Taylor's Twins Talk

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

Monday, December 31, 2007

Top 10 Sports Moments of 2007

Top 10 lists at this time of year may be omnipresent, but I think they serve a useful purpose. When is a better time to look back at the year that was and remember the great moments? With that in mind, I'm offering you today my favorite moments from the sports world in 2007. I hope it brings back a few memories!

#10 - Formula 1 Racing - Chinese Grand Prix (10/1/07)
This was the first year in which I really followed Formula 1, and it was a highly entertaining season. The Chinese Grand Prix was the 16th of 17 races in the 2007 season, and super-rookie Lewis Hamilton entered the race with a seemingly insurmountable 12 point lead in the championship race. Prior to the start of the race, the rain started to come down -- and while that wasn't unexpected, it would play havoc with Hamilton's championship hopes. On the 30th lap, Hamilton's tires were worn out and he needed to come in to pit. When Hamilton moved to dive onto pit lane, however, his car failed to turn and he ended up in a sand pit from which he couldn't escape. As a result, Hamilton picked up the first DNF of his career and his points lead would dwindle to just 4 points heading into the final race of the season. By the time that race was over, Hamilton was tied for second with teammate Fernando Alonso, just one point behind champion Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari. This makes my list not necessarily because it was the best race of the 2007 Formula 1 season, but because it was almost certainly the most consequential.

#9 - Scott Baker's 1-hitter (8/31/07)
In a season where very little went right for the Minnesota Twins, this game was a high point. Baker, who has at times been frustratingly inconsistent as a Major Leaguer, put it all together in the second game of a doubleheader against the Royals. Baker took a perfect game into the 9th inning before walking John Buck and giving up a single to Mike Sweeney to lose his perfect game and no-hitter on back-to-back hitters. The Twins nonetheless ended up winning the game 5-0, and Baker turned in the pitching performance of the year for the team. Sadly, this is the only Twins moment of the season to make my list (although Jason Tyner's first career homerun was an awful lot of fun).

#8 - Florida Gators Repeat (4/2/07)
March Madness is always a blast -- and I actually prefer the first weekend and the attendant craziness to the Final Four. Nonetheless, the culmination of the tournament in 2007 gave us the first repeat national champion since 1991-92, when Duke did the deed. Florida beat Ohio State 84-75 to finish the season 26-5, meaning that the poor Buckeyes were once again the runners-up to Florida for a national championship -- three months earlier, Ohio State got pounded by Florida in the BCS Championship Game. While I remember next to nothing of the game itself, it is the achievement that I'm honoring with this spot on the list.

#7 - Patriots go Undefeated (12/29/07)
A 38-35 victory over the New York Giants just 2 days ago gave the Patriots a perfect 16-0 regular season. The first half of the season saw the Patriots looking virtually unbeatable as they pounded opponents into oblivion -- but the second half required the Patriots to do some work as they had several close calls. While the Patriots will not consider this season to be a success unless they finish things off with a Super Bowl victory, there's no question that going 16-0 is in itself a remarkable achievement that deserves recognition. This entry would also be incomplete if it didn't mention Tom Brady's ridiculous mark of 50 TD passes for the 2007 season. Unbelievable.

#6 - Missing Man Tributes
The USC Trojans and Washington Redskins both honored fallen teammates by using a version of the "missing man" formation in games this year. The Trojans were first up, honoring kicker Mario Danelo in the season-opener against Idaho on September 1. After scoring the first of what was sure to be many touchdowns in the game, the Trojans went onto the field for the extra point with 10 blockers and no kicker, resulting in a delay of game penalty. Danelo's parents, who had been invited to the game, took a few moments to realize what was being done, but were said to be quite touched by the gesture. Three months later on December 2, the Redskins honored Sean Taylor by going out for the first defensive play of their game with the Buffalo Bills with just 10 players on defense. I may be sentimental for finding these gestures to be meaningful, but I don't care -- they were incredibly touching, and represented the most visible way for the players to honor their fallen comrades.

#5 - Appalachian State over Michigan (9/1/07)
I'm a sucker for upsets, so I understandably loved the 2007 College Football season. Without question, though, the first upset was the best. Michigan turned out not to be nearly as good as a lot of pundits thought they would be in 2007, but when this game was played they were considered to be potential championship contenders. Watching the end of this game, which Appy State won 34 to 32 thanks to some incredible last minute play, was an exhilarating experience that fully primed me for what was to come. Again, as with several other items on this list, it's not necessarily the game itself that merits attention on this list, but what it stood for. Essentially, this game is standing in for all of the other upsets this season. Honorable mention in that category goes to Stanford over USC on October 6 -- but when I think back on the 2007 season, it'll be Michigan losing to open the season that I'll remember.

#4 - AFC Championship (1/21/07)
The Colts and Patriots entered the playoffs following the 2006 season as the 3rd and 4th seeds respectively, but after the Ravens and Chargers failed to live up to their higher seeds, Indy and New England met in the AFC Championship. New England led for nearly the entire game, but with about a minute left, Joseph Addai made it into the end zone from 3 yards out to give the Colts the lead. The defense held on, and the Colts won 38-34 to earn a trip to the Super Bowl. Two weeks later, Peyton Manning got the Super Bowl monkey off his back when the Colts beat the Chicago Bears, but it was the AFC Championship that presented the bigger challenge.

#3 - NASCAR Daytona 500 (2/18/07)
I love the Daytona 500. After three months without any racing to speak of, NASCAR comes roaring back with its biggest race of the season. As a result, the Daytona 500 would probably be somewhere on my top 10 list every year, just because of what it is. The 2007 version of the event was particularly great, however, as Kevin Harvick edged out Mark Martin by just 0.02 seconds -- the closest finish since the inaugural event in 1959. The end was not without controversy, as a major wreck on the last lap was ignored by NASCAR officials to allow Harvick and Martin to battle to the finish line -- contrary to what almost everyone believed was standard procedure. Nonetheless, the finish was great, and the race meant NASCAR was back.

#2 - Rockies win the Wild Card (10/01/07)
The Twins are my team and always will be, but living in Colorado, it was hard not to get caught up in the Rockies unbelievable finish to the 2007 season. The season culminated with 11 straight wins by the Rockies -- and 14 of 15 overall -- to get Colorado into the playoffs for the first time since 1995. Colorado needed to beat the San Diego Padres in a one-game playoff, and pulled it off 9-8. The magical run would continue into the World Series, as the Rockies swept the Phillies and Diamondbacks. Unfortunately, the Red Sox brought things crashing to a halt. The end of the regular season couldn't be tainted, however, and the weeks of enjoyment it brought me earned it this high place on my list.

#1 - Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (1/1/07)
What a way to kick off the year! Boise State beat Oklahoma 43 to 42 in this unbelievable game which I hope you've seen -- I can't do the ending justice and I'm not even going to try. The only time in my life when I enjoyed the ending of any game as much as I enjoyed this one was in 1991 when the Twins won the World Series. I credit this game with my newfound love of college football, which came on full force this season. When I was compiling this list, there was no question for me that this would be at the top. I can only hope that one of this season's BCS games will deliver in such a big way in the next few days!

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas -- and Goodbye for Now!

Tomorrow, I'll be joining the millions of Americans who travel home for Christmas. While I'm not particularly excited about visiting the airport, I am very happy that I'll be with family tomorrow night. For the next week, I'll be in Minnesota -- and while I will have access to the internet, I don't plan on posting unless something major (such as a Santana trade, for instance) takes place.

I plan to be back on December 31 with a post covering my favorite sports moments from 2007, and the week after that I'll be posting a few times on the Hall of Fame with predictions before the results are released and a limited analysis after they are released. Of course, I'll also post on any Twins news or interesting baseball news that pops up along the way.

Until then, I hope you all have a chance to spend some time over the next week with your family and friends. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


Thursday, December 20, 2007

My 2008 Hall of Fame Ballot

As promised, here is the ballot that I would cast if I were a voter for the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The format is the same as last year -- first, I'll list the players that I would cast a vote for if I had a chance, then the players who I would consider to be possibilities for the future, and finally I will name those players who I would remove from the ballot entirely. Also, just so you're aware, I've plagiarized the comments that I made last year on many of the names who are still on the ballot.

Hall of Famers

Bert Blyleven (11th Year) -- 47.7% in 2007

Despite some difficulties with Blyleven's candidacy, I think the scales come down on the side of Bert being a Hall of Famer. Whether this determination is colored by my Twins bias and my enjoyment of his color commentary for the Twins - well, that's for others to decide. On the plus side, Blyleven is 5th in career strikeouts (3,701) and no one is going to catch him anytime soon. He also struck out 2.8 batters for every batter he walked - that puts him miles ahead of all-time K leader Nolan Ryan (just over 2.0), in the neighborhood of Roger Clemens (2.96), and well below Randy Johnson (3.2). Looking at the pitchers below him on the K list, he's equal to or better than the majority of the top 20 - Fergie Jenkins beats him, as does Greg Maddux, and Pedro Martinez utterly blows everybody out of the water with about a 4.2. But Blyleven is clearly amongst the best in terms of K-BB in the history of the game.

Blyelven is also 9th All-Time with 60 shutouts - the man liked to finish what he started. The amazing thing about this stat is that it is incredibly predictive of Hall of Fame pitchers. Other than Blyleven, the top 23 pitchers in this category are in the Hall of Fame. Luis Tiant, at 24, is the first guy besides Bert who isn't in the Hall. Standing alone, that means nothing - but it is another indication that Blyleven's stats are in the same league as other Hall of Famers.

As for ERA, Blyelven's career 3.31 ERA isn't great by Hall of Fame standards - but it's better than quite a few players (Early Wynn, Fergie Jenkins, Dennis Eckersley, and Lefty Grove for example). In other words - I'm neutral on ERA.

The most oft-heard argument against Blyleven is that he won just 287 games, and this doesn't meet the magic number of 300. But that number didn't prevent Fergie Jenkins (284), Juan Marichal (243), or Jim Palmer (268), amongst others, from getting into the Hall. Bert pitched a couple more years than Jenkins, so one argument could go that someone with 22 years in the game should have crested 300 - but with his other numbers being so solid, I find it hard to argue that the lack of wins is entirely Blyleven's fault.

Perhaps more compelling is the argument that Blyleven was never a truly dominant pitcher - he finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting twice, and that was as good as it got - and he was an All-Star just twice. He also never led his league in ERA, Wins, or even K/9. Nevertheless, that doesn't take away from the fact that he put up some brilliant numbers in his career, not all of which were dependant simply on longevity (as his 3.31 ERA shows). Bert belongs in the Hall, and up to last year when his numbers suddenly took a downward turn, I had hoped he would get there some day. I'm starting to resign myself to the likelihood that, in the eyes of most HOF voters, he doesn't measure up.

Andre Dawson (7th Year) -- 56.7% in 2007

Last year, I put Dawson in my "Maybe" category, and promised to think hard about his candidacy. I have done so, and decided that he's a Hall of Famer. Dawson was a career .279 hitter with 438 HR's over 21 years. In that time, he also picked up 8 Gold Gloves and 4 Silver Sluggers, Rookie of the Year honors in 1977, an MVP award in 1987 (along with 2nd place finishes in 1981 and 1983) and topped it all off with 8 appearances as an All-Star. His 2,774 hits in 21 years are a litter lower than I would expect from a Hall of Famer, but the total package is pretty darn good, and I'm now convinced.

Goose Gossage (9th Year) -- 71.2% in 2007

Gossage was around forever (22 years), and put up some solid numbers as almost exclusively a reliver. With Bruce Sutter and Dennis Eckersley now in the Hall, so goes the thought, the Goose should also get in as one of the originators of the modern closer position. First, you need to take Eckersley out of the equation - the man had 361 starts and racked up 100 career complete games and 20 shutouts, putting up 197 wins in his career to go with 390 saves. Those numbers dwarf Gossage's, who put up 310 saves, 124 wins, and a career ERA of 3.01 - but those numbers also can't fairly be compared to Eckersley because of the Eck's incredible dual starter/reliever career.

But Sutter - well, the two were made for comparison. They pitched in an overlapping timeframe (Sutter from '76 to '88; Gossage, as a closer, from '75 to '88), and when you look at their careers in that light, it's hard to argue that Gossage isn't Sutter's equal. He saved 10 more games than Sutter (which translates to slightly less per season as a closer), and his ERA is 18 points worse than Sutter's (3.01 to 2.83) - but he also won 56 more games. For a modern closer, Gossage probably wouldn't be a Hall of Famer - but considering the era he pitched in and the role he performed for his teams, he is. If Sutter is a Hall of Famer, then Gossage should be as well.

Hold-Overs (a.k.a. the Maybe's)

Tommy John (14th Year) -- 22.9% in 2007

John is not a bad Hall of Fame candidate. His 288 wins are over 26 Major League seasons (although he didn't win many games over those last few years), and he has a 3.34 career ERA. He also finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting twice. Basically, John is Bert Blyleven without the strikeouts. In the end, that's not enough - Bert's Hall credentials are largely dependent on his strikeout and control numbers, and John can't compare in that regard. I'd put him in the maybe category because he's not a cut-and-dried no, but to be honest I probably would not change my mind on his candidacy.

Don Mattingly (8th Year) -- 9.9% in 2007

This one is fairly difficult for me. His .307 career batting average fits comfortably in with the current Hall-of-Famers, and he hit 222 HR, so he wasn't a slouch in terms of power. He also won 9 Gold Gloves, 3 Silver Sluggers, and an MVP Award. But I just can't pull the trigger - his BA/Power numbers are more in line with an 1910's era Hall of Fame 1B than with one from the 1980's. This is closer than I originally thought it would be - I'd put him in the top 5 of the "best of the rest" on my ballot - but in the end I have to leave him off, at least for this year.

Mark McGwire (2nd Year) -- 23.5% in 2007

It will be absolutely fascinating to see what happens with McGwire when the voting is announced this year. Will the fact that more and more big names are being linked to performance enhancing drugs cause some voters to change their mind on whether he should be punished for his alleged use? Or will the furor over PED's drive his numbers down further this year? I've stated before that I wouldn't base my decisions on PED use, but my stance has changed slightly -- if there was a fair amount of proof (and I'm not talking the amount or kind of proof that would be necessary to convict in a court of law; I just want something more than a wink and a nod allegation) that McGwire used PED's for a significant part of his career, I would at that point likely exclude him. If he's only linked to use late in his career, or for only limited periods of time, I would vote based solely on his numbers. Part of the reason I put him on my maybe list, then, is because I just don't know where he fits on that spectrum.

Of course, there's also the issue of his performance on the field and whether it's enough to get him in. Last year, I stated that a player with a career batting average as low as McGwire's (.263) was to me a dubious Hall of Famer. I'm going to stand by that as a general proposition, but I've largely been swung around to the view that great performance in another area can compensate for a low batting average. That's why I am now convinced that Harmon Killebrew (.256 career BA) is still Hall of Fame worthy -- because 573 HR's for the era he played in was a remarkable number. Do McGwire's 583 HR's measure up?

For now, that's the question I can't answer. McGwire hit a bunch of homers, to be sure, but he did it in an era when homerun numbers have become inflated. It's also the statistic that would benefit the most from juicing. More than likely I would eventually support McGwire's inclusion in the Hall as one of baseball's great sluggers, but there are just far too many questions about his candidacy to say that I would support his election this year.

Jack Morris (9th Year) -- 37.1% in 2007

Another close one - but Morris' 3.90 career ERA is a bit too high, and his 1.78 K-BB ratio is a bit too low to earn him consideration for his control. He did win 254 games - which I don't think disqualifies him at all, since he has a .577 winning percentage. His failure to ever win a Cy Young (like Bert, he finished 3rd twice) is another strike against him, because unlike Bert he doesn't have a dominant category to boost his candidacy. Borderline, but probably not quite a Hall of Famer.

Dale Murphy (10th Year) -- 9.2% in 2007

His .265 batting average is a concern, but his 398 HR, 5 Gold Gloves, 2 MVPs, and 4 Silver Sluggers make him a serious candidate. I have reservations about Murphy having just 2111 hits in 18 seasons, though. If I had to make a final decision on Murphy right now, I'd vote no -- but I'm willing to reconsider.

Dave Parker (12th Year) -- 11.4% in 2007

No glaring weakness, like Murphy's batting average. Parker hit .290, with 339 HR and 2712 hits in 19 seasons, while picking up an MVP award, 3 Gold Gloves, and 3 Silver Sluggers. But, while those numbers are very nice, what exactly makes him a Hall of Famer? He was a very good, but not great hitter. He had very good, but not great, power. He could field pretty well. In the end, I think he misses the cut - he's a great player, but not a Hall of Famer.

Tim Raines (1st Year)

I'll be very curious to see where he winds up this year in the voting, because he Raines presents an interesting resume. He played for 23 years and compiled a .294 batting average, 170 homers, and 808 stolen bases (good for 5th all time). He was basically the National League version of Ricky Henderson, and while he's nowhere close in terms of stolen bases, he has a much better batting average than Henderson and was a more patient hitter (Henderson walked a lot, but he struck out a ton, too). Raines also went to 7 All-Star Games, picked up a Silver Slugger award, and had one top 5 finish in the MVP voting. I'm inclined to put him in the "great, but not Hall-worthy" category for now, but as with the rest of those players I'm sticking him in my "Maybe" list in case I later change my mind on him.

Jim Rice (14th Year) -- 63.5% in 2007

Rice's numbers (.298/382/2452) are actually fairly close to Hall of Famer Al Kaline's (.297/399/3007) - except for the hits, but Rice played 6 fewer seasons than Kaline. So why do I think Kaline is a Hall of Famer while Rice isn't? Simple - Kaline won 10 Gold Gloves, and Rice won none. Rice did win an MVP award, while Kaline never did. However, like Dave Parker, Jim Rice is a great player who doesn't quite make the cut. Rice is probably more likely than Andre Dawson to make it into the Hall this year, but I would support the Hawk over Rice.

Lee Smith (6th Year) -- 39.8% in 2007

Smith picked up 478 saves in his 18 years, which was the record until Trevor Hoffman passed him in 2006 and kept piling on in 2007. His career ERA is also solid -- but when you compare Smith with the dominant starters of this era (Mariano Rivera, Hoffman, Billy Wagner) he doesn't quite match up ERA-wise. His 2.57 K's per BB is also a bit low. My biggest problem with Smith last year was that he has 21 more losses than wins, but it was a mistake for me to focus on that category because it's pretty meaningless for closers (heck, it's pretty meaningless for all pitchers). I think Smith is stuck between era's a bit -- he was a closer as far back as the early 80's when the position was first starting to evolve into what it is today, and he closed games out into the 90's when that evolution was pretty much complete. I lean towards a no vote for Smith, but he's close enough that I reserve the right to change my mind in future years.

Alan Trammell (7th Year) -- 13.4% in 2007

Solid career numbers (.285/185/2365) and awards (4 Gold Gloves, 3 Silver Sluggers). But like Rice and Parker, Trammell is a really good player who I just don't quite consider to be a Hall of Famer right now.

Off the Ballot

Brady Anderson (1st Year)

Anderson played for 15 years, but he's clearly no Hall of Famer. His .256 batting average alone would be enough to exclude him in my book, because he has no category that counterbalances it. His 210 HR's, 1661 hits, and 787 OPS certainly aren't enough, and neither are his 3 All-Star appearances.

Harold Baines (2nd Year) -- 5.3% in 2007

Baines was in my "maybe" category a year ago, but I've thought about him some more and decided that I would not change my mind on his candidacy. His .289 BA and 384 HR's are arguably suitable -- but he spent most of his career as a DH, played 22 years and only picked up 2866 hits, never finished higher than 9th in the MVP voting, and won just 1 Silver Slugger award. In the end, that's not good enough.

Rod Beck (1st Year)

Beck played for 13 years, picking up a 3.30 ERA and a 3.37 K/BB ratio. His 286 saves and 3 All-Star appearances are nice, but he wasn't good enough for long enough to justify his inclusion in the Hall.

Dave Concepcion (15th Year) -- 13.6% in 2007

This is Concepcion's last chance to get into the Hall through the regular balloting process, and based on his percentage last year, it doesn't look good. I had him on my "Off the Ballot" list last year as well, and haven't changed my mind. I can ignore his low HR total (101) because he was a middle infielder. However, he didn't hit that well in general (.267 career average, 2326 hits in 19 seasons), and his candidacy is largely based on his 5 Gold Gloves. To me, that's not enough to overcome his mediocre offensive numbers.

Shawon Dunston (1st Year)

Dunston played for 18 years in the big leagues, but his numbers are not Hall-worthy. He hit .269 with 1597 hits and 150 HR, and was invited to 2 All-Star games. Not a lot there to separate him from a lot of other guys who played in the big leagues.

Chuck Finley (1st Year)

Finley pitched for 17 years and picked up 200 wins with a career 3.85 ERA. His K/BB ratio of 1.96 is nothing special, however, and he was never much more than a solid but unspectacular starter -- as evidenced by the fact that his best finish in the Cy Young voting was 7th.

Travis Fryman (1st Year)

Fryman played for 13 years, compiling a .274 career batting average, 223 homers, and 1776 hits. He also won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award and went to 5 All-Star games. Nice numbers and a solid career, but not worthy of the Hall of Fame.

David Justice (1st Year)

Justice's single best number from his 14 years of pro ball is his career 878 OPS. Aside from that, his batting average (.279), hits (1571), and homers (305) are ok but nothing great. He had three All-Star appearances and won the 1990 Rookie of the Year in the National League -- but that's hardly enough to qualify him for the Hall.

Chuck Knoblauch (1st Year)

Knoblauch is sort of similar to Justice -- he made it into 4 All-Star Games and won the 1991 AL Rookie of the Year, and he also picked up a Gold Glove and 2 Silver Slugger awards. His career .289 BA and 407 Stolen Bases aren't too shabby. There's just not much here that shouts out "Hall-of-Famer."

Robb Nen (1st Year)

This one threw me for a bit. In his 10 years, Nen posted a very solid 2.98 ERA and a 3.05 K/BB ratio. He also made it to 3 All-Star games and finished 4th in the Cy voting one year. Finally, he picked up 314 saves before his career ended abruptly. But is that enough to get in the Hall? He's closer in my opinion than Beck, but in the end I couldn't even justify leaving him in the "maybe" category -- it was a close call, but I decided that it was very unlikely I'd ever support his candidacy. I do suspect that he'll pick up at least 5% of the vote and stay in consideration for next year, but I wouldn't think he'd get much over that.

Jose Rijo (1st Year)

After appearing on the 2001 ballot, Rijo made a brief comeback in '01 and '02. Looking at his numbers, there's not a lot there to justify a Hall vote. His 3.24 ERA is very nice, but he won just 116 games in 14 years and made it to just one All-Star game. His 2.4 K/BB ratio is also reasonable but nothing great. He's not a Hall of Famer.

Todd Stottlemyre (1st Year)

14 years, 4.28 ERA, 138 wins, 1.94 K-BB ratio. Nope.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Nightly Notes

Just a couple of quick hits, mostly related to things other than baseball tonight:

1.) First, Seth has posted a lengthy (and very interesting) Q&A over at Seth Speaks. I strongly encourage you to check it out if you haven't done so yet.

2.) Ok, so the Vikings didn't look all that good tonight in beating the Bears 20-13. The point is, they still won the ballgame, and they're still in the drivers seat for a playoff spot. In fact, I think they're actually in the drivers seat for 5th place in the Conference. The Vikings remaining games are at home against Washington and at Denver. The Giants, currently in 5th, play at Buffalo and then finish the season off against New England. The Vikings hold the tiebreaker over the Giants thanks to the beatdown earlier this year when the Vikings won head-to-head, so if the Vikings go 0-2 the Vikings need just 1 more win to finish 5th, and if the Giants pick up one win the Vikings can still get fifth by winning out. I suspect that there's a very good chance of that happening.

3.) The Vikings obviously can't look past Washington next week, but they'll be in decent shape even if they lose to the Redskins. If Washington wins, both teams will be 8-7, and obviously the Redskins would be in control of their own destiny thanks to the head-to-head win. However, in Week 17 the Redskins have to face the Cowboys, while the Vikings will be facing the Broncos. Depending on how the games go next week, the Cowboys could be fighting for home field advantage in that game, while the Broncos will have nothing but pride to play for. To me, that would swing as advantage Vikings. Still, a win next week would be much more desirable -- so let's hope the offense plays a bit better next week than it did this week against the Bears.

4.) I can't understand why Billy Beane isn't facing more criticism for the imminent self-destruction of his team. I'm going to try to write up a post on this later this week, but here's how I see things -- it's one thing to talk about trading an ace for young players if, like the Twins, you have just one year left on said ace's deal and aren't going to be able to re-sign him. It's quite another to trade the ace (Haren) and more than likely another very good pitcher (Blanton) for prospects when they are nowhere near free agency. I realize that Beane felt it was time to restock the farm system, and also that the team wasn't going to be competitive even with Haren and Blanton this year. Nonetheless, this strikes me as a bad move. The Twins get criticized for not retaining their players, but at least the Twins let those guys walk away when they become too expensive, or trade them when their departure is imminent. The A's seem infatuated by the idea of acquiring prospects, and I think the Haren trade was an overreaction to the situation that the team faced. Sorry, but I just don't get it.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Follow Up on the Mitchell Report

For those of you who can stomach reading more on the Mitchell Report, there is one more angle that I wanted to cover which was highlighted perfectly by Andy Pettite's admission today that he was injected with HGH two times in 2002. I don't blame you if you're sick of hearing about this issue, but I would advise you to get used to it -- the story isn't going to go away anytime soon, and the collective work product of real journalists and bloggers alike will serve the purpose of helping fans of baseball look at the issue from a multitude of perspectives.

One of the reasons that I don't like the idea of immediately black-listing any player connected with the use of performance enhancing drugs is that we have very little information on the extent of use for any player. Pettite's situation highlights that perfectly -- he admits to two injections in 2002 while recovering from an elbow injury. What's the effect of two doses of HGH? How "potent" were the injections? Did they help Pettite recover more quickly? Perform better when back on the field? How long did the effects, such as they were, linger? We have no idea what the answers to these questions are. All we know is that Pettite made the decision to illegally use HGH -- that's worthy of condemnation, yes, even though it wasn't specifically against baseball rules at the time.

Just as an aside, the defense that HGH use wasn't against baseball rules at the time is a very, very poor one. From my very quick research, HGH is not listed under the Controlled Substances Act -- however, it is covered under the 1990 Anabolic Steroids Control Act, which makes it a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison to distribute or possess HGH "for any use . . . other than the treatment of a disease or other recognized medical condition, where such use has been authorized by the Secretary of Health and Human Services . . . and pursuant to the order of a physician . . .". That means that, whether baseball has singled HGH out as "against baseball rules" seems relatively irrelevant -- it seems to me that the knowing use of an illegal drug is, shall we say, and implicit breach of baseball rules. In other words, Pettite was wrong to use HGH regardless of whether baseball had specifically said "no."

That's enough legal stuff -- let me get back to the situation now facing fans and HOF voters. Are we really willing to take a player like Pettite, who seems to have used HGH in a very limited fashion and for the purpose of recovery, and lump him into the same category as we put Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose use at least seems to be much more consistent, and much clearly against the spirit of competition? It seems to me that there's an awfully big difference between those players who make a habit out of the illicit use of PED's in order to play at a high enough level to stay in the big leagues, and those who stupidly decided to try the stuff to recover and then stopped using it.

I've stated before that I think, even if the allegations against Clemens are true (and I'm inclined to believe that they are), he still should go into the Hall of Fame. Even if I were to change my mind on a player like Clemens (who seems to have been engaged in sustained use), however, I don't think one positive test, or being implicated for use over a very short period, should be enough to keep a player out of Cooperstown. Give me proof of sustained use, and I would think about changing my stance on a player's Hall-worthiness. Short of that, it doesn't seem to me that there's nearly enough to keep a great player out of the Hall. I don't know whether Andy Pettite will be seriously considered for the Hall of Fame 5 years after he retires or not -- I'd vote no if I were lucky enough to have a ballot -- but that decision should not be impacted by what appears to be an isolated incident from a few days of a lengthy career. Rather than giving in to the hysteria, the baseball writers who are talking about frauds and cheats need to step back and consider all of the details. Heck, this even makes me happy for the somewhat overlong 15-year ballot eligibility requirement, because by the time players like McGwire and Bonds and Clemens would be removed, there will have been a lot of time for sober consideration of the issue.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Twins Cornering the Market on Ex-Astros

One day after signing Adam Everett to be the club's new shortstop, the Twins today signed veteran corner infielder Mike Lamb to a two-year deal with an option for 2010 (not sure yet whether the option is a team option, player option, or mutual option -- but the best bet is that it's a team option). Lamb immediately moves to the front of the line for the Twins starting 3B job, although the Twins don't seem interested in just handing Lamb the job and other players will likely get a thorough look in Spring Training.

Lamb is not the most dynamic player in the world, but considering the market for third basemen, this isn't a terrible signing. Lamb has actually put up relatively solid numbers over the course of his career -- he has a career .281 batting average with 68 homers (he's averaged about 12 a year for the past 4 years when he gets around 300 at-bats). That production would be a dramatic improvement over what the Twins got from their third basemen last year (how sad is that!?!).

The thing that puzzles me here is the decision to sign Lamb to a mutli-year deal. That more than anything else strongly suggests that the Twins plan to have Lamb starting, because there doesn't seem to be any other reason to lock him up essentially for the next three years. Until I see the financials on the deal, though, I can't really say whether I think this is a good deal, a bad deal, or a "shrug-your-shoulders" deal. Right now, I'm leaning towards an optimistic shrug. There's nothing wrong with Lamb, and he should put up 10-15 homers and a .280-.285 batting average next season. It's not great, but I'd take it -- especially if the Twins solid production out of Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Young, and Kubel.


Mitchell Report Reaction

It's been almost exactly 12 hours since the Mitchell report was released, as I sit writing this post. I've been trying to gauge my own internal reaction to the whole sordid affair, and haven't had much success. Nonetheless, here are some rambling thoughts (emphasis on rambling -- this is not intended to be a polished article). I expect I'm significantly in the minority on this issue, but such is life.


This was going to go at the end, but I'm putting it up front because it's the most important thing I'm going to write on this subject. My enjoyment of baseball was not affected in any way, shape, or form by today's events. I loved it growing up, and I love it now. I don't look back at all those games I watched and feel as if I were cheated -- because plain and simple, I wasn't. The game is magical regardless of whether the star players are on steroids or just plain aspirin.

As for "purity," I ask you how a sport that is much more about generating money than about what happens on the field has anything to do with "purity?" You want purity, go watch little league. Major League Baseball is about men playing a game -- a beautiful game, but a game nonetheless. For the reasons mentioned below, I don't support the use of performance enhancing drugs. That doesn't mean I'm going to get offended if someone uses them. ESPN can have all the day-long scandal specials they want, but I'm not buying it. No, I'll hang onto my fond memories instead, thank you very much.


I can't dismiss the use of performance enhancing drugs as irrelevant, but I find it hard to get worked up about the issue. The use of many of the substances that baseball has banned is illegal, and I don't condone the blatant disregard of the law. However, while I think it's idiotic and short-sighted to take illegal performance enhancing drugs, I don't think it's immoral, and I have a hard time even finding it to be unethical.

Without a doubt, there are ethical ramifications to the use of these substances. For one thing, there's the whole "purity of the sport" issue. There's the role-model issue. There's the "stealing a job from a young up-and-comer" issue. But is the use of performance enhancing drugs that much different from other things that we find perfectly OK? Players try to cheat regularly, and always have. We usually don't have a problem with it -- stealing signs? No problem. Scuffing the ball? No problem. Convincing the umpire you caught the ball when you know you actually trapped it? Par for the course. Not to mention the fact that players load themselves up with as many legal supplements as they can find. Or the fact that modern surgeries can allow players to return to action with more velocity than they had before going under the knife.

So what is it, exactly, that makes the reaction to steroids and HGH use so incredible? Is it the fact that they're illegal? Or is it the fact that they're effective? Isn't this just a matter of degree? And isn't the burden of use primarily on those who idiotically take these supplements, thus risking their health? As I sat thinking about the report, this is what kept popping into my head. I confess to not having come up with a reasonable answer.


Roger Clemens has been implicated for a long time, and I would be rather surprised if anyone in baseball was caught off guard by his inclusion in the Mitchell Report. While this will probably torpedo his Hall of Fame chances, it shouldn't. The same is true for Mark McGwire, or Barry Bonds, or any other big name player who gets implicated from this era. Baseball was so rife with performance enhancers that it's impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff. On top of that, I'm not convinced that Clemens, McGwire, or Bonds wouldn't have been Hall-of-Fame caliber even without the PED's.

I think the Hall of Fame should prominently state that the statistics of the steroids era are tarnished, but that players should be voted in on the basis of the numbers they put up on the field. Roger Clemens is just as much a Hall of Famer today as he was yesterday. So is Bonds. McGwire -- well, I'm not convinced about McGwire's credentials even without steroids looming over him, although I'm softening on that front. We shouldn't ignore that these players used steroids, but we also shouldn't suggest that steroid use was wholly responsible for their incredible performance. Simply put, the Hall of Fame will become completely irrelevant if it fails to include players like Clemens and Bonds when they become eligible. Then again, maybe baseball doesn't care, since it already keeps out the great Pete Rose when he, too, should have a plaque. A Hall of Fame that includes Bill Mazeroski but not Pete Rose is awfully close to a joke. A Hall of Fame without an eligible Clemens and Bonds would be something far sadder.


The one thing that makes me favor significant punishments for the use of PED's is the absurd denials issued by player after player. Occasionally a player comes clean, and I respect that even when it's been preceded by continuous denials. I find the lies and cover-up more distasteful than the original use, especially considering the pressures to perform and stay healthy that lead so many players to the use of PED's in the first place. I may not find PED use to be immoral or unethical, but lying about it fits the bill on both. I didn't lose respect for Roger Clemens when he was fingered in the report -- but the denials (by his lawyer, no less!) disgusted me. This probably isn't fair, because it remains possible that Clemens did nothing wrong and is being unjustly named. It's awfully hard to be fair, though, when all of the evidence (including the denial-by-lawyer) so strongly suggests guilt.


Is there a more ridiculous angle to the steroid story than the idle speculation on several prominent media sites suggesting that (1) the Miguel Tejada trade was driven by the impending release of the Mitchell Report, and (2) that the Red Sox somehow were tipped off by Mitchell, as evidenced by the non-tendering of Brendan Donnelly? Please. Find something better to write or don't write anything at all. Considering that the Orioles have been trying to trade Tejada for, oh, about 2 years, I'm going to guess that the timing was coincidental rather than causal. As for Donnelly -- well, it's not all that suspicious that a player coming off of a significant injury would be non-tendered so the team cutting him doesn't have to worry about arbitration issues. Good grief.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Twins Find a SS

The Twins today picked up former Houston Astros shortstop Adam Everett, signing him to a one-year deal for $2.8 million and slotting him into the starting SS role. To say the least, Everett is not known for his offense -- however, his defense is reputed to be excellent (I admit that I've barely seen him play, and wasn't paying attention when I did, so I don't have much of an opinion on this).

This news doesn't shock me -- the Twins main option at SS before signing Everett was Brendan Harris, who by most accounts doesn't have the range to play SS effectively. The alternatives to Harris were essentially Nick Punto and Alexi Casilla -- and while I like Casilla, I like him more as a 2B than as a SS. Punto -- well, I'm hoping he's not a starter anywhere next year. So, the bottom line is that the Twins were in need of a starting shortstop, and they spent just under $3 million to secure a solid defensive veteran who will be hitting ninth in the batting order. Certainly, my preference would have been for a better hitter at the position, but look at the market! Nobody fit the profile! The Twins did the best they could here. Hopefully Everett will hit at least .250 and play great D, and then I'll be happy.

Incidentally, if you check out the comments on the Joe Christensen blog that I linked to above, you'll see a lot of petty foolishness by folks who clearly don't think things through before they post. There's a lot of "Carl needs to open his checkbook" type of whining, and frankly I'm sick of that kind of thing. There are times when it's a valid complaint, but when it's dragged out every time the Twins sign a player that isn't a superstar, it's just stupid. It's also amazing how many people think that signing Everett is a sign of the apocalypse. I've got news for ya, folks -- Everett isn't going to make or break the Twins season. Either the young pitching will deliver, in which case the Twins could have a very good season (and a good defensive SS should help that cause), or the young pitching will be mediocre and so will the Twins.

If you're one of the "sky-is-falling" crowd, I encourage you to take a deep breath and calm yourself down before you rupture something -- and I also encourage you to think about the alternatives that Bill Smith had before him rather than just complaining about a move that was made. If you don't like this as a baseball move, great -- but tell me what you would have done instead. Certainly, GM's make mistakes -- but it amazes me how quick people are to criticize after spending thirty seconds looking at some statistics and not considering other factors. Anyway, enough ranting -- welcome to the Twins, Mr. Everett. I look forward to seeing if your defense is as good as people say (and certainly hope it is!).


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Goodbye, Jason Tyner

Today was the deadline for MLB teams to tender contracts to players for the 2008 season. This is most significant for players who are arbitration eligible, as it's a good chance for teams to get rid of marginal players who may get more money through arbitration than a team is willing to pay.

Coming into today, the Twins had six arbitration-eligible players (Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Tyner, Jason Kubel, Matt Guerrier, and Juan Rincon) -- but only Tyner and Rincon were in legitimate danger of being non-tendered. Ultimately, the Twins decided to keep Juan Rincon around, but parted ways with Tyner. Congratulations to Seth Stohs, by the way, for scooping the world on this; he posted that this was going to happen last night.

At first glance, the decision to non-tender Tyner seems a bit curious. After all, in his three seasons with the Twins, Tyner hit .321 (56 AB's) in 2005, .312 (218 AB's) in 2006, and .286 (304 AB's) in 2007. He's not a great outfielder, but he's capable of playing center field, and the Twins don't have a lot of major league ready options at that position right now. Also, even as an arbitration eligible player, Tyner wouldn't have cost very much to keep around.

Looking a little deeper, though, the reasons for Tyner's dismissal become relatively apparent. For one thing, we know that Tyner wasn't going to be the Twins starting center-fielder next year, nor should we have wanted him to be. While it's a small sample size, the trend-line over his past three major league seasons suggests that the more Major League AB's he gets, the lower he hits. Give him 500 or more AB's, he might hit more in the neighborhood of .275 rather than .300. Further, Tyner as an everyday player would almost certainly be a liability defensively. We know, then, that someone other than Tyner was going to be starting in center for the Twins next year.

If you count the available roster spots, you will see that the Twins already will have 5 spots essentially committed to outfielders: Delmon Young (LF), the mystery CF, Michael Cuddyer (RF), Jason Kubel (DH), and Craig Monroe (LF/RF/DH). Adding two catchers, four starting infielders, and two backup infielders leaves you at thirteen players. If the Twins go in the direction that many teams are going and carry 12 pitchers, that would be it -- there would be no roster spot for a sixth outfielder like Tyner. Even if the Twins go with 11 pitchers, however (which they usually prefer to do), Tyner would be competing for that last roster spot with a third catcher or another backup infielder -- or a utility type player who could cover multiple positions. As much as I like Tyner, I don't know that he added enough to the team to justify keeping him around.

There is, of course, one obvious objection to this line of thinking: the Twins clearly need a backup center fielder for the as-yet-unknown starter. Tyner was an obvious choice for this role, and his departure leaves no obvious backup center fielder on the team. What's more, based on the roster breakdown I already discussed above, there doesn't appear to be room for one on the roster next year. What are the Twins planning on doing? The most likely answer is that the Twins will try to rely on two players to handle the backup center field duties: Delmon Young, who is out of position there got some action in center last season for the Rays; and Nick Punto, who by my count has played in CF during 6 games of his Major League career. These are not ideal solutions, but I'm presuming that the Twins will pick up a young, hopefully healthy center fielder who will not need all that much time off (I'm thinking Jacoby Ellsbury, yet again). If that's what ends up happening, this "problem" isn't as extensive as it at first would appear.

I'll miss Jason Tyner -- I think he was a fun player to watch, and I'm thrilled that he hit a homerun while he was a Twin. Too many fans ragged on Tyner last season, when he put together a decent year and did what the Twins were expecting him to do. I hope he finds a team that he can help next season. Goodbye, Jason -- I'll miss ya.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Monroe Sticks Around

I'm a bit late to the party on this one, but the Twins earlier today agreed to terms with Craig Monroe on a deal that will probably, although not necessarily, see him playing with the Twins next season. The deal, as reported by Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune, will pay Monroe $3.82 million next season -- a full 20% less than Monroe received last year, and the maximum that the Twins could cut Monroe's salary. The agreement means that the Twins now owe the Cubs a player-to-be-named later -- said player to be agreed upon by the two teams at some point before May 1. Joe C doesn't expect the prospect to be much more than a warm-body in the minor league system.

Signing Monroe now looks a lot better than it did before the Twins acquired Delmon Young. Monroe will probably get bats in LF, RF, and at DH, and when he's not starting he should be a nice player off the bench for the Twins. His salary isn't chump change, but it's also not breaking the bank for a player who could potentially provide a benefit for the team. I'll talk more about Monroe as we get closer to Spring Training, when I discuss his probable role the team in more detail.

Finally, Monroe's contract is non-guaranteed, which means that if the Twins don't like what they see out of Monroe in spring training, they can ditch him and get out of the bulk of his salary. With a player like Monroe, who struggled mightily last year, this kind of deal makes a lot of sense. It gives the Twins a great deal of flexibility going into the Spring, and means that there isn't a huge amount of risk up front on the deal. This isn't the splashiest of moves, but I generally like it. Hopefully it pans out.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Blog/Personal Update

If you think that my blogging has been a bit light over the past few days, you'd be correct. After a flurry of Twins related news and posts last week, I haven't posted anything substantive since the Rule 5 Draft. There are two reasons for this -- the first is that there just hasn't been any interesting Twins news to report on in that span; the second is that I'm entering the horror that is known as "finals." As a result, available blogging time has been significantly reduced, and that will continue for the next ten days or so.

This does NOT mean that I won't be posting during that time -- if news breaks, I'll post my thoughts. For instance, in a couple of days the Twins will make news of some sort when the date to tender contracts rolls by, and I'll talk a bit about that when the time comes. The same will be true if anything moves on the trade front, or if the Twins venture into the dangerous waters of the free agent market. This DOES mean, however, that I won't be going out of my way to find extra stories or post think pieces breaking down some non-current event. The next major post that I plan to make (barring some sort of major splash like a Santana or Nathan trade) will be on December 20, when I post my would-be Hall of Fame ballot. That is, of course, presuming that I don't self-destruct while pondering the law of Wills & Trusts during a final that I'm wholly unprepared for . . .


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Podcast Appearance

I forgot to put this up earlier, but I was a guest of Jeff Straub on his Minnesota Twins Fan Network podcast which he put up on Friday. We talked a little bit about the Rule 5 Draft, and also talked about the concepts of loss aversion and the focusing effect, which I discussed in a previous post.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Rule 5 Draft -- Minor League Phase (Updated)

Three more casualties for the Twins in the minor league phase of the draft (interestingly, the first two picks of the AAA phase were property of the Twins) -- and no picks made by the Twins. That leaves the tally at 6 players gone and 0 new Twins. For my discussion of the three players lost by the Twins in the Major League phase of the draft, click here (or scroll down to the previous post). Now the new names on the list:

Rashad Eldridge - OF - Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays must have felt that they needed to raid the Twins system for more talent after the Delmon Young/Matt Garza swap, because they took Tim Lahey in the Major League phase of the draft and then swooped in to pick up Eldridge here (although Lahey is likely being moved to the Cubs). Eldridge doesn't exactly have a long history as a Twin -- he was signed as a minor league free agent prior to the start of the 2007 season, and played all year in New Britain. Eldridge hit .291 with a 789 OPS in 361 AB's, so he wasn't exactly a slouch, and as I've said before, with the Twins outfield situation looking rather grim at the AA-AAA levels, the loss of Garrett Guzman and Eldridge on the same day stings a little bit.

Josh Hill - RHP - Pittsburgh Pirates
Hill has seemingly been in the Twins minor league system forever, as he played his first game in the GCL back in 2001, when he was 18. Since that time, he's compiled reasonable but unspectacular numbers (4.00 ERA/1.39 WHIP/7.93 K9), and last year finally made it to the AA level, where he picked up a 4.36 ERA in 53.2 innings of work. Hill is a solid player, but he more than likely wasn't good enough to go anywhere with the Twins, and probably would have left as a minor league free agent before too long anyway.

J.P. Martinez - RHP - Baltimore Orioles
Martinez was taken in the AA-phase of the draft, and I somehow missed him the first time that I looked through the list. Martinez is a 25-year-old who was drafted in the 9th round of the 2004 draft. He spent the bulk of the 2007 season in AA New Britain, where he posted a 4.19 ERA in 53.2 innings. He also spent time in High A Ft. Myers, where he had a 2.49 ERA in 21.2 innings. His career minor league ERA of 3.01 coupled with an excellent 9.44/4.33 K9/BB9 ratio indicate that, at least at the lower levels of the organization, Martinez was getting it done. Of the losses in the minor league phases of the Rule 5 draft, Martinez is probably the most unfortunate.

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Rule 5 Draft

The Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft is over, with the Twins taking no players and losing three in the process. I'll be posting again later once the minor league phase has been completed (although depending on the timing I may not have a chance to post until later this afternoon). Here are the names:

Tim Lahey - RHP - Tampa Bay Rays (sold to Chicago Cubs)
Lahey was drafted by the Twins as a Catcher in the 2004 draft, but was converted to a pitcher in 2005. He's pitched pretty well -- he jumped straight from Rookie Ball in '05 to High A in '06, and spent most of 2007 pitching with the Rock Cats in AA. In 78.1 innings for New Britain, he posted a 3.45 ERA with a 56-33 K-BB ratio. The only tarnish on his numbers was his fairly high WHIP of 1.42. Lahey got a cup of coffee with the Red Wings in '07, but it amounted to 2 games and just 3 innings, so his poor performance (9.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP) really doesn't mean much. His selection surprises me a bit -- while he's pitched fairly well, his high WHIP may be reason for caution (although his strong K-BB ratio's suggests that he's also capable of missing bats). Lahey seems like a reach, especially as he was taken with the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft.

Chance of Being Returned to the Twins:
The Cubs should be competitive in the NL Central again next year -- and stashing a player on a competitive roster for an entire season is very difficult. I would guess that there's only a 5% chance he sticks with the Cubs (and that's probably on the high side). Of course, there's always a possibility that the they could work out a trade to keep Lahey if they can't justify keeping him on the roster, as the Nationals did last year with Levale Speigner.

R.A. Dickey - RHP - Seattle Mariners

I confess to being a bit underwhelmed by this loss. Dickey was recently signed as a minor league free agent by the Twins and invited to spring training, but the Mariners decided to swoop in and take the veteran. Dickey wasn't going to have a place on the Twins in 2008, and I don't really have much to say on him here.

Chance of Being Returned to the Twins:
Dickey has never done much to prove that he's capable of being a good major league pitcher (career 5.72 ERA in 266 major league innings and a 1.57 WHIP). As a result, I can't believe that he'd finally post numbers at the big league level that justify keeping him on a 25-man roster all season. I would say that there's about a 98% chance that the Mariners will take him off of the roster at some point, possibly as early as right after spring training. If they want him, the Twins will almost certainly get him back.

Garrett Guzman - OF - Washington Nationals
The fact that Garrett Guzman was taken in the Rule 5 Draft doesn't surprise me at all. The fact that he was taken by the Washington Nationals, a team that seems to be collecting more outfielders than they can possibly use (in addition to Guzman, of course, they've recently picked up Lastings Milledge and Elijah Dukes), is a little more surprising. Of course, the Nationals are aggressive in the Rule 5, so maybe it shouldn't be that shocking. Guzman spent 2007 in New Britain, hitting .312 in 475 AB's with an 812 OPS and 14 HR's. He was one of the few mid-to-high level outfield prospects in the Twins system that actually performed well last year, and I was a little disappointed that the Twins didn't protect him by placing him on the roster.

Chance of Being Returned to the Twins:
This one is fairly hard to judge. The Nationals have the kind of team that can hide players on a roster, but Guzman will have to compete hard for a job. I would say there's about a 60% chance that he ends up being offered back to the Twins -- so while I think it's more likely than not that he's offered back, I also wouldn't be surprised if he stuck around in Washington.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Imminent Move? Obviously Not . . .

Yesterday, I openly asked whether the Twins decision to remove Chris Basak from the 40-man roster wan an indication of an imminent trade announcement. That has fairly definitively been answered in the negative over the past 24 hours. A day ago, the momentum seemed to be building towards a trade with the Red Sox centered either on Jon Lester or Jacoby Ellsbury -- but nothing materialized, and momentum now seems to have swung hard the other way. Peter Gammons of ESPN was on the radio this morning (and on ESPN.com) saying that most people in Nashville now think that the Twins will leave the winter meetings without a deal, and that Santana will be a Twin in 2008. Other sources, however, have indicated that teams like the Mets and possibly the Angels (although they've denied it) are now trying to swoop in and get Santana, so it's hard to tell what exactly is going on.

So here's what I'm going to do -- this will be my last post on a Santana trade unless a deal goes down or things develop in such a way that it appears there's no longer any possibility of a trade. My last word on the subject -- for now -- is to reiterate what I've been saying all along: the Twins need to trade Santana now to maximize his value, and I strongly believe that it would be a mistake to keep him for 2008. This is not an easy decision, and I can't criticize Bill Smith for not pulling the trigger on a deal. He and I appear to disagree on the need for a trade, but he's not being stupid or foolish even if a deal doesn't get done. We are, after all, talking about one of the best pitchers in the game, and in the context that Bill Smith stepped into -- new ballpark about to go up, Torii Hunter leaving via free agency -- there are plenty of factors that support keeping Santana around. If a deal appears to be dead in a week or so, I'll go into more depth on why I think it was a mistake not to make a move despite those factors. For now, I'll just sit back and hope that something happens, because I think a trade is in the best interests of the team in the long term.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Indications of an Imminent Move?

I haven't seen this reported anywhere yet, but the Twins website has listed in the "transactions" that IF Chris Basak, who was claimed off waivers from the Yankees late this summer, has been outrighted off of the 40-man roster. By my count, that would leave the Twins sitting at 38 players (this is 1 more than La Velle Neal of the Star Tribune and Kelly Thesier of MLB.com, have reported; I believe I'm correct and still haven't figured out why there's a discrepancy -- I had this backwards initially -- my count has the roster containing one more player than Neal & Thesier have reported, not one less). Could this be the first warning that a deal has been completed, and we're just waiting for Santana to sign an extension (presumably with the Red Sox)? I'd guess we'll find out fairly soon, but the timing of this move seems suspicious to me.

UPDATE: Neal has now posted about the Basak transaction on his blog, and he (correctly) has the Twins at 38 players on the roster just as I do. I presume that there was some incorrect information put out last week in a Twins press release or something similar (after the Brian Bass signing/addition to the roster) that caused both Neal and Thesier to state that the roster was sitting at 38 players, when it was actually at 39.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Trades from the Policy Sciences Perspective

Normally, I would never discuss a topic related to what I study in school on this blog. After all, there are very few situations in which, for example, the intricacies of water law would apply to baseball. However, while I was thinking about the Santana situation earlier today, I started thinking about it in terms of the policy sciences, and thought that I would briefly share some of the dynamics that go on in trade talks from the perspective of someone studying the policy sciences.

This is not meant to be a full-fledged policy sciences review of the "problem" of what to do with Johan Santana -- I don't have nearly enough inside information on the teams, what they value, and how they rate particular players to do that kind of work. Instead, I'm just going to point out some of the interesting features of baseball trades about which the policy sciences could provide some insight. Just an FYI -- you can go to Wikipedia for articles on many of these concepts (not to mention googling for information on pretty much all of them). I admit to using Wikipedia as short-hand reference to remind me of certain aspects of some of the concepts mentioned in this post, so consider this attribution.

What exactly are the "Policy Sciences?"
Very, very briefly, the policy sciences were designed as a way of approaching public policy problems by looking in-depth at a particular problem, and considering as many aspects of the problem as possible in context. The policy sciences are also generally more concerned with the goal being sought to be achieved than the standard social sciences. There's a whole lot more that I could say on this topic, but this is meant to be a bit more interesting (and relevant) of a post than that, so I'm going to move on to discuss some of the things that the policy sciences would suggest about making trades.

Human Nature and Human Behavior
There are a number of very interesting psychological traits that impact how GM's handle trade scenarios. Here are a few of those which I believe apply -- and there are undoubtedly many, many more:

Loss Aversion/Endowment Effect
Perhaps the most pervasive aspect of human nature that applies to making trades is the concept of loss aversion. Essentially, loss aversion suggests that a person who loses something will suffer to a greater degree than a person who gains something will benefit. For example, losing $100 will feel worse than finding $100 will feel good. Numerous studies have been done to test the concept, and it generally holds. Looking at trades, this means that a team is more likely to overvalue a player already on the roster -- which explains why most teams ask for more than a player is worth when talking trades. This makes some intuitive sense -- if you've drafted and developed a prospect, you probably want to see that prospect succeed, and trading him away will take that away from you. This effect has become increasingly pronounced as teams have come to recognize the value of prospects in the game.

Focusing Effect
The focusing effect occurs when people place too much emphasis on a particular aspect of a problem. If a student receives a D in a class after receiving a C, three D's, and an F, and then blames the grade on the F he received, he is exhibiting the focusing effect. This could easily happen when evaluating a particular trade, in a number of different ways. As one example, if the Twins fail to work out a trade with the Yankees because they can't agree on the identity of a third prospect to be included in the deal, this would probably be an example of the focusing effect. Clearly, Phil Hughes would be the centerpiece of the deal, and Melky Cabrera would be the second most important piece. The difference in value between, let's say, Ian Kennedy (who the Yankees don't want to give up) and a player who the Yankees ARE willing to give up, is probably quite small compared to the benefit of receiving Hughes and Cabrera in the deal. Focusing all of the attention on the third player in the deal, thereby risking scuttling the whole thing, places too much emphasis on the wrong part of the deal.

Outcome Bias
This one doesn't really have to do with the actual trade process, but it certainly applies to what will come later. Outcome bias occurs when a decision is evaluated on the basis of the eventual outcome of the decision rather than the soundness of the decision at the time it was originally made. This is fundamentally wrong, because any decision includes the possibility of risk. Information is not perfect, after all, in almost any circumstance. If the Twins swing a deal that nets them Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera, Ian Kennedy, and Jose Tabata (yes, I know that's not going to happen -- this is an example), and Hughes and Kennedy both blow out their arms, Cabrera is mediocre in center, and Tabata never makes the big leagues, the tendency would be to evaluate the trade as poor. In fact, however, based on all available information at the time of the trade, this would be a steal for the Twins. Fans (and owners!) should keep this in mind when evaluating performance.

The Problem of Complexity
One of the big issues in the policy sciences is the balancing act that decision-makers must engage in when trying to understand issues. Most major policy issues are too complex for an all-inclusive analysis of the issue to be feasible (think of something like climate change -- there are too many known factors in global climate to be considered at the same time, let alone the vast likelihood that there are additional unknown factors involved), but at the same time an oversimplification of the problem could very well lead to poor decision-making. Most of the time, this is resolved in favor of simplicity -- and the results are predictable. Look at the ineffectiveness of global climate models, or of models seeking to predict the results of elections, or of models focusing on the stock market, all of which have generally produced abysmal results.

This should be taken into consideration when considering the Twins decision regarding Johan Santana. The problem is obviously not as complex as trying to predict global climate or the performance of a stock over time, but it also isn't simple. Twins GM Bill Smith has to consider his payroll, his active roster, his minor league roster, the likely performance of any players he's going to get back in a trade (and player performance models over time also aren't particularly effective), the reaction of a fan-base, how the Yankees and Red Sox will react to proposals, and so on. The point is that anyone suggesting that a trade is easy is vastly over-simplifying the problem -- as the Star Tribune has done a good job pointing out over the last few days.

The Problem of Context
This is another issue that's been mentioned in numerous places before, but bears repeating. Very simply, context just means that you have to look at the particular issues that are associated with a given problem to correctly analyze it. There are a number of contextual issues associated with a Santana trade: Santana has just one year left on his contract; he's likely to leave after the 2008 season via free agency; his value is probably higher now than it would be at the trade deadline; Santana has a no-trade clause which he might not waive during the season; the Twins have gaping holes in CF and at 3B; the primary suitors for a trade are the Yankees and Red Sox. There are undoubtedly many, many more contextual issues, but certainly you get the idea -- these are the types of issues that make up the fodder of most articles discussing a possible trade, they just usually aren't identified as "contextual" issues.

There are many, many more that I could go into (especially on the human nature topic), but this post is long enough. Hopefully if you've read this far, you found the post at least mildly entertaining.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Quick Trade Thought

There hasn't been all that much movement on the Santana trade front today, but the one piece of news that has emerged is that the Red Sox have decided to offer up Jacoby Ellsbury in a potential deal -- but that if Ellsbury is included, Jon Lester will be out of the deal. This leads me to ask two questions: is it worth it to swing a deal with the Red Sox that includes Ellsbury and 2 or 3 other prospects not named Clay Buchholz or Jon Lester; and would a deal with the Yankees centered around Phil Hughes be a better deal?

Make no mistake -- I think Philip Hughes is a stud, someone who could potentially anchor a staff some day. The idea of him pitching with Francisco Liriano for a few years at least is certainly intriguing. To me, however, Jacoby Ellsbury is the better piece for the Twins. Ellsbury would immediately solve the Twins problem in center for roughly the next 5 years. He has speed, a good glove, and he's hit well at every level at which he's played. He would look great hitting at the top of a revamped Twins order. I'm not going to go into an in-depth comparison here, but for me Ellsbury is a more exciting possibility than is Hughes.

The last question, then, is whether a deal centered around Ellsbury would be worth it if Jon Lester wasn't part of the deal. I say yes -- the Twins will not get a player of Ellsbury's caliber by trading Johan Santana at the deadline. They could potentially get a good player in the draft if they let Santana go and received draft pick compensation, but the draft is a crapshoot. A one-for-one deal of Santana for Ellsbury wouldn't be a good trade, but a deal in which Ellsbury and a couple of other solid prospects come over would be a solid trade, and the Twins should pull the trigger if the information about what's being offered right now is accurate. I say let's get this deal done.

UPDATE: Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports has reported that Santana has informed the Twins that he will not waive his no trade clause during the season, so any thoughts of holding onto him until the deadline are now moot, assuming the report is accurate and Santana is serious (and do you really want to doubt that he is?). Now more than ever, I think the Twins should pull the trigger on an Ellsbury/Jed Lowrie/1 or 2 more prospects deal.



There are a variety of things that I want to comment quickly on this morning, so I figured the best way to go about it was in a notes column. Twins related comments are first:

1.) It appears that the Twins did not offer arbitration to Carlos Silva or Rondell White. White is not a surprise -- he most likely is going to retire, and even if he doesn't, there isn't a place for him on the Twins roster. I'm a little more surprised that the Twins didn't offer arbitration to Silva; by all accounts they are interested in bringing him back as a veteran presence in the rotation (whether they should be interested in bringing him back is another question entirely). As a practical matter, though, this doesn't really affect anything; Silva was not a Type A or Type B free agent, so the Twins won't receive draft pick compensation for his departure and so didn't need to protect that by an arbitration offer. Also, the previous rule that a player not offered arbitration couldn't re-sign with his old team until May 1 of the next year is also no longer in effect. As a result, this doesn't really change anything, although I do find it interesting.

2.) Lots of indications that the Santana negotiations are coming to a head in the next couple of days one day or another. I think the Twins are more likely to compromise than the current hard-line stance suggests, because trading Santana now makes too much sense. We shall see. If I had to put numbers on it, I'd guess that there's a 70% chance that Santana gets dealt.

3.) While all of the attention is on Santana and, to a lesser extent Joe Nathan, I would guess that the Twins will make at least one more move during the Winter Meetings to pick up a third baseman. If a Santana deal doesn't happen, I'd also expect them to find a center fielder in a different deal. For either deal to happen, the Twins will probably have to give up another pitching prospect.

4.) College Football -- rather than posting a Top 25 this morning, I thought I'd post the BCS Matchups that I would like to see. I'm not going to pretend to be able to get into the mind of the various Bowl committees that are actually making the decisions on this, but here's what I'd like to see after yesterday's insane finale to the College Football non-Bowl season:

National Championship -- Ohio State v. LSU

Rose Bowl -- USC v. Hawaii

Fiesta Bowl -- Oklahoma v. Arizona State

Sugar Bowl -- Georgia v. Missouri

Orange Bowl -- Virginia Tech v. West Virginia

Kansas probably has a shot to get in, but I don't particularly want to see an Oklahoma/Kansas Fiesta Bowl. Georgia/Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl is not nearly as interesting to me as the new possibility of USC/Hawaii, which I think would be a very interesting matchup. Illinois could possibly make it in as well, probably in the Rose Bowl if the Rose isn't interested in Hawaii. Many possibilities, and I'm not really sure how things will turn out. We'll find out later tonight.