Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pre-Pre-Season Predictions: AL West

This is the fourth in a series of posts on very early predictions for the 2007 season. This post focuses on the AL West; I've already discussed the NL West, NL Central, and NL East.

AL West

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Projected Rotation

1.) John Lackey
2.) Kelvim Escobar
3.) Ervin Santana
4.) Jered Weaver
5.) Joe Saunder / Bartolo Colon

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Francisco Rodriguez
2.) Scott Shields
3.) Justin Speier
4.) Darren Oliver
5.) Hector Carrasco

Position Players
C - Mike Napoli / Jose Molina
1B - Casey Kotchman
2B - Howie Kendrick
3B - Chone Figgins
SS - Orlando Cabrera
LF - Garrett Anderson
CF - Gary Matthews, Jr.
RF - Vladimir Guerrero
DH - Shea Hillenbrand

The Angels are going to have a strong rotation - I'm not sold on John Lackey as an ace, but his 3.56 ERA last season was solid. Kelvim Escobar (3.61) and Ervin Santana (4.28) also put up solid number. Then, there's the most intriguing member of this rotation - Jered Weaver was downright dominant for much of his first year, going 11-2 with a 2.56 ERA in 19 starts. If Weaver had debuted before the end of May, he would have been a very, very good candidate for Rookie of the Year. At some point in the season, the club should also get Bartolo Colon back in the rotation - the only question is whether he'll be the same pitcher he was in 2005 (you remember - the year he stole the Cy Young from Johan . . . ).

The top three in the bullpen are great. Rodriguez is one of the best closers in the game, and with Shields and Speier, the Angels will often be able to turn the game into a 6 inning affair. Oliver and Carrasco have both been around forever, but their ERA's last season (3.41 and 3.44, respectively) indicate that they can still pitch, and add some useful depth to the back end of the bullpen, with the capability of making spot starts in a pinch.

I'm a little underwhelmed by the offense. Casey Kotchman has a career .227 batting average at the Major League level. Chone Figgins stole 52 bases, but had a batting average of .267 (OBP of .336) - and he struck out 100 times while drawing just 65 walks. Gary Matthews had a great season for Texas last year - but very few people believe that that was anything but an aberration (based on the money they spent on him, the Angels are obviously amongst the few true believers). While there are some potent hitters in this lineup (Vlad is always dangerous, and Garrett Anderson keeps producing), there are more question marks than answers in this lineup.

Oakland Athletics
Projected Rotation

1.) Rich Harden
2.) Dan Haren
3.) Esteban Loaiza
4.) Joe Blanton
5.) Brad Halsey?

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Huston Street
2.) Kiko Calero
3.) Justin Duchscherer
4.) Joe Kennedy
5.) Jay Witasick

Position Players
C - Jason Kendall
1B - Nick Swisher
2B - Mark Ellis
3B - Eric Chavez
SS - Bobby Crosby
LF - Bobby Kielty
CF - Mark Kotsay
RF - Milton Bradley
DH - Mike Piazza

What is there to say about the starting rotation? The A's constantly find players to fit into the rotation, having previously survived the departures of Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder without missing a beat. This year, they try to it again after Barry Zito moved across the Bay to pitch with the Giants. Harden and Haren will be good, but will Loaiza turn into a pumpkin? And, while I like Joe Blanton quite a bit, he needs to get that 4.82 ERA down to be effective - last year's 16 wins won't be repeated if his ERA is that high again this year. I've slotted Halsey in to the fifth spot for now, but this is going to be an open competition during spring.

The bullpen is solid, and Huston Street should continue to be solid in this role. Calero (3.41) and Duchschurer (2.91) anchor the rest of the 'pen, and Joe Kennedy (2.31) is no slouch either. In other words - the pitching shouldn't be a problem.

The A's lineup is solid, if unspectacular. Eric Chavez is a legitimate star, but the rest of this lineup is filled with guys who are pretty good (Milton Bradley), or filled with potential (Bobby Crosby, Nick Swisher). They should hit just enough to win a lot of games, IF the pitching does its job.

Seattle Mariners
Projected Rotation

1.) Felix Hernandez
2.) Jarrod Washburn
3.) Horacio Ramirez
4.) Miguel Batista
5.) Jake Woods / Cha Seung Baek

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - J.J. Putz
2.) George Sherrill
3.) Eric O'Flaherty
4.) Chris Reitsma
5.) Arthur Rhodes

Position Players
C - Kenji Johjima
1B - Richie Sexson
2B - Jose Lopez
3B - Adrian Beltre
SS - Yuniesky Betancourt
LF - Raul Ibanez
CF - Ichiro Suzuki
RF - Jose Guillen

The Mariners have a whole lot of questions in their starting rotation. Felix Hernandez is continually touted as "King Felix," and occasionally shows flashes of his promise - but I'm not sold yet. His 4.52 ERA last season wasn't the stuff of a phenom, but he deserves a chance to see if he takes some strides forward this year. Reports are that he's about 20 pounds slimmer and ready to role - but I'm going to be skeptical until he proves that he's capable of being an All-Star caliber pitcher. For the record, I'm probably the only person in the baseball world that thinks he's never going to live up to the hype - I think he'll settle in as a number 3 type starter. Now, hopefully he proves me wrong. The rest of the rotation is really nothing to write home about - there are some solid veterans, but nobody who is going to carry the team on their back.

The bullpen is going to filled with a combination of young guys trying to bust through (Sherrill, who already has had some success, and O'Flaherty), and veterans trying to stay in the league (Reitsma and Rhodes). J.J. Putz is solid closer - but how many leads will he really have to protect?

The lineup is filled with guys who have produced at some point in their careers (Ichiro, of course, is the best of the bunch). If Sexson and Beltre can bounce back from sub-par seasons, this offense could do some damage. For the record, Jose Lopez is one of my favorite young players, and I hope he continues his progression into a legitimate offense threat at 2B. The biggest question mark is in Right Field - can Jose Guillen really hold down this job? The smart money says no . . . but we shall see.

Texas Rangers
Projected Rotation

1.) Kevin Millwood
2.) Vicente Padilla
3.) Brandon McCarthy
4.) Robinson Tejeda
5.) John Koronka

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Eric Gagne
2.) Akinori Otsuka
3.) Wes Littleton
4.) Rick Bauer
5.) Josh Rupe

Position Players
C - Gerald Laird
1B - Mark Teixeira
2B - Ian Kinsler
3B - Hank Blalock
SS - Michael Young
LF - Brad Wilkerson
CF - Kenny Lofton
RF - Nelson Cruz

Millwood and Padilla are more than capable of anchoring the top of this rotation, and Brandon McCarthy will be fun to watch as he becomes a starter (whether or not he was worth John Danks and Nick Masset is another question entirely) - and I think he'll be fine in the middle of this rotation. I don't know that the Rangers should expect to get too much out of Tejeda or Koronka this year, however.

The bullpen is surprisingly good, although there is no guarantee that Eric Gagne is going to be able to hold down the closer role after last year's injury. Frankly, I would have left Akinori Otsuka in that role and spent the money elsewhere - he had a 2.11 ERA last season and converted 32 out of 36 save opportunities. Beyond those two, Littleton, Bauer, and Rupe also had solid seasons, so it looks like the bullpen could be a position of strength for the Rangers this year.

Teixeira, Blalock, and Young should all produce for the Rangers, but Brad Wilkerson was a bust last year, Nelson Cruz is unproven, and Kenny Lofton (while great last year) isn't getting any younger. If Cruz and Kinsler turn into reliable fixtures in the lineup, and if Lofton produces like he did a year ago, then the Rangers have a chance to continue putting up a lot of runs. They'll probably need all of them to win with any regularity.

1.) Oakland Athletics - 90-72
2.) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 81-81
3.) Texas Rangers - 79-83
4.) Seattle Mariners - 70-92

I find it hard to bet against the A's, EVER. And looking through this division, I see plenty of potential, but also a lot of holes. The A's seem to me to be the team best positioned to put it all together and win the division - more because of what their likely to do at the trade deadline to address their problem areas than because of how the team is constituted now. Considering that the Angels never seem to trade anybody, I find it unlikely that they'll improve themselves over what they have now - and I see a .500 team. The Rangers interest me the most here - if everything went right for them, they could win 85-87 games, and that would put them in contention for the division crown if Oakland stumbled a bit. The Mariners lineup should prevent them from losing too many games - but it's not going to be enough to get them anywhere near a winning record in 2007.


Terry Ryan's Big Plans

It sounds like there could be some excitement in Twinsville over the next few months, as the Twins make concerted efforts to sign no less than five significant players to long term contracts or extensions. In this Star Tribune piece, La Velle E. Neal III discusses the Twins basic strategy for the remainder of the off-season: try to sign the "Big Three" arbitration eligible players (Mauer, Morneau, and Cuddyer, if you haven't been paying attention), and then turn to trying to sign Joe Nathan and, yes, Johan Santana to contract extensions that will keep them in a Twins uniform for many years to come.

Will it happen? It's really impossible to tell. However, if you read the article you'll see that both Nathan and Santana express their desire to remain with the Twins (provided that the price is right). Ultimately, I think the Twins are going to be successful in these negotiations. Maybe I'm being overly optimistic, but I think that Terry Ryan is going to go for broke in these negotiations, and that Carl Pohlad is going to give Ryan the go ahead to increase payroll every year until the team gets into the new stadium. Further, I think Pohlad and Ryan both recognize the importance of keeping Johan Santana around - and if there is one player that you break the bank for, it's Santana.

One possible cause for concern is that the Twins haven't made any progress yet on the arbitration eligibles, and I'm sure that's not for lack of trying. There's still time before these players have hearings to get them under contract, but I was hoping that at least one player would have been signed by now. Maybe next week we'll get some good news about Mauer and Morneau being kept around for the next four or five years. Still, timing is not as important as just getting these deals (or a couple of them, anyway) done.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Concerned About the DirecTV Deal?

Buster Olney has posted an e-mail address for fans interested in contacting Major League Baseball about the impending DirecTV deal. I'm sending my e-mail in a moment, and I would encourage anyone else who is concerned to do the same. Here's the address:


I'd advise you to keep it clean, but let 'em know how you feel. Hey, if a public outcry could keep Star Trek on the air for a third season, maybe it can work here, too.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The DirecTV Debacle

I've been meaning to put my two cents in on this story for a few days now, ever since I first read about it. Today, Jayson Stark perfectly captured my thoughts, feelings, and frustrations about the impending deal (ESPN Insider Subscription required), but I thought I'd say a few words anyway, about my particular situation.

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, Major League Baseball is about to sign a deal that would make DirecTV the exclusive provider of the Extra Innings package, which makes a good majority of out-of-market games available on TV each night. Previously, Extra Innings was available through a variety of other providers, including digital cable (my experience is with Comcast), and I believe through Dish Network, although I'm not positive. The point is, the majority of interested customers had access to the package; all they had to do was shell out the dough to get it.

For someone like me, who lives far, far away from my beloved Twins, the Extra Innings package was the ideal way to view the majority of the games. It gave me a chance in about half of the games to listen to Dick & Bert, and to watch the game as if I were still in Minnesota. At the same time, it gave me a chance to flip around during commercials and catch parts of other games, something which I also valued. Down the stretch in the playoffs last year, I was able to follow the Twins, White Sox, and Tigers - and let me tell you, catching a Tigers/White Sox game became almost (but not quite) as much fun as watching the Twins.

Now, as a digital cable subscriber, my ability to purchase the package is going to disappear. It's not as bad for me as it is for fans in San Diego and Philadelphia, who can only get local games on cable and so will have to subscribe to both cable and DirecTV if they want to watch their local team and get the great experience of seeing the rest of baseball (local games are blacked out on the Extra Innings package). I do have the option of going after DirecTV rather than digitial cable. However, I also live in an apartment, and will be moving in late May. While my current apartment would probably be compatible with DirecTV, there's a certain amount of uncertainty regarding whether my next apartment will be so suitable. I suspect I'm not alone in not wanting to make the move because of uncertainty and unfamiliarity with the DirecTV experience.

There is another option, and it's the one I'll almost certainly be taking. Major League Baseball's excellent MLB.tv package is actually more comprehensive than the Extra Innings package (usually, at least one Twins game a week - often mid-week day games, in particular - are unavailable on Extra Innings), offering untelevised games to fans by showing video footage from the in-stadium recording made (presumably) for the teams, with an audio feed that (I believe) comes from a radio play-by-play. When the game is televised, you usually get that feed. So, unlike Extra Innings, every game is available - and that's a nice advantage of the online option. In fact, last year I subscribed to both Extra Innings and MLB.tv so I could watch the games that were unavailable on Extra Innings.

Of course, the experience isn't the same. Watching the game on a small box on your computer is not nearly as satisfying as watching on TV. And, for someone like me who works on my computer almost constantly while watching TV, it makes multi-tasking inconvenient at best and impossible at worst. Nevertheless, this is probably the best option for fans with a good internet connection and concerns about DirecTV. What am I saying - it's the ONLY option, aside from foregoing the experience of watching baseball regularly.

I wish I could say that the outpouring of fan angst (Buster Olney has said he's received far, far more e-mail on this subject than about Mark McGwire's Hall of Fame candidacy) and negative columns (the Stark column above is the best example of a passionate screed against this move) would affect the final decision. Unfortunately, it won't - baseball has decided to continue to squeeze all the money they can out of the current deal, and DirecTV blows the competition out of the water. I guess when the owner's demonstrate zero spending restraint, it necessitates moves like this. I only hope that this move doesn't turn off too many fans and cut off the surge in popularity that baseball has been undergoing for the last few years.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Minor League Additions

The Twins have added a couple of new faces to the mix for minor league roster spots, and said goodbye to one lower level First-Baseman. Here's the rub on the newbies and the recently departed:

Brian Forystek - LHP
Forystek has been in the Baltimore Orioles system 2000, putting up a mix of solid and mediocre seasons as both a starter and a reliever. Forystek rose to AA on the back of some solid seasons as a reliever (putting up a 2.88 ERA in 41 games at High-A in 2001). He converted to a starter the next season at AA, and was promoted to AAA in the middle of 2004, despite an ERA of 5.74 at AA over the first half of the season. He didn't fare much better there, posting a 5.58 ERA. The Orioles busted him back down to AA, where he stayed a starter in 2005 (recovering a bit with a 4.22 ERA). He then went back to being a reliever, making 43 appearances and posting a 3.57 ERA in 2006 - again at AA. He'll probably compete for a AA/AAA job, adding some left-handed depth to the system.

Bradford King - C
King is an interesting case. He's a 32-year old who washed out of the major league system after the 2003 season, when he played at the AAA level for Pittsburgh. Since then, he's played with three different Atlantic League teams (that'd be one of those fancy independent leagues). The signing of King is another indication of just how desperate the Twins are for catching depth throught the minor-league system - he is not really a legitimate hitter, and of course you shouldn't expect to see him in a Major League uniform anytime - ever. Considering the weakness of the Twins system, adding anyone to the mix is a positive. If King doesn't play well enough early to justify a job, he probably won't be around for long.

Leaving Through the Back Door . . .

Joshua Dean - 1B
Dean was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2004, and had a solid season in 2005 with the GCL Twins, posting a .340 batting average in 34 games to go along with a .426 on-base percentage. The next year, he went up a level to Elizabethton, and bottomed out, hitting just .231 in 30 games. The Twins obviously decided that (1) Dean isn't going to improve enough to justify keeping him around, and (2) they have enough solid 1B higher in the system that there really is no reason to have him on the roster.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Pre-Pre-Season Predictions: NL Central

This is the third in a series of posts on very early predictions for the 2007 season. This post will take a look at the NL Central. If you're looking for more analysis, you can take a look at my posts on the NL East and the NL West.

National League Central

Houston Astros

Projected Rotation

1.) Roy Oswalt
2.) Jason Jennings
3.) Woody Williams
4.) Wandy Rodriguez
5.) Matt Albers

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Brad Lidge
2.) Chad Qualls
3.) Dan Wheeler
4.) Trever Miller
5.) Fernando Nieve

Position Players
C - Brad Ausmus
1B - Lance Berkman
2B - Craig Biggio
3B - Morgan Ensberg
SS - Adam Everett
LF - Carlos Lee
CF - Chris Burke
RF - Luke Scott

The rotation is the significant concern for the Astros this season, with the departure of Andy Pettite, and the likely departure of Roger Clemens. That means that Roy Oswalt is now the undisputed ace of this team, and he's worthy of the role. The addition of Jason Jennings is significant, as it gives the team a solid number two. Woody Williams is a legitimate number three, having gone 12-5 with a 3.65 ERA last season - he may be 41, but he's still got some life left in his arm. After that, things get a little shady - Wandy Rodriguez may develop into a legitimate Major League starter, but he'll have to improve on last season's 5.64 ERA. Albers is, at best, a question mark for '07.

The bullpen is quite good, or could be. Brad Lidge spent most of 2006 in danger of losing his job as the team's closer, and trade rumors swirled around him for most of the summer. His 5.28 ERA was much, much too high - but Lidge has the capacity to be a legitimate closer, and the Astros need him to return to form. Qualls, Wheeler, and Miller are all legitimate, and will serve as an effective bridge from the starters to Lidge. Really, it's all up to whether Lidge returns to his pre-Pujols-bomb form.

The lineup should be improved from last season, with the addition of Carlos Lee. Luke Scott looks like a keeper, but the sample size is limited and there are no sure things - still, with regular playing time this season, he should blossom. The club will have to hope Chris Burke can handle the everyday duty in Center. Meanwhile, Craig Biggio (remember when he was a fantasy god back in the late '90's?) will reach 3000 hits with 70 this season.

Milwaukee Brewers
Projected Starters

1.) Chris Capuano
2.) Ben Sheets
3.) Jeff Suppan
4.) Dave Bush
5.) Claudio Vargas

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Francisco Cordero
2.) Matt Wise
3.) Derrick Turnbow
4.) Jose Capellan
5.) Brian Shouse

Position Players
C - Johnny Estrada
1B - Prince Fielder
2B - Rickie Weeks
3B - Corey Koskie
SS - J.J. Hardy
LF - Bill Hall
CF - Brady Clark
RF - Geoff Jenkins

This is an interesting team. The top 3 in the rotation could be very, very solid - especially Sheets, if he can stay healthy. Sheets has had the potential to burst out and become a superstar for the last few years, but never quite makes it - if this is his year, the Brewers could be pretty good. They'll need Bush and Vargas to perform at least reasonably at the back of the rotation if they're going to serious contenders for the NL Central crown, however.

The bullpen is interesting. Cordero seemed to resurrect his closing prospects last year after being traded to the Brewers, and that displaced Derrick Turnbow (All-Star Derrick Turnbow . . .), who is now one of the primary set-up men who will be used by the Brewers. The rest of the bullpen is solid if unremarkable.

Prince Fielder, Richie Weeks, and J.J. Hardy are all intriguing young players. Craig Counsell was signed on as a backup middle infielder, and former Twin Corey Koskie will get another shot to have a healthy season in 2007 (as Twins fans should know, the odds of that are not particularly good). Johnny Estrada was acquired in a trade to take over the catching duties, and should provide a more serious offensive threat than now-backup Damian Miller. Meanwhile, one of my favorite players - Geoff Jenkins - will get another chance to have a breakout season. His .271 average and 17 homeruns are perfectly serviceable - but he's unfortunately never lived up to his full potential. Still, if he stays healthy, he'll be decent. Bill Hall gets yet another new position (I think the man can play anywhere) as the starting left fielder.

St. Louis Cardinals
Projected Rotation

1.) Chris Carpenter
2.) Kip Wells
3.) Anthony Reyes
4.) Brad Thompson?
5.) Mark Mulder (eventually)

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Adam Wainwright
2.) Braden Looper
3.) Ricardo Rincon
4.) Randy Flores
5.) Josh Hancock

Position Players
C - Yadier Molina
1B - Albert Pujols
2B - Adam Kennedy
3B - Scott Rolen
SS - David Eckstein
LF - Chris Duncan
CF - Jim Edmonds
RF - Juan Encarnacion

I really don't mean to disrespect the Cardinals. But a look through their 40-man roster shows a surprising dearth of starting pitchers - I would assume that they'll be adding someone - anyone - to fill out the last two spots. Thompson had one start last season - and that's pretty much the high end outside the other four starters listed. Mark Mulder will be back at some point, but they will also need to find a fifth starter at the beginning of the season. The rotation is a significant problem for the Cardinals, Chris Carpenter being the exception.

The bullpen should be ok if unspectacular - Wainwright had just 3 saves last season, but is being listed as the clubs closer for the moment. The job is probably up for grabs in the spring. Looper has the potential to post a 3.30-3.50 ERA, and Ricardo Rincon should have a chance to bounce back from last year, when he made just 5 appearances. Jason Isringhausen is still on the roster, but who knows what role he will play this year.

The hitters should hit. Albert Pujols is always very good, and Scott Rolen is no slouch. But can small-ballers like Adam Kennedy and David Eckstein continue to produce? Is Jim Edmonds too old to be a viable center fielder? And can Chris Duncan continue to hit for power the way he did last year (22 HR's in 280 AB's). The offense is going to have to be very, very good to make up for the starting rotation, and the Cubs and Brewers have improved enough to make the Cardinals less than a shoe-in to make the playoffs, let alone reclaim the World Series trophy.

Chicago Cubs
Projected Rotation

1.) Carlos Zambrano
2.) Ted Lilly
3.) Jason Marquis
4.) Rich Hill
5.) Mark Prior

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Ryan Dempster
2.) Kerry Wood
3.) Neil Cotts
4.) Bobby Howry
5.) Scott Eyre

Position Players
C - Michael Barrett
1B - Derek Lee
2B - Mark DeRosa
3B - Aramis Ramirez
SS - Cesar Izturis
LF - Matt Murton
CF - Alfonso Soriano
RF - Jacques Jones

The Cubs spent a lot of money to bring in Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis, and they will line up well behind Carlos Zambrano. Rich Hill showed signs of becoming a solid starter, and now that he'll get a chance to be in the rotation from the start of the season, expect him to take another step forward. Mark Prior is so good when he's healthy that it's odd to see him in the 5 spot, but the Cubs seem to have come to the conclusion that anything they get out of Prior is a plus, considering his injury history.

Ryan Dempster's 4.80 ERA last season was higher than you want out of a closer, and he'll need to get that down this season if he wants to stay in the closer role. Kerry Wood moves into the bullpen, with the Cubs hoping that there will be less strain on his arm in that role. If he does well, and Dempster struggles, it is not out of the question that he could end up as the teams closer. Cotts, Howry, and Eyre will all be solid, and the team has a lot of depth to round out the rest of the rotation.

The big splash for the Cubs this off-season was Alfonso Soriano, who is expected to be used in Center. He should be fine there, because he's a phenomenal athlete. Whether he's worth the kind of money they spent on him is debatable, but either way he'll benefit the Cubs. Retaining Aramis Ramirez was key, and Matt Murton should be productive in Left. A healthy Derrek Lee in 2007 will make this lineup even more formidable.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Projected Rotation

1.) Zach Duke
2.) Ian Snell
3.) Shawn Chacon
4.) Paul Maholm
5.) Sean Burnett

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Damaso Marte?
2.) Salomon Torres
3.) John Grabow
4.) Matt Capps
5.) Shane Youman

Position Players
C - Ronny Paulino
1B - Adam LaRoche
2B - Jose Castillo
3B - Freddy Sanchez
SS - Jack Wilson
LF - Jason Bay
CF - Chris Duffy
RF - Jose Bautista

The Pirates have a very talented corps of young starters, but as always the question is whether any of them will effectively emerge. My bet is on the right-handed Snell, but honestly Duke, Snell, Maholm, and Burnett are all interesting, and any or all of them could put it together this year. If they don't, Tom Gorzelanny, Bryan Bullington, and John Van Benschoten will be ready to step in and claim a spot.

The bullpen just lost its anchor in Closer Mike Gonzalez, who was traded to the Braves. The question is who will step in to take over that spot, and I'm slotting Damaso Marte into that spot, although I really have no idea who the most likely candidate is. Some of these guys were heavily used last year (Torres was in 94 games last year! 94 freakin' games!) - and we'll see if that affects their performance this year. Honestly, this crew will probably get a lot of work - young starters often don't make it far into games.

The addition of Adam LaRoche into this lineup makes the Pirates a much better team, because he gives them some left-handed power to slot in the middle of the batting order (and left-handed power in PNC Park could be scary). Jason Bay is a perennial All-Star, and Freddy Sanchez may (or may not) be a budding star as well. The club needs to find more production in Center and Right, and their Catchers have left something to be desired since the departure of Jason Kendall. They should put up some runs, but whether it will be enough to cover up the young pitching is questionable.

Cincinnati Reds
Projected Rotation

1.) Aaron Harang
2.) Bronson Arroyo
3.) Eric Milton
4.) Kyle Lohse
5.) Elizardo Ramirez

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - David Weathers
2.) Todd Coffey
3.) Bill Bray
4.) Gary Majewski
5.) Rheal Cormier

Position Players
C - David Ross
1B - Scott Hatteberg
2B - Brandon Phillips
3B - Edwin Encarnacion
SS - Alex Gonzalez
LF - Adam Dunn
CF - Ken Griffey, Jr.
RF - Ryan Freel

Call me a skeptic, but I'm not convinced that Eric Milton and Kyle Lohse belong in Major League rotations. Milton has a career ERA over 5.00 (5.01 to be exact) - and Lohse - well - is Kyle Lohse. Relying on them as 2/5 of a starting rotation seems awfully risky to me. Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo should both be solid again this year, and there will probably be a competition for, at the very least, the fifth spot in the rotation.

The bullpen is actually solid and deep, although David Weathers as a closer would worry me a little bit. Elsewhere, guys like Coffey, Majewski, and Cormier should continue to be their workmanlike selves, and overall the Reds shouldn't be too worried to turn the game over to the 'pen (which, based on who is in the rotation, they will probably have to do early and often).

The lineup is not that strong - other than Adam Dunn, there aren't a lot of high-ceiling guys in here, and even Dunn hit just .234 last season. Griffey Junior isn't getting any younger (and might be getting ready to move to Right), and Scott Hatteberg and Alex Gonzalez can't produce forever, can they? Brandon Phillips is a talented player who has never blossomed, and the Reds are taking a chance on him. I like Wayne Krivsky, so I'm rooting for the Reds - I just don't think they'll score many runs (except when Dunn or Griffey knocks one out of the park).

1.) Chicago Cubs - 88-74
2.) Houston Astros - 86-76
3.) Milwaukee Brewers - 85-77
4.) St. Louis Cardinals - 77-85
5.) Pittsburgh Pirates - 76-86
6.) Cincinnati Reds - 73-89

I'm being woefully pessimistic about the Reds chances in 2007, but looking at the team, I just don't think they're that good. The Pirates could win anywhere from about 65-85 games, depending on whether the pitching comes together. If you're a Cardinals fan, I think it's going to be a long year, thanks to a lack of starting pitching that will doom the team to a sub-.500 season. At the top, I think it'll be a close race between the Cubs, Astros, and Brewers - a race that hopefully will come down to the last game of the season. I think the Cubs will be just good enough to win, and they could be a formidable team in the post-season.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Farewell, Alex

In order to make room for recent signing Ramon Ortiz, the Twins had to dump someone off of the 40-Man roster. Turns out, that man was outfield prospect Alex Romero, who was claimed off waivers yesterday by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hat tip to Seth over at Seth Speaks for the initial tip on this piece of news - and he got it at the Dickie Thon Fan Forum initially. Seth was looking for another source to confirm, and I seem to have found one at The Sports Network (first transaction listed for January 19), so it seems like pretty solid intel.

I feel a little sheepish for not considering this particular ramification to the Ortiz signing - with a full roster, the Twins had to get rid of somebody when they signed Ortiz to a Major League contract. I was behind the curve on that one . . .

As for whether this is a significant lose for the Twins - it really depends on who you ask. Seth liked Romero's upside and considered him a significant prospect. I'm a little cooler on Romero. He's young (just 23), so there would have been time for him to improve. But in 71 games at AAA last season, he hit just .250 and demonstrated no power. His .300 OBP wouldn't exactly have won him any awards either. One year, especially a player's first year at AAA, does not a career make, and it's certainly possible that Romero will blossom into a Major League caliber ballplayer. But, while I'm disappointed in a general sense to lose a prospect, I wouldn't call myself heartbroken.

As for who else could have been removed from the roster, there isn't a lot of fat to trim. Luis Rodriguez was just off - and then back on - in the blink of an eye, and the Twins seem to expect him to contribute at the Major League level again this year. Taking him off of the roster would have just created a need for another move after Spring Training. Chris Heintz could have been removed, but if he were claimed it would have left the Twins even weaker than they already are in organizational catching depth, so that wasn't really a great option either. As much as I don't want to see it happen, I almost would have suggested removing J.D. Durbin from the roster now and being done with it - there is only about a 5% chance (at best, and being generous) that he makes the Major League team, and since he's out of options he'll be going on waivers anyway at the end of Spring Training. Since we're likely to lose him then, why not bite the bullet and make the move now, thus keeping Romero within the organization?

Ultimately, the guys in the front office know more about these prospects than I do. I assume that they looked at all of their options, and decided either that Romero wouldn't be claimed, or that they wouldn't be too heartbroken if he was. It will be interesting to see how he does for Arizona this year.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ramon Ortiz Joins the Rotation

The Twins seem to have found a pitcher that they definitely want to have on the Major League squad in Ramon Ortiz, who will be signed to a one-year, $3.1 million deal once he passes a physical. This is different than the signings of Sidney Ponson, Mike Venafro, Randy Choate, and Carmen Cali (and, for that matter, of Matt LeCroy and Ken Harvey), all of whom were signed to minor league deals. The fact that Ortiz got a Major League contract indicates that the Twins are pretty sold on the idea of having him in the rotation.

Is this a good idea? Well, Ortiz has had flashes of decent play throughout his career. His 2002 season with the Angels (15-9 / 3.77 ERA / 162-68 K-BB) was by far his best year, but 2001 and 2004 (when he was primarily used out of the bullpen) weren't terrible. For $3 million/year, the Twins can't expect too much out of him, and would probably be happy if he could make 30 starts and pitch 150 innings or so with an ERA on the south side of 5.00. And ultimately, the question is whether or not it makes sense to sign a pitcher who is going to put up those kinds of numbers.

The Twins rotation with Ortiz is probably going to look something like this (as suggested by LaVelle E. Neal) - Johan Santana, Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, Carlos Silva, and Boof Bonser (not necessarily in order). Ponson is the least likely piece of that rotation, since, as I mentioned earlier, he's only been signed to a minor league deal. But, there are a number of very good, young pitchers ready and waiting to get a shot. Matt Garza and Glen Perkins are the two guys most likely to make the team, but Scott Baker isn't a slouch (although he's falling behind the other guys on the depth chart, admittedly). Then, there's J.D. Durbin, who is out of options and will probably end up with another team if the Twins don't find a place for him.

On one hand, my preference would be to plug guys like Perkins and Garza into the rotation rather than using a roster spot on Ortiz and Ponson. Generally, I'd rather give young guys a shot rather than using re-treads. But there is another consideration involved, and that has to do with the infamous arbitration clock.

The Twins would probably struggle with their starters whether they were using Ortiz and Ponson or Garza and Perkins. The starting pitching is going to be the shakiest part of this team in 2007. The Twins may have decided to essentially give up on 2007 (unofficially, of course - they'll play as hard as they can, and you never know when you're going to win). If that's the case, then place-holders like Ortiz and Ponson make more sense in the rotation than young guys like Garza and Perkins. Why waste a year on young pitchers if you don't think it's going to benefit the team significantly?

Going into 2008, the Twins should be looking at a rotation of Santana, Bonser, Liriano, and then two of Perkins, Garza, and Slowey. Rather than being a weakness, that rotation should be a significant strength. With Santana possibly on his way out during or after 2008, keeping the extra year on Garza and Perkins (while giving them another year to improve in AAA), could be invaluable.

So, ultimately, I'm torn as to whether I agree or disagree with this signing, but I'm leaning towards viewing it as a good decision in light of the Twins current situation. I don't expect big things out of Ortiz - but if he can put up an ERA in the 4.50 to 4.75 range, he won't have been a bad signing.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Seth Speaks Interview

Seth over at Seth Speaks was kind enough to post a Q&A with me on his blog. The questions cover a whole range of things relating to the Twins and the minor league system. Rather than posting anything here, I'll just send you to Seth's site if you're interested in reading the Q&A. Thanks to Seth for asking the questions, and welcome to anyone who found this site through Seth's.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Twins Sign . . . Matt LeCroy???

In what is sure to be one of the strangest moves the Twins make all year, Matt LeCroy was signed to a minor league contract yesterday. If he makes the big league club, he'll get $500,000 - which really is a pittance for a veteran player, so I can't complain too much about the money. The odd thing (or, perhaps I should say the oddest thing) about this signing was Terry Ryan's justification for it: "We're looking for some depth in the catching ranks. He's one of the good guys in the game. It just made a lot of sense."

Now, I'm not going to disagree with the "good guy" comment. I like LeCroy - I like his personality, I think he has a good attitude in general. But, of course, General Managers shouldn't be making decisions on who to signed based on who is a good guy and who isn't. I suspect that this is one of the reasons that the Twins offered a contract (and therefore, arbitration) to Lew Ford this year (and please, Lew, feel free to prove me wrong by making the team and being fantastic).

But it's the statement about the Twins seeking "catching depth" that really stings. We're talking about Matt LeCroy - the guy who the Twins didn't feel comfortable keeping around exactly because he wasn't a good catcher. And need I remind anyone of last year's game between the Astros and Nationals in which LeCroy was pulled in the middle of an inning because he was being stolen off of at-will? The game in which Frank Robinson cried because he felt so bad about removing LeCroy? Is Terry Ryan really justifying this signing by saying that the Twins need Catching depth?

Normally, I go along with Terry Ryan. I think he's a great GM. And if he wants to sign Matt LeCroy to a minor league deal and see what happens - well - he's earned the right to do so (after all, he's the GM). But justifying the signing in this way? Well, that's just plain silly.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Big Exchange

Today was the day for Major League teams to exchange salary figures with players who were arbitration eligible. As expected, there were some significant discrepancies between the figures submitted by the players and the Twins. Here's a look at each arbitration eligible Twin, with some thoughts on the figures they submitted, and who is likely to win (if they actually proceed to a hearing). Remember, the arbitrators will have to select either the figure submitted by the player, or the figure submitted by the team - they can't split the difference or do anything else with the figures. Also, I'm not going to label the figure submitted by the player and the figure submitted by the team - it's pretty obvious that the higher figure is the players submission.

Justin Morneau - $5 million - $4 million
How to put this . . . Morneau is, well, ya know . . . the reigning MVP. For that price, $5 million is not unreasonable, and the question is whether he's worth closer to $4.51 million or $4.49 million. Being that $5 million is pretty much a bargain for a player with Morneau's numbers, I think he'd win. The thing is, the Twins and Morneau will probably come to, at the very LEAST, a 1-year deal for $4.5 million, and quite possibly a long-term deal if they can get it done.

Joe Mauer - $4.5 million - $3.3 million
Already one of the best Catchers in the Majors, Mauer is slated for his first big raise. The thing is, I think his first injury (that kept him out for pretty much a year) is going to impact the decision made my any arbitrator - even though he's easily worth $4.5 million, I think he'll end up with the $3.3 mil if it goes to the hearing. But even more than Morneau, I think the Twins will do everything possible to get Mauer signed long-term in the next couple of weeks. I do not expect him to go to arbitration.

Michael Cuddyer - $4.25 million - $3 million
Cuddyer hasn't been good enough to warrant a huge jump in his first year. I think the Twins offer is about right for Cuddyer, and I think both sides are going to play hard-ball a bit. Cuddyer is the lowest priority amongst the "Big Three" arbitration eligibles this year, so the Twins are probably less concerned about hurting his feelings by taking him to arbitration. I expect this thing to go to the wire, with an arbitrator ultimately awarding Cuddyer $3 million for 2007.

Nick Punto - $2.1 million - $1.6 million
This one is kind of hard to figure. I think that $1.6 million is more in the range of what Punto should be making next year, and there is no obvious reason to think that the Twins are going to try to get Punto signed to a longer deal. They may split the difference and come to $1.85 million deal, but I think it's just as likely that this goes to a hearing.

Juan Rincon - $2.4 million - $1.6 million
His career ERA sits at 3.26, and he's been a pretty darned reliable set-up man for the last couple of years. Seems to me like that's a recipe for a big raise, and I think Rincon is closer to the $2.4 figure than than he is to $1.6. That said, this seems like a good candidate for an accommodation at $2 million.

Lew Ford - $1.3 million - $0.8 million
I've said I would stop complaining about Ford still being around, but his submission of a $1.3 million salary really gets at the reason why the Twins should have cut him loose. As I've documented before, he's gotten worse every year. $800,000 is probably not unreasonable for a fourth year player, but if he were awarded a $1.3 million salary from the arbitrators - well - it would be a crime. I don't think there's a lot of room for agreement here - the Twins are probably comfortable with the offer they made here, and aren't likely to move much off of the offer. As a result, this will probably go to a hearing, and the Twins should win.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Pre-Pre-Season Predictions: NL East

This is the second in a series of posts on very early predictions for the 2007 season. This post will be an early look at the NL East. For a look at the previous post covering the NL West, click here.

National League East

Atlanta Braves
Projected Rotation
1.) John Smoltz
2.) Tim Hudson
3.) Kyle Davies
4.) Mike Hampton
5.) Chuck James

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Bob Wickman
2.) Macay McBride
3.) Rafael Soriano
4.) Tyler Yates
5.) Oscar Villarreal

Position Players
C - Brian McCann
1B - Adam LaRoche
2B - Martin Prado / Pete Orr
3B - Chipper Jones
SS - Edgar Renteria
LF - Ryan Langerhans
CF - Andruw Jones
RF - Jeff Francoeur

The Braves rotation is solid at the top end with Smoltz and Hudson, but falls off quickly after that. Hampton didn't pitch in 2006, so he has to be considered a question mark. Kyle Davies and Chuck James aren't exactly established major league options, either. If the Braves are going to return to the post-season, they're going to need to find a few diamonds in the rough for their pitching staff.

The bullpen is actually pretty solid, anchored by Wickman and with a young supporting staff behind him. One of the things the Braves tend to do well is develop young relief pitching, and they should continue to do well in this department this year.

This could be Andruw Jones last year as a Brave, and they'll be hoping for solid production from him and Chipper yet again this year. Jeff Francoeur has shown flashes of being a very solid player, but ended up hitting just .260 last year - his 29 homeruns are nice, however. There will be a battle for 2B between Prado and Orr. While Prado is listed as higher on the depth chart, it doesn't seem like a sure thing that he'll win the job; Orr is more proven as a major league player, but also seems more suited to be a backup than a starter.

Florida Marlins
Projected Rotation

1.) Dontrelle Willis
2.) Scott Olsen
3.) Josh Johnson
4.) Anibel Sanchez
5.) Ricky Nolasco

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Taylor Tankersley
2.) Sergio Mitre
3.) Renyel Pinto
4.) Randy Messenger
5.) Yusmeiro Petit

Position Players
C - Miguel Olivo
1B - Mike Jacobs
2B - Dan Uggla
3B - Miguel Cabrera
SS - Hanley Ramirez
LF - Josh Willingham
CF - Alfredo Amezaga
RF - Jeremy Hermida

Just like last year, this is a young, exciting team. It's unfortunate that the club felt the need to part with Joe Girardi, because he had this group playing spectacularly for him. Hopefully, they continue to play well for Fredi Gonzalez. The starting rotation is pretty darn solid, led of course by Dontrelle Willis (for now, anyway). If they continue pitching to their potential, the Marlins will be in a lot of games late.

The bullpen is weaker than the rotation. Joe Borowski, last year's closer, is gone - and for now it looks like Taylor Tankersley is going to be given a chance to close. I would expect the position to be up for grabs in spring training. In fact, I would expect the composition of the entire bullpen to be up for grabs. There are a lot of talented young pitchers in this organization, so if they get a few guys to step up, the 'pen shouldn't let them down too seriously.

As with the rest of the team, the position players are young but exciting. Mike Jacobs, Dan Uggla, and Hanley Ramirez are all potential stars (to join Miguel Cabrera). Josh Willingham will probably phase out the dual outfielder/catcher role that he was filling last year and settle in as primarily an outfielder this year. Jeremy Hermida had a disappointing year last year (for a guy with such promise), but could click at any time. If he does, he should be a power guy who hits for a decent average. Overall, the Marlins are a solid young team that could be interesting to follow in 2007 - but they played so far over their heads last year that it may be asking too much for them to take another great leap forward this year.

New York Mets
Projected Rotation

1.) Tom Glavine
2.) Orlando Hernandez
3.) John Maine
4.) Oliver Perez
5.) Jason Vargas / Pedro Martinez

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Billy Wagner
2.) Aaron Heilman
3.) Guillermo Mota
4.) Pedro Feliciano
5.) Duaner Sanchez

Position Players
C - Paul Lo Duca
1B - Carlos Delgado
2B - Jose Valentin
3B - David Wright
SS - Jose Reyes
LF - Moises Alou
CF - Carlos Beltran
RF - Shawn Green

The biggest question with the starting rotation is how long it will take Pedro Martinez to get healthy and contribute to the team. Recent reports suggest that he's healing more quickly than the Mets had originally thought, but he and the team are going to take it easy and avoid rushing him back. The rest of the rotation is either old or questionable, and will be the shakiest part of the team this year until and unless Martinez returns, quickly and effectively.

The bullpen is solid, let by Wagner and with some great pitchers like Heilman and Feliciano. Duaner Sanchez was also having a very solid season until he was injured in July, and hopefully will return healthy this season. Meanwhile, Guillermo Mota (who has put up some solid numbers in the past) will miss the first 50 games of the 2007 season after being suspended for failing a drug test. Whether he'll be the same pitcher when he returns is unknown.

The lineup is one of the best in baseball, what with Beltran, Wright, and Delgado being joined this year by Moises Alou, with the table being set by Jose Reyes. Provided that they stay healthy, they will score a lot of runs and win a lot of games.

Philadelphia Phillies
Projected Rotation

1.) Freddy Garcia
2.) Brett Myers
3.) Cole Hamels
4.) Adam Eaton / Jon Lieber
5.) Jamie Moyer

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Tom Gordon
2.) Ryan Madson
3.) Geoff Geary
4.) Fabio Castro
5.) Clay Condrey

Position Players
C - Rod Barajas
1B - Ryan Howard
2B - Chase Utley
3B - Wes Helms
SS - Jimmy Rollins
LF - Pat Burrell
CF - Aaron Rowand
RF - Shane Victorino

The Phillies rotation is pretty solid, especially with the addition of Freddy Garcia. Jon Lieber has been mentioned as probable trade bait throughout the winter, and he would seem to be the odd-man out at this point. Cole Hamels had a good debut season in 2006, and should improve in 2007.

The bullpen is led by Tom Gordon, but gets a little suspect after that. Madson is an emergency starter when needed, but his 5.69 ERA last season was gaudy. Geoff Geary had a breakthrough season, pitching in 81 games with a 7-1 record and an ERA under 3.00. If the bullpen is solid, the Phillies should hang in most games.

The lineup isn't bad - no lineup with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in it could be - but it also isn't going to overwhelm anybody. They should hit enough to stay in games. I'll be watching to see whether Pat Burrell is traded, and if Shane Victorino can hold down the job in Right.

Washington Nationals
Projected Rotation

1.) John Patterson
2.) Jerome Williams
3.) Tim Redding
4.) Michael O'Connor
5.) Shawn Hill

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Chad Cordero
2.) Jon Rauch
3.) Emiliano Fruto
4.) Saul Rivera
5.) Micah Bowie

Position Players
C - Brian Schneider
1B - Nick Johnson
2B - Felipe Lopez
3B - Ryan Zimmerman
SS - Cristian Guzman
LF - Kevin Casto / Alex Escobar
CF - Nook Logan / Ryan Church
RF - Austin Kearns

Yikes. If you want to be horrified, head to the Washington Nationals depth chart and click on the starting pitchers. This team is going to struggle mightily, and unlike the Marlins there isn't a lot of hope in the pitchers they'll be running through the mill. When John Patterson is your "ace," there isn't a lot to look forward to.

The bullpen is lead by Chad Cordero, but after that things fall apart, just like the rotation. Jon Rauch had a good 2006, pitching completely out of the bullpen. There will be a lot of competition this spring (and, honestly, during the season) to determine the exact composition of this bullpen.

Outside of Ryan Zimmerman (a potential star), and Austin Kearns (who could still be rehabilitated into something close to a star), the Nationals are composed of a lot of space-fillers. Nick Johnson is a good player, but he isn't getting any younger and probably will never be more than an average first baseman. Cristian Guzman will return this year, but based on his performance in 2005, is that really a good thing for the Nats? The competitions in Left and Center also are unlikely to be won by guys who will be there long-term. If you're a Nationals fan, I'd say wait 'til next year - but that may be a little optimistic.

1.) New York Mets - 96-66
2.) Philadelphia Phillies - 90-72
3.) Florida Marlins - 85-77
4.) Atlanta Braves - 77-85
5.) Washington Nationals - 65-97

Even if the Mets have a little trouble with their starting pitching, the team should be good enough to win the division. The Phillies will contend, especially if they get some good seasons from some of their key hitters. I'd like to see the Marlins gell this year under Fredi Gonzalez, and it could happen - the talent is definitely there, and if everything clicked (and the Mets struggled), they could contend. The Braves don't strike me as a very solid team - it's going to take awhile to reload. As for the Nationals - well, they're just plain bad. It's going to take them more than "awhile" to reload - it's going to take them years.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Mere Formality

Yesterday was the deadline for arbitration-eligible players to officially file for arbitration. It should come as no surprise that, pretty much, any player eligible for arbitration actually took the trouble to file (Why wouldn't a player file? The only reason I can think of is having a bad agent . . . ).

For the record, here are the Twins who filed for arbitration:

C - Joe Mauer
1B - Justin Morneau
RF - Michael Cuddyer (who is listed as a 3B on the MLB list . . . hehehe)
3B - Nick Punto
OF - Lew Ford
RP - Juan Rincon

The only player that I had as arbitration eligible for the Twins that didn't file is outfielder Jason Tyner - but I'm assuming that my calculations (which had him at 3 years, 51 days of service time as of the end of the 2006 season) were wrong, or he was otherwise ineligible - because I can't think of any other reason for Tyner not to file. If anybody knows the answer to this question, please let me know in the comments or via e-mail.

Now comes the really interesting part - actually determining who will and who won't go through the arbitration process. The Twins often come to an agreement with players (usually by splitting the difference between requested salaries) before the hearing takes place, and this year there is reason to believe that they will try to lock up Mauer, Morneau, and/or Cuddyer to a long-term deal before going to arbitration.

The schedule from here on out looks like this:

January 16 - players and team exchange arbitration figures
February 1-21 - Arbitration Hearings

So, we should know fairly quickly which players are likely to come to an agreement with the team before a hearing (basically, any player that is not far about from the teams offered salary is a likely pre-hearing signing). And there is still a fair amount of time to negotiate contracts even if Twins players are assigned to early hearing dates.

For the record, I expect the Twins to come to a long-term deal with Joe Mauer this off-season, and to operate on a one-year contract with Morneau and Cuddyer to allow them more flexibility going into the 2007 off-season. Either way, the Twins will have these guys around for at least three more years before free agency rears its ugly head.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Twins Ink Another Lefty Reliever

The Twins have added yet another veteran lefty to the mix that will be competing for a 12th bullpen spot during Spring Training, signing Randy Choate to a minor league deal. Choate will compete with previously signed lefties Mike Venafro and Carmen Cali for a spot that may - or may not - be open in Spring Training.

Choate isn't exactly an innings-eater - last year, he made 30 appearances, and pitched the sum total of 16 innings. He's only hit the 50 inning mark in one year - 2004, for Arizona - and his career Major League ERA of 4.64 doesn't suggest that he's ever likely to reach that mark again. Nevertheless, as a pure lefty-only specialist, he'd provide an interesting piece to the Twins bullpen that would be a bit different from what the Twins have had in the past. I think it's extremely unlikely that we'll get a chance to watch him pitch for the Twins, however. At least his signing gives Gardy and Ryan a chance to look at another arm down in Ft. Myers.

Podcast Appearance

Marty Andrade had me on his Hall of Fame podcast today. It's a fairly long podcast - around half an hour, I think - but we discuss a lot of issues related to the Hall of Fame election, including the steroid debacle, the high vote totals for Ripken and Gwynn, and the suitability of certain members of the Hall. I enjoyed the discussion, and look forward to another summer of Twins podcasts when he gets up and rolling again at the start of the new season.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Hall of Fame Results

My first order of business is to congratulate Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn on their much deserved election into Cooperstown. My second order of business is to lament the fact that Bert Blyleven lost ground from last year, once again falling below the 50% mark on the ballot. Frankly, I didn't see this coming - while a few writers, such as Buster Olney, have acknowledged that they continued not to vote for Blyleven, I had seen more stories shifting the other direction (such as Jayson Stark, who was finally convinced of Blyleven's worthiness). I believed that Blyleven was going to continue to increase his vote share, and that he would eventually cross into the 75%+ club that would earn him election. Blyleven fans now have to acknowledge that this is a long shot, since he lost ground. Once you start giving ground back, it's hard to reclaim.

You can find the official vote totals here.

You can find my predictions (my very wrong predictions) here.

And if you want still more analysis, you can see my would-be picks for the Hall here.

A few further thoughts:

1.) Gwynn and Ripken were obviously beloved by the writers. I knew they'd get in, but I projected lower vote totals than they actually received, and had Gwynn finishing above Ripken. I'm not sure now why I thought there would be such a strong anti-Ripken vote - maybe the 8 guys who didn't vote for him could better articulate the rationale. Chalk this one up to a big mistake on my part.

2.) Goose Gossage is now less than 4% away from getting in. Considering that he won't be facing off against any new (legitimate) competition next year, I consider him a virtual lock for election in 2008. Interestingly, Jim Rice and Andre Dawson suffered losses from previous totals, just like Bert. At one point, I thought that 3 or 4 of the "hold-overs" would be elected next year. Now, it looks like the Goose might be going in alone next year.

3.) Mark McGwire fared very poorly, with just 23.5% of the vote. I thought he'd get a little over 1/3 - obviously the backlash is very large, and very strong. To say that McGwire is unlikely ever to be elected to the Hall is probably an understatement at this point. Unless something were to surface that completely exonerated him (and is that really very likely?) or unless attitudes towards performancing-enhancing drugs were to change tremendously over the next 14 years, there is no shot for McGwire to end up in Cooperstown.

4.) A melancholy goodbye to Steve Garvey, who failed to get in the Hall in his last year of eligibility. I predicted a sympathy vote would increase his totals from a year ago - instead, he lost over 4% - tough crowd, those writers.

5.) More guys who lost ground on the ballot: Lee Smith (5.2%), Jack Morris (3.9%), Tommy John (6.7%), Alan Trammell (4.4%), Dave Parker (3%), Don Mattingly (2.4%), Dale Murphy (1.6%), Orel Hershiser (6.8%), Albert Belle (4.2%).

6.) The drops suffered by Hershiser and Belle were enough to remove them from the ballot. Neither was going to be elected, but I'm surprised that their support fell so quickly from last year to this.

7.) Amongst the first-time candidates, only Mark McGwire and Harold Baines (barely) stayed on the ballot for next year. Scott Brosious, Bobby Witt, Devon White, and Wally Joyner all failed to receive any votes (which really was as it should have been), and surprisingly to me (and not to anybody else, apparently) Jose Canseco picked up just 6 votes for a total of 1.1% of the ballot. Buh-Bye, Jose.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Pre-Pre-Season Predictions: NL West

It's very, very early in the year to be talking about predictions for the 2007 MLB season, and there are still a lot of things for teams to work out before rosters are set and whatnot - position battles to be fought out in Spring Training, late signings, emerging rookies, a trade or two. Nevertheless, a substantial amount of the work has been done already this off-season, and we know the basic shape of each MLB team. As a result, it's time to make some ridiculously early pre-pre-season predictions.

Over the next six Mondays (leading up to the Twins first pitchers & catchers workout on Monday, Feb. 19), I'll be posting my predictions for each division in baseball, starting in the National League and culminating with the AL Central on February 12. Ten months from now, when my predictions have been proved to be woefully wrong, you can all make fun of me mercilessly. The actual predictions are at the bottom of this post, beneath the capsule summaries of each team.

Here's the schedule for the posts:

January 8 - NL West
January 15 - NL East
January 22 - NL Central
January 29 - AL West
February 5 - AL East
February 12 - AL Central

And now - the Main Event:

National League West

Arizona Diamondbacks

Projected Rotation
1.) Brandon Webb
2.) Randy Johnson
3.) Livan Hernandez
4.) Doug Davis
5.) Edgar Gonzalez

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Jose Valverde
2.) Brandon Medders
3.) Brandon Lyon
4.) Jorge Julio
5.) Juan Cruz

Position Players
C - Chris Snyder
1B - Conor Jackson
2B - Orlando Hudson
3B - Chad Tracy
SS - Steven Drew
LF - Scott Hairston / Jeff DaVanon
CF - Eric Byrnes
RF - Carlos Quentin

Of course, the Randy Johnson trade is the big splash of the moment for the Diamondbacks, but the addition of Doug Davis in exchange for catcher Johnny Estrada bolstered their pitching staff earlier this winter. The starting pitching is now potentially very good, with Cy Young winner Brandon Webb at the top of the rotation along with Johnson, and two solid second-tier starters in Livan Hernandez and Davis. The bullpen is nothing more than ok - Valverde will need to do better than his 5.84 ERA from last season if he wants to keep the closer job.

As for the lineup - there are some exciting players, such as Steven Drew and Conor Jackson who will play everyday, but it's a young lineup that will probably struggle significantly at times. If the pitching delivers, this team has an excellent shot to go for 86-88 wins, and in this division that makes them a serious contender.

Colorado Rockies
Projected Rotation
1.) Jeff Francis
2.) Aaron Cook
3.) Josh Fogg
4.) Byung-Hyun Kim
5.) Taylor Buchholz

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Brian Fuentes
2.) Jeremy Affeldt
3.) Ramon Ramirez
4.) LaTroy Hawkins
5.) Manny Corpas

Position Players
C - Yorvit Torrealba / Chris Iannetta
1B - Todd Helton
2B - Jamey Carroll
3B - Garrett Atkins
SS - Clint Barmes / Troy Tulowitzki / Kaz Matsui
LF - Matt Holliday
CF - Willy Taveras
RF - Brad Hawpe

The Rockies could look a bit different when the start of the season rolls around, as 1B Todd Helton is rumoured to be on the trading block. Whether or not the Rockies pull the string and deal their biggest superstar will depend on whether anyone is willing to take the majority of his prodigious salary, and if the Rox can get a decent return on him. There are some very exciting young players on this roster, including All-Star Matt Holliday and 3B Garrett Atkins - if nothing else, the Rockies should be fun to watch.

Trading away ace Jason Jennings gave the Rockies a couple of young pitchers in Buchholz and Jason Hirsh, but for now expect only one of them in the rotation. By the end of the season, that will probably not be the case - Byung-Hyun Kim is not exactly a reliable starter, and there should be opportunities for youth to come up.

The bullpen is a concern. Brian Fuentes is an All-Star closer, but after him the Rockies will be relying on LaTroy Hawkins and Jeremy Affeldt - and that could be dangerous. If they can find a bridge from the starters to Fuentes, though, this team could win some ball games.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected Rotation

1.) Jason Schmidt
2.) Derek Lowe
3.) Brad Penny
4.) Randy Wolf
5.) Chad Billingsley

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Takashi Saito
2.) Yhency Brazoban
3.) Joe Beimel
4.) Jonathan Broxton
5.) Elmer Dessens

Position Players
C - Russ Martin
1B - Nomar Garciaparra
2B - Jeff Kent
3B - Wilson Betemit
SS - Rafael Furcal
LF - Luis Gonzalez
CF - Juan Pierre
RF - Andre Ethier

The Dodgers made some significant additions this off-season, but they probably overspent on some players (*cough* Juan Pierre *cough*). Nevertheless, on paper they look like a formidable team that is likely to be at the top of the division when October rolls around. The starting rotation, led by Schmidt and Lowe, will be solid. If Randy Wolf returns to form, he could be a great signing.

The bullpen is very deep, but the question is whether Saito can maintain his closer position this year, or whether he'll be figured out by the league. Also, can the Dodgers avoid the pitching injuries that have plagued them in recent years?

The lineup could turn into a weakness quickly - Nomar, Jeff Kent, Luis Gonzalez - none of these guys are spring chickens, and they will be expected to play significant roles for the Dodgers. If they start playing their age, then the Dodgers will be in big trouble. Juan Pierre should get on base and get a lot of steals, but he'll need someone behind him to drive him in. The Dodgers do have some exciting young outfielders who will be competing for playing time. If the youngsters contribute and Father Time plays nice, the Dodgers should be fine on offense.

San Diego Padres
Projected Rotation

1.) Jake Peavy
2.) Greg Maddux
3.) Chris Young
4.) Clay Hensley
5.) Mike Thompson / David Wells?

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Trevor Hoffman
2.) Scott Linebrink
3.) Cla Meredith
4.) Scott Cassidy
5.) Doug Brocail

Position Players
C - Josh Bard
1B - Adrian Gonzalez
2B - Marcus Giles
3B - Kevin Kouzmanoff
SS - Khalil Greene
LF - Termell Sledge
CF - Mike Cameron
RF - Brian Giles

If David Wells signs with the Padres, they will have a very solid mix of veterans (Maddux, Wells) and young studs (Peavy, Young) - and a rotation that can compete with any other in their division. The bullpen, led by Hoffman and Linebrink, is also a significant positive for the Padres. In other words, the Padres shouldn't have to worry too much about pitching. If they don't sign Wells, however, they will have a bit of a dubious back-end of their rotation - but what team doesn't?

The lineup should be solid, led by veterans Giles (both of them) and Cameron, as well as by the very exciting Adrian Gonzalez, who showed flashes of his great potential last season. They are relying on youngster Kouzmanoff to develop quickly into a Major League ready 3B, and the decision to have Termell Sledge as the starter in left field seems dubious at best and will probably be remedied before the season starts.

San Francisco Giants
Projected Rotation

1.) Barry Zito
2.) Matt Cain
3.) Matt Morris
4.) Noah Lowry
5.) Brad Hennessey

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Armando Benitez
2.) Tim Worrell
3.) Kevin Correia
4.) Vinnie Chulk
5.) Brian Wilson

Position Players
C - Bengie Molina
1B - Rich Aurilia / Ryan Klesko
2B - Ray Durham
3B - Pedro Feliz
SS - Omar Vizquel
LF - Barry Bonds
CF - Dave Roberts
RF - Randy Winn

So - let's get this straight. The Giants just spent $126 million on Zito . . . oh, wait, wrong story. Zito is here, and he's the ace of the staff now that Jason Schmidt is gone. Of course, that just means the Giants are treading water with the Zito signing, and maybe not quite - Schmidt is, or at least was, a better pitcher than Zito. Matt Cain and Noah Lowry are interesting young pitchers, and Morris is a solid veteran. The rotation is at least close to on par with the rest of the division.

The bullpen, however, is another story. Benitez is still a good closer, and Vinnie Chulk had an ok year last year. As for the rest of the bullpen . . . well, unless somebody steps up, this is going to be a weakness for the Giants.

Then, there are the position players, who . . . well . . . let's just say they're a wee bit long on experience. Ray Durham and Omar Vizquel had great years last year, but how much longer can they keep it up? And why, oh why, would you sign Rich Aurilia to be your starting first baseman - or, at best, to a platoon with Ryan Klesko. Ryan Klesko! Then there's Barry - and you just never know when he's finally going to fall apart. When he does, I don't think it's going to be pretty. I actually like the idea of giving Dave Roberts a chance to be a starting center fielder (most of the commentators seem to think this is a bad idea, and admittedly the guy is old and has always been a role player, but he deserves a shot). Ultimately, I'd be very concerned about age if I were a Giants fan.

1.) San Diego Padres - 91-71
2.) Los Angeles Dodgers - 89-73
3.) Arizona Diamondbacks - 86-76
4.) San Francisco Giants - 80-82
5.) Colorado Rockies - 78-84

The race is going to be close, but I think the Padres are going to sign Wells and get some great production out of Gonzalez and Kouzmanoff. I think this is going to be a great battle between the top three teams in this division, and honestly wouldn't be surprised to see any of them win the division. Ultimately, I just think the Padres pitching is going to be too strong for the competition.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Reusse's Article on Santana

Patrick Reusse wrote a column awhile back (December 30, t0 be exact) that discussed the Twins "depressing" off-season, and the more depressing off-season that he sees coming next year when, as he sees it, the Twins "inevitably" trade Johan Santana. The premise is based on the $126 million deal that Barry Zito just got, and the presumption that Johan will get a $200 million deal when he's a free agent. Is he right?

Let's look at his statements one-by-one, because there's a lot to unpack in this article:

1.) "[the Zito signing] means there is zero chance that Johan Santana will be pitching for the Twins following the 2008 season."

This is hyperbole and defeatism. The Twins will, absolutely, have to make some difficult decisions over the next few years, and what to do with Johan Santana is going to be a big part of that process. But, we should not assume automatically that Santana will be gone.

First, and this should never be relied on too much, Santana might actually want to pitch with the Twins. Players who were "for sure" going to take the money and run (Kent Hrbek, for example) have chosen to sign contracts with the Twins for less money than they could have picked up elsewhere. Just this off-season, Vernon Wells signed a contract extension with the Blue Jays that is worth less, possibly FAR less, than he could have picked up on the open market. This does NOT mean that the Twins will be able to get by with offering Santana a pittance - he's going to take at least as much as Zito I would guess. We're talking an $18-20 million/year contract to even think about keeping him around.

Now, this is obviously not the kind of contract that the Twins normally sign. But we aren't dealing with a normal player here. We aren't even dealing with a "special" player. We're dealing with the best pitcher in baseball (apologies to Roy Halladay). You dig deep to keep a guy like that around, and with a new stadium (and the associated higher revenues) coming around the corner from when this signing would take place, there is every reason to think that there is some measure of flexibility in the budget, or at least will be, when a decision has to be made on Santana.

I'll get into this in more detail further down the post, but the whole point of this section is to say that there is, in fact, a chance (maybe not a good one, but a chance nonetheless), that the Twins will be able to keep Johan in a Twins uniform for the rest of his career.

#2 - "You can let Hunter leave as a free agent and get away with it. You can't possibly do the same with Santana, perhaps the most valuable commodity in the game at the moment."

On this point, Reusse and I are in complete agreement. Torii Hunter is a nice player to have, but he's expensive. With Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer all in the expansive salary portion of their career, the Twins will need the money that they're currently paying Hunter to be able to keep the other guys around. Further, and more to the point here, he's not such a great player that the Twins could get an unbelievable package for him in a trade. If he had a good start to the 2007 season, and a contender developed a need for an outfielder, he might become fairly valuable - but he'd probably be more valuable to the Twins if they were even remotely in contention at the trade deadline, because he's a big part of the Twins offense, and his replacement would be unlikely to produce as many runs as he could. As a result, keeping Hunter and letting him leave as a free agent (thus picking up the draft pick compensation for him) isn't a terrible plan.

Santana is, of course, a completely different story. I gave Jim Bowden a terrible time this year for not trading Alfonso Soriano when the market was as good as it was going to get. Bowden supposedly thought that he could re-sign Soriano, but that was nonsensical. Santana would be even more of a sure-thing trade - the only difference being that he would probably be dealt before the start of his last season (2008) in order to maximize the trade value.

This means that the Twins will need to work on an extension for Santana next winter. I don't know whether he'll be receptive or not to the kinds of package that the Twins could/would offer him, but they will have to give it their best shot next winter. If they can't get it done, then it would be foolish to keep him around for 2008 and risk losing him as a free agent - as Reusse says, he's just too valuable.

The Twins will have to make some difficult decisions in the next few years, but I don't think signing Johan is one of them. They absolutely have to make an attempt, and a ridiculously long contract for a ton of money (7 or 8 years at $20 million per) is warranted for a guy like Santana. We can't afford to go to 10 years and $25 million, and that may be what it takes to keep him. But if that's the case, then the Twins are out of the Santana race.

How to we pay for Santana if we are lucky enough to keep him at $20 million per? Well, we already pay him $12 million (for 2007), and will be paying him $13.25 million in 2008. If it jumped to $20 million in 2009, the money would have to come from somewhere. The Twins could likely raise expenditures in anticipation of increased revenue from the new ballpark, but that probably wouldn't be enough to keep Santana and the core group of young players that are going to be getting big raises.

I leave you, therefore, with one question: If it came down to keeping Santana but losing either Mauer, Morneau, or Cuddyer - OR - keeping the three young guys and letting Santana go, what would you do? For me, the answer is clear - but that's a story for another day, sometime early next off-season. For now, it's just a hypothetical question . . .

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Five Questions From Seth

Seth over at Sethspeaks.net has posted five questions about the Twins organization, including questions on such topics as the Sidney Ponson signing, "Ryanball," and long term signing that the team should pursue. It's a good article with a number of interesting thoughts, and makes for a good read for those of you who, like me, are getting spring training fever about 45 days too soon.

Twins Take a Chance on Ponson

I suggested a couple days ago that if the Twins signed anybody else this off-season, it would be a veteran starting pitcher to compete for a spot in the rotation. While Tomo Ohka had been mentioned as a possibility, and would have been a solid pickup, the Twins went in a cheaper direction and signed Sidney Ponson, last seen self-destructing for the Cardinals and Yankees last season, and before that throwing away his promising career by abusing alcohol and food. Normally speaking, I don't think he would the kind of guy, character-wise, that the Twins would have pursued; however, Terry Ryan almost certainly did his homework on Ponson, and ESPN says that Ryan is "satisfied that Ponson has put his problems in the past."

I'm not so sure - and I wouldn't give Ponson a great shot of making the rotation. It depends on a lot of things - Ponson will have to pitch very well this spring, and at least a couple of the youngsters (Garza, Perkins, Baker) or Carlos Silva will have to struggle for Ponson to get thrown actively into the mix. We should have a decent idea by about March 15 whether Ponson has thrust himself into a battle for a spot in the rotation, and my money is on Ponson not making the team.

Ponson was signed to a minor league contract, and will make $1 million if he makes the Major League roster, with the possibility for $2 million more in performance bonuses. The structure of the contract is a positive for the Twins - $1 million for a veteran starter isn't bad, and this is not guaranteed cash. The Twins essentially bought a lottery ticket with Ponson - as a result, they benefit whether he succeeds or not, because they didn't overpay for the chance of his success.

Meanwhile, the Twins also signed righty Brad Voyles to a minor league deal. Voyles hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2003 with the Royals, and his career Major League ERA is 6.59. That said, his minor league career ERA is 2.99, and he was pitching well in Venezuela when signed by the Twins. He supposedly will also be thrown in the mix during Spring Training for a starting spot - but it would be stunning if he made the Major League team out of camp, and I don't expect to see him in a Twins uniform anytime - well - ever. Maybe he'll prove me wrong.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Hall of Fame Predictions

Hall of Fame voting results will be released in a week, and this seems the appropriate time to reveal my predictions for what will actually happen when the ballot is released, including vote percentages. My previous post stating who I would vote for if I were lucky enough to have a ballot can be found here.

A few quick comments before I post my predictions. First, I think that many voters consider future elections when voting for Hall of Famers. I wish they didn't - I think voters should be free to change their minds from year to year as they consider new evidence, but I don't think that things such as who a player would be elected with, or the paucity of suitable candidates for a future year, should be considered by a voter. Nevertheless, this does happen - and I think it will have a significant impact on this year's balloting. The class of newly eligible players NEXT year is not a strong one - Shawon Dunston, Travis Fryman, David Justice, Mike Morgan, Tim Raines, and Randy Velarde are listed as the top choices on the Hall of Fame website - and many voters may be holding off on voting for players like Bert Blyleven, Goose Gossage, and Jim Rice until next year when there are no obvious first-timers.

Largely based on the results of last year's voting, and the trends that have developed over the last few years, here are my predictions for this year. The numbers in parentheses are the results for the last five years, if the player has been eligible for that amount of time. This is to make it easier to see trends, if any, in that player's vote percentages. My predicted totals don't necessarily have a linear relationship to previous vote results - there are certain players who seem to have gained steam over the last year, and vice versa.

Names in Bold are those I'm predicting will be elected. Names in Italics are those I'm predicting will be removed from the ballot, either due to time (if this is the 15th and last year of eligibility) or because of a failure to receive 5% of the vote.

Tony Gwynn - 92%
Cal Ripken, Jr. - 85%

Jim Rice - 68% (64.8 / 59.5 / 54.5 / 52.2 / 55.1)
Goose Gossage - 66% (64.6 / 55.2 / 40.7 / 42.1 / 43)
Bert Blyleven - 62% (53.3 / 40.9 / 35.4 / 29.2 / 26.3)
Andre Dawson - 61% (61 / 52.3 / 50 / 50 / 45.3)
Jack Morris - 50% (41.2 / 33.3 / 26.3 / 22.8 / 20.6)
Lee Smith - 47% (45 / 38.8 / 36.6 / 42.3)
Mark McGwire - 35%
Steve Garvey - 34% (26 / 20.5 / 24.3 / 24.3 / 28.4)
Tommy John - 28% (29.6 / 23.8 / 21.9 / 23.4 / 26.9)
Alan Trammell - 16.5% (17.7 / 16.9 / 13.8 / 14.1 / 15.7)
Dave Parker - 15% (14.4 / 12.6 / 10.5 / 10.3 / 14)
Don Mattingly - 12.6% (12.3 / 11.4 / 12.9 / 13.7 / 20.3)
Dave Concepcion - 12% (12.5 / 10.7 / 11.3 / 11.1 / 11.9)
Harold Baines - 11.5%
Dale Murphy - 11% (10.8 / 10.5 / 8.5 / 11.7 / 14.8)
Orel Hershiser - 9% (11.2)
Albert Belle - 6% (7.7)
Jose Canseco - 5%
Bret Saberhagen - 2.5%
Paul O'Neill - 2%
Bobby Bonilla - 1%
Tony Fernandez - 1%
Jay Buhner - 0.5%
Eric Davis - 0.5%
Wally Joyner - 0.5%
Ken Caminiti - 0.2%
Dante Bichette - 0.2%
Devon White - 0.2%
Bobby Witt - 0%
Scott Brosious - 0%

Monday, January 01, 2007

The State of the Twins Off-Season

We're a little over halfway through the long baseball winter (at least, if you consider the Feb. 18 Pitchers & Catchers reporting date to be the unofficial start of the season), so it seemed like a good time to take a look at the state of the off-season. There isn't a lot of earth-shattering news in this post - it'll serve as a look at how the roster is likely to shape up going into and coming out of Spring Training, and also look at where the Twins may try to make a move or two.

By far the biggest loss of the off-season to this point was the retirement of Brad Radke, who has anchored the Twins staff for the past 12 years. If you also consider Francisco Liriano's injury, which will keep him out for the entire 2007 season, the Twins have lost 2/5 of their starting rotation from a year ago. The Twins also saw OF Shannon Stewart depart via free agency, but considering the injury woes that have plagued him over the last couple of years, this isn't particularly significant. Also virtually meaningless is the loss of DH/1B Phil Nevin, who was picked up for the playoff run, and who didn't exactly remind Twins fans of Don Baylor in terms of his effectiveness as a ringer. Also gone is 12th pitcher Willie Eyre, who simply didn't pitch well enough to make the Twins consider keeping him around, and who will now get a shot with the Texas Rangers.

There aren't all that many of them. The biggest addition is probably 1B/3B Jeff Cirillo, a guy who is likely to play a significant role for the Twins in 2007 as a backup corner infielder (and possibly even occasionally at 2B), and who is a much more inspiring signing than Tony Batista was a year ago. The Twins also picked up IF Alejandro Machado in the Rule 5 Draft, and signed Mike Venafro and Carmen Cali to compete for a spot as a lefty out of the bullpen. Ken Harvey, DH/1B, was also signed to compete for a spot on the roster. Perhaps the biggest "gains," however, were actually just "non-losses" - players who the Twins could have let go but chose to keep around. Torii Hunter heads that list, and his $12 million option for 2007 now looks a bit more affordable in light of the contracts that have been signed this off-season. Carlos Silva will get another shot in the rotation, and is now the only veteran in the rotation outside of Johan Santana. The Twins also re-signed Rondell White and Luis Rodriguez, filling a gaping whole in LF with White and adding an infielder to compete for a roster spot in Rodriguez.

SP - Johan Santana
SP - Boof Bonser
SP - Carlos Silva
SP - Matt Garza / Scott Baker
SP - Glen Perkins / Scott Baker

Closer - Joe Nathan
Set-Up - Juan Rincon
RP - Denys Reyes
RP - Pat Neshek
RP - Jesse Crain
RP - Matt Guerrier
RP - J.D. Durbin / Mike Venafro / Carmen Cali

C - Joe Mauer
1B - Justin Morneau
2B - Luis Castillo
3B - Nick Punto
SS - Jason Bartlett
LF - Rondell White
CF - Torii Hunter
RF - Michael Cuddyer
DH - Jason Kubel / Ken Harvey

C - Mike Redmond
IF - Jeff Cirill0
IF - Luis Rodriguez / Alejandro Machado
OF - Jason Tyner
OF/DH - Lew Ford / Ken Harvey / Jason Kubel

Start with the starters - Santana is obviously a lock, barring an injury. Bonser and Silva will both be in the rotation unless they suffer significant setbacks in Spring Training. That essentially leaves 3 youngsters competing for two spots in the rotation (Garza, Perkins, and Baker), with J.D. Durbin an outside possibility to win a starting job if he had a very solid spring, coupled with poor performances from a couple of the three favorites. If the Twins add any more free agents this off-season, it is likely to be here - a veteran who could add stability to the rotation would be welcome.

There are very few question marks surrounding the bullpen - really the only battle is over the 12th spot out of the 'pen, including the question of whether there even will be a 12th pitcher on the roster. In past years, Ron Gardenhire has preferred an 11-man pitching staff, but the realities of having a young group of starters in the modern MLB may make an 11-man staff wishful thinking. If a 12th pitcher is carried, veteran lefty Mike Venafro has to be considered the front-runner, but with formerly prized prospect J.D. Durbin out of options, the team may give him a chance to prove he's Major League ready by sticking him at the back end of the bullpen.

There are no battles for starting positions anticipated outside of the DH battle that should shape up between lefty Jason Kubel and righty Ken Harvey - a battle that may logically be expected to be resolved by the creation of a platoon. It is possible, but unlikely, that Jeff Cirillo could play his way into a position battle with Nick Punto over 3B - but that's more likely something that would shape up early in the regular season, rather than something that would develop during Spring Training. After all, the Twins are outwardly committed to Nick Punto as the starting 3B at this point.

There will either be 4 or 5 spots available on the bench, depending on the number of relievers the team carries. Mike Redmond, Jeff Cirillo, Jason Tyner are all pretty safe, and leaves more than likely just one more spot available on the bench. If Kubel and Harvey were kept around as platoon DH's, there would be no spots left on the bench for a middle reliever such as Rodriguez or Machado, unless the Twins kept only 11 pitchers. This means that either (1) the Twins will carry 11 pitchers in order to carry a full bench, (2) the Twins will not carry Ken Harvey as a platoon DH (probably the most likely scenario), or (3) the Twins will not carry a backup middle infielder (highly unlikely). This also means that Lew Ford has virtually no chance of making the Major League roster out of Spring Training, unless he were to outplay Jason Tyner, or if Jason Kubel didn't make the Major League squad. This makes the decision to offer Ford a contract even more perplexing.

The big news transaction-wise for the remainder of the off-season is almost certain to be the contracts signed by the arbitration-eligible players, including the "Big Three" of Mauer, Morneau, and Cuddyer. My hope is that at least one of these players is signed long-term in the next few weeks, before arbitration rolls around. Outside of the that, the Twins are unlikely to add any more free agents, with the possible exception of a starter who could help stabilize the rotation. Tomo Ohka is one of the names that has been mentioned, along with Joel Pineiro and Tony Armas. Ohka would be a solid signing (career 4.04 ERA), but would probably be awfully expensive. While a signing is possible, I expect the Twins to go into Spring Training with the roster they currently have.