Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
Joe Mauer's move to another position was inevitable. The question was always going to be at what position, and the impending presence of Miguel Sano made first base a much more logical destination than third. We can debate that one if you'd like, but it's just not worth the energy.
Next issue: What do Josmil Pinto, Chris Herrmann, Eric Fryer and Ryan Doumit have in common? They're the catchers on the roster whom, according to media reports, general manager Terry Ryan expressed confidence in to handle the Twins' catching duties next season. No matter that we were told toward the end of last season that Doumit was also done as a catcher.
Next issue II: A.J. Pierzynski, John Buck, Brian McCann, Brayan Pena, Carlos Ruiz and Kurt Suzuki. What do they have in common? They're among the free-agent catchers on the market. (You can find a dozen more catchers in this list, but none of those names should interest us as much as the five mentioned here. Boston's Jarrod Saltalamacchia is available, but his defense reminds me too much of the Vikings' secondary to take him seriously.)
I'm all for Pinto becoming the Twins' regular catcher at some point. But all of the enthusiasm about his offensive ability needs to be put into the context that he had only 83 plate appearances for the Twins. (Can you say "Chris Parmelee, 2011?") Plus, there are the concerns that you would have for any young catcher about his ability to work with the pitchers, especially on a staff as flawed as what the Twins have been putting forth.
If there's a team in need of a veteran catcher to work with a promising youngster and a pitching staff in flux, it would be the Twins.
One of our stories about the Mauer move listed McCann, Ruiz and Saltalamacchia as free agents but "too expensive."
Let's all call garbage on that one.
I'm not saying one of those three has to be the answer, but the words "too expensive" and the Twins ownership should never, ever be mentioned in the same sentence, paragraph or book. That goes double right now with all of the salaries that have been dumped. You can make these numbers wiggle a little bit, but the Twins' payroll in 2013 dropped to about $82 million, The commitment to their 11 signed and arbitration-eligible players for this season comes to about $53 million, which means about $60-$62 million when you add the baseball-modest salaries of the others likely to be brought back.
That leaves plenty of room for investment, both in shorter-term position enhancements and longer-term pitching help. You could read toward the end of the season about ownership's shame, most notable the Jim Pohlad line from last summer on his embarrassment about walking through the concourses at Target Field. If the Twins truly believe that Pinto and those other guys are the catching answers for 2014, then ownership's shame is a sham.
If the Twins are committed to fighting the tire fire their team has become, the improvements for next season will include a veteran catcher to go with the new first baseman and the pitching help and Jason Bartlett (Jason Bartlett?) and any other moves they make.
Besides, you know you want to cheer for A.J. one more time.
You're going to read a lot about potential trades in the weeks to come. Some of it will be pretty frivolous, in the sense that even those who generally have keen insights may lose perspective from time to time.
If you look at the Johan Santana situation five years back, people with baseball savvy were writing that the Yankees could perhaps make fans forget some of their struggles by trading Santana for a package that would have included Ian Kennedy, who went 21-4 for Arizona last season, and All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera, plus others. Or the suggestion that a Santana deal would yield a star for the Twins. Robinson Cano, maybe, or Jose Reyes.
Instead, there was Carlos Gomez and the others.
And baseball's rules are different now, even from last year, in a way that won't facilitate some of the Twins dealing that's being imagined. Unless a team offers a free agent about $12 million, it won't receive a draft choice as compensation for losing him. So Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel wouldn't have fetched compensation based on the deals they were offered and eventually made with other teams.
What does that mean for the Twins as the trading deadlines approach? For one thing, don't expect much of anything for midlevel players.
Will contenders be very interested in Matt Capps when Kansas City's Jonathon Broxton, San Diego's Huston Street and Milwaukee's Francisco Rodriguez should be available now because their current teams won't make an effort to keep them under the new rules? We're dreaming if we imagine significant help coming this way for anyone other than Josh Willingham, Denard Span and Francisco Liriano. Anything else is strictly a salary dump with a body or two thrown in. (Think Delmon Young deal.)
Owing to his performance and contract, Justin Morneau has pretty much fallen into the salary dump category, and I can't imagine another team taking on his $14 million contract for this year and next. The Twins best hope is to hold on to him, hold out hope for improvement and see where he stands at this time in 2013, and again at the end of next season.
So where does that leave the Twins?
Needing to change the way they do business, at least in the short term.
Twins management talks of team payroll being a percentage of its revenues. That's fine, until the credibility -- or perceived credibility -- of the product is threatened. The Twins can talk about their $100 million payroll until Minnie and Paul turn blue, but the fact remains that 23 percent of that payroll is tied up for the next 6 1/2 years in Joe Mauer -- a move that had to be done by the Pohlads.
I have made the case previously that the Mauer contract needs to be considered as a separate item from the rest of the payroll. Kind of like an endowed chair at a college, supported by funds from outside of the regular budget. Ownership simply could not have moved into Target Field in 2010 with the Mauer situation unsettled. (The Angels and Tigers made first-cousin moves in their signings of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, paying them for a year or two longer than they are likely to be useful so they can better compete in the present. Better to do this on purpose than by accident -- see Wells, Vernon and Soriano, Alfonso.)
To say that the current and near-future payroll is limited by Mauer's contract is a disservice to anyone who follows the team. (Financial disclosure: I'm in for enough as a season-ticket holder to cover about 2 1/2 innings of Mauer's contract this season. Three innings, I guess, if you count expenditures on beer and the monster yams behind Section 102.) If the Twins need a couple of proven starting pitchers as an anchor for the coming years and a quality middle infielder, then they need to adopt a spend money-to-make money approach as part of becoming a contender.
That's what Wild owner Craig Leopold just did, right?
A total of $27 million comes off the payroll after this season if you assume the departure of Pavano, Liriano, Capps and Scott Baker. (I'll assume the Twins will offer Baker a smaller deal with significant incentives.) After 2013, another $22.5 million comes off the payroll with the Morneau, Nick Blackburn and Tsuyoshi Nishioka contracts expiring.
Should the Twins to commit that total -- $49.5 million, plus some "Mauer money" -- toward the 2013 payroll? Yes, if they want to remain relevant, both in baseball and in the Twin Cities. Ownership can afford it.
The Twins have $43.5 million committed for 2013 to Mauer, Willingham, Span, Ryan Doumit, Glen Perkins and Jamey Carroll. Nobody else on the roster is due for a major salary bump through arbitration.
Terry Ryan has scored well with the Willingham, Doumit and Jared Burton signings and got an infield upgrade with Carroll. The team has done well with its handling of Trevor Plouffe, Scott Diamond and Ben Revere, and is rightly using the remnants of this season to figure out the futures of Brian Dozier and a few others. There are some interesting prospects in the minors and hopes that last month's amateur draft will yield significant pitching help in a few years.
The Twins aren't good right now, but they're interesting -- not like the Twins of the mid- and late-1990s, who were bad and uninteresting.
Despite their record, Ryan's staff is doing pretty well with the mess it was handed -- maybe as well as possible. But to talk about the Twins "improving to .500" next season, or needing a few seasons to become postseason competitive, isn't a discussion that most fans will want to hear. Not when 10 teams make the playoffs.
One more issue: The Twin Cities pro sports landscape has changed markedly and at a lightning pace. The Wild just spent megabucks on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter; the Timberwolves are again interesting and relevant, and the Vikings are getting their new stadium. So continued atrophy, or running in place, could easily land the Twins as No. 4 among the four major pro teams in the Twin Cities -- status as darning as being at the bottom of the weakest division in the American League.
Twins ownership needs to trust Ryan's baseball skills by being willing to go more-in financially.
Otherwise they'll risk people saying: "No, I don't want your Twins tickets. I'm going to see the Lynx."
I have two pretty good Harmon Killebrew stories that feel right to share of the day of his Target Field memorial service..
Harmon was on his second stint as a Twins broadcaster during the years when I covered the team. As he was until his death last week, Harmon was a gentle, genial presence who treated young baseball writers, veteran baseball players and restaurant waitstaff with the same respectful demeanor. But you've heard enough of those platitudes.
One night, a copy editor friend of mine and I went to a bar after work. I must have been covering the game; the copy editor was working in the office. Harmon was at the bar and left his group to join us for a couple of minutes. If my memory is correct, I had already pointed out that Harmon Killebrew was over on the other side of the room.
My friend sent me an email the other day: "I still tell the story of the night he bought drinks for you and me, and shook my hand, and that I did not know who he was until you told me. Even though I had cropped ... his mug shot at least 100 times. He was darling."
The thing I remembered, and that my friend confirmed, was that he introduced himself as "Harm."
"He definitely introduced himself as 'Harm,' and he mumbled it under his breath besides. I think he was relieved not to be recognized and enjoyed the moment of anonymity. He only cared that we were friends."
That memory is worth more to me than 573 home runs.
The other story is about a group of my rowdy baseball friends. And it debunks a Twin Cities urban myth.
My friend Julian Loscalzo organizes minor-league baseball trips and, this year, he's running a bus trip to Cooperstown for Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame induction.
Back when Harmon was inducted in 1984, Loscalzo (then doing business as Julian Empson) and a group of friends decided that mementos from old Met Stadium should be donated to the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in conjunction with the event. The group, which protested the building of the Metrodome loudly and creatively, had made enough peace with the outcome that its members were able to get permission from the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission to go into the abandoned Met and see what they could take.
"By then, we had stopped our reign of being sports terrorists," Loscalzo said this morning.
The curator of the Hall of Fame at the time, Ted Spencer, gave them a shopping list of sorts: Some grandstands seats, a dugout telephone, a batting helmet rack ... the seat where Killebrew's 500-foot-plus home run from 1967 landed.
As Doug Grow reported in a 1984 column for the Star Tribune: "...the Killebrew seat had been painted over for the Vikings' last season outdoors, meaning it had not been stolen by stadium sackers."
Soon after, once the proper tools were procured, the section of bench seats was in possession of the Save the Met guys. After they figured out it was too bulky to fit on their bus to Cooperstown, a friend in the trucking business volunteered to haul the Met Stadium artifacts to Cooperstown.
Spencer told Grow: "Usually it's the owners of the ballpark or the teams that get in touch with us about things like this. This is a unique group."
For a while, the seats were part of an exhibit at Cooperstown:
The seats are real; the plaque isn't. Loscalzo and his crew were sure they had the right seats, among other reasons, because the holes for the screws that held the original plaque were still visible.
Later, the seats ended up in the Hall's theater, right below a reproduction of the old Comiskey Park scoreboard.
A few years later, Loscalzo was invited to an event in Bloomington that was a tribute to the Met. Killebrew was there and the Save the Met guys introduced themselves.
"Harmon was very kind when we told him and told us, 'That's very nice,' " Loscalzo recalled. "But you could also see that he was thinking, 'Those guys took seats out to the Hall of Fame. Who are these guys?' But he came to one of our Hot Stove banquets in the 1990s and I remember that he asked for the guy who was running the thing. He said something like, 'I remember what you told me and when I went to the Hall, I looked. Those seats were there. Thanks.'
"It was classic Harmon."
So when somebody tells you that the red seat hanging at the Mall of America is the seat where Harmon's 1967 home run hit, tell 'em you know better.
And, if you want to see the seats for yourself, you can go to Cooperstown with Julian and his group in July.
(BULLETIN: AT 12:42 p.m., Michael Cuddyer drove in a run with a DOUBLE!)
After another wretched performance and with a day game coming up, I've decided to feature some of the comments from Tuesday's Cuddyer post -- and my comments about your comments.
I've always thought that Section 219 comments are a cut above most blogs -- and about four cuts above some of them. For the most part, you all proved me right yet again.
awalter 6710: Going back to 2009, I think the media actually had a significant role in forcing the Twins to make a move at the trade deadline. It was the first time (only time?) I remember most local reporters writing articles indicating that "the time was now" and that it was absolutely necessary for the Twins to make a move - - and they did. I would really like to see more of the same now. This team is awful on most fronts, and it is at least refreshing to read candid posts.
Me: Even if the Twins were at full strength, we'd be talking about moves that still need to be made: A right-handed bat and an ace to bolster postseason hopes. Talking about the postseason is a bit silly right now, but Job 1 on the player acquisition front would be a bullpen makeover. The Twins brought a lot of arms to spring training but, much like the Libyan resistance, they don't have enough good ones.
minnesotacat: I'm just as irritated at Cuddyer as everyone else but I have another question. What is wrong with 95% of our hitters this year? Are we doing something different in spring training in the hitting department? I can't remember a season where we have such a pathetic team batting average. I understand that half of our players are from AA and AAA right now but even with them figured in we should be hitting better than this. That was a good pitching performance last night that got wasted because we couldn't hit the ball.
Me: Two reasons for the pathetic batting average. The unoffensive fill-in players and the lack of spring training at-bats for Morneau, Cuddyer, Young and Mauer due to their injuries. Keep that in mind the next time players talk about spring training being too long. Guys need time to get down their timing and that just didn't happen this spring.
ljkjdk: Conspiracy - Twins piling on as another bad MN team now, during a Vikings stadium push, reducing overall 'sports' enthusiasm in time for stadium deal to crumble, sending Vikings packing. Ok...maybe not, since they generally don't compete head-to-head with fan $$. But fun to throw out there.
Me: Sorry, I prefer to think they really thought taking the trees out of center field would make everything better.
nyy27titles I get a huge kick out of this (Cuddyer)! His strategy to get a fat new contract with the twins seems to be to portray himself as the ultimate twin and do all the media (blogs, interviews and advertisements) work he can while forgetting what his actual job on the field is! Fortunately, for a NY fan that loves the annual first round bye, I have a good feeling Billy will fall for Cuddy's act and resign the guy.
Me: What's the deal? Did you get banned from the New York Post comments section?
bphorizon: This is absurd. Cuddy's numbers are bad yes, but to pin the season on him is ridiculous! AT LEAST HE PLAYS! Right Mauer? Delmon? Morneau's month long flu? Fact is .240+ for Cuddyer is 3rd best in this everyday lineup of slop right now. Who is he supposed to be driving in? Whoever hits the 2-out single we manage every inning? B-c of the injury to Mauer, Young, Thome, and the fact that Justin Morneau is hitting more like Justin Timberlake, you are asking Cuddy to be the savior! He's not that type of player, and never has been. Yes he did a great job in for Morneau a couple times, but he's always benefited from who is around him in a lineup. Right now nobody is protected in this lineup at all. Walk Kubel and get the rest of our lineup out. Cuddy is actually hitting .297 in his last 10 games, which on this offense is MVP-like. Using Span, Kubel, Cuddyer, and Valencia, and we get 1-2 runs a game. Otherwise we have 5 easy outs of late. Morneau/Timberlake included. Yet 2 articles in a row have turned into readers ripping Cuddy. Ummm...yea...that's the problem.
Me: I think Justin Timberlake would have more home runs than Morneau and more RBI than Cuddyer if Gardy put him in the lineup every day.
stick333: Cuddy should be batting 8th in the order. Problem is: there's only three others qualified to bat 1-7.
Me: Ouch. Just ouch.
cjvirnig: If nothing else, Cuddyer's lack of production will make Bill Smith's job easier this winter. Joe Mauer obviously will have to move to right field maybe as early as next season. At this rate, you probably bring Jason Kubel back and let Cuddy walk. If Mauer insists on catching for another year, Kubel can play right. I like the idea of one day having Mauer play right and Kubel be the DH. That way, every third or fourth day Mauer can DH and Kubel can play right. Seems like the most logical course of events.
Me: In terms of 2011, I give credit to Cuddyer's agent for negotiating what turned out to be a fortuitous clause in his contract. Cuddyer's option for 2011 had to be picked up within five days after the 2009 season ended. I wonder if the Twins would have brought him back for $10.5 million based on his 2010 performance. I don't see a scenario in which Cuddyer is back in 2012 unless he takes a massive pay cut and understands that a reduced role could be part of the deal.
ellinal: Blow up the whole team, it's time to begin afresh. Is everyone only just now realizing that Cuddaver's dimples are adorable, but he is pretty much worthless at the plate??
Me: Nothing special here, except to point out that name-calling pretty much gets me to ignore everything else in a comment. The only exception to that rule, of course, is Yankees third baseman Cheater McSmug.
mpcolt: Howard - you earned your keep. You generated comments - good, bad, and ugly (how the Twins have played this season). We all agree that the Twins "team" must improve individually and as a group.
conormacleod: Howard ... This would be more fitting for a Twitter post (Cuddyer stinks, more at 11) rather than a spot on the Star Tribune website. For a person that generally takes the time and effort to post thoughtful information, this was a disappointment. I guess you were in a hurry.
Me: Not even Section 219 can get a 100 percent approval rating. Thanks for your comments ... and for reading the blog.
Here are three weekend ponderables.
Among the 150 or so comments about postseason bullpen construction, the commenter BillyHeywood offered this point. I'm not on board, but it's certainly worth considering.
"I'm sorry Howard, but you are missing the point. The predictive validity of Mijares' splits this season aside, there are opposing batters, such as Curtis Granderson, that must be forced to face lefties as often as humanly possible. Granderson mashes right handed pitching, but has an OPS only about one hundred and twenty points higher than Drew Butera against lefties, which is terrible. Managers do often go overboard with matchups (Gardy especially), but there are certain situations where you gain a massive advantage by bringing in a pitcher who throws from one side or the other."
Under normal circumstances, I agree 100 percent. I'm just not liking the lefty options.
And if/when the Twins play the Yankees, Granderson's time should be minimized by having lefties Liriano and Duensing in the rotation. Also, Granderson is 0-for-6 and a walk in seven pinch-hitting appearances. (Yes, Joe Mauer has the same numbers.) Granderson's also 5-for-24, all singles, as a pinch hitter in his career.
In other words, right now I'm fearing Mijares on the mound more than Granderson coming off the bench. I hope Mijares can make me change my mind.
The blog "World of B" offered up a point-by-point takedown of my Delmon Young post from last week. Big B's arguments don't sway me but I'm in kind of a sharing mood. (Also, there's more stuff on the blog that's worth a read.)
And finally. If the Vikings pulled someone midgame and Brad Childress claimed a tummyache afterward, would you believe him? And having a second player leave the field would make me that much more skeptical. The Twins may not do full disclosure, but at least they aren't liars.
So glad I'm not a football blogger.
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