Monday, November 28, 2005

Jacque's Future

As most are undoubtedly aware, right-fielder Jacque Jones' contract with the Twins has expired and he will be a free agent this winter. With Jason Kubel hopefully being ready to return from a devastating knee injury next year and Lew Ford also showing the ability to be a possible starter, there is a lot of sentiment that the Twins will not make an effort to bring Jones back. And I couldn't be happier.

I have made no secret of my distaste for Jones on this blog. He puts up decent numbers and has a knack for the occasional dramatic home run, but in general his total inability to hit left-handed pitching and complete lack of any semblance of patience at the plate in his entire career, not to mention his poor base-running ability, have caused me to grow weary of him. The San Diego Union reports that the Padres have a great deal of interest in him. This makes sense, since Jones is a San Diego native and there is a very good chance the Padres will not re-sign their current right fielder, Brian Giles. There is also some speculation that the Mariners and Cardinals, among others.

I always felt that once Jacque's contract expired, some team was going to overpay him because he puts up decent power numbers and he has decent speed. From watching him on an everyday basis over his entire career, I can say that the only thing he can do consistently is ground out to second base, and I am more than ready for the Twins to go another direction in right field. I think I'd rather see Michael Cuddyer starting out there, to be totally honest.

Wherever Jones ends up, good luck to him. It should be interesting to see what type of contract he lands.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thome may be back

Jim Thome might reenter the AL Central next year, but with the Chicago White Sox instead of the Cleveland Indians. Thome, who was injured most of last year while managing a pathetic .207 average with 7 HRs and 30 RBI. Thome is now 35 and looks like another familiar slugger (Mo Vaughn) who vanished after signing a big contract. Will a different scenario change things? Was it worth it to trade Aaron Rowand?

Rowand has emerged into a solid hitter with some speed and run-scoring abilities at the top of the lineup. 2005 was a bad year compared to his 2004 breakout season in which he hit .310 with 24 HRs, 69 RBIs, and scored 94 runs. He isn't a great center fielder, but a stable part of the world-champion's lineup.

Thome, on the other hand, seems to be fading away. After his career-year with the Indians in 2002, in which he hit 52 HRs, had 118 RBIs, batted .304, and owned a 1.122 OPS, Thome has slipped little by little with each season. He, of course, still has the potential to hit home-runs, but Thome looks like the stereotypical steroids user who now is readjusting. The worst-case scenario for the Twins seems fairly likely. Even if he is terrible, he'll probably show up at the Metrodome and cream homers off of our control pitchers the way he did for 12 years in Cleveland.

The deal is final, as the players need to take physicals first to complete it. But, if it goes through, it may be bad news for both the White Sox and the Twins. Thome probably will beat up on the Twins, but don't expect too much more than a .250 average (or even less) with 25 HRs and 80 RBIs. He'll be the new Carl Everett for the team, so he probably won't be a game-changing slugger the way he used to be. On the other hand, Cleveland will remain the rising star of the AL Central, even with this big trade.

Addressing the Outfield

This offseason is definitely one centered around offensive improvement. As Nelson pointed out yesterday, third-base is in desperate need of improvement. So is the outfield. Last year, we lost the "Soul Patrol" early and saw much more of Lew Ford out there when we need to. All he did was show 2004 was more of a fluke and that he is a better support guy then anything else. So what options do the Twins have for improvement?

The idea of trading Torii Hunter has been thrown around, but its a bad idea for this very reason. We already have issues in the outfield and its doubtful Hunter could allow the Twins to acquire a good player like Robinson Cano. Even if it did, we would then need another outfielder and Ryan would probably foolishly resign Jacque Jones. And we'd have an inadequate second baseman who would struggle on defense.

Hunter should, therefore, most certainly be our opening day center fielder. What about Stewart? Instead of getting rid of Hunter and his contract, Stewart seems to make more sense. $6 million is a lot for the Twins to shell out for a guy cleary nearing the twilight of his career. Stewart migth not be embarrassingly awful, but his lack of defensive prowess is showing and his power outage made him one of the worse leadoff men last year. If we could, trading Stewart would be a good option, if we could pick up a decent veteran infielder or an outfield prospect, which we are now short one.

Otherwise, there is Lew Ford. But last year, Ford showed us that he may not have the skills to compete everyday. His lapses in defense and base-running can be awful on a Manny-level and he lacks any consistent offense to make up for it. Jason Kubel seems geared to take one of the positions, but his knee is questionable and he may not be at full-speed when spring training starts. Of course, if he is, he's an excellent option. He can hit for average and some power and seems like an excellent replacement for Stewart's role on the team.

For free agent options, the Twins have had rumored interest in Reggie Sanders. Despite a postseason that started well, Sanders is getting old and has had a long career of injury problems. He isn't Juan Gonzalez, but he is no guarantee for 4 or 5 million. On the other hand, if healthy, Sanders could give the Twins the kind of year he gave the Pirates in 2003: 25-30 HRs, .270 average, 90 RBIs. That would certainly make the Twins far more potent for not too high of a price.

Brian Giles' name has also been floated around, but for a guy who managed a big contract before, its unlikely. Giles would be great, because he is a good hitter with lots of patience who has power (which was certainly hurt by San Diego's spacious park) and whose presence would help a swing-happy Twins lineup.

Rondell White is a possibility, but he's more of a DH and thats for a different discussion and time. White can provide good offense, but I don't think the Twins are willing to sign such a defensively-challenged player right now. Bobby Higginson is another free-agent from Detroit, but he doesn't look to have anything left in the tank. Juan Gonzalez, too, is an option, but it seems he'll never be fully healthy again. Juan Encarnacion, Preston Wilson, Jeremy Burnitz, and Jeff Conine are all also good options. Wilson and Encarnacion are unlikely because they'll demand high salaries and Burnitz doesn't seem likely to consider Minnesota in his options. Conine, though, seems realistic. He's a good, solid veteran who could give the Twins a patient hitter with some power left in his bat. (No signs of a Molitor-esque year at 40, but hey its worth a shot)

What, therefore, is the best course of action? Keep Hunter, hope Kubel is healthy, trade Stewart, and try to sign Conine or Sanders. If not, we'll probably end up with Jeffrey Hammonds and a crew of minor league castoffs. Lets hope Ryan does something at least a little above that.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Addressing Third Base

No doubt about it, the Michael Cuddyer experiment last season failed miserably. Cuddyer, who the Twins were relying on to provide offensively as a replacement for Corey Koskie, was awful at the plate last season and perhaps even worse in the field. He will not be starting at third next season, so it is back to the drawing board for the Twins as they look into other possibilities on the free agent market and in trades for the hot corner. Matt Moses is the only third baseman in their system who looks even close to ready to making a splash in the Majors, but he didn't exactly tear up the Arizona Fall League so there's no reason to think he'll be ready within the next year.

Monday, the Marlins traded Mike Lowell, a third baseman the Twins were rumored to be interested in, to the Red Sox along with Josh Beckett. I never thought Lowell was that great of an option, as he carries a hefty pricetag and was absolutely awful last year, but his glove would be nice and there is reason to think he could bounce back next season based on his history as a major offensive threat. There's no guarantee that the Red Sox will hold on to Lowell, as he basically just came stapled along with Beckett (who they really wanted) and they have a nice young third baseman in Kevin Youkilis who will likely start next year. That said, I don't see the Twins making a move for Lowell.

Another name the Twins are rumored to be interested in is Texas' Hank Blalock. Blalock has posted gaudy numbers in his young career with the Rangers and is a terrific defender, but a quick look at his stats away from the Rangers' friendly stadium quickly tell why acquiring him might not be the wisest idea. He hit .231 on the road last year with a .611 OPS, and only five of his 25 home runs came away from home. Now, I'm not a person who's going to say that Blalock will be a poor hitter whenever he leaves the Rangers; I have seen him hit on several occasions and I know that he is a great hitter who can drive the ball and bring home runners, but it wouldn't necessarily be wise to expect the same production from him in the Metrodome as he has had in Texas the past four years. Then again, it should also be noted that he made only $850K last year, although he will likely be demanding a raise next year.

Nomar Garciaparra is another name worth looking at. The Cubs' shortstop who has struggled with injuries the past few years is on the free agent market, and he probably won't be demanding an insane amount of money. He has some experience playing third base and has stated that he wouldn't mind playing there on a regular basis next year. I think Garciaparra would be a very nice option, but he would probably struggle on defense and he hasn't played much in the past couple years so he might have trouble returning to his old form.

Of course, the Twins have also expressed interest in former Red Sox 3B Bill Mueller, who is in free agency as well, but his age and lack of production on the road put up some immediate red flags. The previous three names would most certainly be better, albeit more expensive, options.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Reusse Speaks Again

Patrick Reusse wrote a blurb in his column today about Johan Santana's third-place Cy Young finish, which may or may not be in response to the e-mail I wrote him last week criticizing him. Here's what he said:

"Twins followers and statistical freaks continue to complain that Johan Santana was robbed in voting for another major award: AL's Cy Young.

These folks want Santana to receive full credit for going 6-2 with a 1.09 ERA in his final 10 starts -- domination that took place in garbage time of a lost season for the Twins.

It was in his previous 10 starts the Twins needed Santana to dominate. That's when they were going from 35-22 and 4 games behind the White Sox in the AL Central to 58-56 and 16 ½ games behind the Mighty Whities (and from 7 ahead to 4 behind Cleveland).

Santana was 3-4 with a humdrum 4.64 ERA in that decisive stretch of the season, making a third-place Cy Young finish a generous reward."

My response to Reusse:

On the surface, this is a valid point. However, there are several fallacies in the argument. For one thing, each and every game played on the 162-game schedule is of the exact same importance, it's not like you get more points for winning in August as opposed to winning in April. If you want to make the argument that pitching well "down the stretch" is of such utter importance, though, it is still difficult to craft a convincing argument in Bartolo Colon's favor. While Colon did have a great month of August, posting a 1.72 ERA and a 5-0 record, his ERA in September was 4.91 (at a time that the Angels had by no means clinched the AL West) and in July it was a ghastly 6.12. He still won six games over this stretch thanks to something called run support which Santana very rarely received. Santana, on the other hand, posted earned run averages of 3.45 in July, 1.75 in August, and 1.29 in September. Now you can make the argument that the Twins were already out of it by this point, but you seem to forget that he lead them on a hot streak that brought them within a few games of the Wild Card, highlighted by the dramatic pitcher's duel against Freddy Garcia and the White Sox where Johan pitched 8 innings without allowing a run and Jacque Jones' solo home run was enough for the Twins to garner a 1-0 victory.

Any way you look at it, Santana had the better season. What it all comes down to is run support. In the combined months of July, August and September, Santana clearly pitched better, posting a lower ERA each month and a significantly lower opponent's batting average in August and September. However, during that span Santana won a total of only 8 games while Colon won 11. How this makes the Colon the better pitcher, I will never understand.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Somebody Start a Petition

While it is clear that most members of the Baseball Writers' Association who vote for the Cy Young awards are fairly dumb, most of them do not decide to write entire articles in their publications spouting forth indefensible claptrap. Patrick Reusse, however, did so in the Star Trib. The following quote illustrates perfectly well all the reasons you need for why he should be stripped of his vote:

"Get this through your skulls here in Twinsland: Starting pitchers who win 16 games for mediocre teams do not win Cy Young Awards."

Why? Is it Santana's fault that his team was mediocre? He pitches one out of every five games, how could one possibly expect him to turn around the team's fortunes when they had no offense and every other starter was inconsistent at best? It boggles my mind that some of these select 28 people who actually have the privilege of being able to vote for this important award have no idea the critera on which it should be judged. This is not homerism opinion, this is common sense. The Cy Young award is designed to judge the BEST PITCHER in the league, and looking at one statistic that is really not even in their control is absolutely idiotic and amateurish.

His article about a month ago explaining his decision to vote for Colon ahead of Santana on his Cy Young ballot, which I just recently stumbled upon thanks to a commenter, frustrated me so much that I actually e-mailed him and told him straight-up that he should have his vote stripped. I'll let you know if I hear back.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Hell of a Shame

I would make a long post explaining my disappointment and frustration with the announcement today that the Angels' Bartolo Colon won the AL Cy Young award over Johan Santana, but analyst Jayson Stark has already stolen the words right out of my mouth.

The hardest I try, I still can't come up with any idea as to why a knowledgable baseball fan would give Colon a first place vote considering that two American League pitchers were CLEARLY better than him, without any shred of a doubt. But what really boils my blood is that Johan Santana, who was deserving of the award for reasons I have already exhaustively discussed, received only THREE first-place votes is absolutely appauling. The fact that he is on a small-market team like the Twins prevented the nation from really being able to grasp just what a phenomenal season he had, and that is one of the main problems with Major League Baseball. You would never see something like this happen in the NBA or NFL. If Randy Johnson had put up the same stats this year, he would have won the award, no question.

The Cy Young award has lost a great deal of its prestige, at least in my mind.

Just disguisting

You knew it would happen. So do I. But I certainly wasn't looking forward to it. Bartolo Colon won the AL Cy Young, grabbing 17 first place votes and 118 total points. The two men, Mariano Rivera and Johan Santana, who both were legitimate winners trailed with 68 points and 51 points respectively. Riveria had 8 first place votes and Santana had 3, with 12 third-place votes. Sadly, Colon won only because of his 21 wins, which don't show what a mediocre season he had in comparison to Santana, or Rivera.

Rivera is a Hall of Famer who had a career year, saving 43 games for the Yankees and posting a career-high 1.38 ERA. (Its the only number really close to Gagne's amazing 2003 season, but we are also talking about a man who may not have enough awards to show just how great he's been) Santana was by far the most dominanting starter in the majors. Giving Colon the Cy Young this year is like trying to give Daunte the MVP just because of his 110.9 passer rating. As many know now, that ignores all of his other mediocre traits and the factors that go into essentially making him look more talented than he is.

Santana struck out 81 more batters and lead the majors, had a .97 WHIP, a .210 OBA, a .594 opponent OPS (all which lead the AL), and a major-league high .250 opponent OBP. The only thing that held him back were his 16 wins, which is obviously due to the dissapointing Twins season and their ridiculously inept offense.

Johan was the AL Cy Young and in my mind, this was his second-straight. Its just another example of the national media ignoring Minnesota players when they deserve it most. He is the best starter in the AL and if you ask opposing players, I'm sure they'll agree. Colon isn't even close. The only thing he has more of is girth.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Hunter wins fifth straight Gold Glove

Torii Hunter, the much-discussed and nearly ousted Twins center-fielder, won his fifth straight Gold Glove, as the awards were announced today. Along with Hunter, Oakland 3B Eric Chavez and Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki also won their fifth straight. Some of the other winners were questionable. Vernon Wells from Toronto and Mark Teixiera from Texas. Teixiera seems like a strech to me and another case of winning the award for offense over anything else. (Although his .998 fielding percentage lead AL first baseman, Darin Erstad has a higher zone rating) That is to say, Paul Konerko also has a high fielding percentage, but he isn't exactly known to be a great first baseman. I say give it to Erstad, the highlight reel guy who isn't even close to an offensive force. Why not? He won't be winning the MVP anytime soon.

But, enough about those complaints. Hunter gets his award and his $100,000 bonus, but we haven't talked much on this sight yet about whether or not he is staying or going. Hunter is certainly great to have in the field, but I wonder if his issues are about his lack of leadership or a desire to be traded. Either way, he should be. There is no reason to keep a cancerous presence around the clubhouse for $10.75 million. Especially when that cancer doesn't do much leading with the bat. He'll be the biggest free-swinger in the lineup with Jacque Jones. Time to move on. Even if Joe Vavra gives me little hope that the Twins will do anything next year. Congrats, Torii. Hope New York treats you well.