TwinsCentric was formed by Twins super-bloggers Seth Stohs, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman and John Bonnes. Together they publish at TwinsDaily.com and have authored books, e-books and magazines that provide independent and in-depth coverage of the Minnesota Twins from a fan's perspective. You can contact them at TwinsCentric@gmail.com.
Someone forgot to tell the veterans.
The M&M boys, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, gave the youngsters a demo Sunday on what September baseball can be. In their heyday, Mauer nearly hitting for the cycle and Morneau’s multi-home run game would’ve given each a chit towards an(other) MVP award. This year, it meant a satisfying 8-7 win over Cleveland in a beautiful, if half-filled, ballpark.
The fans at the game deserved everything they got. Not only did they abstain from the Vikings home opener across town, but they stuck around for 3 hours and 30 minutes to watch the ninth-inning, two-out blast by Morneau. And while the weather was gorgeous, there were aspects of the game that were far from it.
By now, we should all recognize a sentence like that last one is going to lead to talk of the Twins starting rotation. And it is. Today’s punching bag was Esmerling Vasquez, making his second start since being recalled from Rochester. He lasted only three innings, throwing 68 pitches and giving up five walks before his manager seemingly grew tired of him. Esmerling has now walked 8 in 8.2 IP which matches his reputation before he seemingly found some control in AAA late this year. Whatever he had previously found sure seems lost now. So does he.
But the top of the order looked locked in. Trailing 4-0 entering the bottom of the third, Jamey Carroll singled, and Mauer followed with a triple before Justin Morneau hit his first home run. In the fourth inning, the Twins used their speed, stealing three bases en route to taking a 5-4 lead.
The Indians responded in the top of the fifth, taking a 6-5 lead, but the Twins rallied again in the bottom of the seventh. Mauer doubled driving Carroll to third base. Morneau was wisely walked, which loaded the bases. Ryan Doumit struck out for the second out, but left-handed hitting Chris Parmelee’s ground ball found it’s way through the right side of the infield, plating two and giving the Twins a 7-6 lead.
However, again the Indians responded. Twins reliever Jared Burton hit Brent Lillibridge with a pitch and then watched him round the bases two pitches later on a triple by Jason McDonald. With the help of Brian Duensing, the Twins escaped the inning without giving up the lead run, which led to Morneau’s ninth inning heroics.
Morneau’s health struggles, which have defined his last two seasons (and last two offseasons) seem to be behind him for now. Since the All-Star break, he is hitting .321 with a .369 on-base percentage and .512 slugging percentage. That’s an 881 OPS, which exceeds his career mark and falls squarely in the production levels he posted from 2006 through 2010. Welcome back, big guy.
The Twins are using September to look ahead to 2013. Morneau’s game today should remind them – and the fans – that he can still be part of that future. He certainly showed he's part of the present.
The Twins season is winding down, and that means the end of the minor league season too.
Tonight The Voice of Reason™ and I went to a St. Paul Saints game. We soaked in a gorgeous Minnesota summer night, watched a bunch of kitsch and thoroughly enjoyed a game in which we had almost no emotional investment. Because it’s baseball. And it doesn’t last forever.
I hear Minnesota sports fans lauding the turning of the calendar page, anxious for football and the (albeit limited) hope new seasons bring. I’ll enjoy watching the Gophers and Vikings too. But I’m a baseball guy, and I can’t devise a night much better than I just had.
So go ahead, tell me how tough it is for you to watch a Twins game right now. Or take it a step further; tell me how you won’t watch a Twins game right now. I won’t be upset. More like puzzled, because I see all kinds of things that are exciting to watch over these last six months of the season. Let’s count down the top six.
6. Sam Deduno
The original sin in baseball is to overestimate how much you really know. Sabermetrically and historically, Deduno doesn’t make any sense. But maybe we don’t know everything about this game just yet. I’m hoping we don't.
5. Chris Parmelee
“Prospects” kind of get lumped together, and we’re poorer as fans for it. So let’s be clear – nobody has had a season like Parmelee is having in AAA since the Twins moved to Rochester. Not Cuddyer. Not Kubel. Not Morneau. That doesn’t mean he’s a star in the making. But I sure want to see what he can do.
(And that includes what he can do – shudder – in right field.)
4. Liam Hendriks & Brian Dozier
Two guys who were rushed through AAA, brought up to the majors and predictably struggled. I’ve seen enough from both to think they’re on the right path, they just have a ways to go. I’m convinced these stories are going to have a happy ending.
3. Denard Span & the Twins Medical Staff
When Span is deemed unavailable for the 15th straight day, will the Twins finally feel comfortable putting him on the DL? Or perhaps they'll decide that they don’t need their medical staff any more, relying solely on the player’s self-diagnosis. And when they need a second opinion they'll draw cards from the board game Operation. (The Wacky Doctor Game!)
2. Other September Callups
I think we’re going to be disappointed by how few additional September callups there are, but I’m hopeful we’ll get to see some pitching. I’d love to see if Esmerling Vazquez’ recent hot streak represents a breakthrough. I’d like to see if Anthony Slama and his video-game-like stats prove the organization’s brain trust wrong. I’d like to see if Deolis Guerra could have a role next year.
1. Joe Mauer and Ben Revere
As a Twins fan in the 70s, it wasn’t uncommon to have nothing more than a Carew batting title to root for come August. I’ll readily admit my fascination with Mauer and Revere’s longshot chances are based on that being an annual occurrence of my childhood. I’d likely be just as fascinated if they brought back the bullpen car.
(Of course, who wouldn’t?)
At Twins Daily, the Blackburn demotion provided lots of discussion yesterday, including who might be called up to replace him.
If you want to look to the future, follow the discussion about the Twins 2nd pick Jose Berrios. This thread starts when he was picked, follows his promotion and recently includes links to a national scouting review.
And Keith Law of ESPN recently visited Beloit, the Twins low-A team and saw some Twins prospects he liked, too.
In which Aaron and John take the podcast to the radio with their KFAN debut and talk about Clete Thomas' big first impression, Ben Revere's demotion to Triple-A, what the rotation looks like after injuries to Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn, why Liam Hendriks is sticking around, what the future holds for Francisco Liriano and Alexi Casilla and when watching Delmon Young is like watching porn. Here are:
This Thursday night (4/19), from 5-8, there is a unique and fairly intimate Twins event about which Twins Daily wants to let you all know. Tix for Tots and the Twins are co-hosting a fundraiser to help Tix for Tots distribute unused tickets from all over the Twin Cities to underprivileged kids.
It'll have four of your favorite things:
Twins - The event is in Located in the Metropolitan Club at our favorite hangout…Target Field. It will include an opportunity to talk Twins with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, KFAN'S "Twins Geek" John Bonnes and noted Minnesota baseball historian Stew Thornley. The exclusive Q&A format allows attendees to ask those burning questions they most want answered.
Food/Drink - Fabulous appetizer spread throughout the evening. Also featured is a complimentary wine tasting featuring wines from St. Michelle Winery. There is also a cash bar.
Cool Stuff - There will be a silent auction with a blend of affordable and exclusive items. Included are a suite for a Twins game in 2012, Batting Practice buddy for a youth at a Twins game, signed memorabilia from the Twins, Vikings, Wild and Timberwolves, vacations, and more…
Doing Good - Proceeds of this event support Tix for Tots, a local nonprofit organization that has provided over 125,000 ticket opportunities to see the Twins alone since 2001. Over 350,000 total tickets have been provided to children in need since inception, valued in excess of $2 million. Through these tickets, kids have seen sporting events, concerts, theater, museums and a variety of other performances. These experiences provide hope, inspiration and an sometimes just an escape for kids dealing with a host of issues that impact their present and future.
I've worked with Tix for Tots since their inception, and can assure you that they are a lean, volunteer-based organization that provide an escape to kids that can be in some pretty dark places. I hope I'll see you there!
This winter has been one of the hardest I can remember for the good state of Minnesota. I don't think I'm alone in saying I've been cooped up in the house far more often than I'd have liked over these past several months, unwilling to brave the multi-foot snowfalls and subzero temperatures that have comprised most of our days. A winter that began with a Twins sweep at the hands of the Yankees gave way to miserable seasons from the Vikings and Timberwolves, sprinkled with the stunning success of every team in Wisconsin. It's enough to make a lifelong local sports fan raise his eyebrows while driving past the "Are You Depressed?" billboard.
Yesterday, I woke up, walked to the window, opened up the blinds and looked outside. Suddenly, everything changed. My eyes were instantly drawn to the gushing sunlight and the water dripping from the roof. I didn't even need to step outside to realize that finally, after this maddening and forgettable winter, we were getting our first thaw. The days are getting longer. Summer is quickly approaching.
Like so many seemingly unrelated things, it got me thinking about baseball.
Baseball is, of course, one of the best parts of summer. My excitement this offseason has been tempered by what I view as a baffling course of action from my favorite team's front office, but -- much like this hellish winter -- I feel ready to put it firmly in the rear view mirror. I'm just ready for the boys to start playing some games.
So I was struck hard by this bombshell dropped by Joe Christensen last week, which hits like a blizzard after the melt. While the Twins have weakened themselves over the past few months, one big reason they've still got a shot at a title is Francisco Liriano. He's one of the league's most dominant pitchers, he was their Game 1 starter in the ALDS (delivering a far more impressive performance than Carl Pavano or Brian Duensing) and for now he's exceedingly cheap.
The Twins have a window for winning a championship, with a number of talented players currently on the roster -- most importantly a prime-aged Joe Mauer. What I loved about last season was that every move the team made, whether trading for J.J. Hardy or signing Jim Thome or trading for Matt Capps, was geared toward maximizing their chance at taking advantage of this window.
By trading Liriano right now for a package of prospects, which Christensen presents as a possibility in drawing comparisons to the Zack Greinke and Matt Garza trades, the Twins would effectively be slamming the window shut on themselves. Hypothetically, they could still compete for a division title, but contending teams just don't trade their best pitcher away.
I'm reminded of the situation that took place four years ago, in Bill Smith's first winter at the reigns. The Twins had turned in a sub-.500 record for the first time in seven years and seemed to be bracing for a bit of a rebuilding period. In an offseason where they'd watched Torii Hunter walk away as a free agent, the front office elected to trade away Johan Santana to the Mets for four prospects, and Matt Garza to the Rays for a package that centered on Delmon Young.
Over the next two years, the Twins surprised. The offense churned and young pitchers stepped up. The Twins came just a game short of a playoff berth in 2008 and sneaked in with an incredible late-season run in '09 before being swept by the Yankees. It's fair to say both those clubs were surprisingly good, but a bit short of greatness.
Two of the biggest flaws on both teams were a lack of front-line pitching and the lack of a passable regular shortstop. Instead of one year of Santana and two years of Garza and Jason Bartlett (who'd have fit those billings incredibly well), the Twins were forced to endure the growing pains of Young and Carlos Gomez, products of the trades. The two young outfielders provided more negative value than positive in those two years, and that swing of production may have been the difference between the Twins taking advantage of their window and failing to do so.
One could argue that dropping hints they're shopping Liriano is the responsible thing to do for the Twins' organization, ensuring that they'll avoid becoming out-leveraged by waiting until the lefty's last year before free agency to talk trade. Some see it as an indication that Smith learned his lesson from the Santana debacle that took place in his first months on the job.
The thing is, if Smith had learned his lesson, he wouldn't be discussing a Liriano trade at all. The southpaw is quite probably the only chance this team has at a truly elite starting pitcher in the next two years, making him one of the organization's most irreplaceable commodities and one of their best hopes for bringing home a championship with Mauer, Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Carl Pavano, Jim Thome and others all helping contribute.
I'm not saying I would never trade Liriano. Every player has a price. But I find it impossible to believe that any general manager in baseball would give up enough for a pitcher with his track record to make losing him worthwhile. Even as one of the Liriano's most adamant supporters, I was taken aback by rumors that his camp was looking for a three-year, $39 million extension. It shocks me that his agent wouldn't bring a more reasonable offer to the table in order to secure some up-front money for the next few years to insure his client's somewhat fragile arm.
But any pitcher can get hurt, so unless the Twins have specific reason to believe his arm is going to fall off this year (and if that were the case Liriano, who knows his body better than anyone, would be rushing to a long-term contract), there's no reason to even entertain the notion of trading him right now. Maybe in a year, if he inflates his value and holds unreasonable contract demands, but not right now. He's far too important.
When I actually stepped outside yesterday, I was reminded that it was in fact still decidedly chilly, and six-foot piles of snow stretched in every direction. It was a beautiful day, in its own right, but also a reminder that we'll have to keep waiting before the snow is gone and spring is here.
By trading Liriano before the 2011 season even starts, that's the message the Twins' front office would be sending championship-hungry fans.
In the wake of the Twins' quick exit from the playoffs last year, as I prepared myself for the offseason by looking through the team's financial particulars, I came to one clear conclusion: "The Twins would be insane to bring back Matt Capps."
In my blog post discussing the subject, I surmised that the Twins and arbitrators would overemphasize the value of Capps' saves, comparing him to other closers with similar totals. I concluded that "it's not hard to imagine Capps at least doubling his $3.5 million salary in 2011."
Of course, there was little doubt that the Twins would be bringing back Capps. They obviously overvalue the heck out of him, otherwise they wouldn't have traded away a top prospect to have him come in and close when they already had a guy who was adequately handling the job.
So I wasn't at all surprised when I heard that the Twins had tendered Capps a contract at the early-December deadline. The decision created a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that kept growing and growing until the inevitable news came through yesterday: the Twins and the arbitration-eligible Capps have agreed on a one-year, $7.15 million deal.
In justifying the move on ESPN 1500 yesterday afternoon, after Phil Mackey astutely pointed out that the team could have kept two of its other departed relievers by not tendering Capps a contract, general manager Bill Smith said that the Twins want a good closing option should Joe Nathan be unable to fill the role. As if Capps -- who was non-tendered by the Pirates following a terrible campaign just a year ago -- is all that different of a pitcher from Jesse Crain ($4M next year), or Jon Rauch ($3.5M).
The Twins are talking out of both sides of their mouths with regards to Nathan. On the one hand they claim that they're very optimistic about his recovery, to the point where they apparently won't carry any trustworthy setup men other than Capps and Mijares. On the other hand, they're spending over $7 million on insurance at the closer position, where they've already got $11.25 million invested in what has been illuminated as a mistake of a contract. (I was on board with that extension myself at the time, but let's face it, losing Nathan had virtually no effect on the team's outcome last year.)
Meanwhile they refuse to spend $5.8 million -- the amount in J.J. Hardy's new one-year deal with the Orioles -- on insurance at shortstop. Even if you don't think Hardy should start, he's a drastically better backup plan than anything they have and it seems at least as risky to count on the perpetually underachieving Alexi Casilla to be a competent starting shortstop as it does to count on Nathan to close.
In what world is closer a more valuable and irreplaceable position than starting shortstop? And how would the Twins not be more aware of this than anyone? They've cycled through bad shortstops faster than the Vikings go through quarterbacks over the past decade but they've had no trouble turning solid setup men like Eddie Guardado and Nathan into All-Star closers.
What's that saying about insanity and trying the same thing over and over again while expecting different results?
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