Sunday, January 30, 2011

Twins Fest, Cuddyer, Trees, and the countdown

(*)This past weekend, the Twins held their annual fan festival event, Twins Fest. This year it was held at the National Sports Center in Blaine as the Metrodome was in no condition to hold this event (I'll talk more about this later). The main part of the event is getting players autographs. I filled up on the prospects autograph station grabbing players like Alex Wimmers, Aaron Hicks, Carlos Gutierrez, and many more. But there was one player I felt like I needed to get this year. And that player was Michael Cuddyer.

Cuddyer, 32 in March, is entering the final season of his contract and he could very well be playing for a new team come 2012. Cuddy had a down year in 2010 hitting .271 with 14 HR and 81 RBI. At season's end it was revealed that Cuddy needed surgery on his right knee and that he battled through the injury most of the season. And this was coming off a '09 season where he filled in for Justin Morneau down the stretch, hitting 32 HR and driving in 94 runs.

Michael has often been praised highly by his manager Ron Gardenhire for his effort and leadership. Gardy has referred to Cuddyer as the team MVP on a few occasions. You can make the argument for that. Despite having up and down seasons, Cuddyer is a valuable part of the Twins. You can't deny it. And I would love to see him play his whole career as a Twin. But another average year from Cuddy in 2011 will almost certainly end his tenure in Twins pinstripes. So Cuddy will be an interesting case to watch in 2011.

(*) As before mentioned Twins Fest was held at the National Sports Center in Blaine. The Twins used the Sports Hall as the main building, and the Schwan Center for the big autograph stations. I personally did not like this place. The sports hall felt cramped. Trying to go up and down the rows of collectable sellers was ridiculous. And when going out to the Schwan Center to get Cuddyer's autograph, we were forced to wait outdoors for this due to the amount of people already in the building. The Twins should of given a warning that you might have to wait outside. So hopefully, this can return to the Metrodome next year.

(*) Yesterday the Twins announced that they will be relocating the spruce trees that were located above the center field wall. According to Michael Cuddyer in this article, he was scared that he would no longer be able to see the ball due to the shadows the trees cast. So my question here is: Why wasn't this looked into more? And if this was that bad, why wasn't this taken care of during the year? I guess this was one aspect of Target Field the Twins did very little research on. Also, the backdrop will be painted a darker color to help see the ball from the batters box more clearly. So maybe we will see some more home team home runs at Target Field in 2011.

(*) There are 18 days until pitchers and catchers report (February 16), 61 days until Opening Day @ Toronto (April 1), and 68 days until the home opener vs Oakland (April 8)!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pavano Returns; Surplus of Starters

Yesterday, the Twins re-signed RHP Carl Pavano to a 2 year deal worth $16.5 million. The deal also includes incentives worth up to $500,000, based on innings pitched. Pavano had originally looked for a three year deal at the beginning of the free agent period, but no one seemingly wanted to go that high. The Twins were always the front runner and finally, after much speculation, signed Pavano. Pavano was a horse in 2010 for the Twins going 17-11 with a 3.75 ERA, while pitching in a team high 221 innings.

Now that Pavano has returned, the Twins starting rotation now consists of Francisco Liriano, Pavano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn. And for those counting, that is six starters when a typical rotation consists of five. So now the Twins have a surplus of starters and they still have a few holes in their roster. The solution I would like to offer is simple: Trade one. But the question is, which one do you part with?

Given how well Liriano pitched last year, he will stay. Brian Duensing was pretty valuable after he went into the rotation, so he will stay too. And Nick Blackburn was locked into a long term deal last offseason, so I wouldn't think anyone would want to take on his contract. So that leaves Baker and Slowey as the two viable trade candidates.

There are a few turnoffs when looking at trading for Scott Baker. Only once in his four big league seasons has he turned in a sub 4 ERA. He has been very inconsistent during his time in the big leagues. Although each of the past three seasons he has pitched at least 170 innings. So he can be a valuable innings eater. But the big turnoff is his remaining contract for 2011 through 2013. His salary will be $5 million in 2011, $6.5 million in 2012, and 2013 there is a $9.25 million team option. So clearly if trying to trade Scott Baker, the team needs to have payroll flexibility. And by this point in the offseason, many teams have spent their money already. So the options are limited for trading Baker.

Kevin Slowey doesn't have Scott Baker's big contract. So there is a big plus for trying to trade him. Slowey was one of three Twins to file arbitration numbers on Tuesday. So he will make somewhere between $2-$3 million in 2011. Slowey is known as a control artist. So when he is on, he can really paint the corners. But in 2009, he had wrist surgery on his pitching hand. So in 2010 we saw him try and come back from that. He too was like Baker, very inconsistent. But that can be blamed on the wrist injury. He has played three full big league seasons and he has yet to go beyond 160 innings in a season. But again, that is due to the wrist. But because of his lower salary, the Twins should have better options moving him.

So despite the wrist injury, Slowey is the more valuable pitcher to trade here. I'd rather trade Baker and give Slowey the shot. But Baker's contract really handcuffs the options of where he could go. Some people could say that we should hold on to the six starters and just have one start at AAA and go from there. But with Kyle Gibson making his rapid ascent to AAA last year, I would like to see him get a call up in 2011 if needed. The Twins really need bullpen help. That's why they need to trade one of these starters, so they can at least get one solid reliever in return. Maybe acquire a middle infielder prospect too since the depth there took a hit this offseason. So hopefully the right move can be made with this surplus of starters. Because the Twins really need a move here...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Twins Bring Back Thome

On Friday, the Twins and slugger Jim Thome agreed on a one year deal worth $3 million with additional performance bonuses. Thome reportedly turned down more money from Texas to stay in Minnesota for another season. In 2010, he hit .283 with 25 HR and 59 RBI in 109 games, and seemingly won over the heart of every Twins fan with his mammoth home runs. Thome is also 11 home runs shy of hitting 600 for his career, so from a marketing standpoint the Twins will benefit from this deal greatly.

But from a roster standpoint, I have to disagree with this move. Don't get me wrong, I love Jim Thome. He is a Hall of Fame player both on the field and off the field. And it was fun watching him tee off on opposing pitchers. But when push comes to shove, the Twins have so many left handed bats in their lineup. And when facing an effective lefty starter, the lineup is very vunerable. And bringing back a guy who is a career .238 hitter against lefties, on a very limited budget is a bad move. The Twins desperately need a right handed power bat who can hit off the bench and DH when lefties are starting.

With legitimate right handed 1B/DH players out there (Jorge Cantu, Troy Glaus), it made no sense to have Thome return when he is purely a DH. He just can't get around quick enough to field anymore. And as stated before, the Twins have a limited budget during the offseason and limited roster spots to fill. The bench already consists of Drew Butera (C), Jason Repko (OF), and Matt Tolbert(INF). And that left only one spot to fill (Unless Gardy goes with 11 pitchers, but that is highly unlikely given the state of the bullpen), which was now given to Thome. The Twins need a viable option at first if Justin Morneau suffers concussion symptoms again during the year. And Michael Cuddyer is not that option. He just didn't stand out defensively at first. Many balls in the dirt that a regular first baseman should be scooped up, didn't get scooped up. And it became very noticeable. And of the before mention players on the bench, Tolbert and Thome are the only ones who could fill in at first. So unless Thome decides he wants to give fielding another try, the Twins are going with Morneau at first and Cuddyer as his back up.

Thome had a great 2010 season (The best moment was his walk off against the White Sox). But it is very unlikely he can repeat what he did in 2010 for 2011. His age just doesn't say he can repeat those numbers. And I hope people realize that so they won't be letdown. And I was kind of hoping the Twins would realize that and let Thome move on so they could make this ballclub better going forward.. But it didn't seem they did. And how much will it cost them in 2011?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Expectations for Mauer

Happy New Year everyone! Hopefully 2011 will give me more to blog on, but seeing that Bill Smith is in hibernation right now it has become hard to write things. So my apologies for the lack of posting lately. Anyway...

One of the things I have been pondering lately, is where our expectations lie for our superstar catcher Joe Mauer. Mauer, 27, is coming off what some believe to have been a down year hitting .327 with 9 HR and 75 RBI. Not exactly what we had hoped for following his 2009 (.365, 28 HR, 96 RBI) MVP season.

Now Mauer enters into his new 8 year, $184 million contract. And with that will bring much higher expectations. But realistically, what more can you ask from Mauer. He is a gold glove and silver sulgger winning catcher. He is without a doubt, the face of the franchise. Numbers wise, its hard to add to what he normally does in a given season. And with Target Field playing as a pitchers park, we might never see the same home run numbers from Mauer that he posted in 2009 (The final season in the Metrodome). In 2009, at home (Dome), Mauer hit .388 with 16 HR and 53 RBI, while posting a ridiculous 1.111 OPS. Flip the page to 2010 (Target Field), Mauer hit .314 with 1 HR and 29 RBI and saw his OPS dive to .812.

Do keep in mind that with those numbers, Mauer battled various injuries in 2010 that noticeably kept him off the bases more than anyone would of liked. And also keep in mind, that Justin Morneau missed the last half of the season, so Mauer was more exposed and pitched more carefully. But still, Mauer was able to drive the ball. But despite his numbers recession, he did manage to crank 43 doubles compared to 30 in 2009. Problem is, he now plays in Target Field. And the home run has become a rare thing to see (For Joe at least). So now people think of Mauer as a home run hitter, which to me, is just going to be a letdown. Because Mauer should continue to be that great average hitter, but those days of hitting 25+ long balls are gone. And if you think he is over paid because he doesn't hit the long ball. Please take a closer look at what he does. He handles the pitching staff like no other, is a team leader, and hits better than most catchers ever have.

Out of this $184 million contract, I would like to see Mauer keep doing what he has done the past 5 years. Get on base consistently for the big bats behind him, remain a gold glove caliber catcher, and possibly win some October games! We all got what we wanted when Mauer signed this extension. He will be a Twin for the rest of his (what should be) hall of fame career. And to me, I hoped they gave him whatever he wanted to stay here. Because losing him was unthinkable. And he did stay. But now comes the big contract with the big expectations. The 2009 power numbers are long gone. And with this new contract, you should expect Joe Mauer to post numbers along his career average every year (.327, 16 HR, 81 RBI). And I fully expect him to play catcher for the majority of this contract. And if he follows suit, I have no complaints. But the question is...Will you?