Tagged: Niklas Backstrom

That’s Better (Sort of), Scotty

  • Scott Baker manages to not give any home runs, Twins lose anyway

PH2007083102132.jpgScott Baker, who has had a lot of trouble keeping the ball in the park in his first two starts, had what was his most successful start of the season against the Rays last night (though he still surrendered four runs on six hits).  Things got off to a rough start when he gave up two runs in the first (after he had retired the first two batters he faced).  But then he settled down and retired ten straight batters before running into trouble again in the fifth.  All in all, it wasn’t a terrible outing, as Baker struck out seven and walked only one, and his pitches had a lot more movement than in his previous starts, but in the end it just wasn’t good enough.  Baker’s recent struggles, coupled with the fact that his mechanics were so awful, led to some speculation that he might be hiding an injury (he didn’t want to go on the DL in the first place).  However, it seems as though his mechanics have been causing problems before his issues with shoulder stiffness (he gave up a league-leading nine homers during ST), and that perhaps these mechanical issues were what led to his shoulder issues in the first place. 

Although the young pitching staff has had its share of struggles early on, it isn’t the starting pitching that concerns me.  While all five of them might not exactly be Cy Young winners, they are a lot better than their overall records would indicate.  However, the offense, or lack of it, is something to be concerned about. The Twins struggled to do much of anything against Jeff Niemann, who for his part, wasn’t all that impressive.  They had runners on base with less than two outs in each of the first three innings, and yet each time failed to drive in a single run.  Which wouldn’t be so bad, but this has really been a problem for the lineup (well, at least for the hitters not named Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel, anyway). 

Even though Morneau and Kubel both struck out swinging against Niemann with RISP, it’scuddyer.jpg difficult to get too frustrated with them since both have been essentially carrying the offense.  Actually, all of the left-handed hitters in the lineup (and switch-hitter Jose Morales) have been hitting pretty well.  The righy bats, however, are a much different story.  Outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gomez are struggling, with Cuddy batting a miserable .208/.275/.306 and Go-Go an anemic .195/.250/.293.  Delmon Young has been a bit more successful, batting .255/.296/.333, but his focus on trying to pull the ball more has led to a lot more double-plays.  The crowded outfield situation might be part of the problem, since only Cuddyer has seen much regular playing time (though he hasn’t exactly benefited from it).  All of this depth in the outfield was supposed to be one of the team’s major strengths this season, but except for Denard Span, none of them have been very productive at the plate, and two of them are mediocre defensively at best.

While Joe Crede has only twelve hits in 66 plate appearances, half of those have been for extra bases and three have been home runs.  Crede was always more of a power hitter with the White Sox and never really hit for average, so it will be interesting to see if his career numbers hold up outside of U.S. Cellular field.  Right now, the Twins are 9-11 and in fourth place in the AL Central.  While it is still very early in the season, the Twins should be concerned about the lack of production from all of the right-handed hitters in the lineup.  They may be blessed with four very good left-handed hitters (Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Span), but these four can’t carry the offense by themselves.  For now, with such huge holes in the lineup and no major moves in the works, a fourth-place finish looks to be about right.

  • You can’t spell V-E-Z-I-N-A without B-A-C-K-S-, dang it

Thumbnail image for backs_sho_oil.jpgOn a non-baseball related note Niklas Backstrom, Boston’s Tim Thomas, and Columbus’ Steve Mason are all finalists for the Vezina trophy.  While none are certainly terrible choices, they are a bit controversial since they do play for teams that implement a defense-oriented system (allegedly, more on that in a minute).  Oh, I know there are some people who would disagree with me on this, but when you look into the numbers and examine the season in general, Backs is really the most deserving of the three.

While it’s true that Mason and Thomas have both had very good years, and that both have led their teams to the Stanley Cup playoffs, Backs is the only goaltender who has ranked consistently in the top five in GAA, save percentage, wins, and shutouts all season.  And while he plays for a team that supposedly plays stifling defense, that certainly wasn’t the case this season.  Niklas Backstrom faced 2,059 shots this year, second only to Calgary’s Miikka Kiprussoff (who saw 2,155), and yet he still put up a stellar 2.33 GAA and .923 save percentage.  Considering all of the horrible defensive plays made in front of him on a regular basis, and the overall lack of offensive support (the Wild finished near the bottom of the league in goals scored), Backs had to perform a miracle almost every single night.  And considering that his mediocre team wasn’t officially eliminated from playoff contention until after the second-to-last game of the season, it’s clear that Backs has been more valuable to his team than any other goaltender in the league.

And he did all that while playing with an injured left hip. But I guess if that isn’t convincing enough, maybe this is:

Advertisements

It Was a Good Day for Minnesota

Something very rare happened yesterday:  every Minnesota team that played a game actually won.  This pretty much never happens.  There isn’t a great deal of overlap between the schedules for all of our major sports franchises anyway, and the results are rarely so favorable when they do.  Usually one team wins while the rest of them lose.  Or, most likely, all of them end up losing.

  • Twins beat Cardinals, 5-3

Thumbnail image for xIWBYjDe.jpgKevin Slowey continued his bid to be a dark horse candidate for the 2009 AL Cy Young, giving up two runs on eight hits in six innings.  He also recorded five strikeouts, including a big one against Albert Pujols with the bases loaded.  The only runs he gave up came off of a two-run homer by Rick Ankiel, and as I’ve mentioned before, he does have a tendency to give up the long ball.  Jesse Crain also bounced back from his awful appearance against the Reds, in which he gave up four runs on six hits in one inning, by pitching a scoreless eighth.  Jose Mijares was the only Minnesota pitcher who really struggled on the mound, nearly giving the game away in the ninth.  He gave up one run on three hits, and had runners on second and third with one out before getting the next two batters to ground out.

The good news for Cardinals fans is that Chris Carpenter looked really good for the most part.  He did give up four runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings, which isn’t as bad as it sounds when you consider that he also struck out seven batters.  Trever Miller and Chris Perez also pitched well, which is very good news for a team whose bullpen had its own share of struggles last year.

By the way, Twins’ infield prospect Chris Cates made his Spring Training debut in the later innings, too.  This is only kind of interesting because, at 5′ 3″, Cates is the shortest player at any level of major league baseball (he’s actually just slightly taller than I am).  He looks like a little kid:

cates_beloit.jpgI think even the bat boys are taller than he is!

The Twins also have the tallest prospect in their system too, the 7′ 1″ right-handed pitcher Loek van Mil.  And yes, the two were teammates last year for the Beloit Snappers.

  • Wild beat Oilers, 3-2

Thumbnail image for backs_sho_oil.jpgAnother game that is essentially meaningless, as the Wild are not going to make the playoffs.  By beating Edmonton at Rexall Place last night though, they at least helped to ensure that the Oilers won’t make it, either.  It was also really good to see Mikko Koivu back on the ice after sustaining a serious knee injury the last time they beat the Oil.

Actually, Niklas Backstrom is the only reason the Wild even won this game.  They still turn over the puck way too much, and if Backs hadn’t been so sharp the Oil would’ve made them pay for all of their careless mistakes (much like the Flames did on Saturday).  The Wild could still theoretically make the playoffs if they win every single one of their next six games.  This is simply too much to ask for a team that hasn’t won two in a row in over a month, and hasn’t won three in a row since Thanksgiving.  Considering that the Wild also have the Flames and the Stars on the schedule (two teams they have struggled to do much against the entire year) I think it’s pretty safe to say that the season is almost over with now.

But hey, at least Bemidji State is having a pretty good run in the NCAA tournament.  The Beavers upset heavily-favored Notre Dame on Saturday, and stunned Cornell last night on their way to their first Frozen Four appearance in school history.  I’ve written before that I started following college hockey when the North Stars were shipped out of town.  And while my beloved Golden Gophers failed to even make the tournament this year, it is good to see at least one of our hockey teams in the playoffs.

  • Timberwolves finally win a game!

Yeah, they beat the Nets.  But a victory is a victory for a team that has only had twenty-one of them this year.  I thought the Wolves were at least going to surpass last year’s grand total of 22 wins, but with only eight games left on the schedule, I’m not so sure.  Sadly, if the Wolves were in the Eastern Conference, they would probably have a decent chance at making the playoffs this year.

By the way, I have now updated my blogroll.  I added three new MLBlogs that I like a lot, as well as a couple of Twins pro blogs.   If you haven’t yet, please check out Plouffe!, written by Twins infield prospect (and guitar player) Trevor Plouffe.  He’s got some great stuff on there about his former roommate Delmon Young, and some cute pictures too!

(Not) World Effing Champions

  • Team USA poops the proverbial bed

usa_sucks.jpgWell, things got off to a good start for the Americans.  Brian Roberts hit a leadoff home run against Daisuke Matsuzaka.  And then things kind of went downhill from there.  The Japanese would score nine runs, only five of which were actually earned.  Team USA’s defense was atrocious.  Officially the Americans committed three errors, but unofficially it was probably closer to five or six.  Obviously they didn’t want the Venezuelan record of five errors in a WBC game to stand (those commie ********!) and were trying their hardest to set a new standard in horrible defense.  Either that or they simply forgot that this was a single-elimination game.

Japan now gets to defend its WBC title against Korea tonight.  It’s kind of disappointing that the US didn’t make it to the finals, but this should be a very good game.  These two teams are powerhouses of Asian baseball, sort of like the Yankees and the Red Sox of the far east.  I don’t have a particular favorite to win it all, but I guess I’ll root for the defending champs.  Which of course means that Korea is going to win.  I mean, look at my track record so far.
 

  • Twins beat Toronto, 11-6

morneau-06b.jpgThe offense finally decided to score some runs in yesterday’s game against the Blue Jays.  Justin Morneau had a three-run homer, his first big blast of the season. Morny had a very good day at the plate, going 2-for-2 with a walk (apparently Morny has been taking Harmon Killebrew’s batting advice).  Actually, pretty much everybody had a good day at the plate, since Jays’ starter Matt Clement wasn’t very effective.  The Twins knocked the righty out after 4 1/3 innings, pounding him for nine runs on six hits.

Our own Scott Baker wasn’t particularly sharp either, giving up four earned runs on nine hits in 4 2/3 innings.  He didn’t give up any homers though (for once), and recorded five strikeouts and no walks.  Jose Mijares continued to struggle, giving up two earned runs in 2/3 of an inning, and also injured his ankle while trying to cover first.  It’s looking more likely that the lefty is going to spend the season in Rochester (although Gardy is stubbornly insisting they can turn him around before the team heads north in two weeks).  This might give Brian Duensing an opportunity to make the team if the Twins decide they need another lefty in the ‘pen.  Duensing has been a starter his entire career, and did struggle a bit early in the season while in Rochester last year, but has looked really good in his relief appearances during spring training.  At least he can get hitters out, anyway. 

  • Wild shutout Oil at the X

backs_sho_oil.jpgOwen Nolan scored a couple of goals, the Oil scored on themselves, and Niklas Backstrom made himself worth every penny of his four year, $24 million contract extension in one of the closest games the Wild have played all season.  They got off to kind of a slow start in the first, though they weren’t helped by some awful officiating.  Mikko Koivu got called for a phantom interference penalty on Ales Hemske (that was a beautiful piece of diving), and Dan Fritsche got called for boarding when he barely touched Ladislav Smid. I don’t normally complain about officiating, but this was ridiculous.  Luckily the penalty-killers (and Backs!) stepped up to prevent any sort of ill-gotten gains by the Oilers.

Marian Gaborik made his triumphant return to the ice after having surgery on his hip.  Though he didn’t score any goals, it was just really good to see him out there again.  Unfortunately, captain Mikko Koivu suffered a knee injury when he was pulled down by Ales Kolatik and will be out the rest of the week.  He might even miss the rest of the season, which means the Wild might as well forget about playing hockey past April.  Come on, Mikko.  Just rub some dirt on it and you’ll be fine. 

  • Schadenfreude

If you think Vancouver sucks, clap your hands
If you think Vancouver sucks, clap your hands
If you think Vancouver sucks and they’ll never win the Cup
If you think Vancouver sucks, clap your hands

I really shouldn’t mock the Canucks for this hilarious piece of epic fail.  They are a lock to make the playoffs after all, and my Mild Wild will be lucky if they manage to sneak in as the eighth seed (although beating the Oil certainly helps).  But there is nothing quite as satisfying as watching a hated rival do something so ridiculously dumb.  Especially when your own team has been doing so many ridiculously dumb things as of late.

Let the Panicking Commence

  • Alex Rodriguez may or may not have surgery on his hip

alex-rodriguez-picture-1.jpgWhile it was first reported that A-Rod was going to have surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip, the Yankees are now going to try rest and rehab in an effort to save his season.  The media and fans are now in a frenzy over the news, and have been hyperventilating over the moves the organization needs to make to ensure the team doesn’t fall out of playoff contention by the end of May (seriously, ESPN must’ve spent at least 20 minutes this morning analyzing every potential trade Brian Cashman could make).  I am not here to mock these people for overreacting a bit, though.  Not after I nearly had a heart attack when I read that Joe Mauer suffered a “slight setback” during his rehab (what do you mean ‘slight setback?!  He IS going to be ready by Opening Day, RIGHT?!?!?!)  No, I am here to provide an objective analysis of the situation and whether it is in the best interests of the organization to make any drastic moves at this point.

First of all, there is the issue as to whether or not the Yankees are doing the right thing by delaying the surgery.  There seems to be little debate that he’s going to need surgery on his hip eventually, but it is possible that he might be able to put it off until the offseason.  If A-Rod had the surgery now, he would probably need at least four months to recover.  Which means he probably wouldn’t be back until at least the end of May, and would more likely be out until early June.  It’s also very likely that A-Rod would need at least a few weeks to get his swing back, so he probably wouldn’t be back to 100% until the end of June, possibly early July.   It’s not likely that the Yankees would be out of contention at this point (I mean, look at that starting rotation.  And they do have Tex, though he does tend to be a bit of a slow starter), but this is the AL East and it’s not wise to allow the competition to gain any sort of ground if you intend to make the playoffs.

So, that means the Yankees and Rodriguez are doing the right thing by putting off themike_lowell.jpg surgery, right?  Well, not necessarily.  This is a similar injury to what Mike Lowell and Chase Utley suffered through last season.  While it didn’t slow Utley down much, it did affect Lowell.  He was limited to 113 games last season, and hit a miserable .225/.286/.357 during the second half when his hip started really bothering him.   Since A-Rod is much closer in age to Lowell than Utley, it is likely that he will have the same results: a sharp decline in his hitting as the injury starts to bother him.  So this is what A-Rod and the Yankees need to ask themselves:  is it better to have the surgery now and hope he recovers in time to help the team make the playoffs? Or should they wait for the offseason and hope his hip doesn’t bother him enough to affect his hitting?

10-mlb-rookies-kevin-kouzmanoff-400a051407.jpgEither way, the Yankees aren’t exactly sunk even if they do end up with a less productive A-Rod.  They do have that nasty starting rotation, after all.  It’s going to be very difficult for opposing teams to score more than a run or two against Sabathia, Burnett, and Chamberlain (I know he’s had some struggles recently, but it’s just spring training.  He’s going to be his filthy self once the season starts).  And there is the big offseason acquisition of Mark Teixeira, who did provide a necessary boost to the Angels’ offense last season (this is why they’re projected to only win 79 games this year).  There are also, of course, some options available via trade should the Yankees find themselves slipping near the deadline.  Garrett Atkins and Kevin Kouzmanoff would be good additions, though neither one is even close to being the great all-around player A-Rod is.  Atkins would likely be the most costly, as I imagine Colorado would probably want Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, plus another prospect or two.  Kouzmanoff might come more cheaply, but he has some serious issues when it comes to defense.  To his credit, he knows he needs to improve and has been working hard on it, but that’s not the kind of thing impatient Yankee fans want to hear.  Otherwise, Mark Grudzielanek is still on the market, but he’s hardly the offensive threat the lineup is going to need should A-Rod end up missing part of the season (they might as well stick with Angel Berroa and Cody Ransom).    

And of course, Corey Koskie might be available.

  • Twins defeat Netherlanzzzzzz…..

This game was a snoozefest.  It’s really only worth mentioning because Kevin Slowey was once again perfect in his three innings of work.  Actually, no Twins pitcher allowed a single hit until the eighth inning. Apparently the Dutch aren’t exactly known for their offensive prowess. Still, Slowey is my favorite pitcher on the staff and I like to see him baffle hitters with his 45 90-mph fastball right on the outside corner.

  • The Wild ignore my advice and do nothing at the trade deadline

niklas_backstrom.jpgWell, they did do one thing.  They worked out a contract extension for their All-Star goaltender (and my favorite player).  At four years and $24 million, Niklas Backstrom is hardly a bargain (I believe he is now the fourth highest-paid goalie in the league), and the Wild could probably have gotten him cheaper if they worked out a deal last summer instead of waiting
until he got so close to free agency.   But who cares (well I care, there’s now significantly less space under the cap.  And what good is it to have a great goaltender if your offense and defense can’t back him up)?!  Backs is here to stay, and nobody could be happier about it than me.  Unless, of course, he ends up being another Manny Fernandez.

Unfortunately this is probably spells the end of Josh Harding’s tenure in Minnesota.  He’s going to be a valuable trade piece (though probably not as valuable this summer as if they had moved him at the deadline) and he really deserves a chance to start somewhere.  At least he, and I, will always have our memories:

Whether or not the failure to move players set to become UFAs this summer, such as Stephane Veilleux and Marc-Andre Bergeron, will come back to haunt them is another matter.  The Wild are unlikely to keep either one, and could really have used the draft picks the two would have fetched in return.   GM Doug Risebrough is still stubbornly clinging to the idea that the Wild are playoff contenders (they’re not, I don’t care what the standings say), and that the return of Marian Gaborik is all the team needs to make a run for the Cup.  This team is in the middle of a free-fall (they’ve lost their last four games and are threatening to lose to the Sharks tonight) and it will be far too late for Gaby to help by the time he comes back.

Oh well, at least the Twins will (probably) be good this year.  I hope.

No Baseball Today

The Twins are off today, and will play an exhibition game against Puerto Rico at Hammond Stadium tomorrow afternoon.  Most of the regular players have already departed for the WBC:  Jesse Crain, Nick Punto, and of course Justin Morneau, so it will be interesting to see how the team does without them.  I do like the way the team looks so far, even though it’s still too early to tell if they’re going to be any good or not.  The pitching looks good for the most part (I know better than to think the likes of Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn are going to be Cy Young winners, but they look to be solid back-of-the-rotation starters).  Delmon Young has been a hitting machine lately, though he hasn’t shown much power yet.  Denard Span has been demonstrating good plate discipline, though he doesn’t have much to show for it yet.  I’m a little concerned with the lack of offensive production from some of the regulars, but I think that will come.   At least I hope it will. 

Here are some other things that have been weighing heavily on my mind lately:

  • Stop dumping on the Royals, people!  They’re good!

brian_bannister.jpgI am not a crackpot.  And no, this has nothing to do with the way they destroyed my Twins’ playoff hopes last year.  The Royals have been improving for some time, but nobody notices it because, well, they’re the Royals.  It’s a lot easier to make fun of them and their perennial cellar-dweller status than it is to seriously analyze their roster.  Yes, some of the moves they’ve made look questionable now (Mike Jacobs for Leo Nunez, Coco Crisp for Ramon Ramirez) but I seem to recall people saying the same thing when they traded Ambiorix Burgos for Brian Bannister.  Bannister has yet to live up to his potential, but at least he’s not a psychopath.

The Royals have some very good pitching. I don’t mean just in the bullpen, everyone knowsfantasy_g_jsoria_200.jpg how good Joakim Soria is.  I mean the starting rotation, too. Zach Greinke and Gil Meche provide a great 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, probably one of the best in the division.  The talent level drops off from there, but not as significantly as everyone thinks. We’ve probably seen the best Brian Bannister has to offer, but he’s a decent enough back-of-the-rotation starter.  Luke Hochevar is probably one of the best young pitchers you’ve never heard of, even though he had a disappointing season last year with an ERA+ of 77 and a WHIP of 1.47.   And with the signing of Juan Cruz, there’s a possibility that Soria might be converted to a starter.

Kansas City has struggled mightily with a lack of offensive production and mediocre defense.   Last season, the Royals scored a mere 691 runs (although they did hit more homers than the Twins.  Nine more to be exact), which was barely better than Washington and Seattle.  Their team OBP was an uninspiring .320, and the SLG was an anemic .397.  Laugh all you want, but I think the addition of Jacobs and Crisp will help them shore up these weaknesses.  Jacobs does have power as he’s a career .262/.318/.498 hitter, with 80 homers in his four seasons with the Marlins. Yes, he played in hitter-friendly Dolphin Stadium, but he isn’t significantly better at home than on the road.  Crisp doesn’t have a ton of power, but he gets on base a lot and provides the base-stealing ability Kansas City has been lacking.

mike_aviles.jpgDefense looks like it’s going to continue to be a problem for the Royals, though.  Kansas City struggled defensively last season, in which they committed 96 errors and had a mediocre UZR of 7.1 (in comparison, the AL-best Rays were a 74.3).   New acquisitions Jacobs and Crisp aren’t exactly known for their skills in the field, but manager Trey Hillman has been working hard to get the team to improve.  Hopefully it will pay off.

Still think I’m crazy because I think the Royals could be a serious threat?  Well then consider this:  the Royals have posted a better record in each of the past three seasons. In 2006, they finished a miserable 62-100.  The next year they were a little better, ending the seson with a 69-93 record.  Last season was their best yet, when they finished 75-87 and weren’t even last in the division (that, ladies and gentlemen, was the Detroit Tigers.  The same Tigers who were favored to win the World Series before the season started. Oops).  This doesn’t mean that the Royals have actually gotten better in the past three years; the AL Central was really weak last season after all.  Still you should underestimate Kansas City at your own risk.

  • Trade him, you dope

Gaborik.jpgThe NHL trade deadline passes this Wednesday.  It’s a lot like the trade deadline for every other professional sport in this country:  lots of hype, lots of speculation, lots of excitement, but very little action.  The Wild don’t usually make a big splash (last year’s major acquisition was Chris Simon)  but to stand pat this year would be a huge mistake.  Their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread, and the team as it is constructed right now has little chance to make it past the first round even if they do manage to sneak in.  Worse yet, they don’t have much help waiting in the minors, since they have traded away most of their draft picks to acquire the likes of Marek Zidlicky.

So what should they do?  Well, as painful as it is to admit, they should consider themselves sellers.  GM Doug Risebrough has been reluctant to trade the team’s biggest assets, but that is indeed what he needs to do. Risebrough has been talking instead like he intends to stand pat, and that he thinks returning left wing Marian Gaborik will be the catalyst for the team’sho_AAHY025_16x20~Niklas-Backstrom-Posters.jpg playoff run.  This is a mistake.  Other than Gaborik and All-Star goaltender Niklas Backstrom, the team doesn’t have much in valuable trade assets. And both have considerable downside at that. Backstrom likely won’t fetch much, since the teams that need reliable goaltending (Detroit) don’t have enough cap space to get him. Some GMs are also reluctant to trade for him, since they believe the stifling defense in front of him makes Backs look better than he actually is. That leaves us with Gaby, and the Wild really do need to trade him.  He won’t bring back much of a haul given his injury history (and he is just coming off hip surgery that has sidelined him the past three months), but it’s better than the zilch they will receive when he walks.  That’s right, when he walks.  The team was unable to sign him to an extension before the season started, and the talks reportedly got rather acrimonious.  He isn’t coming back, and its best to move him now for whatever they can get (the NHL does not require compensatory draft picks for signing FAs, so the Wild would lose him without getting anything in return).

I have to admit that I’m going to miss Gaby, though.  I know he’s been injured more than he’s been healthy, and the Wild don’t really need his contract taking up so much cap space since he’s such a huge injury risk.  But without him the team’s leading scorer is Owen Nolan, who has 17 goals so far this season.  Which is considerably less than the 30-40 that a healthy (there’s that word again) Gaby would provide.  I mean, just look at what he can do when he’s on his game:

Otherwise, the only other somewhat-valuable trade pieces are defensemen Martin Skoula and Marc-Andre Bergeron,and left wing Stephan
e Veilleux. Veilleux mostly plays on the checking line and is hardly an elite player, but he’s always been a hard worker and a great teammate.  His job has essentially been taken by rookie Cal Clutterbuck, and the FO doesn’t seem too interested in keeping him.  Bergeron is a solid defenseman who handles the puck well, but there won’t be much room for him once Kurtis Foster returns.   Skoula is also a decent defenseman, though he gets a bad rap because he occasionally does things like this:

Oh, Skoula. You are the Nick Punto of Wild hockey.  Anyway, none of these three would bring back much more than draft picks in return, but for a team whose farm system is so depleted that would be good enough.

Things That Keep Me From Sleeping at Night

  • 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 V4PAlwDq.jpgand 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). 

p1franciscolirianosi.jpgHaving 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:

Thumbnail image for ho_AAHY025_16x20~Niklas-Backstrom-Posters.jpgWhile 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.