La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.
First of all, the Opryland Hotel is far from affordable family fun. I hit a breakfast buffet on Monday, and found out it was $21.00. Lunch on Tuesday consisted of two sushi rolls, miso soup and iced tea. That was $40.00 (and they weren't exotic rolls). I spent the rest of the meetings buying sandwiches at coffee shops. Geez...
And the complex is just enormous. Too many places for teams to hide. Too spread out. Instead of saying 'hello' as we crossed paths with other scribes during the week, we would say. 'I hate this hotel,' for a greeting.
Still, it's a baseball convention. There are still debates that go on into the early morning at the bars. The wild rumors still spread around the lobby, and it gets you looking forward to spring training. I love this stuff.
I'm trying to figure out what kind of Twins team will report to Fort Myers, Fla. in February. GM Terry Ryan stunned me and made a trade today - the first time he's swung a deal during the winter meetings in my 15 years on the beat. All you folks who predicted the Twins would do nothing were wrong - for the first time, ha!
I'm totally behind the concept of adding the pitchers the Twins have added. They traded Ben Revere, who has speed and a good glove but doesn't have power or a strong arm, and turned him into two pitchers. One, Vance Worley, was described by a scout as a, 'Twins type pitcher.' He doesn't miss bats and needs good control to win. He's young and he said he has his cut fastball back that he didn't have last season because of bone chips in his elbow.
The other pitcher, Trevor May, has upside. He could turn out to be a No. 2 starter because he hits 94 and has good secondary pitches. His control needs to improve, but coming to the Twins and Rick Anderson could be just what he needs.
So YOU MAKE THAT TRADE. You get two starters - one for now, one for two years down the road - for a speedy contact hitter.
It's time to re-do my top ten prospects rankings, again. May doesn't have Alex Myers' upside but he could land anywhere from 4-6 in the rankings. A potential rotation of Meyer, Gibson and May - the MGM boys - looks promising.
I expect Terry Ryan to sign at least one more starting pitcher this offseason, so the 2013 can resemble more of a makeover. If they re-sign Francisco Liriano, I hope there's a second signing. They still have several offers out there, waiting for the pitching market to loosen up.
I'm going to miss Revere, one of the most positive people in that clubhouse. I'm going to miss Denard, one of high-quality guys I've met during my career. But the Twins have to address this starting pitching problem, and had to make these deals.
Not sure who will start in center. At 1 a.m. this morning, when I was chasing down the Revere rumor, one official said he heard that the Twins are ready to give Hicks a chance to start in center. Wow. We'll see if they stick to that.
All I know is this: If the season started today, Joe Mauer might have to be the leadoff hitter.
It was a productive week for the Twins. In addition to Worley and May, the Twins picked up righthander Ryan Pressly and third baseman Mark Sobolewski in the Rule 5 draft and signed reliever Jared Burton to a two-year contract, plus an option.
They have two spots open on their 40-man roster, by the way.
Watch the Strib this weekend for more coverage of the remodeling of the Twins' rotation. An online chat has been scheduled for Monday, too. And I'll join KFAN's Paul Allen on Friday (actually about 12 hours from now) at Buffalo Wild Wings in Coon Rapids to talk Twins and argue about the Bears-Vikings game this weekend.
The Twins have reached an agreement with first round pick Byron Buxton, pending a physical tomorrow in the Twin Cities.
Buxton, an prep outfielder from Georgia, arrived in Minneapolis on Monday and met with the Twins at Target Field. The exact amount of the bonus is not yet know, but baseball's recommended bonus for the second overall pick is $6.2 million
The Twins also have agreements with righthander Jose Berrios, the 32nd overall pick, for $1.55 million, second round pick, J.T. Chargois, a righthander from Rice; fifth round pick, Tyler Duffey, a righthander also from Rice; Jorge Fernandez, a prep catcher from Puerto Rico; and eighth round pick Christian Powell, a righthander from the College of Charleston, according to a club source. All deals are pending a physical.
Third round pick Adam Brett Walker II, an outfielder from Jacksonville University, has signed for $490,400. Walker's father was a Vikings replacement player. His bonus also was equal to the league's recommendation.
Buxton is expected to begin his pro career with the Twins' rookie league team in Fort Myers, Fla., with a chance to advance to Elizabethton, Tenn., of the Appalachian League.
If you something to look forward to now that you're stuck in this icebox with the Vikings season over, the Twins are about to begin selling spring training tickets.
The Minnesota Twins announced today that single-game tickets for Spring Training 2011 go on sale at 8 a.m. ET (7 a.m. CT) on Saturday, Jan. 8.
It's hard to get members of the major sports teams in any town in the same room at the same time, but FSN has pulled it off in the Twin Cities with a three-part show this week called, ``Unscripted"
The Minnesota sports scene will be represented, with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, Wild head coach Todd Richards, Wolves head coach Kurt Rambis and Gophers men's hoops coach Tubby Smith gathering at Target Field for a lengthy roundtable-like discussion with FSN's Anthony LaPanta.
The first episode airs at 9:15 tonight.
The men discuss why they got into their profession, their management style, building team unity, dealing with criticism and the effects their profession has on their families and their abilities to good fathers. The session was so productive that FSN will show it in three parts this week.
From the press release:
Just to make sure the Twins weren't secretly working to host the Vikings-Bears game next Monday, I checked with club president Dave St. Peter.
``No,'' he said. ``To my knowledge no one from the Twins has been contacted as it relates to Vikings games.
``But, yes, this facility could hold both football and soccer games.''
Like TCF Bank Stadium, Target Field would need several days to be brought out of, `hibernation.' Coincidentally, I was at Target Field for baseball-related business several weeks ago while it was being winterized.TCF Bank Stadium has two advantages over Target Field when it comes to being a home for an emergency NFL game: It holds 50,000 (TF hold 40,000 with SRO tickets, and there probably would be room for a couple thousand seats on the field) and The Bank has FieldTurf.
Football at Target Field, however, sounds intriguing. Where would the field be placed?
``We would work with a couple of configurations,'' St. Peter said. ``One would run down the middle of the field, the other would be from left field to right field.''
There's a good chance Target Field will be used for different events in the future. The Twins said before the season they wanted the field to settle in for a year or two before having other functions there. They have expressed a willingness to host concerts, which would be great considering the only outdoor music venue we have in the area is the Zoo.
I guess TCF Bank is in that market too. U2's concert there last summer was postponed until 2011. The thought of having two options for major outdoor concerts makes me forget it's five degrees outside.
The Twins, as expected, on Friday picked up the 2011 option on Jason Kubel's contract that will pay him $5.25 million.
And the Twins, as expected, declined the $5 million option on Nick Punto's contract and will instead owe him a $500,000 buyout.
Kubel, 28, in what was a down year for him, batted .249 with 21 homers and 92 RBI. After hitting the first home run in Target Field history, Kubel hit just eight homers at home during the season,struggling like many teammates to clear the fences there. He's a .275-.280 hitter with 30 homers and 100 RBI.
Punto, 32, batted .238 with 1 homer and 20 RBI and spent two stints on the disabled list because of a strained left hamstring.
There is a belief within the organization that it's time for Matt Tolbert to become the main utility player. But all the Punto bashers out there should hold off on the celebrations. If Punto is willing to come back for pennies on the dollar in an utility role, the Twins might be interested.
(Although I write that sentence before talking with GM Bill Smith, who might just say the sides have agreed to part ways).
(*) Twins manager Ron Gardenhire met with Twins owner Jim Pohlad this week, presumably to go over the season and address his contract extension as well as contracts for his coaches. We all expect Gardenhire to a deal done before the end of the calendar year - based on Pohlad's comments to me before Game 3 of the ALDS.
(*) Trevor Plouffe could be in line to start at short next season if the Twins decide to non-tender J.J. Hardy, who is eligible for arbitration. To help prepare him for a potential spring training battle, Plouffe could end up playing winter ball. ``Plouffe is ready to do whatever we need him to,'' Smith said earlier this week. Plouffe could join a club during the second half of the winter ball season.
(*) Although Plouffe could be looked at as Hardy's replacement, don't count out Alexi Casilla. Some believe it's his time - again - to prove he can be an everyday player. He would be their best option for a No. 2 hitter. Casilla. 26, hit .276 with 1 homer and 20 RBI in 69 games last season. Casilla might be needed to start at second, because Orlando Hudson is not expected to be back next season. Hudson told me while packing up a few weeks ago that he didn't expect to be back.
If you want to talk Twins and Major League Baseball, tune in to KFAN from 3 - 6:30 p.m. today, where I will be filling in for Dan Barreiro. Scott Miller will join me from Arlington, Texas at 3:05 p.m. to talk about the World Series. After that, I'm renaming the station K-Strib, as Gopher football writer Phil Miller, Vikings writer Judd Zulgad and Gopher hoops writer Myron Medcalf are all queued up to join me. Should be a lot of fun!
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