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Written by Matt McCabe | 31 October 2010

By Matt McCabe

Allow myself to introduce...myself.

Ah, Halloween: the unique Holiday celebration with a very convoluted and bastardized history (http://www.loc.gov/folklife/halloween.html). Halloween is a wary time for me. Call it my own personal superstition. With all the madness going down I feel like something or someone will get me in trouble. So I stay in-doors.

Fortunately, this year's Halloween falls on a Sunday. The day will be full of NFL action followed by a night of the World Series-and more football because, let's face it, who can sit through an entire baseball game anymore, especially when your favorite team isn't involved?

And with this blog entry, Halloween assumes a new kind of identity for me. (Allow me one last self-indulgence before we get to the good stuff.)

Ever since I could read I was drawn to the Star Tribune, first for the funnies but not long after for the sports pages. At first it was all about checking the leader boards for every Minnesota kid's favorite player: Kirby Puckett. Eventually I'd read Twins game recaps and finally I graduated to the sophisticated rants and ramblings of Sid Hartman and Patrick Reusee among others-though I didn't "know" who those writers were in the way I kind of do now. Looking back it seemed a matter of fate that I would one day follow in their footsteps to become a sports writer myself. Admittedly, the pipe dream of writing for the Star Tribune is most likely just that. Sid's only been doing this for 60 years, Reusse for like 40 so it's obviously tough to get your foot in the door when the big guns never leave. I am, however, writing about high school sports and actually making money doing it. So I got that going for me.

Here's my point: this blog post is quite meaningful for me. It is the first time I'll have written freely about my first and favorite sports team, the Minnesota Twins. And tying this momentous personal triumph with the day's theme, it's time for me to finally exorcise the demons of Halloween's past by churning out my first ever entry on TwinsTarget.com and thereby assigning new meaning to this holiday (much in the same way Christians altered the originally pagan celebration). So, without further ado, here is a breakdown of the Twins free agents this offseason and one man's opinion of who should go ("tricks") and who should stay ("treats"). Enjoy.

 

The Twins ranked 13th in 2010 with a payroll of just over $90 million (that salary went up with trades). In 2010, team salaries didn't really start getting obscene until the #6 team, Detroit at $122 million. The Red Sox were 2nd at $161 million and the Yankees of course were #1 at $207 million. *All figures based on start of the season.

Many of the Twins top players are in line for raises in 2011, led by Joe Mauer's $10.5 million increase.  Also getting bumps are Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Nick Blackburn, and Scott Baker. Increases to contracts add up to $19.35 million; the Twins have over $70 million invested in eight players next year. So, decisions need to be made and the organization started the process off wisely on Friday.

Picking up Jason Kubel's $5.25 million option was a good deal for the Twins. Not picking up Nick Punto's $5 million was also smart. Although Kubel's constipation at the postseason plate is well-documented, the guy is a regular season boon, capable of hitting for average, homeruns, and RBI's. As for Punto, well what can you say? The guy Twins fans love to hate finally demonstrated enough stupidity on the base paths, weakness at the plate, and overall fragility to make Gardy and the front office come to their senses. He will have a job next year because he fields better than any player at multiple positions, but I don't think it will be for the Twins.

Final verdict: Kubel's a treat, Punto is a trick(ster).

Other than Kubel and Punto, the Twins have 10 free agents. Two besides Kubel are Type A's which means they're considered among the top 20% of players in baseball: Carl Pavano and Matt Guerrier. Five Twins are Type B's which means they're considered among the next top 20% in baseball: Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Orlando Hudson, Jon Rauch, and Jim Thome. Three Twins are unclassified free agents which means they are in the bottom 60% of players: J.J. Hardy, Randy Flores, and Ron Mahay.

Let's begin with the bullpen.

I'm sure the Twins will let veteran relief men Fuentes ($9 million last year), Mahay ($4), and Flores ($650,000) walk unless they agree to some bare minimum deals. All are guys you use to shore up the bullpen's holes and none of the three did great at that last year so we'll all call them tricks for 2011.

That leaves the enigmatic trio of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, and Jon Rauch. LaVelle E. Neil III said on KFAN radio Friday that the Twins strategy may be to offer the same deal to each of the three players-that is, they'd offer something in the range of 2 years, 6-8 million first to Guerrier, if he turned it down, they'd offer it to Crain, if Crain turned it down, it's on to Rauch. Bottom line, all three guys alone are expendable but the Twins will likely need two out of the three to maintain a respectable bullpen. Twins fans can expect two of the three to set up Matt Capps until (a big if) Joe Nathan is back and healthy.

Final verdict: even though they both drive me crazy at different times over the years, I'd like to see the Twins keep treats Crain and Guerrier. The trick man of this group would then be Rauch, appropriate because he seemed to use "smoke and mirrors" to get opposing batters out last year.

On to the infield which is as dicey and unknown as ever. Up for free agency are shortstop J.J. Hardy ($5.1 million in 2010) and 2nd baseman Orlando Hudson ($5 million in 2010). Of all the Twins' issues going into 2011 their up-the-middle defense may be the most glaring. Do the Twins have enough faith in Alexi Casilla to be the regular 2nd baseman? If it's up to Gardy, I'd say probably not. Yet, as Neil III reported on Friday, Hudson left the Twin Cities after our latest postseason sweep convinced he wouldn't be with the team next year. The shortstop position is even more problematic. The Twins are evidently high on Trevor Plouffe, for what reasons I don't know. Hardy showed once again in 2010 that he can't stay on the field. It also seems his supposed punch at the plate is still lost somewhere in Milwaukee. It simply would not make sense to resign Hardy unless it was a dirt-cheap deal, except that leaves Plouffe or (gasp) a resigned Punto as our only other options.

Final verdict: the whole lot of them are tricksters. This is a hung jury that needs to see more evidence (i.e. free agent options) before making a decision.

That leads us to two of the most important players for the Twins last season: Jim Thome and Carl Pavano.  It's astounding looking back that we got Thome for the low low price of $1.5 million last year. He led the team in homeruns (25), slugging % (.627), and was 2nd in OPS (1.039 to Morneau's 1.055) in 276 at bats. Granted, Thome can't play the field, can't run, and needs to rest regularly. But the Twins certainly benefited from his leadership, his bulldog mentality, and his flair for the dramatics (Chicago walkoff anyone?). If he doesn't elect to retire, the Twins ought to pay him at least as much as Kubel since even at 41 he's every bit the player Kubel is. That means $5+. Sign that treat!

And then there was one. A Mr. Carl Pavano. Knowing the Twins, I think odds are that Pavano will not be returning as our #2 starter next season. Starting pitchers who give you 200 innings with an ERA at or below 4.00 get overpaid. Even when they're 34 years old like Pavano. Case in point: the Dodgers signed 34-year-old Ted Lilly to 3 years and $33 million two weeks ago. Here is a split between Lilly and Pavano

Lilly last season: 193.2 innings, 30 games, 166 k's, 10-12 record, 3.62 ERA; career: 113-96 record, 4.18 ERA, 1474 K's.

Pavano last season: 221 innings, 32 games, 117 k's, 17-11 record, 3.75 ERA; career: 97-89 record, 4.34 ERA, 956 K's.

Pretty similar aren't they?

Unfortunately working against the Twins favor is the fact that beyond Cliff Lee, Pavano may be the best starting pitcher free agent available. Someone overpays for him and it isn't going to be Minnesota.

Final verdict: you were a treat to watch Pavano, but you're going to trick someone.

That's it for now, Twins fans. Thanks for checking out my first blog effort. I'll do better the next time. I'll leave you with a couple suggestions from the world of popular culture to hold you over until my next post.

  • Book suggestion of the week: You are not a Gadget, A Manifesto by Jaron Lanier. Lanier, one of Time magazine's 100 most Influentional People of 2010, offers a cautionary look at the way the web and computers transform our lives for better and for worse. Just started this non-fiction book but already its wisdom has been enlightening and entertaining.
  • Book suggestion of the week from a friend: Especially appropriate for Halloween: my pal poopy_magoo suggests the fiction work Satan Burger by Carlton Mellick III. To try to summarize would be a ridiculous waste of space-even more than I've already wasted. Suffice it to say, Mellick is called this generation's Vonnegut which is a pretty damn cool title to claim.
  • Movie I've seen lately: With all the potentially great movies in theaters now (Social Network, Hereafter, Secretariat) I opted for Jackass 3D and boy was I satisfied. You know what you're getting with the Jackass franchise so you really don't need my suggestion but let me just say it was crazy fun.
  • TV special you should've watched: Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Great showmanship, great music, great message, no politics. Just an outstanding three hours of television.
  • TV special you must purchase on DVD: "Once Brothers" This was a 30-30 special on ESPN which aired a few weeks ago that tells the story of Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic, fragmentation in Yugoslavia, and the tragedy of circumstance. I dare you not to cry. Available on DVD at your fine online stores.

 

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 22 October 2010

 

Along with my controversial Willie Mays Award ballot of last week, I have the opportunity to vote for the pitchers who I believe have enjoyed the best seasons in 2010.

This time around, there will be no factoring in of future potential or ceiling, as the Walter Johnson Award goes simply to the pitcher with the best season in either league. Here is my ballot:

5. Francisco Liriano, SP, Minnesota Twins

Liriano did exactly what was hoped of him this season, and so much more. The south paw struck out batters, limited his walks, and induced ground balls for one of the league's best defensive infields. The only thing Liriano didn't do as well as others was last long in games, as he failed to even crack the 200 innings pitched mark.

4. Jon Lester, SP, Boston Red Sox

Considering the grandiose stage he plays on, Lester had a relatively quiet 2010 season. He led the league in strikeouts per nine innings, had the fourth-lowest xFIP in the league, and was also among the leaders in WAR. Lester's biggest drawback was his deficiency in the innings pitched department.

3. Jered Weaver, SP, Los Angeles Angels

Weaver enjoyed the best season of his career this year, but did so in relative obscurity. The 27-year old led the league in strikeouts and games started, but also compiled a mediocre win/loss record. The national media will likely pay less attention to Weaver than Hernandez, though, because the Northridge native had a respectable offense – though still below average – scoring runs.

Even so, Weaver's season was excellent (he led the league in SIERA) and deserves to be ranked among the best in the league.

2. Cliff Lee, SP, Texas Rangers

Few pitchers combine strikeout ability and walk avoidance like Lee did season. In fact, Lee came extremely close to breaking the strikeout/walk record with a figure of 10.28 this year, coming within 0.72 of Brett Saberhagen's record of 11. Even though it wasn't the best ever, Lee doubled the next highest figure in the league.

The only negative that can be found to count against Lee's record is that he missed the first month of the season due to an abdomen strain. Lee's xFIP is the second-highest in the league, and his WHIP – an even 1.00 – is the lowest mark in baseball.

1. Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Mariners

With one of the worst offenses in baseball history providing run support, Hernandez is the best player on a horrible team since Maurice Jones-Drew. Hernandez, who just signed a five-year extension, led the league in innings pitched and was one whiff away from leading the league in strikeouts. Hernandez can also be found in the top five in the league in WAR, xFIP, and WHIP.

There's no doubting Hernandez's worthiness of this award. Skeptics may point to his mediocre win/loss record, but that he managed to win 13 games with an average run support of just 3.17 should only further contribute to his candidacy.

 

Close cuts: CC Sabathia, David Price, Justin Verlander, James Shields

If you want to beat the baseball lines next year then sign up for picks from the best MLB handicapper.

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Written by Shawn Berg | 20 October 2010

Last season, the Twins signed Miguel Angel Sano from the Dominican Republic for a $3.15 million signing bonus. This was, by far, the largest bonus the Twins had ever given to an international free agent. The biggest bonus had been $750,000. This was the second largest bonus in MLB history for a Dominican amateur. He was also given the second largest signing bonus in Twins history, behind what Joe Mauer got as the #1 pick in the 2001 draft. This was a big deal! The Twins really stepped up. This financial commitment to a 16 year old was the exact kind of move Twins fans have been waiting for. It's a year later, how is he doing?

Sano, just 17, spent just 20 games and 80 plate appearances with the Twins Dominican league team. His .344/.463/.547 line demanded that he come to America and some tougher competition. He spent the rest of the summer with the Gulf Coast Twins, hitting .291/.338/.473 in 161 plate appearances. He hit a HR in his first state-side professional at bat, while posting respectable numbers against the league. His OPS was 11th best in the league. Every one in the top 10 was at least 13 months older than Sano.

He is very young and at least 3 years away from the majors. Signed as a shortstop, the already 6'3" 195 lb Sano looks to end up at 3rd base or in the outfield. Baseball America's 94th ranked prospect in 2010, Sano is already playing more games at third than at shortstop. So, what to make of Sano's GCL numbers? Not many 17 year olds reach the GCL, but a player I compare to Sano did. Miguel Cabrera had an MVP caliber season with Detroit in 2010, hitting .328/.420/.622. As a 17 year old in the GCL, Cabrera hit .260/.344/.352 in 250 plate appearances. He did not match the .810 OPS Sano put up this year, until he was a 20 year old in AA. Another example of 17 year old in rookie ball, Pablo Sandoval's had a .266/.287/.373 line. Players such as Hanley Ramirez had awesome first years in Gulf Coast, but most players don't reach the level until they are 18 or older. There are very few examples of a player doing as well as Sano did as a 17 year old.

Sano does have a lot of work to do. He struckout 43 times in 161 plate appearances with only 10 walks. He will most likely start the season in the GCL again and probably not get past high rookie Elizabethtown in the 2011 season. It will be interesting to see how he does in his second pro year. He has  a lot of work to do but, for a guy who will be just 18, he has looked every bit the prospect that the Twins are paying him to be. Give it a few years, he might be the, right-handed, middle of the order bat that Twins fans have been waiting for.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 18 October 2010

Press Release
Contact: Daniel Shoptaw                                                               FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
E-mail:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it 1 P.M. EDT, October 18, 2010

POSEY, FELIZ WIN TWO-MAN RACES FOR WILLIE MAYS AWARD

The battle for the Willie Mays Award, given by the Baseball Bloggers Alliance to the top rookie in each division, turned out to be a two-man affair in both leagues, with Texas Rangers closer Neftali Feliz and San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey finishing solidly ahead of their closest competition, Detroit Tigers outfielder Austin Jackson and Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, respectively.

Feliz posted a 2.73 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP while tallying 40 saves and helping Texas into the postseason for the first time since 1999. Feliz only blew three save opportunities while fashioning a 3.94 strikeout to walk ratio.

Feliz garnered eighteen first-place votes and 102 points overall, finishing 22 points ahead of Jackson, who received six nods at the top of the ballot.

Posey did not begin the season in the major leagues, but did so much with his time in San Francisco that voters selected him as the National League’s top rookie. Posey hit .305 and slugged .505 in just 108 games, tallying 18 home runs and 67 RBI after his callup at the end of May. Posey’s offense helped San Francisco make up ground and eventually pass San Diego for the divisional crown.

Posey received 103 total points, including fifteen first-place selections, to outpace Heyward by 17 points. Heyward received ten first-place votes for his work in helping Atlanta secure the National League Wild Card.

The complete voting results are as follows (first place votes in parenthesis):

American League

 

Neftali Feliz, Texas (18) 102
Austin Jackson, Detroit (6) 78
Danny Valencia, Minnesota 16
Brian Matusz, Baltimore (1) 12
Brennan Boesch, Detroit 11
Wade Davis, Tampa Bay 3
John Jaso, Tampa Bay 3

 

National League

Buster Posey, San Francisco (15) 103
Jason Heyward, Atlanta (10) 86
Jaime Garcia, St. Louis 20
Starlin Castro, Chicago 7
Ike Davis, New York 7
Gaby Sanchez, Florida (1) 6
Tyler Colvin, Chicago 2
Mike Stanton, Florida 2
Neil Walker, Pittsburgh 2

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance was formed in the fall of 2009 to encourage cooperation and collaboration between baseball bloggers of all major league teams as well as those that follow baseball more generally. As of this writing, the organization consists of 233blogs spanning all 30 major league squads as well as general baseball writing.

The BBA is organized under a similar structure as the Baseball Writers of America, where blogs that follow the same team are combined into “chapters” and only two votes from the chapter on an award are counted. The blog chapters that are focused on general baseball were allowed two votes as well, which they could use both on the same league or split between the two leagues.

Chapters generally followed one of two methods when casting their ballot. Either representatives of the chapter were given the ballots for voting or a “group ballot” was posted, accounting for both of their votes.

Ballots are posted on the respective blogs and tabulated on a 5-3-1 point scale for first, second and third. In the interest of transparency, links are given below for the ballots. Chapter affiliation is in parenthesis. Those chapters that decided on the group method are noted with an asterisk.

American League

Camden Crazies (Baltimore)*
Boston Red Thoughts (Boston)*
The Tribe Daily (Cleveland)*
Detroit Tigers Scorecard (Detroit)
Switch Hitting Pitchers (Detroit)
One Royal Way (Kansas City)
Seth Speaks (Minnesota)
Twins Target (Minnesota)
Bronx Baseball Daily (New York)*
Contract Year (Oakland)
Rise of the Rays (Tampa Bay)
Tampa Bay Rays News (Tampa Bay)
Baseball Is My Boyfriend (Texas)*
The Blue Jay Hunter (Toronto)
500 Level Fan (Toronto)
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)*
Misc. Baseball (History)*
Victoria Seals Baseball Blog (Other)*
Blogging From The Bleachers (General)*

National League

Prose and Ivy (Chicago)*
Cincinnati Reds Blog (Cincinnati)
Marlin Maniac (Florida)
Marlins Diehards (Florida)
Feeling Dodger Blue (Los Angeles)
Bernies Crew (Milwaukee)*
Brewers Bar (Milwaukee)*
The Eddie Kranepool Society (New York)*
Duggers Corner (Philadelphia)
Phighting On (Philadelphia)
Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? (Pittsburgh)*
i70 Baseball (St. Louis)
Pitchers Hit Eighth (St. Louis)
Friar Forecast (San Diego)*
22gigantes (San Francisco)*
Advanced Fantasy Baseball (Fantasy)*
Misc. Baseball (History)*
Victoria Seals Baseball Blog (Other)*
Blogging From The Bleachers (General)*
Ron Kaplans Baseball Bookshelf (Miscellaneous)*

Ballots that were unofficial or helped make up their chapter ballot:

Bottom Line Sox (Boston)
Raise the Jolly Roger (Pittsburgh)
The Crazy Crabbers (San Francisco)
Stan Musials Stance (St. Louis--unofficial)

Prior Winners

2009: Andrew Bailey, Oakland; Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh

 

The official website of the BBA is located at www.baseballbloggersalliance.com. The BBA can be found on Twitter by the handle @baseballblogs and by the hashmark #bbba.  Members of the BBA may be heard at Blog Talk Radio every Tuesday night with their call-in show, BBA Baseball Talk, which may also be downloaded as a podcast from iTunes. For more information, contact Daniel Shoptaw at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 14 October 2010

As a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance for about a year now, I have the honor to participate in their postseason awards. There are four Twins' bloggers in the Minnesota chapter of the Alliance, and here you can find Seth Stohs' Manager of the Year ballot.

By clicking the "Read More" button below, you can find my choices for the Willie Mays Award, recognizing the top rookie in the American League in 2010.

 

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 10 October 2010

The month of October opened with high expectations.

Minnesota turned the money generated from their new cash cow -- Target Field -- into the best Twins team of recent memory. Players like Orlando Hudson, Jim Thome, and Matt Capps were exceeding expectations and creating a lot of excitement in the Twin Cities. Heading into the postseason, we felt we could finally take down the East Coast powerhouses. This was the year.

Three games later Minnesota is turning their attention to the guaranteed-to-disappoint Vikings and Timberwolves. Baseball will be better next year, Twins fans reason.

Sense a trend? You should.

The Twins have lost 12 consecutive playoff games and haven't beaten the Yankees outside of the regular season since 2004. Even though history suggested another massive let-down, we were convinced that this year would be the exception. The 2010 Twins could be a team to remember, we figured, and most everyone was guilty of optimism.

Three games later, Twins fans aren't disappointed so much in being beaten by the Yankees in the ALDS for the fourth time as they are for failing to see it coming.

Is it fair that New York has twice the resources of Minnesota? Of course not. Baseball, as currently structured, is hardly a fair game. Teams like the Twins win many games in the regular season, dominating inferior foes. These teams are quickly reminded of their junior varsity status, though, when paired with powerhouses who, keeping to the high school athletics metaphor, have a student enrollment and sports budget that dwarfs other teams'.

But that's just the way it is. This is the game we love, and those are the rules we follow. Because of the poison of proximity or curse of family ties, the Minnesota Twins are the team we love, support, and follow closer than should be considered healthy.

If given the chance, no Twins fan would willingly jump ship in search of a more successful team. I may be a little jealous of the Yankees' resources, but I'm certainly not of their success. Occasional glory is far sweeter than constant contention. Baseball should be a cyclical sport, with fans getting the opportunity to watch home-grown players and efficient spending lead to a string of successful seasons. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

The Twins have had a string of successful seasons, and look to have another talented team next year. Soon enough, the sun will set on the 2010 ALDS, and Minnesota fans will get excited about baseball once again. After, of course, enduring the Vikings and Timberwolves seasons.

Other goals and expectations will arise, but in the back of every Twins' fan's mind will be the hope that someday, somehow, we'll finally be able to take down the Yankees.

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Written by Andrew Kneeland | 07 October 2010

Originally published at TwinsMVB.com.

 

The 2010 Minnesota Twins are very different from previous years, but the postseason results have been the same: The Yankees are unbeatable.

Blame it on the poor umpiring, blame it on leaving runners on base, or blame it on the simple fact that New York is a team loaded with talent — Lance Berkman hit 8th tonight, for crying out loud. I can’t help but think the Twins could spend $200 million far more efficiently than the Yankees, but that’s irrelevant.

New York has an incredibly talented team, and neither Francisco Liriano nor Carl Pavano could keep them under four runs. I doubt Brian Duensing or Nick Blackburn will be able to do much better, but they’re certainly capable of surprises.

Clearly, the Yankees are better than the Minnesota Twins, even after the home nine entered baseball’s middle class with the revenues generated from Target Field. It may not be fair that New York has a larger market, and therefore more resources available them, but that’s the way it is.

But there’s more to the story than Minnesotans having a collective pity party. Leads were enjoyed in both of these first two games, and both were given away. Both games were lost by two runs; something a bloop and blast could have remedied. Just about every postseason game the Twins have played against the Yankees has been winnable.

The fact that we haven’t won a single game boils down to plain and simple rotten luck. AndHunter Wendelstedt.

 

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