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 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 had expired and that he was moving back to the old site over at 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

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.