- The newest Twin was introduced early Sunday morning
Joe Crede was introduced to Twins fans at a press conference yesterday. You can see video of it and his first workout with the team here. I think Crede will fit in nicely here in Minny, and even his old boss Ozzie Guillen agrees with me on that. He seems to like it here so far, although he’s still getting used to the idea of playing for the enemy. Let’s hope his back stays healthy, then maybe he’ll help win us one of these:
Or even better yet, one of these:
I know, I know, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I just can’t help it. The thought of having an everyday third baseman of Crede’s caliber is making me delirious with joy. Even if it is only for one season.
There’s no denying that Crede is a significant upgrade over the Twins’ current options at third. He’s a career .257/.306/.447 hitter who averages around 20 homers a season, which is a marked improvement over the 32 homers that 11 different players have combined to produce at the position since 2004. More importantly, Crede is no slouch on defense either. Although he did commit 20 errors in 97 games with the Sox last season, this is most likely because if his ailing back. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the best defensive third basemen in the league, with a lifetime ultimate zone rating of 48.5. And even though last season was one of the worst of his career, Crede still had a healthy 6.4 rating. The Twins had some of the worst infield defense in the league last year (just ask poor Nick Blackburn, who was charged with a league-worst 15 unearned runs) and even a less-than-100%-healthy Crede would likely provide better defense than Brendan Harris or Brian Buscher.
Even better, he’s not going to have to carry the offense all by himself. After all, that’s what Justin Morneau gets paid to do. Crede’s bat mostly provides insurance in case Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young fail to produce this season. I have to admit, though, it makes me giddy to think what the Twins’ offense will do if everybody starts hitting like they’re supposed to. They might even crack the 200-homer mark for once!
If nothing else, the Twins have probably done themselves a favor simply by keeping Crede off the market. He has teed off on Twins’ pitching during his time with the Sox, posting a career .330/.365/.656 and 7 home runs against the Twinkies. The worst of course, was that ugly series at the Cell in June last year, when it seemed like everything he hit was a three-run homer. Needless to say, I’m really glad he’s on our side for now.
- My hockey team is trying to give me a heart attack
Apparently the Wild have begun to realize that they have to win games if they want to make the playoffs. After laying the beat down on the Red Wings 5-2 on Saturday, they squeaked out a win against Chicago at United Center last night. It’s not as though they were particularly sharp, either. It’s more that Josh Harding was absolutely on fire, recording an incredible 44 saves. Some of which were the most amazing I’ve ever seen, including this beauty against Troy Brouwer:
Peter Olvecky had his first career goal, and it ended up being the game-winner, too:
This game was an absolute nail-biter. The Wild tried really hard to screw it up, but Josh Harding just kept bailing them out. I lost count of all the times they turned the puck over in the high slot, or even worse, right in front of the crease. If Harding hadn’t been at the top of his game they would have lost 7-2 and fallen completely out of the playoff picture. As of last night, they’ve moved into the eighth seed (there are six teams within a point of each other so standings are subject to change on a moment’s notice).
Now I suppose they’ll go on and lose 5-1 to the Kings at the X.
- The Wolves almost beat the Lakers, too
The Wolves were really feisty last night, and even had the lead for a little while. Ryan Gomes and Sebastian Telfair were solid, putting up 20 points each. Still, it wasn’t enough as they lost 111-108, but it’s good to see them play well against elite teams for a change. At least it gives me hope that our Wolfies might be a good basketball team again someday.
- Carlos Gomez is learning some plate discipline during winter ball
According to this article in today’s Pioneer Press, our Gomez is learning to be more patient at the plate. Apparently he’s drawn 10 walks in 21 games during his stint in the Dominican Winter League, which is a significant improvement considering he drew only 25 in 153 games with the Twins this season. Why, it seems like just yesterday he was chasing pitches a mile outside the strike zone. And swinging out of his shoes on top of it. While his .364 OBP is still less than ideal, it’s much better then the anemic .298 he posted last season. He still strikes out an average of once per game, though, which is the same rate he struck out last season so he hasn’t improved much there.
Go-Go is, and probably always will be, a free-swinger in the same mold as Vladimir Guerrero and our own Kirby Puckett. Puckett used to drive me crazy since he would swing at anything and everything whether it was anywhere near the zone or not, but he had such quick hands that he would make contact more often than not. Guerrero is the same way, but he has a lot of power and his strike zone is often described as “from his nose to his toes”. Gomez, on the other hand, simply hacks away without having much to show for it. He is so focused on swinging away and trying to come up with a big hit, that he can’t accurately judge the location of the pitch (or even what type of pitch it is). He’s been putting in a lot of work in winter ball, focusing on taking pitches and developing his eye at the plate. It will be interesting to see if all this work pays off.
Considering that our Gomez is only a kid (he just turned twenty-three) and it’s only his second full year in the major leagues, I think it’s much too early to give up on him yet. Clearly he still has a lot of growing up to do, and I think plate discipline will come with maturity. Even a slight improvement over last season’s numbers (.258/.296/.360 with 7 HRs) would be enough to leave him batting in the ninth spot. If he could double his number of walks, and cut his strikeouts in half, he might even be moved up to the leadoff spot (especially if Denard Span regresses). At any rate, his excellent fielding skills more than make up for his anemic offensive production (which makes it very difficult for Gardy to sit Go-Go when he’s struggling at the plate). Gomez’s speed also makes him an invaluable part of the lineup, as he is always a threat to steal whenever he does manage to get on base, and can often beat out groundballs (most of his 149 hits last season came from infield hits). If nothing else, his antics rattle opposing pitchers and make them more likely to make mistakes to the guys hitting behind him.
If he could just learn to hit, Gomez himself would make the Santana trade worthwhile.
- Owners Vote to End Coin Flip
Baseball owners have come to their senses and realized that the coin flip is a stupid way to determine home-field advantage for tie-breaking games. Instead, the rule will now be whoever wins the season series, as it should be. It wasn’t really fair that the Twins had to play the tie-breaking game against the Pale Hose at U. S. Cellular Field, since they had won the beaten them during the regular season 10 games to 8. Hopefully,this year the team will have a large enough division lead that they won’t have to worry about playing an extra playoff game.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the coin flip that cost the Twins the division title last year. No, it was the fact that they couldn’t manage to take 2 out of 3 from the lowly Royals in the series finale at the Dome. Francisco Liriano was awful in the first game, giving up 6 runs on 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings. This start highlighted one of the problems he’d had all year, the inability to get his breaking pitches over for strikes. The Royals hitters were clearly laying off of these and sitting on his fastball, which had neither the velocity nor the movement to be effective. Glen Perkins was also less than stellar, but he exited after 5 innings with a 2-1 lead. That Boof Bonser promptly threw away (note to Twins’ relief corps: if the team hands you a lead, no matter how small, it is your job to HANG ONTO IT!!!! If you can’t do that, then WHY ARE YOU EVEN IN BASEBALL???!!!). Staff ace Scott Baker was the only one who managed to beat the Royals, pitching a shutout over 7 innings, but it wasn’t enough since the Pale Hose also won and forced the tie-breaking game.
- More talk of the dreaded “c” word
After the Yankees’ recent half-a-billion dollar free agent shopping spree, many small-market owners are now calling for a salary cap in baseball. This is a terrible idea. First of all, the Yankees are not guaranteed a playoff spot, let alone another World Series ring, just because they brought in a bunch of expensive free agents. After all, it was the $43 million dollar Rays who won the AL East and contended for a World Series title last season. Secondly, the Yankees only spend so much because they have billions in revenue that they have earned through making very smart business decisions (the YES network, for example). Why should they be punished for that?
This whole argument that baseball needs a salary cap to create a more level playing field is a convenient excuse for the real reason: greed. Right now, baseball players are the only professional athletes in the U. S. who get their fair share of the revenue that the league earns. By instituting a salary cap, owners would get complete control over player’s salaries and would get to pocket whatever revenue is left over. Although it’s tough to sympathize with a bunch of millionaires, I have to admit that it isn’t fair for management to keep all of the extra earnings while the players have to take whatever they’re given.
To make matters worse, the salary cap wouldn’t necessarily make it any easier for small-market teams to retain their biggest stars. If anything, it would make it even more difficult since teams have to dump larger contracts to make room under the cap. Case in point: the Wild (in all likelihood) are about to lose two of their biggest stars, winger Marian Gaborik and goalie Niklas Backstrom, simply because they don’t have enough space under the cap to re-sign them. In order to clear space, the team would have to dump its biggest contracts: Mikko Koivu, Andrew Brunette, Nick Schultz, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Owen Nolan. All are huge contributors to the success of the team, and it really doesn’t make sense to dump any of them just to retain a single player. At least the Twins could, in theory, sign Joe Mauer to a 10-year, $200 million contract extension without having to trade Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan in the process.
- Baker, Liriano, Slowey, Perkins, & Blackburn, LLP
On a stop on the Twins’ winter caravan yesterday, manager Ron Gardenhire unveiled his projected starting rotation for 2009. Now, we all remember what happened the last time Gardy opened his mouth regarding next season’s starters. This time, however, there was little surprise and even less controversy. As it stands, barring any sort of trade, this season’s projected rotation is: Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, and Nick Blackburn. I have to say, I like this a lot. There’s a nice balance of lefties and righties, and the kids are all poised to improve on last season’s quality showing.
There is no question that Scott Baker deserves the #1 spot, as he is quickly emerging as the staff ace. Last season the hard-throwing righty finished 11-4, with a 3.47 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP, and led the team with 141 srikeouts. Baker probably would’ve won at least six more games if not for a lack of run support (he was on the wrong end of numerous 1-0 losses) and the leaky bullpen that forgot how to make outs. If he remains healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if he finishes the season with over 200 strikeouts and 20 wins.
Francisco Liriano was an enigma at the start of last season. He was coming off Tommy John surgery, and it was uncertain whether he would even be able to pitch again, let alone return to his previous dominating form. At first he was awful, going 0-3 with an 11.32 ERA, and it was painfully obvious that he just wasn’t ready to pitch in the major leagues. However, he seemed to find himself down in AAA, going 6-1 and posting a sparkling 2.47 ERA upon his return. Frankie still seems to struggle with his command a bit (he seems to have trouble getting his infamous slider over for strikes), and he needs more movement on his fastball, which has become very hittable. Otherwise, I expect he will eventually challenge Scott Baker for the top spot in the rotation.
Kevin Slowey, a soft-tossing righty similar to our beloved Brad Radke, gets the third spot. Slowey had a pretty good year last season, finishing 12-11 with a 3.99 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He’s definitely a control pitcher who doesn’t get a ton of strikeouts (well, except for this game), and does tend to give up the occasional long ball (22 to be exact). However, he doesn’t like to give up many walks, so batters will just have to earn their way on (probably by hitting home runs). Like the Giants’ Tim Lincecum, Slowey looks a lot more like a bat-boy than a big-league pitcher. Oh, and he has a blog.
The rotation is rounded out by Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn. Until the last few weeks of the season, Perk was having a banner year and was in the running for the Rookie of the Year award. Unfortunately, fatigue began to set in, and the Stillwater native struggled mightily, posting a bloated 7.45 ERA in the month of September. I do think Perk will rebound, though, and probably finish the season with at least 12 wins and an ERA around 3.30.
Nick Blackburn was a pleasant surprise in the rotation last year. He was a 26 year old rookie who was terrible in his few relief appearances in 2007, going 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA. It looked like he was destined to become a career minor-leaguer who simply lacked the confidence to pitch in the big leagues. But Blackburn was very good in his first full season, finishing with an 11-11 record and a 4.05 ERA, and he pitched an absolute gem in the biggest game of his career (well, aside from the one mistake to notorious Twin-killer Jim Thome). Like Carlos Silva, Blackburn is a contact pitcher who relies on his sinking fastball, so he tends to give up a lot of hits. Unlike Silva, however, Blackburn can actually make outs and is about $48 million cheaper.
The Twins are lucky in that they don’t have to worry about their starting rotation. Besides having five very talented youngsters (who will make a combined $2.5 million this season), they have pitching talent in the minors ready to take over a rotation spot if the need arises. Anthony Swarzak, Rob Delaney, and Kevin Mulvey could be called up should one of the kids suffer an injury or start to regress. Right now, though, the rotation looks pretty solid as it is.
Now, the bullpen is a completely different story…
I came across this article in the New York Times awhile back, and needless to say I was not surprised to find that watching sports can cause heart attacks. I know that watching the Twins nearly killed me many times last season. We started calling them the “Cardiac Kids”, given their penchant for making things much more exciting than they really needed to be. And although my heart may have survived all the stress, I have discovered some grey hair. And I’m not even 27 years old yet!
To say that last season was exciting is an understatement. I think only the 2006 season, in which the Twins made a late-season run to capture the division title, had more drama. This was a season in which absolutely nothing happened the way it was supposed to. The starting rotation, which was supposed to be the team’s biggest weakness, was actually one of it’s strengths. The bullpen, which was has been so reliable in recent history, fell apart down the stretch. The offense, which nobody expected to be very productive, scored 829 runs (3rd most in the AL) despite hitting a mere 111 home runs (dead last in the AL). It was a season in which no lead, no matter how big, was safe, and no deficit was too large to overcome. There were heartbreaking losses and thrilling come-from-behind wins. Not to mention the most amazing play any Twin has ever made.
And it all ended with one bad pitch.
Of course, Carlos Gomez was the main Cardiac Kid last season, causing me to make many trips to the fridge for more beer. You just never knew what this goofy kid was going to do. And I have to admit, Go-Go has grown on me, despite my better judgement. His hitting was very inconsistent, to say the least, and he has a tendency to swing for the fences at pitches way outside the strike zone. But I haven’t seen anyone cover more ground in center field than our dear Gomez. Seriously, he and Denard Span could probably patrol the outfield all by themselves. And there were all of the spectacular plays he made, as well as some spectacularly bad ones (like the one pictured. Ouch.)
Gomez also had a habit of annoying opposing pitchers with his threats to bunt and steal, hence the title of this blog. Oh, and there was that time he told Justin Verlander that his “mind was not good.” Um, that’s not really something you want to say to a guy whose fastball has been clocked at 100 mph.
Opening day is only a few short months away. I better start making sure I have enough beer in the fridge.
- Twins Content to Stand Pat While Division Rivals Improve
This offseason has been very frustrating for Twins fans. It has been very difficult to sit back and watch division rivals like the Indians make drastic moves to improve their ballclub, while ours does nothing. Cripes, even the Royals have tried to improve (tried being the operating word. I’m not sure if their moves are much of an improvement). And I’m sure White Sox GM Kenny Williams has something up his sleeve, he usually does. And, unlike last season, it’s not as if the Twins have a lot of holes to fill. They mostly need an upgrade at third and in the bullpen. And it’s been even more frustrating to see other clubs jump in and sign players that would be a perfect fit. The Twins have missed out on Jeremy Affeldt (who signed with the Giants and was apparently not even on their radar) and Koji Uehara for the bullpen, and Mark Derosa at third. Missing out on Derosa was even more frustrating because, not only did he go to the Indians, they didn’t have to give up much to get him. This was mostly a salary dump on the part of the Cubs to make room for Milton Bradley’s contract, and the Indians got him for a bargain.
I have been willing to give GM Bill Smith a pass for some of the boneheaded moves he made in the last offseason (his crop of free agents, the Delmon Young trade that was ill-advised from the beginning, etc.) since it was his first season as the Twins’ GM. And he does seem to have learned from some of these mistakes; he’s been adamant about hanging on to our young talent unless the deal is good enough and hasn’t been dumpster diving for free agents, yet. But the Indians got Derosa for nothing, and I’m sure that, much like the Cubs, the Mariners would love to get out from under Adrian Beltre’s contract (he does have that pesky no-trade clause that makes things a bit more difficult, though I’m sure he would waive it if the price was right. Oh, and his agent is satan himself). It just seems that Smith lacks the shrewdness of his predecessor Terry Ryan when it comes to making deals. Not everything Ryan did was brilliant, releasing David Ortiz is probably the biggest mistake he ever made, but he did have a penchant for ripping off other teams when it comes to trades (just ask the Giants).
Having said all that, I do think the Twins, even without making any major moves, could contend next season. Even with the Indians and the Royals making improvements (okay, maybe not the Royals), the division doesn’t look to be all that strong. Michael Cuddyer will most likely be healthy and provide the right-handed power bat the team is lacking. Scott Baker is starting to emerge as the staff ace, and Francisco Liriano is poised to have a big year. Rookie Jose Mijares was very impressive in his few relief appearances last year, and should compete for the set-up job. And I can live with the Brendan Harris/Brian Buscher platoon at third. But that’s just it, I’m sick of simply contending. We’ve been contending for the past 8 years! I want to make a deep run in the playoffs for once, and this team has enough young talent to make such a run. They just need a little help, that’s all.
- And Another Thing:
While I’m ranting, I have some things to say about my other favorite team: The Wild. In particular, my all-time favorite player, goaltender Niklas Backstrom. Backs has been having a great season, posting a .927 save %, 2.17 GAA, and 5 shutouts, as well as being named to the All-Star Game. So why am I upset? Because Backs is going to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and the Wild don’t seem too intent on resigning him. I realize the team doesn’t have much space under the salary cap and has much more pressing needs that must be addressed. Still, since when is having depth at goal such a bad thing?
To make matters worse, Backs keeps telling us how much he loves playing in Minnesota and has no desire to leave: “You can’t take it for granted, but we’re playing in front of a sellout
crowd every night that knows a lot about hockey. So for a hockey
player, it’s a dream”. Oh Backs, just stop it. Stop it right now. You are making me cry. This divorce would be much easier if you told us you hate Minnesota and would rather play anywhere else, especially Vancouver. Or you could pull a Gabby and miss the rest of the season with a mysterious “lower body injury”. Then we would be more than happy to let you go.
Oh well, At least we’ll still have Mikko Koivu.