Friday, September 28, 2007

Offseason Wish List

The upcoming offseason is going to be a hugely important one for newly appointed general manager Bill Smith and the Twins organization. After a disappointing 2007 campaign, the team will look to rebound while sorely needing to improve in several areas and at the same time dealing with several sticky contract situations.

Today I am going to break down the moves that I would make this offseason if I were in Smith's shoes. I'll have to do some guesswork in terms of what it would take to acquire certain players via trade and the amounts that free agents would sign for, but I think that for the most part the numbers are realistic and the moves are feasible.

Considering the Twins' history of being quiet in the offseason, I doubt that all (if any) of these moves will be made, but I wanted to show how the Twins can make a rebuilding effort during the offseason while remaining very competitive in 2008.

If you find any of these moves to be ridiculous, or have some thoughts of your own, I'd love to hear your ideas.


1) Let Torii Hunter walk.
As much as we all love Hunter, it's just not feasible to hand a huge long-term contract to a guy that will turn 33 next season. By letting Hunter walk, the Twins will receive two high picks in next June's draft as compensation.

Of course, Hunter's departure would leave a major hole in center field, which will be addressed with the next move...

2) Trade Johan Santana to Dodgers for OF Matt Kemp and SP Clayton Kershaw.
I talked about this rumored trade yesterday, noting that the deal "would certainly be enticing." While it's difficult to think about the Twins parting with their best player and one of the best pitchers of this generation, I find it unlikely that the Twins will be able to re-sign Santana for the type of money he'll be able to get.

If the Twins can't re-sign Santana, we have to start considering which is more valuable: one more year of Santana or a couple stud prospects and an extra $13.25 million in payroll next season. All things considered, I'd have to lean toward the latter. Santana is my favorite Twin, but if he's going to be gone after next year anyway and you have a chance to get a phenomenal pitching prospect and an MLB-ready 23-year-old who can play center field, I think you've got to jump on it.

3) Trade Anthony Swarzak and Oswaldo Sosa to Rockies for 3B Garrett Atkins.
I'm not going off of any particular rumors with this trade proposition; I sort of just made this one up myself, so it's possible I don't know what I'm talking about. What I do know is this: the Rockies have a very nice 3B prospect named Ian Stewart knocking at the door in Triple-A, and as such Atkins is expendable to them. I also know that Swarzak and Sosa are very good prospects, and that Sosa's ground ball tendencies would play well in Coors Field.

This would be a tremendous deal for the Twins. They'd solve their long-standing issues at third base with an excellent right-handed hitter in Atkins. And while they'd be losing arguably their best pitching prospect in Swarzak, the Twins could absorb that hit having acquired Kershaw in the Santana deal.

Would the Rockies make this deal? I know that their organization is always looking for pitching, although they might be looking for more major-league-ready talent having turned themselves back into contenders this season. Still, if I was in charge down in Colorado this is certainly an offer I'd consider.

4) Sign Barry Bonds to one-year, $18 million deal.
Alright, this one might seem like a bit of a stretch. But, here's my reasoning:

We know that Bonds won't be playing in San Francisco next year, as the Giants officially ruled out that possibility recently. We think he still wants to play somewhere next year, preferably as a designated hitter since he'll be 43 and has bad knees. Minnesota would make sense for Bonds for a couple of reasons: 1) there is a huge need for a DH here; and 2) it's not a huge market so he'd be able to stay out of the spotlight to some degree, which I'm guessing would appeal to him given his hatred for the media. He also would probably like to join a team with realistic championship aspirations, as opposed to, say, Texas.

With Hunter and Santana both departing, the Twins would have a ton of extra money to work with next season. The beauty of a one-year contract is that there is very little risk involved. Even if Bonds drops off due to old age or is hampered by injuries, the Twins will have no commitment past the 2008 season. Additionally, getting that big salary off the books after one year would allow the Twins to work on extending guys like Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer. Bringing the Home Run King to Minnesota would almost certainly have a positive effect on ticket sales, and Bonds's presence in the No. 3 spot could completely change the complexion of the Twins' lineup. From competitive and financial standpoints, this acquisition is almost a no-brainer.

The question is whether the Twins would be willing to make the logical gamble on Bonds. Would this generally conservative front office be willing to look past the dark cloud that hovers over Barry's head and see the positives he would bring? And, more importantly, could an organization that has always greatly valued personality bring itself to bring in one of the worst clubhouse characters in baseball history?

Incidentally, while I have been pondering this idea for some time now, Joe Christensen wrote a story for the Star Tribune today indicating that the Twins may give consideration to signing Bonds.

5) Re-sign Carlos Silva for three years/$21 million
I feel weird suggesting this, because up until this point I have consistently said that the Twins should let Silva walk this offseason without thinking twice. However, if all the above situations were to play out, I think it would be wise to re-up Silva as long as he's still willing to give a hometown discount. With Santana gone, it would be nice to have a guy with some experience to help anchor what would be a very young rotation. No doubt Ron Gardenhire would like to have his veteran presence.

This deal supposes that Silva is still willing to give the Twins a discount, which may be less likely with his buddy Santana gone. If Silva is looking for around $10 million/season, which I have hypothesized he could get on the open market, then it would be best to show him the door.


With all of these moves, here is how I'd envision the Twins' 2008 roster coming out of spring training:

1. Jason Bartlett, SS
2. Joe Mauer, C
3. Barry Bonds, DH
4. Garrett Atkins, 3B
5. Justin Morneau, 1B
6. Michael Cuddyer, RF
7. Jason Kubel, LF
8. Matt Kemp, CF
9. Alexi Casilla, 2B

Mike Redmond, C
Nick Punto, IF
Brian Buscher, IF
Lew Ford, OF
Jason Tyner, OF

1. Francisco Liriano, LH
2. Matt Garza, RH
3. Carlos Silva, RH
4. Scott Baker, RH
5. Glen Perkins, LH

Joe Nathan, RH
Pat Neshek, RH
Matt Guerrier, RH
Dennys Reyes, LH
Boof Bonser, RH
Juan Rincon, RH

There is some room for change with the bullpen and rotation. Even though Bonser struggled in a relief appearance earlier this week, I like the idea of him utilizing his stuff out of the bullpen. I chose Perkins as the No. 5 starter, but that spot could just as easily go to Kevin Slowey. If Liriano has a setback or one of the youngsters struggle, Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing are waiting in Triple-A to step in. I picked Casilla as the starting second baseman, but it seems Punto could end up in that spot; either way, the other one starts the season as a versatile bench player and pinch-running option.

By my admittedly quick and sloppy calculation, the payroll on this roster adds up to around $70 million, which is right around where they are this year.

So what do you think? Am I out of my mind or does plan of action make some sense?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Santana's Last Start as a Twin?

On Sunday, much was made of Torii Hunter playing in what was likely his last home game at the Metrodome. Yesterday, Johan Santana made his final start of the 2007 season against the Tigers. While not overly likely, it is very possible that the start was Santana's last in a Twins uniform.

Numerous rumors have popped up recently regarding the possibility of Santana being dealt this offseason. He is on the verge of entering the final year of his contract with the Twins, and will likely command upwards of $20 million per season in his next deal. While losing the best pitcher in the game would be a blow for the Twins, the cheap young talent that would certainly come back in a trade might set the team up for success over the next several years, and in the end a trade could turn out to be beneficial in the long run.

The potential deal that seems to have the most weight to it right now is a rumored one with the Dodgers that would bring back outfielder Matt Kemp and starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw. I'd prefer any deal with the Dodgers to include stud third base prospect Andy LaRoche, but a package of Kemp and Kershaw would certainly be enticing. Kemp is an athletic young outfielder who has hit .338/.373/.530 as a 22-year-old in the majors this year and could replace Torii Hunter in center. Meanwhile, the 19-year-old lefty Kershaw is considered by many to be the best pitching prospect in the game.

It's difficult to weigh the positives and negatives of such a deal. The Twins would be getting an immediate inexpensive answer in center field, as well as a dominating lefty who could potentially replace Santana as the team's ace somewhere down the line; yet, they'd be losing a historically great pitcher and the possibility of a devastating Santana/Liriano one-two punch at the top of the rotation next season.

Santana's outing yesterday was cut short by a long rain delay, and he ended up pitching just three unimpressive innings. It seems like a fitting end to what has been Santana's worst season as a full-time starter (although, in fairness, still a great season by any standards). The thought of that nondescript three-inning performance being Santana's last as a Twin seems surreal, but it's probably something that's worth keeping in mind as we head into the offseason.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

That Hurts

Injuries are a part of baseball. In fact, they are a part of every sport. Every year, any team is going to have to deal with injuries, which is why depth tends to be such an important factor in building a team.

With that said, it seems like this season has been worse than most for the Twins on the injury front. Numerous players have had their performances impeded throughout the season due to various ailments, and in some cases it appears that the injury issues may carry over into next season.

Joe Mauer has played hurt throughout the majority of the season. From a stress reaction in spring training to a strained quad in May to a hamstring injury in late August, Mauer's legs have been giving him trouble pretty consistently, and it seems likely that the problems have played a big part in his disappointing numbers while limiting him to just 107 games. Now, it has come to light that Mauer will likely need hernia surgery in the offseason. This is generally considered to be a minor surgery and it shouldn't present a problem going forward, but it does put an exclamation point on what has been an injury-riddled season for the defending batting champ.

Looking up and down the Twins' offense, you'd have trouble finding anyone who hasn't dealt with a notable injury of some sort. Jason Bartlett missed a chunk of games after straining his hamstring in August. Michael Cuddyer hurt his back early in the season and later spent time on the disabled list due to an injured thumb. Mike Redmond is done for the year thanks to an injured finger. Jose Morales went 3-for-3 in his big-league debut before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. Rondell White was Rondell White. Just about the only position player that avoided injury in 2007 was Nick Punto, which is impressive considering that many people were no doubt jabbing away with needles at their Lil' Nicky voodoo doll.

While these injuries have no doubt slowed down the offense over the course of the season, it's at least comforting to know that none of them seem to be serious enough that they will carry over into the 2008 season. The pitching staff -- specifically the bullpen -- has not been so lucky.

After getting off to a horrible start this season, Jesse Crain learned that had a torn labrum and rotator cuff. He underwent surgery at the end of May, but the road to recovery for such a procedure is long and difficult; it seems that the Twins would be fortunate to get anything out of Crain even next season.

Pat Neshek, who set a career high with 71 appearances out of the bullpen this season, has been shut down for the season due to what has been described as "a weak shoulder that has led to an inflamed ligament in his elbow." Reportedly, the injury is not believed to be serious, but it's difficult not to read that statement and be reminded of the diagnosis that was initially given to Francisco Liriano last year.

Speaking of Liriano, he missed the entire 2007 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last winter. All reports have indicated that Liriano is on track to return to the Twins next spring, but you can never be too sure when dealing with such a drastic surgery.

Much has been made of the disappointing season that the Twins have had, but it is not often mentioned that their clubhouse has basically turned into an infirmary this season. If things are to improve next year, many hitters will have to bounce back from disappointing '07 campaigns, but it may be equally important that the guys who were nicked up this season get back to full strength and stay healthy and productive all season next year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An Old Face Behind the Plate

As I glanced through the Twins' starting lineup prior to last night's game, I found myself coming across a typical Ron Gardenhire group. No surprises here:

1. Jason Bartlett, SS
2. Jason Kubel, LF
3. Torii Hunter, CF
4. Justin Morneau, 1B
5. Michael Cuddyer, RF

When I got to the sixth spot in the lineup, I had to do a double-take. Could my eyes be deceiving me?

6. Matt LeCroy, C

You may or may not remember, but the last time LeCroy started a major-league game at catcher, the results were not pretty. Playing in a Nationals uniform against the Astros, LeCroy managed to allow seven stolen bases before he had to be pulled in the seventh inning, a move that later caused Nats manager Frank Robinson to shed tears when talking to reporters after the game.

LeCroy's presence behind the plate last night seemed like an adventure waiting to happen. In reality, while he had a poor game, going 0-for-4 at the plate while allowing the Tigers to go 3-for-3 on stolen base attempts, LeCroy didn't embarrass himself. In fact, whether or not he truly deserves credit for it, LeCroy caught a pretty darn good game from Twins' starter Carlos Silva.

Silva went 7 2/3 innings and was in classic form, shutting down the Tigers while inducing 17 ground balls. He struck out only one, but kept Detroit off the board thanks in large part to his ability to throw strikes and work out of jams with a couple of key double plays.

With the 2-0 victory over the Tigers, the Twins moved within two games of .500. They'll need to win five of their last six games to finish with 82 wins and avoid their first non-winning season since 2000.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Hunter's Dome Farewell

Just after taking center field in the ninth inning of yesterday's series finale against the White Sox, Torii Hunter was pulled from the game in favor of Jason Tyner. The move by Ron Gardenhire was far from a slight to the longtime Twins' center fielder. It was an acknowledgment of Hunter's nine years of solid service in a Twins uniform, allowing him to jog off the field to an emotional standing ovation from thousands of appreciative Metrodome fans. Hunter entered the dugout and was greeted by high-fives from his teammates and coaches, and shortly thereafter a television camera showed him trotting up a set of stairs and into the Twins' clubhouse. Dick Bremer observed that it could well be the last time Hunter ever climbs those particular stairs in the aftermath of a baseball game. The truth of the matter is that it almost certainly was.

Hunter has had a great season. He is a good bet to set career highs in games played, batting average and on-base percentage. He has already surpassed his previous career highs in hits, doubles, runs batted in and runs scored. Despite his generally streaky tendencies, Hunter has been relatively consistent throughout his career with the Twins, generally hitting around his career averages of .271/.325/.470 with impressive power totals and elite defensive at a crucial position. He plays hard, smiles a lot and speaks his mind (sometimes to a fault). For those reasons, Hunter has been a joy to have around for the past decade and it will be sad to see him go. But, I have little doubt in my mind that yesterday I watched him walk off that Metrodome field and into the Twins' clubhouse for the last time.

Many people have tried to argue that the Twins have a good shot at keeping Hunter. One of the most common points I have heard made by these people is that the team has never let one of their superstars walk for financial reasons. But these people need to wake up and realize that the team's current situation is distinct from any dilemma that has been faced in franchise history. There are too many young players with significant pay raises due over the next several years for it to be feasible to hand a monster contract to a guy who will turn 33 next season. And make no mistake about it... Hunter will be looking for a monster contract. He hasn't been too shy about stating that.

I won't be happy to see Hunter go, and trying to replace his production will be an exceedingly difficult task. But I feel like it would be financially irresponsible for the Twins to offer Hunter anything more than the 3 year/$45 million deal that they reportedly offered earlier in the season. I believe that Hunter is an elite player right now, but I'm very skeptical that he will still be an elite player in three to four years, when he'll still be getting paid like one. For a team working on a budget like the one the Twins are on, and dealing with these types of contract situations, it's almost impossible to justify committing the kind of money to Hunter that he will command, regardless of how popular he may be amongst fans. I believe Bill Smith and the rest of the Twins' front office realize this fact, and that's why I have little doubt in my mind that Hunter has played his last game in a Twins uniform in the Metrodome.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The World We Live In

The world of baseball is an amazing and interesting place for a person to find themselves swept into. Whenever your love of the game develops, be it at 2, 20, or 40, this game we cherish can provide so much to so many.

For the casual fan it gives us a place to come together with friends; an opportunity to enjoy people playing a game that seems so simple that anyone, even you, could partake. For me, it provides hope that if I were given a uniform, placed in left field, and as long as a ball wasn't hit in my general direction, I could pass for a Major League player for as much as a full inning. No such disguise could be possible on a basketball court or a football field. It's a chance for a father to connect with a son, a place for college kids to share a dog and a beer, a place for older couples to spend an evening together watching the game they love. In 2006 we as fans were spoiled to have watched something even more enjoyable than the game itself -- we had a chance to see it at its finest. We marveled at simple execution at the plate and on the bases, and reveled in brilliant plays in the field. We watched with the unabashed joy of a child as grown men played "for the love of the game." Clutch base hits, timely pitching, career seasons, and brilliant rookies dazzled us and gave us something incredible to remember. The problem with a season like that however, is that there is always a "next season," and it can never live up to the lofty expectations created the year before.

Really, we as fans were doomed long before this season ever finished. Actually, the downward spiral began on the last day of last year's regular season. As the Twins won a hard-fought game against the hated White Sox, 40,000 fans sat for another hour to watch with breath held as the Tigers and Royals battled into extra innings. It was an incredible evening to be a part of... besides winning the game, the numerous chants of, "lets go Royals," that emerged from what is likely one of the tamest fan bases in all of baseball, and left no doubt that the day could hold in store something very special, and indeed it did. As the Royals singled home the winning run a city exploded, cheering on a team that never quit, that always seemed to come through and who, with characters like Mike Redmond, Nick Punto, and Jason Tyner playing significant roles, gave very average people reason to feel very proud. The fans cheered, the team rounded the stadium slapping high-fives reveling like school boys in what even they knew to be a very rare accomplishment. Terry Ryan was brilliant. The man had brought in Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser and Joe Nathan and they were all performing wonderfully. Ron Gardenhire was looking like a genius by moving journeyman Nick Punto to third base, and -- though he was far from prototypical -- his hustle, infield hits, and timely bloopers to left kept getting him on base and driving in runs. Heck, even the Pohlad family and organization had finally won us a new stadium which we could look forward to.

Then came this year and its lofty expectations. With the reigning MVP, Cy Young, Batting Champion, and perennial Gold Glover Torii Hunter all returning, it made most believe that even without rookie phenom Fransisco Liriano, this team could win it all....

Then reality hit. Hard.

It hit in the form of multiple injuries to star catcher Joe Mauer. It tumbled in like Michael Cuddyer rounding second base. It blew in like the breeze carrying yet another one of Justin Morneau's lazy pop-ups into foul territory for yet another easy out. I could go on with the lame similes, but I think you get the point. With pretty boy Mauer either out of the lineup or marginally effective and his promised power nowhere in sight, and with the likes of retreads Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz in the rotation the club stumbled out of the gate. They continued to stumble despite the season-long brilliance of Torii Hunter's bat, the reemergence of Carlos Silva as a capable Major League pitcher, and the long overdue promise of Scott Baker. When our 'little guys' got on base, the big guys struck out. When the middle of the order was racking up hits, they found there was no one rounding third. When Johan or Baker, or Silva, or Garza, or well, almost any of the Twins starters turned in a gem, the offense went to sleep. When the offense decided to pour it on, the pitching staff fell apart. Even our usually lights-out bullpen has faltered more than once.

The collapse hasn't ended on the field of course, things seem to be coming apart everywhere, including the clubhouse and front office. In terms of on-the-field decision making, many fans who once viewed Gardenhire as a possibly flawed but competent manager, now have reason for unabashed hatred with his insistence on playing the impotent Nick Punto, and unwillingness to give regular playing time to guys like Kubel, Buscher, and Casilla who will certainly have to be part of our future for at least the next season or two. Then there is the blame to be handed out to Terry Ryan, who I will forever defend as probably one of the two or three finest General Managers in baseball... possibly in all of sports. That said, in the past two seasons he's taken the extremely limited payroll he's had to work with, and done precisely nothing with it. Perhaps even worse. From the re-signing of Rondell White, to the contracts handed to the likes of Batista, Castro, Rincon, Ortiz and Ponson, amongst others, its starting to look like its been a while since he made a really GREAT move. Then of course there was the Castillo deal, one which was probably forced by ownership to cut payroll in what they saw as a lost season (notice the immediate waiving of Cirillo and trade of Ortiz that followed soon there after) and brought nearly nothing back for someone who was a talented player. Of course, being that few teams other than the Mets were interested, and they could put the screws to Ryan by simply sticking with Ruben Gotay who has been a revival, Ryan was left with little choice but to jettison a quality player.

I said all of that to say this:

It's OK.

While the Twins of 2006 gave us an incredible season, and the Twins of 2007 have invented new ways to lose, the truth of who this team is likely lies somewhere in the middle. While many predict gloom and doom for the offense next year, I think it is likely, almost to the point of mathematical certainty, that they will outscore this years squad by ~30 runs, even without Torii Hunter. This team still has boat-loads of talent, and what's most promising has been the performance of two players who were either irregular contributors, or ineffective at the beginning of this season. I speak of course of Jason Bartlett and Jason Kubel, whom I could make compelling arguments for as the teams 2nd and 3rd best players since June 1st. Both have hit near .300 with some pop, and Kubel in particular has shown a significantly improved eye at the plate, but I guess Mr. Nelson told you all about that yesterday didn't he? Combine that with a serviceable showing from Brian Buscher and rebound years that see the Twins trio of stars Mauer, Morneau, and Cuddyer play closer to their potential, and you have a significantly stronger, significantly more consistent, deeper lineup. If the Twins manage to sign a player like Mike Cameron (who's splits away from the pitchers haven of Petco Field have been pretty solid) to temporarily fill the hole left in center while a viable solution (be it the hated Span, the promising Joe Benson, or the exciting Ben Revere) develops, or another player presents himself then the blow of Hunter leaving will be significantly lessened.

On the other end, a full season of a bullpen that includes Perkins, Reyes, Crain, Guerrier, Neshek and Nathan should be as good or better than this season, when injuries too often forced the team to rely on players like Carmen Cali, Julio DePaula, Ramon Ortiz, etc... Combine that with a rotation that looks to be remarkably strong with Santana, Liriano, Baker, Garza, Slowey, and Bonser (who will likely find a new home in long relief) and you've got the makings of a very strong team. Will it be enough for us to overcome the Indians, and Tigers for a playoff spot? Well, that remains to be seen. But what seems certain to me is that this team is not dead. And that Torii Hunter's leaving will not doom our offense. And that Gardenhire isn't nearly as stupid as his constant playing of Nick Punto has made him look. Or for that matter, that Nick Punto's bat isn't AS BAD as his batting average suggests.

Does this club have weaknesses? Yes. The minor league hitting depth is weak to non-existent. Certain players in the lineup aren't ideal and there are holes that could stand to be filled with higher level players. Gardenhire isn't perfect (though I can't think of WAY worse options) and Bill Smith will almost certainly fail to live up to his predecessor. But in the reality of the world we live in, this is a team that can never fill all those holes the way we'd like. We'll never have an owner who goes George Steinbrenner to win, and stars like Johan, Hunter, Mauer, and Morneau will someday always command a higher salary than we'll be able to spend. But there is another reality, and it includes this team not being nearly as bad as it's seemed this year. It also includes a reality where this team can stay competitive well into the future given savvy trades, intelligent drafting, and sound leadership.

Likely this isn't the article that The Nicks envisioned when they asked me to contribute this week, surely they expected something more... objective. Something that discussed the Twins 14 strikeouts, the fact that they were one-hit through 5 innings by Javier Vazquez, the injury to Baker, the continued hammering of Boof Bonser, or in general what was yet another brutally pathetic performance. But after watching todays debacle, and hearing the complaints voiced by dozens, if not hundreds of the Twins faithful throughout this season, this article seemed appropriate to me. I leave you today with the words of wisdom handed down to me from my father, a Cubs fan: "There's always next year."

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Kubel Factor

The 2007 season has been a frustrating and disappointing one for the Twins. The team will miss a postseason berth for just the second time since 2002, and there have been disheartening individual offensive performances across the board. Nick Punto has been utterly awful. Joe Mauer has regressed significantly from his excellent 2006 campaign. Justin Morneau has been horrible in the second half. Michael Cuddyer has had a drop-off in power production. Alexi Casilla has taken a major step back in his progression.

For much of the season, it appeared that Jason Kubel would be another sad name on this list of underachievers. Yet, a stellar second half has turned him into one of the few positives for the Twins' offense this season.

When you take a look at his overall numbers, Kubel appears to be the very definition of an average major-league hitter. For the season, he has hit .269/.329/.442 -- a batting line that is very similar to the major-league average of .268/.335/.422. However, glancing at Kubel's overall numbers for the season does not come close to telling the whole story on a 2007 campaign that has very much been a tale of two halves.

Up until the All-Star break, Kubel was hitting just .250/.303/.404 with seven home runs and 37 RBI in 263 plate appearances. He was showing some power, but his lack of on-base skills was perturbing. Normally known for having solid plate discipline, Kubel struck out 46 times while drawing just 18 walks during that span.

Yet, here in the latter half of the season, Kubel has shown significant signs of improvement. Since the All-Star break, he has batted .298/.372/.503 with five homers and 24 RBI in 172 plate appearances. These numbers are extremely encouraging. Kubel has maintained his impressive power while making massive strides in his ability to hit for average and draw walks. In those 172 second-half plate appearances, Kubel has already drawn 19 walks to eclipse his first-half total, and in the meantime he's cut down on his strikeout rate, fanning only 25 times. That makes for a nearly even strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is very much in line with what he did in the minor leagues.

Basically, Kubel is developing into the hitter many expected him to be right before our eyes, and he just keeps getting better. In the month of September, he has batted .320/.397/.600. Many will credit Kubel's hot hitting to a new spot in the batting order; he has raked to the tune of .344/.417/.656 since moving to the No. 2 hole. While hitting between Jason Bartlett and Joe Mauer might be part of the reason for this success, I suspect the biggest factor is that Kubel is playing regularly and getting more and more comfortable. After falling victim to Ron Gardenhire's misguided habit of pulling young players in and out of the lineup with reckless abandon through much of the season, Kubel is finally finding his name in the lineup almost every day, and the results have payed dividends.

It was a tough first half for Kubel, and when combined with the struggles he experienced last year, it made for a stretch of performance that pushed some fans to the brink of giving up on the once-bright hitting prospect. But should Kubel's early-season struggles really be viewed as surprising? In the offseason following the 2004 season, Kubel suffered a devastating knee injury that caused him to miss the entire 2005 campaign. Last year, he returned to the Twins, but his knees were clearly still bothering him and stunting his development. This year he finally found himself back in good playing shape, but when you've spent so much time away from being a regular hitter, it takes time to adjust and see pitches the way you need to. That's precisely what happened to Kubel, who frequently looked lost at the plate over the first half of the season but now appears to be confident and in control.

Kubel is not only one of the best pure hitters on the Twins, I'd go so far as to say that he is one of the best pure hitters in the league. He doesn't have enough at-bats to qualify for the leaderboard, but if he did, Kubel's line drive percentage of 22.5 would rank fifth in the American League behind only Michael Young, Placido Polanco, Reggie Willits and Brandon Inge. Coaches and players often marvel about how hard Kubel hits the ball in batting practice, and his ability to consistently make square contact with the ball is evident when you watch him in games. Every time he makes contact, Kubel always seems to get his money's worth, even when he gets out.

The bad news is that Kubel may have lost as much as two and a half years of his development because of the knee injury he suffered in the fall league following that 2004 season. The good news is that he's still only 25 years old, and he still has worlds of talent that are starting to show out on the field. His torrid performance here over the last couple months of the season has almost certainly assured Kubel of a starting spot on next year's team, be it in left field or at designated hitter. A full year of Kubel playing at his best could make a big difference on this offense, and it could be a key factor in the Twins' ability to improve and score more runs next season.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sweeping Success

Ah, so refreshing... a nice, respectable victory. The Twins didn't need anyone to drop a fly ball in the bottom of the ninth last night, and they didn't need Michael Young to commit three errors. Nope, they got a win the good old-fashioned way. They scored early and rode a top-notch pitching performance to their 75th win of the season.

The Twins scored single runs in each of the first three innings, then added another in the form of a seventh-inning solo shot by Jason Kubel. Meanwhile, Matt Garza pitched into the seventh inning for the first time since August 14, tossing 6 1/3 inning while allowing six hits and two runs (one earned). He struck out five and walked none. The bullpen added 2 2/3 innings of scoreless ball and the Twins left town with a quiet sweep of the lowly Rangers.

At 75-77, the Twins are only two games away from the .500 mark with 10 games remaining, but methinks they'll have a tough time finishing the season with a winning record. After finishing up their home schedule with a three-game set against the White Sox this weekend, the Twins will hit the road for a three-game series in Detroit and then a season-ending four-game series in Boston.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sticking Up For the Little Guy (Apparently)

First of all, I'd like to send out some props to everyone who has continued to stop by this blog regularly as this disappointing season winds down with little excitement. Traffic has remained relatively steady here in the final month of the season, which I really wouldn't have expected. The fact that people are still stopping by and commenting tells me that they're still following the Twins even though the team has been out of the race for quite a while now. I'm impressed with that. In particular, I'd like to thank everybody who commented on yesterday's post. There were a lot of great thoughts added that illustrated a variety of valid viewpoints, and I think it made for a very interesting discussion.

With that said, I think a lot of people were misinterpreting my position on the Nick Punto situation. To be clear, I don't think Punto should be starting over Alexi Casilla or Brian Buscher for the rest of this season, and I don't think Punto is an ideal choice to start at second base next year. But seeing the way Casilla has played both in the minors and majors this year, how can anybody really argue that he's ready to step in and be a starter on a contending major-league team as things currently stand?

On his blog over at (Insider required), Rob Neyer wrote yesterday about the ridiculousness of Ron Gardenhire handing Punto a starting job next season. At the end of his post, Neyer linked to my article from yesterday and labeled me a "dissenting voice" among the chorus of Twins fans who have been very openly critical, which seems to indicate that Neyer thinks I'm a proponent of Gardy's decision.

To be clear, I'm not supportive of the idea that a guy who has hit the way Punto has this year should be handed a starting job the following season. I just think there are a lot of people overreacting to the news. As I wrote in the comments section yesterday, there are a few reasons why I would be able to tolerate Punto being named the starting second baseman at the outset of the 2008 season: 1) he will be moving to a more important position where his defensive skills will be emphasized and his offensive inadequacies will be less egregious; 2) he is bound to improve at least a little at the plate; and 3) there are no clearly superior options at this point in time. Many people seem to be so blinded by hatred for Punto that they can't help but overlook the fact that Casilla has shown this year that he could probably use some more time in the minors.

In his blog post, Neyer claims that Gardenhire is making a big mistake and compares the situation to the Juan Castro/Jason Bartlett fiasco from last season:
What's amazing to me is that Gardenhire has made this exact mistake before, with Bartlett at shortstop -- remember Juan Castro? -- and he seems absolutely determined to do it again with Casilla and Punto.
In my mind, the situations just don't match up. Last year, Bartlett was a 26-year-old who had hit better than .330 for two straight years in Triple-A. Right now, Casilla is 23, and beyond his brutal results with the big-league club, he did not perform very well in Triple-A this season. It was basically now-or-never for Bartlett last year, whereas Casilla has plenty of time to develop (and has given us plenty of reason to believe he still has developing to do).

I apologize if this post just seems like a reiteration of the things I said yesterday, but I wanted to make my position clear so people don't think I'm some sort of gung-ho Punto supporter. I fully share Aaron Gleeman's opinion that Casilla and Buscher should both be starting regularly for the rest of the season, and I was very annoyed to see neither of them in Gardenhire's lineup last night. However, if Casilla continues to struggle through the rest of the season and again in spring training next year, I really don't see why the notion of starting him back Triple-A in 2008 is all that absurd.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Slowey Sizzles; Punto Starting in '08?

I was very happy to see Kevin Slowey piece together a terrific outing last night. Granted, he was going against a punchless Texas lineup (one which did not include Hank Blalock, Ian Kinsler, Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Sammy Sosa), but it was nonetheless encouraging to see Slowey rack up seven strikeouts (a personal high in his young major-league career) while holding the Rangers to one run on four hits and zero walks over six innings.

Unfortunately, Slowey did not earn a win in spite of his outstanding effort, as another poor relief outing from Juan Rincon put the Rangers in front just one inning after Slowey had left with a 2-1 lead. The Twins later ended up winning when Kinsler (who had entered as a sub) dropped a Jason Bartlett fly ball and allowed Lew Ford to score and seal a 5-4 victory for the Twins.

Now, to change course a bit. According to La Velle E. Neal III, Ron Gardenhire announced yesterday that Nick Punto is currently slated to be the Twins' starting second baseman at the outset of the 2008 season. Here's what the Twins' manager had to say:

“ We already know what we’ve got with Nick,'’ Gardy said. “We know we’ve got a player. And (Alexi Casilla) has all the tools in the world. Nothing’s a given. You have to go out and play. But if we were to start right now I would say Nick would have a head up on him, believe me there. I know what he can do, catch the ball and make all the plays. So he’s got a lead going into spring training, as far as I’m concerned.

“I hope he comes out and has a good spring. I like him in my lineup, somewhere. He makes things exciting. But he’s got to play. Got to come back and rebound, we all know that.'’

Considering my constant ranting lately about Casilla being held out of the lineup, you might think that I'd be furious about this development. But, to be honest, I'm not.

Casilla has been absolutely terrible this year, and there's no masking that fact. He didn't have a particularly good year in Rochester, where he hit just .269/.354/.345, and he's looked completely overmatched in the majors, hitting just .241/.274/.282. In 184 plate appearances with the Twins this year, Casilla has struck out 25 times while managing just eight walks, and in the meantime he has committed countless mistakes in the field and on the basepaths.

At 23, Casilla is young and still boasts plenty of upside, which is why I continue to believe that he should be playing almost every day for the remainder of the season in these meaningless September games. However, once we move on to the beginning of the 2008 season and the games matter again, the manager needs to put the best players on the field, and at this point in time, Punto looks like a better overall option at second base than Casilla. That could very well change between now and next April, and if it does, I hope that Gardy will adjust his plans accordingly.

Punto's 2007 season has been historically bad from an offensive standpoint, and it seems odd that he would be rewarded for such a feat with a starting job next season. Yet, if it comes down to him and Casilla, right now Punto has to be considered the better player solely on the merits of his defensive ability.

Many would no doubt argue that a guy who hits the way Punto has this season is a liability at any position -- that's true. But is it really fair to expect him to keep hitting this way? Punto has hit rock bottom this year, and I certainly expect him to get his numbers back up toward respectability next season. Does that mean I think he's an ideal starter? By no means, and I'd love it if Casilla could step up and establish himself as this team's starting second baseman of the future. Unfortunately, he hasn't done that, and nothing that he's done this season has really indicated to me that he's going to be ready to take over at the beginning of the 2008 season.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Weak End to the Weekend

The Tigers came into Minneapolis this weekend and walked all over the Twins, winning 6-4 yesterday to complete a sweep that was very important from the Tigers' standpoint. The sweep has little effect on the Twins, except for that it significantly decreases their likelihood of being able to finish the season above .500.

Things have been ugly lately for the Twins. Since heading into Cleveland with a 5.5 game deficit in the standings and a chance to move within a few games of the division lead back on August 27, the Twins have gone 5-14 and watched that deficit expand to 15 games.

That the Twins are losing steadily and falling farther out of the race is not really all that upsetting, because most of us have known for some time now that this team wasn't going anywhere this year. What is maddening is that at-bats continue to be given to the wrong players. I wrote yesterday about how frustrated I have become with Ron Gardenhire's continued habit of holding Brian Buscher out of the lineup in favor of Nick Punto and Luis Rodriguez. Thankfully, Buscher was in the starting lineup yesterday, and -- not surprisingly -- he had himself a nice game, going 0-for-1 but drawing two walks and collecting a pair of RBI.

Yet, even on a day where Buscher finally managed to find his way into Gardy's starting lineup (for just the fifth time this month), Rodriguez was still in the lineup over Alexi Casilla. This marked the eighth time in 14 September games that Casilla has been held out of Gardenhire's starting lineup, which just doesn't make much sense. I realize that Casilla has been bad; there's no denying it, he has been a major disappointment this season. But by all accounts this is a kid that the Twins are going to be counting on to man second base next year, and with that being the case, there is no reason not to give him lots of time to work on things here in the final month of this lost season.

As I mentioned yesterday, I have sponsored Buscher's page at, and I'd happily sponsor Casilla's as well if someone else hadn't already done so. These young players need support from the fans, because they just aren't getting it from the manager.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Free Brian Buscher!

In the fourth inning of last night's game, a "Who's Hot" graphic was displayed on the Metrodome JumboTron, listing three players who had been performing well recently for the Twins. The top name on this list was Brian Buscher, and below his name there was a stat line indicating that he had batted .500 with a homer and three RBI in his last three games for the Twins. The problem, of course, is that those three game appearances had been spread over a period of six days, and one of them was a single ninth-inning pinch-hit appearance. Last night, Buscher was riding the pine again, in favor of Nick Punto and his wonderful .199 batting average.

In 57 major-league plate appearances this year, Buscher has hit .294/.368/.412. That makes for a .780 OPS, which is well above the major-league average of .758. It's just a bit below the major-league average OPS for a third baseman, which is .786. Yet, Buscher has been penciled into the starting lineup in just four of the Twins' 13 September games.

Here we have a young, cheap, controllable third baseman who had a terrific year in the minors and who has thus far shown to be an above-average major-league hitter, and he's consistently being benched so that Punto can continue to have arguably the worst offensive season in the history of baseball. What sense does this make? My belief in Ron Gardenhire's managing abilities is starting to fade.

To show my support for Buscher, I have taken the liberty of sponsoring his page on I'm not saying the kid is going to be the next Wade Boggs, but he could very well be the answer we've been looking for at third base, and for some inexplicable reason Gardenhire won't give him a chance to show his stuff. This infuriates me to no end.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

TR Links

A lot of really great articles were written about Terry Ryan's resignation. Here are some links to a few that I particularly enjoyed, along with memorable blurbs from each:

* Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse writes that, like with Tom Kelly six years ago, there is nothing more to Ryan's decision to step down than that he is tired of the attention and stress associated with his position. Reusse says that Smith is doomed from the start, and that outlook for the foreseeable future is glum:
It makes no difference if the Twins commit $60 to $75 million to Torii Hunter and thus have him back for 2008 and beyond. Even with Torii, there will be too many holes in the lineup and pitching staff for the Twins to be looked at as anything more than also-rans when they arrive in southwest Florida in February.
* Aaron Gleeman discusses Ryan's tenure as GM and comes to the following conclusion regarding the team's immediate future, quite the opposite of Reusse's take:
The timing is odd, the move comes as a surprise, Ryan will be missed, and Smith will be forced to hit the ground running immediately, but the Twins are a franchise that remains well positioned for success.
* Over at SBG Nation, Ubelmann notes some striking similarity between the quotes from Ryan and from former Mariners skipper Mike Hargrove when he resigned unexpectedly in the middle of the season

Howard [Sinker] notes this quote from Mr. Ryan right up front:

“The defeats are getting a little bit tougher to take and the wins aren’t as much fun.” — Terry Ryan

That stuck out to me, too, since it sounded eerily familiar to what Mike Hargrove said when unexpectedly resigning from his post as field manager in the middle of a long winning streak:

“But the highs weren’t high enough, the lows were too low. That’s putting it about as simple as I can.” — Mike Hargrove, July 1st

* Here is a great insider's perspective from Star Tribune beat writer La Velle E. Neal III. Neal's parting thoughts on Ryan:

It’s going to be strange not talking to Ryan on a daily basis. I have a job to do, he didn’t like it sometimes and we sparred. But I’m going to make two statements about my 10 years interviewing him. One, you want Terry Ryan to be your next door neighbor. Two, my career is better off for dealing with him.

* Twins Geek chips in with his two cents, and he feels that losing Ryan will hurt the Twins more than many people realize.
Given his replacement, the organization, and some signs of decline, losing Ryan may not be as bad as losing a big name star. But nobody, not Hunter or Santana or Mauer or Morneau, has had the positive impact on this franchise that Ryan has over the last ten years. That should be his legacy.
* Pioneer Press columnist Tom Powers lauds Ryan for his loyalty during the contraction debacle back in 2001:
Twins fans should be forever grateful to Ryan for standing tall and displaying loyalty beyond all reason during the attempted contraction of the franchise after the 2001 season.

With the Twins on the brink of contraction, and with the Toronto Blue Jays on the phone to offer him their general manager's job, Ryan put on his life jacket, took a deep breath and prepared to go down with his ship.
* Seth Stohs says he has a lot of respect for Ryan, but is intrigued to see what Smith can do at the reigns of the franchise.
Now the last two years have been littered with some questionable free agent signings and unwillingness to trade, but that should not tarnish the reputation of Terry Ryan as a man who can build a franchise the right way, through player development. His unwillingness to trade prospects is part of who Terry Ryan is. It is part of what the Twins stand for, building from within. It is why Bill Smith has earned the opportunity to be the new GM.
Lots of great thoughts and stories about Mr. Terry Ryan. I hope you'll make sure to check out all these links if you have some free time today, because each one provides a different interesting viewpoint.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Terry Ryan: GM No More

Early in the day yesterday, the Twins announced that they would be holding a 2:00 p.m. press conference, and they indicated that the news was going to be big. Indeed it was; the Twins announced that general manager Terry Ryan will be stepping down from the position he has held for almost 13 years. Assistant GM Bill Smith will take over Ryan's spot effective on the first of October, while Ryan (at least for the time being) will move into a special adviser role.

This came as a major shock to me. It's well documented that I've been pretty unimpressed with the job Ryan has done for the past couple years, but there was no way I expected him to be vacating the GM spot anytime soon. My first instinct when I heard the announcement -- as with any announcement of an executive resigning unexpectedly -- was to wonder whether perhaps Ryan was forced out. Had he been pressing owner Carl Pohlad to hard for money? Was the organization disappointed with his poor showing in 2007?

After studying a wide range of accounts and listening to Ryan speak, I'm convinced that he was tired of the stress and workload associated with the position. I think former Star Tribune columnist and current KFAN radio personality Dan Barreiro put it best on his blog:
Listening to Ryan during his news conference on Thursday afternoon, this is what came through loud and clear: He just didn't want to work this hard anymore. Always more a ball guy than an administrative guy, he had been beaten down by the administrative side of the job, to the point where he noted his personality was changing for the worse. The job was eating him up. I take him at his word on that part of it.
Ryan's new role will primarily involve scouting, which a Star Tribune account describes as Ryan's "first love." I also think it's his greatest strength, so I think the role will fit him well. However, I have to imagine that with his strong track record, Ryan will gain immediate interest from other organizations, so I do wonder whether he'll be able to resist the pull of such offers. Was he truly tired of filling the GM role, or was he just tired of filling it here, under the budget restrictions imposed by Pohlad?

I have generally been a supporter of Ryan, but I'm not disappointed to see him step down. I have a lot of respect for the wonderful job he did of turning the Twins back into a contender after years of cellar-dwelling. He put the pieces in place to allow the team to turn a major corner back in 2001, and they haven't really looked back since. Lately, however, he has done little to help the club, and in my opinion he has actually impeded them from being able to take the next step. His free agent acquisitions have been disastrous. He has been far too timid on the trade market, guarding his pitching prospects while watching useful hitters get nabbed up by other clubs with less drastic offensive needs.

I have also grown increasingly dissatisfied with Ryan's apparent philosophies on the game. I suppose it's difficult to criticize the baseball mind of a man who has been around the game as long as Ryan, but when I read comments like, "I don't care about home runs," I have to wonder if maybe he's losing touch with some of the important aspects of building a team. In interviews, and when I met him personally, Ryan always seemed like a very nice and down-to-earth fellow; yet, he also seemed to have a stubborn air and a sometimes arrogant (and often misguided) mindset about the game that he didn't like to have challenged.

With all of that in mind, it should be nice to get some fresh blood in the GM spot for this organization. And yet, to say that I don't know much about Bill Smith would be an understatement. I've heard this guy's name maybe a handful of times in my life. Here's what La Velle's article in the Strib has to say about Smith:
Smith has been one of Ryan's closest advisors ever since he was named to his current position in 1994. Smith is well-versed in baseball rules and is a stickler for details. He watched practically every brick get put into place in the Twins' year-round facility in Fort Myers, Fla. He was the club's point man during its expansion into Latin America.
I don't envy the man's position. He walks into an extremely crucial and difficult offseason for the Twins. Torii Hunter was already likely on the way out, but now that will happen under Smith's watch and not Ryan's. Meanwhile, Johan Santana and Joe Nathan both have just one year remaining on their contracts, and the Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer situations will need to be resolved at some point as well.

Certainly, Smith will be tested right away, and it will be very interesting to see how he fares. My hope is that he's a bit more aggressive and straightforward than Ryan. The Twins need to get into a "win now" mindset, because 2008 is shaping up to be a great chance to go for it all. With the expected return of Francisco Liriano and the possible last year of Santana and Nathan, the Twins need to add some pieces on offense and make a serious run. If they don't, it could be a while before they have this great of an opportunity.

Fortunately, the rookie GM Smith will have help. I'm glad that Ryan is staying with the organization, and I believe he will be a big help to Smith, especially in the early goings. Meanwhile, a few other key promotions were announced yesterday, with former scouting director Mike Radcliff moving into the Vice President of Player Personnel role and Rob Antony, former director of baseball operations and contracts, becoming assistant GM. I'm especially excited about the Radcliff promotion, because I am a big fan of his and I think he has done a magnificent job as scouting director.

The Twins didn't play a game yesterday, but it may end up being the most important day of the season for the organization. Numerous changes will be made, and all we can do is sit and wait to see how they play out. Ryan did some great things for this franchise during his lengthy tenure as GM, and I hope that Smith can step in and do the things that need to be done to put the Twins in a position to succeed next season. Terry, thanks; Bill, I'm excited to see what you can do.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Back In Action

I got my new laptop yesterday and I was excited to sit down and write an enthusiastic post about the Twins for today. Unfortunately, the team's dud of a performance in their series finally against the Royals makes that an exceedingly difficult task.

I am in no mood to write a long negative post about the team, but it's pretty tough to draw any positives from yesterday's 6-3 loss. Carlos Silva was pulled due to a groin injury after pitching two unimpressive innings. Kevin Slowey, who earlier in the day had been tabbed to replace Boof Bonser in the starting rotation for the remainder of the season, came in to relieve Silva but didn't have much success, pitching 3 1/3 innings and allowing three runs on a pair of homers. With his fly ball tendencies, it was a good bet that Slowey would be somewhat homer-prone in the big leagues, but he has now allowed 16 dingers in 48 major-league innings, which is a tad ridiculous. That's one every three innings.

The good news to come out of the game, from a pitching standpoint, is that Glen Perkins made his long-awaited return to the Twins, pitching a scoreless eighth while notching two strikeouts.

Silva's injury leaves his status uncertain, which adds some intrigue to the Bonser situation. As I mentioned above, the Twins announced yesterday that Bonser would be relegated to the bullpen for the rest of the year, with Slowey taking his spot in the rotation. With the exception of the month of May, the entire season has essentially been a struggle for Bonser, which is disappointing given the success he had down the stretch last year. I haven't given up on Bonser by any means, and it doesn't sound like the Twins have either, but I can't say I'm too distraught about their decision to move the burly right-hander to the bullpen for the time being. For one thing, the move gives Slowey a few starts to work on things before the season is over -- he's clearly too good for Triple-A but still out of his element in the majors. An additional benefit will be that the Twins can see what Bonser looks like out of the bullpen. Boof has three good pitches, but he has displayed stamina problems all year, so the idea of him succeeding as a reliever might actually have some merit. That could ultimately be useful when you consider the bullpen questions that the Twins will carry into next season.

Of course, there's a chance Bonser might not actually move to the bullpen at all in light of yesterday's events, as he may just take over Silva's spot in the rotation should the ailing Silva have to miss time. Another possibility is that Nick Blackburn could step in and make a start or two in place of Silva. Blackburn has looked pretty good in limited duty out of the 'pen; I'd be interested to see what he could do over five or six innings.

One thing I'm not interested in seeing anymore is Nick Punto starting over Brian Buscher. Also, what does it say about your team's depth when you use Rondell White, Matt LeCroy and Garrett Jones as pinch-hitters in the same game?

The Twins have the day off today, and tomorrow the Tigers visit for a weekend series.

On a final note, I'll mention this hilarious little comment that the always-insightful Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan sneaked into an article about the offseasons of NHL players yesterday:
He's [Wild center Wes Walz] an exceptional skater and fitness freak who has survived since his NHL debut in 1989 even though he scores about as often as a sports blogger.
See, Souhan is much more desirable to women because he goes into a building downtown and writes sports-related rants, unlike us sex-deprived bloggers who write such rants from home.

You stay classy, Jimmy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Laptop Limbo

My old laptop is fried and the new one I've ordered is still in the mail, so I am currently without a computer and unable to put together much of a post for today. As such, I can't comment much on last night's 6-3 victory over the Royals. Scott Baker wasn't spectacular, but he picked up victory No. 9 on the season. Despite struggling to throw strikes, the bullpen provided 3 1/3 innings of scoreless work. Jason Bartlett, Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter and Alexi Casilla all chipped in two hits apiece, and Casilla swiped his 11th base of the season despite committing his eighth error.

All around, it was a good effort for the Twins, despite the fact that they once again could not put much together against Kyle Davies. Tonight the hometown nine will look for the sweep, with Carlos Silva taking the hill against Gil Meche.

On an aside, Star Tribune sportswriter/blogger Michael Rand (author of the blog RandBall) came in and spoke to my Sports Reporting class at the U yesterday. And yes, there is photographic evidence over at his blog. That's me in the front on the left, in all my blurry glory, sporting a Pacman Jones jersey (don't ask).

If anyone has anything interesting to discuss today, feel free to bring it up in the comments section. I'll be around. Happy hump day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Handicapping the AL Cy Young Race

At one point during the FOX broadcast of the Twins/White Sox game on Saturday, a graphic came up displaying the candidates for the American League Cy Young Award. The players listed on FOX's graphic were Chien-Ming Wang, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, C.C. Sabathia and Justin Verlander. I found this list rather curious, as it contained two players that, in my opinion, don't belong anywhere near the top five (Wang and Verlander) while excluding two players whom I would rank in the top four (Kelvim Escobar and Johan Santana). Neither Wang nor Verlander ranks in the top ten in the AL in ERA, but both play in big markets and get lots of run support, two factors which I suspect have fueled their hype. This list isn't the only one that has had me scratching my head.

Kevin Hench contributed an article to this weekend outlining his top ten Cy Young contenders in the AL, and he somehow managed to leave Santana completely off the list. Much like in 2005, Santana seems to be getting widely ignored despite having the credentials to be a top contender.

As usual, baseball writers everywhere seem to be putting way too much stock into that W statistic while ignoring many others that are much more indicative of a pitcher's success.

With about three weeks left in the season, here's my list of the top five Cy Young contenders in the AL as I currently see them.

5. Dan Haren: 196 IP, 14-7, 3.03 ERA, 168 K / 50 BB, .240 BAA, 1.18 WHIP
Haren got off to a great start and was the American League's starting pitcher in the All-Star game, but he has seen some expected regression in his numbers. After going 10-3 with a 2.30 ERA and .205 BAA before the All-Star break, Haren is 4-4 with a 4.46 ERA and .298 BAA since. He should be judged on his season as a whole, and the overall numbers are still good (especially the ERA, which still leads the league by a hair), but his peripherals are underwhelming and I suspect he'll continue to decline a bit here in the final weeks of the season.

4. Kelvim Escobar: 180.1 IP, 16-7, 3.04 ERA, 150 K / 60 BB, .242 BAA, 1.23 WHIP
Escobar has had a very surprising season, putting himself right in the mix as a Cy candidate despite holding a career ERA above 4. Escobar was terrific between the months of July and August, going 6-3 with a 2.01 ERA during that span. His peripheral numbers aren't great, and he has struggled with his control at times, but Escobar has come up big for the Halos this year and he definitely deserves to be in this conversation.

3. Josh Beckett: 181.2 IP, 18-6, 3.27 ERA, 173 K / 36 BB, .245 BAA, 1.14 WHIP
My guess is that Beckett will end up winning the award, because he plays in Boston and leads the league in that pesky Wins statistic. And I don't mean to disparage Beckett by ranking him third, because he is having a career year and he has been crucial to Boston's success. Yet, Beckett's numbers don't sufficiently wow me enough to consider him top Cy material. He ranks seventh in ERA and in strikeouts, fourth in WHIP, eighth in opponents' batting average, and sixth in opponents' OPS. He has also had some durability issues, and ranks just 18th in the AL in innings pitched.

2. Johan Santana: 201 IP, 15-11, 3.09 ERA, 213 K / 46 BB, .224 BAA, 1.06 WHIP
I just can't figure how anyone can possibly not consider Santana to be at least among the top three contenders in this race. It's true that he's having a down year by his standards, but his numbers are still excellent in relation to his peers. Santana ranks third in ERA, second in strikeouts (he'll likely be first soon, since Erik Bedard is now done for the season), second in BAA, and fifth in opponents' OPS. He's not even all that far off the lead in Wins, as he trails the leader Beckett by just three. A lot of people hold it against Santana that he has given up a league-leading 30 home runs, but who cares how he's giving up runs as long as he's not giving up very many? I think it's a testament to his skill that he can give up so many homers and still give up so few runs overall.

1. C.C. Sabathia: 220 IP, 17-7, 3.15 ERA, 185 K / 33 BB, .260 BAA, 1.14 WHIP
This is an instance where I am going to look past the numbers to some extent. Sabathia isn't going to blow anyone away with his ERA, strikeout rate or batting average against, but he has been an absolute workhorse for the Indians this year. He leads the league in innings pitched by a fairly wide margin, and is averaging over seven innings per start. He leads the league in hits allowed, but that tends to happen when you rack up so many innings. He has offset the high number of hits by allowing just 33 walks for an infinitesimal BB/9 rate of 1.35. It pains me to pick Sabathia, because I really don't like him, but he's been the class of the AL this year in my opinion.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Thoughts From the Weekend

I've been staring at the computer screen for some time now, trying to think of something clever to write about this weekend's series against the White Sox. Unfortunately, I can't think of anything.

The Twins took two of three from the Sox in Chicago, which is good I guess. (EDIT: By that I mean they LOST two of three, which is BAD I guess. Man I'm dumb. Thanks commenters.) Johan Santana seemed to be back in his true form yesterday, allowing just one run on five hits over seven innings while striking out 10. It appears likely that Santana will lead the majors in strikeouts again this year, as the current leader Erik Bedard has been shut down for the season.

It was interesting to see Jason Kubel hitting second in Ron Gardenhire's lineup yesterday. This is actually an idea that a lot of Twins fans have been tossing around for some time. Kubel doesn't have the speed of a prototypical No. 2 hitter, but he has some on-base skills and he controls the bat well. I think he has enough power to hit sixth or seventh, but he's certainly not miscast as a No. 2 hitter. I'm glad to see Gardy experimenting with ideas like this here in these meaningless September games.

I am not glad, however, to see Gardy starting Nick Punto and Luis Rodriguez while forcing Brian Buscher and Alexi Casilla to ride the pine. I have been saying for a long time that Buscher should be playing everyday. And while it's okay to sit the struggling Casilla every now and then, he hasn't played in almost a week now. I know that Casilla's mistakes can be infuriating, but he's a talented kid. Just let him play Gardy. You're not accomplishing anything by throwing Rodriguez out there at second base.

I guess you just have to take the good with the bad. Jose Morales had a great major-league debut on Saturday night, going 3-for-3 with a double, but he hurt his ankle and was placed on the disabled list. Fortunately, Joe Mauer made his return to the lineup yesterday and went 1-for-3 with a walk, although he didn't seem to be quite back at full speed.

Worth noting: despite a horrible start to the season, Kubel is now out-slugging Michael Cuddyer .433 to .432. That speaks to what a great resurgence Kubel has had in the past couple months, but even more it speaks to what a tremendously disappointing season Cuddyer has had overall.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Observations from Afar

As promised, I have returned to make a post, which I plan to do every so often. It's the weekend and I'm not completely drowning in reading for next week, so I decided to write a post. The first thing that has to be said is that since leaving Minnesota, the team has only played worse. I looked at the lineup for yesterday's game and I can only imagine that other Twins fans had the same disparaging feeling of "Oh no, not again."

Having Nick Punto, Jason Tyner, and Luis Rodriguez in a lineup together with another new mostly-singles hitter (Jose Morales - he hit doubles in Triple-A, but it's a little hard to tell if that will translate and as I write this, he just hit an RBI double) is just a reminder of how things have gone wrong this season and the apparent fact that Terry Ryan never had a backup plan and can't make any of the moves that would even slightly improve this anemic lineup. This was proven in Friday's loss as well as yesterday. Yesterday's second inning was a perfect example of the problem, as the Twins had four hits and scored only one run, on Brian Buscher's solo home run, because all their other hits were singles from Morales, Punto, and Rodriguez.

However, I don't want to just brood here, as most Twins fans are probably depressed enough as it is knowing that their team is unofficially out of the playoffs. Not going to the playoffs offers the Twins a good chance to showcase their minor league talent as well as giving ample time to the fans to consider moves for the future. It's apparent from Ron Gardenhire's recent comments that, for whatever reason, he wants to play Punto in the hopes that he can make history and it is unlikely that many of the young players the Twins need to evaluate for the future are going to get the playing time they need. With that, I want to look at the second option: future moves.

In reading notorious Twins-basher Keith Law's article on September call-ups, I was reminded of a player that the Twins should consider going after because of his likely availability in the near future. That player is the Mariners' Wladimir Balentien. Balentien is a 23-year-old right-fielder who just finished a very good season at Triple-A, hitting .291/.362/.509 with 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 24 doubles, 77 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases. According to Baseball Prospectus' scouting report, Balentien is described as having plus power, good defense, and decent speed and his major is strikeouts. Between Single-A and Double-A, Balentien struck out 300 times in the 2005 and 2006 seasons combined while walking 100 times, which is not a particularly great ratio. However, in his biggest strikeout season in the minors (2005, 160 K), Balentien also had his best power season, slugging .553 and knocking 25 home runs, 8 triples, and 38 doubles.

Even if strikeouts are an issue, Balentien has made some improvements, as he had a 105/54 K/BB ratio in 477 Triple-A at-bats this year. Also, his career minor-league line of .274/.344/.520 suggests he has at least decent patience at the plate, meaning that when he's striking out a lot and struggling, he's willing to take a walk. This is evidence by the 70 walks in 2006, when he hit only .230 but had a .337 OBP.

Balentien is also a stalled prospect now. He has little chance to make it in Seattle for two reasons: For one, the Safeco Field is terribly unfriendly to right-handed power hitters who have strikeout issues. Two, there is little chance Balentien will find a spot in a crowded outfield, as Ichiro and Raul Ibanez are under contract for next year, Jose Guillen has an option for 2008 and likely will get an extension, and prized prospect Adam Jones also needs a spot.

With a 4.70 staff ERA, it's pretty clear that Seattle could use some more pitching, especially considering that such a number comes despite a pitcher-friendly ballpark. What role would Balentien play since we already have Michael Cuddyer at right-field? While it's true that Balentien isn't a center fielder, he's a good defender that may even have a legitimate chance to play the position. Or he could DH. He would be, at worst, a legitimate hitter in a lineup with plenty of non-hitters who is athletic enough to be a good contributor on defense. And he probably wouldn't come at a steep price, since the Mariners have no real place for him.

Sadly, I get the feeling Terry Ryan won't make this move in the near future, even though its a smart move, considering how obvious it is that this team needs more hitting. History tells us that Ryan has some sort of allergy to hitters who strikeout a lot, despite having plenty of power and discipline. (See Cust, Jack; Hannahan, Jack, Pena, Willy Mo) I just hope that someday here soon Ryan becomes disciplined enough to realize that there are prudent moves to made and this is one to consider.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Can't Catch A Break

It seemed certain that the Twins would end their four-game losing streak last night when they scored six runs in the top of the ninth inning to break a 4-4 tie against the White Sox in Chicago. Unfortunately, Julio DePaula came in and gave up five runs without recording an out, and Joe Nathan surrendered another run allowing the Sox to tie the game at 10-10.

A.J. Pierzynski eventually drove in the winning run with a single in the 13th inning.

The Twins' offense produced 20 hits, but 18 of them were singles. Meanwhile, six of Chicago's 19 hits went for extra bases. If you're looking for a quick answer as to why the White Sox won the game, look no further.

* One thing that has greatly irritated me about about Ron Gardenhire lately has been his unwillingness to play third baseman Brian Buscher against lefties. Last night, Buscher got a rare start, and in the eighth inning southpaw side-armer Mike Myers came in to pitch for the White Sox. Lo and behold, Buscher worked a 3-1 count and then singled to right against Myers. The hit ended being irrelevant because Chris Heintz grounded into an inning-ending double play in the following at-bat, but Buscher's hit supports my belief that he should at least get a chance to face some lefties in the majors.

* La Velle E. Neal III had a great article in the Star Tribune yesterday chronicling Nick Punto's unintentional quest to become the first player since 1991 to bat under .200 while qualifying for the batting title. The last guy to do it was Rob Deer, who hit .179 over 448 at-bats with the Tigers but also hit 25 homers and drove in 64 runs, which obviously trump Punto's totals of one and 22. When you take into account Punto's total lack of power and the fact that most guys who have hit so poorly have done it in less of an offensive era, an argument could easily be made that Punto is amidst the single worst offensive season in baseball history.

Here was my "favorite" part of Neal's article:
Punto's immediate goal is to make the most of September -- Gardenhire said Punto
will not be benched -- then get to work on a hitting plan that he hopes will
breed success in 2008.
Great management, Gardy. Let's keep wasting at-bats on a guy who's having arguably the worst offensive season of all time in order to "breed success in 2008" -- when he will almost certainly be in a utility role -- rather than giving at-bats to younger and more talented players who actually have a chance to contribute as regulars next season.

* On that happy note, I'll add that the motherboard on my laptop is fried, and so the only computer access I'll have over the next several days will be at work or on my roommates' laptops. That may impede my ability to post regularly, but I'll try and keep up.

I've come to realize that as much as I like the way Apple's products function, they just aren't very well built. I've had my iBook for three years and I've had to replace the hard drive, the keyboard, and now the motherboard twice. I also had an iPod Mini which lasted only a year before succumbing to battery issues. I can assure you, these problems haven't arisen because I treat the devices poorly... I always find something else to throw at the wall when I see Punto's name in the starting lineup.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Morales Time

For whatever reason, Terry Ryan has been extremely reluctant to call up catcher Jose Morales from Triple-A, even though Rochester's season is done. However, the injuries to Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond have forced the general manager's hand, and the Twins announced yesterday that Morales will be joining the Twins in time for their series opener against the White Sox tonight.

This is very good news as far as I'm concerned. I see no reason why Morales should not be getting playing time with the Twins here in the final months of the season. The 24-year-old finished fourth in the International League in batting average at .311. He posted a solid 44/30 strikeout-to-walk ratio and hit 25 doubles, although he managed only two homers in 376 at-bats. Morales is a converted second-baseman who is considered a bit raw behind the plate, but he has a strong arm, and in a lost season like this one I see no reason not give him some experience receiving the Twins' big-league pitchers.

The Twins had an open spot on the 40-man roster, and it was pertinent that they add him by the offseason because if they didn't they would lose him as a sixth-year minor-leaguer. That's just not something you want to happen with a guy who hits well at the highest level of the minors and plays a position of weakness in your organization.

Now that Morales is here, the question is whether or not he will actually play. Judging by Ron Gardenhire's tendencies this season, I would not be at all surprised to see Chris Heintz playing regularly over Morales, which would really be unfortunate. This is a time where Gardy should be feeding steady playing time to Morales, Brian Buscher and Alexi Casilla to find out if they can be looked at to contribute for next season. All three players performed well in the minors, and this is the perfect time to see how they handle the transition to the majors.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Slide Continues

I sincerely feel sorry for anyone that made a trip out to the Metrodome for a game in the Twins' latest series against the Indians. Aside from missing out on some beautiful late summer weather, these poor fans were subjected to some ugly performances from a Twins squad that really doesn't seem to be trying anymore.

What a colossal tailspin this team has gone into. After dropping their seventh straight game against the Indians yesterday, the Twins are now two games below .500 and 12.5 out of first place in the AL Central. Can you even believe that just over a week ago this same Twins club went into Cleveland riding a five-game winning streak and looking to potentially move within two and a half games of the division lead? It's almost unfathomable when you look at the way they're currently playing.

Scott Baker's outing in yesterday's game was a far cry from the near-perfect effort he put forth on Friday night. He gave up 11 hits and two walks over five innings, but still managed to hold the Indians scoreless after giving up three quick first-inning runs. Unfortunately, the offense provided little help (as usual), and the Tribe touched up Nick Blackburn and Pat Neshek for three insurance runs in the ninth in an eventual 6-2 Cleveland victory.

X-rays on the injured middle finger of Mike Redmond's left hand came back negative for a break, but he will miss several days with what is being termed a "sprained ligament" in his knuckle. I think it's safe to say that Joe Mauer is still not ready to return -- La Velle wrote on his blog prior to yesterday's game that if Chris Heintz were to get injured in the first four innings, Justin Morneau would have been moved to catcher.

The injuries to Redmond and Mauer would seem to give the Twins a great opportunity to get a look at catching prospect Jose Morales, who hit .313 in Rochester this year, but my guess is that we'll just see a whole lot of Heintz over the next several days. I'm excitedly awaiting the inevitable day that we see Heintz, Luis Rodriguez, Nick Punto, Garrett Jones and Lew Ford all in the same lineup. I mean, that's what these meaningless September games are for: planning for the future. Right?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Changing Places?

The hot topic in Twins Territory over the past couple days has been talk of a position switch for catcher Joe Mauer, specifically to third base. The notion has been brought up numerous times in the past by sportswriters and fans alike, but lately it's come to the forefront of people's attention due to an article in Monday's Star Tribune penned by columnist Jim Souhan. Pioneer Press columnist Tom Powers also mentioned the idea on the same day, but for the purposes of this post I'll stick with Souhan's article, which goes into more depth.

The articles reportedly raised the ire of Ron Gardenhire, as well as Mauer. I'm actually inclined to agree with them.

The subject of Mauer moving to third base has been debated exhaustively ever since the catcher suffered a major knee injury back in his rookie season of 2004, and the arguments presented in Souhan's article are the same ones that have been brought up by almost every other proponent of the idea over the past few years: Mauer has constantly been bothered by leg injuries; he's athletic enough to handle a position switch; he'd fill an organizational need at third base; so on and so forth.

Yes, Mauer's young career has been plagued by injuries, but few of them have actually been directly related to catching. He's hurt his hamstring and his quadricep while running the bases. In 2004, he suffered a devastating knee injury while sliding to catch a fly ball in foul territory. These are injuries that can happen to a player at any position -- including third base. The idea that a guy can move to third and automatically avoid injuries for the rest of his career is ridiculous. How's that working out for Corey Koskie?

In my opinion, Mauer is the best defensive catcher in the league. I don't think I'm alone there. He can control an opposing team's running game better than perhaps any other backstop in the majors, and he does a good job of calling games and running the pitching staff. I think people tend to oversimplify the process of moving him to third base. Yes, he's a great ballplayer and a tremendous athlete, but that doesn't mean he'd be able to just hop on over to the hot corner and pick up right where he left off defensively. Mauer has essentially played nothing but catcher throughout his entire professional career. There would be a considerable learning curve involved.

Souhan claims that by moving Mauer to third base, the Twins would be "plugging a gaping organizational hole." Yeah, while creating another. Mike Redmond is a nice player, but he'll be entering the last year of his contract with the Twins next year and he'll be turning 37 next May. He just won't be around much longer. The organization's top catching prospect is Jose Morales, who the Twins just don't seem to be very high on for whatever reason, and beyond him there are no catchers in the minors that look like they'll be making an impact in the big leagues any time soon. I'd actually say the Twins' system is deeper at third base than it is at catcher.

On top of all that, moving Mauer away from catcher would greatly decrease his offensive value. Even though he's had a down year this year, his numbers still look great in context when you consider that the average AL catcher has hit .254/.316/.395. In contrast, the average third baseman has hit .264/.333/.426 for a .759 OPS which is coincidentally exactly the same as the OPS Mauer has posted since returning from his quad injury in early June.

If it comes down to the point where there are truly no other viable options available, I'd hesitantly be in favor of a position switch for Mauer. I just don't think we're anywhere near that point yet. He's still only 24 years old, and less than one year removed from a season in which he won a major-league batting title while catching full-time and missing almost no time due to injury. It has become pretty annoying that every time Mauer has some sort of ailment, the position switch debate rears its ugly head. Mauer is a catcher, and that's one of the biggest reasons he's such a special player in the first place.


While we're on the subject of Souhan's article, I'd like to say that I think the columnist took a few unwarranted shots at Mauer in his article. I'll address a couple comments in particular:
In spring training he [Mauer] caused a scare with what was termed a "stress reaction." I've spoken with trainers in other sports who have told me there is no such thing.
No such thing? So the team just made it up? As SBG notes, there have been plenty of documented cases of stress reactions in sports. Whatever "trainers" Souhan spoke to must have been confused by the way the question was asked, or they're just really bad at their jobs.

Another tidbit that bothered me:
While Mauer has struggled and convalesced, his backup, Mike Redmond, has played with what seems to be a broken finger and myriad bruises. When offered a chance to X-ray the finger, Redmond declined, saying he's going to play whether it's broken or not. Redmond also said he does not need to be "100 percent" to play.

Mauer's reputation in the clubhouse has taken a hit while Redmond, Hunter, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto, among others, have played through injuries and Mauer has eased and iced his way back into the lineup.
There is a fairly large difference between playing through a broken finger on your non-throwing hand and playing through a pulled hamstring. If you can't run, you can't help the team much. Obviously, Redmond's injury isn't having a significantly negative effect on his performance. I'm not trying to downplay what Redmond is doing -- the guy is a trooper -- but I somehow doubt he'd be in the lineup with a bad quad or hamstring strain that was impeding his ability to run or crouch. I find it funny that Jason Bartlett, who Souhan applauds as a guy that can play through injuries, just recently missed a chunk of time with a hamstring strain of his own. I also find it funny that Souhan includes Punto on his list of battlers, despite the fact that Punto's career prior to last year was plagued by injuries that caused him to miss time constantly.

Has Mauer's reputation in the clubhouse really "taken a hit," or is Souhan just saying that without any tangible basis, for the purposes of making his disingenuous diatribe more plausible? I'm going to go with the latter. I think Souhan was quite a bit more credible as a beat writer than he is as a columnist, so perhaps he is the one who truly needs to switch positions.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I've Got Nothing

I can't write much for today, because the Internet has decided to go down at my apartment building and I'm getting ready to embark on my senior year of college, which begins today at 8:15 a.m.

Fortunately, there isn't much worth writing about. The Twins were trounced 5-0 by the Indians -- the 13th time the Twins have been shut out this season -- and Lew Ford was recalled from Triple-A. Yay.

I have some thoughts on Strib columnist Jim Souhan's article suggesting that Joe Mauer should switch positions (this again???), but I'll save them for tomorrow.

Hope everybody enjoyed the long weekend.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Labor Day Notes

The Twins ended their four-game weekend series against the Royals in a split after dropping the final game 8-1 yesterday afternoon. Boof Bonser was crushed, recording just five outs while giving up five earned runs on seven hits. In general, the Twins' pitchers got beat around throughout the series, with the exception obviously being Scott Baker's magical outing on Friday night. In the other three games, the Royals racked up 21 runs on 39 hits. Ugly stuff.

Some other notes:

* I'm convinced that Torii Hunter has his mind made up that he won't be returning next season. He elected to skip the groundbreaking ceremony for the Twins' new stadium on Thursday, then made the following comments in a Star Tribune story published Friday:

"Sometimes I just walk around and look around and talk to the people," Hunter said. "Everyone is like, 'Don't leave.' It's pretty tough. Not just around the Metrodome but around downtown and all the different restaurants I go to. Nobody wants me to leave.

"But I might have to leave."

Hunter seems to be choosing his words carefully in order to avoid overtly admitting that he has no intention of returning to the Twins next year, but I don't think there's a whole lot of doubt that he is looking for the big payday in free agency. There's nothing wrong with that, but I wish he'd quit acting like it's the Twins' fault for failing to initiate negiotiations when I'd bet he never had any true desire to re-sign without seeing what he could make on the open market.

Losing Hunter, who has been the team's best hitter this year, is going to make Terry Ryan's task of improving the offense during the offseason exceedingly difficult. He had better find an answer in center field that doesn't include the words "Ford" or "Span."

* After putting together a phenomenal year at Triple-A, Kevin Slowey will start tomorrow night against the Indians. Another pitcher coming up from Rochester as a part of September call-ups is Nick Blackburn, who was our Prospect of the Month for June (when he went 5-0 with a 0.00 ERA). In total, Blackburn went 7-3 with a 2.11 ERA over 110 2/3 innings in Triple-A.

* I didn't catch it, but Terry Ryan apparently did a radio interview on KSTP yesterday, which you can read about here. During the interview, Ryan reportedly claimed that he would rather have an "RBI guy" than a "guy who can hit it over the fence." He later went on to say that when you look at the numbers, the biggest problem with Triple-A catching prospect Jose Morales is that he has no power. Not only is that a horrible contradiction, it is a point of view that makes no sense.

Morales is hitting .313 in Rochester this season with a .402 slugging percentage, which works out to an Isolated Slugging of .089. Joe Mauer's Isolated Slugging is .125 and Mike Redmond's is .060. In other words, none of the Twins' current catchers really have any power either. Yet, Mauer regularly hits in the No. 3 slot and Redmond batted sixth yesterday. Oh, and as for Chris Heintz? He's posted a .269 slugging percentage over 24 career major-league games.

Regardless of Morales' lack power, he has hit very well this season, as evidenced by the excellent batting average. Moreover, the Twins need to make a decision on him after this season because he is approaching his sixth year in the organization, which means that if they don't add him to the 40-man roster they will lose him. Letting a talented young catcher slip away for nothing in order to keep a guy like Heintz would be a horrible mistake, but considering what we've already seen happen with guys like Alex Romero and Alexander Smit this season, I wouldn't be too surprised if it happened.

I'm really starting to lose faith in the way this organization is being run.