Taylor's Twins Talk

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Transaction Roundup

Over the past week or so, the Twins have made several low profile moves that have been overshadowed by the Santana rumblings and the Delmon Young/Matt Garza swap. Here's the roundup:

First, as reported by La Velle Neal of the Star Tribune, the Twins brought minor league free agent RHP Brian Bass back into the fold yesterday, placing him on the 40-man roster. Neal reports that this leaves the Twins with 2 open spaces on the roster, but my count is at 39 -- unless there's been an unreported removal of someone, I'm pretty sure I'm right about that one. Of course, it's probably a moot point -- after yesterday's trade, the Twins are likely to non-tender Craig Monroe at the December 12 deadline.

Bass will turn 26 in January, and has been around for a long time. He spent the first 7 years of his professional career in the Royals system, working his way up to AAA. In November of 2003, he was added to the 40-man roster and was optioned in 2004, '05, and '06. After the 2006 season, he left the Royals as a minor league free agent and joined the Twins, putting together a solid 7-3 record with a 3.48 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 103.1 innings spread across 10 starts and 27 relief appearances with the Rochester Red Wings. Now that he's on the roster, he'll get an invite to spring training in February and will have a chance to earn a place on the roster -- and if he can't, he'll have to clear waivers to be sent to the minor leagues.

The Twins yesterday also signed RHP R.A. Dickey and LHP Mariano Gomez to minor league deals with invites to spring training. Dickey, who just turned 33 in October, spent parts of 5 seasons with the Texas Rangers, compiling a 5.72 major league ERA in 266 innings split between starting and relieving. Last season, he spent the entire season with the Brewers AAA club in Nashville, compiling a 3.72 ERA in 169.1 innings, mostly as a starter. Gomez is a 25-year-old who has spent his entire professional career in the Indians organization, posting a 4.15 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in 558 innings, also split between starting and relieving. While one or both of these players may end up in the Twins minor league system next year, I'd be rather astonished if either of these players showed up in a Twins uniform during the regular season.

Meanwhile, the Twins website has 3 signings from November 22 listed on the transactions page. First up is right-handed outfielder Jon Knott, a 29-year-old with 19 games of Major League experience with the Padres and Orioles. Knott is a career .280 minor league hitter, but his good years pretty much all came during or before 2003. The Twins also signed catcher Eli Whiteside, a 28-year-old also out of the Orioles organization. Finally, the Twins also signed veteran IF Howie Clark, who will be 34 in February. Clark has 130 games of Major League experience, split between the Orioles and Blue Jays (he's gone back and forth a few times). Last season, he hit .204 in 49 AB's for the Jays. Realistically, these signings were almost certainly made simply to provide some organizational depth at these positions.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Delmon Young to the Twins!

Bill Smith made a big splash today with his first major trade as GM of the Twins, landing outfielder Delmon Young, shortstop Brendan Harris, and outfielder Jason Pridie from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and pitcher Eduardo Morlan (and not, as reported earlier, Juan Rincon). The deal is likely to be just the first in a series of trades that transforms the Twins significantly from the squad that finished off the 2007 season.

As I mentioned earlier today, I'm very excited by the aggressive approach taken so far this off-season by GM Bill Smith. It seems very clear that he was determined going into the off-season not to follow the same strategy utilized by Terry Ryan last season -- a strategy which was based largely on gambling that one of several bargain-basement signings (Sidney Ponson, Ramon Ortiz, Jeff Cirillo) would pay off. Even though it didn't work in the end, there was at least a chance that it would pay off last season when the Twins still had Torii Hunter in center, Nick Punto was coming off of a solid season as the starting third baseman, and there were high hopes that Rondell White could stay healthy and hold down left field with Jason Kubel handling the DH duties. With things having changed so significantly for the Twins (Hunter's gone, White was a bust, Punto proved 2006 was a fluke), major surgery was necessary for the Twins to be remotely competitive next season and beyond. Smith simply could not afford to take such a conservative approach.

I'm not going to run through a comparison of stats and all the rest here -- you can find that stuff all over the place. All I'll say is that the Twins dealt from a position of strength to cover a weakness, and I like that. Delmon Young should be a good fit with the Twins (provided that he doesn't self-destruct and try to throw a bat at someone again), providing pop from the right side. Watching him strikeout might get a little old -- but I'll forgive him the K's if he becomes a perennial 35+ homerun hitter with a solid average. As for the shortstop swap, I don't know a lot about Brendan Harris, but I do know that Jason Bartlett regressed offensively and defensively in 2007, and I'm not particularly sad to see him go.

Finally, the Eduardo Morlan/Jason Pridie part of this deal merits some attention. There's no question that the Twins would have been better off had the Rays accepted Juan Rincon. Eduardo Morlan has been a very, very good minor league player for the Twins, but I simply can't say that a pitcher with just 4 innings of experience at the AA level was a surefire major leaguer. All signs point to him being a solid major league reliever some day -- but when? It hurts to lose him, and I'm not all that big on Pridie, but I also don't feel the tangible sense of loss that some (Seth, for instance) feel from his departure.

Bottom Line: I'm very excited about this deal, and think it's a very good way to start off a red hot trade season. Hopefully, Young can develop into a respectable replacement in the lineup for Torii Hunter. I'm more confident tonight in the Twins ability to compete next year than I was this morning, that's for sure. I can't wait to see what Smith cooks up next. Incidentally, I just saw that Rob Neyer is provisionally giving the "win" on this trade to the Twins -- with the understanding that Matt Garza could end up as a better player than Delmon Young, which would obviously flip the win. I agree with Neyer on this much -- we won't know the true "winner" for years, but for now the Twins got the better of things, and either way they improved their ballclub.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On Santana and Roster Moves

To this point, I have been relatively quiet on the possibility of trading Johan Santana. Really all I've done is suggest in several previous posts (such as my post on Torii Hunter's departure) that I think Santana needs to be traded in order to help the Twins fill the gaping holes at 3B, DH, and now CF. My silence has been deliberate; there have been a ton of rumors, but nothing approaching the type of definiteness necessary to really produce an analysis. This seems to be changing, as the Twins appear to be gearing up for something. This is suggested by their removal of Ricky Barrett and Errol Simonitsch from the 40-man roster today (more on that later) and the flurry of reports that the Twins are now actively negotiating with the Yankees, and quite possibly other teams as well.

I am not going to engage in the act of guessing who the Twins could or will get from a Santana trade. I rarely try to engage in such speculation -- it's certainly fun to do (and for a very interesting take on possible trades, I suggest you head over to this post at Josh's Thoughts), but there is so little to go on that it really comes down to raw guesswork (as, admittedly, do many of my other predictions -- but at least when I predict a roster or the Hall of Fame or something like that, there are fewer moving parts).

Nonetheless, there are a few points that I thought it would be useful to address regarding a potential Santana trade that I feel a bit more comfortable talking about. Here goes:

1.) Joe Christensen and Buster Olney (ESPN Insider account required) both have stated that the difficulty of trading Johan Santana probably means that the Twins will not get the type of return that Twins fans are hoping for. In the sense that most fans are expecting the Twins to get a package including Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Melky Cabrera, and Robinson Cano in return for Santana in a Yankees deal, they're probably right. This does not, however, mean that a deal with the Yankees that was more realistic would not be worth making. It's becoming apparent that Santana is going to demand a huge amount of money if he becomes a free agent, and the Twins cannot and should not spend $125-150 million on a 6 or 7 year deal for Santana. It's simply not in the business model. Therefore, the Twins should be looking to maximize value in a trade -- and even if this means taking a less-than-perfect deal, the Twins should pull the trigger if the return is higher than what they'd get either at the deadline or by letting Santana walk. I think will happen, and I think Santana should be dealt.

2.) I'm not convinced that Christensen and Olney are correct in Santana's value to a team right now. The single best thing that could have happened for the Twins has already happened -- the Yankees have expressed interest. I realize that it's distasteful for Twins fans to imagine Santana bolstering the Bronx Bomber attack, but the Yankees are the perfect dance partner. This is a team that tends to bid against itself. Yes, the Yankees are better run now than when they were handing out huge deals to every aging player that caught George Steinbrenner's fancy -- but all you need to do to see that the Yankees will overspend to get what they want is to look at the A-Rod deal. All indications were that A-Rod simply wasn't going to get a contract anywhere close to what the Yankees offered. Nonetheless, New York offered A-Rod a virtually identical deal to what they had previously offered (less the value they lost from the Rangers when he opted out). I strongly suspect that they will do the same for Santana.

Another important part of this is that the Red Sox also seem to be interested. Even if the Sox aren't willing to overpay for Santana, the fact that they're at least interested will make the Yankees significantly more likely to pay up. So long as the Yankees remain interested, the price for every other interested party stays high -- and so long as the Yankees remain interested, the Red Sox will continue to express interest, hoping to get the Yankees to overpay. Therefore, I think it is very possible that despite the admittedly high hurdles to making a trade for Santana that brings a solid return, a good deal can nonetheless be struck.

3.) I suspect that the roster massaging today means something, but I don't think it means a Santana deal is imminent. I think the Twins are probably working on trades involving multiple players and multiple teams, and fully expect something to happen in the next few days or next week at the Winter Meetings. Messing with the roster could be a prelude to a trade, but is not necessarily so.

4.) Last thing -- any Yankee deal will probably involve more pitching than position players. This seems to be a drawback to a trade with the Yankees, because the Twins need help in the field, not on the mound. However, acquiring more top-level pitching talent would give the Twins the flexibility to turn around and make more deals to fill their other holes. I don't care who the Yankees give up -- if they're offering the best overall deal, I would take it. You certainly have to think a legitimate 3B could be pried away from someone by offering a couple of solid arms, and it would be easier to offer some of those arms (like, let's say, Matt Garza) if you have a player like Phil Hughes coming in to replace him. By no means would this be a deal-breaker for me.

Finally, a few brief comments on Ricky Barrett and Errol Simonitsch. According to La Velle, both players have cleared waivers and so are still in the Twins system -- albeit eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Simonitsch pitched just 46 innings last year after coming back from an injury, and was so-so with the Ft. Myers Miracle. His 2006 season with New Britain was a disappointment -- he had a 4.48 ERA in 148.2 innings. Simply put, the injury (and the pre-injury regression) make it something less than a surprise that he was removed today.

As for Barrett, he's had a bit more success, pitching for the last 2 1/2 years in Rochester. Last year, however, Barrett pitched just 30.2 innings and posted a 4.11 ERA. As with Simonitsch, this decision wasn't particularly surprising or upsetting -- Barrett may turn into a Major League pitcher someday, but for now he was needlessly taking up a valuable roster spot.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Hall of Fame

The National Baseball Hall of Fame released the official 2008 ballot today. As I did last year, however, I'm not going to break down my thoughts just yet -- we are, after all, well over a month from the announcements. Instead, here's the breakdown of when I'll be posting on various Hall related topics:

December 20 -- Who I'd vote for

January 7 -- Predictions of what the voters will do

January 8 -- Reaction to the announcement

As for today, I'll just direct you to the post that I wrote last year on this topic, covering the criteria that I use to evaluate my position on a candidate's worthiness. My positions on the major issues that I address in that post haven't changed appreciably in the past 12 months, so pretty much everything in the post still applies.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

My College Football Top 25

What a weekend! I got a little bit of what I wanted (Hawaii beating Boise State, BYU over Utah, Arkansas over LSU), and a little of what I didn't (Missouri over Kansas, Virginia Tech over Virginia, USC over Arizona State). Nonetheless, I had a heck of a lot of fun watching things unfold over the course of the last couple of days. Here's my view on the Top 25 heading into the last weekend of the College Football pre-Bowl season:


1 (3) - Missouri (11-1)

Missouri wanted a rematch with Oklahoma, and they'll get a rematch with Oklahoma. Thanks to the continual upsets that rocked the sport this season, Missouri has found themselves at the top of the pile, and if they succeed in getting revenge in the Big XII Championship next week, they'll be in the National Championship game come January. I was rooting for Kansas tonight, but Missouri is an equally great story, and I'm now pulling hard for them to beat Oklahoma next week.

2 (5) - West Virginia (10-1)
The Mountaineers moved past Kansas and LSU by virtue of those two teams losing, but I also moved them past Ohio State this week. Last week, I went against the tide and had the Buckeyes ahead of WVU, but that was mostly because Ohio State had two extra wins in the bank at 11-1 versus the then 9-1 Mountaineers. Today's convincing win over a reasonably good (though vastly overrated) Connecticut squad to win the Big East convinced me to fall into line with the national polls and put West Virginia at #2. If they beat Pitt next week -- and really, it would be inexcusable not to (this coming from a Pitt alum) -- they'll be playing for the national title for the first time since they lost to Notre Dame in the 1988 Fiesta Bowl.

3 (4) - Ohio State (11-1)
Ohio State will almost certainly be on the outside looking in when the BCS rankings come out tomorrow -- but they're still in a very good position. If West Virginia trips up against Pitt (unlikely) or Mizzou loses to Oklahoma (very possible), the Buckeyes will be the beneficiaries. The consolation prize would be a trip to the Rose Bowl, most likely against USC. Either way, Ohio State is in pretty good shape after another Big Ten title.

4 (1) - LSU (10-2)
I still look at LSU as a great team -- certainly the best in the SEC. I was nonetheless very tempted to move Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, and/or USC ahead of the Tigers, because Friday's loss against Arkansas sticks in the mind since it was so recent. Nonetheless, LSU has several advantages over the other teams -- they play in the SEC, their two losses both came in overtime situations, and they have a win over Virginia Tech (not just any win, either, but an absolute drubbing). That's good enough for me.

5 (6) - Virginia Tech (10-2)
One of Va Tech's two losses this season came to LSU in Baton Rouge, and the other was the result of a fluky comeback by Boston College in a game that the Hokies were in control of for about 58 minutes. Virginia Tech, like Missouri, will now have a chance to revenge their earlier conference loss in the conference championship -- unlike Missouri, however, I fully expect Tech to take advantage of the situation to get revenge and claim a BCS berth.

6 (8) - USC (9-2)
I had USC behind Oklahoma in last week's pull, but upon further reflection I think that was a mistake -- and this week's action didn't convince me otherwise. USC convincingly took out an over-rated (and over-ranked) Arizona State team this week, while Oklahoma handily dispatched Oklahoma State. All things considered, USC's win was more impressive. Nonetheless, it was a comparison of the teams to which these two sides have lost that convinced me to flip USC and Oklahoma in my rankings. Yes, USC has a horrid loss to Standford on the schedule, but that was aided by quarterback injury woes and was relatively fluky. Oklahoma's worst loss was to a 6-6 Colorado squad -- but in my recollection they were pretty much healthy when it happened. USC's second loss, of course, was on the road against a then very good Oregon team, while Oklahoma's second loss was against Texas Tech. To me, that gives USC a stronger claim -- and they can shore up my view by beating UCLA next week to claim the Pac-10 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl.

7 (7) - Oklahoma (10-2)
See above for my reasoning on moving USC ahead of Oklahoma this week. As for next week, a win over Mizzou would probably be good enough for me to move them somewhere into the top 5, depending on how the rest of the leaders do.

8 (10) - Georgia (10-2)
Get ready for a back-door BCS berth -- Georgia's loss to Tennessee earlier this year keeps them out of a showdown with LSU in the SEC title game, and while that deprives Georgia of a chance to rack up an impressive win, it also prevents them from losing a third game. The SEC clearly deserves a second BCS team, and unless Tennessee pulls off the unthinkable and beats LSU (in which case, I imagine the 3-loss Tigers will beat out Georgia), the Bulldogs are the obvious choice.

9 (2) - Kansas (11-1)
This one was tough. For most of the game, I had no problem moving teams like USC, LSU, and Georgia ahead of the Jayhawks. After all, they looked simply overmatched against Mizzou, and if that were true they certainly didn't belong anywhere near this high. The way Kansas finished, however, was truly impressive, with touchdowns on four straight possessions to put the game seriously in doubt with 3 minutes left to go. Now the real intrigue begins -- if Missouri gets blown out by Oklahoma, will Kansas get the second Big XII BCS big that's virtually certain to be offered? If Missouri wins, will a one-loss Kansas team be chosen over a three-loss Oklahoma club (one would have to think yes)? It's too bad the dream season couldn't continue, but 11-1 for a team that was viewed as a bottom-feeder at the start of the year is pretty impressive.

10 (11) - Hawaii (11-0)
There is no team that I've pulled harder for since about mid-October than Hawaii. I'm a big fan of BCS crashers -- I was even before last year's unbelievable Boise State performance in the Fiesta Bowl -- and for most of the season, Hawaii has been the team with the best chance to make magic happen this year. The hardest part is over now for the Warriors -- Washington will play tough, but they should be eminently beatable. If Hawaii beats the Huskies next week, I have very little doubt that they'll get that coveted BCS berth, with a chance to shock us all (and if you haven't been paying attention, right now a trip to the Sugar Bowl to face *gulp* LSU would be the most likely destination for a BCS-bound Hawaii squad).

11 (14) - Florida (9-3)
They're good. They play in the SEC. Tim Tebow will be a Heisman finalist. What more do you want? Easily the best three loss team in the sport.

12 (9) - Arizona State (9-2)
It wouldn't be fair to penalize Arizona State too much for losing to a very good USC team. They should beat Arizona next week to get to 10 wins, and a BCS bowl is a possibility if the cards fall the right way. Nonetheless, this team has never been as good as their record indicated, and would probably be in too deep if picked for a BCS Bowl.

13 (19) - Tennessee (9-3)
Big jump for the Volunteers this week is due not only to the incredible endurance victory in Kentucky, but also to the fact that so many teams in the teens lost this week. If LSU had been playing up to their potential, I'd say Tennessee would get crushed next week. Instead, LSU has been playing down to their opponents, so I'm not counting Tennessee out of this thing just yet.

14 (16) - Illinois (9-3)
As with Tennessee, Illinois' jump is due to attrition. Perhaps more interesting, if the Illini find themselves experiencing a similar bump in the BCS, they could find themselves presenting an attractive target to a Bowl looking for an at-large competitor (like, say, the Rose Bowl if Ohio State makes its way into the National Championship game).

15 (18) - Boston College (10-2)
Win today over Miami was nice (not being a fan of Miami, I was pretty thrilled to see them finish 5-7 and ineligible for a bowl game), but BC will be in for a rude awakening against Virginia Tech next week in the ACC Championship game if they play as lethargically as they did through a lot of today's game.

16 (15) - Virginia (9-3)
They lost to Virginia Tech today, but I'm not going to drop them very far. They were supposed to lose to Va Tech, after all, being ranked lower. Considering all of the other (much worse) losses that went on around them, I thought they were worthy of sticking around just outside the top 15.

17 (20) - BYU (9-2)
It wasn't particularly pretty, but BYU picked off rival Utah to win the Mountain West Conference today. I was on the Cougar's bandwagon before a lot of the national voters, and I doubt anyone in the real polls will rank them as high as I am. Still, this is a team that should finish up with 10 wins, and they'd have a legitimate shot of beating just about anybody that decided to face them. To me, they're worthy of this ranking.

18 (22) - Wisconsin (9-3)
As with Illinois, they moved up because other teams lost. A four spot jump is particularly nice, but there weren't a lot of other options.

19 (23) - Clemson (9-3)
A win is a win, but needing a field goal at the last second against an underperforming South Carolina team was a bit disappointing. Clemson has to be wondering what could have been in a season in which they just didn't seem to get up for every game and still picked up 9 wins.

20 (12) - Texas (9-3)
The Longhorns were exposed against Texas A&M on Friday, and accordingly fell pretty far this week. A trip to a mediocre bowl (probably as the 4th Big XII team taken) would seem to be forthcoming.

21 (24) - UCF (9-3)
Yep, I'm riding Central Florida. I put them in at 24 last week (and they received 2 points in the AP poll, so either 2 voters picked them 25th, or one other schmuck stuck them at 24 like I did), and I'll keep drinking the kool-aid being put out by the likely Conference USA champs.

22 (21) - Connecticut (9-3)
As with Virginia, UCONN lost to a pretty good team this week. The penalty is a one-step drop in my rankings. Who could have seen the Huskies picking up 9 wins? This truly has been a bizarre year.

23 (NR) - Cincinnati (9-3)
Yet another Big East team at 9-3 -- I could have just have easily put South Florida here, but Cincy beat USF, so I figured they deserved first dips at a ranking.

24 (17) - Boise State (10-2)
Hawaii is a good team, and a tough place to play. Boise State remains a very good team with a very good offense, and I see no reason to remove them from the top 25.

25 (25) - Texas Tech (8-4)
Alright, now I'm just being stubborn. South Florida (9-3) and Arkansas (8-4) have legitimate claims at this spot, but with Oklahoma destroying Oklahoma State today, last week's Red Raider win over the Sooners looks just as good to me as it did last week. I might as well keep them here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Goodbye Torii

First things first -- Happy Thanksgiving everybody! I hope you will have a chance to spend it with family or friends.

And now to the baseball. Torii Hunter unexpectedly agreed to a deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last night, joining a ballclub that didn't seem to be in need of a center-fielder, what with Gary Matthews, Jr. patrolling the grounds. Of course, the fact that Matthews regressed severely last year probably has something to do with the decision to go after a player like Hunter, who is more consistently productive. Note to GM's -- stop offering players like Matthews huge contracts after career years! More often than not, a player like Matthews who had a career batting average under .260 before hitting .313 in 2006 is not going to repeat the performance!

Anyway, the Angels have now corrected the mistake in a big way by signing Hunter for 5 years and reportedly $90 million. For the math and/or calculator challenged, that would be an average of $18 million per season. While Torii leaving the Twins was certainly not an unexpected development, the fact that it finally happened drives home the point that the Twins are now desperately in need of a center fielder. What's a Twins fan to think about this development?

I've been championing Hunter's cause for quite awhile on this blog. Last winter, when quite a few others were screaming that the Twins should buy him out rather than pick up his option, I stated clearly that I thought such a course of action would be foolish. I've also said for most of this season that the Twins needed to find a way to bring Hunter back beyond 2007, because they had no alternatives to roam center field next year in his absence. All of this is still true -- and yet I find myself pleased that the Twins showed restraint on Hunter.

The fact is, the market for Hunter went higher than it probably should have. Hunter is a very good player, and was hugely important to the Twins. That merited over-paying him a bit, because the extra $1-2 million per season you'd pay in overpaying Hunter would be worth it to stay competitive. As a result, I thought the Twins should make an offer somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 years, $15-16 million per. We have no way of knowing whether Hunter would have accepted such an offer (the Twins reportedly never went above 3 years and $15 million per), but somehow I doubt it. He was consistently getting 5 year offers for more money per season (and reportedly had at least one 6 year offer out there). That, to me, is far beyond overpaying. The Twins could not compete in that realm, and there was no reason to try.

We can look back now and say that the Twins should have traded Hunter at the deadline -- and I also advocated that route, if the Twins didn't believe they could re-sign him. The Twins never committed fully to making a run at the playoffs or building for the future -- they kept Hunter and Silva, but traded Castillo (and Ortiz, but that really didn't affect anything). The failure to commit fully to either path was a mistake. To be fair, however, I don't know if the Twins knew the market on Hunter would go as high as it did, and they may have thought that a reasonable offer could keep Hunter in Minnesota. In other words, this wasn't quite as bad as the Nationals keeping Alfonso Soriano beyond the deadline in 2006, which was utter folly from the start -- he was never going to stay in Washington. Torii might have stayed in Minnesota.

Of course, while the Twins now have a gaping hole where they used to have a perennial Gold Glove center fielder, they also have a lot more free money -- over $12 million if you look at what they spent on Hunter in 2007, and over $15 million a year if you look at what it would have taken to re-sign Torii. That money should prove useful in paying players like Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer (at least one of whom will hopefully be locked up long-term this winter). The Twins also should be able to throw a little bit of money around on the free agent market -- although this market doesn't really fit the Twins well (the best players available are simply not coming to Minnesota).

Finally, I think Torii moving on means that the Twins have no choice but to make a serious run at trading Johan. As I've said before, the only way for the Twins to retool on offense and fill some holes is to trade Santana now, when he's at the height of his value. This article by Joe Christensen at the Strib points out the difficulties present in trying to trade Johan -- notably, his no-trade clause (and isn't about time that these stop being given out? They inevitably cause nothing but headaches -- look at the Kobe Bryant situation, where he's essentially in charge of the process) and the fact that any team trading for him would want assurances that they could keep him beyond 2008. Nonetheless, the Twins have to make an effort. Trading him really is the best option, provided they can get a solid return.

So there's my summation. Now -- go enjoy your turkey, stuffing, and green bean casserole, and don't forget to watch the one good NFL game today (that'd be Lions-Packers, in case you weren't paying attention), and the great college football game tonight (Arizona State-USC).

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Roster Additions Announced

The Twins today added RHP Bobby Korecky, IF Matt Tolbert, and IF Matt Macri to their 40-man roster, leaving them with 39 players and 1 empty space (waiting for Tony Clark, perhaps?). I correctly predicted Tolbert, but none of my other 3 predictions came true. Here are my thoughts on the additions:

Matt Tolbert -- Tolbert virtually assured himself a spot on the 40-man roster after putting together a solid 2007 season. He probably would have been taken by somebody in the Rule 5 Draft if he hadn't been added to the roster, because he is more than likely capable of playing as well as a lot of the middle infield types filling rosters throughout the league (*cough* Luis Rodriguez *cough*). Tolbert has doubters -- I heard a lot this year that his great start was an aberration (and he did cool off significantly) -- but I think this move made sense. I look forward to seeing him in spring training.

Bobby Korecky -- I probably should have seen this coming, but I honestly scanned past Korecky's name when I was compiling last night's post and dismissed him. I shouldn't have -- he's more developed and has been more successful than J.P. Martinez, who I had on my list. Korecky has a 3.13 career minor league ERA in 351.1 innings to go along with a 258-102 career K-BB ratio. Korecky will be 28 next season, and there's a very, very good chance that he'll see action with the Twins at some point during the 2008 season. After losing Kevin Cameron to the Padres in last year's draft, the Twins most likely felt (probably correctly) that they were in danger of losing another potentially useful right-handed reliever if they didn't pull the trigger and add him to the roster. Major oversight on my part to not include him on my list.

Matt Macri - Macri was the player acquired from the Rockies for Ramon Ortiz this summer, and the Twins obviously liked what they saw from him in scouting and in the Arizona Fall League. The only surprising thing about his addition is that he and Tolbert were both added to the roster -- although Tolbert is probably more of a second-base type and Macri more of a third-base type. Like Tolbert, Macri is probably developed enough to have been at significant risk of being drafted, so I can't really question the move.

Those Not Added: The only name not added that surprises me a bit is Garrett Guzman, who I think could potentially be taken. Then again, he's not exactly a high-end prospect (even if he is one of the Twins top OF prospects), so the Twins are probably gambling on nobody wanting to draft him. I think it's quite unlikely that the Twins would lose any of their more well-known eligible corner infielders -- Matt Moses, David Winfree, and Brock Peterson -- due to a combination of performance and development level issues (both, in some cases). If anyone is taken, I suspect it will be a pitcher or two -- someone like Jay Sawatski, who as a lefty might be considered valuable, for instance. We'll find out in a couple of weeks.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Additions to the Roster

Tuesday is the deadline to set the 40-man roster for purposes of protecting players from the Rule 5 Draft (it actually has to do with restricted lists, but I don't want to go into that much detail, because frankly my grasp of the concepts is somewhat loose). Regardless, we should know by the end of the day Tuesday who the Twins will add for protection, if anyone. I posted a list of players who I believe will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft earlier this year, which you can find in the middle of this post, if you're curious. One caveat to both that post and this post -- I could very well be wrong in stating that some of these players are Rule 5 Eligible, but I've done my best to ensure accuracy.

As of this moment, the Twins have 4 spots open on their 40-man roster. The odds are very good that they'll add more players through free agency over the course of the off-season, so a couple of spots might be reserved with that expectation. Alternatively, the Twins could add four players to the roster now and remove excess baggage (i.e. Darnell McDonald, Chris Basak, maybe even players like Ricky Barrett or Julio DePaula) from the roster to make room for free agents as needed. My guess is that they're more likely to protect player now and adjust as necessary later on.

Briefly, here are the four players I would add to the roster if I were Twins GM Bill Smith:

Garrett Guzman - OF - New Britain Rock Cats
Guzman is a lefty who will be 25 when the season opens next year, and he'll almost certainly be playing for in AAA for the Red Wings. Originally signed in 2001, Guzman has been Rule 5 Eligible for a couple of years now, but for the first time there's a reasonable chance that he'd be taken this year (both because he's risen to the AA/verge of AAA level and because he had a solid 2007 season). Last year was Guzman's best since his rookie year in the Gulf Coast League (when he hit .355) -- he put together a .312 average and 812 OPS in 475 AB's, along with 14 HR's and 88 RBI's. For an organization that is hurting for both offensive prospects generally and outfield prospects in particular, the Twins probably can't afford to risk losing a player like Guzman.

Matt Tolbert - IF - Rochester Red Wings
Tolbert, a switch-hitting infielder who can play at 2B, SS, and 3B, will turn 26 in May. He was drafted and signed by the Twins in 2004, making this the fourth Rule 5 Draft to take place since he was signed -- and therefore the first for which he is eligible (he was 22 when he signed). Tolbert was a relative unknown coming into this season, but his early season success brought him to the attention of many Twins fans who were actively looking for a replacement for Nick Punto or Luis Rodriguez on the roster throughout 2007. Tolbert finished the season with a .293/780, which is solid enough to merit the attention he received. Tolbert would be a nice addition to a young club that could afford to stash him on the roster next season (i.e. Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Washington -- the usual suspects). I would be very surprised if Tolbert was not added to the roster before the deadline.

Brock Peterson - 1B - New Britain Rock Cats
Peterson is a righty who turns 24 tomorrow (November 20). In 389 AB's for New Britain last year, Peterson hit .285/858 with 15 homers and 64 RBI's. He's not a big-name prospect by any means, but the Twins should protect anyone who demonstrates mid-level power and a reasonable batting average. Peterson, who was signed in September 2002 at the age of 19, has been eligible previously, but this year is the first time that he could potentially be taken (although I acknowledge this would be a reach -- someone would have to stash him, because there's no way he's ready to contribute at the big league level). I would probably toss a roster spot his way.

J.P. Martinez - RHP - Rochester Red Wings
Martinez will turn 26 in June of 2008, and was taken in 9th round of the 2004 draft. He'll be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time this year. Martinez rose from Ft. Myers to Rochester this season, pitching great in High A (2.49 ERA in 21.2 innings), so-so in AA (4.9 ERA in 53.2 innings), and horribly in very limited action in AAA (12.00 ERA in just 3 innings). He's pitched well at every level that he's played at prior to this season, however, and I suspect that he'll perform well in a full season in AA next year. Martinez is still a bit raw, but raw pitchers are easier to stash on a roster than are raw position players, and I think Martinez could contribute down the road.

Left Out
Of course, there are a number of fairly high profile players that will not be added to the 40-man roster simply due to lack of roster space. Here are some of the names, along with a very limited explanation of my reasoning:

Matt Moses (3B) - has never performed as a professional; who would take him right now? I'm not saying that he's officially a bust, but placing him on the roster would serve no logical purpose.

David Winfree (1B/3B) - Seems to have both power and average potential, but he hasn't played well enough to be a real risk of being taken. He's probably the guy that I was closest to putting on my list who didn't make it, and there's a very good chance the Twins will add him.

Jay Sawatski (LHP) - Had a mediocre 2007 between AA and AAA, but has had a solid minor league career. Probably a risk to be taken, because he's pitched at AAA and he's left-handed. Twins could add him instead of someone like Martinez for the same reasons.

Kyle Aselton (LHP) - Turned back into a relief pitcher in 2007 after spending 2006 as a starter. Solid minor league career, but never pitched above High A, making him a less likely target.

Undoubtedly, I left a player or two out of my consideration -- if you think there's someone who should at least have been on my "left out" list, let me know in the comments. And, of course, feel free to disagree with the four guys I picked. And once again, just as a reminder, be aware that the Twins could just as easily only add 2 or 3 of these players instead of filling the roster up by adding four. We should find out tomorrow.

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Heintz Released

The Twins released catcher Chris Heintz on Friday (alright, technically what they actually did was put him on unconditional release waivers, which amounts to the same thing), and I just caught wind of it now. The move drops the Twins 40-man roster to 36 players, giving them some additional flexibility to add players to the roster either through free agency or to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft (I'll have more to say on that topic later today).

I am a little bit surprised by this move, but not terribly so. Catchers are valuable, and Heintz had another option year available, so I believed that the Twins would keep Heintz around for another year as insurance in case there was an injury (the same role he played this past season, in other words). However, the emergence of Jose Morales last season, and his addition to the 40-man roster late in the season, made Heintz expendable. Morales now slots into the third catcher role -- and honestly, he fits the position better. Heintz also was not really used by the Twins in the way a traditional catcher was, as over the last couple of years in Rochester he nearly played more in the infield than he did behind the plate. (Check out the comments for a further breakdown of this point -- although I will say that not seeing any stats as a DH, my original statement that he was in the infield or at DH more than he was a catcher may be correct. Unfortunately, I don't have the time to look that up right now, so I'll concede the point and go with this revised version).

The Twins might not be done making this kind of move -- outfielder Darnell McDonald and infielder Chris Basak both seem to be prime candidates for removal from the roster, since they are unlikely to contribute to the big league club. Also, the team should be adding a few players to the roster soon as protection against the Rule 5 Draft. As I mentioned earlier, I'll have more to say on that subject later today, when I discuss the players that I would add to the roster.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

My College Football Top 25

I'm jazzed for next week, when we'll find out the identity of the players who will be playing for the ACC, SEC, and Big XII Conference titles, along with some solid information about the Big East and Pac-10. As interesting as next week's games will be, though, this week had an awful lot of interesting football as well. How about Hawaii's last minute field goal to beat Nevada? Or Oregon and Oklahoma going down? Or Tennessee staying alive in the SEC (barely) against Vandy? It was a great three days of football, starting on Thursday night. Here are my rankings following the week's action:


1 (1) - LSU (10-1)

All that lies between LSU and a trip to the SEC championship game is a mediocre Arkansas team. LSU remains the best team in the country, and should beat the Razorbacks and either Georgia or Tennessee to get the national championship game. My guess is they'll beat whoever they face there as well, and should be the 2007 National Champion when things come to rest.

2 (4) - Kansas (11-0)
It's time to respect the Jayhawks. They still have their two toughest games of the season on tap, but going 11-0 for the first time in the 108 year history of the school is quite an accomplishment in its own right. Kansas avoided a meltdown against Iowa State, and now hosts Missouri for a chance to go to the Big XII Championship game. If they win those two games to finish 13-0, there's no question that they will be in the national championship game.

3 (5) - Missouri (10-1)
Oklahoma will be looking to beat Kansas next weekend to go to the Big XII Championship game, which likely would lead to a rematch with Oklahoma. They haven't gotten as much attention as Kansas or Oklahoma this season, but they're almost as great a story as the Jayhawks, and are very much alive in the national title picture.

4 (6) - Ohio State (11-1)
Ohio State's season is finished, and while I normally think it's harmful for Big Ten teams to finish so early and not have a championship game, this season I think the Buckeyes should be pretty happy to be where they're at. Ohio State has a reasonable chance to get to the national championship if Oklahoma or Texas wins the Big XII, although if West Virginia and Arizona State win out, things will get very, very interesting.

5 (7) - West Virginia (9-1)
The Mountaineers still have a little bit of work to do, with home games against UCONN and Pitt on tap. WVU is unquestionably better than both of those teams, and doesn't have to worry about looking ahead to a championship game. Pat White needs to avoid the turnovers that have started turning up over the last couple of games, but if he does West Virginia will have a very good chance to play in the National Championhip.

6 (8) - Virginia Tech (9-2)
This coming weekend will essentially see the Hokies playing a playoff game against Virginia for the chance to play in the ACC Championship game against Boston College. Tech is the best of those three teams, and should come out of the mini-round-robin on top, with the ACC's BCS berth in hand.

7 (3) - Oklahoma (9-2)
The Sooners lost to Texas Tech last night largely because their defense simply could not contain the high-flying Red Raiders offense. Yes, they lost their starting QB to a concussion -- but while that made it more difficult to come back at the end, the bottom line is that the defense just didn't get the job done. I still think that they're the best team in the Big XII, but they'll have to prove that on the field. They can't get caught looking ahead to the Big XII Championship, though -- if they lose to Oklahoma State this weekend, and Texas beats A&M, the Longhorns will be playing for a BCS berth the weekend after.

8 (9) - USC (8-2)
The Trojans are suddenly in an excellent position to win the Pac-10 and claim a trip to the Rose Bowl. Oregon holds the tiebreaker over USC, but as I mention below, the odds are very good that the Ducks will lose again this season. If USC gets the job done against Arizona State and UCLA in the last two weeks, therefore, they will probably win the Pac-10 and claim a BCS slot. Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that a two-loss team could win the Pac-10?

9 (10) - Arizona State (9-1)
Bottom line: I don't think ASU is as good as USC. They have the advantage of hosting the Trojans this week, so that will provide as good a chance as any to prove me wrong. A win over USC would vault the Sun Devils into the nationl title discussion -- but I would be very surprised if it happened. Incidentally, ASU is the team that will be affected most by Dennis Dixon's season-ending injury and Oregon's likely fall from grace (other than Oregon, of course) -- if ASU's only loss on the season had come at the hands of a two-loss Oregon squad, they'd have a very, very strong claim for a spot in the title picture.

10 (11) - Georgia (9-2)
Georgia took out a tough Kentucky squad this week, and now will face Georgia Tech for a chance to pick up a 10th win. This team has put together a very good season, but an early October loss to Tennessee leaves the Bulldogs at the mercy of the Kentucky team that they just beat -- if Kentucky beats Tennessee next weekend, Georgia will face LSU in the SEC Championship. If the Volunteers win, Georgia will be left in the cold despite being a top 10 team. Of course, there's always the possibility of getting an at-large BCS berth -- and if they finish 10-2, I think they'll be in the BCS one way or the other.

11 (12) - Hawaii (10-0)
Yes, they needed a late field goal to beat Nevada. However, they were playing on the road and were essentially without their Heisman candidate QB. Bottom line: They won the game. Now, they face Boise State and Washington at home -- if they come out unscathed, they have a very good chance to finish in the top 10, depending on ho losses in the next couple of weeks.

12 (13) - Texas (9-2)
The Longhorns are still playing for a chance to go to the Big XII title, despite having been an afterthought since losing to Oklahoma earlier this season. If Texas beats Texas A&M in College Station this weekend, and if Oklahoma State pulls off an upset of the Sooners, UT will get their chance.

13 (2) - Oregon (8-2)
Why the 13 ranking? Three words: Dennis Dixon Done. With Dixon out of the season, the Ducks simply are nowhere near as good a team. They will probably beat either UCLA or Oregon State -- but I strongly suspect that they'll lose at least one of those games. I still think that an Oregon team led by Dixon is the second best team in the country behind LSU -- but that team no longer exists.

14 (14) - Florida (8-3)
The Gators finish up with Florida State. Not much else to say -- they should end up 9-3 and make a solid Bowl Game, but they won't be in the BCS. That has to be considered a bit of a disappointment for a school that's dominated college athletics for the past 18 months.

15 (16) - Virginia (9-2)
The goal for the Cavaliers is simple: Beat arch-rival Va Tech to get to the ACC Championship, and then wallop Boston College to get to the BCS. Possible? Yes. Likely? Decidedly not. The 48-0 pounding of Miami last weekend was nice, but it doesn't change the fact that most of Virginia's wins this season have been decidedly uninspiring. I don't see them beating VTU, even at home.

16 (19) - Illinois (9-3)
The season is over, and Illinois knows they'll be going to a decent bowl game. In fact, they should be a popular choice and will probably end up with a trip to the Capital One Bowl as the Big Ten's #2 team.

17 (18) - Boise State (10-1)
Last year's Cinderella faces this year's wannabe Cinderella when Boise State travels to Hawaii this week. Boise State isn't exactly playing just to be a spoiler, however; if they win and finish 11-1, they have an outside shot of picking up a BCS berth for the second straight year, if things fall the right way (i.e. if Boise State was ranked 16th or higher in the BCS and ahead of a conference champion). I'd say that's motivation.

18 (22) - Boston College (9-2)
I have to say tht I believed BC would continue their slide against Clemson, but they came up with a come from behind win and clinched a berth in the ACC Championship. A rematch with Virginia Tech is likely, and probably won't end as well for the Eagles as it did the last time around. The last piece of regular season business for BC will be against Miami this week -- and it's worth watching just to see if BC can beat Miami to leave the 'Canes at 5-7 and Bowl Ineligible.

19 (17) - Tennessee (8-3)
The Volunteers won this week, and I still moved them down two spots from where I had them. Look, a 25-24 win over Vanderbilt just isn't that impressive -- and BC and Boise State both deserved to be ahead of the Volunteers. Tennessee can make it to the SEC Championship if they can pick up a win this weekend in Kentucky. Who would have thought that would happen, as bad as they looked early this season?

20 (20) - BYU (8-2)
Winning in Wyoming isn't exactly the equivalent of beating LSU in Baton Rouge, but it's still a nice win for the Cougars. With games left against Utah and at San Diego State, BYU has a chance to finish at a solid 10-2.

21 (25) - Connecticut (9-2)
I'm not going to go all gaga over a win against Syracuse, but it did get UCONN to a solid 9-2 with a game left against West Virginia. They're probably going to lose that game -- but if they somehow pull off a win, they'll claim the Big East title and a BCS berth. As with many things this season, that was simply unforeseeable when the season started off.

22 (24) - Wisconsin (9-3)
Wisconsin and Illinois finished with identical records, but I think Illinois will be more desirable to the Big Ten's bowl tie-ins. A solid but unremarkable season for the Badgers will therefore probably result in a trip to the Outback Bowl -- unless the bowl organizers decide they'd rather take Michigan.

23 (15) - Clemson (8-3)
I wish Clemson could win big games, but more often than not they seem to choke. Last night's game with Boston College was fun to watch, but heart-breaking for the Tigers. Now, they're on the outside of the ACC Championship picture, and will probably end up in either the Gator Bowl or the Champs Sports Bowl.

24 (NR) - UCF (8-3)
Yes, that UCF. The Golden Knights losses this season came against Texas, South Florida, and (less impressively) at Eastern Carolina. They beat a solid Tulsa squad that I considered putting in the rankings (I also considered Air Force and Utah), and have solid wins over pretty much everyone else they've played. South Florida also sits at 8-3, and with the win over UCF I should probably put them in this spot -- but for this week, I wanted to give UCF some love instead.

25 (NR) - Texas Tech (8-4)
The Red Raiders season is over, and it ended with a bang. Yes, Tech is in this spot in my rankings because they just beat Oklahoma. Nonetheless, if they weren't an 8 win team I wouldn't even have considered it. Bottom line, Tech has had a solid season and is deserving some love for at least a week. Will I keep them around next week? Depends on what the other teams in the rankings, and the other teams under consideration (such as South Florida) do as the season ends. For now, I'd give them my vote.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Minor League Free Agents

This news is now nearly two weeks old, but I missed the release of the official list and wanted to get it posted, along with a little bit of discussion on the topic. You can find the full list of minor league free agents by clicking here. As for the Twins, the following players became minor league free agents at the end of the season:

Matt Allegra - OF
Brad Baker - RHP
Brian Bass - RHP
Tristan Crawford - RHP
Angel Garcia - RHP
Dave Gassner - LHP
Ken Harvey - 1B
Felix Molina - 2B
Trent Oeltjen - OF
Gil Velazquez - SS
Glenn Williams - 3B
Jerome Williams - RHP

For some reason, the list does not include the following names, who reportedly are also minor league free agents:

Alejandro Machado - SS
Jason Miller - LHP
Josh Rabe - OF
Tommy Watkins - SS

From La Velle Neal of the Strib (and previous reports), we know that the Twins have already brought Tommy Watkins, Jason Miller, and Alejandro Machado back into the fold for next season. The team is also looking to bring back Brian Bass, Trent Oeltjen and Felix Molina. Meanwhile, Ken Harvey, Josh Rabe and Dave Gassner are sure goners.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Twins Acquire Craig Monroe: Updated

The Twins today acquired outfielder Craig Monroe from the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later. The speculation at this point has Monroe and Kubel essentially sharing time in LF and at DH -- but there's still a very good chance that, if the Twins lose Torii Hunter and Carlos Silva (as seems very likely) that they'll make a push to pick up a true DH either on the market or through a trade, in which case the Monroe/Kubel tandem could end up essentially as a platoon (with Kubel likely getting some time as the DH as well).

As for Monroe, Twins fans should remember him as a former Detroit Tiger who has absolutely killed Twins pitching in his career. He's a right-hander who will turn 31 on February 27 who has a career .256 batting average (although last season dragged that average down -- he hit .204 in 49 AB's for Chicago after being shipped over from Detroit, where he hit .222 in 343 AB's). However, Monroe has always hit for power -- since 2003, his HR numbers are 23-18-20-28-12 (again, 2007 was a downer for Monroe), and the Twins certainly needed to add some power to the team (especially if they lose Torii Hunter).

I'm willing to give Monroe a chance -- I have no idea why he was so bad last year, but for the Twins to take a chance on him I assume that they've scouted him sufficiently to have determined that he's likely to return to his pre-2007 form next year. The biggest downside on Monroe is his salary -- he made $4.775 million last season and is arbitration eligible, meaning a salary of around $5 million is likely even following his struggles. If he turns out to be damaged goods (i.e. he plays like he did in 2007), that's going to be a hard contract to swallow -- although the Twins would only have to deal with it for 1 year (it's not like, say, signing Barry Zito to a horrendously large contract that lasts approximately forever -- that would just be downright stupid).

Monroe isn't the answer to anything -- at least not by himself. However, I could see Monroe playing a positive role for the Twins next season; if, that is, that Twins go out and find more pieces to add to the puzzle. Think about it like this -- Monroe is basically replacing Rondell White and Lew Ford, so he doesn't have to do much to help the team improve in 2008.

UPDATE: This article on the Twins website points out an interesting aspect to this acquisition that I either missed in the early announcement of the trade, or that wasn't in the earlier discussion. (UPDATE 2: The Star Tribune story written for tomorrow's paper contains a discussion of this aspect of the deal) Essentially, the Twins plan on speaking with Monroe with the goal of signing him to a contract for next season that would involve a pay cut from the $4.775 million he made this season. The Twins were willing to give up a player to be named later, described in the article as a "low level prospect," in order to negotiate with Monroe exclusively for the next few weeks. If they can't come to an agreement, the Twins are then likely to non-tender him to avoid paying an arbitration award that is likely to exceed $5 million.

A lot of fans were ragging on Bill Smith for making this deal, but I think it's creative and demonstrates that Smith is willing to use the system to his advantage in order to benefit the Twins. I strongly suspect that this is just the first in a series of moves that will be forthcoming as he attempts to make the Twins offense more potent for next season.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

My College Football Top 25

Ready or not, here come your delayed rankings:


1 (2) - LSU (9-1)
The Tigers had a very easy game yesterday against Louisiana Tech, but they won handily (58-10), and the alternative for the #1 spot (Oregon) didn't play at all. Like many, I now think that a matchup between LSU and Oregon for the National Championship is the most likely outcome, and while I think it would be interesting for a team like Kansas or Missouri to sneak into the national title game, I think LSU/Oregon would be the best matchup. The Tigers have the tougher road thanks to the need to win the SEC Championship game (most likely against Georgia), but they have relatively easy games against Mississippi and Arkansas left on the regular season schedule.

2 (3) - Oregon (8-1)
The Ducks were idle this week, but found themselves moving up anyway after Ohio State's loss. Oregon's road to the National Championship is not a particularly difficult one -- they have games remaining at Arizona, at UCLA, and home against Oregon State. So long as they don't get caught looking ahead, Oregon should be playing for the championship in early January.

3 (4) - Oklahoma (9-1)
The Sooners have methodically ripped their way through most of the Big XII this season, with their only stumble against a now 5-6 Colorado team. If the Sooners had taken care of business in Boulder, they'd likely be cruising to spot in the BCS Championship game -- instead, they're left hoping somebody above them stumbles. The remaining regular season matchups at Texas Tech and against Oklahoma State shouldn't prove too challenging for the Sooners; the really interesting question is how they'll fare against Kansas or in a rematch with Missouri in the Big XII Championship -- possibly with a shot at BCS Championship on the line.

4 (5) - Kansas (10-0)
What, you ask, does Kansas have to do to get ahead of one-loss Oklahoma? Well, it's pretty simple -- they need to beat them on the field. Oklahoma stumbled badly against CU and picked up a loss, but I still think they're a better team than the Jayhawks. Until and unless KU plays OU in the Big XII Championship and picks up a win, I won't credit Kansas with being the better team. Remember, Kansas' 10-0 record looks gaudy, but they haven't had to play Oklahoma OR Texas this season, making that 6-0 Big XII mark look a LOT less impressive.

5 (7) - Missouri (9-1)
Missouri had a good win this week over Texas A&M, while my alternative choices for the #5 spot (West Virginia & Ohio State) respectively struggled to pull out a win and lost. As a result, I'll stick Missouri here for now. The interesting thing is that of the 3-4-5 spots, at least 2 of these teams are guaranteed to lose again because of the schedule. That basically mean that the current #3 spot is reserved for the eventual Big XII Champion, while if West Virginia and Ohio State win out they'll end up at #4 and #5 (although I'm not sure of the order at this point). I could have put them there now, but until the losses actually happen, I'll give the Big XII teams a break.

6 (1) - Ohio State (10-1)
The Buckeyes loss was against Illinois, while West Virginia lost to a South Florida team that has lost its luster of late. Additionally, while the Big Ten is clearly in a downswing this season, I haven't been that impressed recently with the Big East, either. As a result, I'm putting Ohio State ahead of the Mountaineers in this poll, and will likely keep them there if they beat Michigan (unless it's a close win and WVU pummels their remaining opponents, in which case I might reconsider).

7 (6) - West Virginia (8-1)
West Virginia won this week, but still was moved down in my rankings because I finally got on board with Missouri. With games at Cincinnati, home against Connecticut, and home against Pitt remaining on the schedule, WVU still has a chance to move ahead of Ohio State, but barring a complete collapse by the teams ahead of them on the schedule, they have virtually no chance of playing in the BCS Championship game.

8 (8) - Virginia Tech (8-2)
A solid 40-21 win this week over Florida State keeps the Hokies in position to go to the ACC Championship if they win out against Miami and at Virginia. That would lead either to a rematch with Clemson (who they crushed earlier this year) or Boston College (to whom they lost) for a trip to a BCS game. At this point, they clearly look like the best ACC team standing, so a BCS bid is a good bet.

9 (9) - USC (8-2)
A 24-17 win over a fading Cal team was nice for the Trojans, but the November 22 battle at Arizona State will likely determine their fortune this season. With Oregon looking like a good bet to go to the BCS Championship, the Rose Bowl would be certain to grab USC as an At-Large if they stayed eligible. A loss to ASU or to UCLA to finish out the season would leave USC with a trip to a much less desirable bowl like the Holiday Bowl.

10 (11) - Arizona State (9-1)
The Sun Devils will have a chance to prove themselves on November 22 in the above-mentioned battle with USC, and if they win that game they will end the season against Arizona. As a result, they have a chance to back-door their way into the Rose Bowl just as USC does, and would actually be a better pick for it at 11-1. USC has certainly looked beatable this year, so we'll see if ASU can pull off what would have seemed unthinkable at the beginning of the season.

11 (15) - Georgia (8-2)
The Bulldogs have been overlooked since they lost to South Carolina in the second week of the season, but the team's only two losses were to the Gamecocks and Tennessee. Yesterday's win over Auburn was very convincing, and they now are in position to face LSU in the SEC Championship game (and maybe make the Big XII's day by beating them). They should be ranked in the top 10 by the time they face LSU, but games against Kentucky and Georgia Tech remain on the schedule and could be potential traps.

12 (12) - Hawaii (9-0)
The Warriors did exactly what they needed to do by beating Fresno State 37-30 yesterday. It wasn't particularly pretty, but Fresno is a solid team and Hawaii stayed undefeated, so they're in good shape for now. Games remain at Nevada and at home against Boise State (and how fun is that going to be to watch?) and Washington. If Hawaii wins out, they'll be in the top 10 in the BCS and will be heading to a Bowl Game -- and the experts are looking to the Sugar Bowl.

13 (14) - Texas (9-2)
The Longhorns will play out the string with a game against Texas A&M on November 23 -- but while there is no longer a real chance that they will get to play for the Big XII Championship, that actually could turn out all right. Texas should finish 10-2 and BCS eligible, and they're very likely to be picked as an at-large.

14 (17) - Florida (7-3)
Really, Florida is here because I wasn't sure quite where to put them. They were clearly better than the three teams just ahead of them who lost (Boston College, Michigan, UCONN), but they also don't quite seem like a top 15 team anymore. Nonetheless, I also didn't feel anybody behind them deserved to get moved up, so here they are. Unexciting games against Florida Atlantic and Florida State remain on the schedule, so Florida should finish 9-3 without difficulty.

15 (22) - Clemson (8-2)
Big jump this week for the Tigers, who walloped Wake Forest 44-10 to put themselves in position to possibly earn an ACC Championship game berth. Next week's game against a reeling Boston College squad will determine whether that happens, and whether Clemson will get a chance to avenge their lopsided loss to Virginia Tech from earlier this season. The regular season will come to a close at South Carolina a week later, but the ACC Championship berths will have been determined by then.

16 (23) - Virginia (9-2)
The Cavaliers get next week off as they prep for a huge game with Virginia Tech on November 24. That game will determine who wins the ACC Coastal division and gets a trip to the ACC title game, and while I don't have much faith in Virginia, I hope they at least make that game interesting. The off week leading into the game should help.

17 (20) - Tennessee (7-3)
The Volunteers had no trouble against Arkansas this week, winning 34-13 to get their 7th win. Games against Vanderbilt and at Kentucky remain on the schedule, and if Georgia stumbles, the Volunteers could potentially still find themselves in the SEC Championship game.

18 (19) - Boise State (9-1)
Boise State destroyed winless Utah State 52-0 this week, and should do the same next week against a punchless Idaho squad. Everyone will be watching when Boise State faces off against (hopefully still unbeated) Hawaii on November 23, however -- as the winner has a very good chance to crash the BCS.

19 (NR) - Illinois (8-3)
In case you weren't paying attention, the Illini just took out the #1 team in all the land. That's good enough when coupled with a solid 8-3 record to get back into the top 20. Illinois will end their regular season next week against Northwestern, so they should finish up 9-3 and get a reasonable Bowl bid.

20 (21) - BYU (7-2)
Another week, another win -- the Cougars took out once-mighty TCU 27-22 to get to win #7 (remember when TCU was being touted as a BCS gate-crasher early this season?). Games remain at Wyoming, home against Utah, and at San Diego State.

21 (24) - Cincinnati (8-2)
The Bearcats just ended Connecticut's dreams of sneaking into the BCS, and so deserved to move up a bit. Reality should set in again next week, however, when Cincinnati hosts West Virginia -- but at least the season will end with a very winnable game in Syracuse, giving Cincy a chance to get to 9-3.

22 (10) - Boston College (8-2)
Two losses in a row will tarnish a team's reputation a wee bit, as the Eagles are finding out. They need to regroup quickly with Clemson next up on the schedule -- a loss would be disastrous, as it would kick them out of the ACC Championship game berth that seemed like a sure thing a couple of weeks ago. The season will close with a very winnable game against Miami -- and a win in that game could end up keeping Miami out of a bowl game of any kind.

23 (25) - Penn State (8-3)
The Nittany Lions for some reason had Temple on the schedule this week, and predictably dominated them 31-0. The season will close next week at Michigan State, and a 9th win would give Penn State a chance to compete against teams like Illinois in the Bowl battle that will go on in early December.

24 (NR) - Wisconsin (8-3)
The Badgers exposed a Michigan squad that I've been touting for the last few weeks, and that deserves to shoot them back into the rankings. Next week, Wisconsin plays the joke that is the Minnesota Golden Gophers, so 9-3 looks like a lock.

25 (16) - Connecticut (8-2)
They still have only two losses, so I'll keep them in the rankings this week. Next week, they should be able to beat Syracuse -- but the season will end with a game against West Virginia, and that will probably take UCONN out of the rankings for good. Still, 9-3 would be nothing to sneeze at for a program that wasn't expected to much of anything this year.

6 (8)


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Rolen to the Twins?

ESPN's Rumor Central (Insider Account required) is reporting via Buster Olney that the Twins and Cardinals are discussing a deal that would send third baseman Scott Rolen to the Twins -- presumably in exchange for young pitching. While the fact that two teams are "discussing" a deal by no means makes it a sure bet -- or even likely -- to happen, it does mean that there's something concrete to talk about, as opposed to the meaningless speculation that has no basis in fact which fuels most of the Hot Stove.

I'm of two minds on whether a deal for Rolen is a good idea. On one hand, Rolen was one of the best third basemen in the league for a number of years early this decade -- and his 2006 season (.296/22/95/887 OPS) was nothing to sneeze at. On the other, he's been beset by injuries for much of the last 3 seasons, he hit .265/8/58/729 OPS last season, and he's under contract for another 3 years and $36 million.

Bottom Line: If the Twins could get Rolen without giving up too much (I wouldn't give up Slowey or Garza for him, for instance), then I'm in favor of a deal. He could potentially provide a patch for the gaping hole that is 3B for the Twins -- but his injury history and high salary make him a definite risk. Of course, the fact that the Twins are apparently willing to take on Rolen's salary probably means that the front office expects Torii to leave (probably a good bet), because otherwise we couldn't afford him. Weighing everything, let me just say that I'm cautiously optimistic about the possibility of acquiring Rolen, and very excited that Bill Smith seems to be taking a very aggressive approach to addressing this team's needs.

UPDATE: Joe C. shoots down this rumor on his blog -- and strongly indicates that he thinks it would be pretty foolish for the Twins to go this route. I understand where he's coming from, which is why I hesitated above -- but in the end, I would be pleased to see this if the right deal was struck. I tend to believe Christensen over Olney on this, simply because he's more likely to have legitimate access to people in the organization, so this is probably good evidence that a Rolen deal is not going to happen. Not that that's a surprise -- as I said earlier, discussions (if they happened) certainly don't mean a deal is even likely to happen.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Nightly Notes

Very short version of the notes tonight, but here goes:

1.) Joe C. of the Strib has a good article up highlighting the Twins newfound willingness to discuss trading young starters. To this, I say only "hallelujah!". Look, I want to see Kevin Slowey, Matt Garza, and to a lesser extent Scott Baker (sorry, but it's hard to break the habit of being down on Baker) pitching for the Twins for years to come -- but not if they don't have hitters in the lineup to help them out. In any walk of life, you need to deal from a position of strength in order to shore up weaknesses, and there simply is no question that the Twins greatest strength is the young pitching they have coming up through the pipeline. I like the fact that Bill Smith seems to be very aggressive about targeting some prospects who could significantly improve the team (Chase Headley, a Padres 3B prospect who hit .330 with 20 homers in AA this season is particularly interesting, in my mind). In other words, I approve -- go Bill! Make something happen!

2.) Brad Lidge was finally traded by the Astros today, and will now be pitching out of the Phillies bullpen. Lidge had a rough 2006 season, posting a 5.28 ERA in 75 innings, but he bounced back nicely with a 3.36 ERA in 67 innings last year. Seems like a good pickup for the Phils, and better yet, it ends what had been about a year and a half of constant "will the Astros trade Lidge?" speculation.

3.) The Yankees have mentioned that they're going to offer A-Rod arbitration, and somehow various media sources have spun that into "the Yankees are backtracking on talking to A-Rod!" stories. To me, there's no evidence of that -- of course the Yankees are going to offer him arbitration! It means they get two free draft picks! They'd be stupid not to! How you take a routine decision like this to mean that the two sides are now ready to negotiate is beyond me; after the Yankees have been very plain about their interest in moving forward, it seems highly unlikely that they'd change their collective minds about this one. Incidentally, this isn't exactly a risky move -- first off, Scott Boras would never accept arbitration (unless the market completely collapsed, in which case he'd be admitting defeat), and second, even if he did decide to accept the offer, the Yankees could afford his services. It's a moot point, though -- A-Rod will be playing for someone other than the Yankees next year.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Gold Gloves

I don't have the enthusiasm for this topic to do much more than post an abbreviated "Congratulations" to Johan Santana and Torii Hunter, the Twins two newly-minted Gold Glovers for 2007. The full list can be found here, in case you haven't yet seen it.

Frankly I was a little surprised by Santana picking up the Gold Glove -- guess the voters felt that they couldn't go a year without giving him hardware of some kind. As for Torii -- well, why even bother analyzing it anymore? He's reached the point where he's going to continue winning the award whether he has a good year or not defensively, based on reputation alone. Kind of like Andruw Jones of the Braves, who was 7th out of the 8 players who qualified as center fielders in zone rating but still picked up another Gold Glove (hey, at least he fields the balls he actually gets to, as evidenced by his fielding percentage).

Perhaps you can tell from the tone of this post that I don't ultimately put that much stock in Gold Glove awards. I don't think anyone has a good grasp on how to measure defense (I'm not particularly enamored of any of the stats that attempt to measure it), and as I mentioned earlier this, more than any other MLB award, is based heavily on reputation. But hey, I'll stop being grumpy and just rejoice that a couple of Twins won something for 2007 -- lord knows, there aren't going to be any MVP or Cy Young awards this time around!


Monday, November 05, 2007

Nightly Notes

This is going to be a quick notes column -- it's been awhile since I said anything baseball related, and I wanted to keep in touch with some things to at least register an opinion. As I said earlier, sometime soon I'll be commenting on which players I think the Twins should add to the 40-man roster prior to the November 20 deadline, and I'll also comment on potential free agent pickups sometime before November 13. Now, onto the notes:

1.) La Velle Neal of the Strib speculated/reported today the Twins and Red Sox are at least thinking about the possibility of a trade that would send center fielder Coco Crisp to the Twins in exchange for . . . something. It sounds like this is more than something that was just tossed around because it makes sense -- instead, this looks like a legitimate discussion for a deal that could be swung if Torii Hunter goes elsewhere and the two sides can agree to legitimate compensation for Crisp. The obvious question is whether or not Crisp warrants attention from the Twins.

While Crisp is not even close to being a legitimate replacement for Hunter, he would be a far better option than most of the players the Twins could legitimately expect to get on the free agent market (let's be honest -- the Twins wouldn't pay for Andruw Jones even if he were still in his prime, and Aaron Rowand is going to end up making a lot of money playing somewhere, more than likely). Also, as I've mentioned many, many times this year, there is simply no replacement in the Twins organization for Hunter. As a result, I'm forced to conclude that Crisp, whose salary would be $4.75 M in 2008 and $5.75 M in 2009 (with an $8 M option for 2010), is a reasonably priced alternative.

Of course, if the Twins make this move and also make good on earlier promises to slightly raise payroll next year, there's a chance they could find a reasonable DH -- and if that player could come anywhere near Hunter's power and run-producing talents, the Twins could potentially end up better off. Finding a third baseman will be more difficult. Don't expect any move until Torii Hunter lands somewhere, though -- the Twins seem to legitimately want to bring him back, and maybe something will happen on that front. I'd guess that if a deal gets done, it will be sometime in January.

2.) Andy Pettite declined his option with the Yankees today, saying that he needs more time to decide whether he wants to retire or come back for another year. While I believe that Pettite is simply still evaluating his options, I wonder how much of this decision rests on the relative turmoil surrounding the Yankees this off-season. If Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera both bailed out, for instance, it might be significantly less attractive for Pettite to return. We'll see how this plays out, but I've thought for most of the off-season that Pettite would probably decide not to come back next year, while Posada and Rivera would return.

3.) 296 yards? Really? That's just insane.

4.) The weak market for starting pitchers just got weaker tonight, with Greg Maddux re-upping with the Padres for 1-year and $10 million. Not that he was an option for too many teams -- he seems to be pretty selective with where he decides to play. Still, that's one less warm body available, and it makes Carlos Silva just that much more valuable. Chief's gonna get paid this winter.

5.) I don't usually want the Yankees to be right about something, but I'm hoping that they have correctly read the market for A-Rod if they don't negotiate with him. Nobody is going to give him $350 million over the next 10-years -- it's just not going to happen. How funny would it be, though, if he wasn't able to get a deal for more than, say, 5 years because of the significant insurance issues involved with such a long-term move? I really just want Scott Boras to be put in his place on this one. A-Rod is going to make a ton of money no matter what happens; I just want it to be for a shorter term and for less than the Amazing Boras thought it would be for.

Unfortuantely, human nature probably means that A-Rod and Boras will win this one, too. Think about it -- if you've decided that A-Rod is worth $25 million a season, are you going to let $5 million/year stop you from signing him? While it makes sense economically to set a maximum value and not budge from it, I have a feeling that the temptation will be to keep moving the marker; all it takes is one guy deciding he has to have A-Rod to make Boras a winner yet again. Incidentally, let me just say that I think A-Rod "deserves" whatever the market will bear for him. If some fool is going to give him $30 million for 10 years, so be it. This isn't about sticker shock at the potential contract -- it's just about me wanting to see Boras get stuffed.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

My College Football Top 25

Just a few weeks to go before the College Football regular season comes to an end, and the BCS picture seems to be coming into some focus. Here's my list of the top 25:


1 (1) - Ohio State (10-0)
The Buckeyes handled Wisconsin without difficulty this week, and faces Illinois at home next week before the season-ending matchup with Michigan that will provide OSU's toughest test of the season. A lot of people (myself included) feel that the Big X is not particularly impressive this season, but that's not going to keep Ohio State out of the National Championship game if they win these last two ballgames.

2 (3) - LSU (8-1)
For much of the night, it looked like Alabama was going to shock the Tigers and end LSU's title hopes, but a late turnover helped LSU get the 41-34 win and keeps the title picture interesting. The strength of the SEC should be enough to get LSU to the National Championship game if they win out, even though their last three games aren't that impressive (Louisiana Tech, at Mississippi, and Arkansas).

3 (5) - Oregon (8-1)
The Ducks picked up a convincing win tonight against Arizona State, and will finish their season at Arizona, at UCLA, and against Oregon State. Unfortunately, fans will likely spend the month of December wondering what would have been had they not suffered that narrow loss to Cal on September 29.

4 (4) - Oklahoma (8-1)
The Sooners have a relatively easy remaining schedule, with games against Baylor, at Texas Tech, and against Oklahoma State. That will be followed with a game against either Kansas or Missouri in the Bix XII Championship. If Oklahoma wins out, that could be enough to get them into the National Title game outright, but I'm guessing that they need a bit of help with a loss from two of the teams ahead of them due to the relative struggles of the Big XII this season.

5 (8) - Kansas (9-0)
Clearly, Nebraska is having a down year -- that's been apparent for most of the season. Nonetheless, no one could have seen today's 76-39 thumping over the Cornhuskers by Kansas coming. By destroying the Huskers, the Jayhawks gained points in a game that they had to be expected to win. Kansas now faces Oklahoma State on the road before returning home for games against Iowa State and Missouri, with the Missouri game almost certainly being for the Big XII North title. I can't believe I'm asking this question, but is it possible that Kansas will legitimately have a chance against Oklahoma if they make it to the Big XII Championship game at 12-0? Suddenly, I'm starting to wonder.

6 (6) - West Virginia (7-1)
The Mountaineers had the week off, and will finish off their season with games against Louisville, at Cincinnati, against UCONN (in what will probably determine the Big East champion), and against Pittsburgh. Amongst the one-loss teams, WVU probably has the least chance of making it to the National Championship, simply because the Big East is still not considered a particularly strong conference, and there will be no chance for the Mountaineers to get a bounce from a conference championship game.

7 (9) - Missouri (8-1)
Missouri has spent much of the season being overshadowed by the performance of neighboring Kansas, but if they can get past Texas A&M and Kansas State (on the road) in the next two weeks, they'll get a chance to sink the Jayhawks on November 24. A win in that game would probably land Missouri a rematch against the Oklahoma Sooners -- the only team so far this season to beat the Tigers.

8 (10) - Virginia Tech (7-2)
The Hokies face Florida State and Miami in the next two weeks before going on the road to face in-state rival Virginia on November 24. The most likely scenario will see UVA and VT both entering that game with 6-1 conference records, with the winner heading to the ACC championship game as the Coastal division representative. If VT wins that game, a rematch with Boston College is likely to ensue -- and while the National Championship is now probably beyond the reach of either Tech or Boston College, a chance to play in a BCS game is still worth fighting for.

9 (11) - USC (7-2)
The Trojans have tough matchups remaining at California, at Arizona State, and against UCLA at home to finish out the season, and will need to win each of those games to finish with the 2nd best record in the Pac-10. A trip to the Rose Bowl is still at least possible if USC can win impressively enough to grab a second BCS slot for the Pac-10 (I'm assuming Oregon will win the conference), but a visit to a less prestigious bowl game may be in the cards for the Trojans this year.

10 (2) - Boston College (8-1)
I struggled a bit with where to put BC this week, and ended up slipping them a couple of spots beneath Virginia Tech despite the fact that BC just beat Tech a couple of weeks ago. Ultimately, my reasoning is that BC narrowly beat Virginia Tech, and just lost to a mediocre Florida State team. The national title dream was fun while it lasted, but BC needs to buckle down and win at Maryland, at Clemson, and home against Miami if they want to at least make the BCS.

11 (7) - Arizona State (8-1)
Oregon is for real, and there's no shame for ASU in losing to the Ducks. I almost kept ASU ahead of BC, but in the end I decided that BC will likely finish the season 11-1, with the Sun Devils likely to lose at least one of their last three games (at UCLA, USC, Arizona). While I don't think ASU was exposed as a fraud or anything like that tonight, they were shown to be less than a National Title contender.

12 (12) - Hawaii (8-0)
The Warriors had the week off, and will now finish off their schedule with games against Fresno State, at Nevada, against Boise State and against Washington. If they actually win out, they should move into the top 8 or so of the BCS -- and that means they have a legitimate shot at playing spoiler this year. Ironically, Boise State (last year's party crashers) are in the best position to stop Hawaii, and I would be legitimately impressed if Hawaii gets a win in that matchup.

13 (13) - Michigan (8-2)
The Wolverines have nearly completed a remarkable comeback from their disastrous first 2 weeks of the season. This weeks close win in Lansing against Michigan State puts Michigan on the verge of a huge showdown with Ohio State for the Big X championship -- but a trip to Wisconsin stands in the way first. Who thought Michigan would have a shot at a BCS berth after the 39-7 loss to Oregon back on September 8?

14 (14) - Texas (8-2)
The Longhorns are just playing out the string after they lost to Kansas State and Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks in late September and early October. Wins against Texas Tech and at Texas A&M in the last two weeks would put Texas at a solid 10-2, but they will almost certainly be kept out of the Big XII championship, and so will end up as nothing more than an also-ran in a solid conference. A BCS berth is a possibility, but a pretty remote one.

15 (15) - Georgia (7-2)
Beating Troy is respectable, especially when it comes a week after winning in Florida. Nonetheless, the Bulldogs will face a much tougher challenge next week when Auburn comes to town. Georgia needs to win that game and the following week against Kentucky along with a Tennessee loss to win the SEC East and a probable matchup with LSU in the SEC championship. They also have a game remaining against Georgia Tech to finish off the regular season.

16 (16) - Connecticut (8-1)
I still don't quite feel the love for the Huskies, but maybe I should -- after all, UCONN has now defeated Lousville, South Florida, and Rutgers in consecutive weeks. Next week's game in Cincinnati won't be easy, but they will then head home for a matchup against relatively punchless Syracuse. The Huskies will finish off the regular season by facing West Virginia on the road in a game that will almost certainly be for the Big East championship.

17 (17) - Florida (6-3)
The Gators have just one game left against the SEC, at South Carolina against the Ole' Ball Coach next week. After that, games against Florida Atlantic and Florida State will finish off the schedule. While all three of those games should end in W's, there's no question that a 9-3 season will be a disappointment to fans who have become accustomed to championships over the past year and a half.

18 (18) - Auburn (7-3)
The Tigers have a rough last two games on the schedule, with a trip to Georgia and a home battle with Alabama left. A win earlier this season over Florida proved that Auburn can win on any given Saturday, but losses to South Florida and Mississippi State show that they don't always bring it. For a team as inconsistent as this, two losses and a 7-5 record is probably the most likely scenario -- although I think the Alabama game will be very winnable for Auburn at home.

19 (19) - Boise State (8-1)
The Broncos, darlings of last year's Bowl Season, may be at it again. Games at Utah State and home against Idaho won't do much to boost Boise State's profile, but a season ender in Hawaii on November 23 could be just what the doctor ordered to get an 11-1 Boise State squad awfully close to a BCS berth.

20 (NR) - Tennessee (6-3)
I keep moving Tennessee on and off the board, but looking again at their schedule I think they're legitimately a top 20 team. This season, the Volunteers' losses have come at Cal, at Florida, and at Alabama -- and none of those environments are exactly friendly. Games against Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and at Kentucky will give Tennessee a chance to re-establish themselves in the SEC, and with an October 6 win over Georgia under their belt, Tennessee need only win out to get a chance to play for the SEC Championship. Talk about a team playing under the radar -- they've received absolutely no consideration on the national level this seasno after starting off 1-2; I think they're a legitimate threat to win the SEC East, however, and you never know what could happen in one game against LSU.

21 (23) - BYU (6-2)
I stated my reasons for putting BYU in my top 25 a couple of weeks ago, and I'm not changing my mind now. If the Cougars win out against TCU, at Wyoming, Utah, and at San Diego State, then they'll be a legitimately solid 10-2 and deserving a ranking in, let's say, the top 16. This is by no means a great team, but they're a solid non-BCS conference contender, and as long as they continue to win, I'll continue to back them.

22 (24) - Clemson (7-2)
I really liked Clemson early this season, and I'm glad to see them sitting at 7-2 with a chance to win the ACC Atlantic division. Next week, Clemson will need to tough it out against Wake Forest for a chance to go into their showdown against Boston College with a 5-2 conference record -- at that point, beating the Eagles would give Clemson a ticket to the ACC Championship. The regular season will end at South Carolina on November 24 -- but that game won't have nearly the ramifications of the BC game on November 17.

23 (25) - Virginia (8-2)
How do the Cavaliers continue to escape with one point wins? This week, the victim was Wake Forest -- the third team to suffer a one-point loss to UVA this season. Next week, Virginia will travel to Miami to face a down-trodden Hurricanes team, but all eyes are likely already focused on a November 24 battle against Virginia Tech that will probably determine the winner of the ACC Coastal division.

24 (NR) - Cincinnati (7-2)
The Bearcats went into South Florida and picked up a 38-33 win today, but the next two weeks will see UCONN and West Virginia roll into the Queen City, with losses quite a bit more likely than wins. At least the season ends against Syracuse, making at least 8 wins a virtual lock. For a Cincinnati club that hasn't had a good football team in my memory, that's quite an accomplishment.

25 (NR) - Penn State (7-3)
Penn State responded to the drubbing placed on them at the hands of Ohio State last week by getting a solid win against Purdue to finish up the Happy Valley portion of their schedule. Trips to Temple and Michigan State will finish off the season for the Nittany Lions, and two victories should be on tap. While 9-3 is nothing to be ashamed of, it has to frustrate Joe Paterno that close games at Michigan and at Illinois didn't turn out the other way.