Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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Did we learn anything during the Twins' Opening Day loss in Chicago?
Let's kick it around anyway.
Maybe my first and foremost takeaway from Opening Day is that it didn't feel like Opening Day. Two bad teams opening in one of baseball's worst ballparks on what promised to be (but wasn't) a cold day - that's a really bad idea.
Major League Baseball has flourished in a lot of ways under Bud Selig, but starting the season in Australia has robbed the openers in the continental US of their specialness.
Let's start this with a Top 15 list of places the Twins should open each season:
1. Miami. The Marlins' ballpark is funky, the weather is almost bound to be good (even if there is a little of the customary southern Florida light rain), and it's a two-hour drive from Fort Myers. A Twins fan could watch the final spring training games, then attend the season opener. Perfect.
2. Tampa Bay. See: Marlins. The Rays play in a terrible ballpark, but it is indoors, so Opening Day will at least occur on time.
3. Houston. Warm weather, easy flight, and a team the Twins might even have a chance to beat on Opening Day.
4. Texas: See: Houston. Except for the part about winning.
6. Cincinnati: Risk of colder weather, but Opening Day in Cincinnati should be the real opening day every season.
7. Yankee Stadium. Risk of colder weather, but what's better than Opening Day at Yankee Stadium?
8. Boston. Unless it's Opening Day at Fenway.
9. San Diego. Long flght to the coast, but perfect weather and a pretty good ballpark.
10. Los Angeles: See San Diego.
11. Anaheim: See Los Angeles.
12. Queens: A watered-down version on Opening Day in Yankee Stadium.
13. Baltimore. It's become a great baseball town again, with a great ballpark.
14. D.C.: Not a great ballpark, but an interesting team.
15. Pittsburgh. Perhaps the only ballpark in America that is remindful of Target Field, and better than Target Field. (Although part of the reason it's better is that it's bordered by two rivers.)
Back to the Twins' opener, and the hints that may have appeared within:
1. Joe Mauer did not look natural at first base. I think he can win a Gold Glove there, but he whiffed on one tough grounder and bobbled an easy one.
2. Josh Willingham's bat looked slow all spring, and he looked overmatched in his first at-bat against the exceptional Chris Sale, but he drove three balls to the outfield, and hit a couple of them pretty well. That's actually an encouraging sign.
3. Aaron Hicks, the subject of my Tuesday column, got two hits, but still has to prove he can hit big-league pitching from the left side.
4. Ricky Nolasco was disappointing. He should be a solid pitcher for the long run, but he didn't show great stuff or presence on Monday.
5. The Twins have to be really glad they didn't dump Anthony Swarzak last spring.
6. Brian Dozier has developed into a nice player, a quality defender who can drive the ball. He is not a leadoff hitter. He doesn't get on base enough.
7. The Twins have better prospects than the White Sox, but the Sox look like they're better prepared to make a jump in the victory column this season. Abreu could be a force, and the Sox have a real ace in Sale. The Sox might have the best combination of speed and power they've had in a long time, after years of looking like a slow-pitch softball team.
I hope Mike Zimmer isn't going to let Johnny Manziel's flamboyance dissuade him from drafting the kid. I don't think the Vikings will have a shot at Manziel, anyway, but writing off Manziel because of his personality may be like the Falcons trading Brett Favre because he partied too much.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at 12:15 with Judd & Mackey.
Earlier thsi spring, I wrote about Glen Perkins' transformation from problematic probable first-round bust to Everybody's Favorite Twin. Then, yesterday, he signed a contract extension for far less than his market value to remain with the Twins through 2017 or 2018.
What I love most about the story is that Perkins approached the Twins with the bargain. So many athletes are insulted if they aren't paid what their comparable peers are paid. Perkins begged to be underpaid.
I've been around him since the start of his career and these two things are true:
-I've never seen a local athlete so completely transform his personality and career path.
-Perkins is genuine. He lives in Lakeville year round. He wants to play for the Twins his entire career. He recognizes that he's lucky to be playing a game making tens of millions of dollars. He recognizes that if he isn't stupid with the money he and his family will always have more than they need.
Perkins is good with his teammates. He's good with Twins employees. He's good with writers. He kills time in the offseason hanging out with his old coaches at the University of Minnesota, and by dropping by Target Field to hang out with the media relations department.
He's also the latest prominent Twin to defy the beach-body ethic of modern sports. Perkins has a gut. So did Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek. Perkins is in pretty good company in all kinds of ways.
I'll be doing Sunday Sports Talk on 1500ESPN from 10-noon from Fort Myers while Scott Korzenowski hosts from the Twin Cities.
I'm also on WJON in St. Cloud at 7:15 every weekday morning, and on 1500ESPN (1500 AM) in the Twin Cities at about 12:15 every weekday. You can follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
Had a long talk with Justin Morneau that provided the basis for today's column. I couldn't fit all the good stuff into the newspaper, so here are Morneua's responses on a few other topics of interest:
Do you leave the Twins bearing a few regrets?
Morneau: ``Yeah. A World Series would have been the No. 1 thing. We got to theplayoffs and couldn’t find a way to get it done. It seemed like a key player was injured every time we got there, and when you’re matching up with a team like the Yankees that has so much depth, you need every guy that you have. In '06 we’re missing Frankie (Liriano), who was the best pitcher in the game at the time. And then in '09 and '10 I was hurt, and who knows what happens? I couldn't control the injuries. It’s part of playing the game. That’s something you wish didn’t happen but that’s part of the game.''
What was it like to be traded and wind up walking into the Pirates' dugout during a game?
Morneau: Crazy. Crazy. Really weird. For a few innings I looked out there, being on a different team, it took a little while to settle in. Once I made a few plays and atook a couple of at-bats, it started to sink in, and I started to realize it’s still baseball. Different team, but still baseball. It’s odd. At the same time, it was exciting.
Can you see yourself playing for the Twins again?
Morneau: I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. That’s too hard to answer that right now.
What was your favorite moment as a Twin? Maybe the game-winning home run off Detroit reliever Joel Zumaya in 2006?
Morneau: That one went through my head. The favorite one for me would probably be sitting in the dome the last day of the season in 2006, watching the game in Kansas City up on the screen, when nobody left the stadium. That’s not something you could ever script or plan. That just kind of happened. That was something we all shared with the fans and our teammates. That was insanity. That was probably my favorite thing I can think of.
Did you consider retiring when you were dealing with concussion symptoms?
Morneau: I had to think about it, but to say it was considered, no. To say it was close, no. But was it a realistic possibility? Maybe. It’s hard to say. Going through it, it felt like I wasn’t getting better. If I physically wasn’t able to go out there, to be cleared by a doctor to play…
Will you still live in the Twin Cities?
Morneau: Well, we live in Arizona during the winter. Corey Koskie came back. It might turn out to be a good thing. You go somewhere else and see what it's like, and you realize how great the Twin Cities are.
You've started hitting homers like your old self in the last month. Have you found your swing?
Morneau: My swing felt more like my swing. It's hard to put a finger on it. Those pitches I was missing or popping up early in the year, I felt like I was squaring up. I hit them in some of the right ballparks to hit them in, too. I just hope it continues for this month and next month and we have some fun.
Do you have any reassessed career goals?
Morneau: Winning. Just winning. Hopefully I get to play a few more years and enjoy wherever I'm at. Right now this is a good place to be.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon tomorrow from Milwaukee. Sunday on the station we'll have the Gardenhire show from 9:30-10, then Sunday Sports Talk with me, Scott Korzenowski and Tom Linnemann from 10-noon. I'll be calling in from the Vikings game in Detroit.
Remember the good ol' days, when Twins fans could just blame everything on hitting coach Joe Vavra?
Guess what: The 2013 Twins are even worse offensively than the 2012 Twins.
Replacing Vavra with Tom Brunansky hasn't helped. I'm not saying Brunansky isn't good at his job. I'm saying that hitting coaches don't create good hitters.
The Twins struck out 30 times in the three-game series against the Royals.
They've struck out 65 times in their last six games.
They haven't scored more than four runs in a game since July 23, when they had 10 at Anaheim.
With Cris Carter heading to the Hall of Fame, a couple of my favorite memories of covering him:
-At the begining of his career with the Vikings, we talked for an hour about his struggles in life and with the Eagles. Then he told me, ``If I like what you write, we'll get along fine. If I don't, I"ll punch you in the eye.''
I didn't get punched.
-During his last season with the Vikings, I asked how he had maintained his talent. He said he has assembled an entourage: A chiropractor, trainer, masseuse, physical therapist, chef, nutritionist...and about five other people.
He was one of the most dedicated and divisive athletes I've ever covered. A lot of his teammates couldn't stand him because he could be vain, and arrogant, and outspoken. Noone questioned his drive or his toughness.
Wrote about the Twins' pathetic effort and pathetic roster for the Friday paper.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon tomorrow. Scott Korzenowsky and I will run the Ron Gardenhire Show and Sunday Sports Talk from 9:30-noon on Sunday from the 3M Championship.
Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib
Everytime I write something nice or even neutral on Joe Mauer, I get emails. Oh, I get emails. Mostly from people telling me he's overpaid.
Well, if he is overpaid, it's not by much.
There are two ways of assessing a veteran player's monetary value. One is anecdotal. Talk to people in the game. They said Mauer would have made a killing as a free agent had he become one. Can you imagine what the Red Sox would have paid for a potential Hall of Fame catcher in his prime with a swing that might produce 50 doubles a year off the Green Monster, and who would constantly be on base in front of their sluggers? Probably $25 million a year. And all quality free agents end up being paid more than their actual value, because the bidding becomes a competition between super powers.
So Mauer is certainly worth $23 million anecdotally.
In terms of statistical valuation, I always turn to the great site Fangraphs.com, which calculates the obective value of a player.
Here is how Fangraphs values Mauer, year by year, since 2006: $23.1 million, $12.7 million, $26.6 million, $34.5 million, $21 million, $6.1 million and $21.2 million. This year, he is valued, so far, at $21.5 million.
Obviously, when he doesn't stay on the field, he's not worth the money, which is why 2011 was such an abomination.
When he is on the field, he's worth about what the Twins are paying him. Factor in that the Twins signed him in part to keep his contract status from ruining the opening season at Target Field, and he was an incredible bargain from 2006 through 2009, and the Twins and their fans have little to complain about other than the mystery ailments of 2011.
Mauer's real problem is he plays for a bad team. He doesn't have people on base ahead of him, and he doesn't have people who can drive him in batting behind him. He's not as valuable as Miguel Cabrera, but he's more valuable than the great majority of players with big-money contracts.
He's also the Twins' only above-average position player. He's not the guy you should be complaining about.
I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon with Judd & Dubay. Please follow me on Twitter at @Souhanstrib.
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