Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Others Who Weren't So Lucky

Monday night, news broke that the Twins had retained all of their arbitration eligible players, including both Luis Rivas and Jacque Jones. These two moves will be questioned up until spring training and even into next season. Jones is an outfielder coming off an off-year and is now eating up 5 million of the Twins payroll. Rivas has actually regressed the past couple of seasons and is only marginally better then his competition in the infield (despite a much earning a much higher salary than every one of them). Add those two to the payroll and it now appears the Twins are, at best, several million over budget for next year with no room left to sign any other free agents. With the Twins off-season moves all but done they will now turn their attention to signing franchise player Johan Santana. Not only were things happening at 34 Kirby Puckett Place, but there were also several other intriguing players non-tendered Monday. A quick walk through those transactions:

The White Sox allow Scott Shoeneweis to become a free agent.

As of yesterday it appeared the Sox had also cut bait on Ben Davis, who was a part of last summer's Freddy Garcia trade. However even though the team did non-tender Davis on Monday, they re-signed him as a free agent today. Shoeneweis is coming off a year in which he had a 5.59 ERA in 20 games, 19 started. It was not a very good year for him but previously he had been a valuable pitcher. Shoeneweis pitched much better in 2003 as a reliever with both the Angels and White Sox. He wants to start but if used in the bullpen he will be a great pick up for another team. Leave it to the White Sox to not have utilized him properly.

The Angels sign Orlando Cabrera and non-tender David Eckstein.

Eckstein was the catalyst when the Angels won the World Series in 2002 and Cabrera was a major part of the Red Sox championship in 2004. Cabrera is hands down the better player but it’s worth noting what Eckstein has done. He is the antithesis of the usual professional athlete. With limited athletic ability was actually a major part of the Angels' success. He will add chemistry to any team he is on and might have been a good option for the Twins. He is probably better suited to play 2nd with his arm but people have been doubting him for years and he has continued to prove them wrong.

Houston non-tenders Wade Miller.

Miller is now one of the most attractive pitchers on the free agent market. He is a top of the rotation guy and a former All-Star. It is a bit surprising that Houston did not decide to hold on to him. He was injured for parts of last year but when healthy, he pitched pretty well behind the other big three (Oswalt, Clemens, and Pettitte) in Houston’s rotation. This is probably a sign that they are saving their resources to bring back Carlos Beltran.

Former Twins Kevin Frederick and Dustan Mohr both were non-tendered Monday.

What is your favorite Kevin Frederick memory? I must admit I barely have any Kevin Frederick memories, let alone a favorite one. With an ERA over 6 this past season he probably deserved to be released. Dustan Mohr on the other hand had a decent season for the Giants batting .274 with a .394 OBP. He is a great 4th outfielder but may be able to find a starting spot somewhere. If he leaves the Giants, they will have will have nothing to show for Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser, and Franscico Loriano, whom they traded to the Twins last winter (A.J. was cut loose last week).

It is important to remember that by being non-tendered, a player becomes a free agent and is no longer eligible for arbitration. They are still able to re-sign with their old team but they must now compete with everyone else. Jacque Jones would have been one of the biggest names in this group had he not been offered a contract. Usually the Twins are not forced to make such controversial decisions in this process but it is a reality all teams across baseball must face.

Note - Joe Randa signed with Cincinnati yesterday, officially ending any speculation that he would play third base for the Twins next year; when the Twins chose to bring back Jones and Rivas Monday they pretty much shut the door on this possibility. This is rather disappointing because Randa would have been the solid veteran Ron Gardenhire likes and he would have allowed the team to move Michael Cuddyer to second. That infield would have been much stronger both defensively and offensively but Terry Ryan chose to play it safe with his outfield and maintain the status quo. In the past he has made such questionable decisions and they have worked out so we will all have to sit back and see how it goes.

-John Betzler

Subtraction by Retention?

First off, I want to apologize profusely for our extended absence here at Twins Chatter. I was absolutely crushed by finals here; I have written three(!) 10-page papers in the past week and am currently running on nothing but Mountain Dew (yeah, it’s not pretty). But despite our week in exile, we decided that yesterday’s monumental events could not go uncommented-upon here at TC.

As you’ve probably read in about a million places by now, Terry Ryan and the Twins did the unexpected yesterday by retaining all seven of the team’s arbitration eligible players: Jacque Jones, Luis Rivas, Matthew LeCroy, Johan Santana, Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, and J.C. Romero. Jones, Rivas, and LeCroy were all signed to one-year contracts while arbitration was tendered to the rest.

However, the biggest surprise of them all was the fact that Jacque Jones will remain a Twin for at least one more year. Contrary to sources such as ESPN’s Peter Gammons, who speculated that Jones would definitely be gone before last night’s deadline, TR gave Jones $5 million for one year (about $1 million less than he would have received in arbitration). No doubt this move will be the source of much debate among the Twins community for the rest of the winter, probably even more so because we won’t have any other moves to discuss: this is it. The Twins will not make another free agent signing this winter, and what you see right now (the 25-man roster) is probably the same one that will attempt to defend the AL Central crown in April.

But was this the right move? Should TR have kept Jones or instead pursued a minor free agent or two (such as Joe Randa)? I’m not condemning this signing (as some others undoubtedly will) but I’m still a little lukewarm. Jones is what he is, and he’s not going to get much better. He’ll hit .260-.280 on average, hit about 20 homers, and drive in 70-85 runs every year. He’ll strike out a ton but also play solid defense in the outfield. Is that kind of production worth $5 million? In today’s inflated dollars, probably yes. Someone would have given Jones $4-$6 million a year for two years had the Twins non-tendered him. But is he worth almost 1/10th of the Twins’ payroll, especially when they have three solid outfielders (Hunter, Stewart, Ford) already? Probably not.

I definitely don’t mind having Jacque Jones around. He’s a solid player who has a knack for coming through in the clutch. But in retaining Jones, the Twins have pretty much consigned themselves to an infield of Michael Cuddyer, Juan Castro/Jason Bartlett, Luis Rivas, and Justin Morneau in ’05. That’s a far cry (both offensively and defensively) from both the “League of Nations” infield or even last year’s Koskie/Guzy/Cuddyer/Morneau infield. Terry Ryan had to make a decision: either take a chance with a free agent to improve the overall play of the infield, or go with the sure (albeit limited) thing and maintain the status quo. Ryan chose the safe route, which consigns Lew Ford to the DH role once again. I don’t think that TR could have wooed a free agent with Jones’ offensive numbers, but I’m a risk-taker: I would have rather seen him roll the dice with a new acquisition or two. The status quo has only gotten us two first-round playoff exits the past two years, and no matter what Torii Hunter thinks, I think it’s time to try a new strategy.

But what’s done is done. Jacque is coming back next year at a decent (although not great) price, which will keep Torii happy for another year and will give Twins fans at least some sense of continuity. And who knows? Maybe JJ will reward the team’s fate with that breakout season we’ve been expecting for years.

We usually don't pester you with non-related Twins links, but this one is simply too cool to pass up: for a limited time at www.keyhole.com you can try out their GPS satellite picture map software for free! Zoom in on your house, the Metrodome, the Great Wall of China, Fenway Park--anywhere you want. It is truly one of the most amazing software programs I've ever seen, and if you have some time to waste, I highly encourage you to check it out.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Gone But Not Forgotten

Well folks, even though we might not want to admit it to ourselves, it’s time to face reality: Corey Koskie will not don a Minnesota Twins uniform next season. It is all but a certainty that he will sign a three-year, $17 million dollar contract with the Toronto Blue Jays today, finally ending his six-year tenure with the Twins after weeks of speculation.

I correctly predicted this outcome last week, but rest assured, I derive no joy whatsoever from that fact. Corey Koskie was the quintessential Minnesota Twin: a hardworking, hard-nosed ballplayer who truly earned every ounce of respect he received. A 26th round draft choice in 1994, Koskie became one of the better third basemen in the league and was a key cog in the Twins’ turnaround in 2001-2002. It would have been great to keep him on board for a few more years (at least) but alas, it was not to be.

Odds are you’re feeling a tad bitter right now, especially given the perception that Terry Ryan and the Twins did not seem to pull out all the stops to retain Koskie. I know we’ve been doing this a lot lately (first with Dougie, and then with Guzy) but I think we should first remember all the great things that Corey Koskie did for this organization before we start in with the negatives (believe me, there will be plenty of time for that). Koskie was one of the team’s lone offensive bright spots in ’99 and ’00, hitting over .300 both years. He had a spectacular ’01 season, hitting 26 homers and driving in 103 runs (even stealing 27 bases!). He played Gold Glove-caliber defense for a number of years; no one could handle the Astroturf’s lightning-fast hops better than Canada’s favorite son. And who could forget that oh-so-memorable season-saving homerun last August in Cleveland. It doesn’t get any more clutch than that.

We’ll have much more to say about Koskie's imminent departure tomorrow (and what the implications might be for the Twins’ post-League of Nations infield), but for now, enjoy a few choice photos of everybody’s favorite Canadian folk hero/lumberjack.

No one ever accuses Corey Koskie of not going all-out.

8/15/04: The swing that saved a season.

One of the most accomplished pranskters in baseball, Koskie's unique
sense of humor will be sorely missed in the Twins' clubhouse next year.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

No Trade or No Deal?

Every Twins fan breathed a tremendous sigh of relief last night at about 11:10 p.m. when it was revealed that Brad Radke had signed a two-year, $18 million contract with the team. John did an excellent job analyzing that deal yesterday, and it has been widely acknowledged both inside and outside the organization that it was a very good (and necessary) move. Terry Ryan and the Twins were subject to the whims of a surging market for player (especially pitcher) salaries, just as they were in 2000 when Radke got his monster four-year, $36 million deal. $9 million isn’t chump change by any stretch of the imagination, but Ryan and the Twins did what had to be done and I commend them for that.

However, the circumstances surrounding the Twins’ other key free agent (Corey Koskie) are markedly different. Unlike Radke, Koskie is not a “must” sign. Yes, he is a very good player, and yes, most people (including Corey himself, I believe) would like to see him continue his tenure with the organization. Koskie is a class act both on and off the field, plus he is also the only Twins player who lives year round in the state (an extreme rarity in this day and age). But when you look at the nitty-gritty, it will be far easier for a small market club such as the Twins to adequately replace Koskie’s .251/25/71 line at third base line than it would have been for them to find another starter even close to Radke’s caliber.

The Twins were unable to come to an agreement with Koskie before last night’s deadline, but instead of parting ways indefinitely, they pulled a fast one and offered him arbitration at the last minute. This was a rather unexpected move, as it seemed unlikely that the Twins would risk paying Koskie $5.5-$6 million in 2005 (his likely arbitration figure) when they were unwilling to offer him more than $8.25 million for two years.

"I don't know what to think right now," Koskie was quoted as saying in today’s Star Tribune. "I was under the assumption that there was not going to be arbitration offered, but it was offered.”

The fallout from last night’s events doesn’t end there. LaVelle E. Neal III is also reporting that Koskie will re-sign with the Twins for two years at $9-10 million, but only if a no-trade clause is included. He reportedly has a three-year $16 million contract offer on the table from Toronto (most likely), far more than the Twins have offered. Koskie says he will only turn it down if he gets that no-trade clause.

My Thoughts:
Things are not looking good for the Twins right now in terms of retaining Koskie; it seems last night’s feelings of optimism were premature. Will the Twins be willing to give Koskie $5 million a year AND a no-trade clause? Quite frankly, no, I don’t think they are.

No-trade clauses are generally a bad idea in baseball. Look at all recent cases of teams being saddled with overpaid/veteran/soon-to-be free agent players because of no-trade clauses: Randy Johnson, Sammy Sosa, Carlos Delgado, Mike Piazza, Steve Finely (although he did waive it this summer for the Dodgers), among many others. The Boston Red Sox as an organization do not even consider giving no-trade clauses, and this conviction may cost them Jason Varitek. Radke’s previous contract was the last time the Twins gave out such a clause, and I believe it is also the only time (Knoblauch, Puckett, and Hunter also didn’t get them).

Even though $5 million a year for Koskie sounds reasonable and would not cripple the team even if he doesn’t fulfill expectations over the next two seasons, I’m still very wary about giving a somewhat marginal (i.e. non-superstar) player so much control over his own fate. A lot can happen in two years. Suppose (heaven forbid) the Twins flop in 2005 or 2006 but Koskie fully realizes his potential and stands poised to receive a big raise in 2007 from the Red Sox, Yankees, or some other large market team. His now-bargain salary makes him an attractive stretch run pickup for a contender, but the Twins are unable to flip him for younger players because of his no-trade clause, perhaps stunting the rebuilding process. This might sound like an unlikely scenario right now, but it is definitely a possibility. If you had told me after the 2000 season that the Twins would be the dominant divisional power in the league a mere four years later, I would have probably scoffed at you; yet here the Twins are, once again poised to capture the AL Central crown in 2005. In life, there are only three certainties: death, taxes, and the Yankees making the playoffs. Change is an inevitability in baseball, and good general managers plan ahead and prepare themselves for every possible situation. Giving out no-trade clauses willy-nilly severely handicaps one’s ability to adapt to prevailing circumstances.

Those are my personal thoughts on the situation, but only one man’s opinion really matters in this situation, and that man is Terry Ryan. As I said above, it just doesn’t seem likely that TR will go that extra distance and give Koskie the extra dough and the no-trade clause. I appreciate Koskie and all he’s done for this team just as much as the next guy, but I don’t think caving in to his demands is the right move for this organization right now. Trader Terry might disagree with me and Koskie could very well prove me wrong in the unlikely event he re-signs, but I don’t think it is meant to be.

Ryan Maus

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Late Night Relief

Baseball is a sport that has several big days throughout the year. The day pitchers and catchers report, Opening Day, the All-Star game, the July 31st trading deadline, and the World Series to name a few. Another big day that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle but it becoming more and more important is the day teams decide whether or not to offer their free agents arbitration. In case you've been living underneath a rock for the past few weeks, you probably already knew that day was yesterday.

Tuesday's events (or non-events) held more implications for Twins fans this year than almost any other in recent memory. With the rise in salaries awarded in arbitration and the increasing value of draft picks received as compensation for lost players, the potential risks and rewards of "arbitration-offering day" continue to rise. For a small market team like the Twins one decision can be the difference between staying competitive for the next 5 years and returning to the Dark Years of the mid-90’s. That is what makes the Twins signing of Brad Radke and their offer of arbitration to Corey Koskie last night so important.

Radke, a cornerstone of the rotation, received a 2-year deal for 18 million dollars. Considering the interest that he was drawing and the quality of other pitchers on the market this has to be considered a very fair deal for both sides. The length of the contract is also perfect; if Radke declines in the next 2 years the Twins will not be on the hook for a large sun of money (ala Joe Mays). If in 2 years Radke continues to be the same pitcher, the Twins will be in no worse place then they are now. By signing Radke to such a deal they avoided the gamble of going to arbitration and crippling next year’s payroll with a salary in excess of 10 million per year. Had Radke not signed last night, the team may have been forced to let him go without arbitration and today we’d be saying our goodbyes to the team’s ace of the last decade.

This signing is more than just economics. It defines the direction of this team. Without Radke, the rotation would have been Johan Santana and four other guys: hardly the staff to strike fear into the hearts of the American League. Both Cleveland and Detroit continue to improve within the division and the loss of Radke would have done a lot to bring the Twins back to the pack.

The first time the Twins signed Radke marked the beginning of the organization’s turnaround. Radke is the steadying force. He is more then just a horse that eats innings; he gives the team an edge. He has been remarkably consistent and more importantly, he has pitched his best in the biggest games. With Radke, the team has an Option B for ace of the staff. Every 2 out of 5 games the team can expect to win. Despite Radke’s win-loss record he was easily one of the top 5-10 pitchers in the game last year. Keeping Radke’s leadership is a major coup for Terry Ryan and the Twins.

The other big news of last night is that Corey Koskie was offered arbitration. This appears to be a no-lose situation for the Twins. First of all, they get more time to decide whether or not to bring him back with a multi-year deal. But if does accept arbitration, anything he is awarded will be manageable (in the area of $5.5 mil.) and if another team signs him, the team will receive that all-important compensation pick. Certainly, it would be nice to have Koskie back in the lineup next year if the price is right. Terry Tiffee performed well in his brief stint with the team but is yet unproven. Koskie produces when healthy and is a leader both on and off the field.

The only question with Corey, as always, is whether or not he will stay healthy. Troy Glaus seems likely to sign with Arizona making Koskie a more attractive free agent on the third base market. As a result it is unlikely the Twins will have to go to arbitration with Koskie and the team will never complain about receiving extra draft picks.

The team also offered arbitration to Henry Blanco last night. Many people may have forgotten about Blanco when the Twins signed Mike Redmond to replace him two weeks ago. It turns out he might be a Type B free agent, meaning that by offering him arbitration the Twins will also receive a draft pick for him. Since Blanco signed with the Cubs yesterday (2 yrs, $2.7 million) the team would be assured of two things: they will receive that pick and Blanco will not be back in a Twins uniform next season. The Twins not only replaced Blanco with a better player, they don’t have to overpay him like the Cubs did and they would receive a high draft pick in the process. Blanco has done so much for this organization this winter and he deserves a Christmas card for all his gifts. Thank you Henry Blanco for turning down that "measly" $900,000 option. It was a gift that keeps on giving.

Make no mistake; yesterday was the biggest day of the winter for the Twins. Finally, many of the questions surrounding the team for the last month have been answered. The rotation has been solidified and while the book is still out on Corey Koskie, the team has given itself the option of bringing him back. The Twins they are going into next season with its nucleus intact, which is all you can hope for as a small market club. They can now focus their attention on going out and signing a lower level free agent or two to solidify the roster. They are also free to begin talking with Cy Santana about a multi-year deal. Christmas has come early and Twins fans are getting everything they wanted.

Side Note: If you want another reason the Twins did a great job in signing Radke for two years at $18 million, Jaret Wright received the same 3-year, 22.5 million deal that Kris Benson received from the Mets from the Yankees yesterday. Wright had a great season last year but before that he was a pitcher with a bad arm who couldn’t get anybody out. Does anybody else remember a pitcher with one good year and a bad arm? His name is Joe Mays. Benson is a pitcher that the Twins wanted at last year’s deadline but were unwilling to pay the high price to get him. Maybe that was because he was also a pitcher with an unproven record and an ERA over 5 at the time. In any case, compared to these two, Radke probably could have received $10, $11 or even $12 million on the market.

John Betzler

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Steroids: A Debate

I know many of you have come to rely on Twins Chatter as your (Twins-related) beacon of light amid the darkness of winter. However, absolutely nothing new has been reported since early last week, so I don't exactly have much to go on here. Instead, I've decided to reprint an article that I ran in the St. Olaf newspaper in late October (I'm the sports editor). We touched upon the steroid topic because Ken Caminiti had recently passed away, so it doesn't discuss the recent relevations concerning Giambi and Bonds. Still, I think you'll find that some interesting points were raised.

The first section was written by my co-editor (and fellow student) Matt Stortz, while my contribution is the second section. Had I known about Bonds and Giambi I may have taken a less controversial position, but like I said, I think my ideas have merit.

If any Twins news breaks before tomorrow (the deadline to offer players arbitration is Tuesday), be sure to make Twins Chatter your first stop.

Steriods: Showcase talent, not drugs

By Matt Stortz

The international athletic community was shocked to discover an inordinate number of Olympic athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs. I write shocked because the coaches, athletes and medical staff involved have long known about the doping problem. The amount of athletes doping this year wasnt inordinate; there was merely an inordinate amount of discovery.

There is also speculation that 1996 National League MVP Ken Caminiti's recent death was expedited by steroid use.

In addition to banned substances, a number of currently legal but disputed drugs have made their way to the sports scene. Among them, Ephedrine and Creatin are the best known. Not only do athletes consuming of these drugs violate the fair play expectation inherent in sports, but they put the athletes in grave danger. Among the strongest reasons performance-enhancers should be banned:

1. Athletes who rely on performance enhancing drugs are less impressive than those who depend on their own natural ability and hard work. I would rather watch a gifted drug-free cyclist compete for the Tour de France title than one who has synthetically increased his athletic ability.

2. Even legal supplements can be dangerous. Products containing Ephedrine and similar drugs are often used by athletes to increase their stamina. These supplements increase the athlete's heart rate, moving oxygen-filled blood through the body more quickly. The problem: there is no method, other than exercise, which safely allows athletes to increase their heart rates.

3. Chemically enhancing performance is disrespectful to great players of the past. To use baseball as an example, players who down Creatin in order to crack 70 homeruns a year or smoke a 100 mph fastball have an unfair advantage over Satchel Paige, Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Josh Gibson, Jackie Robinson and Lou Gehrig.

4. If you lose, you lose. I hate losing more than anyone, but no one wins every game. Michael Jordan lost nearly 300 games in his career, and missed 30 game winning shots. The possibility that an athlete's natural talent may not propel them to victory in the upper-echelons of athletic competition shouldnt be feared; that's just how life works.

What supplements are okay for athletes to take? Any supplements that supply benefits available from food should always be available. A football player needs protein after he lifts; to get that protein, he could drink a protein shake, or eat a chicken. We can spare the chicken and the athlete by permitting the healthy, all-natural protein drink.

Sports cannot be fair and athletes will not be safe unless all unnatural performance-enhancing substances are banned, frequent random testing is performed to monitor its consumption as well as drugs that mask illegal chemicals and meaningful sanctions are imposed against players, companies, coaches and doctors who promote their use.

Steroids: Wrong, But Understandable

By Ryan Maus

Matt, I have to agree with many of the points that you bring up. There is absolutely no doubt that unnatural performance enhancing substances are detrimental to the health of those who use them. Caminiti, who admitted to using steroids throughout his career, recently passed away. BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative), a San Francisco-based nutritional supplement lab that is under investigation by the federal government, has been linked to Giants superstar Barry Bonds.

Why then, if there is so much evidence outlining the perils of steroid use, are so many professional athletes associated with them? The answer to that question lies within the spirit of American capitalism.

Consider the following hypothetical situation. You are a minor league baseball player who has played three seasons at the triple-A level. While your skills seem to have hit their ceiling, you see dozens of younger players pass you by on their way to fame and (most importantly) fortune in the major leagues. While you are struggling along at $3,000 a month, the minimum major league salary is $50,000 monthly. Playing major league baseball is your lifes dream; it's the reason you didn't go to college, the reason you've spent the last seven years of your life riding busses around the country for little pay.

Then, an opportunity presents itself. This is something that can give you an extra advantage, something that will finally allow you to fulfill your dreams (and make excellent money in the process). You know there are health risks involved, but you decide it is worth the risk. Designer steroids are almost undetectable, they say. You'll never get caught. Would you pass on this one chance to fulfill your dream?

Steroids will not magically transform a marginal athlete into a major leaguer. When combined with intense training, however, they can give an give a highly-skilled athlete the extra strength needed to reach the next level.

Caminiti, who is the only major professional athlete ever to publicly admit to steroid use, is the perfect example. Prior to his 1996 MVP season, Caminiti was a solid-but-unspectacular third baseman, averaging about 20 home runs and 80 RBI a season. In 1996, he suddenly hit 40 home runs, drove in 130 baserunners, and hit .326, which was 50 points above his career average. Steroids cant make the player, but they can take that player to a previously unreachable level of performance.

Please be aware that I am not condoning the use of steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs. I firmly believe they are wrong and immoral in every possible sense. What I am saying is that I can empathize somewhat with those athletes who do use them. In today's sporting landscape, where competition is incredibly fierce, athletes are looking for every possible advantage they can gain on their opponents. If steroid use was the only way you could make the big leagues, secure that college scholarship, or secure that $20 million contract, could you resist?

Left, Caminiti takes out his 'roid rage on his lumber. Right, you can see the difference in physique between Bonds circa 1989 and Bonds today. Sure he didn't "know" he was taking drugs...

Thursday, December 02, 2004

They Can't be Serious... Can They?

It all started way back when Dustan Mohr was traded.

One by one they have had their chances and each watched it disappear. Michael Cuddyer was supposed to be the savior; now he is slated to start at second. Mike Ryan had one great September, but we now know it was a fluke. Michael Restovich doesn't look like he's good enough to play in the majors and has now endured a setback (falling on some ice a couple of days ago).

Jason Kubel was the best of them all, hailed as the next great outfielder in the game. All it took was one fateful day in the fall league to derail that dream.

The only light in the darkness has been the play of Lew Ford, playing well beyond anybody’s expectations. We here at Twins Chatter hitched a ride on his star back in April and neither one of us has looked back ever since.

Slowly the Twins have watched their organizational outfield depth dwindle to almost nothing over the course of two years. They were supposed to be the next wave of players who finally forced enigmatic Jacque Jones out of town. Now, following numerous promises that 2004 was Jacque’s last in a Twins uniform, his return is becoming more than a mere fantasy.

For some reason the Twins have a fascination with speaking out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to Jones. Since last winter, it has been apparent it would be in the team’s best interests to let him go. His production has diminished and he never became the player many envisioned back when he was jumping over catchers' heads as a rookie. At the same time, the team has refrained from openly admitting just that and the local papers continue to drop different scenarios involving Jones’ return. These scenarios imply the team is willing to work to keep Jones, as though he’s a real asset to the team.

The latest update in the Jones saga, according to La Velle E. Neal: if the Twins are unable to sign Corey Koskie they may then use that money to keep Jones. The Twins have until December 7 negotiate with Koskie, who they have decided not to offer arbitration. Koskie is right behind Troy Glause and Adrian Beltre in the free agent third base market. The team has offered him 2 years at $8 million, which seems awfully low compared to the $2 million they just paid Juan Castro.

Jones is expected to make $6 million in arbitration. He is the younger player but a third baseman of Koskie’s caliber, bad back and all, is more valuable then a light hitting right fielder who does not hit lefties.

There are other free agents out there who might be better options than bringing back Jones, including Joe Randa, Placido Polanco, and Tony Batista at third base. There are also many outfielders on the market that are a better value then Jones. Sometimes it appears the Twins fall in love with their own players and are too concerned about chemistry. This is the same team that was attacked by LaTroy Hawkins for its lack of loyalty after it provided him with multiple opportunities. Jacque Jones will not have the same turnaround as Hawkins and it would be a mistake to bring back Jones at such a price tag.

Everyone is familiar with the fact that Jones struggles against lefties. Last year, however, he actually had a higher on base percentage against lefthanders at .328 compared to .310 against righties. Yet neither number is something to be proud of. Jones also has no power against lefties with 2 homeruns in 155 at-bats last year another 2 in 145 at-bats the year before. Overall Jones’ numbers last year look like this; 555 at-bats, .254 BA, .315 OBP, 24 HR, 80 RBI, and 117 K’s. Those numbers do not warrant 6 million dollars plus; yet for some reason the the rumors persist. Why?

It is a possibility that the team is merely talking up Jones’ trade value. The team is going to have a hard time trading him either way. Teams know what they are getting by now. If he is traded, the likely outcome is that the team acquiring him will try to negotiate a better deal with him. If they are unable to come to terms, they will non-tender him rather then risk arbitration themselves. This happened last year with the Cubs and Michael Barrett. The reasoning for such a move is obvious: a team that likes Jones would have time to exclusively try to sign him before exposing him to the rest of the league. It is hard to imagine the Twins receiving much of value in any such deal but it is also Terry Ryan’s specialty acquiring low-level prospects that other teams undervalue.

It is a little odd how many chances Jones has been given. Every time the team has a valid replacement lined up, something goes wrong and Jones is given a reprieve. This wasn’t supposed to be an issue a couple of months ago, but then Jason Kubel lost next season to his knee injury. As it stands right now, the Twins have three healthy outfielders in Ford, Shannon Stewart and Hunter, plus last year’s opening day DH, Matty LeCroy. These players are enough to say good-bye to Jacque Jones. It’s time for the Twins to get creative and look elsewhere. Their priorities remain Brad Radke and Corey Koskie. If that means increasing their offers to each, so be it. No amount of outfielders going down is enough stop the team from finally escaping Jacque’s hold. My worst nightmare is waking up one morning to discover the team has decided to keep Jones, signing him to a 3-year, $6 million per year deal.

Good thing Jim Bowden is in Washington. :)

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

So You Have the Dollars… Now How About Some Sense?

The calendar rolls over to December today, and as it is every winter, baseball information is at a premium. Fortunately for me, John is an extremely kind and generous person and allows me to use his ESPN Insider subscription (as long as I pay for the occasional month). I’m not super keen on paying for material that used to be free, but what can I do? I love the stuff.

Anyway, this all leads into the topic for today’s post. I read ESPN’s “Rumor Mill” section all the time, not because it’s particularly accurate (there are plenty of wild goose chases in there), but because it let’s me see what’s going on in the trenches of major league baseball. This winter, I must say that I’m rather disappointed with the way the battle is progressing.

The owners-players conflict in baseball is one that has existed for a very long time, and fans are usually pretty split as to where their allegiances lie. Some favor the players, saying that they should “take whatever they can get” from the owners. Some people think players are grossly overpaid and believe we should go back to the days of perpetual serfdom. Then there are those who think the whole system stinks and wash their hands of the whole greed-infested mess.

Personally, I am a cross between all three of those opinions. There is no doubt that baseball owners gypped the players out of their fair share for more than 80 years, but I also believe that the salary figures being handed out circa 2000-2001 (peaking with that insane $250 million Alex Rodriguez) were far too extreme. It was a welcome breath of fresh air when salaries began to spiral downward in 2002; last winter, we truly saw the return of sanity to the marketplace (or perhaps the return of collusion if you’re Scott Boras).

Things definitely have not gotten off on the right foot in 2004. It started innocently enough: the Giants screwed up and gave 37 year-old Omar Vizquel a three-year, $12.25 million deal. Yeah, that’s way too much, and yeah, Vizquel’s not the player he used to be, but he’s still a veteran who’s going to be a leader and play solid defense. But then things got even weirder: the former genius (and now infamous) Jim Bowden goes and gives a .266 career hitter whose weakness include (but are not limited to) breaking pitches and job security, a four-year, 16.8 million (!) dollar contract. For good measure, he decides to give a washed-up Vinny Castilla $6.2 million for two years. Those are two stupid moves, but someone could theoretically see an eensy tinsy-tiny bit of logic there in that Bowden wants to drum up ticket sales for next year. Not sure how many people are going to show up just because an unmotivated Guzy is manning shortstop (although that bionic sound is pretty cool) but that’s just me.

Lately, things have been getting really crazy. A mediocre Kris Benson for three years at $22.5 million? A running-on-fumes Troy Percival for $6 million a year? (Although keep in mind this is the Tigers we’re talking about.) Damian Miller got $8.5 million over three years from the Brewers. Yesterday, Armando Benitez signed a three-year deal for $21 million, and while he is one of the better closers in the game, that is not a bargain by any stretch of the imagination.

The potential deals, those just on the horizon, are even more mind-boggling. We’ve all heard about Carlos Beltran and how Lucifer—err, I mean Boras—wants a 10-year deal for $200 million. Now he’ll never get that contract in a million years (at least the owners have learned something from the A-Rod fiasco) but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yanks eventually give in and hand Beltran a deal in the $90 to $100 million range for five or six years. Boras initially demanded $55 million contract for a 33-year old catcher (Jason Varitek) and while the sides will probably agree on a $36 million deal in the next few days (Boras is being a complete idiot and demanding a no-trade clause also, which is stalling the negotiations). Carl Pavano will get $9 or $10 million a year after having only one really good season.

Here’s the real kicker: It was released yesterday that the Mets are prepared to give an aging Pedro Martinez $38 million over three years, possibly increasing that to $50 million over four years, which is absolutely asinine.

Remember “trickle-down economics”, that theory that you learned about in Econ 101? It seems to be taking effect right here in Minnesota. First off, Juan Castro gets two years and doesn’t have to take a pay cut from his $1 million salary in ’04 despite hitting .244 last year. Now it appears that Brad Radke won’t be taking much of a pay cut from his $10 million salary ($9 million a year sounds likely for his next contract) and there is no doubt that he could easily get a raise from the Yankees or Red Sox if he really wanted one.

So what’s going on, major league owners? Didn’t you learn ANYTHING during the last labor negotiations? Ever hear of a little thing called “fiscal responsibility”? Heck, I’d even settle for collusion if it will keep prices within reason! Hopefully the signings we’ve seen so far are nothing but an aberration, but that is looking less and less likely every day. Teams were just starting to emerge from the depths of the terrible contracts they doled out during the Boom Years, but now it seems like they’re beginning the deadly cycle anew. The last thing baseball needs is a repeat of the 2002 labor woes.

Owners, listen up! So what if you have the dollars to spend on these guys! Try using some common sense instead!

Monday, November 29, 2004

It's About Respect

Let me begin by apologizing for the lack of new material lately. The lack of news coming from the Twins has created a breeding ground for writers block. The hot stove can be one of the most exciting times in baseball but is sprinkled with pockets of inactivity. Because of this, it seemed like a perfect time (Thanksgiving also having something to do with it) to take a little time off. We will try to refrain from doing this as much as possible in the future. That might mean branching out and adding more non-Twins baseball content. We hope this is acceptable and we welcome your feedback, as always. Remember, we are first baseball fans. We love the game, we love the Twins and we love writing.

Sports Weekly, formerly know as Baseball Weekly, recently ran an article that featured Johan Santana. The article mostly talked about Santana’s rising star, especially in his home country of Venezuela. It recapped his amazing season and it also speculated about his future. Contained in that speculation was a slightly alarming quote from Santana.

This isn’t about money," Santana says. "It’s about respect.” He won’t forget the Twins’ decision to keep him in the bullpen most of 2003 after being told he’d be in the rotation. He asked for a trade last year, just as he did in 2002, when he was buried in the bullpen.

I had to re-read this quote several times. I was aware that Santana was upset when the Twins made the decision to sign Kenny Rogers but I thought it had gone away when he entered the rotation and become such a large part of the team’s success. Santana gave very little indication of his frustration throughout is magnificent season. Part of what makes Santana such a great pitcher is his calm mound demeanor.

Behind that calmness though, lurks a fierce competitor with the ability to go after a batter for the kill. If Santana is still upset with the Twins it is not a good sign for resigning him. He is only a year away from free agency and eligible for arbitration this winter. The Twins have talked about trying to sign him to a long-term deal but at the moment that appears to be something the team is saving for later. Santana proved this year that his previous success was no fluke. He is the rare "true number one" starter in baseball. The direction the team takes with Santana is a signal of where the Twins plans to be in the standings during the coming years.

The team beat Santana in arbitration last year and there is a good chance they will go back this year. Arbitration has a way of adding to bad feelings because teams and players must argue about how good the player is and the team must downplay his worth to win. The Twins need to pursue a long-term deal as soon as possible to show Santana what he means for the organization and avoid stirring up more bad blood in arbitration. His stock is only going up and the team must regret not giving him a long-term deal last spring when it had the chance. Santana is not Joe Mays, and it would be a sound investment to lock him up.

The good news is that Santana will be in a Twins uniform no matter what next year. The final quote of the article is a great indication of what that will mean for opposing hitters.

“We want to prove this is something that didn’t just happen, and that we were lucky. Now we have to prove why we won this award (Cy Young).”


Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Molding and Shaping

There were actually a few Twins-related nuggets to grace the pages of our two local papers the past few days. The 2005 Twins are beginning to take shape, and I actually feel pretty good about the direction things seem to be going. It appears Corey Koskie may be as good as gone, but otherwise, things are looking up.

Twins sign Juan Castro to a 2-year, $2.05 million deal

I know that a lot of Twins fans out there don’t like this move particularly much, but as of right now, I don't think it's that terrible (and don’t fall under the impression that I love every move the Twins make, because I obviously don’t). I know very little about Castro other than what I can glean from his statistics (which you can read here), but it sounds like he’ll fit quite nicely into the Twins’ plan for next season. Castro is only a .226 career hitter, but he’s hit about .250 in limited duty the past couple of years (his OBP numbers are horrendous though). He’s a slick fielder and can play three infield positions. Also, Castro is a guy who has been praised at ESPN.com and on Baseball Tonight for his outstanding glovework and overall value to a ballclub (you can also read this article from the Cincinnati Post).

A million dollars was probably too much to spend on a utility infielder, so expect Castro to be given every opportunity to earn the shortstop job this spring. Jason Bartlett is going to have to show some significant improvement to prove to Gardy that he can handle the shortstop job on an everyday basis. We could potentially see a platoon of some sort, but ultimately, I think that Castro is the guy who will be chosen (with Bartlett opening at AAA). Whether this is right or wrong remains to be seen. We do know for sure that he won't be much worse than Guzman.

Twins sign Mike Redmond for two years at just under $2 million

I do not believe this move is official just yet, but it’s almost certain to be announced very soon. This also marks the end of the Henry Blanco-era (oh Babe, we hardly knew ye). While I was lukewarm about the Castro signing, I wholeheartedly endorse this move. $1 million may seem like a lot for a backup catcher (although remember the Twins offered Blanco $1.8 million for two years), but not only is Redmond a backup, he’s an insurance plan. Simply put, we don’t know what to expect from Joe Mauer next year. All indications are that he will be healthy, but his injury is one that could flare up at any time. Even best case scenarios have Mauer catching only about two of every three games, maybe 4-5 per week. It would be incredibly depressing if Joe had to endure another injury-riddled season, so I welcome any move that will help preserve his health. Redmond, a career .284 hitter, is not only an outstanding defensive catcher, but he can hit a bit too and would not be an embarrassment at the plate if forced into extensive duty. Remember Henry Blanco’s 900 infield pop-ups last year? I’m glad we’re not going to toss 300 at-bats into that black hole again.

Redmond was actually poised to be the Marlins’ starting catcher in 2003 before the surprise signing of Pudge Rodriguez, and there were some people who decried that move because of Redmond. He hit .305 with a .372 OBP in 2002, and .312 with an impressive .802 OPS in 2001. I don’t expect Redmond to put up numbers of that caliber, but if he doesn’t embarrass himself for the 200-250 plate appearances I expect him to get, this will have been a smart move by Terry Ryan.

Brad Radke asks for 3-year, $27 million contract

This was an expected development, but it’s nice to have a definite figure to chew on. Freddy Garcia received an identical contract from the White Sox this summer, and many people (including the Twins Geek) expected Radke to sign a similar contract. Radke, while three years older than Garcia, is obviously the superior player. $9 million a year isn’t much of a pay cut for Brad (he made $10 million in 2004) but there are a number of clubs out there who will gladly pay Radke that amount. The Twins will propose a counteroffer next week, but if I was them, I would be tempted to sign the dotted line right now. I only hope TR doesn’t lowball Radke and squash any chance the Twins have of re-signing him. Expect more news to emerge in the coming days.

As you can see, the Twins are finally making some noise in the marketplace, and the 2005 iteration of your favorite ballclub is finally beginning to take shape. Backup plans are now in place for both Bartlett and Mauer, and I firmly believe that TR’s vision (whatever it is) will be fulfilled. If Radke can be signed, all signs point to a four-peat in ’05.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Whole Lotta Nothing

First off, sorry about the lack of a new post yesterday. We’re usually pretty dependable here at Twins Chatter (especially on Mondays) but with Thanksgiving break coming up, professors are laying the homework on thick and time was short.

Anyway, it’s not like it really matters; almost nothing has happened recently in the world of Twins baseball. The Twins added five guys to their 40-man roster. Ho hum. Brad Radke’s agent decided that he wants a 3-year deal from the Twins. We all knew that one was coming. Why would a player not want more guaranteed money?

Actually, probably the biggest Twins-related news came from the Twins Geek yesterday. He announced that his 8-month contract with startribune.com had expired and that he was moving back to the old site over at www.twinsgeek.com. I really enjoy reading the Geek everyday, and I was ecstatic for him when he received the opportunity this spring to share his views with a wider audience. I’m sure many of you also discovered Twins Chatter through his site, and we’re eternally grateful for the exposure he provided us. I had the opportunity to meet John during our photo shoot for the Strib’s blogging article, and he seems like a genuinely good guy. I have no doubt his material will be just as good back in its old home.

That’s about all I’ve got for you today. Hopefully we’ll have an original post up tomorrow, but I can’t make any promises. We’ll probably be taking a couple of days off for Thanksgiving, but then again, so is the rest of the baseball world. If breaking news breaks however (Radke signing? Koskie leaving?) you can be sure that we’ll be right on top of it. In the meantime, have a great day everyone.

-Ryan M.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Weekend Tidbits

The weekend is just about here and that is a very good thing for some of us. In the next three days, both Corey Koskie and Brad Radke could decide where to play next year. Before you get too excited, there is also the possibility of those decisions dragging out until long after Christmas. In the meantime, we are all stuck playing the waiting game. Luckily, the past couple days have already seen the departure of Cristian Guzman and a few smaller developments to hold us over.

Detroit signs Troy Percival to a 2 year 12 million dollar deal -
Twins fans remember the game of cat and mouse the team played with the Tigers incumbent closer Ugueth Urbina last off-season. Urbina’s numbers turned out to be a solid 21 saves with a 4.51 ERA but were nowhere near the production of Joe Nathan. The Tigers picked up Urbina’s $4 million option for next season but could not pass up the opportunity to sign an elite closer like Percival. There is no denying that Percival is a step above Urbina and brings the Tigers closer in the division. The Twins will probably fear him the most, as he has been more successful against them then any other team in his career. His only question marks are his age and durability both; both will determine the difference he makes the next two years.

The question now is what to do with Urbina. He was a great set-up man for the Florida Marlins during their championship run 2 years ago before sliding into the closer role in the World Series. He did not seem too excited about the prospect of doing it again when he was on the market last winter. The Tigers could continue to upgrade their roster by trading him for another need. At $4 million he remains reasonably priced and his numbers came after beginning last season in the minors to get ready for the year. If the Tigers decided to keep him, they may have a 1-2 punch to rival the Twin’s combo of Nathan and Juan Rincon. Either way this is another example of the rest of the division catching up to the Twins in the division as the Tigers have come a long way from the team that almost set a record for futility two years ago.

The Twins have announced a new ticket plan
I will be the first to admit that I don’t attend enough games at the Metrodome. It is so dark in there and the air circulation is so bad that it almost puts be to sleep despite the exciting play on the field. I really struggle watching games in that atmosphere and often it is just more comfortable to see the games on TV. I was at the two playoff games and during the short period when the fans were into the game, the dome was rocking. The excitement and noise that building can generate is unmatched.

No matter what the legislature decides this session on a new stadium the Twins will be playing the next several years at the dome. Their marketing department is doing their best to make up for it. This new idea is supposed to be the first of its kind. It allows fans to purchase any 40 games worth of tickets that can either be spread out over the course of a season or used all in one night if you have a bunch of people. This allows fans the flexibility of not having to pick the games they want to attend far in advance. It is a great idea; my only concern is what happens when everyone decides to use them when the Yankees are in town? Outside of politics the Twins have been one of the most fan friendly teams in the league and this is another great idea to make going to the games fun and easy.

One final sendoff to Cristian Guzman
I used to think that Cristian Guzman could be one of the special players in the game. I also once believed that Jim Bowden was one of the smartest general managers in the game when he was constructing winning teams in Cincinnati on a cracker budget. Those days were a long time ago. I hope that both Guzman and Bowden are happy with each other. One thing Bowden is good at is making deals once his hands are tied and that is what he has done by signing Guzman and Castillo to huge deals. Deals he will have to work his way out from under at a later date. Not a good start for the new Washington franchise. There are still better shortstops on the market making it more more prudent to wait. The run on shortstops has not begun and it may never get started. The best-case scenario is that somehow the market dries up for a Nomar Garciaparra and he ends up with the Twins. We can all dream anyway. Guzman’s deal means that players like Renteria and Garciaparra, who are significantly better players, are going to want even more. The Twins did not need the frustration of dealing with Guzman on a day-to-day basis any longer. He is not the player he promised to be and it was time to move on.

I hope everyone has a great weekend. I was going to try and preview the Vikings today but we will have to save that kind of analysis for another week. Look for the team to break out of its funk, even without Randy, this week against the Lions. The Lions are in their own downspin and they are not as talented at the Vikings. The Vikings will play a smarter game and win this one by a large margin. The Vikings make me wish it were baseball season.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Guzie, Guzie: We Hardly Knew Ye

Well, it’s official. I’ve had a sneaking suspicion for some time, but now we know for sure that Christian Guzman is going to be playing elsewhere next season, namely with the soon-to-be Washington Nationals. I’m happy for Guzie; there was no chance that he was going to get anything near the four years $16.8 million Jim Bowden gave him from the Twins. Frankly, I don’t think anyone else out there would have offered our enigmatic shortstop such an outrageous sum of money. Oh well. Guzie’s gone and there ain’t nothing that can bring him back.

There will be plenty of time to talk about the Twins’ future prospects for the shortstop position, so for today, I would like to focus on the Christian Guzman Era in Twins history.

Most of us remember Guzman when he entered the league back in 1999. It was a different age, an age when mere competence was a considered a valuable asset. You can play shortstop and not suck? Hey! You’re playing, kid!

The irony in that scenario is that Guzie was probably one of the worst everyday shortstops his first year in the big leagues. He was hopelessly overmatched at the plate as a rookie (.226/.267/.276? Yowza). His defense was also maddening at times. In many ways, his fielding habits were the opposite of what we’ve come to expect from Guzie: he made some great plays but always struggled with the easy ones.

Yet even during those Dark Times (both for Guzie and the Twins) hope endured. There was something special about this 21-year old Dominican; you knew it was there but you just couldn’t quite put your finger on it. He didn’t really give us anything to get excited about right away, but the potential was there.

In 2001, we finally saw that potential. I distinctly remember asking myself, What kind of player would Christian Guzman be if he fully realized his promise? The answer? A guy who hits .300, steals bases like there’s no tomorrow, and knocks doubles and triples all over the park, wrecking havoc on the basepaths. Guzie played out of his mind the first half of that year, and he was probably the team’s most valuable player for those three and a half months. He was most definitely a deserving All-Star selection.

Then came the 2001 Al-Star game. The beginning of the end for this new-and-improved version of Guzman. Some say he hurt his shoulder a few days earlier, some say he hurt it while showing off during workout day, but whatever happened, the result was that Guzie was never the same player after that fateful break. He went on the D.L. for quite some time, and when he came back, his arm was a shadow of it’s former self. Gone was the player that would fire the ball to first from deep in the hole, just to show that he could. Instead, we had a shortstop with a maddening affinity for casually flipping the ball in the general direction of first base, relying on Dougie Baseball’s superior scooping skills to save him from a surefire error.

The Guzman we’ve seen for the past three years has truly been an enigma. If you can drive the ball to the outfield and hit doubles and triples, why don’t you? If you are one of the fastest human beings in the game, why don’t you steal more bases? Whatever happened to the theory that players develop more plate discipline as they gain experience? Guzie bucked all these trends.

After six seasons, we've finally figured out just what type of player Christian Guzman is. He’s going to hit about .270, play solid-if-unspectacular defense, and steal about 10-15 bases per year. He’s not going to help you much, but then again, he probably won’t hurt you either. Is that type of player worth $16 million? I sure don’t think so, but Jim Bowden obviously feels otherwise.

The one classic Guzman characteristic that I have neglected to discuss thus far is his legendary speed. Guzie is one of those freakishly fast people that really slow people (such as myself) can barely comprehend. You can knock Guzie all you want, but there can be no denying that the man possesses some serious speed. Watching him fly around the basepaths for a triple was simply a thing of beauty.

Hopefully the fans in Washington appreciate that bionic sound as much as we did.

Guzie running out one of his patented swinging bunts

Love him or hate him, you can't deny that Christian Guzman is a man who's come a long way from humble origins

Monday, November 15, 2004

Impassioned Offseason Ramblings from a Concerned Fan

The baseball off-season is like a heavy train that takes a while to get going and eventually builds momentum as it goes roaring down the track towards its final spring training destination. Mid-November is right at the beginning of that journey; where players have just begun to file for free agency and teams are mostly trying to re-sign their own guys while testing the market to see what the worth of some players will be. No doubt, trades are being discussed, payroll shuffled around and countless backup plans drawn up. For the most part, all that is left for fans is the agony of speculation of what will happen. Most of what is discussed at this time of year will never come to fruition.

Take the idea of using Luis Rivas at shortstop. This is just one of the possible replacements for Cristian Guzman next year. Rivas would fill the gap between Guzman and the time it takes Jason Bartlett to become a major leaguer. He has played the position in the minors and could prove a relatively cheap option depending on the direction the team goes. Ultimately, it would mean re-signing Corey Koskie to play third base with Michael Cuddyer retaining the second base position. If the team failed to resign Koskie, or a veteran replacement, an infield of Terry Tiffee, Rivas and Cuddyer might be too much of a step back for a team trying to make the playoffs a fourth straight year.

In the meantime the Twins should continue to explore the free agent market at shortstop, third base and starting pitching. Last year they had a backup plan when Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins left. Joe Nathan became an All-Star. To compete again next season the Twins will have to be equally as creative. They got a little lucky when Carlos Silva pitched as well as he did. Next season J.D Durbin and Scott Baker will need to step up if called upon. The key to the off-season is creating depth should things not go well. The Twins had planned on Rick Hulling being their fifth starter last year and when he went down it took them 2 months to find someone to replace him. With the other teams in the division improving each year the margin for error becomes smaller.

The Indians, Tigers and White Sox are all trying to make their respective off-season splashes. The White Sox are trying to acquire Randy Johnson, but it will undoubtedly cost them dearly to do so. They are minor players in the free agent market but have limited money. The Indians and Tigers seem more willing to open their pocketbooks and both teams’ number one priority seems to be Troy Percival. Since the Indians are closer to competing it would be more harmful for the Twins if they were able to sign him. He is a notorious Twins killer. The Tigers cannot be counted out as long as they have Ivan Rodriguez. They made some major strides last year and could be a surprise team this year. They have young good young players and are willing to augment their talent by signing veteran free agents. Ideally, the Cubs would swoop in and wrest Percival away from both teams.

As things begin to fall into place the picture will become clearer. It may take a couple of weeks for the big free agents to start signing. Scott Boras represents many of the better players out there and that will indirectly affect a team like the Twins. His clients will be some of the last to sign, so teams may grow tired of waiting and turn to players such as Radke and Koskie as secondary options.

That is why it is so important to try to sign them early. It is okay to overpay for a player like Radke because he is the closest to a "sure thing" when it comes to pitching? Unfortunately, other teams are aware of that fact as well which drives up his price. If the Twins are going to take the kind of hit that Rivas would be at short they should be willing to make a strong effort to sign Koskie while not being irresponsible. They must remember they have another great group of young players coming up that will allow them to compete for years if they make good decisions now. Loyalty to players that have been with the organization should not prevent them from being creative out on in the market. There is both a pressure to win now and to work successfully work young players onto the roster.

Rivas is likely to get a raise in arbitration. He will not be spectacular in the field and everyone knows what he can do at the plate. That money can go toward increasing offers to Radke and Koskie or trying to bring in a free agent who is going to put up similar numbers to Rivas at a fraction of the cost. Any player can fill a position the Twins may be looking to punt as they wait for Bartlett to develop. A name like Jose Valentin has already been brought up as one possible semi-regular player. The Twins can also look to someone like Barry Larkin who can play multiple positions and be able to step aside when asked. The one thing the Twins have had in the past is patience. They also have the luxury of waiting another month to make the decision on Rivas before they have to offer him arbitration. Most fans would agree that the best thing at this point is to cut the line and go with another option.

The one thing that is hard to have at this time of year is patience as we all wait to see how the dominoes fall into place. If the above scenarios seem a little convoluted that is because they are. There is so much uncertainty and every move can change the makeup market. All the Twins can do is not miss the boat. For now we all wait and hope everything works out for the best.


What Would it Be Like?

When this offseason began, Twins fans as a whole were a fairly optimistic bunch. Things didn’t go according to plan in October, but there is no doubt that the Twins could have (or depending on your point of view, should have) beaten the Yankees. The Twins exceeded nearly all pre-season expectations in a year when many felt the AL Central champions would be lucky to scrape by with 85 wins.

Compared to last year, many Twins fans though, this off-season would be a relative breeze. Indications were that Brad Radke would sign early. Corey Koskie, who seems to enjoy living in the area, would also most likely be re-signed. Even Christian Guzman might find his way back into the fold at a reduced price.

Oh, how things change.

Things definitely aren’t looking so peachy these days. “Déjà vu all over again” might turn out to be the mantra of the 2004-05 offseason, and that isn’t a good thing. Just as like Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins left last year without so much as a goodbye, Radke, Koskie, and Guzy could easily do the same this year. Early reports indicate that there are numerous teams interested in Radke, and all of them could (and will) easily outbid the Twins. The Strib indicates that Koskie has sparked the interest of a few teams, none of them Minnesota. And everything indicates that Guzie is as good as gone (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing…).

We are now faced with the distinct possibility that seven or more Twins could be gone before the 2005 season begins: Radke, Koskie, Guzman, Rivas, Jones, Romero, and Blanco. I wouldn't lose any sleep over the last four, but a 30% roster changeover? From a playoff team? I know Terry Ryan can work miracles, but even he pull only so many rabbits out of that magical hat of his. There aren’t always going to be Joe Nathans out there to snatch up, or Lew Fords waiting in the farm system, ready to instantly become major contributors.

What will life be like if this worst case scenario comes to fruition? First of all, if the Twins can’t sign Radke, I think they’ll probably end up with another veteran innings-eater such as Jon Lieber. If/when Koskie signs elsewhere, I wouldn’t be surprised if TR winds up with a cheap third baseman like Joe Randa. Guzman can conceivably be replaced within the organization, although I actually wouldn’t be adverse to bringing him back at a more reasonable price.

This hypothetical version of the 2005 Twins would be so different they would almost be unrecognizable. The only players left from 2002 would be Hunter, Cuddyer, Santana, Lohse, LeCroy, and Juan Rincon (plus technically Restovich and Mays). I can hardly believe that myself! 2002 seems like only yesterday, yet here we might have a completely new team a scant three years later. Amazing.

That isn’t to say these new-look Twins wouldn’t be a force in the AL Central. Depending on what moves the White Sox make (Randy Johnson?), the Twins would probably still be favored to win the division over the Indians. But it wouldn’t be the slam dunk many of us believed it would be after 2004 ended. And advancing in the playoffs would be even more difficult.

Obviously all of this is merely speculation. It’s still possible that the Twins will sign Radke and Koskie, and maybe even Guzman. But that possibility is becoming more remote with every passing day.

Don’t despair quite yet, Twins fans, but do brace yourself for this possible reality. What would it be like?

Friday, November 12, 2004

Jumping for Joy

Congratulations Johan Santana

2004 American League Cy Young Award Winner

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Twins Chatter Q & A

Things have been a bit slow (understandably) in the baseball world recently, especially here in Minnesota. For today's post, we have decided to share a few quick thoughts on some of the relevant issues surrounding our Minnesota Twins. Be sure to stop by tomorrow to check out our thoughts on Johan Santana winning his first Cy Young Award. In the meantime, enjoy a little Twins Chatter.

Ron Gardenhire finished second in the American League manager of the year voting. Do you think he deserved to win it?

Ryan: "Actually, I was very surprised to see he only lost by a narrow margin (101-91 points). I knew that Gardy was a contender, but I didn't think he had a real chance to win the award. Showalter took a team that was absolutely horrific last year (18 games under .500) and kept them in the playoff hunt until the last week of the season: an amazing accomplishment. I personally wrote the Rangers off around the All-Star break, but they somehow hung in there. We all give Gardy a hard time because we see him on a day to day basis. Let's face it: he's not the greatest game day manager. His strengths lie in communicating with players and getting guys to play hard and as a team. Using relievers, pinch hitters, making lineups, and such is not his strong point. That being said, I think he was a deserving #2 finisher in the voting."

John: "If Gardenhire didn't deserve to win the award he wouldn't have finished second. It was bad luck that Texas played as well as they did. Showalter's team may not have made the playoffs but they far exceeded expectations. There is no doubt they impacted the playoff picture by staying in the race right up until the last weekend of the season. Every time someone counted them out they somehow were able to make another run at it. They did it with terrible pitching making the job Showalter did all the more impressive. Gardy did a good job of working with a team that had expierenced more turnover then previous years. He was able to overcome some major injuries while fending off the White Sox and the Indians. Some years the award may have belonged to him, this year Showalter deserved it."

As Twins Geek said the other day, it is appearing less and less likely that the Twins will be able to keep both Brad Radke and Corey Koskie. Which do you think the Twins should keep and which do you think they will keep?

Ryan: "For me, this question has but one answer: Brad Radke. Although I am extremely disheartened by the fact that the Twins aren't going to sign him before their exclusive negotiating window closes, I can't help but think they'll find a way to get it done. He's the guy that we really really need to keep, and the one I think we're most likely to keep. Given a choice, I would keep Koskie too (assuming his price stays reasonable) but I think he's more expendable than Radke. Tiffee and Cuddyer would make a decent platoon next year. Their combined defense would be inferior to Koskie's, but offensively I think the two could approach Koskie's expected production (.275/20/85)."

John "Ideally the team would find the money to keep both players. If that is not the case, Radke has got to remain the number one priority. It is near impossible to fill the void he would leave in the rotation. I don't envision the Twins taking even part of that money and going after another reliable pitcher. Radke is the horse of the staff and the team can rely on him. Koskie is a risk that a small market team like the Twins may not be able to take. He brings great chemistry and is a big part of the lineup but it would be easier to replace him then Radke. However, I don't see Cuddyer being the one to fill his shoes. Cuddyer has seemed uncomfortable at the hot corner and seemingly is being groomed to play second base. If he sees time at 3rd it will not be for an extended period of time. The Twins are going to do everything in their power to step up to the plate and sign Radke. He will be a Twins next season, I almost guarentee it. Remember, the first time the team signed him marked the start of their turn around. Without Radke this team will not win the Central next year."

What are your expectations in terms of Joe Mauer's health, not only in 2005 but beyond?

Ryan: "Just like everybody else, I believed the Twins brass when they came out and said that Joe would make a full recovery. The thing is, they've been feeding us the same lines since April without actually providing any hard facts. Well the other day, I stumbled upon a fact of my own. My dad is going to have surgery to remove his meniscus soon (ironically the same surgery Mauer had back in April) and happened to bring up Mauer in the conversation with his orthopedic surgeon. Our doctor knows a thing or two about such injuries (he also personally knows Dr. John Steubs, the guy who performed Joe's surgery) and I was extremely disheartened by what he had to say. One thing is for sure: a meniscus tear is really something from which you can recover in about a month, which was the initial estimate on Mauer's injury. However, the complications in Joe's case stemmed from the torn cartilage that was removed later in the summer. That is a much tougher injury to recover from, especially for someone who plays a position where the knees are so important (like catcher). Anyway, this doctor was under the opinion that Mauer would be lucky to get five more years out of his knees as a catcher. You can take that however you want to, but personally, I believe him. Just when we thought we had an All-Star catcher on our hands, he turned into an All-Star third basemen."

John: "Mauer’s health is going to be a cause for concern until he proves he is fine. Right now, I would compare the strength of his knee next season to walking on thin ice. There is a chance everything will be fine but there is a distinct possibility the ice is going to give and something will fall through. I think we all have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that Mauer is not going to spend his whole career behind the plate. The Twins will be lucky to get the next 5 years out of him. They have to be careful not to overwork him. The good news is he’s still going to be a great player no matter where he is on the field. It’s simply a matter of getting the most out of his career even if it means switching his position."

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

It's a Small World After All

I'm taking a little break from the Twins speculation and analysis today to touch on a general baseball news item from the other day. Hope you enjoy this little change of pace. We'll be back to covering everyone's favorite nine tomorrow.

The world, as they say, is becoming smaller and smaller each day. There is no longer such thing as a national economy; there is only the global economy. With improvements in technology, I can now reach Marty in Pakistan as easily as I can Andy across campus.

The sports world also seems to be getting smaller. A large percentage of professional hockey players come from outside the U.S. and Canada. Professional baseball and basketball debut new imports every year, and many of them become stars and flourish. World competition is also at an all-time high. Soccer’s World Cup is one of the most highly anticipated sporting events. Hockey held it’s first-ever World Cup this fall, and the reaction was very positive (it also happened to be the last game that many NHL players will play for a very long time).

These developments have not gone unnoticed at the offices of Major League Baseball. The idea of a baseball World Cup is one that has been tossed around for years, especially by those who doubt the legitimacy of the “World” Series because it does not include the entire world. Yet the concept was always been considered a pipe dream; that is, until last summer. Commissioner Bud Selig revealed that plans were underway to hold a 16-team invitational World Cup tournament in March of 2005. However, the negotiations hit a snafu when some countries (most notably Japan) objected to the fact that the tournament was to be held only in the U.S.

Last week, that roadblock was overcome, as it was decided that one branch of the tournament would be held in Asia, with winners advancing to the finals in the U.S. The late decision also means that March 2006, not next year, will likely be when this project comes to fruition.

Although it may seem a tad premature to look forward with any assurance (especially when the participation of the player’s union and TV networks have yet to be finalized) the possibilities are nothing short of mind-boggling. The United States would probably field the deepest team (Roger Clemens would barely make the squad!) but they would not be the favorites by much.

Sure a lineup consisting of future Hall of Famers Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Todd Helton, and Gary Sheffield would be imposing (to say the least), but even they would be hard-pressed to score against a Venezuelan team with AL Cy Young award winner Johan Santana and Angels strikeout machine Frankie Rodriguez.

The tiny nations of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico (which is technically a U.S. territory, but would be allowed to field its own team) would be more than formidable as well. Imagine Pedro Martinez and his Dominican teammates Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, and Vladimir Guerrero squaring off against Carlos Beltran, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado and the rest of the Puerto Rican All-Stars. Perennial Olympic gold-medalist Cuba would hold its own, and the Japanese squad would be greatly strengthened from the additions of major league superstars Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui. Even our neighbors from the north might get into the action with the help of Canadians (and current Minnesota Twins) Corey Koskie and Justin Morneau. The mere possibilities are enough to make any baseball fan salivate in anticipation.

The beauty of a baseball World Cup is that it would have something for everybody. Fans would get to see meaningful competition featuring the world’s best at a time at a time when most people are tired of spring training. The players would have a chance to compete for national pride, an opportunity that Latin American players will especially relish (the Caribbean World Series is already wildly popular event each winter). TV networks and advertisers will have a surefire ratings-topper to fill the “dead time” between the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball tournament. And major league baseball stands to make a tidy profit, which was obviously the motivation behind the whole tournament all along.

If indeed all this could become a reality, baseball may someday have an event that rivals soccer’s own World Cup in terms of scope and popularity. It does remain to be seen whether multi-million dollar superstars like Bonds could be convinced to participate, or whether owners like George Steinbrenner would allow their highly-paid investments to play, but many people are confident that such hurdles can be overcome.

Nothing is official just yet, but preparations are scheduled to get underway next month with an official announcement coming in the spring. However, one thing is for certain: come March of 2006, the baseball fans from around the globe will be watching.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Checking up on the Fall League

Today we are going to take a quick look at what a few of the Twins prospects are doing in the Arizona Fall League. The league consists of 6 teams, each with a 30 man roster made up of 6 prospects from each team in baseball. It is pretty competitive with many of the best young prospects playing there as a stepping stone to the majors in the coming years. Here are the rules for whom can play, as stated on MLB.com:

All Triple-A and Double-A players are eligible, provided the players are on at least a Double-A level roster no later than Aug. 1.
One player below the Double-A level is allowed per Major League team.
One foreign player is allowed; as long as the player does not reside in a country that participates in winter ball, as part of the Caribbean Confederation or the Australian winter league.
No players with more than one year of credited Major League service as of August 31 are eligible; except a team may select one player picked in the most recently concluded Major League Rule 5 Draft.
To be eligible, players on Minor League disabled lists must be activated at least 45 days before the conclusion of their respective seasons.

The Twins prospects play on the Grand Canyon Rafters, who currently have a record of 12-13. Here are the Twins Hitter's individual stat lines;

Jason Bartlett, SS .333AVG 45AB 10R 3RBI .378SLG .400OBP

Rob Bowen, C .279 AVG 43AB 4R 4RBI .349SLG .367OBP

Kevin West, OF .308AVG 26AB 8R 3RBI .423SLG .333OBP

Comments: Bartlett has also made 3 errors in 11 games, which is probably a little high. It is good to see he is getting on base and scoring runs though. Bowen, also is currently hitting at a higher clip then he showed during his time in both the majors and minors this past season. West replaced Jason Kubel on the roster after Kubel injured his knee. Obviously, it is hard to tell from stats how exactly they are playing but overall these are good numbers to see.

Twins Pitching Stat Lines;

Scott Baker 0-1 3.10 ERA 5G 20.1IP 4BB 19K

Jesse Crain 1-0 2.00ERA 7G 9.0IP 1BB 11K

J.D. Durbin 1-1 4.35ERA 5G 20.2 IP 9BB 26K

Comments: Both Durbin and Baker are in the rotation for the Rafters. The K/BB ratio is pretty good for all three. Durbin has been pretty hard to hit with a .231 opponents batting average. Crain has been better with a .156. Overall the Twins have to be happy with this performance despite a limited sampling. Durbin leads the league in strikeouts with 26. Crain, surprisingly, has yet to record a save.

Other Prospects of Note Playing in the League:
Mark Teahan, Ryan Howard and Rickie Weeks are all in the top 10 in batting. Huston Street leads the league with a .64ERA and 4 saves, Billy Keppinger leads with 4 Wins and Bobby Bradley leads the league with 23.1 innings pitched.

By Comparison;
Players who played in the fall league last year for the Twins included Rob Bowen, Jake Mauer, Terry Tiffee and pitcher Boof Bonser. Tiffee was the only one to make a real impact in the majors last season. In contrast, players like B.J. Upton, Dewon Brazelton, David Wright and Nick Swisher all played in the Arizona Fall League last year and went on to make contributions to their major league teams during the season. Not the most impressive group but proof it is a league made up of future stars.

For a team like the Twins where player development is such a big part of what makes the team successful, the Arizona Fall League is an invaluable place for players to progress. So far the returns this year have been encouraging (if you overlook the early injury to Kubel). Their team is in second place and while the Twins decide who to bring back from last year’s team, players such as Durbin and Baker are playing for the chance to replace them.


Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Bringing Back Bradke

It has been widely publicized that the Twins’ number one priority this offseason is resigning free agent Brad Radke. Radke, whose 4-year, $36 million expired after the season, is definitely a key to the Twins’ success next year. While his 11-8 win-loss record may not show it, he was one of the top starting pitchers in the American League this year. His 3.48 ERA that was fourth best in the AL, and his 219 2/3 innings pitched were fifth best in the league.

It’s obvious that the Twins can’t afford to pay him top market value. With the 2005 payroll certain to remain static at $54 million, an annual salary of $9 million for the next three years (which is probably market value) is a lot to ask of a small market team. This is especially true considering that Radke already 32 years old. While there have been some notable exceptions to this recently (Jamie Moyer comes to mind), control pitchers generally begin to lose some effectiveness as they age. Radke is probably past what is commonly defined as a player’s “prime”. That certainly doesn’t mean he washed up—far from it. I don’t think Brad will be sporting a top-5 ERA next year, but I do think he can find a happy medium between his 2003 season (4.49 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) and 2004. I wish the Twins had room to give Radke the 3-year, $27 million deal he probably deserves, but I honestly don’t know if they do. I’m sure Terry Ryan would much rather prefer a 2-year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $14-16 million.

Is Radke willing to accept a slight hometown discount to remain with the only organization he has ever known, the one who he helped lead from the depths of obscurity and futility? The prevailing opinion on that matter has been “yes”, but I’m not so sure. Here are some of the teams that are rumored to be interested in Brad’s services:

Baltimore: Peter Angelos and the Orioles will be spending again this winter (they signed Miguel Tejada, Raphael Palmario, and Javy Lopez last winter), perhaps even more so now that they have to compete for fans with the D.C. Filibusters. They definitely don’t have enough pitching, and if they target Radke (instead of Carl Pavano, Milton, and Matt Morris) they will likely offer him a nice fat contract. Outlook: Baltimore seems like a viable choice for Brad, but I have to think his motivations would have to be almost entirely financial in nature for him to go to such a poorly-run organization.

Boston: The Red Sox are one of the teams that I worry about the most. They’re successful (in case the media has made that clear enough), laid back (again, the media), and most importantly, filthy rich. Plus, they’re likely to lose two of their better starting pitchers (Pedro and Lowe) so there will be a big gap to fill in that rotation. Can Radke resist the temptation to play for the World Champions next year? Outlook: I’d have to say that as it stands now, Boston is the most likely non-Minnesota home for Radke next year. However, I think that Carl Pavano seems like a more reasonable choice for Theo Epstein. Hopefully the Twins can sign Brad soon, before Boston has a chance to target him.

Cleveland: Indians GM Mark Shapiro will allegedly have some cash to spend this winter, and recent articles suggest that he has identified Radke as a possibility. Shapiro needs to keep on dreaming. I can’t envision any circumstances in which Radke would go to Cleveland, unless they made him an absolutely outrageous offer (which they don’t seem to have the finances to do). Outlook: It’s nice that the Indians think they’re going to stock up and make a run on the Twins next year, but I don’t think they’re going to attract any top-tier free agent pitchers, Radke included.

New York: The Yankees are always a possibility when it comes to free agents, and this situation is no different. As much as you might hate them, it’s pretty hard to turn down an extra $5 or $6 million. However, I think Radke knows better in this case. He’s been quoted as saying that he’s not a New York “kind of player”, which is good to hear. At least someone seems willing to acknowledge that the struggles of Jeff Weaver and Javier Vazquez are not flukes. Outlook: While it is still possible that the Yankees land Radke, I would be shocked if they did. I don’t know how well Brad’s low-key demeanor would go over in the Bronx Zoo.

Tampa Bay: There were rumors earlier this year that the hometown Deviled Hams were interested in signing Radke, but those whisperings have been nearly non-existent of late. It seems the Rays have realized (correctly) that they aren’t going to steal any free agents away from the Red Sox or Yankees, let alone the Twins. That being said, Brad would probably like down in southern Florida. There’s no pressure, the weather is nice, he’s near his friends and family, and he can fish whenever he’s not pitching. But still, I don’t know if the Rays are willing to spend the extra money it will take to lure Brad back home. Outlook: Not a chance.

Minnesota: Despite all my ramblings on the contrary, the most likely scenario still has Radke staying in Minnesota. The Twins want him back, Radke has expressed his desire to stay, and there are no hard feelings between the two parties (as opposed to last winter’s Eddie/LaTroy debacle). The only sticking point I can see is money. If Brad decides he wants one last big payday, he’ll probably have to look elsewhere (which would suck for the Twins). However, I don’t think Brad is that type of guy. I’m thinking the Twins give him a near-market value 3-year, 20-24 million dollar deal, probably before Thanksgiving.

I'm want to point out that resigning Radke just isn’t the forgone conclusion that many fans think it will be. If the Twins and Radke can’t get anything done during their window of exclusive negotiations (before Dec. 7), the odds that he’ll be gone are much higher. If the Twins were to lose Radke’s and his 220 innings, they could be in a world of trouble next year.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Celebrating Halloween

Yesterday was Halloween, a day that means something different for everyone. If you’re ten, it means dressing up and going out to get as much candy as possible for your mom to then take away and ration. If you’re in high school it’s a night to raise a ruckus and run from the law. People my age use it as another excuse to go out in disguise and throw a party. Of course, Latin Americans celebrate Halloween’s religious virtues. If you are the Vikings it is also a day of mourning. Halloween has never really been a baseball holiday, near as I can figure. It usually happens right after the World Series when teams are putting together their off-season plans and players are just beginning to file for free agency. This year, Terry Ryan and the Twins may be getting into the spirit as they monitor a few frightening developments.

Knee Injuries-
Originally I was going to go as an old man for Halloween but when I looked in the mirror I couldn’t help but see the resemblance to two of the Twins most promising young players, Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel. Kubel won’t be back in time to play much of next season but a big fear of Twins fans is that Mauer’s problems will also continue. Another year of putting up with a lineup that is lacking Mauer truly is terrifying.

Pending Free Agents –
I woke up in a cold sweat the other morning thinking about players the Twins might lose in the coming months. A team like the Indians might offer so much money to Brad Radke that the Twins will have to let him go. The market is such that Corey Koskie is a top-three third baseman, making it more difficult to sign him. Cristian Guzman is also a free agent at time when the market is flooded with shortstops but unfortunately there are even more teams looking for one. The biggest horror of free agency might be the guy controlling the pocket book, Dr. Evil (a.k.a. Carl Pohlad).

Kyle Lohse an All-Star –
At first glance this isn’t scary at all. The problem is Lohse will be representing the major league all-stars overseas with a group of other big league players. After the season Lohse just had, his name and the word "all-star" should never be mentioned in the same sentence. I know there is a language barrier but how much can really get lost in translation? The poor people who think they are going to see some good baseball will soon feel like they are stuck in a scary movie. If this is the quality of players major league baseball is exhibiting no wonder the rest of the world wants a World Cup.

What Would Halloween Be Like Without a Trick?
Last week we talked about the Twins bringing back Henry Blanco for another season. This may still be true but Blanco filed for free agency over the weekend. He performed this trick through a clause in his contract allowing him to be a free agent once he reached 280 plate appearances. After Blanco’s performance last year he looks to receive a raise but pity the fool who overpays for his services.

The Best for Last –
A little leftover Halloween treats; Johan Santana should win the American League CY Young in the coming days. Nothing puts a smile on my face like thinking back to the way Johan pitched from June on. As long as he is in the rotation the Twins have a chance every year with a guaranteed win every 5th day.

Now when you start to think of Johan's potential arbitration windfall ($6 million? $7 million? more?), that's the real horror story.