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Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday

As opposed to last year on this blog, I decided to take Thanksgiving off and instead celebrate Black Friday! Now let me assure you I do not celebrate this holiday constructed by consumerist America. You will not find me waking up at 3:00 am to get in a long line waiting to buy at flat screen TV at 30% off, but rather in the comforts of my chair I will write about which Twins I'm buying on great deals for 2009.

1. Kevin Slowey - This kid really impressed me in 2008 and I think he still has much improvement ahead of him. Buying Slowey is like purchasing that new grill for the family, it's an investment that will only get better with time. Slowey went 12-11 with a 3.99 ERA last year and given his pitching style surprisingly struck out 123 batters in 160 innings. He's a fly ball pitcher who gives up a fair amount of homeruns but makes sure he does it without runners on base. Most of all Slowey has great control walking just 24 batters and simply throwing strikes and letting his defense help him out. With Denard Span and Carlos Gomez both behind him for an entire season look to Slowey to post great numbers.

2. Jose Mijares - Mijares is like the new gadget that everyone has read is really cool, but haven't seen it yet. The 24 year old lefty pitched just 10 innings in the big leagues this year but made a big impression. His 10 innings were in pressure packed situations and the young Venezuelan not only showed great composure but the tenacity and confidence to go after hitters and trust his stuff. I know this is a risk with such little pro experience, but I think it'll be a good buy. Mijares will be in a good situation pitching in front of Joe Nathan and should have great success in his role if he keeps his confidence and nerves of steel.

3. Jason Kubel - Like Tickle Me Elmo it seems like Kubel is on this list every year, but last year he made sure his value was known and I expect nothing less in 2009. Kubel finally established himself with a healthy season getting 464 at bats in 141 games. Kubel had an 08 line of .272 with 20 HR and 78 RBI. Despite what seems like many disappointing seasons, Jason will still be just 26 at the start of the 2009 season. Kubel will have control of the DH position and should get to hit behind Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Look for the native South Dakotan to build on his 08 success with another solid year. I'm not expecting any ridiculous breakout year, but I think a .280/25/85 year is within reach.

4. Michael Cuddyer - If you can afford big purchases this holiday season you can't go wrong with a Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, or a Joe Nathan. With the poor economy I also can't afford a young project with high potential like a Carlos Gomez or a Delmon Young. So to do some discount shopping look to pick up a Michael Cuddyer at a reduced rate for 2009. His 2008 campaign was nothing less than a disappointment playing in just 71 games while batting .249 with just a .369 SLG%. However, I think Michael Cuddyer is too competitive and too good of an athlete to allow another disappoint year to drag him down. Yes, I agree that he'll never have seasons like 2006 year after year, but I expect a solid comeback in 2009. As long as Cuddyer is still in Minnesota and gets his fair share of at bats I think he'll start to produce some value based on his big contract.

That's my shopping list for great deals in 2009. Let's hope I get a good return on my investments!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Off the TePoel

The Case for Morneau

Here it is, as promised. My case for why Justin Morneau is the MVP of the Twins, hands down over Sideburns Joe. Not only is he the MVP of the Twins, he indeed was the AL MVP in 2006 and earned 2nd place this magical season of ought-eight. Statistics are, of course, heavily considered in choosing an MVP, though the subjective is what truly determines the MVP. That is why you won't find much number crunching here. The MVP selection is always surrounded by controversy save the very few unanimous choices - the way it should be due to the fact that most seasons any one of four or five guys could carry the crown. Alas, we are not discussing THE MVP, just the Twins MVP. It's Justin.

There are a lot of reasons why the Twins were one run away from the playoffs. As I think back to my opening day expectations that would have been a rather daring, yet charming belief. I was truly anticipating something resembling more of a Minnesota Timberwolves campaign. Honestly. And I was okay with it. After seven/eight years of high expectations and mild to extreme disappointment, I was ready to lower my guard and simply sit back and enjoy the game of baseball and some young, developing talent. But no, the Twins surprised and were right in the mix because of several factors. I will list them as such; first the factors NECESSARY as a bare minimum for the pennant run:

1) The first half pitching by Livan Hernandez. Without him carrying the load for the young pitching staff the Twins would not have made it to June with a respectable record. I recall our starting five having about 15 combined wins after the first 60 games. Thank you Livo.

2) The failure of the Lamb/Harris/Everett infield allowed the Twins to utilize Alexi Casilla early on in the season and he produced more RBIs than me in the backyard baseball season of '89. Casilla was absolutely on fire. He carried the offensive spark that was missing from Mauer, Young, Cuddyer, et al. Much like the failed Castro/Batista experiment in '06 that allowed Bartlett and Punto to flourish, Casilla ushered in the '08 version.

3) Thank goodness Cuddyer got hurt because Denard Span saved this team as well. Cuddy wasn't doing much of anything in that #3 spot initially, then 5 or 6 or wherever he hit. Span was tearing it up in AAA, deserved to be on the team from day one, and when he got his second call-up he did not blink. Speed, production, defense, he did it all. 

4) Joe Mauer. Hey, just cause he's not the MVP doesn't mean he isn't extremely valuable. That's an understatement. Another batting title certainly is hard to overlook, especially considering he did it as a catcher. He played more this year and stayed healthy which was key to the team's success. A gold glove as well to add to the nonexistence of a running game for opponents thanks to Joe. He deserves a good chunk of the credit for the success of #5 below as well, although he has to split that with Rick Anderson and the aforementioned Hernandez.

5) The Staff of youngins who pitched out of their minds. Slowey, Blackburn, Perkins, Liriano, and Baker. These guys are pure filth. I don't know how the Twins consistently develop such good young pitching. Although they really need to stop giving up the long ball.

6) Go-go. Yeah he helped too. Despite all his strikeouts and stretches of ugly baseball, the kid was a spark at times and played his butt off all season. 

So there it is, six NECESSARY components to the value of the team. But they alone, are not SUFFICIENT to explain the pennant run. That would be Mr. MVP. Take away any one of those six pieces and the Twins still can compete. Don't believe me? They proved it. Harris and Punto filled in for Casilla when he was hurt or struggling. On countless at bats Gomez might as well have walked up to the plate and told the ump, "45,000 people know that I won't come within four feet of the ball these next three pitches, so can I just sit down?" but the Twins still found ways to win. The staff had off days, the bullpen or offense picked them up. And yes, even when Mauer's line read "4-3. 4-3. 4-6-3. 4-3" the team stayed alive. And that is because of the first baseman.

This team simply would have been nowhere near the top without Morneau. Gardy didn't think so either. The Canadian found his way into all 163 games. Morneau had 47 doubles. Mauer had 44 extra-base hits combined. Pitchers gave Mauer stuff to hit because they didn't want to face the MVP. Morneau had no legitimate threat behind him. Most of the time hurlers were licking their chops to get at Kubel or Delmon. That's the cake: Morneau put up a .300 average, 129 RBIs (44 more than Mauer), and 23 HR with pitchers trying to avoid him all season. Not to mention the much improved defense from the once awkward first sacker.

Next year I'll take Justin to prove it again.

A quick take on Casey Blake

Should the Twins sign Casey Blake this offseason? It's been discussed, supported, and belittled on numerous Twins blogs so why haven't the Werner Brothers (at least one of them) weighed in on this issue? I guess our take is a little mixed. Here are three things fans and bloggers should keep in mind when it comes to signing a free agent like Blake:

1. Options at 3B and Meanings for other positions
2. Defense and Offense
3. Strategies of Resilience: First Choices and Back-Up Plans

Options at 3B

Third Base is a great place for the Twins to upgrade this offseason, whether it is short term (waiting for Hughes or Valencia in 2010 or so) or long term (if the player is good). The Twins also need a shortstop (or 2B if Casilla moves). I'm on record from the start of the Twins' offseason saying that I'd enjoy the Twins trying to pick up both a middle infielder and a 3B, even at the expense of Perkins/Blackburn, Boof, and a corner OF/DH option like Cuddyer, Young, or Kubel (though only if the trading options were excellent).

Other options include trading for an experienced 3B--Garrett Atkins of the Rockies, Kevin Kouzmanoff of the Padres, or Adrian Beltre of the Mariners--a less experienced 3B like Chris Davis of the Rangers, or an MLB-ready player with only minor league experience. Unfortunately, there isn't much else available for Free Agent 3B's--maybe Joe Crede, though he is coming off multiple injuries and will remain an injury risk. There are more Free Agent options at SS: they include Orlando Cabrera (whom I don't like), Rafael Furcal (whom I like a little more, but think will be too expensive), Edgar Renteria (whom I don't want), and former/recent Twins like Nick Punto and Adam Everett (both of whom are good defenders, but have little to offer the offense). Trading for a shortstop who can hit and play defense is difficult, being that SS is a premium position, and the Twins have few if any SS options in the high minors. But it is rumored that JJ Hardy or Yunel Escobar might be available for trade with a sweet enough deal for the Brewers or the Braves.

In any case, the Twins would like to improve their offense at both these positions (SS / 3B), but they don't want to give up their first round draft picks without a very special signing, and they likely don't want to trade away too many quality players to bring in a new 3B and SS. So the Twins front office is likely looking for a signing like Blake at 3B to go with a trade to bring in a SS (and maybe a RP). But in improving their offense through free agents and trades, can they keep a solid defense for 2009?

Defense and Offense

The Twins are not the best slugging team, and few Twins excel at taking walks. What they excelled at in 2008 was hitting for average, and somehow improving their average dramatically with runners in scoring position (RISP). Counting on a high team batting average with RISP is a tenuous and unlikely bet, so the Twins need to improve either their slugging with who they have already for 2009, or bring in new hitters to bolster the power side of their batting. But it is important to note that the Twins have developed a team style dependent on good defense, which is one reason why Everett and Punto were good options for the middle infield (though Everett didn't live up to his potential on either side this year, and however well Punto did this year doesn't help erase a horrid 2007 from the minds of fans).

How do you balance defense and offense? Even though I think that many Twins project to slug more in 2009 than they did in 2008 (Young, Mauer, Cuddyer, Kubel, Gomez), I doubt that the Twins average with RISP can match the numbers from 2008. And while the Twins outfield could very easily remain a top defensive outfield in 2009, I'm not sure the same is true of the infield, and that means that our pitchers will have less support and confidence, and Gardenhire will be more frustrated and erratic, which may have cascading effects on the field. I think that the defensive play at SS is key more than it is at 3B. In other words, I think that a healthy Everett would be a perfect fit for the Twins, though a less skilled SS may do fine with fly-ball-heavy pitchers like Perkins, Slowey, and Baker. But this is not to downplay the value of having someone like Beltre at 3B, with Gold Glove defense and solid batting from the right side.

Other bloggers (linked above) have looked at the particular strengths and weaknesses of 3B options, both offensively and defensively, so I'll leave it to you to check that out rather than recapping it. But the question I want to focus on is how the Twins might improve their first choices without losing the resilience that has kept the team a consistent threat year after year (you could say that the Twins have had a dynasty of remaining competitive--even if they aren't winning--for the entire Gardenhire era).

Strategies of Resilience

What the Twins have had the last couple years--for good and ill at times--is flexibility in the infield, due largely to players like Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, and Brendan Harris. While Harris is now being talked about as a potential platoon partner with Brian Buscher by many in the Twins blogging community, he came in to play SS or 2B, and played both early this year. At the same time, the Twins have had utility players like Punto and Tolbert around to fill in the holes when players get hurt or can't play defense well enough. But the Twins may not retain Punto's services, they've given up on Everett, and Tolbert's defense and offense may end up below and equal to Punto's defense and offense respectively. In other words, the Twins may start 2009 with far less flexibility than they did in 2006-2008: whatever Punto's problems were offensively in 2007, he made up for it with three good years of defense and two solid years of offense.

A player like Blake may be flexible in terms of his ability to play at all the corners (1B, 3B, LF, RF), but he can't play the middle infield, and someone like JJ Hardy (if the Twins could manage to trade for him) may end up needing a switch to 3B from SS at some point in 2-3 years. Finally, when I think about resilience, I think of the Twins outfield and DH slots, which may actually be overflowing with resilience. The Twins are unlikely to have that in the infield, and planning to use Harris and Buscher as a platoon not only cuts down on roster spots, but also cuts down on infield resilience. With the Lamb and Everett signings of last offseason, the Twins tried to bring in players to improve the team, but when that failed, they had other options (Punto, Casilla, Tolbert, Harris, and Buscher). I don't think we'll have as much flexibility if the platoon isn't working.

I think this is one reason that many Twins bloggers are ignoring when they endorse a 3B platoon rather than signing Blake or Crede, or trading for Beltre. I don't like any of these options, but I think they are wise if the price (contracts/trading requirements) is right. That would give the Twins the option to use a Harris/Buscher platoon as the backup rather than the only plan. And if Blake works out similar to Lamb in 2008, there's another option: if Harris/Buscher regressed somehow (offensively, defensively, or injury), the say wouldn't be true, and the Twins might be looking at Hughes or Valencia a year or two earlier than preferred.

The same would be true at SS: I'd prefer to bring in Hardy (even if he cost us Boof, Delmon, and a pitching prospect) rather than trying out Harris there. And while Tolbert might be a cheaper version of Punto, I wouldn't be opposed to keeping Punto around for flexibility even if we wouldn't have enough spots for some of our other infielders with question marks and limitations.


It seems that few others are as interested as I am in (a) bringing in Chris Davis from the Rangers (even if it means sending them Perkins/Blackburn, Boof, Duensing, and Valencia--perhaps even a little more quality in that quantity) in order to give the Twins a great offensive 3B with solid defense to protect Morneau; or (b) trading Boof, Kubel, and Young while signing Dunn to protect Morneau, thereby allowing for a Harris/Buscher/Punto platoon at 3B/SS while still improving the offense. Given that those options don't seem to be working out, and given that trading very much for one year of Beltre without negotiating an extension would be ill-advised (and acquiring Kouzmanoff, Atkins, Renteria, or Cabrera each seems quite foolish to me), I would recommend one of the following two courses of action.

1. Sign Casey Blake for two years with a vested option, at maybe $7-9 million/year and make a hard push for a Hardy trade that would make keeping the Buscher/Harris platoon around a good thing. This gives us one free agent signing (Type B, so no lost draft pick) and one trade (where we might have to give up Boof, Perkins, and a couple prospects, or maybe Boof, Delmon, and a prospect). Then worry about finding a set-up RHP.

2. If we stick with the Buscher/Harris platoon as the primary 3B option and focus all of our attention on someone like Hardy, then signing Punto becomes a much more desirable act (in order to keep a good SS option in house). If Punto is too expensive, I recommend signing Everett again (for cheap) in order to keep the team's infield resilience and defensive ability.

Monday, November 24, 2008

And That Happened

Monday morning sportsfans and again a relatively quiet weekend on the baseball front. As the ESPN boys have noted (Gammons and Olney) CC Sabathia is in control of the free agent market. Because all GM's and player agents want to reach a deal at "fair market value" everyone is still waiting around to see where the fair market value will be.

Gammons says when Sabathia signs than it'll trickle down to AJ Burnett, Derek Lowe, Mark Teixeira, and even Manny Ramirez. I did read one report on MLB Trade Rumors that Rafael Furcal is close to signing. The article is in Spanish but I'll link it anyways because Twins MVB has a surprisingly large percentage of Hispanic followers???

The article notes the rumored deal, from the Oakland A's, at four years $48 million. This seems like a pretty good signing if you ask me. I know I'd love to see Minnesota make a run for Furcal but I understand why they are not. The per year price would actually fit the Twins just fine especially considering Orlando Cabrera could command $10 million a season. However, Furcal does have a history of injuries and I don't think the Twins would want to go four years. Third base seems to be Bill Smith's focus as the moment but I think we'll know more next week during the GM meetings.

Finally, I leave you with another video to start of your week. My good friend Kate sent met this video and knew I would enjoy it. It comes all the way from Japan during MLB's season opener between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland A's.

As I searched on YouTube the comments mentioned that the "announcer" in this video is actually John Mayer playing a joke because he apparently he hates baseball. I must admit I'm not a huge Mayer fan, especially because when I went to college everyone thought my name was John Mayer.... annoying.

If there are any huge John Mayer fans out there, feel free to confirm in the comments section of this is the real John Mayer.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Happy Birthday Twins MVB!

Dear Twins MVB fans and readers today is a day to celebrate. Twins Most Valuable Blogger is celebrating its' first birthday!

A year ago today, which was actually Thanksgiving Thursday, I wrote my first post about Torii Hunter signing with the Anaheim Angels. Funny how quickly things change in one year. Hunter seems like a thing of the past. In that first post I was writing about who will play centerfield, is Johan Santana going to stay a Twin, and how do the Twins rebound from a poor 2007.

Flash forward one year and it's Justin Morneau just missed out on MVP, who's going to play SS and 3B (which were also questions last year), and too bad we just missed the playoffs in 2008.

Doing this blog has been a great experience for me and I think the first year for the blog was a great succes. We had nearly 6,000 visitors in our first year (5,852 to be exact) and I'd like to thank every one of you for stopping by. The blog has continued to grow and evolve and I think we can get three times as many visitors in our 2nd year.

We have a few more exciting changes ahead this offseason for MVB so continue to come back, tell your friends, sign up for the RSS feed, link us on your blogs, and just spread the word about Twins MVB.

Thanks again sincerely to all our fans and readers and go Twins in 2009!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Blogs: In Plain English

Thanks to all who checked out my podcast appearance over at Seth Speaks. It's been a quiet week in baseball since the MVP awards were announced. Other than the Seattle Mariners naming their new manager Don Wakamatsu, Coco Crisp getting traded to Kansas City, and Mike Mussina announcing his retirement it's just been a few hushed rumors here and there.

The Twins did add eight players to their 40 man roster yesterday to prepare for the December 5th Rule 5 Draft. No big surprises here, but some good young player added to the 40 man.

Because of the quiet baseball week I want to take a moment to plug one of my favorite websites. The site is called Common Craft.com.

Common Craft is run by a husband and wife team out of their home in Seattle, WA. Their business model is in the art of explanation. I think the idea is brilliant! There is certainly information overload in today's global world and we all need a little explanation.

If you're reading this blog you probably understand what blogging is, but to get a taste of what Common Craft is check out Blogs: In Plain English...

In other news, I want to see how many, if any, Twins followers use the social connecting service, Twitter. Twitter is another one of my favorite websites and I want to use it to connect Twins fans on a whole new level. Check out the sidebar poll on the left and let me know whether or not you use Twitter. Then if you do use it feel free to leave your user name in the comments section, or if you don't feel comfortable simply email me at twinsmvb@gmail.com. Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Seth Speaks and Morneau Misses

MVB on Seth Speaks

An exciting opportunity took place last night as I made a guest podcast experience on Seth Stohs' Podcast. Check out Seth's blog here to listen to yours truly as well as author Tom Swift and Twins' Prospect Nick Papasan.

More on Seth Speaks

I highly recommend checking out the Seth's upcoming book release of the  Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook 2009. Seth is not only a fantastic contributor to the Twins blogging community but is the number one resource in my opinion when it comes to the Twins minor league system. Seth has tirelessly worked to put together this 77 page handbook with over 175 player profiles and a foreword by Twins pitcher, Pat Neshek. It's a great holiday gift for any casual or intense Twins fan!

Morneau Misses MVP

As I predicted yesterday, Justin Morneau missed out on his second MVP award finishing in 2nd place behind newly crowned AL MVP, Dustin Pedroia.

Pedroia is a deserving winner but it's too bad Morneau came up a little short. Nonetheless, great to see Justin honored for his great season as well as Joe Mauer who finished 4th in the MVP voting. 

The M&M boys are undoubtedly the cornerstones of the Twins franchise and hopefully we'll get another MVP award between one of these guys.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Off the TePoel

I'm No Hypocrite 

As per last week's column, I'm not going to contribute much to this week's blog. I haven't thought much about baseball or the Twins this week to be honest. I've been too busy indulging my sports fix in the world of fantasy football.

Thank goodness the football season isn't as long as baseball. Then we'd really be in trouble. It's bad enough the way it is with this football obsessed country. Seriously. Is there anything worse for coverage on ESPN than freaking mini-camps? What I can't stand is how they start making predictions for NEXT year's Super Bowl during the Super Bowl post game show. And if that wasn't enough to get your dopper up, they start psychoanalyzing the NFL draft just minutes later. Boy, I sure do set the DVR for those scout workout analyses as well. How tight can a guy throw a spiral in a mini-dome with no pads and no defenders? Who cares?

As I argued last week, the baseball "season" is year round like everything else. But at least it's baseball for crying out Charlie Brown.

Only things I paid attention to MLB-wise in my fasting were as follows:

1. Neshek's out. This is very bad for Twins fans. I personally don't think he'll ever be as dominant as he was in 2006 and early 2007. Set-up men rarely stay that unhittable for very long. With Mijares being our new 8th inning man, we'll survive.

2. Pujols is the NL MVP. They should put him in the Hall of Fame now. He literally would not have to step foot on the diamond ever again; he will finish his career as the best right handed hitter of all time.

3. Pedroia wins the AL MVP. Good for him. Not a lot of intrigue there. I do believe the Mauer-Morneau debate is more enticing. I know the MVB is a big Mauer guy. I'll make my case for Morneau as Twins MVP next week.

Till then, it's back to fine arts and culture for me...or fantasy football.

Morneau for MVP?

We will see today at  1 pm EST. The honor would be a great one for Morneau who would join a small club of multi-MVP winners. However, I'm not feeling too optimistic about Justin's chances.

In no way a slight against Justin, the guy had an awesome season batting .300 with 23 homeruns and 129 RBIs, but I just feel like his stumble down the stretch will cost him this award. There is also a hot debate among Twins bloggers and writers if Morneau is even the MVP of his own team. As much as I like Justin, I happen to be in the Joe Mauer as team MVP camp and if any other MLB writers feel the same way it'll cost Morneau the award.

It's too bad because I feel like once Chicago's Carlos Quentin went down with injury the MVP was Morneau's to lose. Sadly, he did a pretty good job at trying to lose it down the stretch. It must be noted the Twins would not have even been in playoff contention if it weren't for their Canadian first baseman, but unfortunately in the final 10 games of the season Morneau batted just .135 with zero homeruns and only one RBI. He struck out nine times and just stopped coming up with the big hits that he had for the five months prior. It is no doubt that with the playoff pressure and talk of MVP Justin appeared to press a little at the plate but it's just too bad he couldn't have even hit just .200 with one or two homeruns and like five or six RBIs.

However, I'm not completely counting out Morneau. The American League race is wide open with Dustin Pedroia, Morneau, Carlos Quentin, Josh Hamilton, and Francisco Rodriguez all most likely receiving recognition. I think the winner will really come down to the 2nd and 3rd place votes. The numbers will be spread around and maybe like in 2006, Justin Morneau will come out the surprise MVP winner!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Countdown to Target Field

I was away for a few days and unable to post but thanks to DY21 for his post. However, when I returned home I had an interesting package in the mail from the Minnesota Twins. 

I was greeted with my season ticket renewal package, and look at the following little treat:

Only 504 days! It's just around the corner! Obviously my clock moves, but to honor the countdown we'll add a counter of our own here on the left sidebar and hope that this blog still exists by the time this clock hits zero. Here's to 504 more successful days!

Okay that is still a long time from now, but looking forward to next year is just as exciting. The Twins will be fielding a great team and it'll be a special year as the "final season" in the Metrodome. I'm planning on upgrading my season ticket plan from last year so look forward to a few free ticket giveaways on this blog is 2009!

In other Twins news, I'm going to wait and see on some of the recent Twins rumors until there is some more substance. But to catch you up, Twins Territory discusses the Twins "framework fo a deal" for free agent 3B Casey Blake. Aaron Gleeman discusses his affordable bullpen options for 2009.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Let the Early Christmas Shopping Begin!

I know it isn't even Thanksgiving yet, and Black Monday has yet to occur, but starting today many baseball teams will begin shopping for their "Christmas wish lists." As a Twins fan this day is relatively unexciting but for fans of big market squads or for fans of baseball in general as the free-agent signing period has finally begun. ESPN writer Keith Law has Mark Teixeira as the most coveted free-agent to be in his list of the top 50

Jayson Stark wrote a wonderful article breaking down every teams needs and the best FA that would fit. Naturally, for the Twins he said that Casey Blake fits the mold best as their potential free-agent. The scary part is that he thinks Casey may cost too much money for the Twins. Really? Casey Blake too much money? Altough Blake would definitely help the Twins at their weak spot at third, I personally will keep my fingers crossed that we don't overpay for any aging, role players like Blake. I mean just look at how Adam Everett, Tony Batista, Mike Lamb, etc. have done in the past years.

All in all Christmas has come early for the baseball fans. The presents will probably start being opened very soon with many teams hoping for a Manny or CC to be under their Christmas tree. One thing is certain though, these big presents will definately not be on sale.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Foul Ball Story

It's a cold blistery Wednesday here in Minneapolis with snow lying the ground. I figured enough writing from me, so today I'm leaving you with a very, very funny video that came from a CBS nightly news story. 

I have to admit I never thought I would put Katie Couric on my blog, but hey everyone loves Katie! The following story is about one of the craziest fans you'll ever see at a Major League Baseball Game. This guy has caught over 3,000 foul balls at MLB games over his lifetime and when you watch this video, in my opinion, fans like this are what ruin the experience for thousands of wide-eyed kids. But who am I to say, I'm an obsessed fan who has a blog???

After you watch the video in the comments section write your most memorable foul ball story whether you caught a ball or nearly missed!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Twins Suffer Devastating Blow

So usually devastating injuries only happen during the season right? Not in the middle of November when teams are looking to fill holes, not create them. Unfortunately, Seth Stohs of Seth Speak's reports that Twins reliever, Pat Neshek who had an MRI today, learned that his elbow will require Tommy John surgery causing the St. Louis Park native to miss all of the 2009 season.

Now this announcement will come with much grief from Twins fans because when Neshek suffered his elbow injury this past May the Twins decided he should simply rest rather than have surgery. But as Seth reports the ligament that Neshek tore completely off of his bone this past week is on the other side of the ligament he tore in May.

Neshek is expected to recover fully for the 2010 season but the poor guy will have missed over a year and a half of his baseball career. This is a big hit to the Twins, who's biggest weakness in 2008 was the bullpen. Getting Neshek back was going to be like making a big trade, but now the Twins may in fact need to make a big trade or free agent acquisition. 

After the calm of the Matt Holliday to the A's storm yesterday I started thinking about the package that the Rockies obtained. Before I even heard the Neshek news I thought maybe the Rockies acquired reliever Huston Street to include in a package with Garret Atkins to send to Minnesota? There are many other teams interested in Street, but a package with Street and Atkins may mean the difference for the Rockies between getting just Michael Cuddyer in return to getting Cuddyer, Nick Blackurn or Glen Perkins, and another prospect.

All of this is just speculation of my ideas, but one thing is certain that GM Bill Smith's To-Do list just got a little bigger.

Off the TePoel

(MLB) Loves You Long Time 

Sorry for the ridiculous title, but I couldn't resist. I am a diehard baseball fan. Always have been and always will be. I eat, drink, and sleep baseball. As a kid I collected baseball cards like you wouldn't believe. And then during the summer before 8th grade, towards the end of my baseball card collecting nerd-dom, my brother Kyle and I took all of our cards out of their respective slots in their sweet binder clear page homes, organized them according to teams in huge stacks in the living room, then re-entered them into new homes inside those sticky clear pages in the sweet binder books. We also counted them (note: some football, basketball, hockey, looney tunes, and/or ninja turtles cards were also included). The final number was literally something like 12 or 13 THOUSAND.

Despite an embarrassing Twins team in 9th-11th grade, I still loved on my Twins. Well, at least till the all-star break. Then it was just too painful. But still, each off season I bought the magazines with the previews. I'd read up on my team and watch MSC (if you remember that wonderful station) to catch the Twins mostly lose badly or occasionally pull off an upset (take that dangerous Mariners of the 90s!). Then finally, the heavens opened up in April 2001, Brad Radke started out either 4-0 or 5-0, and the Twins were good again. My loyalty had paid off. People started wearing Twins hats and shirts like it was cool. Truly, I was cool all along. 

I rode that Twins wave into college. People associated me with Twins baseball. When they were knocked out of the playoffs in 2002, people came to comfort me like my Grandmother had just passed away. I mean, really came to comfort me. They looked sad and on the verge of tears. "No, I'm really ok," I'd assert. "It was a great season." 

Then the Twins made the playoffs again in '03 and '04. Baseball had become as big a part of my life as it was when I was that youngin' collecting cards. Followed everything, 30 spring training games, 162 regular season games, 4 divisional playoffs, 2 championship series, and of course, the World Series. That's just the beginning, then we start the Hot Stove talk, trades, free agents, Twins winter caravan, Twins Fest, and then oh yes, back to my beloved baseball season magazine previews. In depth analysis of all 67 teams.

All this and I haven't even mentioned listening to sports talk radio, baseball movies (See Eight Men out and Cobb), pre game and post game shows, reading the articles online, Baseball Tonight (one of the Lord's many gracious gifts), all the baseball books I've read (see Roger Kahn, especially) and perhaps what has taken up most of my time, one-on-one original Nintendo baseball death matches against my brother in the forms of RBI, RBI 2, Tecmo Baseball, Bad News Bears Baseball, and the ever popular Baseball Simulator 1000. Then I worked, mostly as an intern, for baseball teams during the summers of 2003 - 2006. 

There's probably more. Espousing all this has finally made me realize how pathetic I am.

That's not the point. The point is I love this game and I think the season is just too long. Don't believe me? Just ask the World Series teams the year following their run. They're exhausted. Too many playoff games. Too many exhibition games. Really, I wouldn't change Spring Training. It's part of what makes baseball so great compared to the NFL, NBA, and NHL. But when I think back on baseball's history, when people LOVED baseball, I sort of wish I could experience that. Just the AL and NL. No divisions, just two leagues and two winners meeting for a Title. Growing up with the ALCS and NLCS wasn't so bad either, there was and is some excellent drama in that, to be sure. Overall, I'd argue the quality and competitiveness of the playoffs has suffered with the expanded Wild Card/Divisional system.

I like the idea of a less saturated media market, too. After the game maybe you talked about it and read about it in the newspaper. Sounds good to me. Then you dreamed about it. Now we just absorb so much chatter and fodder and comparing this and comparing that, and what if this and what if that. Drives me crazy.

I know the changes in baseball have been good: attendance is soaring, more teams are making it to the playoffs and the World Series, more interest throughout the long season, inter-league play continues to succeed, and there are loads of other goodies. But then the World Series comes along and every year the ratings are terrible. No one cares at the end unless the Yankees, Red Sox, or Cubs are playing. It's like March Madness: interest is highest that first day. I think the divisional rounds of the MLB playoffs now generate a similar excitement among baseball nerds like me. I watched the World Series and always will, but we are a dwindling breed. 

Maybe I'm just old school and a purist, but part of why I loved baseball so much as a kid was because I forgot about it for a while. It was cold outside so I put my glove in the closet. The bats and balls went back downstairs. Baseball is all about the seasons. It starts anew each spring and dies with the fall. Then we wait. And once the days start to get longer, we dig out those gloves and start to dream of spring again, like we've never smelled the green grass or heard the popping of mitts ever before. 

Take a breather this winter, at least once. If it's one day even, just try it. Maybe go for a week. No Twins website checks, no SportsCenter, no Winter Meetings gossip. 

I promise, you'll find baseball's return in Spring unbelievably refreshing. 

Monday, November 10, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: A's Acquire Holliday

Breaking news out of Oakland, California, Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman reports that the Oakland A's are set to acquire outfielder Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies. Players going to Colorado are unconfirmed but rumors names pitchers Greg Smith and Huston Street, and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.

This would come as a bold, surprising move from Oakland GM, Billy Beane, but if any GM is to make a bold move it's Beane. Beane has stockpiled the Oakland farm system over the past few years through trades and could definitely offer a package to suit the Rockies needs.

The addition of Holliday would immediately bring a power bat to a weak offensive club as well as a solid defensive player in the outfield. It remains to be seen whether or not Oakland would be able to sign Holliday, a free agent after the 2009 season, to a long-term deal.

On a Twins note, as expected my Holliday rumor to Minnesota is confirmed as ridiculous!

My 2008 NL Pitching Staff

When not writing here for Twins MVB I've been writing some articles over at sports fan site called Bleacher Report. I was asked to write a post about the top pitchers in the National League in 2008, thus the non-Twins theme. I thought I'd post it here as well...

In honor of the upcoming National League Cy Young Award I decided to play the role of GM and construct my Fantasy Rotation for the 2008 season. Hopefully this club could beat the Phillies...

C.C. Sabathia - Brewers
Tim Lincecum - Giants
Brandon Webb - Diamondbacks
Johan Santana - Mets
Cole Hamels - Phillies

Carlos Marmol - Cubs
Kerry Wood - Cubs
Billy Wagner - Mets
Brad Lidge - Phillies

Sabathia - Although C.C. only played three months in the National League his impact was felt throughout the NL Central and on the playoff race. The burly lefty was 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in his 17 Brewer starts. Seven of his 17 starts Sabathia pitched a complete game. He literally put the Brewers on his back and got them into the playoffs taking the ball on three days rest three starts in a row. This is the type of competitor I want on my club.

Lincecum* - The young righty had a great 2008 campaign on very poor San Francisco club. Lincecum finished 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA and a Major League-high 265 strikeouts. The 24-year-old pitched 227 innings for the Giants and who knows what is record would have been on a better club. I want this kid on my team.

Webb - The D'Backs ace seemed to falter down the stretch when his team needed him, but Webb is undeniably one of the bests arms in all of baseball. The former Cy Young winner went 22-7 with a 3.30 ERA and struck out 183 batters in 226.2 innings. Webb is a proven pitcher who takes the mound every five days and delivers his best performance possible.

Santana - The two time Cy Young winner who should have won three in a row with the Twins posted another Santana like season in his first year in the National League. The lefty went 16-7 and with better run support would have been a 20 game winner. Santana struck out 206 batters, pitched three complete games with one shutout, and lead the NL with a 2.53 ERA.

Hamels - The newly crowned World Series and NLCS MVP earned a spot on my team this October. Hamels proved himself a big game pitcher leading his team to a World Series title. The lefty went 14-10 in 2008 with a 3.09 ERA and 196 strikeouts.

Marmol - Carlos Marmol brings electric stuff onto the field when he comes out of bullpen. The righty often tops the radar gun at 100 mph and posted a 2.68 ERA. Marmol struck out a ridiculous 114 batters in 87.1 innings.

Wood - The only thing keeping Marmol from becoming the Cubs closer was Kerry Wood's All-Star season. Wood saved 34 games for the Cubs while posting a 3.26 ERA. Wood isn't the closer on my team, but when I need a strikeout I'll call one of my Cubs relievers.

Wagner - Billy brings both a lefthanded arm to my bullpen as well as a fiery veteran presence. Wagner struck out 27 for the Metropolitans and notched a salty 2.30 ERA.

Lidge - There is nothing more you can ask for in a closer than perfection. That's why Brade Lidge is the closer for my team. Lidge saved 41 of 41 games while posting a 1.90 ERA and picking up 92 K's in just 69.1 innings. If my team can get the lead to Lidge in the ninth inning, I like our chances to win.

*Lincecum is my pick for the 2008 NL Cy Young Award. This kid posted awesome numbers and his Giants were 22-12 in games that Lincecum pitched in as opposed to 50-78 is the rest of their games. We'll see what happens on Tuesday!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Mauer Goes Gold

For the second time this week I get to congratulate Joe Mauer on this blog. Yesterday the 25-year old Minnesota Golden Boy truly won gold. After winning his second batting title in 2008 Joe will have to find room in his trophy case for his 1st ever Gold Glove Award.

The Gold Glove Award often has the reputation of being biased towards players who are good at their position, but also do great things with the bat. Mauer certainly fits the bill, but really is a great defensive catcher and proved it this year with his numbers.

Mauer caught a career high 134 games behind the plate and refused to rest down the stretch during the playoff run putting on the pads and gear everyday. Mauer posted a .997 fielding percentage which ranked 1st in the American League. The award winner committed only three errors all year while throwing out 29 of 80 potential basestealers, a rate of 36% which ranks 2nd in the AL.

As usual Torii Hunter collected his 8th straight Gold Glove so it was good to see another Twin win the award after the perennial winner Hunter left. Mauer becomes just the second catcher to win the award in franchise history. Former great, Earl Battey, won the award twice in 1961 and 1962. As long as Joe stays healthy I have no reason to believe he won't win a few more Gold Gloves of his own.

With a 2008 season that ended in a batting title and a Gold Glove there is no denying that Joe Mauer is one of the best, if not the best, catchers in baseball!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Twins should consider Furcal

A week after the World Series is over it seems the list of free agents is nearly complete. There is one that I think the Twins should put a target on: Rafael Furcal.

Last season was nothing less than a disappointment for the speedy shorstop due to injuries. Although through 36 games, Furcal did bat .357 with 5 homeruns, 16 RBIs, and 8 stolen bases. This is certainly a small sample size but Furcal proved his value to the Dodgers when he returned at the end of the year for a playoff run. Through the first month of the season Furcal was the sparkplug at the top of LA's lineup getting on base and scoring runs. He brings a switch hit bat to the top of any lineup and a very solid glove at shortstop.

If Furcal has any interest, I think he and the Twins have a mutual fit. Furcal would fill the Twins vacancy at shortstop and take over as the team's leadoff hitter. Now I know many think we already have Denard Span, but Furcal is a proven leadoff hitter for many years and would allow Span to slide to the two hole. Yeah I like Alexi Casilla as much as you but he seemed to wear down at the end of the year and doesn't have a major league track record of production. With Furcal and Span at the top of the order those two can get on base, move runners over, and be RBIs for Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau behind them. This would also allow young guys like Casilla and Carlos Gomez to hit eighth and ninth in the order. They could continue to develop and be productive speedsters at the bottom of the order with less pressure and more importantly less at bats. Furcal, Span, Casilla, and Gomez would reek havoc on the bases for opposing teams and make Twins hitters like Mauer, Morneau, Delmon Young, and Jason Kubel lick their chops in the middle of the order.

The Los Angeles Times reported today that after a short meeting between Dodgers GM Ned Colletti and Furcal's agent that Furcal may have to test the open market after originally thinking he would simply stay put in L.A. Furcal could command up to a four year deal if he hits the open market and given his injury history and age (31) this does provide some risks, but the Twins have the money and if they're willing to take a risk I think it can pay off big.

All I ask is if the Twins are considering signing Orlando Cabrera for three years at $30 million they should wake up and recognize the better investment of Furcal at four years at $40-42 millon. Bill Smith.... think about it!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Manny vs CC

Many big names are set to hit the free agent market beginning this off season, but arguably the two biggest names that could give teams many headaches on deciding between the two are Manny Ramirez and C.C. Sabathia. I have heard many debates on national TV shows on which of the two big name free agents would be a better investment. Due to the type of money both players will get, only a handful of teams will have to make this torturous decision. If any of these teams' general manager's read this blog site, I will help reach a verdict.

The two players up for debate are basically opposites in every aspect of the game. Position, throwing hand, work ethic, etc., the players are literally night and day. Sabathia's advantage lies in his age and his complete domination the past two years. Plus he is left handed and many of the big market teams are dying to land an ace pitcher.The thing that might hold teams from shelling out a monster deal for C.C. is the many past big name free agent pitchers that have literally done nothing for their teams (see Mike Hampton or Carl Pavano).

Manny's main strength is that he can flat out rake, and justified this during his stint with the Dodgers. He is one of the greatest right handed hitters of all time and really shows no sign of slowing down. An AL team my drool of the option of having him be able to DH for years to come because his defense is lackluster to e say the least. Clearly Manny's question mark is his work ethic. It is what many believe drove him out of Boston (I believe it was Scott Boris, and my facts to support this lie in this wonderful piece by ESPN's Bill Simmons http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=manny).

So when it comes down to it, should the Angels, Mets, Yankees or any other big teams pay for the pitching or the hitting? I personally believe pitching is the most important aspect of baseball, for one pitcher can take over a game better then any position player can. I mean Manny defined a baseball player putting a team on his back in this past postseason and all it got him was a crushing defeat to the Phillies. But spending big money on free agent pitchers hasn't worked out so well in years past. I still say it would be smarter to land Sabathia for two reasons. First off he is easily better then what most FA pitchers have been in the past. It seems to me that lately there hasn't been somebody this consistently good in the market and therefore mediocre pitchers sign mega deals since big market teams just settle. Also Sabathia is younger then most pitchers are when they sign lucrative free agent deals, so teams should be very confident that they will get the numbers to back up the dollars they shell out for him. And if one thing is a guarantee in this whole debate it is that money will be shelled out, and lots of it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Congrats Joe

In honor of the start of awards season tomorrow, I thought we here at Twins MVB were overdue in congratulating Joe Mauer on his second American League Batting Title!

With the chaos and frustration of a tie breaking loss the Chicago White Sox the season ended on an abrupt and sour note. The players walked away with the stinging loss and at best the hopeful thoughts of next year. Yet Mauer's accomplishment cannot go unnoticed.

The St. Paul native now has two batting titles at the young age of 25. In 2006, Mauer hit .347 to become the first AL catcher to ever win the title and the last catcher to win it in either league since Ernie Lombardi hit .330 for the 1942 Boston Braves. In 2008, Mauer hit ONLY .328 but grabbed his second title as a catcher leaving him in a league of his own.

With just over 2000 at bats in his young career, Mauer owns 653 career hits with a .317 career batting average. It's hard to project these numbers into the future with Mauer's injury history and the nature of the catcher position, but it is undeniable that Joe is truly a special hitter. If I were a betting man I would say Mauer will win two more batting titles by the end of his career, and possibly more if he can successfully transition to a new position in the distant future.

For now, I'll always remember the story I read about Joe's grandpa who taught him how to hit as a little boy. When the Twins drafted Mauer with the No. 1 overall pick in 2001, Joe's grandpa came into GM Terry Ryan's office and said, "You just drafted the next .400 hitter!" Let's hope that oracle someday comes true.

For now... how many more batting title do you think Joe can win? Let's hear your comments.

Monday, November 3, 2008

MVB on Royally Speaking

For an interesting 2008 AL Central Review head over to Royally Speaking; a great Kansas City Royals blog written by Jeff Parker.

Parker asked me along with other bloggers and media members to answer a few questions about the AL Central in 2008. If you need an incentive to read it you can learn the true name by the Twins MVB alias (never been disclosed here at MVB).

For more reading check out this weeks Off the TePoel as Dain discusses an interesting issue for Major League Baseball.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Off the TePoel

Americans Have a Choice to Make (and no it's not Obama or McCain)

There's a movement going on around this country, but you may have not heard about it as yet. Much like the seemingly endless presidential campaigns, this one has been going on for quite some time. Even longer, actually.

This campaign is the movement to retire Roberto Clemente's #21 across the board in baseball, just like Jackie Robinson's #42. MLB honored Jackie Robinson and his surviving family members with this distinct honor back on April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut. Robinson's entrance into the major leagues is widely considered one of the most influential events in not just baseball's history, but America's as well. Robinson ended sixty years of segregation in the national pastime during a time when many white people still believed whites and blacks should be separated in most aspects of life. It took America several more years to break the color line outside of baseball.

Sixty years later the number of African-Americans in Major League baseball has shrunk to only 8.4 percent of the league, the lowest point since the 80's and dropping from as high as 19 percent in 1995. Conversely, now the Major Leagues are made up of 30 percent Latin American players, a minority that has contributed to the game just as much as any other, but has been surging in recent years. Perhaps the greatest Latin American icon is Puerto Rican born Roberto Clemente. Many are now demanding his number be retired as well. 

Clemente and Robinson were both excellent ballplayers, World Series champs, and hall of famers. Clemente's statistics are better because he played longer. Robinson may have been the better player overall, but it's debatable. Robinson was a fierce competitor and had more speed. Clemente's legacy was firmly established after his life was cut short during a humanitarian mission to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Majestically, he collected his 3,000th hit in his last game. 

But Clemente did not just die a humanitarian. That's how he lived his whole life.

I won't go into the details of either Robinson's or Clemente's lives, but I'd suggest you take some time and learn about these extraordinary men. The question isn't whether Clemente is deserving of having his number retired or not. Of course he is. The issue is, does retiring Clemente's number open a can of worms? Does it diminish the meaning of Robinson's number being retired? Some argue if Clemente's number is retired, then so should Babe Ruth's, Willie Mays', and perhaps more. 

Baseball has set aside some significant honors for Mr. Clemente. He is one of only two players to have the five year waiting period waived for his entrance into the Hall of Fame. Every year during the World Series, MLB hands out the Roberto Clemente award to a player who most exemplifies the model of Clemente's humanitarian work. So why retire his number? One pressing argument is because he had to deal with the same racism as Jackie, and another is the magnitude of Clemente's influence on Latin American players.

Retire 21 is the group that established the movement. It began a few years ago when they started petitions and sought the support of city councils to urge Bud Selig to take action. They offer several of their own reasons for the campaign. Interestingly enough, one of them seems to be a knock against Major League baseball for recruiting cheap talent in third world countries rather than in America's inner cities. Hence the decline of African-Americans and rise of Latin Americans.

Check out their website at www.retire21.org. They're making some headway and have the support of several current and former players including Tim McCarver. Others detract like Wade Boggs. Some like Bob Feller say go right ahead, but not until you've retired the Babe's. 

What do you think? It's your choice America.