Monday, February 28, 2005

Justified Optimism?

"Hope springs eternal" is how the saying goes, and that certainly seems to be the case this spring, especially when it comes to the Minnesota Twins. There is a sense of optimism sorrounding every team every year during spring training (hey, even the Royals are tied for first right now!) but the Fort Myers seems to be execuding even more positive vibes than normal this time of year.

I bring this topic up today primarily because of this article Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote over the weekend. Souhan's start as a columnist has seen its ups and downs thus far, but he has been at his best when writing about the Twins - with whom he is obviously extremely familiar.

Saturday's column was well written, but my question for you is this: Is Souhan's confidence in this team truly justified? Is this really the "the best Twins team to kill grass at Hammond Stadium since Gene Larkin hit that fateful fly ball in October of '91"? I'd like to think so, but quite honestly, I don't share Souhan's unbridled optimism.

Don't get me wrong: I am a huge fan and supporter of the home team (I have, after all, been writing on this site for the past 10 months). That being said, I simply don't think we should be falling all over ourselves praising this team as one of the best in Twins' history! Will the Twins be good? Yes. Will they make the playoffs again? Yes, I believe so. But is this outcome all but guarenteed? Far from it.

Yes, the Twins led the A.L. with a 4.03 team ERA last year, but isn't very possible that that number could come down to earth in 2005? For every Kyle Lohse and J.C. Romero that underachieved in '04, isn't is also possible that Juan Rincon and Carlos Silva overachieved? I know it isn't Souhan's place to openly question things such as this, but this is a scenario that every Twins fan needs to consider.

Also, who out there can safely assume (which many people are doing) that the Twins offense (ranked 10th in the A.L.) will improve considerably in '05? The Twins have scored 780, 801, and 768 runs the past three seasons respectively, which is a relatively consistent number (a spread of just .2 runs per game). It is widely assumed that no matter who (if anyone) emerges at shortstop will be at least a slight downgrade offensively from Guzman, and it is seems a safe bet to assume that Cuddyer will do no more than match Koskie's production at 3B, if even that. Is it realistic to assume that full seasons of two very young players (Mauer and Morneau) will not only make up that slack, but provide significantly increased production in an otherwise average lineup? Quite frankly, I'm not willing to blindly believe that this will necessarily be the case (although obviously I hope it happens).

I just thought I would throw these thoughts out there on this Monday morning. I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade or anything, but I think it's time we took a step back before we all become drunk with giddiness. The American League Central is going to be a very competitive division this season (perhaps more competitive than it has ever been before), and I think it's important too remember that before everyone starts getting ahead of themselves. As always, if you have any thoughts on the subject feel free to leave a comment below and I'll be sure to respond.

-Ryan Maus

Before you go, I'd like to highlight a couple of excellent links for you today. Longtime Twins Chatter supporter Seth Stohs is featuring an excellent interview with Twins' farmhand (and MN native) Pat Neshek today. Turns out that Neshek runs his own often updated webstite and is an avid autograph collector. I too have a pretty respectable collection of baseball autographs, and some pretty neat stories to go along with many of them! Perhaps sometime I'll share them in this space on a slow news day.

Meanwhile, fellow blogger Stick and Ball Guy is featuring an exclusive report from Fort Myers on his site, which Fort Myers Miracle Gal was kind enough to supply. FMMG also runs a couple of Twins minor league blogs, one about the Miracle and one about the New Britain Rock Cats! I didn't even know these sites existed before today, so you can believe that I will be checking them out often as the beginning of the season approaches.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Bonus Material

TGIF loyal Twins Chatter readers! I don't have time for a new Twins-related post today, but never fear. As longtime visitors to this site may remember, one activity that demands a fair amount of my time is our humble St. Olaf school newspaper, for which I am a sports editor and writer. Rather than send you back to your home page empty handed, I've decided to reprint my column from this week's issue, entitled "February: the Cruelest Month". It's nothing too special, but if you have the time and/or inclination to read another sports column this Friday, I encourage you to continue on down this page.

Have a great weekend and check back on Monday!

-Ryan M.

February: the cruelest month

By Ryan Maus

Of all the months on the calendar, February always seems to get the short end of the stick. It has the fewest number of days, its main holidays are predominantly arbitrary and overly commercialized and it falls during the time of year when winter seems like it may never end.

Even sports wise, February has traditionally been something of a letdown. The Super Bowl, the most over-hyped annual event in the history of the world, is now over. The already-too-long NBA season is dragging along at a snail’s pace, its playoff chase still months away. The Madness that is college basketball’s conference and national tournaments doesn’t commence until March (which, I’ll admit, isn’t necessarily a bad thing – “February Fanaticism” just doesn’t have the same ring to it).

Even the National Hockey League, previously a popular winter diversion for dozens of fans south of the Mason-Dixon Line, gave into greed and officially canceled its season last week. A large percentage of the league’s nine southernmost teams will probably cease to exist by the time its labor problems are solved, which may not happen before the year 2007.

In other news, Canadian pharmacies prepared for a run on the popular antidepressant Prozac, as millions of distraught Canucks mourned the imminent demise of their favorite national pastime.

While February may be a dark and dreary month in more ways than one, hope still exists for the near future. College basketball’s postseason is shaping up to be a classic. Will the still-undefeated Illinois men glide all the way to the Final Four? Can the top-ranked LSU women put an end to UConn’s streak of three straight national championships? Will a recent slide keep the upstart Gopher men out of the NCAA tournament for the sixth consecutive year? All of these questions and more will be answered soon enough – just not during February.

Last week also saw the passing of another annual February landmark: the beginning of Major League Baseball’s spring training. This past offseason was one of the most eventful in baseball history, although not always for the right reasons. Just days the Red Sox put the kabash on their infamous Curse, it was leaked that several current major league baseball players (including superstars Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi) admitted in front of a grand jury to have used illegal steroids. Over the past few months, steroid speculation has been a constant topic in baseball circles, almost overshadowing the numerous high-profile player transactions that have taken place.
The offseason of 2004-05 won’t be remembered as the winter the Yankees traded for Randy Johnson and the Orioles for Sammy Sosa, or even the year that the Mets signed both Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran to extravagant contracts. Instead, it will be remembered as the offseason when the truth about baseball’s dirty little secret was finally revealed.

Fortunately, it seems as though fans are willing to forgive baseball for its previous (and some would argue, current) transgressions. Spring training and regular season ticket sales are up all over the country, as the 2005 season promises to be yet another great one.

So even though the sports landscape currently looks pretty bleak, don’t despair. Pretty soon you’ll be cursing an anonymous shooting guard from some school with three hyphens in its name for ruining your entire bracket, and shortly thereafter the boys of summer will head north and start playing games that actually count.

Instead of being bored to tears this February because there’s absolutely nothing happening, try to think of this month as a speed bump on the road to bigger and better things. In that regard, one of February’s many shortcomings may actually be a positive thing: With just 28 days, the month will be over that much more quickly.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

No One Said it Would Be Easy: Part Four

Today is the day that I will finally finish up my four-part miniseries previewing the Twins’ competition in the American League Central for 2005 (I’ve done the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, and Chicago White Sox already). Today’s will also be the shortest of the series, because, quite frankly, today’s team can hardly be considered a threat to the Twins in their quest for a four-peat.

Today’s Topic:The Kansas City Royals

Key Acquisitions:
Jose Lima (SP, F.A. from LA)
Chris Truby (3B, acq. as F.A)
Terrance Long (OF, acq. via trade with S.D.)
Eli Marrero (OF, acq. from Atl.)

Key Losses:
Darrel May (SP, traded to S.D.)
Joe Randa (3B, signed with Cin.)
Benito Santiago (C, traded to Pitt.)

2004 Season: 58-104, 34 GB Twins

Pre-Spring Training Outlook:
The 2004 season, which began as a hopeful one for the Royals, ended exactly the way many believed it would before the team’s surprising 2003 showing: with Kansas City in last place. The Royals made a valiant effort to improve their team last offseason, but it appears now that 2003 might have been one of the flukiest seasons in recent baseball memory (in case you forgot, the Royals won 83 games that year and led the division until late summer).

This past winter, Royals’ GM Alard Baird harbored no such delusions of grandeur. The Royals are in full-blown rebuilding mode, just as they should be. This is apparent just by glancing at their “Key Acquisitions” from this winter—Jose Lima might only be an upgrade in the rotation for a team that doesn’t expect to win many ballgames. 21-year old wunderkind Zack Greinke is about the only thing this team has going for it right now. Simply put, this guy is amazing. He has outstanding control and can change speeds like a 20-year veteran, and I think the Greg Maddux comparisons are very appropriate in his case. The rest of the Royals’ rotation is decidedly mediocre on a good day, so if you’re going to see Kansas City play the Twins this year, pick a day that Greinke is pitching. You won’t be disappointed.

Kansas City’s offense is also well below average. Mike Sweeney is a force to be reckoned with when healthy, but that has not been the case for quite some time. Matt Stairs had a productive 2004 season but is still no more than a Ron Coomer-type player (circa 1997). Centerfielder David DeJesus has potential, but still needs to show that he can produce offensively over an entire season.

The Royals’ bullpen will also undoubtedly be the worst in the division this year. I like the arm of Jeremy Affeldt, who will enter the season as the de facto closer, but other than him, not one of KC’s projected bullpen arms would even make the roster of the Twins or Indians.

I’ve drawn a little bit of heat for my predictions thus far in the preview series, but of today’s I am fairly confident: the Royals will once again lose 100 games and finish in last place in the Central. Their offense is shoddy, their rotation thin, and bullpen weak. Doesn’t get much worse than that, does it? This team has enough young players where they could potentially get better in the not-so-distant future, but I think there is almost no chance of that happening this year.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

No One Said it Would Be Easy: Part Three

This week I’m going to conclude the series I began a little over a week ago in which we’ll take a quick pre-Spring Training look at the Twins’ competition in the AL Central. Two Fridays ago it was the Detroit Tigers, and last Monday I broke down the Cleveland Indians. Today it’s the team that everybody loves to hate, the Chicago White Sox.

Today’s Topic:The Chicago White Sox

Key Acquisitions:
A.J. Pierzynski (C, F.A. from S.F.)
Luis Vizcaino (RP, acq. via trade w/Mil.)
Jermaine Dye (OF, F.A. from Oak.)
Scott Podsednik (OF, acq. via trade w/Mil.)
Tadahito Iguchi (2B, F.A. from Japan)
Orlando Hernandez (SP, F.A. from NYY)
Dustin Hermanson (RP, F.A. from S.F.)

Key Losses:
Carlos Lee (OF, traded to Mil.)
Magglio Ordonez (OF, signed w/Det.)
Jose Valentin (IF, signed w/L.A.)

2004 Season: 83-79 9 GB Twins

Pre-Spring Training Outlook:
The Pale Hosers from the South Side have been one of the biggest conundrums in baseball the past few years. On paper they’ve always been impressive with plenty of power hitters, an impressive starting rotation, and what should be a solid bullpen. However, each year they find a new way to lose to the Twins.

In 2005 the shoe is on the other foot. The Sox finally realized the sit-back and wait-for-the-three-run-homer approach wasn’t working. So oft-maligned G.M. Kenny Williams used this past off-season to revamp his roster to better reflect the managerial style of Ozzie Guillen. Gone are big boppers Lee, Mags, and Valentin; taking their place are speed-and-contact hitters like Pierzyski, Podsednik, and Iguchi. Dye, with 23 homers in 2004, is arguably the team’s greatest power threat behind Paul Konerko.

Williams also sought to emulate the Twins’ success by building a deep starting rotation. In addition to returnees Mark Buehrle (16-10, 3.89 ERA in 245.1 IP), Freddy Garcia (3.81 ERA), Jon Garland (12-11, 4.89 ERA), and Jose Contreras, the Sox signed Orlando “El Douque” Hernandez to a two-year, $8 million contract. Personally, I think it is foolhardy to give a pitcher pushing 40 (he’s technically listed at 35 years old, although few actually believe that number) 8 million dollars for 15 starts with moderate success. Yet, that is exactly what the ChiSox did. If healthy, El Douque could conceivably stretch his 2004 numbers (3.30 ERA, 8.9K/9IP) but that is a tremendously HUGE “if”. His signing was a big risk for Williams, one that could prove invaluable or could just be a big waste of money.

Despite the latter situation being more likely in the case of Hernandez, this rotation is still pretty decent. Buehrle and Garcia form a very solid 1-2 punch, and Garland could emerge as a respectable number three guy. I’m not very high on Contreras despite his terrific stuff. He has to prove that he can succeed consistently at this level before I give him any credit.

The White Sox bullpen falls under the classic category of “good-but-not-great”. Shingo Takatsu (19 for 20 in save opportunities last year) is the rare closer who gets the job done without an overwhelming fastball. Williams was smart to get Vizcaino in the Carlos Lee trade, as the Dominican flamethrower has an excellent arsenal of pitches. Damaso Marte is also one of the premier bullpen lefties in the league and always pitches well against the Twins. Hermanson had a good year in San Francisco last year, even serving as their closer for a spell, although his upside is limited.


While you have to admire the Sox for realizing their flaws and moving on, this team doesn’t have the players to finish ahead of both the Twins and Indians in the division. While the Twins have been perfecting their “good pitching and small ball” approach for the past four years, the White Sox seem to believe they can simply bring in a motely collection of assorted ballplayers, throw them on the field together, and win. It doesn’t work like that. The White Sox don’t stand out in one particular area, and have neither the offense nor starting pitching to win the Central in ’05. I’m predicting a .500 record and third or fourth place finish in the division.

Next up: the Kansas City Royals

-Ryan Maus

Friday, February 18, 2005

Let the Games Begin!

Right on cue: just as those misguided millionaires (and billionaires) of the NHL cancel their season, a new dawn begins - the start of the 2005 Major League Baseball season! Okay, so the season hasn't technically "started" yet, but for all intents and purposes, it really has. The first teams reported to spring training ealier this week, and Twins' pitchers and catchers are set to report this upcoming Sunday and Monday. Even though the temperatures are hovering the single digits up here in MN (brrrrr) I can't help but have a little extra spring in my step, just knowing that they're playing baseball outside down in Florida and Arizona. If you're having a crappy day yourself, just think of baseball in the warm weather and I guarentee you'll feel a whole ton better.

Even though the madatory reporting date isn't for a couple of days, it seems many Twins players are already down in camp working out. The Star Tribune jumped the gun in a similar fashion today, as they're featuring a number of different Twins Spring Training preview articles. One discusses Joe Mays heavily, another is a Q and A with Ron Gardenhire, and yet another is a pretty well-written position-by-position preview from LaVelle E. Neal, who I think does an excellent job as a Twins beat writer. He brings up some very interesting material, which will no doubt serve as fodder for some analysis next week here at Twins Chatter.

I'd also like to direct you to this article (by ESPN's Jayson Stark) which brings up some very valid points about the Yankees' new ace, Randy Johnson. I'm a little skeptical that the Big Unit will mesh with the Big Apple, to be quite honest with you. We'll have to see what transpires over the next eight months.

Also, friend of Twins Chatter Stick and Ball Guy continues his very poplular Pepper! feature today. Stadium guru Shane from Greet Machine is featured, and the two have some insightful things to say (despite the word limit!).

That's about all I have time for today at Twins Chatter. I know I've been saying this for a few days now, but I promise to finish up my AL Central Spring Training previews next week. I kinda got sidetracked during the latter part of this past week with homework and the Johan signing, but we'll get back on schedule very soon. Thanks for stopping by the site today and have a great weekend!

-Ryan Maus

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

No Batta

Since John and I have written three original posts already this week, we're taking today (Wednesday) off. However, we've got an interesting little discussion going in the comments section of yesterday's post "Four More Years!" if you would like to contribute some thoughts of your own. If anything interesting comes up I will be sure to chime in myself sometime during the day. Be sure and stop by tomorrow as I'll continue my previews of the American League Central Division. Next up: the Chicago White Sox.

-Ryan M.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Four More Years! Four More Years!

Note: In the spirit of classic Twins Chatter dualism, both John and I have posted our thoughts about yesterday's big signing. Make sure you read John's post as well, located direcly below this one (or click here).

No matter what your political affiliation, this is one return that you have to support.

Yesterday morning, it was announced that the Twins had indeed come to terms with 2004 AL Cy Young award winner Johan Santana on a 4-year, approximately $40 million contract. Johan will receive around $5 million this season, $9 million in 2006, $12 million in 2007 and then $13.25 million in 2008 (according to the Star Tribune).

My initial reaction (which was probably shared by nearly every Twins fan, save one) was that of extreme jubilation. It truly made my day!

This signing was a huge day in Twins history. Some people were criticized the Twins’ front office because they failed to sign Corey Koskie (I don’t consider Guzman much of a loss anymore), but locking Santana up long-term more than makes up for that. This was perhaps the team’s only chance to retain Johan past 2006, because if he has another Cy Young-type season his price may very well skyrocket out of the Twins’ range.

It also signifies an important commitment on the part of Carl Pohlad. I have to admit that I have been pleasantly surprised recently by the amount of money our notoriously stingy owner has allowed Terry Ryan to spend this winter in multi-year contracts. Some decisions have been questionable (i.e. $4 million for the duo of Juan Castro and Mike Redmond through 2006) but $58 million for six seasons of Santana and Brad Radke is most definitely a good deal in today’s market.

Still, 40 million dollars is an awful lot of money. There is no doubt that the Red Sox or Yankees would have happily doled out $15+ million a season for the game’s best starting pitcher in 2007, but for a small market team like the Twins this is the penultimate financial commitment. If Johan performs at the level that we’ve seen the past two seasons (and there is no reason to believe he won’t) then he is worth the money, but there is still a degree of risk involved. The injury bug can strike and strike hard at any time, and such large contracts can severely handicap small market teams (see Mays, Joe).

Despite the risks involved, I still firmly believe this was the right decision on the Twins’ part. I believe there was little chance the team could have retained Santana past 2006 had a deal not been done this winter. The Yankees may actually need an ace by then (as opposed to simply acquiring one for the heck of it), and a $100 million dollar contract may not have been out of the question for a rare talent like Johan. Who knows? Maybe by 2009 circumstances will have changed enough (*cough* new stadium *cough*) and the Twins will be able to keep Santana well into his prime.

In my mind, here is what Monday’s resigning has a few key implications.

1.) The Twins were able to reward their best player with a fair market value contract that will allow them to keep him two years longer than they otherwise would have.

2.) Santana is finally being paid what he is worth ($1.6 million, Johan’s 2004 salary, is verifiable high robbery for a Cy Young award winner this day and age) and gets the added security and stability of a long term deal.

3.) Twins ownership shows that they are willing to spend money liberally on an irreplaceable commodity that is absolutely essential to the franchise’s continued success.

4.) Have I mentioned this one enough yet? Baseball’s best pitcher will take the mound for the Twins every five days until the end of the Bush administration!

Unlike many politicians, I have no doubt this is one candidate who will actually live up to all his promises.

-Ryan Maus

No matter what your opinion of the guy on the right, the reelection of this leftie was a major coup for fans in Twins Territory.

Monday, February 14, 2005

A Winning Message

I have never been big on Valentines Day. It always seems like my relationships come and go around it leaving me without any obligations. I’m not much of a romantic and I wouldn’t know the difference between an expensive wine and the $2 berry stuff. This year the holiday has taken on a different meaning. A day the Twins lock up Johan Santana for 4 years is better than any box of chocolates, pretty flowers or even a hot date.

It is not about the money or even the great pitcher in the American League last season. This deal is about the Twins showing a commitment to winning in the years to come. Many people point to Brad Radke’s deal as the turning point turning this team from a perennial loser into 3-time division champs. This deal is what is going to take this team from playoff pretender to contender.

Not signing Santana would have meant any bump in the road could have been the end. The distraction of contract negotiations would have carried into this season and the next, leaving the team one long losing streak away from rampant trade speculation and thoughts of rebuilding. Starting this summer teams would be calling everyday, at first just to gauge Santana’s availability. Next winter he would have been a hotter commodity than both Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder this past off-season.

The Twins did take a risk in signing Santana to a multi-year deal. Everyone remembers what happened with Joe Mays. Santana is a special talent who has never had a serious injury. His career numbers have improved every year and he is entering the prime of his career. In two years Santana could have easily become the highest paid pitcher in history. If Pedro Martinez, past his prime, is worth $13 million and Kevin Brown is making 17, some team would certainly be willing to break the bank for Cytana.

The way Santana pitched last year it is unimaginable that he would grow comfortable now that he is locked up. He is a fierce competitor that will continue to toy with hitters while giving the Twins a great chance to win every 5th day. There are only a handful of pitchers of his caliber in baseball and for the Twins to have one goes a long way towards fulfilling their championship aspirations.

Valentines has always been a prelude to spring training. Its ties to baseball appear to be hard to see but this year “Be Mine” had a special meaning.

Twins Sign Santana Long-Term!!

This just in: the Twins and Johan Santana have reportedly agreed to a 4-year deal worth approximately $40 million! This means that Santana is signed through his arbitration years ('05 and '06) as well as his first two seasons of potential free agency. This contract commemorates what is a monumental day in Twins history, and one that I will discuss in length tomorrow (the Central previews will be pushed back a day or so; you can find the Cleveland Indians' preview directly below this post).

Remember, you heard the news first at Twins Chatter! :)

-Ryan M.

Special thanks to Seth for the heads up!

No One Said It Would Be Easy: Part Two

Over the next few days I’m going to continue the series I began last week in which we’ll take a quick pre-Spring Training look at the Twins’ competition in the AL Central. Last Friday it was the Detroit Tigers, and today it will be none other than this year's chic pick in the division, the Cleveland Indians.

Today’s Topic:The Cleveland Indians

Key Acquisitions:
Kevin Millwood (SP, FA from Philadelphia)
Arthur Rhodes (RP, acq. via trade)
Juan Gonzalez (OF, FA from KC)
Aaron Boone (3B, signed last year from NYY)
Alex Cora (IF, FA from LA)
Jose Hernandez (IF, FA from LA)

Key Losses:
Omar Vizquel (SS, went to SF as FA)

2004 Season: 80-82, 12 GB Twins

Pre-Spring Training Outlook:
Most people believe that the up-and-coming Indians will be the biggest obstacle for the Twins in their quest for a fourth straight division title, and after looking at this team on paper (while keeping in mind the scare they gave us back in August) I have to agree with those people. This is a very formidable team in nearly every aspect of the game. The Twins have never looked all that impressive on paper (Terry Ryan usually admits this, even without prompting) but the Indians seem to have all the pieces in place: a great offense, a deep bullpen, a solid bench, and a potentially good rotation. However, division championships are won on the field, not on paper. I know that’s a rather hackneyed expression (you’re probably groaning about now), but it still rings true.

This Indians offense has the potential to challenge New York for the best in the American League. Victor Martinez had a breakout season at catcher last year and should repeat that production again in 2005. North Dakota native Travis Hafner is one of the best young hitters in the majors and could emerge as a superstar. The lineup contains several other solid producers, most of who’s names happen to start with the letter “B” (Broussard, Belliard, Boone, and Blake). Even if all these players don’t fulfill expectations, the Indians will still score a lot of runs (quite a few more than the Twins, to be certain).

But as the Indians of the mid-to-late ‘90s proved by not winning a WS title, good pitching will almost always beat good hitting when it really counts. The Tribe’s bullpen is relatively unspectacular (no mind-bogglingly amazing Joe Nathan-like numbers here) but very deep. Rhodes is a nice addition from the left side, and should rebound from a sub-par 2004 campaign by going back to his old role. Righties Shuey, Raphael Bentacourt, Bobby Howry, David Riske, and Bob Wickman also compare favorably with the Twins’ own quartet of Nathan, Rincon, Balfour, and Crain.

However, starting pitching might be the area that separates these two Central contenders. C.C. Sabathia is quite possibly one of the most physically gifted pitchers in the game, but he regressed a bit last year with a low strikeout rate and a 4.12 ERA. I imagine he will rebound at least somewhat, but he’s definitely no Johan Santana. The Tribe also signed Millwood to help out the front of their rotation. Experts always seem to expect big things from Millwood, but you have to realize that there’s a reason he had to sign with the Indians for one year and “only” $3.5 million. Millwood’s injury and performance woes over the past couple of seasons make him anything but a sure thing. Third starter Jake Westbrook had one of the most improbable seasons in the majors last year (215 innings with just a 3.38 ERA) and was truly 2004’s Estaban Loaiza. Can he do it again or will we see a Loaiza-like crash down to earth in 2005? I’d lean more towards the latter, but realistically we’ll probably see something between the two. The Indians’ potential fourth and fifth starters (Cliff Lee and Scott Elarton) are nothing to write home about, although don’t be surprised if Lee has a breakout season.

Like the Tigers, starting pitching is the greatest weakness of this Indians team. But unlike the Tigers, the Indians experienced a taste of actual success last season and proved that they don’t merely look good on paper. I admit that I am not exactly a non-partisan observer (this site is, after all, called Twins Chatter for a reason) but I’m not quite ready to anoint the Indians as the successors to the AL Central crown. They will take another step this season, but their rotation and inexperience will enable the Twins to take the division once more. I’m predicting 85-88 wins and a second place finish for the Tribe in ’05.

Tomorrow/Wendesday’s topic: the Chicago White Sox

-Ryan M.

Friday, February 11, 2005

No One Said It Would Be Easy: Part One

Here at Twins Chatter we usually focus our efforts primarily on everyone’s favorite hometown nine, the Minnesota Twins. However, the Twins obviously wouldn’t be the three-time reigning Central Division Champions if there weren’t four other teams to beat up on! The rest of the division has been pretty active overall this off-season, with three teams (Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit) positioning themselves to challenge for the 2005 crown. Today I’ll be starting a four-part series in which we’ll take a brief look at the competition in the AL Central before the beginning of spring training.

Today’s Topic:The Detroit Tigers

Key Acquisitions:
Troy Percival (CL, free agent)
Magglio Ordonez (OF, free agent)
Kyle Farnsworth (RP, trade w/Cubs)

Key Losses:

Pre-Spring Training Outlook:
In my mind, I compare the Tigers to one of those pick-up basketball players who talks big, but really doesn’t have the game to back it up. Detroit has made waves the past two off-seasons by doling out exorbitant multi-year contracts to high-profile/high-risk free agents. They did it last winter with Ivan Rodriguez and did it this year by committing $91 million to injury-prone former superstars Troy Percival and Magglio Ordonez.

However, even though I may not agree with their costly methods, I have to admit that Detroit will debut a pretty formidable lineup in 2005. Speedster Alex Sanchez will be followed by All-Stars Carlos Guillen (who had a tremendous 2004 season), Rodriguez, and Ordonez. Back that up with the likes of Dmitri Young (16 HRs, 60 RBIs in 104 games last season), a revitalized Rondell White, and young slugger Carlos Pena (27 HRs in ’04), and you are looking at a lineup that should average well over 5 runs a game.

Unfortunately, five runs a game won’t do you too much good if your pitching staff gives up six. For all the money they’ve spent the past two years, the Tigers still haven’t addressed one of their most pressing needs from a year ago: starting pitching. While Jeremy Bonderman (4.89 ERA, 168 Ks in 184 IP) certainly has the stuff to be a number one starter, the rest of this staff is thoroughly mediocre. Lefties Mike Maroth and Nate Robertson are serviceable pitchers but would each be #4 or #5 guys on a true contender. The signing of Jason Johnson last winter was (predictably enough) a less-than-brilliant move by GM Dave Dombrowski, as I will be surprised if he posts an ERA under 5.00 this season. 6-4 lefthander and former Rule-5 pick Will Ledezma is an intriguing possibility (much like the Royals’ Jeremy Affeldt) but I’m not sure how much of an impact he’ll have this season.

The Tigers’ bullpen, another sore spot for the Tigers a year ago, should be improved with the additions of Percival and Farnsworth. However, neither one of those guys is a “sure thing.” Percival is clearly on the downside of his career and could break down at any time, although he still dominates the Twins. No one can deny that Farnsworth is immensely talented, but even a change of scenery may not be enough to eliminate his sometimes maddening inconsistency. Returnees Estaban Yan, Ugie Urbina, and Jamie Walker help fill out a bullpen that, barring numerous disappointments, should actually be one of the better units in the division.

The Tigers took out the checkbook last winter and were rewarded with a 29-game improvement from their dreadful 2003 campaign. Yet, the fact remains that the team still lost 90 games and was never a true threat to win the division. If everything goes right (Percival stays healthy, Mags reverts to his pre-injury self, two or more starters emerge) the Tigers could battle for a playoff spot until late in the season. However, seldom (if ever) does everything go according to plan in baseball. I predict that the Tigers’ starting pitching still holds them back despite a potent offense, good enough for a .500 record and third place in the Central.

Next week we’ll review the other three teams in the division, starting with the Cleveland Indians on Monday. Be sure and stop by Twins Chatter then also. In the meantime, have a great weekend everyone!

-Ryan M.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Down for the Count

The new semester recently started for me here at school, and it's going to take me a little while to find a routine in which I can craft some new Twins-related entries. That means I'm going have to phone it in today (unfortunately). I'm reprinting a post I put up just after last season ended in which I took a brief look back at 2004 month-by-month. Not my greatest work, but it's still a good read. Hopefully tomorrow I'll find some time to get up something new.


"Waxing Poetically"(October 13, 2004)

Well, it’s now official. I have moved on from last week’s disappointment(s) and have accepted the fact that the long, dark, cold Minnesota winter is well on its way. However, let us not so easily forget those joyous times of spring and summer, when we basked in the light of our favorite hometown nine. Let us push aside thoughts of impending doom and instead relive the glorious moments of our (relative) youth. Let us look back at the highlights from the 2004 Minnesota Twins.

Ah, April. What a month that was. No one knew how the new-look Twins would respond to the rigors of major league competition. Would the bullpen fall apart? Would the rotation crumble? Shannon Stewart made us forget all those questions with one swing of the bat on Opening Day. His three-run homer in the 11th inning led the Twins to a 7-4 victory that night. Man, what a game! You simply had to be there in person.

The Twins jumped out to a 15-7 record in April, which was due in large part to the efforts of two men: “Sweet” Lew Ford and Carlos Silva. Ford (who, in case you didn’t know, was named Official Player of Twins Chatter on April 23) was simply amazing: despite starting the year at AAA he hit .419 with 17 RBIs and a 1.181 OPS in April. Silva was almost as good, going 4-0 with a 4.02 ERA in the month. Even Henry “Babe” Blanco and Jose Offerman got into the act! April truly was an improbable month, as the Twins finished at the top of the league in hitting yet almost dead last in pitching. Looking back, it seems like a lifetime ago!

May was a month of ups and downs. The Twins would temporarily relinquish their division lead to the White Sox, although it would never get too far out of reach. Since we are indeed “waxing poetically”, I’ll focus more on the positive moments for now. Who could forget Matty LeCroy’s amazing ninth inning, two-out, pinch-hit, game-winning grand slam in Toronto on May 19? I doubt many of you saw the play live since it happened at about two in the afternoon, but it was a moment I will never forget. That at-bat simply could not have been scripted any better. May might have been a rather forgettable month for the Twins in general (Johan pitching like crap, numerous losing streaks) there is always a light to be found even in the darkest of places.

June may not have been the best of months for the team (the Twins posted a 16-14 record) but it was one of many memorable moments. Remember the day Jose “Awfulman” became, well, just regular Jose “Offermann”? It was June 10. It seemed the Twins were on the verge of wasting yet another strong pitching performance, this one by Kyle Lohse, when Offerman pinch-hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. LeCroy, of all people, was the runner on first. I remember watching almost in a state of shock when Offerman somehow redirected a 97-mph fastball from Mets closer Braden Looper to the leftcenter gap. Amazingly, LeCroy somehow made it all the way around the bases on that double, and with a little help from CF Mike Cameron, the Twins were able to tie the game. In the 15th inning of that same game, Mike Ryan’s strange infield single would send the Twins faithful home happy. What a game!

June could also be known as the “Month of Joe”, as it was the only full month Twins fans got to see their favorite hometown prodigy, Joe Mauer. One thing was for certain: Joe did not disappoint. He hit his first major league homer on June 6, a mammoth three-run go-ahead shot in the 8th inning, was almost cause for celebration in the Twin Cities. Joe hit four more homers that month and had 11 RBIs, definitely establishing himself as one of the team’s best all-around players. We may have only had a month and a half of Mauer (he didn’t play after July 15) but it gave us a sneak peak at what’s in store for 2005.

Towards the end of June, we also saw a rediscovery of sorts from a guy named Johan Santana. Little did we know what lay in store over the coming months…

If June was the “Month of Joe”, then July 2004 must heretofore be known as the “Month of Johan”. Simply put, Santana was utterly brilliant. The Twins’ offense was still in the throes of the “sucking time” (according to Batgirl) but Johan did everything but suck. He allowed only 14(!) hits and 6(!) earned runs in 46 innings that month, which is nothing short of Orel Hershiser mind-boggling. He won only three of six starts, but posted a 1.17. We all remember that the Yankees got nine hits off Johan the other day, but back in July, teams simply did not get hits off Santana! Teams considered themselves lucky if they scraped together three hits and a run during a Santana start! August and September were also great months for the soon-to-be Cy Young (he won the AL Pitcher of the Month award all three times) but July was when the best was at his best.

July was a time of brilliance on field for the Twins (the team won 10 of 12 to close out the month) but it was a time of controversy off the field. Doug Mientkiewicz had struggled with injuries somewhat in the first half, and when he came off the D.L. in mid-July, the Twins had a decision to make. Doug most assuredly did not play well in the first half, hitting .238 with only 5 homers and 23 RBIs in 281 at-bats. His replacement, Justin Morneau, had become the Twins’ most legitimate power threat and had to play every day. The news of Dougie Baseball’s “impending” trade broke a week early (I waxed poetically then also), and eventually, he was shipped to Boston. In his last weeks as a Twin, Mientkiewicz had become a loudmouth in the media and a distraction in the clubhouse. It was time to move on, even though it didn’t happen on the best of terms.

August 2004 will forever remembered for that one shining moment: Corey Koskie watching his 10th inning 2-run homer sail over the rightfield fence on August 15. Looking back, it truly was the swing that saved a season (the infamous broken chair deserves a little credit too). But just how did the Twins end up in such a situation? After tearing through the league with a red-hot 13 of 15 stretch in late July and early August, the Twins promptly went into one of their patented funks. During this time, the Indians happened to be playing their best baseball of the season. The Twins rolled into Cleveland for a key three-game series and were pounded into the ground twice. Koskie’s homer allowed the Twins to leave Cleveland with their dignity and first-place intact, and they would never look back. A Metrodome sweep of the Tribe the very next weekend essentially eliminated them from contention, and it was only a matter of time before the West (err, I mean Central) would be won.

Quick side note: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the extremely entertaining series the Twins played with the Yankees in mid-July, taking two of three in convincing fashion. That success may not have translated into October, but it did make clear the fact that this Minnesota Twins team was for real.

Compared to the rest of the year, September was a rather uneventful month for our Twins. The collective August collapses of Cleveland and Chicago made a third straight division crown all but a certainty, but the Twins continued to pour it on (and I’m not talking about that giant milk bottle in right field). The Twins won 13 of their first 15 games in September, including nine in a row at one point. They would finally clinch (in Chicago, no less) on September 20. We also got to see plenty of up-and-coming Twins last month, the most notable being Terry Tiffee and Jason Kubel. Terry Ryan’s magic touch seems to know no bounds, as both players were impressive in their debuts and should contribute in 2005 as well.

Well, there you have it: your 2004 Minnesota Twins month by month. Today’s entry deviated slightly from my usual, but as always, it was fun to write. Because of the way the season ended, it’s easy to forget all the good times we experienced over the previous six months. It was one helluva ride. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to do it all over again next year.

-Ryan Maus

Monday, February 07, 2005

Two Juicy Nuggets

I don't have quite enough to craft an original post today, but we do have a little treat for you on this Tuesday morning. I perusing the internet this afternoon, in search of interesting new baseball material (never a sure thing, considering it is the seventh of February). Lo and behold, when I made it to, who did I immediately see but a picture of our very own Torii Hunter, crashing into the wall! Turns out the national media put out two (2) brand-new articles about the Minnesota Twins today, which is probably two more than have been written in the past two months combined.

The first article, which a part of the ESPN baseball page's "Hot Stove Heater" series, highlights Hunter as the best in the league at making the over-the-wall catch. It is written by Sean McAdam and I highly recommend it.

The other article available exclusively to ESPN Insider suscribers, but in yet another Twins Chatter exclusive, I have decided to save you all the $5 monthly subscription and post the part of the article that pertains to the Twins below. I think Jerry Cransick is an excellent writer and I thoroughly enjoy reading him at ESPN and in Baseball America. Enjoy today's little tidbit, and check back tomorrow when we'll have something new and original up.

Twins don't need big bucks to win

By Jerry Crasnick
ESPN Insider

Twins general manager Terry Ryan was on his way to a winter caravan stop in Rochester, Minnesota, on Thursday, and the sun was shining and the temperature was approaching 38 degrees. Or as they refer to it in the Gopher State, "swimsuit weather.''

"I wouldn't be surprised if I see people out golfing today," Ryan said from his mobile phone.

With two weeks left until pitchers and catchers report, the forecast for Ryan's team is partly cloudy with a chance of finishing first. After the Twins' third straight 90-win season and American League Central title, Ryan embarked on the standard offseason task of stretching his small-market dollars. The Twins signed Brad Radke to a two-year, $18 million deal – a contract generally regarded as a good investment given the inflated market for starters – and brought back outfielder Jacque Jones for one year and $5 million.

But the offseason also produced some new causes for concern in Minnesota. Elite outfield prospect Jason Kubel blew out his knee while playing in the Arizona Fall League and probably will miss the entire 2005 season. Ryan also had to revamp the left side of his infield when Corey Koskie left for Toronto and Cristian Guzman signed a four-year deal with Washington.

As Ryan prepares to stow the parka and haul his short-sleeve shirts out of his closet, here are four items he'll be monitoring closely in Fort Myers:

  • The new left side. Michael Cuddyer moves from second to third base to replace Koskie, and manager Ron Gardenhire will give Juan Castro, Nick Punto, Augie Ojeda and rookie Jason Bartlett a chance to compete for the starting shortstop job. "It's wide open,'' Ryan said. "We're going to let the best man emerge out of that group and see who takes the job.''

    In reality, the Twins want Bartlett to assert himself and win the job outright. They like Punto as a utility guy, and a Castro-Luis Rivas double-play combination would be an offensive black hole. Bartlett, acquired from San Diego for Brian Buchanan in a steal of a trade three years ago, is capable defensively and had a .415 on-base percentage with Triple-A Rochester last season. The Twins think he can handle the position. They just don't want to put extra pressure on him by anointing him the starter in early February.

  • Who is healing well? Catcher Joe Mauer is ready to go after missing all but 35 games with a knee injury last season, and Joe Mays will compete for the No. 5 starting job now that he's 17 months removed from Tommy John surgery. Although Shannon Stewart is supposedly healthy, the Twins will be watching to make sure he's recovered from the plantar fasciitis in his right heel that hobbled him for much of last season.

  • Comebacks. The Twins are counting on better performances from two players who didn't contribute much in 2004. Rivas, a bad on-base guy even at his best, hit a new low last year with a .283 OBP. And Kyle Lohse had a season to forget. His strikeouts dropped, his walks increased, and the league batted .305 against him. Of the 86 starters who qualified in ESPN rankings, only four – Sidney Ponson, Darrell May, the Twins' Carlos Silva and Brian Anderson – got whacked around for a higher batting average.

  • Contract talks. The Twins are discussing a long-term deal with Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, who is eligible for free agency after the 2006 season. Although Ryan would prefer that talks don't drag into April and beyond, he's keeping an open mind. The Twins signed Radke to a four-year, $36 million extension in July 2000.

    "I'm not thrilled with doing it that way, just like everybody else isn't thrilled with it,'' Ryan said. "It can become a distraction. But I'm always flexible. If it makes sense for all parties, I'll give it consideration. If it doesn't, we'll shut it down.''

    Can the Twins' pitchers match their performance of 2004, when they led the league with a 4.03 ERA? That'll be difficult. But the bullpen is good, they always catch the ball, and they might improve on their status as the 10th best scoring team in the league if Mauer and Justin Morneau have breakout years. The Twins are even taking a change-of-scenery flyer on former first-round draft pick Eric Munson, who washed out in Detroit.

    "We've got work to do, but I think we're going to be OK,'' Ryan said.

    They usually are.
  • Friday, February 04, 2005

    Into the Swing of Things: Part Two

    I’m glad so many people were able to read Part One of this post earlier this week, as it seems like it was well received. I’ve always found that both athletes and management are much more open at events when they know there won’t be any media members present. Next year I’ll be sure to take even better notes.

    Like I said the other day, I rounded out my Twins-tastic Saturday with a trip up to Twins Fest in the afternoon. It wasn’t nearly as eventful as the morning’s informative Q and A session, but it was still worthwhile.

    Saturday afternoon: 2 p.m.

    I always feel a little strange when I say “back in the day” or some other phrase with equally “reminiscent” connotations (especially given the fact that I’m not old myself), but when I speak about the history of Twins Fest I am probably justified in using such words. Twins Fest has always been one of my favorite events of the year. I have attended nearly year since 1996 or 1997, which is a long time ago for me.

    Believe me, I am absolutely giddy that we have a championship-caliber ballclub here in Minnesota again. Twins baseball during the Dark Years was pretty painful to watch, and it is difficult to complain about three (soon to be four) consecutive division championships. Yet, winning does have its downsides, and one of those downsides happens to be Twins Fest.

    You didn’t always have to struggle through the crowds in order to accomplish anything at the winter’s premier baseball event. I fondly remember the days when John and I could simply walk up to Twins “stars” like Joe Mays, Ron Coomer, and even Jacque Jones and engage them in conversation or ask for an autograph. One year, John and I were simply standing and watching a Q and A session at the Channel 9 booth when we noticed that everyone on stage was looking straight at us. I turned my head and Coomer had snuck up behind us and was raising his hand, “itching” to ask the player on stage a question.

    Another time, I saw Brad Radke simply standing in the middle of the field, talking to someone. Here was the team’s best player, who had won 20 games just a year earlier, standing among his team’s most diehard fans, and no one recognized him! Obviously I did, and quickly procured an autograph for my collection, but still, it just goes to show you how far the Twins’ fan base has come in just a few short years. Nowadays, each player is shuffled by a cadre of security personnel from appearance to appearance. Free autographs from marquee players are difficult to come by, and I don’t even try anymore.

    But enough about the old days. Even though I wasn’t able to expand upon my impressive collection of Twins signatures this year, I enjoyed my time at Twins Fest this weekend. It’s tough to actually get close to the players anymore, but it’s still neat to see them up close. I listened to Johan talk on the radio about an assortment of topics, including his newfound celebrity in Venezuela. As you saw in the pictures I posted up the other day, I also visited some of the various attractions on display, such as Paul Molitor’s Hall of Fame plaque and the stadium model.

    As the event has grown in prestige, one thing that has most definitely improved by leaps and bounds is the baseball card and memorabilia show. I am no longer a hardcore collector (as I was when I was younger) but I pay a little attention to the hobby, mainly focusing my energies (and limited expendable income) on acquiring Twins prospect rookie cards and autographs. This year I decided to focus on the 2004 draft: prospects Trevor Plouffe, Kyle Waldrop, Jay Rainville, and Anthony Swarzak (Glen Perkins doesn’t have any cards out yet for some odd reason). I was able to find autographed rookie cards of Plouffe, Waldrop, and Swarzak at reasonable prices, and also picked up one of 2003 draftee Matt Moses. Minnesota doesn’t host too many sports cards shows every year, let alone one that focuses on Twins baseball. Even eBay can’t compete with the selection that was available on the Metrodome floor last weekend.

    Well, I stretched it out over a week, but I’ve finally wrapped up my description of my season-opening experiences last Saturday. Hopefully I haven’t bored you too much! Have a good weekend and I’ll be back early next week sometime.

    -Ryan M.

    Tuesday, February 01, 2005

    Back into the Swing of Things: Part One

    For many Twins fans, winter is simply a reality. Here in the Upper Midwest, many of us not particularly enjoy winter, but we accept it and get through the cold weather and snow just fine (even when it does overstay its welcome). For me, one of the worst aspects of the longest of our two seasons (the other one being, obviously, roadh construction) is the lack of baseball.

    Sure, things aren’t so bad in November and December, what with the Hot Stove League and all, but by the time January rolls around, I start to go a little stir crazy. That is why this past weekend could not have come soon enough. I dedicated my entire Saturday to my favorite pastime, and since I have this forum available to me, I thought I’d share with you a few of the more interesting points from my day. I don’t think I’ll get through it all tonight, so this might be a two-part post. However, the best stuff definitely came Saturday morning.

    Saturday Morning: 11 a.m.

    Every year before the start of the new season, St. Olaf College (my school) hosts a baseball coaches clinic. Every year, the biggest speaker is none other than Twins general manager Terry Ryan. Longtime St. Olaf baseball coach Jim Dimick (any of you are familiar with MIAC baseball may know who I’m talking about) has been friends with Terry since his scouting days, and ever since he became G.M. Terry has been kind enough to make the short trip south to speak at our clinic. He brings a current player with him most of the time and speaks for about 30-45 minutes about baseball, the state of the game, and of course, the Twins. We’ve had just about every notable Twin come at one point or another: Torii, Koskie, Dougie, LeCroy, Pierzynski, and a few more I can’t remember. Last year he brought local boy Michael Restovich, and in a pleasant surprise, this year’s guest was Jacque Jones.

    What makes this appearance so great every year is T.R.’s frankness. We all know that he is much more open about things with the public than most other baseball officials already, but in front of that relatively small audience of baseball coaches, I’ve found that Ryan always seems to “tell it like it is”. This isn’t an audience of clueless (albeit well-meaning) fans who think if you “hit and run” it constitutes a federal crime; these are mostly high school and college baseball coaches who have been around the game extensively for years and years. Stupid questions are not asked, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that even if the discussion becomes relatively complex, people are going to understand what is going on.

    Terry started this year by going over a few things from JJ’s bio: some of his notable stats, his path to the big leagues (including the 1996 Olympics), and his performance the last couple of years. As he usually says when asked about Jacque’s contract situation, Terry said that he wasn’t the one starting the rumor of Jacque’s imminent departure. “Jacque, how come every time I pick up the paper Charley Walters has got you traded?” he asked (rhetorically, obviously), which garnered a few chuckles from the audience. “As long as you want me back I’ll be back,” said a smiling Jones in reply, which also drew some laughs.

    Jacque also talked about losing his dad during last year’s playoffs. Jacque talked about how he had told his grandmother that he would call her the morning that she passed away (a few years ago) and was disappointed that he wasn’t able to talk to her one last time. He said he almost made the same mistake with his father the day before he passed, but instead turned around and picked up the phone before the team’s last game of the regular season and was able to speak with his dad one last time. He also said how much he appreciated the support of his teammates during that difficult time.

    Terry made a point of talking about the unique bond the Twins continue to share, despite the fact that they have lost so many players over the past few years. “It’s odd that this club can stay together and continue to win,” he said. “Some of the reasons are that we have the types of guys like Jacque and Torii—guys with such great character. We certainly have the right manager and the right type of makeup, because on paper we aren’t the greatest team.”

    Interestingly, the next topic was none other than steroids and the recently passed crackdown plan. “I was talking to Matt Lawton about this a couple weeks ago,” Jacque said. “We went over how guys kinda frowned on our numbers back when I used to hit 21 homers, he would hit 23, Corey would hit 24, but right now, we both feel pretty good about those numbers,” which coming out of the 5-10 Jones’ mouth was pretty funny I have to admit. “I think we’ll start to see things even just a hair” said Ryan.

    A previous presenter had used a video of Randy Johnson to demonstrate something, and when Terry asked Jacque what he thought of the Yankees’ newest acquisition, Jacque responded “I think I might have to use a couple more sick days this year,” which was pretty dang funny too.

    After briefly going over the AL Central and some of the other AL competition for the upcoming year, Terry brought up the fact that Jacque’s favorite park is actually pitcher-friendly Saefco Field in Seattle while he has hit just .209 in Camden Yards, a hitter’s haven. Jacque also made a couple nice points about how Tony Gywnn has helped him as a hitter by helping him simplify things. I can’t emphasize this enough for all you baseball coaches out there: keep things simple, even if you’re coaching at a higher level. No athlete performs at his/her best when they have too many things to think about.

    Many Twins fans (including myself at times) are sometimes critical of Jones because of the fact that he is such a free-swinger. When asked why that was, Jones responded “It’s what got me here. I’ve always been that way and it’s who I am as a hitter.”

    Jacque talked about how he was a mere 145 lbs. in 10th grade, which is a far cry from many of the behemoths we see in the league today. “I’m always amazed at how far you can hit a ball the opposite way,” said Terry. “So am I,” JJ replied, to the delight of the crowd.

    “You’re going to be one of the few major leaguers that plays long enough to see free agency,” said Ryan to Jacque, “and you’re going to get there after this year. You’ll have all the freedom you could desire, which isn’t good for me.” That quote really brought home how highly Terry and the Twins’ front office thinks of Jacque. He has his weaknesses, but when you can keep a productive player (and great guy) like him around at a realistic price, it’s not difficult to see why the Twins re-signed him.

    Speaking about his 2005 team, T.R. said “We’re in good shape and we have a lot of confidence in this club, even with the loss of Koskie and Guzman. With Morneau, a healthy Mauer, Stewart, and guys like Lew and Jacque and Torii we should have a pretty balanced offense. We brought back the entire pitching staff, and for the first time most people are looking at us as the favorites in the division.”

    Then Terry opened up the floor for questions from the audience. A great number of topics were discussed, including Mauer’s health (obviously), Joe Mays, the incredible power of Justin Morneau, Jacque’s contract situation (and the role that agents play in the entire contractual process), among a great many other things. My digital voice recorder ran out of space about that time (curse it’s difficult-to-understand controls!) so I can’t exactly recount all that was said in this space.

    However, I made it my prerogative to get my hard-hitting question in (as I do most years) and asked Terry about his confidence in the left side of the team’s infield, most notably Cuddyer’s defense at third and the shortstop race. Ryan was very upbeat about Cuddyer, praising his “coachability” (a quality that the audience obviously held in high regard), work ethic, and strong throwing arm. In the end, though, it all comes down to the fact that the team needs to get Cuddy’s bat into the lineup on an everyday basis, which is something we’ve all known for a while.

    As for the shortstop sweepstakes, Ryan didn’t say anything too earth-shattering, probably because he doesn’t know that much more than we do right now. This was before the whole Punto-madness began, and T.R. said that it is pretty much a three horse race between Bartlett, Castro, and Punto. I get the feeling that the winner may actually be decided in spring training, which is something that hasn’t happened on this team for quite a while now (in terms of a position spot being won during the spring) perhaps dating back to the Mohr-Cuddyer-Kielty days.

    Whew! I have typed quite enough for one day, and I congratulate you for reading this far down the page! It must have taken you quite a while, so now feel free to go about the rest of your day. I’ll probably leave this post up tomorrow before writing Part Two on Wednesday or Thursday. It will contain a few more thoughts/reactions from Twins Fest ’05. If you have any reactions of your own from the event, feel free to e-mail them to me and I will post them along with my own when I write that entry. Until then, so long!

    -Ryan M.