescheduled for the next day, so we made it back to Connecticut at about 11 pm. We got up early and had to call our bosses to request another day off. After the three hour trek back to Fenway, the weather appeared to be cooperating. But the game itself was a major letdown. Scott Baker gave up 2-run homeruns in each of the first 3 innings; Mauer had not yet come off the disabled list to commence what would become one of the best seasons for a catcher in baseball history; and the game ended up being called for weather in the 7th inning. It was an expensive trip, including 12 total hours of driving, taking the "T" to get to Fenway, and eating and drinking, all for 7 innings of awful Twins baseball. But a trip to Fenway doesn't happen that often for me, so it was good to go. And, though it is small and cramped, it is a fantastic place to watch a game.

2010 was better. I made a Sunday trip with some work friends, one of whom is a Minnesota native, to Citi Field, home of the Mets, for some interleague action. The Twins again disappointed, and Scott Baker failed to make it through five innings, and gave up a mammoth homerun to Ike Davis that still may be traveling through parts of Flushing Meadows (I'm not just saying this because I don't like Scott Baker. This was seriously a mammoth homerun. Parker Hageman at TwinsCentric has video of Davis' swing on this pitch as "indicative of Baker's overall struggles with his fastball." Check it out - you have to scroll down a little: This was during a stretch in which the Twins were playing pretty bad baseball. But the stadium and food were great, and the fans and staff were very friendly, considering I was wearing Twins gear. Nothing like you would expect at Yankee Stadium.

In July, for my birthday, my wife surprised me with tickets to see the Twins and Orioles at Camden Yards. I grew up a huge Cal Ripken, Jr. fan, but had never seen a game in Baltimore. It ended up being a fantastic weekend. The park is located within walking distance of many great hotels and restaurants, so we simply left the car in the hotel lot for the weekend and walked everywhere. Because the Orioles were horrible, tickets were not hard to come by, and we ended up just a few rows above the Twins' dugout (aside: my wife used her persuasive feminine skills to get Joe Mauer to autograph my throwback baby blue #7 jersey, which I since have retired; I, on the other hand, was lucky to get Jose Mijares). This was during a stretch when Delmon Young was leading the team offensively, and Mauer was starting to make solid contact. The players were pretty good about signing for fans (Pavano especially, and Nick Punto, for what it's worth). We went to 2 games, and the clubs split. Even though Camden Yards is almost 20 years old, it looked brand new, and it's easy to see why it became the inspiration for most ballparks built since. The pictures are from our seats, which were purchased just a month before the game.

I made my first trip to Target Field for a game against the Rangers that the Twins won. I actually made it in there in February of 2010, and took some pictures, but this was my first game. I was worried that it would not live up to the hype, but I was so wrong. Twins fans are lucky to be able to watch games here for the next several decades.

So there is a summary of my recent Twins-related travels. One lesson I have learned is that, if it's in the first half of the season, try to avoid a Scott Baker game. I don't currently have tickets for any 2011 games, but will almost certainly make it for at least one game this season, whether at Target Field or somewhere closer to me.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


The older I've gotten, the more I have realized that sports rivalries are more for the fans and inhabitants of the cities, than for the athletes themselves. Really, they are perceived rivalries. Sure, you occasionally get a Yankees-Red Sox brawl, and might hear a lot of trash talking from players before a Vikings-Packers game, but I have come to believe that about 90 percent of a rivalry is simply posturing and good marketing (remember how packed the Dome used to be for the Twins-Brewers Border Battles?). And there's nothing wrong with that, it's just a fact of professional sports: we, the fans, care much more about the rivalry than do most of the actual players.

Then I read this article on ESPN today, "Jesse Crain Yet to Hear from Ex-Mate" (, and it made me feel good. On the one hand, it detailed that Justin Morneau works out in the offseason with White Sox player Mark Teahen, but that seems to be pretty common between players, based on offseason training programs and location. But it was interesting to hear that Morneau has yet to "congratulate" Jesse Crain on his lucrative contract.

Perhaps Morneau is the exception to what I believe are perceived, fan-driven rivalries. I really like to think that Morneau would have called had Crain signed out of the AL Central, but that the idea of any Twins player signing with our division rival got under Morneau's skin. The White Sox made some good moves during the offseason, and let us not forget that they won 88 games in 2010, not a bad total. The division race in 2011 looks like it's going to be a lot closer than last year, and I, for one, can't wait for the first time Crain has to face the heart of the Twins' lineup.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Contract

Welcome to the first post in my blog, Twins Fan From Afar. Yes, I have entered the 2000s. I don't have a Facebook or Myspace page, and I strongly prefer CDs to anything on an Ipod, but I finally decided to begin sharing my thoughts, mostly on the Minnesota Twins and Major League Ball, on the internet, after commenting on many, many Twins blogs and Star Tribune articles over the past several years.

I thought I might be just a bit late on my first subject, Joe Mauer's contract extension, but wouldn't you know, in nearly every article written about Mauer (even today's blurbs about his knee injection, see are comments attacking Mauer for his $183 million, and the Twins for agreeing to such an extension. I have about had it.

Although I agree at the outset that Mauer's on-the-field contributions probably won't be worth $23 million a year, especially when he's 34 and no longer catching, this is old news. Get over it. Those of us fans who are over 20 lived through a decade (roughly 1992-2000) of simply awful baseball. If you don't remember, let me remind you: the Saints regularly outdrew the Twins, Pat Mears and Todd Walker were supposed to become stars of the team, and an over-the-hill Dave Winfield was probably the biggest attraction of 1993. Even after the team became competitive in the 2000s, it, for whatever reason, was unable to re-sign free agents like Torii Hunter and Johan Santana. Then came Target Field.

I went there for a game against the Rangers last June (incidentally, the game that ended with Orlando and Denard colliding in shallow center), and it truly is the best place to watch a game. The bottom line is that Target Field revenue has allowed ownership to nearly double the payroll over what it was the last year at the Metrodome. Twins Fans Rejoiced.

And most rejoiced when the Hometown Hero signed an extension last year during Spring Training. This signing represented a sea change for the Twins, in years, dollars and philosophy. Make no mistake: Mauer is overpaid at $23 million a year, especially given his propensity for injury, and the fact that his power numbers significantly declined in 2010. That being said, on the basis of other, more recent contracts (see Howard, Ryan; Werth, Jason; Crawford, Carl), and what we all know what will happen sometime in 2011 or 2012 (Pujols, Albert), it is evident to me that Mauer was paid in line with what other stars get paid. And, even if you dislike the guy, and are one of the people that refer to him as "Slappy Joe" (how could you?), it is undisputed that he is a star. Between the batting titles, video game covers and shampoo commercials, our Joe is the face of the Twins, and one of the faces of MLB.

When Pujols signs for close to $30 million annually, and is getting paid that amount when he is 40, Mauer's $23 million might not look so bad. Mauer, as has been stated by all Star Tribune writers and Ron Gardenhire, has the athletic ability to play a corner infield or corner outfield position and, playing in the AL, can DH. For Pete's' sake, the guy is so versatile that he likely could be playing in the NFL now. Pujols, should he stay in the NL, will be locked in at first base long after his power numbers decline. At some point, he will be a .270 hitting, 20 HR 1B earning a record contract (no disrespect intended - Pujols is the best current player, of course, and I hope he restores the home run title to a non-juicer). For my money, and for the Twins' money, Mauer is more versatile, and I have no doubt he has the swing to bat over .300 until he is 40 and has 3,000 hits, and I have no doubt that he will have decent production along the way, even with the spacious dimensions of Target Field.

Bottom line: as of 2011, the going rate for a star player is over $20 million a year, and this off-season saw no shortage of long-term contracts. The Twins, with their new revenue stream, signed their star hometown player to the first large, long-term contract since I have been around. Even after a (somewhat) disappointing 2010, I have no doubt that, were Mauer to have hit the open market this winter, many teams would have offered him the years, and more money, than he contracted for. Don't get me wrong, this was no hometown discount, but it was the first in what I hope is a new ability for the Twins to sign deserving players to long-term, market rate contracts.