Thursday, February 25, 2010

Determining the Starter at Third

When I went over the few positional battles that will be going on during the Spring, the only real battle as far as the starting lineup was concerned was at third base. Brendan Harris is likely to be used almost exclusively at third this year after spending the last two seasons being more of a utility man, and we all know how much Gardy loves him some Nick Punto. I don't think Danny Valencia has any real chance to win the third base job, and since I'm not all that high on him to begin with, I agree that there's no reason to lose someone to waivers (which they'd have to do to promote Valencia) when his production won't be a whole lot better if at all better than Punto or Harris.

Now, while I did say it would be a Spring battle for the starting job, that seems pretty silly. Both Harris and Punto have enough major league at bats where we should be able to predict, at least somewhere in the ballpark, the numbers each would be likely to put up. Defense will be a factor as well, especially if the offensive numbers are relatively close.

Nick Punto seems to be the one most people expect to win the job because of how often Gardy has played him over the last few years, and Gardy was quoted a few days ago saying he "just likes to have Nicky in the lineup" one way or another. Punto is a career .248/.322/.324 hitter, which is well below average for a middle infielder, and downright awful for a third baseman. His on-base percentage over the last four years has been considerably higher than .322 in three of those four seasons though, so if I were to venture a conservative estimate on Punto's line next year I'd put it at .250/.335/.325, which is still atrocious for a third baseman. The fact that the Twins are paying Punto $4MM to put up that offensive line is a disgrace, especially when even half a season of Joe Crede at half that money would likely be an upgrade.

Defensively, Punto has played 224 games over the last four years at third base, so that should be a large enough sample size to get some solid defensive information as well. Over those four seasons, adjusting for 150 games played, Punto has put up UZR's of 17.4, 23.8, 22.6 and 39.1, although the last two years he's played a total of seventeen games at third so that 39.1 is almost certainly more of a fluke than suddenly getting even better defensively. If Punto is a +17 UZR defensive third baseman, that basically offsets his terrible offensive production, and hitting 9th a .335 on base percentage isn't the end of the world.

Brendan Harris, on the other hand, is a career .267/.324/.396 hitter in basically three full seasons. His offense has been about 15% better than Punto's over their careers, but unfortunately for Harris he's seen his slash line decline each of these three seasons. Now, even if Harris matches his weak offensive numbers from last year (.261/.310/.362) he'd likely still be a better offensive option than Punto. I think a safe bet for Harris this coming season would be a .265/.320/.380 line, which is just under 10% better offensively than my prediction for Punto.

Unfortunately, for the slight improvement Harris brings offensively, he gives away more defensively. Harris has only played 82 games at third base over the last three seasons, so the sample size is admittedly small, but he's shown little reason to suggest he's going to be a positive defensive player at any point in his career. Over the last three seasons, Harris has posted UZR/150's of -25.6, -5.9 and -26.3. He played 44 of those 82 games last year, and 78 of those 82 games in the last two years. The difference between -6 and -26 is obviously rather large, and a bigger sample size this season would hopefully be able to figure out exactly just how poor of a defender Harris is, but a conservative prediction in my opinion would be that Harris would post a -10 UZR/150 if given most of the playing time.

Harris would ultimately have to be 27 runs better than Nick Punto offensively to make up for his defensive shortcomings, and I just don't see that happening. Many fans continue to roll their eyes when Gardenhire speaks glowingly about Nick Punto, and rightfully so, because even when factoring in defense Punto is still a well-below average third baseman. However, at this point in their careers, Punto is simply the better option to be given most of the playing time. A platoon would make little sense, because Punto is equally inadequate against both righties and lefties, although Harris is a much better hitter against lefties than righties.

Hopefully when Gardy decides to give Punto/Hardy/Hudson a day off, he chooses to do it against left-handed pitching, because that would give Harris the best chance to succeed and would give the Twins much less of a downgrade than if Harris were to get a start against a right handed pitcher. Most fans assume Punto will win the job simply because Gardy loves him, and while that is likely true, the fact is Punto is the better choice between the two and for once, Gardy's affection towards a player may actually improve the club.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Aldrich Earns Amazing Honor

Watching the #1 Kansas Jayhawks dominate Oklahoma last night was fun, but the best moment came early in the first half when ESPN announced that Cole Aldrich, Kansas' All-American Center, was the Academic All-American of the year. Cole's accomplishments on the court undoubtedly played a role in the decision, but putting up a 3.3 GPA over three years while taking a full course load and playing for arguably the premier basketball school in the country is impressive any way you slice it.

I've known Cole as long as I can remember, and I remember in sixth grade at tryouts when he towered over everyone. At that point he may have been one of the least-skilled players to ever be in the Olson Middle School gym, missing simple layups and looking awkward as he moved down the court. He still made the A-team, because, well, he was enormous, and he still played well despite not having a lot of skill. It was clear he had athletic ability, he just had never harnessed that ability into basketball skills.

Watching him play extremely well for the best team in the country is not surprising to me, though. This is a kid that certainly has had his share of obstacles to overcome since he started playing basketball, and a lot of kids in his situation would have simply given up. From the time Cole tried out in sixth grade until our season started in 8th grade, Cole worked harder than anyone I've ever seen. When he came to tryouts in 8th grade, there was no doubt he was the best player in the gym, and in all honesty he was probably the most dominating player in the state. Going from a tall, awkward moving, layup missing athlete to the best player in the state of Minnesota in just under two years is simply remarkable.

Our team that year finished second in one state tournament and third in another. We had other talented players, including a current D-3 player in Jon Mays, but I think everyone would agree Cole carried us to those finishes. Between sixth and seventh grade this was a team that just didn't win very many games, and Cole's ridiculous improvement in two years was the biggest reason for the teams drastic improvement.

That's why when Cole graduated from high school and signed his letter of intent to play for the University of Kansas, I knew he'd succeed. Was he ready to excel as a freshman like many of the other McDonald's All-Americans? Probably not. However, I knew he'd work harder than any of them, and if he was already a McDonald's All-American it was clear any improvement was going to make him an elite player at the next level. That's precisely what happened. Cole spent most of his freshman year playing sparingly, but working his ass off everyday at practice and in the classroom. All that hard work was well worth it when Cole had a great four minute stretch against UNC in the Final Four, dominating National Player of the Year Tyler Hansborough during that time.

Most of the general public has known for some time now just how good Cole is as a basketball player, but this is a kid that is an even better person. I've never seen him treat a fan rudely, or turn down an autograph or picture request, even when all he wants to do is go home. We went to the PGA Event this summer, and after walking around for a few hours, we were on our way out and a pretty good size amount of people started asking Cole for pictures and autographs. He took the time to talk to these people, take pictures, and sign autographs, and he never seemed upset or bothered by it.

I can say with virtual certainty that the honor Cole received yesterday is as special to him and his family as the National Championship he won his freshman year was. Cole has said several times how important it is to him that he becomes the first person in his family to get his college degree, and even if he decides to leave Lawrence after this season, there's no doubt in my mind he will make time to finish his degree over the next few years.

At a time when athlete's are often thinking about the millions of dollars that they are set to make at the next level, it's refreshing to see someone I've grown to know so well over the years prove he is light years ahead of many young men his age. Cole is truly a student-athlete, and as proud as his family and friends are of his accomplishments on the court, I feel safe assuming everyone is even prouder of what he's managed to accomplish off of it and the man he's become.

Congratulations, Big Fella. Now bring home another ring, so I can steal one when you're not looking.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tebow A Rare Star in the Celebrity World

After watching that pathetic 'statement' today by Tiger Woods, and remembering how equally awkward Alex Rodriguez looked around this time last year during his interview with Peter Gammons, it was more clear than ever that it is ridiculous to put professional athletes on a pedestal. Look, I'm not here to call anyone out for looking up to a professional athlete, because we've all d one it before and will all do it again. Undoubtedly, there's something special about watching another human being perform at a level we didn't ever imagine possible. Watching Tiger Woods win The Masters by 12 strokes as a 21-year-old was simply remarkable for everyone. When someone is more talented than we ever imagined, they win us over and are given passes for doing things most people would be ridiculed for.

I'm not saying Woods wasn't ridiculed, because he certainly was, but the fact remains plenty of athletes have been given passes for being terrible husbands and/or fathers, because all we want to see is these people dominating on the court. Unfortunately, in this day and age of athletes being able to play by a different set of rules (Sorry Tiger, I know you said you don't get to play by different rules, but the fact is you and all your celebrity stars do and always will) young people want to become superstar athletes not only because they love the game they are playing, but because they want the money and material items that come along with it, including the never ending line of women. Certainly the media has as much to do with this as the athletes themselves, as the media glorifies these athlete's lifestyles as if they can do no wrong.

I've been a big Kobe defender, and I think he's the best player pre-LeBron since Jordan, but when someone can go from cheating on their wife and being accused of rape to being a fairly well-liked athlete in about a decade, it shows that the American public allows these celebrities to play by different rules. When Ray Lewis can basically be linked to a double murder, get off, and be loved by all media outlets and therefore most fans of the NFL, again, it shows that the rules us normal people live by each and every day simply don't apply to the people that are more talented than us.

This is precisely why I will never understand why people dislike Tim Tebow. Look, if you are a Florida State or Miami fan, fine, I understand the hatred. Otherwise, I think the hatred is simply jealousy, and those of you who truly dislike Tebow simply haven't taken the time to understand just how rare someone like him is. He's arguably the greatest college football player in the history of the game, and could almost certainly get any girl he wants. When a reporter jokingly asked him last year at a press conference if he was saving himself for marriage, Tebow didn't hesitate to answer that indeed he was. All the reporters got awkwardly silent for a few seconds, because the answer was so unbelievable to everyone there. In a world in which athletes are praised for the women they land, and in which celebrities compare one another based on the women they have been with, Tebow didn't only admit that he was still a virgin, but he said it proudly in a room full of people.

I'm in college, and if you're in college or were in college, you understand how nice it is when summer break begins. Three whole months without worries, simply working or even taking the summer off, just to have fun with friends you only see during this time. You understand that once you're done with college, you may never see some of these people again, so you want to spend your summers having as much fun with these people as possible. Many of us simply went or are going to college and only taking classes, not playing a sport. Tebow spends his entire first semester balancing football and class, leaving little time for anything else. Despite all the work this kid puts in, he doesn't feel like he deserves a summer off. Tebow spends his summers helping kids in third-world countries. When I hear people mocking Tebow, it's almost always about how he chooses to help the less fortunate because he knows how blessed he is. So the next time you decide you don't like Tebow, or you want to criticize him, ask yourself if you'd want your son to turn out like him. A superstar athlete who is saving himself for marriage and spends his free time helping less fortunate kids... consider me one person who hopes my future son grows up to be half the man Tim Tebow already is.

I understand the doubts about his ability to transition to the NFL, but I will be pulling for him to succeed. If we as a general public are going to put our faith in one man, I vote we put it into a man that has allowed faith to lead him to where he is today. Tim Tebow, you are a rare star in a world that constantly lets down the fans. Thank you, for not being afraid of being different. It's refreshing, and inspiring.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Spring Training Battles

With Spring Training slowly getting underway, hopes are high in almost every major league city. That's the best part about Spring Training; everyone is tied for first place. The Twins are the early favorites to win the division, and the buzz surrounding the team is as positive as it's been in quite some time. That's in part thanks to a great late season charge that allowed the Twins to sneak into the playoffs, but also because the front office addressed several major needs this team had. This was the best off-season the Twins have had, in my opinion, since the year they traded AJ Pierzysnki to San Francisco.

However, despite filling several important holes, the Twins still have some positions that are up in the air this spring. The team has four pitchers battling for the final rotation spot, a potential battle at third base, and a battle for the backup catcher's position until Morales is fully healthy.

Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Carl Pavano and Nick Blackburn are all locks for the rotation it would appear, so that means Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak and Francisco Liriano are all battling for the final spot in the rotation. With Clay Condrey, Pat Neshek, Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan in the bullpen, it seems likely that only two of those four starters battling for the fifth spot in the rotation will make the team.

Liriano seems to be the favorite to win the fifth starter job, based on his once unlimited potential and the fact that he dominated this winter in the Dominican. I'd say it's a pretty safe bet that Liriano wins the battle by opening day, but if he regresses back to the way he pitched most of last season it's possible the team could simply decide to move on. Doubtful, but possible.

If Liriano wins the rotation spot, that would mean Perkins/Duensing/Swarzak will be battling for the last spot in the bullpen. Swarzak will almost certainly be optioned back to AAA to allow him to remain in a starting rotation, and the Twins likely will want another lefty in their bullpen anyways. My guess is Duensing will remain on the roster, being used as an emergency starter at times, a situational lefty at times, and a mop up reliever at times. I fully expect the Twins to trade Glen Perkins once he shows he's healthy again, although admittedly I have no idea what the Twins would want back.

*Edit: Forgot about Guerrier somehow. That means there's only 1 roster spot for the four battling for the fifth spot, with the others likely headed back to AAA or traded.

Unless the Twins decide to send Glen Perkins away for a veteran third baseman, such as Mike Lowell, Nick Punto seems to be the odds-on favorite to win the third base job. Lowell would be a solid upgrade if healthy, and we know the Red Sox are willing to pay at least $9MM of the $12MM owed Lowell if they get value in return. I just don't see Perkins as the best fit in Boston, so I really don't see the Twins adding a veteran third baseman by opening day.

That would give Danny Valencia every chance to win the third base job, although the odds are certainly stacked against him. The Twins clearly don't feel he's ready, as they refused to promote him during September last year when the rosters expanded. Aside from giving Valencia some more seasoning in the minors, it's also important to note that if the team waits until June to promote him they will be delaying his arbitration and free agency by a season. That would keep him under the Twins control for an extra season, which is a big deal regardless of the market the team is in. Lastly, Gardy's love for Punto seems to suggest he'll start somewhere, and with the middle infield pretty much set with Hardy and Hudson, Punto seems to be the most logical and correct choice. That said, if Valencia has a great spring, it wouldn't be entirely surprising to see him given the third base job, sliding Punto back into the role he's best suited for... more of a super-utility player.

The backup catcher battle is one that I disagree with. Gardy has made some noise lately about possibly using one of the Twins best prospects, Wilson Ramos, as the backup to Mauer for a few weeks until Jose Morales is ready. Unfortunately, that decision would be a poor one. First, Ramos has yet to play above AA, and while he may be able to hold his own for a few weeks, it's hardly a sure thing he'd be successful. Secondly, Ramos would not get very many starts, and it could hinder his development to just sit on the bench for two weeks. The most important reason, however, is because it would start Ramos' arbitration/free agency clock, and that could be a big deal just like with Valencia. The Twins won't see enough of a difference over a two or three week span to promote Ramos over Drew Butera, even if Butera can't hit a lick. If Mauer ends up with an extended injury, then I would understand the Ramos promotion, but otherwise it would be a major mistake.

The Twins front office has done a nice job this off-season filling holes where they needed to and because of that there aren't very many interesting battles to be watching this spring. However, there's enough intrigue to make the spring worth following. Baseball season is right around the corner, and hopefully you're as excited as I am.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Things That Annoy Me

With baseball and football in a two week period without much news, and the fact that nobody cares enough to read about the NBA All-Star game, I decided to simply vent my frustrations on several things that people often do that really annoy me. So, in case you found this blog because you've been in love with me since elementary school, here's things you should try to avoid:

-First, let's just get this out of the way: From now until the day I die, I agree not to be 'that guy.' Consider this my plea for people to stop saying "Don't be that guy."

- Anyone who agrees with the quote "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger." That's just not true... I think Christopher Reeve would agree with me.

- People who update their Facebook or Twitter's in any of the following ways:
* Using the number zero instead of the letter O. "L0VES 0PENING PRESENTS!" There's a reason for the letter o on your keyboard. Please, use it.
* Capitalizing worthless letters. "So BoReD wHaT sHoUlD i Do?!" You could start by Christopher Reeveing yourself.
* People who can't spell words but use them anyways. "That game was rediculous!" Spelling errors are the most annoying to me because it would take two seconds to type the word into Google and get the correct spelling. If you don't know what word I spelled wrong in my example, I'm talking about you.
* People who say "I should of" instead of "I should have." Too many people above the age of ten make this mistake.

- 8 AM Classes.

- Tim Greenfield's political leanings.

- The guy who goes to the bar in his college baseball sweatshirt, even though he actually got cut and isn't on the team. Does he really think girls are going to want to go home with him because he's on the baseball team? Come on... I love baseball, but if you're going to pretend like you're good at something, make it a sport most girls actually enjoy.

- Guys in New York who look like Bowers from Little Big League and say the comedy club allows underage drinking just to get three 19-year-olds to buy tickets from him. If you're ever in Times Square and you see a Bowers look-a-like selling tickets for a comedy show, please kick him square in the nuts for me.

- Girls who ask my best guy friends for information they obviously aren't going to give away. If I won't tell you, then neither will they. They also won't tell your friends.

- The double standard that applies to ugly men and attractive ones. Be honest girls... when an ugly guy hits on you while you're out, you tell people you were hit on by 'some creep.' If a good-looking guy hits on you in the exact same way, you tell people you 'met someone last night.' Guys are much simpler. We bring our desperate friend to take the grenade for us (AKA the D.U.F.F.) so we can enjoy our night.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Delmon Young's Potential

Delmon Young. If you are talking Twins baseball with even a casual fan, Delmon Young's name will undoubtedly come up. For the most part, the casual fan tends to think Young has enormous potential, and the Twins just need to be patient with him. Although these people are wrong, it's perfectly understandable as to why they believe Delmon is a budding star. The Twins have done a fantastic job of marketing Young as a future superstar, and they continue to talk him up at every opportunity.

Young had a very good offensive second half last season, including a ridiculous final week, but with his abysmal defense, he was barely an above average player over that time. His first half was so historically bad that he still managed to be the worst offensive and defensive left fielder in the AL last year, but Young fans will continue to point to his great second half as proof he's finally turned the corner. Unfortunately, Young has done just enough in each of his three major league seasons to make people believe he's finally turned a corner, only to regress back to the free-swinging, impatient hitter we've all seen each April and May. Following the 2008 season, I remember thinking the Twins needed to give Young one more year to figure things out, because his numbers improved basically every month besides August, with September being his best month. Of course, he managed to start 2009 in a terrible slump, his defense actually got worse, and he ultimately was among the least valuable players last season.

So, what is Young's offensive potential? I don't think he'll ever reach 40 home runs, and likely won't ever pass the 30 mark. Not only is he impatient, but he also hits a lot of balls into the ground. Since he reached AA, his plus batting practice power has ultimately been non-existent, except in fastball situations. The sign of a great hitter is being able to capitalize on a pitcher's mistake, but unfortunately Young has shown little ability to do this. There's no doubt Young has great raw power, but unless his patience improves greatly, he will continue to be a net negative player for the Twins. I know that's hard to hear considering what the Twins gave up to get him, but the fact is he's shown very little since playing in AA to suggest he's ever going to be even an average major league player.

Here's to hoping I'm terribly mistaken.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Grading the Twins Off-Season

Since taking over for Terry Ryan two off-seasons ago, I've been critical of Bill Smith. I wasn't a huge fan of the Delmon Young trade, mainly because of the inclusion of Jason Bartlett, and I've been against pretty much every other decision he made prior to this off-season. The fact is, Smith had very little success in the prior two off-seasons. While not every move is going to work out over time, the problem I had with most of the moves was that even at the time he made them they were poor decisions. The Adam Everett and Mike Lamb signings didn't appear as terrible as they ended up being, but the fact that they failed miserably only added to his failures.

However, Smith deserves plenty of praise for this off-season. Since signing Miguel Angel Sano, the top international prospect available, in September Smith has been on a roll. Offering Carl Pavano arbitration was understandable and something I certainly would have done, although the $7MM he's owed likely would have been a better risk on Rich Harden or Ben Sheets. Pavano comes with enough injury risks where he isn't going to certainly give the Twins 175 innings, so it likely would have been wiser to put the risk on someone who has the potential to anchor the staff.

That said, getting Pavano on a 1-year, $7MM deal is hardly a bad move, and considering Pavano accepted arbitration when most people didn't expect him to, I don't blame Bill Smith. Had Pavano declined arbitration, the Twins very well may have targeted Harden or Sheets, although Harden did sign before Pavano accepted the Twins arbitration offer. Pavano is certainly a better bet to pitch well than Jarrod Washburn, so it could certainly have been worse.

I liked the JJ Hardy-Carlos Gomez swap, although not as much as most fans. Gomez is an extremely valuable player if used correctly, but as Gardenhire showed last year he has no idea how valuable Gomez can be and likely would have remained as the fourth outfielder this year. For that reason, trading someone who likely would have been used as a fourth outfielder for an above average starting caliber shortstop was a no-brainer.

Offering Jarrod Washburn $5MM was a poor decision but Washburn's decision to pass on the offer saved the Twins from that mistake, and allowed them to keep money handy for what I think will be the two best moves Bill Smith has made since becoming GM.

The first was signing Jim Thome to a one year, $1.25MM contract with $750K in possible incentives. While seen as nothing more than a bench upgrade with a veteran who is past his prime, the fact is Thome has a lot left to offer if used correctly and he will be an important player to have around when Delmon Young inevitably fails to live up to expectations.

The second was also the most recent. Signing Orlando Hudson to a one-year, $5MM contract was something I'd been begging for Smith to do basically all off-season, so needless to say I give it an A+. Gardy's need to have a middle infielder hit second in the lineup has hurt the team in the past, but Hudson actually is fairly close to an ideal number two hitter. He hits into too many double plays, which may be a problem at times, but his on-base percentage has been over .350 for each of the last four seasons. Putting an on-base machine in between Denard Span and Joe Mauer should make the Twins lineup that much more potent, and thanks to Washburn's poor decision to turn down $5MM the Twins instead were able to add Orlando Hudson who is a much bigger need for this team and honestly a much better fit.

I've been incredibly hard on Bill Smith, and if he continues to make poor decisions I definitely won't be afraid to criticize him again, but the fact is every decision he made this off-season was logical. Even if the moves don't work out, Smith doesn't deserve much criticism because all he can do is make what appear to be the right decisions to improve the team. For the first time in his tenure, Smith did that, and I'm more than willing to give him credit for a fantastic off-season. It doesn't hurt that the Twins were able to move their payroll to $96MM, but the money they added actually was spent wisely and makes the Twins the division favorites for this coming season. Now simply finalize the Joe Mauer extension, and Bill Smith, I will officially thank you for a great off-season.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Talking Basketball

It's no secret that the Minnesota Timberwolves are bad. Terrible, in fact. They aren't quite the New Jersey Nets, but the fact is the team is hurting for NBA-caliber talent, and they really are going to need to use their many assets wisely over the next few years. I refuse to agree with many of the sportswriters who believe David Kahn botched the Ricky Rubio situation. Kahn made it clear Rubio would start from day one if he came over, so I don't agree that drafting Flynn immediately after Rubio had any effect on his decision to stay in Spain. Money, as is often the case, was the biggest obstacle, and the Wolves hands were tied.

Now, the consensus number one player in the upcoming draft is Kentucky's superstar freshman John Wall. He's incredibly talented, and deserving of being the top rated player in the class. Of course, he's also a point guard, like Flynn and Rubio, so if the Wolves finally do win the lottery, they would have a small dilemma on their hands. Wall is a better point guard and has a much higher ceiling than Flynn does, so it would be foolish for the Wolves to pass on Wall simply because they have Jonny Flynn. However, with Rubio waiting in the wings, the Wolves do have options.

If I were Wolves GM David Kahn, I would tell teams the pick was available, but only in one trade: The rights to John Wall for the rights to Evan Turner and the rights to Cole Aldrich. By draft time, Turner and Aldrich could very easily be the #2 and #3 players on most teams boards, but it's also possible they could slip a bit if teams have other needs. Now, no team has two top ten picks in this upcoming draft, but if a team really wanted Wall they could try to trade other assets to get another lottery pick. Some people will read this and think I'm crazy. Why trade a once-in-a-decade talent at the point for two less certain prospects?

First, and foremost, I think Aldrich and Turner are two of the safest prospects in the draft. Wall has a higher ceiling than both of them, but Aldrich and Turner are far more mature players and their ceilings are plenty high on their own. Wall is immensely talented, but he's been pampered his whole life and he doesn't seem to take criticism well at all. After a pretty terrible stretch of games recently, Coach Cal called out Wall and said he needed to make better decisions and play better. Wall was offended, and said there was tension between him and Cal, and he disagreed that he had played poorly. This wasn't simply a small disagreement; Wall was upset, and he let reporters know it rather than talking to his coach about it behind closed doors.

Bringing Wall to a team full of other young players could be dangerous. The Wolves lack the veteran leader to tell Wall when he's out of line, and if the coaching staff were to let Wall get away with certain things, other young players would assume they could get away with it as well.

If I was building a team, I would do just that: Build a TEAM. Evan Turner has been doing everything for tOSU this year, and he's come back as strong as ever after his scary back injury. He's probably not quite 100%, but he's still playing exceptionally well and he would fill a major need for the Wolves at the 2. Turner has rubbed me the wrong way during games when tOSU was playing the Gophers, because he can be whiney at times and he's a hack occasionally. However, he's always been there to defend his teammates and stand up for them, which is a good sign of a leader. Turner is very talented, but he also seems to have his head on straight which can't be overlooked when building a young team.

Cole Aldrich, on the other hand, has been all over experts draft boards. After starting the year in the top five basically everywhere, Cole had a stretch of games where his numbers just weren't quite what they were a year ago. As experts continued to pile on to Cole, saying he'd been disappointing thus far, and his draft stock was dropping, Cole didn't make excuses. There weren't any post-game interviews where Cole blamed his coaching staff or his teammates because he wasn't getting enough touches. He didn't tell anyone he was dealing with Bronchitis, and only those very close to him knew that he was dealing with the death of a very close family member. He didn't make excuses.

Cole simply went to practice, went to class, and went to the games, without as much as mumbling an excuse. Now, for you Gopher fans, compare that to Al Nolen's situation. Nolen was ruled academically ineligible for the rest of the year because he didn't have the grades to qualify last semester. The Gophers appealed, citing a family death, but the NCAA correctly denied that appeal. Family deaths are hard for everyone, especially division 1 basketball players who are already trying to juggle several tasks at once, but if Cole Aldrich can be a potential Academic All-American while dealing with his own illness and a family death, with Kansas' travel schedule, it's inexcusable for Al Nolen to fail classes and not show up.

I've known Cole personally for a long time, almost ten years now, so yes, I am absolutely biased. However, if Cole sucked, I wouldn't want my favorite NBA team to draft him. I would hope for the best for him, but my love for the Timberwolves would have me hoping the Wolves would pass on him on draft day. However, Cole doesn't suck. He's the best center in college basketball, and as he's shown over the last week and a half, he can be dominating on both ends of the court when he's given touches on offense. He's also the rare college kid who would love to be drafted by and play for the Minnesota Timberwolves, as he grew up here and most of his family still lives here.

If the Wolves were able to turn the #1 pick into Evan Turner and Cole Aldrich, Kahn could then swap Jefferson to someone like Chicago for Loul Deng and a future #1 pick or something along those lines. The Wolves future would be very bright, and if the players developed as expected, there might even be more than 3,000 fans in the Target Center every night.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Will JJ Hardy Bounce Back?

Since the Twins acquired JJ Hardy from the Milwaukee Brewers in November, the general consensus seems to be that last year was a fluke for Hardy and he should return to his 2007 + 2008 form. Hardy dealt with a pretty brutal wrist injury last year, which undoubtedly hurt his play, but I wondered if there were any troubling signs statistically that would suggest another down year for the Twins new shortstop.

In 2007, as a 24-year-old, Hardy hit .277/.323/.463, with 26 home runs. His strike out rate was a respectable 11%, although his walk rate was just 6.3%. His K:BB ratio was a not-so-great 1.83. His inability to draw many walks was the biggest reason for his sub-par .323 on base percentage, but his power made him an above average offensive player in 2007.

In 2008, as a 25-year-old, Hardy hit .283/.343/.478, with 24 home runs. His numbers improved, although it really was more luck than anything. Hardy's strikeout rate increased from 11.4% to 15.6%. After striking out once every 8 at bats in 2007, Hardy struck out once every 5.8 at bats in 2008. The only positive was that his walk rate also increased, up to 8.3%. However, his strikeout rate increased more, and his K:BB ratio jumped to 1.88. So how did he have a more productive season? I said he got lucky because that's precisely what happened. His batting average on balls in play was a ridiculous .305, after posting a .279 average on balls in play in 2007. Basically, Hardy was able to get more balls to drop in 2008 than he did in 2007.

If the improved 2008 season was mostly luck, 2009 evened the score as Hardy fell victim to a lot of bad luck. His struggles weren't entirely because of bad luck, as you'll see some frightening trends, but he never should have hit as poorly as he did last year. Hardy hit .229/.302/.357 with just 11 home runs, although he did get 37% less at bats in 2009 than he did in 2008. That was because of his own struggles, as well as the emergence of Alcides Escobar in Milwaukee.

Hardy continued to trend in the wrong direction in the important categories. His strikeout rate increased again, from 15.6% to 18.3%. His at-bats per strikeout obviously decreased, from 5.8 to 4.9, but it was encouraging to see his walk rate improve as well. It only jumped to 9.3%, so his K:BB ratio again moved in the wrong direction, to 1.98 last year. However, despite the downward trend these statistics are on, his 2009 season should not have been markedly worse than 2007. So why was it so much worse? His power ultimately disappeared, which I feel safe blaming on his wrist injury. If his wrist is indeed healthy, his power should return to the 2007 or 2008 form. The biggest reason Hardy struggled though was because after hitting .305 on balls in play in 2008, he hit just .260 in 2009. His career average on balls in play is .279, so if he returns to that number in 2010, he should see an increase in both his on-base percentage and batting average.

There are certainly some reasons to be worried about Hardy's ability to bounce back this season, but I think if his wrist is healthy and he doesn't have as much bad luck as he did last year on balls in play, the Twins should be looking at a .275/.330/.470 season from their shortstop, with above average defense. That's a major upgrade over what they had there last year, even after the Orlando Cabrera trade. Let's simply hope Hardy is healthy, because his production could go a long ways towards deciding the Twins fate this coming season.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sources: Twins extend Mauer for 10 years

Update: Bob Nightengale of the USA Today reports that Mauer laughed when asked if he had agreed to a 10-year extension, so ultimately there still isn't a deal in place. The two sides continue to talk, though, and a deal still appears inevitable.

After a long but very enjoyable weekend, I woke up Monday morning battling the Flu. What started out as a pretty terrible Monday instantly became the best Monday in a long, long time. Sources informed WCCO's Mark Rosen that the Twins and Joe Mauer have reached a preliminary agreement on a ten-year extension. The total value of the extension is unknown at this point, although it likely will fall between $180MM and $200MM. The deal probably won't be official for at least a week, as the two sides undoubtedly still need to iron out all the incentives and other contract formalities, but as I told a friend of mine: It could be worth $500MM and I wouldn't care. Re-signing Joe Mauer was the most important task for this front office not only for this season, but for the next decade.

It's worth noting that some credible sources said WCCO's report was inaccurate, most notably Buster Olney of ESPN and Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune. I trust Rosen, because he quite frankly has sources closer to Mauer and has known the family for nearly a decade. Of course, it really doesn't matter, because it seems like a virtual certainty that Joe Mauer will be extended in the next few weeks if this report is incorrect.

If the deal is indeed ten years, it is somewhat risky from the Twins perspective. Some members of the local media will say it's risky because of Mauer's injury history, but the fact is Mauer has played in 130 games or more in 4 of the last 5 seasons. Despite his reputation for being slightly injury prone, facts are facts and Mauer has been among the most durable and dependable catchers in baseball over the last five years. It's risky because catchers can begin declining at any point, but in all honesty Mauer seems like a fairly safe bet to be well worth the money over ten years. He plays the worst offensive position in the league, and he was the best offensive player in the American League last year. That's sensational, and if the Twins can get him for 33% less than what Albert Pujols is expected to sign for annually, that's a bargain for the Twins no matter how long the contract is.

Mauer is the face of this franchise, and if he stays healthy and productive he could go down as the greatest Twin ever. The Twins have had a lot of great players, but Mauer's ceiling at this point is so high that he could surpass all the greats of the past by the time he's done. If I had to guess, I would say by the time Mauer retires, he will go down as the greatest all around catcher in baseball history. Hard to believe that nine years ago people were screaming because the Twins selected local boy Joe Mauer over USC superstar Mark Prior. Terry Ryan, the state of Minnesota and Twins territory thanks you.

Bill Smith, if you get this done and finalized, I'll thank you as well, but not a moment sooner.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Crede 'unlikely to re-sign with Minnesota'

Over the weekend, Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune tweeted during Twinsfest that he was getting hints that the Twins weren't planning on bringing Joe Crede back for this coming season. Christensen mentioned that the Twins seemed ready to move on because Crede simply missed too many games last year, and the team would rather go with a combination of Brendan Harris and Danny Valencia over the course of a full season.

That logic makes very little sense to me. Here's how the Twins opening day roster likely will look, if the team doesn't make another acquisition:

C: Joe Mauer
IF: Justin Morneau, Nick Punto, JJ Hardy, Brendan Harris
OF: Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, Delmon Young
DH: Jason Kubel
Bench: Jim Thome, Jason Pridie, Jose Morales/Drew Butera, Alexi Casilla
SP: Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano
MR: Jesse Crain, Clay Condrey/Brian Duensing/Glen Perkins, Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier, Jose Mijares, Jon Rauch
CL: Joe Nathan

There's 28 players listed, although the only way Drew Butera makes the opening day roster is if Jose Morales isn't healthy yet. The Twins seem ready to give Liriano every chance to win the 5th starters job, especially after his dominating Winter League performance. That means the Twins likely will have to choose one of Condrey/Perkins/Duensing to be the long reliever, and with the money they guaranteed Condrey I expect him to be the long reliever. That would put Perkins and Duensing in AAA, as both have options left, giving the Twins plenty of depth for the back end of their rotation. Anthony Swarzak will undoubtedly start the year in AAA as well, giving the Twins 3 AAA starters with decent major league experience.

If the Twins were to re-sign Crede, all they would need to do is simply option Alexi Casilla back to AAA, and use Harris as the utility man off the bench. If Crede gets hurt again, Casilla gets called back up and Harris enters the starting lineup. Crede is a better option when healthy than Harris, and it makes little sense to simply give Harris the job because of Crede's injury history.

Of course, if the team isn't going after Crede because they have their eyes on a different infielder, than it's absolutely the right decision. I've been hoping for an Orlando Hudson signing since the off-season began, but even despite conflicting reports today about that possibility, I'm not too optimistic about it. There simply aren't a lot of options left, and unless there is an infielder available via trade, the only real options are Felipe Lopez, Hudson and Crede.

Looking at the likely opening day roster, it makes one wonder what that 'extra' piece would have had to be to get Kevin Kouzmanoff from the Padres. The Twins offered Glen Perkins, but were told they needed to add more. LaVelle E. Neal of the Star Tribune said it would have been 'crazy to add Alexi Casilla' in a deal like that, although I'm not sure if Neal was speculating that the Padres want Casilla or if that was in fact what the team needed to add.

Considering that Casilla would have been the odd man out with a Kouzmanoff acquisition, I tend to think Neal was simply speculating, because it would have been crazy NOT to make that trade from a Twins perspective. Rather than continuing to look for an infielder this late in the off-season, the team would simply have to decide between Francisco Liriano or Brian Duensing for the 5th spot, with the loser heading to Rochester with Swarzak, and the headache of Glen Perkins in another city. Add in Kouzmanoff starting at third base over Brendan Harris or Joe Crede, and the team would have been in a much better position than they are today.

I have no problem with the Twins deciding not to bring back Joe Crede, but only if that decision is aided by a different acquisition. It would be inexcusable to go into the season with Nick Punto and Brendan Harris both starting, especially in an off-season where there were so many infield options early on.


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