Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Memories

Before I dive into the actual post I want to send my thoughts out to Twins Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who announced yesterday that he is battling esophageal cancer. Get well soon Killer!

On New Years Eve, I generally like to look back on memories from the previous year. And if you are a baseball fanatic like me, you will have many baseball ones in there. So I began to look back on Twins related memories from 2010, beginning with TwinsFest (The final one ever held in the Dome?) and ending with another painful sweep at the hands from that pinstriped team out east. So here are my top 5 memories:

5. AL Central Champs! (September 21): After destroying the 2nd place White Sox in a three game series a week earlier, the Twins wrapped up their 6th Central division championship under Ron Gardenhire with a come from behind 6-4 win over Cleveland, coupled with a Oakland victory over Chicago. Once September started, it became clear that the Twins were the best team in this division and were rewarded for it. Its always nice to spray the bubbly in September.

4. 50th Season Celebration (September 3-5): Any Twins fan was glued to either their seat at Target Field or their seat in front of the TV watching this weekend of baseball. All the old players and footage that makes up the history of Twins Baseball was on display during this weekend, highlighted by the the 50 greatest Twins and the old timers game. Meanwhile, the current Twins, swept the future AL Champs Texas Rangers. I had the privilege to attend the friday night game where Matt Fox was called up to spot start and had a very good outing. It was a shame he was sent down and snatched up on waivers by Boston the next day.

3. Jim Thome walks off the Sox (August 17): The Twins entered this game with a four game winning streak, highlighted by a sweep in Oakland. They also were three games up on the White Sox as the series kicked off at Target Field. The Twins jumped out to a 4-0 first inning lead, featuring a two run triple by Jason Kubel. By the fourth inning the game was tied at 4. Following a Delmon Young fifth inning home run, the Twins took a 5-4 lead into the ninth. Enter new closer Matt Capps, first man he faces (Alexi Ramirez) homers to tie the game and sends it to extra frames. In the 10th the Sox scored a run to make it 6-5. Matt Thornton came back out for the 10th to nail the save for Chicago. After a Young single, Thome stepped in. He swung wildly and missed on the first pitch. The next pitch, 93 MPH fastball, Thome connected. Sending it deep into the night and giving the Twins a 4 game lead. The homer was also the first walk off home run by the Twins at Target Field.

2. Mauer signs eight year extension (March 22): On March 21, I had the opportunity to go to the Target Field open house. At the conclusion of that open house, I received the news Twins fans had waited for all winter long. Joe Mauer had signed a 8 year $184 million extension. That might of been the best days ever (rivaling game 163 and the next memory). The following day, Joe put the ink to the paper and made it official. He was going to play the next nine seasons in a Twins uniform. But, that feeling only lasted a few weeks as the next memory took over...

1. Target Field Opener (April 12): For anyone who ever saw a game in the Dome, you didn't miss much. From the final game of 2009 to the first home game of 2010, Twins fans saw a game in the worst stadium then saw a game in the best stadium. Target Field was perfect. And any things that needed fixing, the Twins have made those updates for 2011. And to make it better, the Twins took it to Boston 5-2 on a glorious afternoon for baseball. Joe Mauer had a few hits, Jason Kubel hit the first homer, and Carl Pavano once again got the job done. A great game to break in the new place. Now lets hope that 2011 brings us even better memories (Or maybe even a World Series Ring?)...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Middle Infield Depth

Yesterday we saw the Winter Meetings wrap up, with the Twins making a significant move. The Twins shipped SS JJ Hardy and INF Brendan Harris to Baltimore for Minor League P's Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. The move leaves the Twins with putting Alexi Casilla at shortstop and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (Pending the Twins sign him, which reportedly is close) at second base. This gives the Twins more speed up the middle, as they desire. It also dumps about $7 million in salary, leaving the door possibly open to resigning P Carl Pavano.

But one can't help but notice how little depth the middle infield now has with this trade. Behind Nishioka at second, the Twins best options in their system is Matt Macri (.263 lifetime minor league average) and Luke Hughes (.270 lifetime minor league average). And behind Casilla at shortstop in the minors is Trevor Plouffe (.254 lifetime minor league average), Macri (Utility Player), and Estarlin de Los Santos (.247 lifetime minor league average, never been above AA). All but de Los Santos has seen some time in the big leagues. As you can see, none are an appealing choice if Nishioka and Casilla get injured or cannot fulfill the job adequately. (SS Miguel Sano is the Twins best infield prospect but is still 3-5 years away from the big leagues)

So, bottomline, if neither Nishioka or Casilla cannot do the job or miss a lot of time with injury, the Twins will be forced to trade for someone mid season. The Twins have done a few moves during the season in both 09 and 10, with the moves paying off well. But I will find it ridiculous if Smith has to make a trade for a starting middle infielder because he squandered the depth he had there yesterday. Also, he should be looking for more long term solutions to the middle infield spots through the draft or via trade. Because right now, he has to be seeing what I'm seeing, and its not pretty.

Lastly, with the gaping hole in the bullpen, I would like to know why Smith didn't hold out on trading Hardy for more than two minor league pitchers? The Shortstop market is very thin this offseason (i.e. Juan Uribe and his 3 yr/$21 million contract), and an above average shortstop such as Hardy should of been worth more than that. One figured Hardy wouldn't be in the Twins long term plans, but why shoot yourself in the foot with this move? That's all I want to know. So lets all hope Casilla can hold his job this time or else the Twins are in trouble.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Twins Sleeveless Jersey

This is kind of a random post...
If you noticed in 2010, the Twins home alternater sleeveless jersey never made an appearance. It took a back seat to the home white, alternate blue, and 1961 throwback. I personally loved the idea of the sleeveless jersey and I hoped the Twins would of gotten creative with it. But they really just took the home whites and cut off the sleeves and called it a uniform. And I don't even know if that jersey is still an active one. But none the less, I have made some fashionable changes to the uniform. Maybe the Twins can agree with me on this.

Current Sleeveless Uniform

New Sleeveless Uniform

2010 Winter Meeting Thoughts

This week, all 30 GMs are down in Orlando for the Winter Meetings. And if you are like me, this is great to watch closely. All the rumors is what make this week great. But in recent years, the meetings have become more a place where teams lay groundwork on deals, then over the course of time complete them. The Twins have a lot of roster questions right now. So I was hoping for some significant move to help fill some holes, but that does not appear likely. Another thing that does not appear likely is GM Bill Smith commenting on a potential deal. I could probably get more useful info from the housekeeping lady than him. But there have been some interesting rumors surrounding the Twins so I will offer my thoughts here:

  • The market for free agent relievers Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier are heating up. And as Bill Smith has said this week the Twins will not go into a bidding war for them. I have gotten the impression Smith is content with going into the season with a bullpen consisting of Glen Perkins, Anthony Slama, Pat Neshek, Jose Mijares, Joe Nathan, and Matt Capps. That is nothing to be content about. Perkins has a Joe Mays ERA since 2009. Neshek has to recover arm strength following his Tommy John surgery because his fastball had issures topping 85. Slama has had a stellar minor league career but control has been a problem for him. Mijares is a solid lefty specialist but no eighth inning setup guy. Nathan is coming off Tommy John surgery and should not be expected to put up his pre-2010 numbers. And Capps is not a 1-2-3 closer, but can dilligently get the job done. I hope Bill Smith can sign at least two solid relievers to bridge the gap to the ninth.
  • Much has not happened in the negotiations for Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, since the Twins won the rights to sign him. But after watching Oakland lose the pitcher Iwakuma because they failed to sign him by the deadline has me a bit concerned. I would like to see the Twins hammer out a deal out after the Winter Meetings end, so we don't take this to the wire. The Twins have until 11 P.M. on December 26 to get a deal done. Nishioka is reportedly wanting a 3 year deal in the area of $3 million per year.
  • With the Nishioka signing, SS J.J. Hardy has become expendable. The Twins are looking at having Alexi Casilla start next year, to help add speed up the middle. Casilla had a good 2010 season as a bench player, and when given the opportunity to start in previous seasons has struggled. So I would hate to lose a solid player like Hardy to see Casilla fail again. People are quick to point out Hardy missed lots of time in 2009 and 2010 with injuries. But if you look at his seasons before that he was a pretty healthy player. The Twins are reportedly in discussions with Baltimore about Hardy and in return the Twins would land some minor league pitchers. With the thin SS market this offseason, we can get a better return for Hardy than minor league pitchers. Try a Hardy for a solid relief pitcher deal.
  • SP Carl Pavano was in Orlando and met with the Twins and other interested teams. The Twins want Pavano back and from what I've heard, Pavano would like to return. But he is considered the second best pitcher on the market and is seeking a three year deal. I hope if the Twins do retain the 34 year old starter, they get a two year deal. Three years is overkill for a player of his age and his injury history. If a third year is a must, try a club option on the third year, first. The Twins (From what Bill Smith has reluctantly told us) are optimistic they can work something out. But Smith has also said they are content with having Francisco Liriano, Brian Duensing, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey as their opening day rotation. Yikes!