Taylor's Twins Talk

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

Sunday, September 30, 2007

What's Next?

The Twins season is now over, and it's time to enjoy what's certain to be a very interesting post-season and dream about Spring Training 2008. The journey to next season will involve a great many decisions by the Twins and new GM Bill Smith, and this post will highlight the major choices that Smith has to make as relates to current Twins personnel. If you're interested in seeing a general post-season calendar, there's a good, comprehensive one (that actually covers all season) here. Also, while I give a few opinions in this post, it's mostly intended to be informational. In the next few days I'll be posting my thoughts on what I would do if I were the one confronted with these deadlines.

Option Decision - Deadline Unknown

Joe Nathan - Team Option - $6 million / $1 million buyout

Often, the player's contract dictates that an option decision has to be made within a certain number of days of the end of the regular season or the end of the World Series. I don't know when Nathan's option needs to be decided upon, but really this is a no-brainer; $6 million is an absolute steal for a closer with Nathan's abilities, and the Twins should (and will) snap this thing up quickly.

Just as an aside, the Twins also had another potential option situation this year, as Rondell White had a vesting option based on plate appearances. Of course, White's season was a disaster and he picked up just over 100 AB's on the season -- far below the number that he would have had to pick up in order for the option to vest.

Free Agent Filing Deadline - 16th Day after the World Series Ends
Salary Arbitration Offer Deadline - December 1
Deadline to Accept Arbitration Offer - December 7

Torii Hunter - $12 Million in 2007
Carlos Silva - $4 Million in 2007
Rondell White - $2.5 Million in 2007

Yes, believe it or not the Twins have whittled down the list of free agents on the team to just three. Rondell White has already said that he plans on retiring, and even if he changes his mind its extremely unlikely that the Twins would choose to bring him back. The big gun is, of course, Torii Hunter -- and I'll be saying a lot more about my opinion on that front in the coming days. As for Silva, the Twins have plenty of talented young arms and Silva is in line to get a pretty big contract on the free agent market, so don't expect him back next year.

Reserve List Deadline - November 20
Rule 5 Draft - December 6

It would be very difficult to list all of the potentially affected players in this post, so I'm going to explain this deadline and then focus more closely on it when the playoffs end and the Twins are more likely to make some moves in this area. Essentially, this is the deadline for players to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, which takes place during the Winter Meetings on December 6. By the way, it's "Rule 5 Draft," not "Rule V Draft" -- the name comes from Rule 5 of the Professional Baseball Agreement (or whatever they call it now).

The most well-known portion of the Rule 5 Draft is the "Major League Phase." Players who were 19 or older when signed are eligible to be drafted if they are not on the 40-man roster and the current year's draft is at least the fourth since they were signed (i.e. a player originally signed in 2004 who was 20 when signed would have been with his team while the '04, '05, and '06 drafts took place, so this year's draft would be the fourth since he signed and he would be eligible to be drafted if he was left off of the 40-man roster). Alternatively, players who were 18 or younger when originally signed are eligible to be drafted if they are not on the 40-man roster and the current year's draft is at least the fifth since they were signed.

Additionally, there are AAA and AA phases of the draft in which players on a lower level reserve list (basically the minor league equivalent of the 40-man roster, although the numbers of protected players vary at each level) are available to be drafted. The Twins took Brian Buscher from the Giants in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft last year, for instance.

So, why is November 20 the big date? By that point, all of the free agents will have filed and will no longer be taking up roster space. That means that teams will have room to place players on the 40-man roster to protect them from the draft. So, who will be eligible this year unless added to the 40-man? Here's a partial list (my thoughts on who the Twins should add to the roster will be coming in a later post):

Kyle Aselton - LHP
Korey Feiner - C
Jesse Floyd - RHP
Matthew Fox - RHP
Dave Gassner -LHP
Kyle Geiger - C
Garrett Guzman - OF
Adam Hawes - RHP
Danny Hernandez - RHP
Luke Hughes - IF
Bobby Korecky - RHP
Tim Lahey - RHP
Jose Leger - C/IF
Jose Lugo - LHP
William Luque - IF
J.P. Martinez - RHP
Frank Mata - RHP
Jason Miller - LHP
Felix Molina - 2B
Matt Moses - 3B
Trent Oeltjen - OF
Yancarlos Ortiz - SS
Edward Ovalle - OF
Rodolfo Palacios - C
Brock Peterson - 1B
Javi Sanchez - C
Danny Santiesteban - OF
Jay Sawatski - LHP
David Shinskie - RHP
Eli Tintor - OF
Matt Tolbert - IF
Luis Ugueto - IF
Danny Vais - RHP
Gil Velazquez - IF
Dwayne White - OF
Glenn Williams - IF
David Winfree - 1B/3B
Johnny Woodard - 1B

Deadline to Tender Contracts - December 12

The so-called non-tender deadline (by which all players not under contract must be "tendered" a contract -- players who are non-tendered become free agents) is always interesting. Teams have a chance to part ways with players that they don't have a place for. Usually, this deadline is important for players who are arbitration eligible the next year, because teams don't want to risk having to pay a marginal player a significant salary. The Twins once again have a pretty long list of arbitration eligibles for this year, but few of them are actually candidates to leave the team via a non-tender. Here's the list of arbitration eligibles:

Matt Guerrier - RP ($.4075 M in 2007)
Juan Rincon - RP ($2 M in 2007)
Matt LeCroy - C ($.5 M in 2007)
Justin Morneau - 1B ($4.5 M in 2007)
Michael Cuddyer - RF ($3.575 M in 2007)
Lew Ford - OF ($.985 M in 2007)
Jason Kubel - OF ($.3875 M in 2007)
Jason Tyner - OF ($.4 M in 2007)

What are the Twins likely to do with that group? I think it's safe to say that Matt LeCroy will be removed from the roster promptly, possibly well before the non-tender deadline. It's also pretty safe to say that Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Matt Guerrier, and Jason Kubel will be brought back. Juan Rincon and Jason Tyner are also likely returnees, although they're closer calls. The only candidate who I think is likely to be non-tendered this year, then, is Lew Ford -- who I thought should have been non-tendered last year.

One last thing on arbitration-eligibles -- Luis Rodriguez (2.128 days of service time) is likely to be on the borderline of so-called "super-2" eligibility. That could factor into the Twins decision on whether or not to bring him back next year. Jason Bartlett also has about 2 1/2 years of service time -- but that's probably too low to get him into super-2 range.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Nightly Notes

Today set up perfectly to give baseball fans some very interesting things to watch tomorrow, so despite the Twins loss to the BoSox, I'm happy. Just as a note, my College Football Top 25 post is located just below this post, so check it out if you're a college football fan. Now, here are my thoughts on the day that was -- and what I'll be hoping for tomorrow:

1.) I'll start, as always, with the Twins -- and how good was it to see Joe Mauer go 3-for-4 with a dinger in what could be his last action of the season? I'm hoping that Mauer will be fine next year, and will put together a great season -- and this game nicely reminded us what he's capable of. You know you're a pretty good catcher when a season batting average of .293 is a disappointment!

2.) Rondell White may have played his last game as a Major Leaguer tonight, depending on what Gardy's lineup looks like tomorrow. If so, he ended it in style with a homerun against Tim Wakefield. He's been a disappointment as a Twin, but he seems like a great guy and I wish him well as he heads into retirement.

3.) Nick Blackburn had a rough couple of games, allowing 8 earned runs in his last 3 innings of work. Overall, there wasn't a lot positive out of Blackburn in his first Major League stint, but at least he made his debut. He won't start 2008 with the Twins, but there's a reasonable chance we'll see him again at some point next year -- and I would guess he won't put up a 7.71 ERA when he comes back.

4.) Now, onto the playoffs. Thanks to the Brewers, there will be quite a bit of drama tomorrow. If the Padres lose tomorrow and the Rockies, Mets, and Phillies all win, there will be a four way tie between those teams for the Wild Card, with the Mets and Phillies being tied for the NL East title. According to Jayson Stark, the possibilities essentially would look like this:

- On Monday, the Phillies and Mets would have a one-game playoff to determine the winner of the NL West. A few years ago, the loser of that game would have been eliminated from Wild Card contention, because the game was counted as a 163rd regular season game, and the loser would have had a slightly lower winning percentage, breaking the Wild Card tie in favor of the idle team. No longer, however -- MLB decided that if you finished the 162nd game in a tie, you shouldn't lose your chance at the Wild Card. That means the playoff silliness would just be beginning.

- Afterwards, there would be some sort of crazy three-team playoff that apparently would involve the Rockies (by virtue of head-to-head records) deciding whether they wanted to play two road games or one home game. Trust me, this scenario is bizarre -- so I'd love it. I'm not going to go into details here (because frankly, I'm not sure I understand them), but it sure would be a lot of fun! This is the scenario I'm hoping for, because it would be chaos. Hopefully you have a comfy chair and lots of time to watch things unfold tomorrow afternoon!


My College Top 25

What a week! If you couldn't find a few entertaining games on the schedule today, then you just weren't trying very hard. Between the upsets that were popping up all over and the drama in MLB, I spent all day (while trying to get work done) flipping channels and staring in disbelief. I'm not sure what exactly to think about what happened today in NCAA football, but here's what I think my new top 25 looks like:


1 (1) - LSU - (5-0)
The Tigers really struggled up until halftime, when they adjusted to whatever it was that Tulane was throwing at 'em. The end result, however, was a blowout win -- and that's good enough for me to continue ranking them at the top of my poll. Next week brings a big battle against Florida -- and the Gators are going to be awfully hungry to prove themselves, so things should be awfully interesting.

2 (2) - USC - (4-0)
USC got all they could handle this week against Washington, but came out with a three point win and easily held on to the #2 spot in this poll. The Trojans don't have a real challenge now until October 27 when they face off against Oregon, so they should be 7-0 heading into that weekend.

3 (5) - California - (5-0)
It's awfully hard to argue against the Bears in this position. They solidly beat Tennessee in week one, survived easy matches against Colorado State, Louisiana Tech, and Arizona, and then this week beat Oregon on the road in a grudge match. What's not to like?

4 (7) - Ohio State - (5-0)
Ohio State didn't exactly have a tough opponent this week, as all they had to do was beat the Gophers. Beat them they did, however, and by a tidy 30-7 score. Next week they face Purdue in a battle of undefeateds, and we'll find out for the first time whether the Buckeyes are for real.

5 (10) - Wisconsin - (5-0)
Wisconsin's wins so far thais season had been cheap and much too close, but this week the Badgers faced a solid Michigan State team and came out with a three point win. Considering all of the chaos that happened above them in the polls, that's good enough (for now) to put them in my top 5 -- but honestly, I don't consider them a top 5 team and expect them to be falling soon. Heck, maybe even as early as next week against an upstart Illinois squad.

6 (9) - Boston College - (5-0)
Don't get me wrong -- I like the Eagles. I could not, however, keep them ahead of the Badgers when Wisconsin won a tough game against a good team and the Eagles struggled for most of the game against UMass. With Clemson's loss, though, BC is looking more and more like a team that could find themselves winning the ACC. I attribute most of the struggles today to looking past UMass -- but they need to avoid doing that next week against Bowling Green.

7 (17) - South Florida - (4-0)
I thought long and hard about how high to move the Bulls after Friday night's win over West Virginia, and in the end I decided that wins over Auburn (who just beat Florida), North Carolina (who played Virginia Tech tough) and WVU (a team that was favored to win the Big East coming into the season) was enough to justify jumping them 10 spots, especially in light of all of the losses that accumulated today. The Bulls now have a great chance to run the table on the schedule -- an October 18 meeting at Rutgers is probably the biggest obstacle left -- and could find themselves in a BCS Bowl just 11 years after starting up a football team. Unbelievable!

8 (3) - Oklahoma - (4-1)
The first of this week's losers to land on my poll. The Sooners blew out their first four opponents, but none of those teams were very good. This week, however, Oklahoma faced Colorado on the road and lost on a last second field goal. I think the loss can be explained by two things, however -- (1) the natural high that a team like Colorado gets when playing a tough team, and (2) Oklahoma looking forward to next week's matchup with Texas. The Sooners are better than they played today, and could still find themselves in the national title picture if things fell the right way.

9 (19) - Kentucky - (5-0)
Okay, I give up arguing against the Wildcats. They pounded a decent Florida Atlantic team today 45-17, and are looking more and more like a team that could play spoiler in the SEC. Unfortunately, starting next week they have to play at South Carolina, against LSU, and against Florida, so this ranking is probably going to be extremely short lived.

10 (6) - Florida - (4-1)
The Gators looked great in the first 3 weeks, and then stumbled a bit last week at Mississippi, winning by just 6 points. That probably should have been a warning sign that this week's matchup with Auburn would be tougher than it looked on paper, and indeed the Gators couldn't get it done this week. That could very well mean that Florida's not actually all that good, but I think it just means that Florida has been spending all season looking forward to next week's matchup with LSU. Things don't get much easier after that game, as Florida stays on the road against Kentucky and Georgia in games that will show once and for all just how good the Gators really are.

11 (4) - West Virginia - (4-1)
Hey, South Florida's not bad. The Mountaineers now know that better than anyone, after losing to the Bulls two years in a row. Thing is, WVU isn't really that bad either, and should find themselves in a position to win the Big East if USF struggles later on this season.

12 (14) - South Carolina - (4-1)
The "other" USC faces off against Kentucky next week after getting back on the right track by beating Mississippi State this week. Steve Spurrier should lead his Gamecocks to a win at home against the Wildcats, and USC will then have winnable games against UNC, Vandy, Tennessee, and Arkansas before facing Florida on November 10. This team is by no means out of the SEC title picture -- but they have to take care of business next week for that to happen.

13 (15) - Virginia Tech - (4-1)
Unimpressive 17-10 victory over UNC this week normally wouldn't have been enough to move Virginia Tech up in the polls, but all the craziness helped out the Hokies. Next week's matchup with Clemson lost a little bit of luster after the Tigers lost, but it remains a crucial game in the battle for the ACC.

14 (12) - Oregon - (4-1)
Oregon lost tonight, but did so by just a touchdown against a team that I think is 3rd best in the country right now. As a result, they deserve not to fall too hard. They should be able to regain their footing in the next two weeks against Washington State and Washington before heading into the October 27 game with USC.

15 (16) - Hawaii - (5-0)
I like Hawaii quite a bit, but how much of a bump can you give a team (even in a week like this) for beating Idaho?

16 (18) - Georgia - (4-1)
I have a feeling that this ranking is criminally low, but I'd like Alabama to prove to me that they deserve a higher ranking. In my gut, they're probably a top 10 team -- but how they handle playing at Tennessee next week and at Vandy the week after heading into an October 27 matchup with Florida will be telling -- they're 1-1 against good teams, with a 4 point loss and a 3 point win. How good are they, really?

17 (22) - Purdue - (5-0)
So, the Boilermakers just beat Notre Dame -- I guess that's something. Of course, Notre Dame is . . . well . . . horrible. Next week, the Boilermakers host the Buckeyes -- and somehow I don't think that's going to be nearly as fun for fans in West Lafayette.

18 (20) - Nebraska - (4-1)
Nebraska was nearly embarrassed by Ball State last week, but this week they were never in trouble against Iowa State. With so many teams losing, that's good enough to earn them a bump up to two spots before they face off against Missouri next week.

19 (NR) - Kansas State - (3-1)
Coming into this week, the Wildcats hadn't done much to earn consideration as a top 25 team -- they lost to Auburn before beating San Jose State and Missouri State. After a rout of Texas on the road, however, and after Auburn proved that they were a reasonably good team by beating Florida, it was time for some re-evaluation. Kansas State now has to be considered a strong contender for the Big XII North title.

20 (8) - Texas - (4-1)
The Longhorns couldn't possibly be ranked above the team that just clobbered them, could they? That's just not my style -- not that week, anyway. Texas is still a good team, but they need to redeem themselves after a very poor performance against K-State this week.

21 (13) - Clemson - (4-1)
I still like the Tigers, but they looked punch-drunk against Georgia Tech this week and now have to host Virginia Tech next week. A win would put them right back in the ACC title picture, but I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you.

22 (NR) - Arizona State - (5-0)
ASU hasn't really played anyone very good, but most of their wins have at least been by impressive margins. The Sun Devils have a chance to be 7-0 when they go into an October 27 meeting with California as they begin a brutal four week stretch that also will have them facing Oregon, UCLA, and USC.

23 (NR) - Cincinnati - (5-0)
The Bearcats? Who would have figured? Like ASU, Cincy hasn't played anyone noteworthy yet, but their wins have been even better than ASU's have been. Next week, Cincy plays at Rutgers -- and they have to like their chances after the Scarlet Knights choked against Maryland. Could Cincy challenge South Florida for the Big East championship? Unlikely, but this season, you never know . . .

24 (NR) - UCLA - (4-1)
The Bruins were pummeled a couple of weeks ago against Utah and fell out of the polls -- but their wins have been by large margins and it looks an awful lot like they just completely lapsed against the Utes. Next week, they have a very winnable game at home against Notre Dame, before getting a week off and facing Cal on October 20. I don't expect them to beat the Golden Bears, but they should be a top 25 team when the game rolls around.

25 (23) - Michigan State - (4-1)
They just lost, but they lost to Wisconsin on the road and I still think they look pretty good. Certainly, they still look like a top 25 team. Games against Northwestern and Indiana should get the Spartans to 6-1 by the time they face Ohio State on October 20.

Rutgers for a loss against Maryland and not having any good wins under their belt; Alabama and Penn State for two straight losses; Michigan for looking so-so against a very bad Northwestern team.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nightly Notes & Upcoming Posts

Hey all -- with just three days left before the season was over, I wanted to give you some idea of what's upcoming on this site. Here are a couple of notes on tonight's game and the Twins generally, along with a roadmap for things to come:

1.) I had all but given up on Garrett Jones up until about a week ago. So far in the big leagues he hadn't hit -- for power or otherwise -- and I pretty much figured he was a lost cause who the Twins would probably let go in the offseason. However, I mentioned earlier this month that if he could demonstrate something offensively, the Twins would probably keep him on the roster and give him a shot in spring training. It looks to me like he's done just that, as Jones hit his second homer in a week today against the BoSox. I still don't think that Jones is likely to play a significant role for the Twins, but I do think that the Twins will probably keep him around and give him one last chance to prove himself. Since he'll be out of options, however, I would guess that he'll end up as a waiver claim at the end of spring.

2.) Unfortunately, Matt LeCroy is showing why he doesn't belong in the big leagues anymore -- his 0-for-4 night included 3 K's, and he's now hitting just .143 in 14 AB's this season.

3.) Boof Bonser was his usual self in his last start of the year, going 5 innings and giving up just 3 runs -- but needing 97 pitches to get out of the inning. Let's just say he needs to work on his pitch efficiency next spring, or he'll end up the odd man out in the rotation battle.

4.) Here's the list of things I plan on posting in the next week or so:

* A list of free agents, arbitration-eligibles, out-of-option players, players eligible for the Rule 5 Draft who will have to be added to the roster or exposed to the draft, and other deadline-ish decisions that the Twins have to make in the next couple of months

* A post discussing what I would do this off-season if my name were Bill Smith

* Early looks at who could end up where throughout the Twins system next year

* My Award Winner picks and predictions

* A look back at my pre-season predictions

That should all be coming next week, most of it fairly early on. If I get around to it, I'll also be writing a "what went right/what went wrong" post. And, as always, I'll be blogging regularly about the post-season, off-season transactions, and the assorted variety of other things (such as college football) that catch my attention.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Nightly Notes

There hasn't been a lot to talk about the last few days (or at least, nothing that I've felt all that enthusiastic about commenting on) -- but I'm going to throw up a few notes tonight so everyone knows I'm still alive and that I still care about what's going on . . .

1.) Scott Baker has joined the Pat Neshek and Mike Redmond on the list of players who have been shut down for the season. Glad to hear that his son is alright after a bout with pneumonia. I strongly suspect that Baker already has a spot in the rotation next season locked down due to his option situation (he's out, and the Twins almost certainly aren't going to just let him go), but watching how he performs next spring will be very interesting.

2.) Just when I'd all but written off Garrett Jones, he's had a solid couple of ballgames, and his swing has looked pretty decent. I had him pegged as someone who the Twins would get rid of this off-season, but now I think there's a good chance that he'll get a look next spring. Like Baker, Jones will be out of options next season -- but unlike Baker, I think he'll have to be awfully impressive to make the team.

3.) Julio DePaula's ERA now sits at an even 9.00. Yikes.

4.) The Tigers would have to win each of their final ballgames and the Yankees would have to lose each of theirs in order for the Yankees not to make the playoffs. Is it wrong of me to be hoping for this, considering that would mean a Twins loss tomorrow?

5.) The Rockies are winning in the 6th inning against the hapless Dodgers as I write this, on a night when the Phillies and Mets both lost and the Padres are losing. Is a trip to the post-season really a possibility for Colorado? Is it really possible that they will have won 9 straight ballgames if they win tonight? Maybe I'll have a team to root for in the post-season after all . . .


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Nightly Notes

With a week to go until the end of the regular season, the playoff races are tightening up and getting awfully interesting. Here are my thoughts on the current state of the Twins and the playoff races to be decided over the next seven days:

1.) Kevin Slowey has had an up-and-down rookie season, but today he showed why he's a top prospect in the organization. Slowey went seven strong innings, throwing 99 pitches (a very solid 75 for strikes) and allowing just 4 hits and a run while striking out 9 and, most importantly, not walking anyone. Slowey is in a great position to claim a spot in next season's rotation, and starts like this just solidify things. If I had to guess right now, I would say he'll be in the starting five when April 2008 rolls around.

2.) Congratulations to Garrett Jones for finally showing off a bit of power and knocking his first big league homerun out of the park. Unfortunately, Jones hasn't impressed for most of the season, striking out around 26% of the time (including twice today) -- which would put him amongst the league leaders in that category. The problem is that the rest of the players throughout the league who strike out at that rate also hit a ton of homeruns, which excuses the K's. Jones is going to need a lot more than 1 homerun in every 63 AB's if he has any hope of staying in the league with his K rate so high.

3.) I will have much more to say about this as we move into the off-season, but I sincerely hope that this was not Torii Hunter's last home game as a Twin. Ozzie Guillen is a blow-hard, but he's a blow-hard who occasionally speaks the truth. The other day, Guillen said that the Twins without Torii Hunter and Johan Santana next year would go from being piranhas to sardines -- and while I disagree about the impact of losing Santana (to recap, the benefits to be gained from trading him, such as a new 3B, LF, and possibly DH, would be greater than the loss from losing him due to the Twins organizational pitching strength), I absolutely agree with him that losing Hunter would be catastrophic to the organization at this point. More to come on this point.

4.) Jason Kubel continues to look as if he's turned a corner -- he hit .364 in August and has hit .309 in September, and while the homeruns haven't been as regular as I'd like, he is at least producing. I have very high hopes for him for 2008.

5.) The Yankees are just a game and a half behind the Red Sox -- time to panic? For a confirmed Yankee-hater such as myself, it might as well be.

6.) Even if I weren't living in Colorado, I'd be rooting for the Rockies to win the Wild Card. This is a young team that has developed more quickly than expected, and the fan base has been in purgatory since the 1995 playoffs. After winning 8 games in a row, the Rockies find themselves just 1 1/2 behind the Padres and one game behind the Phillies. It would still be a shock for the Rockies to make the playoffs this season, but I will be rooting for them all the way.

7.) The Brewers are falling apart, which is fine by me -- I actually like the Brew Crew, but as I've said before, I think the Cubs have the potential to be a great playoff story, and I want to see Sweet Lou back in the post-season. The Cubs couldn't have asked for a better schedule to finish the season -- 3 games in Florida and 3 in Cincinnati -- while the Brewers are at home but have to play the Cardinals for 3 games and then the Padres, who will be fighting for their playoff lives, for 4. My money is on the Cubs.

8.) Current first-round matchups, if the season ended today:

* Angels @ Red Sox
* Yankees @ Indians

* Cubs @ Diamondbacks
* Padres @ Mets

I think the Yankees would have a huge advantage by not having to face the Angels in the first round -- for some reason, they have a significant problem with the Halos. Things will undoubtedly change over the next week -- and hopefully the Yanks will get the Angels in the first round.


My College Football Top 25

After an interesting weekend of college football, here's where I'd rank 'em:


1 (1) - LSU - (4-0)
The Tigers stood up to a strong South Carolina team today and picked up a solid win, which was not as close as the final score indicated. LSU remains in the driver's seat to win the best conference in college football, so I continue to rank them on top.

2 (2) - USC - (3-0)
A conference win over Washington State is nice, but is not as impressive as LSU's win and so is not enough to move USC into first in my book.

3 (3) - Oklahoma - (4-0)
Oklahoma has been untested so far against mostly weak opponents, but a matchup with Texas is coming up on October 6.

4 (5) - West Virginia - (4-0)
Win this week against East Carolina wasn't surprising, but WVU's generally dominant play so far this season gets them an extra spot in the rankings, with an interesting matchup against upstart South Florida on the docket for next Friday night.

5 (6) - California - (4-0)
Cal faces Oregon next week for the right to be considered the #1 contender to USC in the Pac-10.

6 (4) - Florida - (4-0)
The Gators won this week, so why the lack of love in my pole? Essentially, this is a spanking for not blowing out Ole Miss, a weak opponent that the Gators should have blown out. I suspect Florida just looked past Mississippi, but a 6 point win in this game, even on the road, is a disappointment.

7 (7) - Ohio State - (4-0)
Northwestern isn't much of a Big Ten test for the Buckeyes, and Ohio State delivered. This team easily looks like the class of the conference, especially after today's results.

8 (8) - Texas - (4-0)
A win against Rice does nothing for the team's resume, but the aforementioned battle royal with Oklahoma is just two weeks away. The Longhorns can't afford to look past Kansas State next week.

9 (11) - Boston College - (4-0)
Alright, so all they did this week is beat Army, which isn't all that significant. Nonetheless, the Eagles look very good, and don't have a bump in the schedule until they play Virginia Tech on October 25. At that point, they should be a solid 7-0.

10 (10) - Wisconsin - (4-0)
A narrow win today against Iowa following last week's meager first half performance against The Citadel is cause for concern -- but at least the Badgers are pulling out wins, and that has to count for something.

11 (12) - Rutgers - (3-0)
The only team in last week's top 25 to get a rest this week, the Scarlet Knights return to action next week against tough luck Maryland. Rutgers hasn't beat anyone of any note to this point, so this #11 ranking is, in many respects, completely artificial -- but a win against the Terps would go a long way towards legitimizing the ranking.

12 (14) - Oregon - (4-0)
It doesn't get any better than next week's matchup with #5 California. The Ducks have looked very strong so far this season, but Cal will be the first true test (unless you count Michigan).

13 (15) - Clemson - (4-0)
The Tigers are staying close to BC in the ACC Atlantic division -- the two teams meet up on November 17 in a game that could determine who the Atlantic rep in the ACC title game will be.

14 (13) - South Carolina - (3-1)
When does a loss cost you just one spot in the rankings? When the loss comes to the #1 team in the country (in my opinion) on the road.

15 (16) - Virginia Tech - (3-1)
It's hard to tell how good the Hokies really are -- they've blown out the three bad teams they faced, and were themselves blown out by LSU in their one loss. Battle with Clemson on October 6 will prove a lot.

16 (19) - Hawaii - (on the way to 4-0)
Hawaii is still playing as I write this, but I have no reason to believe that this team won't be 4-0 when the night is over. If they go undefeated, do they make a BCS Bowl? Schedule is awfully weak, but the offense is unbelievable. I'd love to see them face a USC or Texas.

17 (24) - South Florida - (3-0)
For this week, I'm a believer -- but let's see how the Bulls handle the fearsome Mountaineers next Friday night. A win in that would end WVU's national title hopes, and give some strength to USF's BCS hopes.

18 (20) - Georgia - (3-1)
Too close for comfort, but overtime win against Alabama keeps Georgia's hopes in the SEC alive.

19 (NR) - Kentucky - (4-0)
Alright, I admit it -- I didn't rank Kentucky after last week's win against Louisville because I didn't think they were for real. Mea Culpa. The Wildcats are good -- but the schedule is brutal. After facing Florida Atlantic next week, Kentucky plays at South Carolina, then at home against LSU and Florida. Yowsers. Still, if they could steal just one win in those three games, it would put Kentucky right in the thick of the SEC, and put them in great position to go to a bigtime (although not BCS-level) bowl game.

20 (18) - Nebraska - (3-1)
Yes, winning is the most important thing -- and the 'Huskers did win tonight. However, they needed late heroics to beat a plucky Ball State squad, and that should never happen.

21 (17) - Alabama - (3-1)
One loss against a tough SEC foe (Georgia) shouldn't cost a team too much. It will be important to get back on the horse with a win against Florida State next week, though.

22 (NR) - Purdue - (4-0)
The Purdue offense is pretty stout, and should give Big Ten competition some problems all year. The Boilermaker schedule so far hasn't been particularly strong, but with Top 25 teams dropping like flies this week, Purdue deserves to crack the rankings.

23 (NR) - Michigan State - (4-0)
Same story as Purdue -- in fact, Michigan State has played a tougher schedule so far than Purdue has. Nonetheless, Purdue gets the benefit of the doubt with a higher ranking simply because they would appear to be the better team. Can either one keep up a high level of play and knock off Wisconsin or Ohio State to get to the top of the conference, though?

24 (NR) - Michigan - (2-2)
Michigan, you say? Really? Well, yes. The Wolverines have looked a lot more like a top 10 team in the past two weeks than a team that's unranked. I'd rank them higher if it weren't for the two ugly losses that opened the season. I think the Wolverines have turned things around, and in a Big Ten that doesn't seem to have any dominant teams (although Ohio State is trying awfully hard to make that statement look foolish), I think Michigan will start marching their way back through the rankings. At 2-2, I can't go higher than 24th -- but they belong in the top 25.

25 (10) - Penn State - (3-1)
Yes, I realize I'm finishing my top 25 with 4 consecutive Big Ten teams. Nonetheless, I wanted to leave the Nittany Lions ranked, but couldn't justify placing them above Michigan after they just lost to the Wolverines. The first three games of the season for Penn State were against very weak opponents, and they didn't look all that special today. They have winnable games against Illinois and Iowa coming up in the next two weeks before facing Wisconsin on October 13 -- and that game now looks very much like a must win.

Louisville (21), Georgia Tech (23), and Arkansas (25) for losing 2 in a row; Texas A&M (22) for getting pasted in Miami.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nightly Notes

A sweep? A sweep you say? Even if it was against the Rangers, I'll take it. Here are tonight's notes:

1.) Congratulations Matt Garza! The Dome has been cursed ground for the phenom since he came up to the bigs, but he finally got that monkey off his back with a win. The only reason to have been worried about the Dome drought was psychological -- while the streak was ongoing, Garza was going to keep being asked about it, and that couldn't be anything but a distraction. Now, that potential distraction has disappeared, and Garza can go into next season without thinking about it.

2.) I said before that I thought Nick Punto would finish reasonably strong -- and he's making me look decent right now. He's now 8-for-17 over the last five games, and has his season average up to .211. He's also hitting .318 in September. Punto's season bottomed out in August, when he hit .127 (yes, you read that right), but it looks like he's been motivated to improve. I'm hopeful that next season, if he does in fact become the starting second baseman, that he's a bit more like the September version than the August version. If nothing else, his finish has (so far) been promising.

3.) Michael Cuddyer has had an unbelievably unremarkable season. His name just hasn't come up much this year -- he's been virtually an afterthought throughout. I really just realized this tonight, when he had a great game -- 2-for-4 with a HR. That brought his homerun total to 15, and his average to .275. Which Michael Cuddyer are we going to get next year? The Twins need him to be more than just average.

4.) Mike Redmond is done for the year -- it's too bad, but this is the right decision. He doesn't need to risk getting injured more seriously while playing in essentially meaningless games. Perhaps we'll see Chris Heintz catch a couple of games down the stretch -- but please, please don't put Matt LeCroy behind the plate!

5.) Stick a fork in the Tigers -- a sweep by the Indians, coupled with a strong 3 days from the Yankees, has virtually eliminated their chances of making the playoffs and made the AL playoff race one of the least suspenseful in memory.

6.) Speaking of those Yankees, how is it possible that they're just 1.5 out now? This team was terrible for a chunk of the year, and now they're a threat to finish with the best record in the bigs? Ugh.

7.) The National League -- well -- it's got a better playoff race, that's for sure. The Cubbies lead the Brewers by 1 in the Central, the D-backs lead the Padres by 1 out west, and the Mets lead the Phillies by 2.5 in the East. Heck, the Rockies are still in the Wild Card hunt! My attention will be focused on the senior circuit as we roar down the stretch.

8.) In a non-baseball related note, let me just say how sad I was when I watched FOX's "Back to You" tonight. The show is the return to primetime of Kelsey Grammer, a.k.a. Dr. Frasier Crane. The reviews weren't that bad, but in my opinion there was very little about the show that was worthwhile. The jokes were pretty lame, the character is completely unsympathetic, and the show just doesn't seem that worthwhile. I'll give it another shot next week, but if it doesn't hit its stride quickly, I'll regretfully give up on it.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Punto to 2B full time?

I'll have more to say on this LaVelle Neal post tomorrow, but I wanted to at least get something up about it now. The article essentially says that Ron Gardenhire, through comments made tonight, virtually declared that Nick Punto is going to be the Twins starting 2B next season.

My immediate reactions:

1.) Nick Punto isn't as bad as he played this season -- really, this was a horrid, horrid season that should prove to be a statistical anomaly. Unfortunately, his strong 2006 was almost certainly just as anomalous.

2.) Alexi Casilla may or may not be ready to contribute full-time next year -- and if Punto returns to his statistical averages, he might be a better choice to start at 2B than Casilla would.

3.) Gardy wants to make finding a third-baseman a priority this off-season -- but as I've said before, that isn't happening unless the Twins find a trading partner, and they aren't going to get a starting third sacker without trading somebody decent. This is almost an unwinnable proposition for Bill Smith as he enters the off-season -- no matter what he does, there will be complaining, and lots of it.

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Nightly Notes

I love this time of the year -- we're two weeks from the end of the season and the start of the playoffs, and while I'd obviously prefer to be watching the Twins make a playoff run, I can't help but get excited for what the next fortnight has to bring regardless of my favorite team's misfortune this season. While I have a few Twins notes up front, the bulk of this nightly notes post will be devoted to some playoff comments and speculation.

1.) Kevin Slowey went 6 innings and allowed just 1 run while giving up 4 hits, walking nobody, and striking out 7. That's a pretty decent line, all told -- and while I'd prefer it if Slowey took fewer than 105 pitches to get through 6 innings, I would take this from him on most nights. The line would have looked better, of course, had the bullpen held up the score -- but more on that in a bit. My general feeling is that if Slowey manages to put up numbers like this over the last couple of starts that he should get this season, then he'll be in a very favorable position heading into Spring Training 2008, with a job in the rotation his to lose.

2.) Now, about that bullpen . . . Juan Rincon gave up 2 runs (1 earned) on 2 hits in an inning of work, and that sets his ERA on the season at 5.46. I'll have more to say on this when the season is over, but here's a quick highlight: Rincon is not yet eligible for free agency, but the Twins are going to have to think long and hard about bringing him back next year considering the amount of money that he could potentially make in arbitration. It would have helped if he was tradeable, but after the season that he's had I don't know if that's going to be possible. Keep him around and hope he recovers, or non-tender him and get nothing for him? I'll have more to say on this in a couple of weeks. As for the rest of the 'pen, Matt Guerrier was alright, but Joe Nathan allowed a run and needed to be bailed out, which was unfortunate.

3.) Garrett Jones got another chance to play in the outfield today (he's played 3 games in left and 1 in right already this season according to ESPN), and that's almost certainly being done so that the Twins can evaluate his ability to play out there as they continue to think about whether to keep him around next year. As with Rincon, I'll have more to say on this subject in a post-season round up -- but I'm not convinced by anything that I've seen this year that Jones is anywhere near being ready to contribute even as a bench player with a Major League team -- and since this is his last option year, I'm thinking he'll probably not be taking up a roster spot next season.

4.) Nick Punto is now hitting .206 on the year -- a slump could get him back under .200, but if I had to guess I would say that Punto will finish the season above the Mendoza line. That at least would be a minor success in a season that has been an utter disappointment for Punto and for those (like Terry Ryan) who believed in his ability to hold down a job as a regular MLB third baseman. I'm rooting for him to finish strongly.

5.) Sometimes, no matter what you think of a team, you have to admit that they seem to have something -- karma, luck, God, whatever -- on their side. The Indians seem to be such a team this year. I can't tell you how many times I've looked at the scoreboard, seen the Indians down by a few runs late, and thought "that one's over" -- only to see the final with Cleveland on top. It happened again tonight, with 3 in the 8th against Detroit to tie it up and the game-winner in the 11th. I didn't expect the Tigers to catch the Indians anyway, but I was hopeful that they'd catch the Yankees for the Wild Card -- unfortunately . . .

6.) Don't look now, but the Yankees are just 3.5 games behind the Red Sox and are back to 3.5 games ahead of the Tigers for the Wild Card after beating the Orioles tonight (coupled with Boston's loss to Toronto). In recent years, it seems like the story of the early season is always how bad the Yankees are playing -- and I get my hopes up that the playoff streak will be over. Then, reality sets in and the Yankees make their annual push into a playoff position. Looks like it's going to happen again.

7.) Amazing comebacks were the order of the day today, as the Cubs pulled one out against the Reds with 3 in the 9th to maintain their one game lead over the Brewers. The battle for the NL Central is going to be fascinating to watch, as too flawed teams fight for a playoff spot. I'm not sure who to root for in this one -- but I'm leaning to the Cubs because I'm a Piniella fan.

8.) Finally, how about that NL East race? The Mets have lost 4 in a row while the Phillies have won 5 straight -- that's taken the lead in the East from 6.5 for the Mets down to 2.5, and that has to scare the dickens out of Mets fans. This one could get pretty interesting down the stretch.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

My College Football Top 25

From here on out, every Sunday I'm going to offer up my top 25 college football rankings. This is something I do anyway, and figured I might as well publish it so that people can argue about it if they so desire. If you aren't a football fan, you should probably stay away.

1.) LSU (3-0) - Overall a better team than USC, and from a better conference

2.) USC (2-0) - Played better this week against Nebraska than they did against Idaho

3.) Oklahoma (3-0) - No reason to doubt them -- yet

4.) Florida (3-0) - October 6 at LSU will be all important in the championship defense

5.) West Virginia (3-0) - Road win vs. Maryland was nice, but is the Big East good enough?

6.) California (3-0) - Could run the table until November 10 meeting with USC

7.) Ohio State (3-0) - Looked very good in Washington this week -- class of the Big Ten?

8.) Texas (3-0) - Have yet to really win big -- and a close game against UCF looks bad

9.) Penn State (3-0) - Three wins against three bad teams -- how good are they?

10.) Wisconsin (3-0) - Tied at 21 at the half against Citadel is rough -- but at least they won

11.) Boston College (3-0) - Starting to look like an ACC title threat

12.) Rutgers (3-0) - Weak schedule so far -- like Penn State, they could be good or bad

13.) South Carolina (3-0) - Spurrier has them playing well, but LSU is next on the sched

14.) Oregon (3-0) - Very impressive through three games

15.) Clemson (3-0) - Could be a spoiler in the ACC

16.) Virginia Tech (2-1) - Still the favorites to win the ACC, but they have competition

17.) Alabama (3-0) - Big late win against Arkansas makes Alabama very interesting

18.) Nebraska (2-1) - Losing to USC -- even at home -- doesn't drop you very far

19.) Hawaii (3-0) - Colt Brennan didn't reach 300 yards passing? Whaaaaaa?

20.) Georgia (2-1) - Matchup vs. Alabama next week will prove which team is legit

21.) Louisville (2-1) - Great offense, but no defense to speak of

22.) Texas A&M (3-0) - Big numbers three weeks in a row, with the Hurricanes up next

23.) Georgia Tech (2-1) - Tough loss to BC, but still in the ACC picture

24.) South Florida (2-0) - Only real win was against Auburn, who's fading

25.) Arkansas (2-1) - Heartbreaking loss to 'Bama has to be tough to swallow


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ryan Steps Down

Alright, I've had a chance to sit down and reflect on this for a few hours now, and this post is my attempt to write a first-blush opinion on a matter that will take months (years, really) to fully evaluate. Here goes nothing --

1.) First things first: Thank you, Terry Ryan, for 13 years of service as the Twins GM. The early years were a struggle -- but he is more responsible for the resurgence of Twins baseball from 2001 to the present than anyone else, and for that he deserves a great deal of credit. I wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.

2.) Second -- and equally heartfelt -- congratulations to Bill Smith, a truly good guy who absolutely deserves the chance to run the show. If Bill is half as good of an administrator as is rumored, and if he's anywhere near as nice a guy as he was when I met him a few years ago, then the Twins are in excellent, excellent hands. I'm thrilled that the Twins have gone in-house with this hire, and can't wait to see how Smith develops as a GM.

3.) Now, to some more substantive issues, starting with one of the silliest things I've heard all day. Ryan's announcement caught everyone by surprise, and as a result many fans have taken to speculating whether or not Ryan was forced out as the GM. While anything is possible in this crazy world, I'm incredibly doubtful that this decision was anything but voluntary, and here are a plethora of reasons why:
  • The Twins are incredibly loyal -- they don't fire managers and they don't fire GM's.
  • The Twins track record for the last 7 seasons speaks for itself, as does Ryan's track record and reputation as a GM. This is certainly a down year for the organization, but TR didn't forget how to do his job, and a firing would be incredibly undeserved.
  • The decision to hire Bill Smith as TR's replacement speaks volumes. If the Twins upper-level brass felt that a change was needed in the front office, it wouldn't make much sense to hire the guy who has been at TR's side since 1994, and who has presumably learned how to "be a GM" from him. If Ryan had been pushed out, it seems much more likely that the organization would have looked elsewhere for a replacement.
  • TR is staying on until September 30 -- I can think of no reason why the Twins would have asked him to continue on as GM if they were the ones who initiated this move.
  • In a similar vein, it would be unusual (although not unprecedented) for a GM who had been forced out of power to retain a position in the organization. TR is taking a senior adviser position with the team (I imagine the role will be somewhat similar to that occupied by former manager Tom Kelly), making it much less likely that he was pushed out.
  • Perhaps most obviously, TR's explanation makes perfect sense. Why look to a conspiracy theory for an answer when a perfectly good explanation is available?
None of this is conclusive, of course -- but all of these things together provide strong circumstantial evidence that Ryan chose to leave of his own volition. Unless a smoking gun proves me wrong, I'll continue to believe that Ryan legitimately felt it was time to go.

4.) From what I hear (my spy is my dad, who lives in Minnesota and was watching the news tonight), the Twin Cities sports guys are up in arms about this move, believing that it means next season will be the beginning of a rebuilding process. I think that's hogwash (although I could be wrong). The reasons why I think that's hogwash are too lengthy and far afield to include in an article that's devoted to the departure of TR, but rest assured that I'll be going into them in depth as the season comes to an end. For now, let me just say that the doom and gloom is misplaced -- I think Bill Smith will be a perfectly suitable replacement, and if the Twins make the right moves this off-season (it is, in fact, quite possible), they'll be competing for a playoff spot again next year.

5.) So what is TR's ultimate legacy? I've been a bit of an apologist for him, largely because I think he's a good GM. Unfortunately, he's leaving on a down year when many of his moves can be criticized. For the record, here are some decisions from the past 12 months and my position on them:
  • Picking up Torii Hunter's option: great decision -- without Hunter, the Twins 2007 season would have been a real nightmare.
  • Picking up Carlos Silva's option: good decision -- Silva was a known quantity, and the market for starting pitchers wasn't particularly good. Silva had a decent 2007 for the Twins, holding down his job and giving the Twins a veteran presence on the mound. Considering how the youngsters have pitched this year, it's also hard to say that he was taking up someone else's spot in the rotation.
  • Signing Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson: neutral -- Ryan knew the limitations of the market and of his payroll. He took a gamble on Ortiz and Ponson, and had either of them pitched well it would have been a great decision. I find it hard to fault Ryan for either of these moves, because it really was like buying a lottery ticket -- it didn't work out, but the upside was significant and the alternative options were incredibly undesirable.
  • Keeping Nick Punto as the starting third baseman: neutral to bad decision -- I'm not sure what's fair here -- Punto played well last year (and the stat geeks will tell you a repeat of that performance was unlikely), but he's played historically badly this year (and that's not something that TR could have foreseen). If Punto had put up numbers close to his historical average, and considering the virtually non-existent options on the market over the past off-season, I lean to neutral on this decision. Signing Punto to a two-year deal, however, gives me pause -- it was based on just one good season, and now seems like a mistake. Two years and a couple million won't kill a team, but the decision to give him the contract nudges this into the "bad decision" category.
  • Trading Luis Castillo: good decision, mediocre result -- I've said it before and I'll say it again -- the Twins were not going to the playoffs this season based on what they had at the end of July. With Luis Castillo's contract expiring, TR made the right decision to move him. Unfortunately, the market for second basemen was exceedingly thin, and the Twins got just uninspiring prospects for Castillo. Considering that the alternative was letting him languish, I support the move -- even if it did result in Johan Santana getting a bit feisty.
Those are the highlight decisions, but I could certainly add some more -- for instance, the terrible decision to bring back Lew Ford when he should have been non-tendered. I'll leave the list where it's at, however, and say that this was not Ryan's finest year, but it turned out worse than it could have and isn't all TR's fault. I give him a B- for the season, and an A- overall for his career. He wasn't the best GM in the business, but he was far from the worst.

I imagine some more things will pop into my head in the next few days (such as some comments on the rest of the reorganized front office), but for now I'm going to leave it here. Farewell, Terry -- and welcome to the hot seat, Bill.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Notes on the Game and the Rotation

The Twins lost today, but at this point in the season the wins and losses aren't really the important things, are they? Here are some notes on things that at this point are more interesting than the final score:

1.) I broke into a smile today when I saw the box score. It was completely involuntary -- and quite unexpected. The reason? Good ole' Matty LeCroy made his season debut -- and went 1-for-2 with a run scored. As much as I've been ragging on him since his callup, this modest day made me really happy for him. If nothing else, he got to put on the big league uniform again and came up with a base knock.

2.) Far more important to the long-term interests of the Twins was the news today that Boof Bonser has, indeed, lost his spot in the starting rotation. Honestly, this does not bode well for him going into next season. Just take another look at the list of people who will be fighting for a spot in the rotation: Johan Santana (unless he's traded), Francisco Liriano (unless he's still rehabbing), Scott Baker, Matt Garza, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, Nick Blackburn, maybe even Brian Duensing. Bonser has to somehow convince the Twins that he belongs in the mix -- and while he has an edge on Blackburn and Duensing at this point, I doubt that he'd beat out any of the others head-to-head in Spring Training. Another thing to consider -- if it were to come down to Bonser or Baker, Boof has one more option remaing while Baker will be out of options. That almost certainly means that Baker would get the nod while Bonser would head back to AAA for . . . what? More seasoning? I guess he'd have to work on lowering his pitch counts -- a problem that has plagued him all season.

Now, if I were running the Twins, I don't think I would have made this move right now. If you want to get Kevin Slowey a few starts (and that should, in fact, be a priority) there is a better option available -- send Carlos Silva to the bullpen. This has nothing to do with Silva's performance; the simple fact is that, barring an incredibly bizarre decision by Terry Ryan (insert comment about Punto, Ramon Ortiz, or Sidney Ponson here if you feel you must), Silva will leave the Twins as a free agent when the season is over. Why, then, would you waste starts on a guy whose not going to be with the team anymore when there are young guys fighting to take that spot for next season? Doesn't make a lot of sense to me -- but maybe the Twins will make this move before Silva's next start.

3.) Ozzie Guillen was hired by the White Sox before the start of the 2004 season, and guided his team to an 83-79 record in his first year -- three wins fewer than his predecessor, Jerry Manuel, guided the team to in 2003. Nonetheless, all was forgiven in 2005 when his ballclub went 99-63 on the way to winning an unexpected World Series title. After regressing to a still respectable 90 wins in 2006, the team has fallen apart this season, going 62-84 thus far in the season, putting them in last place. Despite this, the White Sox signed their controversial manager to a contract extension that will pay him to manage through the 2012 season. That's either a sign of extreme loyalty or extreme idiocy. Next year will go a long way towards deciding which. My best guess -- Guillen makes it less than half the life of the contract (I guess that means I'm predicting that he's fired sometime at or before the All-Star break in 2010).

4.) This article covers the new "twists" in the AL playoff format. As if spreading a 5 game series out over 8 days wasn't silly and foolish enough, how about this tweak: "The AL team with the best record will have one hour after its final regular season game to choose whether it wants to begin its series Oct. 3 or Oct. 4. If the Division Series were to start today, the Boston Red Sox would have that choice." That decision will determine whether the Red Sox have the long, drawn out series (starting on the 3rd, and picking up on the 5th, 7th, 8th, and 10th) or the more compact series (starting on the 4th, and picking up on the 5th, 7th, 8th, and 10th). Whatever happened to the Game-Game-Off-Game-Game-Game format? Either way, the thought of giving a team the option of which to go with just seems weird to me -- but no weirder than the suggestion of ESPN's John Seibel that the team with the best record in a given league should have not three, but four home games in a five game series. That's a little too much for me to wrap my head around -- let's just say that I hate the idea.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A few quick notes

It's been awhile since I've just commented on a game -- so here are some thoughts from things that happened tonight:

1.) Jason Kubel continues to hit -- 1-for-3 tonight, and .378 in his last 11 games. I was recently asked by Marty who was going to be the Twins DH next year, and I think that once again the Twins are going to pin their hopes on Kubel. The way he's hit of late, I'm actually optimistic about that possibility, and I'm predicting now that if given a chance to play every day, Kubel will be a .285/25/95 hitter -- which the Twins would be thrilled to get out of the DH position.

2.) Alexi Casilla went 2-for-4 but made another error -- not sure what to think about that. Regardless of how he plays at the end of this season, however, I think the Twins are going to start the 2008 season with Casilla as the starting second baseman -- and if they have to, they'll make a move in May to replace him. Hopefully he'll step up and hold the job.

3.) Scott Baker's start left a little something to be desired, even if he ended up with the win. He only allowed 3 runs in 5.2 innings, which is acceptable -- but 10 hits and a walk in that span is not very good.

4.) The bullpen hasn't allowed a run in the last two nights, and the Twins have won both games. When they were blowing games against the White Sox, the bullpen was the primary culprit. The last couple of weeks of the season will be much more satisfying for we fans if the bullpen can nail things down as they did over the last two nights. Meltdowns are just simply not pretty.

5.) So far, so good -- Matt LeCroy may be keeping the clubhouse loose, but he hasn't yet entered a game. That's a role I'm perfectly happy to see him play. In fact, I wouldn't even begrudge him a few at-bats. I like Matt LeCroy -- I just don't want to see him struggle mightily, as I suspect he would at this point in his career.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Non-Baseball Stuff

There are a lot of general things (especially football related) that I just wanted to comment on briefly, so I'm putting them in this Non-Baseball Stuff post.

1.) Commercials are a form of art, and as with all art forms, there are good, bad, and adequate if uninspiring examples out there. Perhaps my favorite commercial in quite some time is the new Nike "Leave Nothing" commercial. If you watched any NFL football this weekend, you undoubtedly saw this ad -- it features the main theme from Last of the Mohicans, if that sparks your memory. What's so great about it? It's simple and well executed. The music is epic, the production values are immaculate, and you don't have to listen to jingles or slogans. I don't know whether the ad is effective or not (frankly, I have no idea what makes people actually pay attention to an ad), but I'll be watching for this one every week -- even if I don't rush out and buy a new pair of Nike's. To see the ad, click here and then click on the "See More Action" link in the bottom left of the screen.

2.) Terrible news out of Buffalo today regarding Kevin Everett, the tight end whose spine was severely damaged in yesterday's Broncos/Bills tilt, and whose very life now hangs in the balance. Living in Denver, this was the early game I was watching this weekend, and it was sickening to see. Even high-speed racing crashes don't have the eerie effect on me that watching a football player lying motionless on the field. Hopefully things look worse now than they actually are.

3.) How about the Big East? The conference as a whole has a record of 14-2, with the two losses both belonging to woeful Syracuse. I did my undergrad work at the University of Pittsburgh, so I'm somewhat invested in the success of the conference -- and so far things look promising. If only Pitt were in the top half of that conference . . .

4.) For a very long time, racing in the United States (excluding drag racing) has been split into relatively clear open-wheel vs. stock car classes. NASCAR is, of course, the primary stock car series in the world, while the open-wheel scene in the US has been split between the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series. It appears that open-wheel racing in the US is undergoing a bit of a transformation, however, becoming essentially a top-flight feeder league for NASCAR (and to a much lesser extent, to Formula One -- the dominant form of racing everywhere outside of the United States). Former F1 and CART (the precursor to both the IRL and Champ Car) champion Juan Pablo Montoya came over in time for the 2007 season, and now it looks as if just-crowned IRL champion Dario Franchitti and fellow IRL driver and former champion Sam Hornish, Jr. will be heading to NASCAR full-time next season as well. They'll be joined by another former F1 champion, Jacques Villeneuve, as well as open-wheeler Patrick Carpentier, and possibly former F1 driver Scott Speed. The drivers are following the money, but this is a remarkable development in racing -- and shows just how far NASCAR has come over the past few years.

5.) Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, and Tony Kornheiser seem a bit better as the hosts of Monday Night Football tonight than I remember them being last year. I'm very curious to see how Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic (along with Mike Ditka, for good measure) handle the late game tonight -- I love listening to Mike & Mike in the Morning on my way in to school/work in the morning.

6.) Will the Gophers even win 4 games this year? I'm actually pushing -- exactly four wins seems to be the right guess. Overtime two straight weeks against MAC teams? Pathetic.

7.) Congrats to the Vikings -- can't wait to see them next week against the Lions.

8.) How incredible is the Colts/Patriots matchup on November 4 going to be? I already can't wait to see how that one pans out.


Sunday, September 09, 2007


In case you missed it, Jose Morales was placed on the 60 Day DL today after he suffered some sort of ankle injury (that apparently looked gruesome -- the evil FOX Saturday afternoon monopoly prevented me from seeing the game, but I certainly heard about it) in yesterday's ballgame (congrats to him, by the way, for an excellent pre-injury debut -- 3-for-3 is a pretty solid way to start off a career). While the injury supposedly is only a 2 or 3 week injury, the Twins obviously still felt that they needed an extra "catcher" around -- and with none on the 40-man roster and no open spots available, the Twins needed to place someone on the 60-Day DL (or designate someone for assignment, thus removing them from the roster) in order to add one.

What's astonishing, at least at first glance, is who the Twins decided to add. Prior to the start of the season, the Twins signed Matt LeCroy as a minor league free agent, and it was clear throughout Spring Training that he was overmatched against Major League pitchers. Nonetheless, the team gave him a roster spot in AAA Rochester, and LeCroy similarly showed that he was equally overmatched against minor league pitchers. LeCroy managed to hit just .194 in 247 AB's, with a miserable .281 OBP and a .560 OPS. For all of this, LeCroy has once again become a Major Leaguer.

I saw that this is astonishing at first glance because it isn't so astonishing when you think a little bit more about it. The Twins are set at catcher for next season, with Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond both returning. Chris Heintz will have an option remaining in 2008 if the Twins would like to bring him back to Rochester as the emergency catcher, and Jose Morales should be healed by then and ready to compete with Heintz as the organization's third catcher. Therefore, it would be utterly foolish, even if the Twins plan on parting ways with Heintz this off-season, to add yet another catcher (such as Drew Butera) to the 40-man roster and call him up.

Matt LeCroy is nothing more than a warm body, a player who will be able to come in and catch in an emergency situation without the Twins having any fear about what will happen to him behind the plate. At the end of the season, LeCroy will become a free agent, and Morales will come off of the 60-Day DL -- essentially the status quo. So long as he gets no more than, say, 10 AB's over the course of the last stretch of the season, it will have been a perfectly understandable decision. Heck, 10 might be too many. My hope for LeCroy is that he enjoys the next three weeks -- because I strongly suspect they will be the last that he spends in a Major League uniform.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Morales on the Way

Just yesterday, it sounded as if Terry Ryan was rather adamant about not calling up a fourth catcher to help the Twins through the Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond injuries. In fact, after reading Ryan's comments in the Strib, I almost posted something speculating on why the Twins wouldn't call up a fourth catcher, despite the fact that it makes so much sense to call up Jose Morales to fill this role.

My decision to hold off on writing that article paid off today when the Twins announced that Morales will be added to the roster in time for tomorrow night's game against the White Sox. That will fill the Twins roster at 40, and make any other non-roster additions highly unlikely for the remainder of the season (for the simple reason that the Twins probably aren't going to drop anyone from the roster over the last 3+ weeks of the season to make room for someone).

I think adding Morales to the roster makes tremendous sense. He would have been a minor league free agent (originally misstated as "eligible for the Rule 5 draft -- thanks to Anon for the catch) this winter if he hadn't been added, and after the season he had in AAA, it's very unlikely that he would have remained the property of the Twins. With the Twins in a bit of a catching quandary, why not call him up now? I suspect that the only reason TR hesitated was due to service time -- once Mauer and Redmond are healthy again, neither Heintz nor Morales is going to play much, so the argument against adding them to the roster would be that you're wasting a few weeks of service time rather unnecessarily. Since it's such a small amount of time, however, I'm not that worried about the implications. Clearly, after thinking about his options, TR decided it wasn't that big of a deal either. I can't wait to see Morales make his debut -- maybe he'll get his shot on Friday.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Few Comments

Somehow I missed the fact that the Twins selected the contract of Nick Blackburn on Sunday, giving them 39 players on their 40-man roster. More shameful, I missed the fact that Blackburn subsequently made his Major League debut on Monday, throwing 10 pitches and giving up his first big league hit, but also making it through his one inning of work unscathed. Congratulations to Blackburn on a sucessful debut -- hopefully, there will be many more fine performances to come.

Congratulations are also due to Kevin Slowey, who the Twins also called up on Sunday in time to make a start yesterday. His five inning, five hit, 2 run (1 earned) performance was acceptable if unremarkable. I would guess that the Twins will continue to find ways for Slowey to make starts as the season runs down (two options immediately come to mind -- move Carlos Silva to the bullpen as a long reliever in acknowledgement of the fact that he'll be gone after this season, or split the available starts between Boof and Slowey).

Also, for all of my complaining, I have to admit that Luis Rodriguez hasn't been that bad of late when given the chance to play (i.e. when he hasn't been in the minors). His 3-for-4 performance yesterday raised his season average to .220, which is a far sight better than the horrific .197 that Nick Punto currently has posted, and is unbelievably better than Rondell White's .143. Why is White still getting at-bats? There has to be someone else in the organization that it would make more sense to send to the plate. Heck, bring Darnell McDonald back up and stick him in the lineup. Anyone other than White, who appears to be done.


Monday, September 03, 2007

Souhan Call's for Mauer Move

In an article that is sure to send Marty Andrade's heart racing in anticipation, Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune has set out what has basically been Marty's argument for moving Mauer to third base for, oh, about 18 months or so. If nothing else, this shows that at least one prominent member of the local brigade has come around to the idea of moving one of the league's best catchers to the hot corner.

While I have resisted moving Mauer both on the level of what I wanted to see happen and what I thought the Twins would do, I may be in the process of changing my mind. It's a Taylor trait to be stubborn, and perhaps I've held out on this for longer than I should have. If you haven't read Souhan's article (or one of Marty's articles, which I'm too lazy to look up right now) on this subject, please do -- they lay out the argument for moving Mauer very well, and I'm not going to attempt to rehash an already well-stated argument.

Instead, I want to make a couple of points involving why I've moved into the other camp. The biggest reason started to affect my thinking back in Spring Training, when Mauer got hurt. That injury, while never proven to be linked directly to Mauer's catching (and in fact it was probably more linked to Mauer's off-season running program), was nonetheless the kind of injury that are likely to affect catchers, and Mauer has proven he's susceptible. Nagging injuries of this type have bothered me more than anything else, and I can't deny that moving to third would reduce the strain on his legs and more than likely reduce the time that Mauer spends out of the lineup.

The other big change that has been obvious throughout the course of the year is that the Twins have no easy way to fill the hole they currently have at third base. Nick Punto is clearly not the solution. Matt Moses moved in the wrong direction this year and is back in AA. Brian Buscher had a very nice year, going from AA to AAA to the big leagues, but so far he doesn't seem ready to step in and become a productive major league regular next year. The free agent pool for third basemen this off-season will be thin, to say the least.

All of this left just two options for the Twins -- either live with a third baseman who is sub-par in 2008, or trade someone (such as Johan Santana) to try to fill a couple of big league needs. Mauer presents a third, and possibly best, option for the Twins at third base.

I still have concerns about such a move. I believe that Mauer is a brilliant athlete who is capable of picking up the nuances of third base very quickly, and capable of being a solid player at the position for years to come -- but belief is not knowledge. I've never seen him take grounders there, and I don't know whether this experiment would work or not. That's a reason for hesitation, but certainly not a deal-breaker. There's a related concern that is slightly more serious to me, involving whether or not Mauer would struggle offensively if he struggled defensively -- and that would be a true shame, considering that Mauer is capable of being a magnificent hitter for the rest of his career. While this bothers me a bit, I think the benefits (fewer injuries being the most significant) almost certainly outweigh this concern because of Mauer's athletic ability.

There is one more concern, although I dismissed it almost as soon as it came into my mind. Mauer the catcher is, potentially, a Hall of Fame caliber player. If he puts up a high batting average throughout his career, even if he never develops power, he has a chance. But what about at third base? A non-power hitting but high average third baseman making it to the Hall? My first thought was that this was much less likely. Of course, then I remembered Wade Boggs -- lifetime .328 average and just 118 homeruns. He just made it into the Hall a few years ago, so it's certainly possible. Mauer the third baseman (if he kept hitting and if he figured out how to play defense at the position) could still make the Hall.

Even if he couldn't, however -- even if the Twins knew that they'd be turning a potential Hall of Fame catcher into a non-Hall of Fame third baseman -- they shouldn't be thinking about the Hall of Fame. The Twins goal has to be to win, not to churn out Hall of Famers, and if they can be a better team with a healthy Mauer at third, then that's what they need to do, regardless of the consequences to Mauer's potential enshrinement.

One last point -- all of this is merely conjectural if Joe Mauer doesn't want to move. The Twins can't force Mauer to move, and it would be a bad idea to try. If Mauer wants to catch, the Twins should cajole, prod, and push -- but they can't force. Time will tell whether the Twins are interested in Mauer moving, and whether Mauer is receptive to the plan. Swallowing my pride, I'll now say that I think it's a conversation that the Twins and Mauer should have -- in time for Spring Training 2008.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Question Answered

I don't have much on the game today -- or the games yesterday -- other than to say "congrats" to Scott Baker for an incredibly well pitched ball game last night. For a recap, head to the Strib or ESPN. I'll just say that it looks like I very well may have been wrong about Baker's abilities as a major leaguer -- I've been rather critical of him -- and I couldn't be happier about being wrong.

I'm posting this for a different reason, however, and that is to definitively answer the Chris Basak question. I sent an e-mail to the Twins website staff yesterday stating that I believed Basak was still on the 40-man roster, and while I haven't received a response from them, I do note that he is now listed on the roster the team has posted. I don't know if he was added because of my e-mail or if someone else caught the error independently, but either way I'm glad that the correct roster is now up.

One more note -- Luis Rodriguez was obviously called up today (he was in the lineup after all), and Lew Ford is very likely to get the call quite soon (if he hasn't already), but it certainly sounds like the majority of moves will wait until after the Red Wings season is over. I'm alright with that -- why raid AAA for a bunch of guys who are going to be on the bench most of the time? It will be interesting to see who -- and when -- the last callups of the season are made.

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