Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Greetings

So 2011 was pretty crappy for Minnesota sports fans. The Twins narrowly missed losing 100 games, the Vikings could still be close the being the worst team in the NFL, the football Gophers...ugh, the Timberwolves are what they are -- it's all enough to make fans cry. The only real bright spot was the Minnesota Lynx, but unfortunately for me, I don't really like basketball so I didn't really enjoy the victory. The Wild are pretty interesting this season and it would be fun if they could be legitimate contenders. Issues with the Metrodome roof causing TwinsFest to be relocated and discord with the NFL and NBA and their players' unions were also among the frustrations.

But the sports story of year has to be the injuries...the debilitating injuries for all the teams.

I wish I could eliminate all the awful, ugly, unlucky 2011 gremlins.

So here's hoping that 2012 provides Minnesota fans with much more entertainment and Minnesota athletes with much more good health.

Also, I'd like to wish all my readers a great new year, in sports fandom and all other aspects of life. I truly appreciate all of you who stop by this silly little blog and would be thrilled if you keep coming back in 2012. Thanks for hanging with me.

May your best of 2011 be your worst of 2012.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quick Notes: Dec. 26

I hope everyone had a great holiday and you all were fantabulously spoiled. I was.

Goodbye Kuuuuuubes
Jason Kubel signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was a strange signing for them because they already have a ton of outfielders and they don't need a DH. Perhaps they are hoping to trade one of the other ones or something.

I always admired and respected Kubes, and I appreciated his contributions, but I regret that I never really grew to love him like I did for some of the other Twins players. Maybe because he was so quiet and, well, bland. Maybe because he always looked like he was sneering. Who knows? And, no matter.

My favorite moment has to be his come-from-behind, go-ahead grand slam off Mariano Rivera to beat the Yankees.

The Twins will receive a sandwich round draft pick as compensation.

I sincerely wish him the best of luck in Arizona and I hope he wins over lots of great fans.

Marquis Signing
...but not so much of a "marquee" signing. (Bad pun. And not at all original. Sorry.)

The Twins have signed RHP Jason Marquis to a one-year deal. He's kind of an average pitcher who's spent his entire career in the National League (which generally features weaker hitting than the American League).

This is the actual conversation I had with my son:
Me: "The Twins have signed right-handed pitcher ..... (expecting him to guess someone)
mini-bro: "Oooh. Um. I don't know. Who?"
Me: "Jason Marquis"
mini-bro: "Why did you get my hopes up like that?"
Ok, he's probably not all that bad. His numbers and pitching style is much like Nick Blackburn's. Which will be just fine if both of them can put together more than 4 great starts in a row.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Quick Notes: Dec 18

Welcome Josh!
In my angst about losing Michael Cuddyer, I forgot to properly welcome free agent OF Josh Willingham, formerly of the Oakland A's. His numbers are very similar the Cuddyer's, with maybe a smidge more power. And according to some of the California writers, he's a stand up guy.

Unless things change, Willingham is expected to play right field. He doesn't have much experience playing right. That may become a factor if baserunners entertain notions on taking an extra base, as his throwing arm isn't as strong as Cuddyer's.

And, now I'll make every effort to never compare Willingham to Cuddyer again. Cuddy has some very big shoes to fill, but Josh has his own shoes. I remember that Josh hit a monster home run in Target Field that went just to the right of the Budweiser Party Deck. I'm hoping for more of that.

More Minor League Signings
These with invitations to spring training.

The Twins have signed IF Sean Burroughs, RHP J.P. Walters, C J.R. Towles, 1B/3B Steve Pearce, LHP Aaron Thompson, and re-signed C Rene Rivera. 

That seems like a lot of catchers -- Mauer, Doumit, Butera, Towles, and Rivera. However, considering how weak the position was in 2011, there's no such thing as too much of a good thing.

Bill's Back
Former General Manager Bill Smith has accepted a position in the Twins organization as an assistant to the president and to the general manager. He'll oversee the relationship with the minor league affiliates, player development in Dominican Republic and Venezuela, and the renovations of the spring training facility in Fort Myers.

I'm happy to hear that he'll stay with the Twins. Even though he was probably a lousy general manager, he seemed like a pretty good guy. It would have been a bummer if he had no livelihood.

Remember That Catch?
You know the one...Ben Revere's catch? Well, apparently a lot of other baseball fans remember it too, because Ben Revere won a GIBBY (Greatness In BaseBall Yearly) award for Play Of The Year. The GIBBY awards are voted on by fans, media, MLB front office personnel, and MLB alumni.

Congrats, Ben!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Why I Should Be Bummed Out About This Whole Michael Cuddyer Thing

... or, Grief After Losing My Baseball Boyfriend

If you spend any time at all watching, listening to, reading about, writing about, or talking about baseball, it's because you love the game. Otherwise you wouldn't bother investing your time and efforts. And, if you love the game, there's something associated with it that on some unknown level makes you love it more each time you experience it.

Some fans enjoy looking up and figuring out stats and comparing players and situations and such. Some fans enjoy well-executed aspects of the play itself -- a nice curveball or slick double-play. Some fans love a winning team.

I love all those things too. However, as is true with many fans, my imagination has truly been captured by a few individual players -- most significantly by Michael Cuddyer.

I tend to really like most of the players on the Twins, but every once in a while a player is just a bit more likable than the rest. And I usually don't know exactly why that is.

I first noticed my fascination with Cuddy in 2002 when he was in that up and down between the majors and AAA stage. I could never explain it, but I always just rooted for him and I was always a sad when he got sent back down.

Of course, as the years went on, I liked him more and more. I grew to appreciate his poise, personality, and play -- especially that cannon of a right arm. Oh, and the dimples were pretty easy to like too. I always enjoyed reading stories about his magic tricks, how he volunteered his time and efforts to the community, and how during the last few spring trainings he bought the whole team t-shirts with inspirational sayings. His clubhouse leadership may not have helped the team in 2011, but at least he tried.

I especially loved how he treated fans at events such as Unplugged and TwinsFest. He was a prince to my mom and me for a photo opportunity.

In addition to being a good person, he is also a good baseball player and a fun one to watch. And the game could certainly use more players who share his team-first attitude and his willingness to play wherever needed.

These sorts of "intangibles" (as the media like to say) may or may not help a team win, but they do a lot toward enriching the fan experience. In fact, I'd argue that that kind of goodwill is a necessary component to retaining a fan base. People like to genuinely like the players they're rooting for, and they have every right to feel a bit punched in the gut when their favorite guys move on.

Logically, I understand that his leaving may be best for the Twins, considering the amount of money he's receiving from the Rockies and the draft picks the Twins will get in return. And I'm glad the Twins already procured his replacement in Josh Willingham, who, by all accounts, is Cuddyer's statistical equal (well, except for his arm). I will definitely give Willingham every chance to win me over, but he'll never be Michael Cuddyer.

None of this is to say that I'm angry that Cuddy left. I'm not. He's more than earned the right to make the decisions regarding his career. I truly wish him the best in Colorado, and I'll always root for him.

Being a fan of Michael Cuddyer made me love baseball more than I already would have, and I'm really going to miss that.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Quick Notes: Dec. 11

Hi. It's been a while. Sorry.

The winter meetings are now over, and while some other teams made some big splashes, the Twins also made a couple quiet moves.

Twins Catch a Florimon
The Twins claimed shortstop Pedro Florimon Jr. from the Baltimore Orioles. He'll likely be assigned to Rochester, but he is on the 40-man roster. And, yes, his name totally makes me think of Pokemon.

Slow-ride Out of Town
The relationship between Kevin Slowey and the Twins was quite rocky in 2011, so the Twins ended it by trading him to the Rockies, initially for a player to be named later. Ultimately, the Twins received RHP Daniel Turpin.

It's hard to fully understand what caused the rift between Slowey and the organization. A few media members have expressed their disdain for Slowey, but I can't believe that it's 100% his fault. Phil Mackey of 1500ESPN has a well-written, balanced article that explains the decline on both sides.

Turpin has been assigned to Rochester.

The Twins re-signed closer Matt Capps on a one-year deal with an option year. If Capps signed with another team, the Twins would have received a draft pick, but the Twins really wanted him, and they got him.

I wish I could have the guts to say that I'm unhappy about this. However, I believe that disliking players on my team is bad luck. And, since, as it usually is true with closers, as he goes so goes the team, so I'll just shut up about it and wish him all the best. find a way to scrub the memory of all those blown saves in 2011...

Twins Select What's-his-name in the Rule 5 Draft
The Twins selected RHP Terry Doyle from the Chicago White Sox. Doyle's given first name is John, and that's the name the reporters first used on Twitter when the selection happened, so there was a bit of confusion of who the Twins actually got.

As with any Rule 5 draftee, he must make the 25-man roster for the entire season, or he must be returned to his original team or a trade must be made.

Hearty Congratulations Times Two!
Michael Cuddyer and his wife Claudia recently delivered twin girls. Here's the picture he posted on Twitter.

Joe Mauer is officially engaged to his girlfriend Maddie Bisanz.

Best wishes to all of them!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Terry Ryan Fan Forum Conference Call Recap

On Thursday evening, the Twins invited season ticket holders, group organizers, and on-deck circle members to listen in on a conference call with Terry Ryan. They did the same thing with Bill Smith and Dave St. Peter not too long ago, but it was great that we got to hear from the new (old) GM. There were more than 3000 fans listening in, and the vast majority of the callers who got through to ask a question told Mr. Ryan they were glad he was back.

This time I was prepared and took some notes; however, my note taking is pretty slow, so I paraphrased the whole thing. Also LaVelle Neil of the StarTribune has a nice recap.

Dick Bremer, who moderated the call, started off with the first question: what is the immediate priority?
Getting the players healthy is the first priority, talking to the departing free agents, preparing for the upcoming Winter Meetings in Dallas, and taking care of the minor league affiliates.

I'm not sure what "taking care of the minor league affiliates" means. Perhaps there are still some staffing decisions that need to be made. He probably meant that he has to fill out their rosters as well.

He couldn't talk specifics because that's against major league rules, but the Twins are in discussions with Cuddyer's agent.

Keep talking with Cuddy, Mr. Ryan. Keep talking until he comes back.

Cubs indicated that they might shop Matt Garza -- any interest?
He hears all the same rumors that fans do. However, Theo denied they're shopping Garza.

I that was his way of changing the subject. The Twins are clearly not interested.

What will be done about the training and medical staff?
He's had lengthy discussions with everyone on the training, conditioning, and medical staffs, and he said a lot of things can be easily corrected. More communication will help. The players need to do more. The training and medical staff can learn some new techniques. They need to get better at knowing when or if to do rehab. No one will lose their job.

He said the word "communication" a lot over the course of the call when talking about injuries and changes that need to be made. I have no idea what he means by that. In fact, it just leaves a lot a questions for me: are the players hiding their aches and pains too long until they become really hurt? Is the training staff not telling Gardy who's coming in for treatments? Is Gardy not asking the right questions? Why is there a breakdown? Who doesn't trust whom and why? I want to know!

Plans for starting pitching?
Pavano gave them the innings they needed, but the rest need to work on consistency. Also, he hopes to build the bullpen so that someone is needed for a spot start, they'll just use a reliever rather than taking a starter from Rochester.

Hope so. They also really need to find out why there were so many forearm strains in the staff.

What to do about Kevin Slowey?
He wants to completely wipe the slate clean with Kevin. Kevin had a bad year and they want to start over from scratch. As of right now, he's on the roster.

The way he emphasized "as of right now" did nothing to convince me that Kevin will be on the roster for very much longer.

What about middle infield?
They're moving Plouffe to left field. So they've got Nishioka, Carroll, Dozier (in the minors and who they really like), and Hughes. And when Casilla's on, he's really good. So they feel they have depth at the position. They're also wiping the slate clean with Nishioka and he has to learn that the game is different here in the US.

In fact, Brian Dozier's name came up a bunch of times, and Terry had nothing but praise for him. He just finished up in the Arizona Fall League, where he did very well. Clearly, Terry is looking forward to him making it in the bigs. Also, I don't think he's as sold on Nishioka as Bill Smith was.

Dick reminds us that TwinsFest is the last weekend in January at the Dome
Assuming the Dome is still inflated.

Not really sure why I wrote that down, but, hey, knowledge is power.

What about the catching position?
They fully expect Joe Mauer to catch about 120 games and he's the catcher when healthy. Doumit is there on days he needs a break.

He said that Mauer should catch about 120 games a number of times throughout the call. I think they believe he's fully healthy and will be playing a lot next season.

How's the starting outfield look?
It's a long way from being finished. There isn't much power out there. There is a lot of speed and athleticism. Span is the only veteran. It's certainly a work in progress.

I kind of get the feeling that he doesn't have a whole lot of love for Ben Revere. Or Trevor Plouffe for that matter. 

Can the Twins afford both Cuddyer and Kubel?
Well, that's up to them. The Twins would like to have both back, but it all depends on the contract they want and what they might be offered elsewhere. It's a puzzle. Plus they're still looking for a closer.

So, what about a closer?
He's looking outside the organization and wants to get a closer either via free agency or trade. There are plenty of closer free agents out there. He is hesitant to go internal for a closer.

He explains why he doesn't want Glen Perkins to close yet later.

Baseball tends to go in cycles of winning and losing. Can we keep this losing cycle a short one?
The Twins plan to keep that losing "cycle" to only one year. They're working hard to develop the minor league system for depth.

Why the lack of power pitchers and power bats?
Having a team of power pitchers and power batters is ideal. However, there aren't many of those guys, and they're expensive. So if you can't go out and get that kind of talent, you have to develop it. The Twins do have some power arms, but they just need to work on their command. A team likes to have power bats playing the corner positions, but too many of those guys were hurt. Same with the middle infield. So the organization needs to work on keeping everyone healthy so that they can develop the young players and funnel them up at the appropriate time. With the new CBA, drafting will be different regarding the caps on signing bonuses.

Who will bat lead off, Span or Revere?
Span. He's the veteran, and when healthy, he's a good ballplayer. He's a good lead off man. Revere is still learning the strike zone.

Again with the no love for Ben? Actually, I think Mr. Ryan just sees him as needing more time in the minors.

Why no real DH?
It's true that there is no established DH, and that may be a little by design. They want to keep their options open for moving guys around or into the DH position as needed. They won't fully know the health situations of all the players until spring training starts. And they want to get the outfield situation figured out. Doumit can DH a little.

Fans are worried about the long-term health of Justin Morneau. How's he doing and what happens if he's not better?
He shares the concern. Last they spoke, Justin was doing fine. They won't really know how he's doing until he plays some games. They want him healthy; he's a leader in the clubhouse. Chris Parmelee would be next in line, but he still needs more time in the minors.

There's a lot of talk about bringing back Cuddyer, but what about bringing back Kubel?
He's talking to both Cuddyer and Kubel.

This question was from Twins blogger and podcaster Fanatic Jack. It was kind of fun that he got through to ask a question. Ryan's response, however, kind of made me feel like Cuddyer is still the top dog.

Plans for the draft and draft picks? 
The Twins have the #2 pick next time. That's a very lofty position; the last time they drafted this high was when they picked Joe Mauer. So they want to get an elite, high-caliber player. His philosophy is to be more reluctant to trade away their draft picks than Bill Smith was. He really believes in keeping and developing talent.

What about improving the defense?
He agreed that they kind of did a lousy job of picking up the ball in 2011, which is hard on the pitchers and, well, everyone. Part of it was that it was a merry-go-round of players. Some of it has to do with positioning -- being in the right place to receive the ball and cut off throws. He doesn't think it'll be too hard to correct.

Why, oh why, are you thinking about bringing back Matt Capps?
He wondered when someone would ask about this. He acknowledged that Capps had a bad year in 2011, but he was very good in 2010. Many relievers go through cycles of one on year, then one off year, Guerrier and Crain used to do that, and Capps just had a bad year.

Ryan really did seem to sympathize with fans' frustrations with Capps. But, does he really believe the whole "reliever cycles" thing? If so, what happens in 2013?

Are the Twins grooming Jake Mauer or Tom Brunansky to take over for Gardy?
Jake Mauer is a great manager in the minors and they expect him to have a bright future. Tom Brunansky is also a great baseball man with a high ceiling. But Gardy is also a pretty good baseball man and a darned good manager. They're standing behind him.

You go, Terry! I have to admit that I kind of wonder where this guy was coming from when he asked this.

Which minor leaguers are likely to make the 25-man roster?
The guys we've already seen: Hendriks, Parmelee, Benson, etc. They'll all probably start in AAA, unless they force the Twins' hand. Ryan likes it when that happens.

To be fair, he did mention other names, but I couldn't keep up with the note taking.

Why would you sign Jamey Carroll at 38 years old and near the end of his career?
He may be 38, but the scouts would disagree that he's at the end of his career. He makes the team better and he stays healthy.

What's the future of the shortstop position? Will you continue with Nishioka? Or Levi Michael? Or outside?
They have a good group coming. Dozier, Santana, Grimes. They're also scouting Latin America. Dozier is very good. Miguel Sano has some power. Eddie Rosario will be moving from OF to 2B and he has power too. Everyone will move up as ready.

What's up with the salary? What's the best use of the money?
Starting pitching is the best use of money. There is no finite salary limit. The salary will be less than the Yankees and more than Tampa Bay. The actual amount is fluid. The Pohlads are open to work things out.

I kind of think that he's not really attached to the $100 million figure he threw out during his introduction press conference. He mentioned $118 million.

You saw something in Joe Nathan to make him closer right away, what don't you see with Glen Perkins?
Nathan three "plus" pitches -- curve, slider, and fastball. Perkins has only two with an average fastball. That's why they're looking outside the organization for an experienced closer.

I really wish he'd find another Joe Nathan closer-in-the-rough type guy that the Twins can convert to closer with the same results.

What keeps you motivated?
Winning. Seeing 40,000 people in the stands smiling. People proclaiming that they're proud Twins fans. Having other franchises say they want to be like the Twins.

What are your thoughts on Aaron Hicks?
He had a great fall, but he had an average summer. They'd rather see him have a great summer. He has a chance for AA. He's very athletic and profiles for centerfield.

Are Liriano's consistency struggles in his head?
That's probably an accurate assessment. He needs to work on his consistency. He should dominate. He needs to take control.


I thought it was a great conference call. I thought Mr. Ryan was very personable and interesting. Of course, he's quite good at not revealing more than he should, I did appreciate his candor. He told us what's good, but he also told us what's bad. And he disagreed with a couple of callers and said so.

I kept getting this "read between the lines" feeling that he wants the players to be more accountable, especially when he was talking about the injury problems. He didn't say anything specific, but the whole communication thing just has me thinking that. Which wouldn't be a bad thing.

I really enjoy that the Twins do these.