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

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Minnesota Twins and Autographs

I have to admit, being "afar" from the Twins wasn't the best thing this past weekend. I enjoyed reading all the posts re-capping Twinsfest, and also the Star Tribune coverage of some of the new players that made the trek for our fan fest. But I was a little jealous. Yes, other organizations have similar fan fests, but the Twins do it the right way. Going back a couple decades to when I was a kid, even the great Kirby Puckett would always make an appearance to sign autographs. No Twin was immune from the requirements that: 1) they travel from wherever great location they live to the cold, Minnesota tundra during one of the coldest times of year; and 2) that they converse with fans and play the role of "hero" for a weekend. It's a great tradition. And the money goes to charity. It's hard to complain.

I remember attending Twinsfest after the 1987 World Series. I would have been 6, I guess. I still have a Twins hat that Tony Olivia signed from that year. That next summer, Dan Gladden signed my baseball glove and a 1987 Topps card at an youth baseball clinic at the Maplewood YMCA. My dad also surprised me by mailing a 1987 Homer Hanky to Frank Viola (who was my baseball hero back then), who promptly signed it and sent back for me. It's still in a frame in my parents' house. Long story short, the Twins make it pretty easy for fans -- especially kids -- to get autographs and mingle with players.

Minnesota's sports hero signs for fans on the road

As an adult, I wouldn't say that I'm an autograph hound by any means. I don't really have a great place in my house to display sports memorabilia (no room for a man cave yet), so there's not much of a point in collecting stuff that will just have to go in storage. When possible, though, I have tried to take advantage of a couple opportunities for autographs. Back in 2009, my wife was able to get Joe Mauer to sign the back of my #7 baby blue throwback jersey when we were in Baltimore. I have a case for the jersey, so it just has to be ironed and put in there. I also have a goal of getting signed MLB baseballs from the "retired number" crew. So far, I have Puckett, Killebrew and Hrbek. So there's a little work to be done there.

Eventually, I imagine putting some of this stuff in a boy's room, or even a girl's room; she's probably predestined to be just as much a Twins fan as a boy would be, anyway. My goal for this April, when we will go to the final 2 games of the first series of the year at Camden Yards, is to get Justin Morneau to sign a Metrodome banner that I purchased from the Twins Pro Shop a couple years ago. I'm sure you can picture these -- they hung either outside the Dome on flag poles, or inside the concourses at the Dome. It's about 6 feet tall, has a full-body likeness of him swinging a bat on one side, and the Twins and Star Tribune logos on the other. I've been toting this thing every year to Camden Yards, but he has yet to play when I'm there. Maybe this year will be different.

I would never personally sell any autograph. I even have a Jose Mijares autographed regulation MLB baseball. Sadly, the ball might be worth more without Mijares' autograph. But it -- like my other autographed items -- is tied to a good memory, namely, a hot summer afternoon in Baltimore, when at least a dozen or so Twins players were nice enough to step out of the clubhouse into the 110 degree Inner Harbor heat and mingle with Twins fans for a few minutes, even though the weather was so awful that batting practice had been cancelled. Every little piece of memorabilia I own has a nice story behind it. The Twins may not win 95 games this year, but they are very, very good in the community.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sabermetrics and the Plain Meaning Rule

I'm an attorney by trade, and I spend a lot of time reading and analyzing state statutes and judicial decisions. This post is a legal-baseball hybrid. Caveat Emptor. Many jurisdictions in the United States have enacted the so-called "plain meaning rule." It's a rule of judicial interpretation intended to guide courts as they review state statutes in their analyses of cases. Particular rules differ from state to state, but a typical plain meaning rule might go something like this: "In the construction of statutes, words and phrases shall be construed according to the commonly approved usage of the language. Technical words and phrases shall be construed, understood and defined accordingly."

The overarching goal is to prevent courts from interpreting statutes in a bizarre fashion, and to ensure that laws are read and applied word-for-word. In theory, it sounds great. In application, it sometimes proves difficult. Contrary to what one may expect, legislative language is not always clear, and statutes sometimes may be susceptible to multiple, reasonable interpretations. Nonetheless, the plain meaning rule serves as a general guide to courts and individual judges as they attempt to uniformly apply laws to unique cases and sets of facts.

The plain meaning rule is applicable in the baseball context, as well. For the record, I think that some advanced stats are very useful. Wins Above Replacement is fantastic for comparing one player to another. And although I don't have a great understanding of Ultimate Zone Rating, I believe that anything that can help us to better understand and compare defensive stats is noteworthy. After all, a shortstop with no range who commits 7 errors over the course of the season is not necessarily better than a shortstop with fantastic range who commits 20 errors. Sabermetric stats have helped baseball fans, and front offices, to better understand the minutiae of the game.

But for my money, I think that batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage are still pretty great stats. The percentage of time that a player is on base has a substantial correlation with runs scored, which is how games are won. And sure, RBIs are largely a team statistic, but it's certainly hard to ignore a player that drives in 130 runs in a season, regardless of who bats in front of him. ERA still is a good, although imperfect, measure of a pitcher's effectiveness, as can be the average number of innings pitched per start. There's no heavy analysis needed for these stats: the players that hit more often and get on base more often, and the pitchers that allow fewer runs per innings and last longer into games. are generally more effective, and better players. Sure, we can -- and often should -- get more specific. But the "plain meaning" of these basic baseball stats is often enough for this fan.

Joe Mauer's 2009 season is a great example of why sabermetrics aren't always necessary. As a friend said to me yesterday when we were talking about Mauer, to over-staticize his 2009 season almost detracts from how great it was, and how great it looked in person (and on television). I think it's sufficient to cite the .365/.444/.587 slash line (1.031 OPS), 28 HR and 98 RBIs over 137 games primarily as a catcher, as well as the .996 fielding percentage and 26% caught stealing rate (though that, in itself, is somewhat dependent on the particular pitcher --- Carl Pavano I'm glaring at you). What more do we need to know about how great that season was? Using those stats only, we can accurately compare Mauer's 2009 season to the other historic seasons for MLB catchers. I don't need to know how much better Mauer played than a replacement level player, or even how much value the Twins got for the $12.5 million they paid him. And in any event, I think we saw the definition of "replacement" value in 2011 watching Drew Butera, Rene Rivera and Steve Holm, and then comparing that product -- with our eyes only -- to what Mauer brings to the table, even on a not-so-great day.

This post isn't intended to be an indictment on sabermetrics. To the contrary, advanced stats have their place, especially in front offices when teams need to compare similar players as they decide to whom, and under what provisions, to make a contract offer that could either be great for the team, or be an albatross for years to come. And I have no beef at all with fans and other bloggers that really get into sabermetrics. In fact, I like reading most if it, and have learned a lot along the way. I do, however, think that it's important to not forget to see the forest as we delve into the trees. A .300 batting average and .400 on-base percentage generally make for a pretty good player. Give me a team with 5 or 6 .300-hitters, and I'll show you a team that might have a chance in October. Give me a pitching rotation with a staff ERA under 4.00 and I'll show you a team that could dominate in the postseason. Sabermetrics can definitely advance the analysis of the game, but in some cases plain meaning is enough.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Draft Status of Potential 2013 Hall of Famers, and what this Means for the Twins in the 2012 Draft

The 2013 Hall of Fame vote is sure to be interesting. There are some very deserving players coming up for the first time, returning veterans like Jack Morris hoping to get elected before their 15 years runs out, and there are also many players that are suspected of using PEDs or steroids during their career. I've enjoyed reading NoDak Twins Fan's series on the minor leagues this week, and I'm also midway through Seth Stohs' wonderful Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook. It's a great read that I highly recommend, and I've already learned a lot about who the Twins have coming up through the system. Thinking about minor leaguers and the draft, and also about the fascinating 2013 Hall of Fame debate that's sure to heat up, got me wondering about where these HOF-eligible players were taken in the MLB draft. Are we going to see any kind of trend with respect to early round choices, or did some of these players fly under teams' radars? Here's a list of some of the players that are likely (at least on paper) to get votes next year. The links will take you to the list of players selected in that particular round.

Jack Morris: 5th round of 1976 draft; 98th overall.

Jeff Bagwell: 4th round of 1989 draft; 110th overall.

Lee Smith: 2nd round of 1975 draft; 28th overall.

Tim Raines: 5th round of 1977 draft; 106th overall.

Alan Trammell: 2nd round of 1976 draft; 26th overall.

Edgar Martinez: Signed by Seattle as amateur free agent in 1982.

Fred McGriff: 9th round of 1981 draft; 233rd overall.

Larry Walker: Signed by Expos as amateur free agent in 1984.

Mark McGwire: 1st round of 1984 draft; 10th overall.

Don Mattingly: 19th round of 1979 draft; 493rd overall.

Dale Murphy: 1st round of 1974 draft; 5th overall.

Rafael Palmeiro: 1st round of 1985 draft; 22nd overall.

Bernie Williams: Signed by Yankees as amateur free agent in 1985.

Barry Bonds: 1st round of 1985 draft; 6th overall.

Roger Clemens: 1st round of 1983 draft; 19th overall.

Mike Piazza: 62nd round of 1988 draft; 1,390 overall.

Sammy Sosa: Signed by Rangers as amateur free agent in 1985.

Curt Schilling: 2nd round of 1986 draft; 39th overall.

Craig Biggio: 1st round of 1987 draft; 22nd overall.

This is a really diverse list with some fantastic players. Can we extrapolate anything from this information? Well, yes and no. It's certainly an interesting list. Of the 19 players I listed, 6 were selected in the first round of the draft -- roughly one-third. 12 out of the 15 that went through the draft were selected between the 1st and 5th rounds; 4 were signed as amateur free agents, and thus never went through the draft at all. Finally, later rounds of the draft -- the 9th, 19th, and 62nd rounds -- were represented by McGriff, Mattingly and Piazza, respectively. None of the players listed were the #1 overall draft pick; Dale Murphy was the closest at 5th overall back in 1974.

Baseball statistics and player evaluation have definitely improved from the 1970s and 1980s. I'm curious, as the next few years pass, if we will see that HOF-type players were more often taken in the very early rounds of the draft than they were in previous eras -- in other words, if scouts and teams are better or more accurately able to recognize major league level talent now than they were a decade or two ago? The truth is that the draft is never going to be anything close to a science: player injuries, personality issues and unforeseen player talent ceilings have dramatic and long-lasting effects on a career, and no amount of stats or research can meaningfully predict such things.

So what does this mean for the Twins in 2012? As a result of a horrible 2011 season, and the departure of free agents that were offered arbitration, the Twins have the 2nd overall pick; the 32nd pick; the 42nd pick; the 64th pick; and the 73rd pick. 5 picks in the first 75 slots is pretty good. Are the Twins likely to draft a future Hall of Famer? No. I'd say that no team is likely to draft a Hall of Famer. Although I expect they will have good MLB careers, even recent #1 picks Bryce Harper and Steven Strasburg are far from sure things. But a player's draft status doesn't necessarily shape his destiny: just ask Mike Piazza, who was drafted in the very last round by the Dodgers, as one of the very last picks, as a favor to Piazza's father. Tommy Lasorda was friendly with Piazza's family, and actually is Mike's godfather. Future stars, therefore, can be drafted anywhere. Still, though, I'd rather bank on a solid player coming in the 2nd overall slot than in the 1,390th slot. The Twins have a rare opportunity to fill some holes in the minor leagues with top draft picks, and hopefully will select a few players that can move through the system quickly, and will make a difference at Target Field sooner, rather than later.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Do the Twins Place Too Much Emphasis on Player Personality?

One of the great things about the Twins' organization is that, if you are a fan and live within driving distance of the Twin Cities, you have many options throughout the year to meet the players. When I was in high school in 1997, Kirby Puckett and Al Newman came as part of the Twins' Caravan. I also remember seeing Chuck Knoblauch at the Twins' Pro Shop in Roseville during what would be his Rookie of the Year season in 1991. Back then, he was a nice, humble guy. In fact, I remember that the people in front of us had a newborn baby, and Knoblauch asked to hold the baby. How times changed for Knobbie. More recently, my wife and I attended the 2011 Justin Morneau Casino Night, which was a fundraiser for juvenile arthritis. Unlike the Pro Shop appearances, this event was not free, but, when all was said and done, it wasn't a whole lot more expensive than good tickets to a game at Target Field, parking, a few beers and some food. And, considering the Twins' 2011 on-the-field product, I probably fared better seeing that crew off-the-field. It seems like almost every player has their own charity stuff going on. There are plenty of opportunities for Twins' fans -- and they are mostly affordable opportunities -- to at least shake Denard Span's hand, or get a Joe Benson autograph on a Saturday morning in Roseville. It's a hallmark of the Twins' organization. And I can tell you firsthand from living in the New York and Boston media markets, that similar opportunities at similar price points are rare for Yankees and Red Sox fans. Good luck meeting David Ortiz, A-Rod or Derek Jeter, unless you are willing to fork over a lot of money.

When I attended last week's New Britain Rock Cats Hot Stove Luncheon, a comment made by Rock Cats' President & CEO Bill Dowling sort of surprised me. Dowling mentioned that when Terry Ryan or Bill Smith telephoned Dowling about players the Twins were thinking of calling up, one of the first questions was always, "what is the player like in the community?" In other words, as Dowling later elaborated, the front office was concerned with whether the player was active with the fans, was easy to deal with, and if he caused any trouble off the field. These are certainly valid inquiries, and it's something that many fans probably like to hear. But it got me thinking.

As long as I have been following the Twins, they have come across as a family-friendly organization. Almost as a rule, the players are always polite, and it's unusual to hear of a Twins player being arrested, or even suspected of illegal conduct. Clearly, along with the requisite baseball skills, the Twins' front office does have a concern that prospects will continue to represent the Twins in a positive light, and will not bring negative publicity to the team. Those are both laudable goals, and I can also understand that negative press would be bad for the bottom line.

But I wonder, over the years, which players the Twins have passed on (mostly via trade, I suppose), citing probable personality issues. Is it possible that, for example, in 2008, the organization could have made a trade for a jerk of a player that would have made the team just one game better, thus avoiding a Game 163 loss? Is it possible that the Twins have passed on a good draft pick because of personality issues? It's tough to imagine that, if it came down to it, the organization would be worried more about clubhouse culture and family friendliness than it would with the bottom line of putting a winning team on the field, but it's at least interesting.

The team is very quick to deal away perceived bad apples, such as Kyle Lohse and Kevin Slowey. Are they equally as quick to avoid dealing for players that are rough around the edges? For my money, anyway, I'd rather have a couple jerks on the team that can hit .300 and play good defense, than I would a team very nice young men who play "Twins style baseball," but can't turn on a major league fastball. Clubhouse culture is certainly important, and there's no denying that. But the Twins take a big risk by perhaps over-relying on a player's personality when it comes to drafting, calling up, and trading players. What do you think? Do the Twins over-emphasize being "nice guys," or can they in fact have it both ways?

Friday, January 20, 2012

New Britain Rock Cats 2012 Hot Stove Luncheon & Bill Smith

As I have mentioned before, living in Connecticut puts me just about 20 minutes or so from the home of the Twins' AA affiliate, the New Britain Rock Cats. One of my New Year's resolutions for this blog for 2012 was to provide more Rock Cats content. It makes sense, right? I'm no expert on the Twins' minor leaguers, but I do attend enough games to at least have some name recognition. I can only see the real Twins once or twice a year, so why not see tomorrow's stars today?

Yesterday I attended the Rock Cats' Hot Stove Luncheon, which was held at a hotel ballroom in central Connecticut. Apart from Rock Cat personnel, I would guess that there were probably around 300 people that attended. Many fans, and also some sponsors and members of the local New Britain community, comprised the crowd. I was most interested because former Twins' GM Bill Smith was the keynote speaker.

I wanted to provide you, my readers, with some quotes from Bill Smith regarding both the 2012 Rock Cats and Twins, as well as a couple interesting things that I picked up on. First off, Bill Smith was exactly the opposite of the gruff, sweaty, "no comment" personality that I had seen during some of his interviews when he was GM. He was affable, funny and extremely self-deprecating (he opened with a line to the effect of, when the team loses 99 games, someone has to be accountable -- and that person unfortunately was me). He mentioned that he never had any intention of leaving the Twins organization, and that he was happy in his new role, where he will actually be spending more time on player development. Now, onto the quotes:

On Miguel Sano: Has the "potential to be a Miguel Cabrera type player."

Joe Mauer: "100% healthy and intends to catch more than 120 games this season." He will also see time at first base and occasionally right field.

Justin Morneau: "We're confident he's going to be ready to go." Smith emphasized how detrimental concussions were, how teams are still learning more about them, and included Sidney Crosby as an example of how long-lasting and serious they can be.

Smith emphasised the Twins usage of the disabled list in 2011. I read it on another blog before, but the Twins lost 866 days to the disabled list. According to Smith, that translated into $28.8 million of salary. Pretty ridiculous.

On the Twins' performance last season: "Poor performance and lack of fundamental play" were the most frustrating aspects. This ties into later comments he made concerning player development at the AA level.

On AA call-ups Chris Parmelee and Joe Benson: They will get an opportunity to compete for a spot on the Twins opening day roster. Interestingly, Smith included Ben Revere with these two other players. Between what Terry Ryan has recently said about utilizing Trevor Pouffe in the outfield this season, and Smith's comments likening Revere to Parmelee and Benson, I'm starting to think that Revere may not be as likely to be starting in left field as I previously had thought, or, if he does, it may be in a platoon situation.

Rock Cats' manager Jeff Smith also spoke. He was a career minor leaguer, having played several seasons in New Britain. He said that his goal, aside from winning games, "is to have every player improve from game 1 to game 142." He suspected that, at some point in 2012, Rock Cats fans will see Aaron Hicks, and that Chris Herrmann and Logan Darnell would both be returning.

Jeff Smith's focus on player development was interesting for another reason. Bill Smith repeatedly said that, in the past several years, the Twins' best players all have come through New Britain (that makes sense, of course, as a matter of player progression). During his remarks, Bill Smith mentioned the instructional league, Class A Beloit, and AA Rock Cats as examples of organizations that prided themselves in player development. Not once during the 3 hour event was a single mention made of AAA Rochester. I'm reading between the lines a little here, but it makes some sense when you think about all the trouble the Twins have had with Rochester, and the fact that some of the guys coming up from AAA have not been fundamentally sound, or didn't seemed overly concerned with winning games. Bill Smith stated that call-ups from New Britain were prepared to play major league baseball. I think the negative implication from that statement, and the fact that Rochester was the only team never mentioned during the event, is that members of the organization do not believe that AAA is doing a good enough job developing players -- hence the house cleaning and promotion of Bruno to hitting coach.

In the end, this was a great event to attend. It was repeatedly emphasized that the Rock Cats and the Twins are both like families (for better or worse, I guess). And the event certainly had a family vibe to it. I'm still glad that Bill Smith got the axe as GM, but it's probably also fair to note that all the negative moves that fans criticized weren't done in a vacuum; Terry Ryan and the other staffers certainly had input. Hopefully he has more success in his new role.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ben Revere's 2012: Growth or Repetition?

If you read Twins Fan From Afar, even from time to time, it's probably no secret to you that I like Ben Revere. I've written about him a few times. Back in September, I wrote some "final thoughts" on Revere. Among other things, I opined that, the weak arm notwithstanding, I thought Revere had a better ceiling than being a fourth outfielder. I promised in that post to leave Revere alone for a few months. Now that it's 2012, I think it's appropriate to talk a little bit more about this speedy, but flawed player. From the way the Twins roster is shaping up, and unless there is a further trade, it appears that Revere will be starting in left field for the Twins in 2012. So it looks like he'll get that chance in 2012 to prove whether he can be a viable, longterm starting MLB outfielder.

A week ago, John Bonnes at Twins Geek had a fantastic write-up comparing the Twins' 2011 left fielder, Delmon Young, to Ben Revere, both offensively and defensively. If you by chance haven't read it, I highly recommend it. Advanced stats are a wonderful thing, and they enable us to compare Revere and Young, two players that couldn't be more dissimilar. Young has (or should have) power, and seemed awful patrolling left field; Revere, conversely, has speed and great range, but of course lacks a major league arm, and has not yet showed the plate discipline that he demostrated at the minor league levels. The short version of Bonnes' post is that, using the basic Sabermetric stats Runs Created, which estimates the number of runs a player contributes to his team offensively, and Ultimate Zone Rating, a defensive stat that measures runs in comparison to an average defender, Revere is "worth" 70 total runs, and Young is worth 65 for their 2011 seasons. In other words, Revere slightly out-edged Young. Not surprisingly, what Revere lacked in offense, he made up for on defense.

For 2012, I expect Revere's defense to be stellar in left field. Especially with a healthy Denard Span, it's tough to imagine many balls falling in front of, or behind, our left side of the outfield. Of course, Revere's speed may be more of an asset in center field, but I suspect that, over the course of 160 games, the weak arm might also be more of a liability in center field.

Still, though, I can see it now: There will be a game, maybe even 2 or 3, where the opposing team wins on a sacrifice fly to medium-deep left field -- a ball the depth of which many major league outfielders could comfortably throw home and, at the very least, make the play close. Revere, with the weak arm, will be unable to get the ball in, and the Twins will lose. It's bound to happen. The fan reaction, I imagine, will be decidedly against Revere. Star Tribune readers will suggest that they, themselves, could have made the throw. And maybe a couple would be correct. But that's the thing with Revere -- you take the good with the bad. Over the course of the season, will he make enough great catches and reach enough gap shots to cover for the disappointing arm? I'm willing to bet yes.

Revere's other great asset is speed on the basepaths. Batting in the #9 position, if Revere can bat around .275, which seems like a reasonable projection, and can walk at a greater rate than he did in 2011, he will be one of the best #9 hitters in the game. Revere stole 34 bases, and was caught 9 times, in 117 games last year, and was quoted as saying that he wants to steal 80 or 90 bases this upcoming season. It's a lofty goal, but, had he played the full season as a starter with the Twins last year, there's little doubt he would have stolen around 50 bases. For what he lacks in power, he can make up for with speed. It's worth noting, though, that Revere did have knee surgery at the end of September. Hopefully there was plenty of time for rehab, and there will be no lasting effects with respect to his great speed. For my money, there's little difference between a player -- especially a #9 hitter -- getting a walk or single, and then stealing second, than there is if that same player simply hit a double. Sure, it's different because stealing is no guarantee, and having a runner in motion affects the next batter, but the principle is the same: a runner in scoring position.

I'm guessing that Revere will likely continue to be a divisive player. No one will complain about the range and amazing catches, but it's fair to question the arm and (to date) the relative lack of plate discipline. But let's also not forget that Revere is just 23 years old. He's only faced some pitchers once or twice, and we all know that there's a big learning curve at the major league level. If, at the end of 2012, Revere's batting stats haven't improved at all, I'm willing to concede that he's not the prospect I think he is. For now, though, I'm willing to bet that, over the course of the season, we will begin to see a stat line that more closely resembles his batting stats from the minors. At the very least, I'm willing to give him a chance to prove the naysayers wrong.

Friday, January 13, 2012

2012 Twins Worst Possible Outcome: 81-81?

As I was driving to work this morning, I got to thinking about how the Twins likely would fare this year, now that most of the roster appears generally set. The general consensus among most bloggers, as well as myself, is that it is likely that the Twins will probably play about .500 baseball in 2012. The number of wins could increase or decrease significantly based on the health of players like Mauer and Morneau, as well as the health and consistency of the starting rotation. I think most would agree that, on paper at least, the 2012 Twins should win more games than the 2011 Twins, but probably less than the 2010 Twins. I don't think this looks like a playoff team now, not with the starting rotation, anyway.

What are the ramifications if, as I have sort of predicted, the Twins do have (roughly) a .500 season, going 81-81? I think the answer depends on your perspective. If you are simply a fan of the Twins, enjoy going to a couple games each season and watching sometimes after dinner on FSN, 81 wins is much better than 63 wins. It probably means that the team was somewhat competitive, and that certain players had very good years. Most likely, it was probably a fun team for you to watch, even if there were some cringeworthy points during the season. Personally, as a fan of the 2012 Twins -- but most importantly a fan of the organization -- I am worried about what a .500 season could do to the future of the club.

Let's imagine, first, that the Twins outperform expectations and win 90+ games. This likely means a few things have happened: our star players such as Mauer and Morneau remained mostly healthy and were valuable assets to the team; the team was in contention at the trade deadline and maybe made a few significant acquisitions (using that excess payroll money we all think they are holding onto) to put us over the hump; and, finally, that we fans can talk about playoff baseball again. Those are generally very good things, and Twins Territory is probably happy that this team exceeded its expectations. The only perceived negative I can think of is that there's still no way, unless this team is on a crazy hot streak in September, that I can imagine them beating the Yankees/Red Sox/Phillies teams in the playoffs.

Second, let's think about what another sub-80 win season would likely mean: the team wasn't really in contention during the season, even if they had a hot streak or two; our star players were either injured, or did not perform up to expectations; the "Twins' Way" of signing mostly pitch-to-contact arms has not worked for two consecutive years (actually, longer than that). These are negatives, of course. What about the positives? Well, if the team was not in contention for a second year in a row, some of the movable players (Span, Liriano, Baker?) may have been traded for what could be a good set of prospects upon which to build up the farm system, and the eventual Twins roster, for 2014 or 2015. Maybe it also means that fans can again argue about the decreased payroll?

Now, back to a .500 team. Many cities are accustomed to a team that rarely finishes above .500. The fans and the front office are used to it, and they plan accordingly. Tickets are easy to come by, and relatively cheap, but you know that you are watching a team that is not going to compete for a spot in October. You hang onto young players until you can't afford them, and probably trade many away for other young players. That's one way of doing business, and I suppose the model must work in some cities. In Minnesota, where we Twins fans are at least used to the team finishing above .500, we are now accustomed to sellouts, higher ticket prices, and a comparatively high payroll that allows the team to retain some star players. A .500 season scares me because it means that the team probably was in contention for a while and, as a result, opportunities could have been missed to trade away solid players for good prospects. Or, it might mean that the Twins bought at the deadline when they should have sold, perhaps giving up another top prospect to fill a perceived hole. Finally, if this team does win 81 games with a $100 million payroll, the front office can step in and say, "Hey, we lost 99 games last year and spent $115 million. And this year we won almost 20 more games and spent $15 million less. So for those of you that complain about decreasing payroll, it doesn't equate to winning ballgames." Long story short, 81 wins could breed more excuses and the status quo.

My point in this post isn't that I hope that the Twins have another losing season, or even that winning 81 games is necessarily all that bad. My overarching concern is that, based on the way things look now, there is a real chance that the Twins could miss significant opportunities to improve the organization for the future, instead opting to have an "OK" team that will mostly fill Target Field this summer. As one who is going to watch the games either way, I guess I would rather see another year of extremes than a $100 million, 81-win team in a weak division.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bud Selig Makes Joe Mauer Money -- Who Knew??

That's probably a very, very expensive burgundy tie that Bill Selig is wearing
I just read this report from ESPN, indicating that MLB owners are expected to offer Commissioner Bud Selig a contract extension at their annual meetings that start tomorrow. To me, the interesting thing wasn't the part about Selig being offered a contract extension. In fact, Selig is entirely uninteresting to me most of the time, and I'm ready for him to retire, but it's never a surprise if he decides to hang on for another few years.

What made my jaw drop was the statement that Selig's compensation "which includes the use of a private jet, is in excess of $22 million annually, according to a source." Sources are often inaccurate, but let's just assume for the sake of argument that Selig does earn $22 million annually, not counting the little benefit of not having to sit next to "commoners" on a plane. That's an absolute ton of money. I suppose I hadn't really given it too much thought, but had assumed that Selig made $3 or $5 million a year. I know that, for commissioners that do the job right, the duties are never-ending, ranging simply from being present at events all over the country and the world, to controlling seemingly mundane aspects of the game, such as rule changes.

If you're curious, NFL commish Roger Goodell took a pay cut to $1 this past season, but had earned $10.9 million. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman earned $7.5 million for the fiscal year ending in June, 2011, and NBA commissioner David Stern, whose salary has not been disclosed, is rumored to earn in excess of $10 million annually. So it seems like Selig outearns his NFL, NBA and NHL counterparts by at least 2-to-1. I guess that's not surprising, considering Selig's longevity. Those cost of living raises really added up!

I suppose you can analogize the commissioner of a professional sport to a CEO of an organization, if that makes you feel better. In my mind, though, I view Selig as a placeholder -- a temporary gatekeeper -- of the institution of baseball. I know he's an important executive, but I think his chief function is to ensure that play continues, and that certain aspects of the game either change, or do not change, as times evolve. But I guess it can be argued that he is just as important to the game as is any one player, so perhaps he should earn a salary equivalent to what a good player would earn.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Twins 2013 Pitching Rotation: Spots up for Grabs

I wrote a post last week that advocated signing Francisco Liriano to some sort of extension now -- buying low, essentially. Most of the comments that I received expressed agreement with the general idea of buying low on Liriano, if you could ($6-8 million a year, 2-3 years, and an incentive-laden deal was probably the general consensus), but also expressed the probability that Liriano and his agent would likely prefer to bank on Liriano having a better 2012 and testing out free agent market. That post, and the comments, got me thinking about the Twins' rotation for the 2013 season. Not that I'm at all comfortable with what we have going into 2012, but it's basically settled at this point that it's going to be Pavano, Liriano, Baker, Blackburn and Marquis. You can complain about it all you want, and I'll enjoy reading the complaints and agreeing with you, but it seems very unlikely that Terry Ryan will go after another free agent starter.

If that group is really the 2012 starting rotation, the 2013 rotation could be, and probably will be, quite different. Liriano, unless extended, will become a free agent after this upcoming season. If he pitches well (say, wins 15 games and has an ERA under 4.00), there will be some team, somewhere, that is willing to overpay for a wild, inconsistent lefty that occasionally is the best pitcher in the game and has thrown a no-hitter. My guess is that, if Liriano is successful in 2012, it will be his last season in Minnesota.

The Twins hold a $9.25 million club option for righty Scott Baker for the 2013 season. Baker is another confusing case. On the one hand, he seems very close to a #2 starter, and on the other hand, he has a propensity for giving up home runs and a history of injuries that have put him on the disabled list several times. If the Twins are lucky enough to get a full season of a healthy, productive Baker, I expect that they'll probably pick up that option, especially if they believe they are unlikely to hold on to Liriano long-term. But still, it's worth noting that Baker could become a free agent after the 2012 season if the Twins fail to pick up his option, so his future as a Twin is uncertain.

There is probably more certainty with the next few guys on this list, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano and Jason Marquis. I'll get Blackburn out of the way first, because the fact is that his contract, which runs through 2013 (with an $8 million club option for 2014), is not movable. Due to relatively serious injuries, and long periods of ineffective pitching, the Twins are stuck with Blackburn for the next couple seasons. The Twins are paying Carl Pavano $8.5 million in 2012, in the last year of a 2-year contract. On opening day 2013, Pavano would be 37. It's certainly possible that the Twins would try to keep Pavano for another year if he has a decent 2012 (I imagine the Twins' press release for that contract would contain the words "innings-eater," "veteran," and "leader" on several occasions), but it's also very possible to imagine his skill-set further deteriorating this upcoming season. And then there's Jason Marquis. I have every expectation that the 1-year, $3 million contract that he signed is viewed by the front office as a stop-gap between what the Twins have now, and what they hope to have in 2013 or 2014.

In the end, my guess is that by 2013, only 2 of the current 5 starters will be wearing Twins uniforms. I can imagine the Twins trying to keep one of either Baker or Liriano (by exercising Baker's option or extending Liriano), but not both. And we know that Nick Blackburn will be doing his thing for another couple years. Aside from that, Marquis and Pavano are aging veterans, and the Twins might be able to replace their production with younger, cheaper players.

We know that top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson is out for the 2012 season following Tommy John surgery, so who knows how fast or slow his recovery will be. I'm hopeful that he will rebound quickly. But it should be noted that there was no definite indication that he was ready for promotion to the big leagues. I'm not certain what role arm problems played in his 2011 stats, but it's worth noting that he was 3-8 with a 4.81 ERA in Rochester in 18 starts. Not exactly light-out. Liam Hendriks was a September call-up to an injury-depleted Twins team, and went 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA in 23 1/3 innings. It was encouraging that he struck out 16 while walking only 6. His promotion showed that he's definitely a top Twins prospect, and with another year of seasoning, it's easy to imagine him taking over a rotation spot in 2013. Still, though, I'm sure more time at AAA would benefit Hendriks and the Twins in the long-run. And then there are your Brian Duensings and Anthony Swarzaks. Will they make it as MLB starters, or be confined to lesser roles? My guess is that there will be at least one more opportunity for each.

In short, between aging veterans and players poised for free agency in the near future, your 2013 Twins pitching staff could only vaguely resemble its 2012 counterpart. I still hold out hope that, someday, the Twins might engage in a bidding war for an established pitcher that could become a #1 starter, but until that day comes, it's probably more prudent to take a look at the contracts, the options, and who we have in New Britain and Rochester waiting in the wings.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Make or Break Year: Justin Morneau

It feels strange to even suggest that 2012 could be a make or break year for a 30 year old with over 1,000 major league hits, 185 HR, and 4 All-Star appearances, but I struggle to find another term to describe exactly how important this season will be to Morneau and his family, the Twins, and their fans.

We're 5 full seasons removed from Morneau's MVP year. And that was a fantastic season for him -- 34 HR, 130 RBIs, and batting .321 to lead a great Twins team to the playoffs. Yes, that was probably Morneau's best season, but we also saw a fantastic half-season in 2010, when Justin was batting .345 with 18 HR and 56 RBIs until he suffered the infamous concussion in Toronto. And it's never been remotely the same since. Even looking at Morneau in interviews, you can just see that he doesn't sound or feel the same. He's lost some confidence, I'm sure, and it shows. And how could you not lose confidence or faith after what he has gone through?

2012 will be telling, certainly. Were I making the lineups, I wouldn't even have Morneau play the field for the first half of the season, if at all possible. Between Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit and Chris Parmelee (who I think, because of the Morneau injury and Parmelee's own good audition, could earn a spot on the opening day roster), the job can be done, well enough, by others, such that Morneau could or should just focus on hitting and health up until the All-Star break.

If Morneau can't DH and maintain his health enough to play 130 or so games, the realist in me thinks that 2012 is it for him. I really want to be positive about things, but it's increasingly difficult to ignore all the interviews, and the diminishing number of games played since 2008 (163; 135; 81; 69). Morneau could reach a point, and maybe he already has, where he is risking further permanent damage to himself by continuing to play baseball. The guy has a wife and young child now, so perhaps his priorities have shifted over the past couple years.

At the same time, though, Morneau was a gamer from 2005-2008, and he has that competitive fire that most other Twins players seem to lack, so you want to give him every last chance to succeed and to regain his health. The Twins drafted Morneau, brought him up through the farm system, and slowly but surely watched him become a star. He also had become one of the best defensive first basemen in the league. It's easy to say that Mauer, Doumit or Parmelee can play first base. Sure, they can physically occupy that position and make the majority of plays that come their way, but Morneau spent years working diligently to become not just "a hitter who plays first base," but a hitter and an elite first baseman. You can't just put a warm body on the correct part of the field and expect the same results over a 162 game season.

The Twins owe Morneau $14 million both in 2012 and 2013. If Morneau can't stay off the disabled list the majority of this season, I don't even know what to do. Do you quietly try to coax him to retire after 2012? Do you try to be optimistic for 2013 if things look at promising by the end of this season? Kirby Puckett was forced into retirement because he lost vision in an eye. It was very sad when it happened, and sudden, but this almost seems worse because it is so protracted. As a fan who likes to imagine that the Twins have infinite financial resources, I say you give Morneau every last opportunity through 2013, and at that point it's time to quit. The realist in me, however, realizes that $14 million out of a $100 million payroll is significant -- it's roughly the value of a decent free agent pitcher. If it looks like Morneau can't put it together by 2013, I suggest that the Twins put Morneau in some sort of front office position, as they did with Puckett, and immediately retire #33. He's a very personable, funny guy, and I'm sure he could do well as some sort of ambassador for Twins baseball.

But for now, I hope it doesn't come down to that. Gardy can do his best to manage Morneau's playing time, and hopefully we'll see in Spring Training that his bat looks better than it did last year. This upcoming April will be my 3rd consecutive year traveling to Camden Yards for the Twins' games against the Orioles. It's telling that the first year I went to Baltimore, Morneau wasn't even in the state, and last year he didn't emerge from the training room. Let's hope that 2012 will be different.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Crediting" Hall of Fame-Eligible Players

As I've mentioned before, I love this time of year because sportswriters vote for candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame. It's a crazy and imperfect process, and it usually angers me somewhat. I have enjoyed reading others' blog posts listing their ballots, and advocating both for and against the candidacy of suspected or "convicted" steroid users. In short, everyone has an opinion on each year's Hall of Fame candidates, and they always make for good reads.

Many of you probably know that Ted Williams gave up 3 full seasons of his professional baseball career -- 1943-1945 -- for military service. He was 24 when he left, and 27 when he resumed his career in 1946. Just for reference, in 1942, Williams got 186 hits and hit 36 home runs, and his slash line was .356/.499/.648. In 1946, Williams had another great year, accumulating 176 hits and 38 home runs, with a slash line of .342/.497/.667. He was voted MVP that year. Williams finished his career with 2,654 hits and 521 home runs. Of course, he was a first ballot hall of famer (93.38 percent), one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game, and the last player to bat .400.

It's interesting to think what his home run and hit totals would have been had he not lost those 3 prime years of his career to military service. In terms of hits, even a conservative estimate of 170 hits (lower than the average of his number of hits in 1942 and 1946), yields and extra 510 hits and pushes Williams over 3,000 for his career. Similarly, adding 35 home runs per year for those 3 missed seasons gives Williams 626. Of course, speculation like that involves a slippery slope. Who knows if Williams would have been hit in the head with a foul ball while in the on-deck circle, thus ending his baseball career? One the one hand, speculation and conjecture in favor of the player doesn't seem appropriate, but on the other hand, it seems right to at least think about it. Williams was an inner-circle hall of famer either way, but I think it's worth noting that his 3 years of military service that came during the prime of his career did impact his numbers. And after ballplayers leave us -- especially ballplayers of that generation -- that's what we look at.

What about Bert Blyleven? I, among others, have noted that he played several years of his career pitching for some not great teams. Others have noted that he played for some small market teams, and perhaps that's why he didn't make more All-Star teams or garner more national recognition during his playing days. I think there is probably some truth in those statements. But the implication of those statements is that, had Blyleven played on better teams, he would have won more games, and would have been a lock for the Hall of Fame upon his retirement. It's a dangerous road upon which to tread. Should we credit Blyleven with more wins, or at least more notoriety now, because he was a very good pitcher on some not very good teams? It doesn't seem right. But I think we should know about it.

And then there's my hero, Kirby Puckett. Forced to retire at age 35 after only 11 seasons in the major leagues, Puckett was one of the best and most consistent hitters of his time. More than that, he was a great center fielder in his prime, winning 6 Gold Gloves. He was also a 10-time All-Star. Kirby had a great final season in 1995, batting .314 with 23 HR and 99 RBIs, having made the switch to right field. His season ended somewhat prematurely when his jaw was broken by a Dennis Martinez fastball on September 28 of that year. He was 35 then, and still a very good player. After Puckett was diagnosed with glaucoma in early 1996, he retired. So that was it. A stellar 11 year career: 2,304 hits; 207 home runs; a career batting average of .318; oh yea, and those 2 World Series titles. Puckett, of course, was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, receiving 82.1 percent of the vote. Had Puckett simply retired because he got tired of baseball, his career was still Hall of Fame-worthy. But it's fair to acknowledge that the unfortunate circumstances of Puckett's health, and the fact that he was still playing good baseball, likely impacted the lens through which some voters viewed his candidacy. Is it fair to think that, had Kirby averaged only 140 hits through 5 more seasons of baseball (he would have continued at right field and likely ended as designated hitter), he would have become a member of the 3,000 hit club, and probably would have accumulated his 300th home run along the way? For me, it's fair to think about it and put it in writing. I'm not saying that Kirby definitely could have played until he was 40, but it's in the realm of possibility.

Rule 5 of the Baseball Writers Association of America Election Rules provides: "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the teams(s) on which the player played." It seems, on one hand, like a voter is confined to what happened on the field, but on the other hand, the rule also mentions integrity, character and sportsmanship -- all things that don't have a statistical measure. So clearly a voter can (well, maybe the voter must -- the rule uses the word "shall") look beyond a player's stats and career accolades. But how far beyond? I don't think it's fair to put an asterisk next to Ted Williams' official stat sheet in the Hall of Fame to note that he probably would have been a member of the 600 HR club, or that Kirby Puckett, even in decline, could have reached 3,000 hits, but I do think it's fair that if a player was on the cusp in some voters' minds -- and maybe Puckett was -- to cast a vote for that player partially based on what could have, or should have, been. This will be an interesting discussion when Ken Griffey, Jr. comes up for election. Sure, he's a first ballot hall of famer either way, but I'm curious what writers like Rob Neyer and Joe Posnanski will choose to mention about Griffey's awful injury history and the number of hits, home runs, and other milestones that Griffey's aggressive play cost him. What do you think? Should voters be restricted to what's on the page, or is there room for discretion?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Weekday Baseball: Best. Thing. Ever.

This morning in Hartford, Connecticut, it was 1 degree above zero after the windchill had been factored in. Yes, this is commonplace where I'm originally from in Minnesota, but it's pretty chilly as far as New England goes. We haven't had snow here since October, when we were without power for almost a week, so it hasn't felt exactly wintry until the past few days. In fact, our grass is still relatively green, which almost gives you the illusion that it's not January, and that baseball season isn't three long months away.

As I scraped my car off this morning, I thought of one of the best baseball quotes ever, from Rogers Hornsby: "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." I have always loved that quote. It reminds me of how much people love the game of baseball and its traditions, and also how players used to play simply for the love of the game (and earned a paycheck that wasn't 1,000 times larger than what the average guy made). It's kind of the way I felt this morning. I'm no Rogers Hornsby, but I think I await the new season in just the same way, and I bet many of you do, too. So today's post is about something that I'm looking forward to this upcoming baseball season.

Weekday Baseball. It might be the best thing ever invented. Not that I ever attend weekday games, living in central Connecticut, but I greatly enjoy following them on the computer. Nothing is better than a Thursday getaway day game, usually starting at 1 p.m. my time, and lasting until I'm just about to start wrapping up my day. However you follow it -- whether it's through your computer, twitter, smartphone, the hushed tones of AM 1500 at your office, or perhaps you're occasionally lucky enough to sneak off to Target Field -- it's fantastic.

For me there's just something great about being able to monitor a Twins game while I'm working. Not that I'm the best, or most efficient, employee on those days, but I will tell you that I'm most definitely a happier co-worker to be around. Somehow, just being able to check the score every half hour or so makes a big difference in morale. I count 3 regular season weekday games in April, so that's something to look forward to. And even when the Twins were awful in 2011, a getaway day game while I was working still caught my attention.

Other sports haven't really imparted day games into their scheduling (not counting the NFL, of course), let alone weekday games. Travel considerations seem to be a big factor in scheduling day baseball games, and the way series are scheduled in baseball is unique when compared to the other sports. Watching the NHL classic the other day, I couldn't get over how great it was to see outdoor, daytime professional hockey. I als envisioned it being held at Target Field. It also reminds me of that first Thursday of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, when all your co-workers are checking their brackets, practically starting in the mid-morning. Every now and then, people just need an escape from their routine. And if you can't attend the day games, being connected to the game in one way or another -- whether through the dulcet tones of "Dazzle" Dan Gladden, or from LaVelle E. Neal's tweets -- makes things just a little bit better for those three hours. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Lock Up Francisco Liriano: Now is the Time

Last year, Twins fans were curious whether the front office would seek to lock up lefty Francisco Liriano, who was coming off a very strong 2010 season. In the end, of course, the parties only agreed to go year-to-year. Seth Stohs quoted then-general manager Bill Smith as stating the following regarding Liriano, at last year's Twins Fest: "No, we are going to go year-to-year with Liriano, at least for one more year. We definitely recognize the risk in doing that and if he has another big year, it will cost us some money." When I read that quote last year, it made me think two things: first, that the organization, for whatever reason, did not want to commit many years or dollars to Liriano; and second, that if Liriano did have a big 2011 season, the Twins would probably be priced out of his market for a long-term contract anyway (notwithstanding that he is under team control for 2012), because two straight years of dominance for a hard-throwing lefty strikeout machine is a hot commodity.

Well, it seems that, at least with respect to timing, Smith was right not to "buy high" on Liriano last season. Liriano had anything but "another big year," going 9-10 with a 5.09 ERA. Yes, he did have a no-hitter, and he did show flashes of brilliance on occasion. But it was an extremely frustrating year for Liriano, and he did nothing to build upon, let alone replicate, his 2010 season. It was frustrating for fans, manager Ron Gardenhire, pitching coach Rick Anderson, the front office, and I'm sure most of all, for Liriano himself. There could be a silver lining, though.

I have no idea whether Liriano wants to stay in Minnesota long-term. It seems to me that they have treated him fairly, and have stuck with him through the ups and downs of his career. At the same time, though, the organization's reluctance in the 2010 offseason to attempt to sign Liriano to a contract that would buy out his last 2 arbitration years, and a year or two of free agency, could have rubbed Liriano the wrong way. There was also an incident in 2008 where Liriano's agent, Greg Genske, sought a union investigation after Liriano, who had gone 7-0 in Rochester in 9 starts, had not been called up to the Twins. That, however, was years ago. I simply have no idea where the parties stand. It's hard to imagine, however, that Liriano doesn't like pitching at Target Field.

I think that now would be a good time to contact Liriano's agent and try to negotiate a 3 or 4 year contract. Major League Baseball Trade Rumors has Liriano pegged for an approximate salary of $5.2 million in 2012; he made $4.3 million in 2011 after the parties avoided arbitration. Boy, to be able to get a sizeable raise after throwing up those stats in 2011!! In any event, $5.2 million for Liriano is not a bad deal. I hope we see more of the 2010 Liriano than the 2011 Liriano, and, quite simply, that's been his problem throughout his career (that, and the Tommy John surgery, of course). Which Liriano will the Twins get in 2012? And, if the parties manage to continue their working relationship, which Liriano will we see in 2013-2015? It's really a toss-up, which is exactly why Liriano is so intriguing.

A Minnesota sports writer or blogger penned a good column a year or so ago suggesting that the Twins should have locked up Joe Mauer in early 2009, when he was rehabbing in Ft. Myers. I can't find the column, but the best line went something like this: "Bill Smith should have gone to Ft. Myers the first week of the regular season, when Mauer was in pain, rehabbing that knee, soaking in a hot tub after a tough workout, and feeling guilty that he wasn't in Minnesota with his teammates to begin the regular season. Smith should have said, 'Joe, don't worry about it. Don't worry about those nagging injures. We want you to be a Twin forever; we'll take care of you. Here, take this pen and sign this 9-year $162 million contract. We're going to make you the richest catcher in baseball, the richest Twin in history, and you'll be here forever. And don't worry about that knee or those other injuries -- you'll get through it.'" Of course, such a conversation probably never took place, and the Twins ended up buying high on Mauer after 2009, in what will almost certainly be his best season ever, and one of the best seasons for a catcher in the history of baseball. I still believe that the Mauer contract isn't bad, and it simply was a market rate contract for an elite player. But it is an example of buying high on a player, and, as we saw in 2011, when that star player is injured or otherwise unproductive, such a contract is a risky proposition to a team with a limited budget.

My question for the Twins now is, "if not Liriano, then who?" What other pitcher are they going to sign that has the potential to throw a no-hitter, to come close to leading the league in strikeouts, and who currently is wearing a Twins jersey? Yes, Liriano might never be as good as he was in 2010. But I would like to think that he won't be as bad as he was in 2011, either. He might never be that dependable 1-2 starter that the Twins so desperately need; but he also might be 2 fixes away from being that -- here comes the word -- ace that all us fans want, and that we have had glimpses of in 2006 and 2010.

By locking up Liriano now, the Twins can do the opposite of what they ended up doing with Mauer -- buy low, relatively speaking. It's certainly risky from the Twins' perspective, and I get it: Liriano has been anything but consistent. But I think Liriano is worth the risk, and I want this team to take a risk, rather than simply signing pitchers of the Nick Blackburn-ilk to so-called "team friendly" contracts, or getting a Livan Hernandez or Jason Marquis-type player every year to fill that final rotation spot.

I'm not sure who constitutes a good comparison for Liriano. He's unique, to be sure, because he's a lefty, power pitcher, who already has had Tommy John surgery, has been consistently inconsistent, and threw a no-hitter in a season where he would have had the 4th highest ERA in the American League had he thrown enough innings to qualify. I don't have a computer program to tell me what that kind of a starter should be paid, but, just for the sake of conversation, I would buy out this arbitration year, and try to get Liriano to sign for 4 years, $9-10 million a year. Yes, it's a risk, and there's a decent chance it could be a bad investment. But, if we get 2 years of the 2010 Liriano, then he will surely earn the majority of that contract. Another possibility is that if Liriano is at least decent, there's always a chance that if the Twins' are not competitive down the road, the contract could be movable to a contending team looking for that elusive lefty, strikeout pitcher. The Yankees have expressed interest multiple times. As I mentioned earlier, I have no idea if Liriano even wants to stay in Minnesota long-term, but if he is willing, I would negotiate now.

I'd be happy to hear your thoughts. Should we just sever ties and trade him at the deadline for a good prospect? Should we have traded him last year? Or should we hire a sports psychologist to try to figure out why he sometimes can't make it through the first inning?

Monday, January 2, 2012

My New Year's Resolutions for Twins Fan From Afar

Everyone is posting their New Year's resolutions for the Twins for 2012, and I have enjoyed reading those. In fact, I don't have much more to add than, for example, what was posted at NoDak Twins Fan. I definitely agree that Mauer has to play 130 or so games behind the plate, and that Morneau and Span need to put the concussion issues behind them, in order for this team to play above .500 baseball. Because I don't have much to add on that front, I thought I would post some New Year's resolutions of my own for this blog. I'm a believer that goals and tasks are much more likely to be accomplished if they are written out (and seen by others), so here we go:

1. Write least 150 posts in 2012: Last year, I started the blog in March, and wrote 93 posts. I think 150 posts is a good goal to shoot for -- approximately 3 per week, for 50 weeks, with some time off for vacation, and for when I'm simply out of ideas.

2. Redesign the background of the blog: This one might be accomplished in the next few days. I'd like to incorporate a picture I have taken at Target Field as the background for this blog, and get rid of the blue background that is currently there. I'm sure it's easy to do, but I'm sort of a luddite when it comes to technology.

3. Interview a Twins player or front office member: I like to think that the Twins are an approachable organization. Over the years, I have had some correspondence with Dave St. Peter and a few members of the communications staff on various issues. This one might be a reach, but I think it would be great for the blog, and of interest to Twins fans, to briefly interview a player or front office member.

4. Add New Britain Rock cats content: I live only about a half hour away from Rock Cats Stadium, but I only attend a few games per season. It's a shame. I plan to purchase a 6-game pack of tickets when they go on sale this year, and intend to add player photographs and game recaps following the games that I attend. I fully admit that I'm not up on Twins prospects like, for example, Seth Stohs, but I think that nothing beats a game recap written by someone who was there watching in person. Last season, I watched Joe Benson and Chris Parmelee play in what would be their second to last AA game ever. 2 short days later, I watched on TV as they made their major league debuts for the Twins. That's what makes minor league baseball great. One night, they're playing for 2,000 people and signing autographs in a parking lot in central Connecticut, and before you know it, they're wearing the TC hat and playing in the best stadium in baseball. Having Twins AA baseball just a stone's throw away from me is really a blessing, and I will using the fact that I am "from afar," to be add some (hopefully) great Rock Cats content in 2012.

5. Continue the satire every once and a while: I can't take baseball too seriously, especially if the team isn't very good again in 2012. There are only so many posts I can write about injuries, trades and "what the Twins must do to win in 2012." Every few weeks, I need a break. Frustration with the Twins is what has spawned posts like this and this. I truly admire bloggers who can write post after post of serious content, but I simply can't do it.

So there you have it. Hopefully by writing this post, I will be more likely to accomplish the goals set forth therein. Thanks to everyone that checks out this blog, whether it's every time I post, once a week, or once a month.

Let's go Twins!