I know. Most of you thought I was crazy last week when I predicted a Vikings 41-10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. You may have been right, but after the Vikings 31 point win over the Cowboys last Sunday, you have to at least acknowledge that it was a pretty solid guess!! I will happily make my prediction for this week's Vikings/Saints NFC Championship game. But first, consider reading my thoughts on where the Minnesota Twins are as we head into the end of January.

The Twins offseason continues to role on, but let’s be honest, things are starting to get exciting. The Twins Winter Caravan’s first week is nearly complete. Two more groups will head out next week to places far and wide to talk Twins baseball. Next Thursday night will be the annual Diamond Awards, a black tie event honoring the Twins of 2009. Then starting next Friday is Twins Fest. And then, just a couple short weeks later, Pitchers and Catchers will report to Ft. Myers. As you know, I love the offseason as much as anyone, but the idea of the dawn of a new season being that close has to get everyone excited.
On a quick side note before I continue, next Tuesday’s SethSpeaks.net Weekly Minnesota Twins podcast will be expanded to two full hours. Instead of going from 9:00 to 10:00 central time, I’ll be on from 8:00 to 10:00 central time. I’ve already got three confirmed guests, none of which has been on a previous podcast. I’m hoping to have anywhere from 6-10 guests in total, so it should be a very fun show!
Alright, back to our regular scheduled blogging. We know where we are on the calendar, but what does it mean for the 2010 Twins and their fans. With the eight Twins arbitration-eligible players signing earlier this week, the team now has some payroll certainty. We also have heard that the Twins offered Jarrod Washburn $5 million, which the lefty inexplicably rejected. So, that offer would have had to have been made knowing that the Twins would be at about $90 million after these arbitration signings. That tells me that there could be $4-6 million left to spend.
What moves have happened?
The Twins acquired a 27 year old former All-Star shortstop (JJ Hardy) who plays solid defense and could hit 15-18 home runs for their fourth outfielder (who was also very good defensively). Neither player is a certainty at this stage, but the general consensus is that the trade makes the Twins better. The Twins offered arbitration to Carl Pavano, and as you know, he took it. The 31 year old pitcher will make $7 million in 2010, a fair amount for a league average pitcher with his service time. Although I probably would have preferred he reject arbitration and the Twins gain a supplemental first round draft pick, Pavano is certainly a better ‘veteran’ starting option than Jarrod Washburn or other pitchers on the market. Retaining Pavano, in all, leans to the positive for the Twins. Finally, the Twins essentially replaced Bobby Keppel on their roster with Clay Condrey, which is a clear improvement. There are three moves that make the Twins better.
The Twins lost Joe Crede, Orlando Cabrera, Mike Redmond and Ron Mahay (although technically Crede could still come back). All had some value to the Twins, but none will be particularly lost.
What’s Left?
The Twins, like every other team in baseball, still have a few holes. Are they holes, or are they perceived holes? Well, that is up to each individual to decide. Here are the general areas in which the Twins have perceived holes:
1.)    Second Base – As of today, Nick Punto would be the leading candidate to be the team’s second baseman. I know I’m not the biggest Nick Punto fan, but if he’s batting ninth and playing second base, he is the least of the Twins worries. He takes a ton of pitches. He has a very solid on base percentage. Yes, I would prefer if he hit .260, but any way you can get on is a good thing, and Nick Punto somehow coaxes a lot of walks. There are still two good options out there at second base in Felipe Lopez and Orlando Hudson. If one of them would be willing to take the one year, $5 million deal that the Twins offered to Washburn, I would be thrilled.  
2.)    Third Base – I think if the season started today, Brendan Harris and Matt Tolbert would be your starting third basemen. I’m not Tolbert fan, but I do like Brendan Harris. I especially like it because he can play three positions and has some pop from the right-side of the plate, so that when Danny Valencia is ready (2-3 months?), Harris still can help the team in a utility role. I have pretty much zero interest in bringing in Joe Crede or Melvin Mora. I would be interested in Miguel Tejada for the same one year, $5 million contract, but I would prefer to focus on 2B. If they sign a 2B, Nick Punto can play 3B, and again, bat ninth and play solid defense.
3.)    #2 hitter – Right now, the Twins best #2 hitter option is probably Nick Punto. His ability to take pitches, foul off pitches and get on base make him a viable option. His inability to hit make him a better option in the #9 spot. This is where adding Felipe Lopez or Orlando Hudson both make a lot of sense. Both have the ability to get on base, but both can hit as well. Adam Kennedy is a solid on base guy too (and he could play 2B or 3B), but he’s a left-handed hitter, so if he hit second, the Twins would probably bat five lefties in their first six batters.
4.)    Veteran StarterDoug Davis signed with Milwaukee. Washburn is still out there. My feeling is that the Twins do NOT need to add another starter. The top four are Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano and Kevin Slowey. In spring training, the likes of Brian Duensing, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Manship and Anthony Swarzak can battle for the fifth spot. You have enough depth in case of injury. In my mind, it doesn’t make sense to bring in a starter who will make much more money than these guys and probably wouldn’t do any better.
5.)    5th outfielder – With Delmon Young, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer set as the primary outfielders, and DH Jason Kubel able to play both corners adequately, I don’t see the 5th outfielder spot being all that crucial. And honestly, I wouldn’t spend any/much money to acquire it. I would be looking for someone who could play CF since the Twins don’t have an option if Span were to need a day off. He’d obviously have to be able to play both corners too. It’d be nice if he could have a little bit of pop in his bat for those 12 inning marathons, but primarily, he needs to play solid defense and be able to run the bases. Jason Pridie does all of that. I’m not saying I’d be comfortable with him if he had to start more than two or three games in a row, but if that were the case, the Twins could find someone. When I saw Brandon Jones was taken off of Atlanta’s 40 man roster; that intrigued me. He was sent to the Pirates. I would prefer guys like that, 26-30 year old minimum salary guys
What Would I (Try To) Do?
Two things. That’s all.
1.)    I would throw one year, $5.5 million contract offers to Felipe Lopez and Orlando Hudson. They would be worth $5 million in 2010 with a team option at $6 million in 2011 (with a $0.5 million buyout). Make sure both know that they will sign the first to agree to it. I’d consider going up by even $1 million in 2010 base salary.
2.)    I’ve said all along that I thought the Twins and Joe Mauer would announce the signing of a new long-term extension that will keep in a Twins uniform for years to come. I think that announcement happens in the second half of the week next week.
If those two things happen, coupled with their previous moves, this will have been a remarkable offseason for the Minnesota Twins and their fans. It has already been a very good offseason. If they sign a second baseman, but don’t sign Mauer, it’s still a very strong offseason. If they don’t sign a second baseman, but they do sign Mauer, it will be a tremendous offseason.    

What would you do? Map it out.

Map it out, but also don't forget to include your Vikings prediction as well. Can the Vikings get to their first Super Bowl since before I was alive? First, a few thoughts.

Last week, I thought that Percy Harvin would be the key. A quick hitting passing scheme seemed to make sense. Instead, the offensive line performed very well and gave Brett Favre plenty of time to find Sidney Rice for three touchdowns. The defense was excellent and in the face of Tony Romo the whole game. Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that Ray Edwards' value to the Vikings would be so high and so important? That will be the key again. The defensive line, linebackers or whoever else they send will need to keep Drew Brees running around, make him uncomfortable. If they can consistently get pressure on Brees, I think the Vikings have a chance. They also need to get the combination of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor no fewer than 25 combined rushes. 30 would be even better, and that's solely for time of possession. I really think this is the game that Peterson busts out and shows just how good he is capable of being again.

With that little bit, it's time for my prediction. Earlier in the week, I told people that I thought the Vikings would win 104-98. I've backed off from that saying that it'll probably be a 10-6 defensive grudge match. But obviously it will (most likely) be somewhere in between. Therefore, my prediction is:

Saints 19, Vikings 27.

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