Taylor's Twins Talk

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

Friday, October 31, 2008

Addition and Subtraction

Adam Everett unsurprisingly filed for free agency today, briefly dropping the Twins 40-man roster down to 30 players. That spot was filled rather quickly, however, by the addition of Armando Gabino to the 40-man, as reported by LaVelle Neal. I was caught a bit back on my heels by the Twins addition of Gabino today -- I thought I'd have a few more days before the club started adding players to the roster for Rule 5 protection purposes. It'll force me to rush a bit, but I hope to get an article up by Sunday discussing who else I think should make the roster.

As for Gabino, his addition probably makes sense considering his performance over the last two years. He spent 2008 in AA New Britain and was pretty solid (81.1 innings, 3.10 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 61-31 K-BB, 49 appearances) but not amazing -- and his low K/IP number marks him out as something less than overpowering on the mound (although the K-BB ratio itself is fine). That followed a 2007 season which saw Gabino dominant over 12 games in Beloit before getting promoted to Ft. Myers and pitching well there for most of the rest of the season. Considering how depleted the Red Wings bullpen seems to be, he's a virtual lock to be in a Red Wings uniform next year. Obviously, the Twins got a little worried that someone would see Gabino was on the fast track and be willing to stash him deep in their bullpen by taking him in the Rule 5.

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40-Man Roster Down to 31

To the surprise of no one, three of the Twins four free agent-eligible players filed for free agency yesterday. That move takes Dennys Reyes, Eddie Guardado, and Nick Punto off of the Twins 40-man roster -- at least for now. Adam Everett has yet to file, but he undoubtedly will. There's very little drama in the decision over whether or not to file; even if a player things he might get an offer from his current team, filing is just a formal step and there would never be a reason not to do it. Players have 14 more days to get the paperwork in, though, so we'll continue to hear stories until the end about players who have made the decision to file.

Of course, the other thing that can happen over those 14 days is that the team who a player filed for free agency has an exclusive negotiating window. The Twins could decide, for instance, to bring Reyes or Punto back into the fold -- and at least with Punto I'd go so far as to say I think this is likely (I'm not commenting in this article as to whether or not I think that's a good idea).

The only other thing about this process that's interesting is that it opens up more available slots on the 40-man roster which the Twins can use for protecting Rule 5 eligible players. The other day I mentioned that I thought the Twins would protect 3 or 4 guys -- but to be honest I forgot that the free agents were about to drop off the list. After Everett files, there will be 10 spots open, and the Twins will probably protect at least 6 guys from the Rule 5 draft using some of those spots. I'll have a post up on who those guys should be in the next few days.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Congrats to the Phillies

I was rooting for the other guys, but I'm happy for the folks in Philly tonight. That city was due for a championship, and I just can't feel all that bad about them getting the win instead of the upstart Rays. Hopefully Tampa Bay will be competitive again next year -- how great could next year's AL East race be, by the way? -- because that team has a lot of young studs on it who are a lot of fun to watch.

Now we can all turn the page on the season and move onto the off-season. The free agent filing period starts tomorrow, and in 16 days we'll start to see how the 2009 season is shaping up. I can't wait to see what Bill Smith has up his sleeve. Let's hope this is the start of another Twins world championship for next season!


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Something I Missed

I'm about five days late to the party, but I finally realized that last Friday the Twins made a few expected roster moves to clean up the 40-man roster. None of the moves was all that surprising. The day after the season ended, I suggested that there were five players who could be removed from the 40-man roster to open up space for players who needed to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. Of the five guys I identified, four of them were in fact removed from the roster last week by being outrighted to AAA.

Three of those names -- RHP Julio DePaula, C Ryan Jorgensen, and IF Sergio Santos -- were virtual locks to be removed. Jorgensen was simply added as insurance as a third catcher during September, Santos was an odd waiver claim mid-season who didn't add much to the roster, and DePaula was just not effective in Rochester last year. I expected each of them to be removed.

The fourth player -- RHP Oswaldo Sosa -- was a bit more surprising, although I identified him as a possible cut. He surprises me more not because he was all that effective (he wasn't), but because he had two options year left. Sosa would have been entering his third option year in 2009, but would have had a fourth available in 2010 due to his lack of service time (like Philip Humber had this year). Sosa was once a fairly highly regarded prospect, so with two more years available to turn him around I figured the Twins would keep him on the roster. By my count, Sosa is now Rule 5 eligible, so removing him from the 40-man opens him up to be taken. Of course, as badly as he pitched in 2008 that's a pretty unlikely scenario, so the Twins may have just figured they'd slide him through this year and re-add him next year if he recovers his form.

The Twins also activated Pat Neshek from the 60-Day DL, meaning he once again counts against the 40-man roster. This had to be done, because players can't be on the disabled list through the off-season. If Neshek were unable to pitch when the season started next year, the Twins could place him back on the list in the spring.

These moves leave the team with 34 players on the 40-Man Roster. They will probably leave a few spots open for free agent acquisitions, but I'd expected 3-4 players to be added to the list by November 15 to protect those players from December's Rule 5 Draft. In the next few days, I'll post my thoughts on who should be protected.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Selig Speaks

Jayson Stark has an interesting piece up on ESPN that focuses on Bud Selig's response to tonight's Game 5 suspension, including this line: "We'd have sat here . . . The game would have been in a rain delay until the weather conditions allowed us to continue. And that could have been 24 hours or 48 hours or whenever." Selig went on to say that "I have to use my judgment here . . . This is not a way to end the World Series." Selig, of course, was discussing the possibility that the game wouldn't have been tied when the weather finally forced the game to stop to night -- something that nearly happened.

Now, certainly, Selig could be posturing. He knows that he was saved by the 2007 rule change which calls for games to be suspended even if the tying run was scored in a partial inning (thanks to the Fox announcers for pointing that one out), and by the Rays scoring a run in the sixth. He could say anything he wanted to about what he would have done, because the decision was taken away from him. I choose to take him at face value, though, and will assume that he really meant what he said. Considering that this is the man responsible for the infamous tie All-Star game a few years back, it seems that our good friend Bud has learned a few things. The fans in Tampa -- and really, everywhere else -- deserve to see their team get beat on the field with the full number of outs available to them.

My stance on this might surprise a few of you who know (1) that I'm a budding lawyer, and (2) that I believe following the rules is important. In this case, had the Phillies been leading after five innings were complete and the weather got too rough, the rules state pretty clearly that the game should be over. That rule, however, is just as clearly meant to be an expedient for a league that has 30 teams playing 162 games each. While I haven't even attempted to look at the number of games that end early due to rain each year, my guess is that there would be enough to cause some serious havoc in the schedule if the rule weren't in place.

It's just as clear, however, that weather isn't meant to determine a World Series champion. Selig says he would have just called the possibly two day delay a "rain delay" rather than a "suspension," although that clearly would not have been what was happening. Why bother with the semantics? The Commissioner has the authority to do what's in the best interests of the game -- and ending the deciding game of the World Series in the 6th inning would have been embarrassing and amateurish. In this case, the applicable rule would get in the way of the right decision, and it sounds like Bud recognizes that pretty clearly. For the first time in a long time, I find myself siding with the Commish.


Does Baseball Need a Game 6?

This morning on Colin Cowherd's ESPN radio show, one of the topics under consideration was whether baseball needed the World Series to extend at least to a sixth game. Cowherd felt that another short series (the World Series hasn't gone past 5 games since 2003), combined with late start times, has contributed both to a decline in ratings overall AND a decline in the critically important (for sporting events) young male demographic. Over the long term, the lack of young males watching a sport is likely to reduce the overall ratings in a significant way, of course, as those young males age without having picked up the habit of watching baseball. Cowherd's shorter-term thesis, however, was that if the series ends tonight it could very well mean that FOX will bail completely from the baseball broadcasting game -- and he also feels that ABC, CBS, and NBC will stay away as well. Cowherd sees a future with the World Series being aired on ESPN or TBS, and posits that such a result would lead baseball in the direction of hockey -- a fairly marginalized sport.

There are two things to ask here: first, is it likely that such a result will occur; and second, would the World Series being on cable matter all that much?

On the first, my guess is that baseball is secure on one of the "Big Four" networks for some time. Certainly, none of the networks is likely to pay a king's bounty for the rights -- but they will probably pay more than one of the cable nets would pay, simply because they can still get advertising money and draw bigger ratings than could be achieved on cable. The preliminary rounds might get moved off of the broadcast nets (we've already seen that happen to a great degree, with TBS airing a sizable chunk of the playoffs this year). This makes sense -- FOX has realized that tearing up its fall schedule is not a smart investment, because it reduces ratings on the fall series that have to take a 3-4 week break in a critical month to for building audiences (and coming right before the crucial "sweeps" period that falls in November and determines ad rates). Airing just the World Series, though, doesn't present such a problem -- it's at most a 9-day event (7 games and 2 off days), which any of the networks could absorb. I strongly suspect, then, that the World Series itself will remain within the Big 4.

But what if the Series did move? Let's say TBS made a huge offer to try to draw in bigger ratings for itself, and suddenly the series was not on one of the Big 4 networks. The ratings still demonstrate that the major networks draw bigger audiences for events, but the quality of the sports airing on cable versus the major networks also hasn't exactly been equal to this point. In other words, there hasn't been a fair test to this point. While it's probably true that the World Series ratings would be lower on TBS (there are, after all, still a lot of people who don't have cable), I'm not convinced it would be a huge difference. More and more people are getting cable or satellite television, making networks like ESPN and TBS available. I don't even distinguish between the traditional "cable" and "broadcast" networks anymore -- and what channel the World Series is actually on doesn't affect me one way or the other. So long as it's on, I'll find it.

My conclusion: I want the Rays to win tonight both because I want them to win the Series (and still hold out hope) and because I just want more baseball. If the Phillies pull it off tonight, however, I'm not a fatalist. Baseball will not shrivel up and die if the poor fans of Philadelphia finally get a celebration for the first time in 25 years.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

World Series (and more) Notes

Thankfully, we know that this year's World Series will not end in a sweep, as has happened far too often over the past few years. Here are a few more notes on tonight's Rays victory:

1.) The results of the first two games of this series weren't really all that surprising, and were largely dictated by starting pitching. Cole Hamels gave the Phillies the edge over the Rays and Scott Kazmir in game 1, while James Shields (pitching in the Trop, where he's most effective) gave the Rays an edge over Brett Myers in game 2. If that trend holds, it should be a very interesting (and long) series. Matt Garza has a definite edge over Jamie Moyer in Game 3, but the game 4 matchup between Andy Sonnanstine and Joe Blanton should be very evenly matched, and a treat to watch. The Rays should win the series if the starting pitching does in fact hold up -- but there are always surprises, and somebody is bound to have a disappointing start at some point. I certainly wouldn't mind a dramatic seven-game series.

2.) He wasn't needed tonight, but Evan Longoria has started off the World Series 0-for-8 and has a post-season batting average floating around .200. Meanwhile, Carlos Pena has been 0-for-7 hitting in front of Longoria, and Carl Crawford has gone 1-for-8 behind him. That's not a lot of production from the heart of the Rays order. They didn't need it tonight, but if that continues they will have great difficulty winning this series.

3.) Can I just say that while I'm rooting hard for the Rays, I hate the cowbells? They aren't nearly as annoying as those idiotic Thunder Sticks that the Angels first made infamous, but they are still pretty bad. Although, the fact that the "more cowbell" sketch from SNL involving Christopher Walken is a big part of the reason the cowbells are used in Tampa at least gives the cowbells an interesting backstory. Give me a homer hanky any day -- much better for visually distracting the opposition, and nowhere near as gimmicky as the cowbells.

4.) I guess David Price isn't quite infallible, eh? Still, a solo homer isn't such a horrible thing to give up, and Price made it through the eighth without any other problems. He also managed to get out of a bit of a mess in the ninth, although he had some help from the home plate umpire. Imagine if Jimmy Rollins had actually been given first base, as he should have been? That would have made things very, very interesting.

5.) Speculation is that Game 3 could be rained out on Saturday night. I had forgotten that a World Series game was postponed by rain as recently as 2006, when Game 2 between the Tigers and Cardinals was delayed by a day. If it happens, it should be no big deal -- Monday would just turn into a game day instead of a travel day. Of course, I'd rather things just stay on schedule, so hopefully nature will cooperate.

6.) I watched the Versus boxing event tonight, which featured three interesting fights. The first wasn't really all that notable, with two young and inexperienced fighters dueling for 8 rounds to a split decision. The last two fights of the night, however, were pretty fun to watch. In the first, Olympian Demetrius Andrade made his pro debut and destroyed Minnesotan Patrick Cape with a TKO coming 24 seconds into the second round. Cape was very angry with the ref when the fight was stopped, but he was toast no matter what. Andrade looked pretty good already, so with some experience under his belt he could be a very interesting Middleweight prospect.

The second fight was a solid battle between veterans Orlando Salido and Cristobol Cruz for the vacant IBF Featherweight belt. Salido was favored coming into the match (he was the #2 contender for the IBF title and ranked 9th in the division by The Ring, while Cruz was unranked by The Ring and came in as the IBF's #3 contender -- the #1 contender position was not filled in the most recent IBF rankings). The fight went the distance, and Cruz won the belt in a 2-1 split. Throughout the match, the fight stayed close, with both fighters throwing and landing similar numbers of punches. Cruz almost certainly won the fight by tiring out Salido and going strong in the last three rounds. Not a great fight, but pretty fun for two guys who came in with 20 losses between them.

7.) Sorry to see the Wild lost tonight in OT. At least they picked up a point for their troubles, but it sure would have been nice to beat the Sabres and run the season-opening undefeated streak to 5 games.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rays vs. Phillies!

Well, I'm thrilled! Major League Baseball and nearly all of the elite baseball journalists wanted Red Sox/Dodgers in the series, but instead, they're going to get Rays/Phillies. The league wanted Red Sox/Dodgers for the ratings -- undoubtedly, that pairing would have been higher rated than what will actually happen now. The writers, on the other hand, wanted Sox/Dodgers because of all the built in storylines. In other words, they didn't want to actually have to work to come up with compelling stories -- or, heaven forbid, to let the game sell itself. I know that I'm a fan of storylines -- but I think this Rays team (and the Phillies, for that matter) have plenty of them.

I'm also delighted about this win because it defied expectations. The Rays weren't supposed to be able to beat the Red Sox in a 7 game series because of their inexperience. Forget that. Then, they were supposed to fold like a paper bag after they collapsed in Game 5 (I admit that I bought into this idea a bit). Never mind. The big, bad Red Sox were supposed to have the better starting pitching (nope), the more fearsome hitters (nope again), and the experience necessary to push them through to yet another World Series (guess not). To me, the Rays are a far better story than the Red Sox would have been. I'm rejoicing tonight.

Another thing -- I'm proud of Matt Garza (after all, he started off his professional career as a Twin), and I'm pleased that Jason Bartlett was picked up after his 8th inning error (he didn't deserve to be the goat of the off-season, which would have happened if the Sox had come back in that situation).

So, I guess the sports writers had better get busy; they're not going to be able to rely on the same old tired, worn down stories they've been using so much since the Red Sox finally figured out how to win in the post-season. I wouldn't have it any other way.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nightly Notes

Nothing like blogging while watching SNL. Here are some thoughts on tonight's Game 6 (and some other things):

1.) It sure feels like the Red Sox are headed to the World Series, doesn't it? I'm not going to go so far as to blame tonight's Rays loss on the epic Game 5 collapse -- sometimes a loss is just a loss -- but I think the collective results of Games 5 & 6 will inevitably weigh on the Rays. While the Rays may win tomorrow, if I had to bet on the result of the game I'd go with the Sox. I have a feeling that Matt Garza is going to get overhyped and have some control issues tomorrow. If Jon Lester doesn't have similar problems, the Sox will probably roll. I'm still hoping for a Rays victory, but I'm not very optimistic.

2.) I don't know enough (or, really, anything) about the technical side of TV broadcasting, but you have to think that it would be possible to have a system in place that would prevent what happened to TBS tonight, don't you? I'm not going to talk about how annoyed I was to miss the start of the game (in the end, did missing an inning really hurt anything?) -- but MLB has to be annoyed. And to go with an episode of "The Steve Harvey Show?" Really, TBS? I mean, really? I actually called Comcast to see if the problem was on their end, and they politely told me they had no idea what was going on, but it was TBS's fault. I'm guessing the poor folks were flooded with calls.

3.) I also watched the Caesar's Palace boxing card tonight (yes, I was watching them at the same time). I was pretty disappointed with the fights. Overall, there was a lot of grabbing and not a lot of action in the last three fights of the night. I also didn't see the Bernard Hopkins win coming, but it was very decisive. So was this an expose of Kelly Pavlik as an overrated fighter (as the folks in Hopkins' corner felt), or was it more the result of Pavlik fighting at a higher weight than he's been used to? Either way, it could spell trouble for Pavlik. From what I've read, it's historically been difficult for fighters to move back down in weight after going up -- although Pavlik has done it before. It'll be interesting to see what happens with each of these guys next, although Pavlik probably has a mandatory defense or two to take care of before he gets to think about another vanity fight like tonight's Hopkins mess.

4.) The Wild are 4-0! Nice to see. By the way, I know that the media has long since picked "The Wild is" as the proper grammatical form. I don't care. When I reference a team, I'm referring more to the group of people who make up the organization -- the players, coaches, front office, and everyone else involved with the team. So, whether grammatically correct or not, I will continue to say "The Wild are . . .".

5.) Hilarious opening skit on SNL, in my opinion. Whether you like Sarah Palin or not, she was a good sport in going on a show that is clearly hostile territory for her. I doubt it's going to change anyone's opinion of her, but it was funny (unlike the rest of the show, which was pretty horrid). And when are they just going to start calling SNL "The Kristin Wiig Show"? It sure seems like she features in a vast majority of the skits.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mostly Non-Baseball Nightly Notes

There are just a few things from the world of sport I wanted to comment on tonight, but baseball is mostly an afterthought in this list (unless the Red Sox/Rays game finished up as I write this). I will start off with a baseball note for you, though:

1.) The MLBPA continues it's Barry Bonds/collusion pity party, saying that they've "found evidence teams acted in concert against signing Barry Bonds." I've said before that I don't think collusion was necessarily involved with Bonds not getting a job -- there were a lot of reasons for a team not to sign him. That said, if the teams actually did collude, they were unbelievably stupid and deserve whatever penalty the union can get an arbitrator to award. The bottom line is that the issue of collusion was collectively bargained -- and the owners categorically barred themselves from engaging in collusion (backed up by a substantial penalty for colluding). The owner's need to follow the rules that they agreed to with the union. I still don't think the union actually has any real evidence -- but as the article linked to above points out, the union has won three collusion cases in the past, so maybe they actually have the goods. Regardless of what happens with this story, I pretty much just wish that Barry Bonds would go away. I'll be happy enough to talk about him again when he becomes Hall of Fame eligible in a few years.

2.) Well, the Red Sox just won Game 5, so I guess I should talk about that. I don't want to say too much, but I have a few thoughts. First, from the standpoint of a fan of the game, more playoff games = better post-season. For that reason, I'm glad we're getting at least a Game 6 in the ALCS. Also, it might be nice for the Rays to celebrate a pennant at home in front of the newfound fans of the club, rather than in Fenway. My biggest concern (since I'm rooting for the Rays) is that tonight's epic 7-run collapse (8 runs if you count the winning run) sure feels an awful lot like a momentum changer. Psychologically it might be tough for the younger, much less experienced Rays to bounce back. I'd still much rather be in the Rays shoes than the Red Sox shoes, though, and I don't believe for a second that the Sox have the Rays right where they want them.

3.) I'm not much of a high school football fan, but this NY Times article on the rising popularity of something called the A-11 formation caught my eye and made me wonder about what lies ahead in the college and NFL games. If you're a football fan who likes innovative offense, you need to check out the article.

4.) Nice to see the Wild get off to an extended winning streak yet again to start the season. Two road wins in a row down south coupled with the season opener against Boston makes for a nice 3-0 start, with a game still to come against Tampa Bay before the roadie ends. Considering that the Wild have been dealing with some injury issues already this year, and played 2 of their 3 games on the road, the start is reasonably impressive.

5.) The WBC Bantamweight and WBC Featherweight champions both retained their titles in defenses taking place in Japan earlier today. The Bantamweight champ (Hazumi Hasegawa) was favored, and this marked his seventh successful defense of the belt. The Featherweight champ (Oscar Larios) seems to have been the beneficiary of some bad judging, however. Larios is not particularly well respected for holding a belt (neither ESPN or The Ring have him ranked in their Featherweight rankings). His opponent, Takahiro Aoh, is another story. He came into the fight undefeated, and was ranked 8th by The Ring (and 9th by the WBC, incidentally -- obviously, Larios was unranked by the WBC since he holds the belt). Larios only ended up with the strap after reigning champion Jorge Linares moved to a higher weight class. The few articles I've read on him suggest that he's a competent fighter, but not really title-worthy. Aoh probably should have left the ring with the belt -- but that's Boxing for you! I guess if Aoh really wanted it, he should have knocked out Larios and taken the decision away from the refs.

6.) BYU got clobbered tonight by TCU to lose any hope of playing in a BCS game this year. That leaves Utah, Boise State, Ball State, and Tulsa amongst the teams that have a shot of crashing the BCS this season -- although even going undefeated probably wouldn't be enough to get Ball State or Tulsa in the dance because of their weak schedules. I think TCU deserves some love from the rankings committees, though. Look at their schedule: their 7-1 with their lone loss coming to Oklahoma (not exactly an embarrassment to lose to the Sooners), and with solid wins over every other opponent (including BYU and Stanford) except for Colorado State, who they beat by just 6 points. If they win their last four games, it would mean they'd add quality wins against Utah and Air Force. Honestly, even with 1 loss that team would in my mind deserve serious consideration for a BCS spot. Can the winner of the Big East honestly say they had a tougher schedule? Obviously it isn't going to happen -- an undefeated season is a virtual necessity for a non-BCS school that wants a BCS berth. Still, it's not obvious to me that TCU wouldn't be worthy if they finished up 11-1.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nightly Notes

It may be the off-season, but that doesn't mean I can't post a Nightly Notes column. Some of this is Twins related -- some decidedly isn't.

1.) I'm glad to hear that Gardy is getting another extension (barring a major foul-up in the negotiations, which seems exceedingly unlikely). I know there's a lot of second-guessing of him, and to be certain he does things that drive me crazy sometimes. Still, I think he's been a great manager since taking over for Tom Kelly. No manager is perfect, but I'll take a fiery, player-friendly manager like Gardy any day -- especially when he delivers wins at a rate that usually exceeds expectations. Now, if he continues to abuse his bullpen as he did for much of this summer, I might rethink things -- but for now I couldn't be happier that the Twins are committing to bringing him and his coaching staff back into the fold.

2.) That sound you hear is Bud Selig hyperventilating over the prospect of a Rays-Phillies World Series. Halfway there! Hopefully the Rays can take care of business tomorrow night and make this thing a reality. Maybe only five people outside of Pennsylvania and Florida will watch -- but we'll sure have fun!

3.) How much you want to bet the Yankees are going to look more than ever like an All-Star team next year? Look at the list of folks the team is going after through free agency -- Sabathia, Burnett, Sheets, Teixeira. In a perverse way, I hope they do get all those guys; if they did and won, I could write it off as the Yanks buying a Series. If they did and LOST, however, it would just add to the joy of watching the Bronx Bombers fail.

4.) Staying in the AL East for a second, is it possible that the Red Sox are about to enter an awfully rough phase? The Yankees look set to go hog-wild in free agency. The Rays seem to be built to be good for a number of years. The Red Sox, while they have a number of very exciting young players, also are getting older at some key positions. The Sox could easily find themselves as the third best team in the AL East next year, with the Blue Jays right behind them. I'm not saying it will happen that way, but it certainly doesn't seem far fetched. It's going to be an interesting winter out east.

5.) Tonight's Presidential Debate was much, much more watchable than the first two. There were good moments for both candidates, and there were gaffes from both candidates that will probably be used in campaign commercials over the last three weeks of the race. My personal favorite moment of the night was John McCain looking flabbergasted after Barack Obama answered a question regarding health care. McCain looked like he had swallowed a fly, and I can easily see an SNL spot built out of his reaction shot. Like I said, though, there was plenty there for either side to like (and to be balanced, I think McCain actually got off the best line of the night when he told Obama that if he wanted to run against Bush he should have ran 4 years ago). Good times, but I'm glad that Debate Season has ended. Now we can start looking at the polls for real. I can't wait for the 4th.

6.) Great college football game tomorrow night between BYU and TCU. This game is one of two that should present real challenges to the Cougars as they try to break into the BCS, with the season ender against a very tough Utah squad to end the regular season on November 22 being the other. This will probably divert some of my attention from the Red Sox-Rays Game 5, especially if one team gets a big lead.

7.) I might as well also mention that there's a low key boxing card taking place in Japan tomorrow, with the WBC bantamweight and WBC featherweight titles on the line. So far as I know it's not televised anywhere in the States, but it still serves as a nice little appetizer for this weekend's Bernard Hopkins-Kelly Pavlik fight.

8.) I'm a big fan of Formula 1 racing, so the last couple of weeks have been frustrating for me. This isn't because of what's happening on the track -- the last two races (taking place in Singapore and Japan, respectively) have been filled with intrigue and points jockeying. I really can't complain at all about the product on the track. No, what's bothered me is what's happening with the 2009 schedule. First, the provisional schedule was released -- and inexplicably included no race in North America. There was no US Grand Prix this year, but at least there was a race in Canada. For 2009, however, that race was removed from the schedule. Ironically, the biggest market for many of the auto manufacturers that compete in F1 (names like Mercedes and Ferrari) remains North America. Then, today, I got the even worse news that for financial reasons, the French Grand Prix has been canceled for 2009. This is bad for several reasons. First, it probably means one less race -- unless the FIA changes its mind and begs Canada to host a race, after all. Since I like watching F1, I obviously want as many races as possible. It's also bad, though, because it means that I won't get a chance to properly say goodbye to the French track at Magny-Cours, which would have hosted it's last race next year. Magny-Cours is not a particularly well-loved track, apparently, but I don't think it's all that bad. While the racing isn't always great due to a fairly narrow track that's hard to pass on, it has produced good races in the rain (and frankly that's all I've seen there, really). I'll be sad to see it go. Regardless, it was a bad day to be an F1 fan.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Slate's Takedown of Baseball Analysis

I spent the night watching the returns in tonight's Canadian election (yes, I'm serious -- I'm probably more of a politics junkie than I am a baseball junkie), but I did see quite a bit of the Rays pummeling of the Red Sox to take a 3-1 lead (thank God -- who cares if baseball is about to get the exact opposite of the World Series they wanted; I can't handle another Red Sox title). I also noticed a takedown of baseball pre-game and analysis shows (think the 15-30 minute shows that air before playoff games on FOX and TBS for the first kind of show, and Baseball Tonight for the second kind) on Slate that I wanted to direct your attention to.

The basic premise of the Slate article is that football has a bunch of great analysts (Ron Jaworski and Chris Collinsworth are specifically called out) and shows designed to highlight "smart" analysis of the game, while baseball has nothing similar. Peter Gammons, Tim Kurkjian, Jayston Stark, and Buster Olney are all given some credit for not being idiots, but Jon Kruk and Joe Morgan get hit pretty hard, as does the basic method of operation for baseball analysis generally.

One other thought sparked by the article -- is the NFL really so much more popular than MLB, as we always hear (and often assume)? One of the key takeaway lines from the Slate piece is the following:
And with so many fans, football shows can afford to devote screen time to relatively esoteric subjects that will appeal to the die-hards. With baseball's playoff games routinely rated lower than regular-season football, producers have obviously decided to appeal to the dreaded "casual fan."
Now, I can't argue with ratings. That's pretty good empirical evidence. But does it really mean what the author suggests (i.e. that football has a vast majority of fans while baseball is toddling along)? I think the answer is probably no. For one thing, look at revenues -- according to this CNN Money article from last October, baseball revenues are running just a tad behind football revenues (both right around $6 billion a year). Of course, baseball is spread out over 6 months and 162 games per team, but why is that relevant? That's just the structure of the sport.

How about attendance? The NFL drew 17,345,205 fans to regular season games in 2007. Major League Baseball, on the other hand, drew more than 79.5 million fans. Again, with 10 times as many games, baseball of course has many, many more chances to sell seats (and football per-game attendance is obviously significantly higher). But if baseball is making nearly as much revenue, and is selling more tickets in total, is it really so obvious that there are fewer fans, or that the NFL has supplanted baseball in the hearts and minds of Americans?

For me, the nature of the two sports is sufficiently different that it's hard to measure this kind of thing. Football is a spectacle -- with just 16 games a year in the regular season, fans can never get enough -- as a result, they watch the playoffs no matter what happens with their favorite team. In baseball, while there are plenty of fans who watch no matter what, there are also a lot of folks who don't care unless the local team gets in to the playoffs. I think this accounts for the lower playoff ratings. Baseball demands more of its fans; it's more of a commitment.

Anyway, I've rambled on for long enough tonight. Hopefully it's somewhat coherent. Now, I'm back to reading about Canada, and pondering the US Election in 20 days. Here's hoping the Phillies close out the Dodgers tomorrow, and the Rays do the deed in Boston on Thursday night.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Emeritus Champion No More

Boxing has always fascinated me, probably because I can't imagine anyone wanting to step into the ring knowing that even on a good day, you're going to leave the ring in rough shape. This afternoon I watched WBC Champion Samuel Peter lose his belt to WBC Champion Emeritus Vitaly Klitschko (in German nonetheless!). The fight was . . . bad. There wasn't clutching and grabbing, which is the bane of so many major heavyweight fights -- but Peter got pretty much no offense in over the course of the 8 rounds that the fight lasted. He couldn't answer the bell for the ninth. It was pretty much the equivalent of watching Ohio State lose to LSU in the NCAA Football National Championship game. Oy.

Boxing has bigger problems, though. For one thing, the idea of having a "Champion Emeritus" in the first place. Nearly four years ago, Klitschko "retired" due to injuries while holding the WBC belt. As a result, the WBC needed to strip him of the title -- but named him "emeritus" champion so that if he chose to come back, he could demand a title fight. The WBA did the same thing with injured champion Ruslan Chagaev, although they deemed him the "Champion in Recess." By my way of thinking, getting hurt is part of boxing. If you can't defend your title, you should lose it -- and when you come back, you should at least have to fight someone before getting a title shot again. Four years gone and then right back to a title fight? Of course, Klitschko's win today hurts my argument a bit.

The bigger problem is the one that has long plagued boxing. How can you get anyone to follow your sport when you have four major sanctioning bodies (WBO/IBF/WBC/WBA) and countless minor sanctioning bodies? This problem was made worse tonight with Vitaly's win, because the possibility of unifying the titles has now disappeared until either Vitaly or his brother Wladimir (holder of the WBO and IBF titles) loses their belts or retires, since they've long refused to fight one another. I've read enough boxing articles recently to know that even boxing journalists were hoping that Peter would retain his belt to hold open the possibility of a unified title.

I will continue to watch fights when I get the chance, because I remain fascinated by the sport. It's no surprise, however, that the sport seems to be slowly dying. Maybe someone new and exciting will step up and electrify the sport. I suppose Alexander Povetkin, a 29-year-old Russian with a 16-0 record, could step up and stun Wladimir Klitschko in December to start a run as a monster in the sport -- but it seems unlikely. Maybe David Haye can step up into heavyweights and electrify the division -- but before he's fought a single fight at that weight it seems premature to pin the sports' hopes on him.

My suggestion? A way should be found to eliminate at least two of the major sanctioning bodies. Combining four into two would reduce some of the redundancy and make the sport easier to follow, while leaving some of the intrigue of having dueling sanctioning bodies. That won't happen unless all parties agree, but it would help immensely. The sport should also try to get some major heavyweight fights back on free TV. How else are you going to convince people that it's worth watching? If you charge people $50 for Evander Holyfield's latest return fight, or a Mike Tyson freak show, or an underwhelming battle between two lumbering fighters, you'll only get the hardcore supporters. Get some of the younger, up-and-coming heavyweights on Friday Night Fights. Maybe be really radical and put a title fight on free TV. Do something to spark interest!

As for me -- I'm still hooked. I can't wait for the flurry of heavyweight fights in November and December that could make things interesting in the division. I just hope something changes before the sport suffocates itself.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Redmond back in the fold

From the department of "That Was Easy," the Twins today officially picked up Mike Redmond's 2009 option, keeping him in the fold as the backup catcher for $950,000. I don't think anyone will be surprised by this move -- Redmond has been a great backup for the Twins over the last few years, and with no ready replacement in the system (Jose Morales or Drew Butera might eventually be in that position, but neither is ready yet), this was a no brainer. If all personnel decisions were this easy, even I could be a GM.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Ducking My Responsibilities on the AFL

I'm in the middle of grading 75 essays from students about the connection between cars and culture in the United States, so I don't have the time to put up a post on the Arizona Fall League tonight. As a result, I'm going to pass it on to La Velle Neal, who has a nice writeup on the players the Twins sent to the AFL in his Strib blog. I plan on talking a bit about who the Twins sent (and why!) along with how they perform over the course of the AFL season this fall. Now, back to grading . . .


Monday, October 06, 2008

The Vikings Won, But . . .

Actually, forget the "But." I'm happy with the win, since I think the Vikings are a decent team and I'd like to watch them in the playoffs (that'll be awfully tough, but I can dream). I don't read much on the Vikings -- certainly no blogs and very little coverage in the papers. As a result, I'm not really dialed in on where fans stand on Brad Childress. My dad and I were talking about this tonight and we've pretty much settled on the idea that he's an anchor on the team and should probably be removed from his post. Of course, if he had anything to do with that bizarre TD play where the receivers both converged on the same point, maybe he's better than I think.

So, any thoughts? Is Childress to blame for the weak start to any extent? Are the Vikings a legitimate playoff caliber team? Does anyone miss the Twins yet (I do!)?


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Blog Update

It's been a pretty quiet few days for me on the blogging front, and it may stay like that for another few days while I just take the chance to unwind and not think about posting. However, as I've done over the previous couple of off-seasons, I plan to run a pretty regular blogging schedule through the winter months. By the end of this week, expect regular posts to resume as I comment on the post-season, awards, impending free agents, minor league performances from this summer, and potential additions to the 40-man roster (not all at once, and not necessarily in that order). I will also, of course, be discussing any roster moves that happen. Until then, enjoy the American League playoff games tomorrow (go Rays!) as well as what I hope will be a Vikings win on Monday Night Football.


Saturday, October 04, 2008

First Round Dud

I love the MLB Playoffs. Whenever possible on the first day, I try to stay home and watch all three games back-to-back-to-back (wasn't able to make it happen this year, sadly). I was really looking forward to all the action this year as well, since there were (and still are) a whole bunch of great story lines to follow.

That's why it breaks my heart to say that what we've seen has just flat out been a dud. In fact, it's been worse than that for me -- it's been a dud with bad results. The teams that I want to win are, with the exception of the Rays, losing. We have four series that have all gone to 2-0, and I wouldn't be remotely surprised to see at least three sweeps. We haven't seen walkoffs. For the most part, we haven't even seen close games! To me, what we've seen so far is as disappointing as going through the first round of March Madness with no upsets or buzzer beaters would be.

I'm hopeful that this weekend will bring some better action. Maybe this dud of a post-season can still be saved. Help me, Torii. Help me, Aramis. Help me, Prince. As for the White Sox? You guys can go ahead and get swept.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The State of the Twins Roster

The end of a season is really just the beginning of the next season, as the moves that are necessary to reshape the team for 2009 will begin fairly quickly. As the Twins enter the off-season (a considerably calmer off-season than what faced them a year ago, I might add), it's a good time to take a look at where things stand and what will need to be done moving forward.

40-Man Roster
As of this moment, the Twins have 37 players on the 40-man roster, with Pat Neshek still sitting on the 60-Day DL. The disabled list cannot extend into the off-season, however, so Neshek will be "activated" from the list at some point in the next couple of weeks. This is really just a paper move, but it has to happen. As a result, you might as well just count the Twins as having 38 players on the 40-man roster at this moment.

Potential Free Agents
Very little happens automatically in the MLB, and players have to actually take the step of filing for free agency before they hit the market and come off the 40-man roster. Nonetheless, there's no reason not to file, so each of the 4 players who are eligible for free agency will undoubtedly file for it after the World Series ends unless the Twins re-sign them first. The free agents to be on the roster currently are Nick Punto, Dennys Reyes, Adam Everett, and Eddie Guardado (in no particular order).

There's no way the Twins will make any move to bring back Everett or Guardado, so once they file for free agency the Twins will get 2 more roster spots back, dropping them to 36. Punto and Reyes are somewhat more difficult to read. Reyes will turn 32 next season, so even though it seems like he's been around forever he's probably at the back end of his "prime." He's been a solid contributor for the Twins and lefties are always valuable. That said, the emergence in September of Jose Mijares, and the likely return of Craig Breslow to the bullpen next year, might mean that the Twins will let Reyes go.

As for Punto -- what to say? Punto has been a controversial figure with the Twins since at least the start of 2007. There an awful lot of folks who just want him gone. I'm not sure where I stand; Punto is a great defensive player, and he has two big league seasons with a batting average over .280 (nonetheless, his career big league average is south of .250). His value as a utility player is sky high -- but will he take utility player money? And if he's brought back, will Gardy actually use him as a utility player, or will he once again find himself in a regular role? For the right price, I actually am fine with bringing Punto back in. I don't think there are very many big league players who can play everywhere like he can, and I don't think he's as bad as a lot of people think he is. If I had to guess, I'd say Punto is the free agent most likely to be brought back by the Twins -- but I'd also put the odds at no better than 50-50 that he returns.

Contract Options
There's only one player with an option that has to be decided on by the Twins, and it's pretty much a no-brainer. Mike Redmond has a team option for $950,000 on his contract for 2009, which is the same salary he made this year. Redmond continues to be a great backup catcher for the Twins, and at that price he's a bargain. The Twins will pick up this option without hesitation (for all I know, they already have done so -- I haven't seen a story saying they have, but it seems like an obvious move). I'd be stunned if Redmond wasn't back next year.

Arbitration Eligibles
The Twins have at least 2, and possibly 3, players eligible for arbitration this off-season. The two players who are definitely eligible are outfielder Jason Kubel and reliever Matt Guerrier. Depending on how many other players throughout the league are eligible, starter Scott Baker may also qualify as a "Super-2," but he's at the very bottom of the line in terms of eligibility, having 2 years and 128 days of service time -- the bare minimum possible. We'll find out pretty quickly whether there are enough other "Super-2's" out there to drive the minimum service time line up a little bit -- if so, Baker will be stuck for another year without arbitration, so from a salary standpoint the Twins are undoubtedly hoping that's the case.

Arbitration eligible players are often cut by teams who don't want to start paying major salaries to certain players. If I remember correctly, David Ortiz was cut from the organization after he became arbitration eligible because the Twins didn't think he would be able to stay healthy, and he hadn't lived up to his potential -- but he was due for a big raise nonetheless. Obviously, that decision didn't pan out so well, but teams have to evaluate the player's likely salary against the player's likely contribution and decide whether it's justified to bring a guy back despite the inevitable raise.

The easiest answer amongst the bunch of guys the Twins have to worry about would have to do with Scott Baker. While the Twins obviously hope he's NOT arbitration eligible, there's no chance that they would cut him to avoid giving him a raise. In fact, the Twins could even decide to try to sign him to a longer term deal to avoid future arbitration if he is in fact eligible this year. Either way, I have no doubt that he'll return to the team next year.

Jason Kubel is a slightly trickier player to evaluate, because his production has been solid enough that he's undoubtedly due for a big raise. Nonetheless, the Twins currently have a bunch of outfielders, and Kubel has still never lived up to the expectations that were placed on him a few years ago (although in my mind, this year wasn't too shabby). I'm pretty sure that the Twins will keep Kubel around, because his left-handed power bat is a valuable asset. Nonetheless, the team may not quite view this as a no-brainer -- and there's also a distinct possibility in my mind that the Twins could shop Kubel around to see what they could get in return for him. I'd be shocked if they just outright cut him like they did with David Ortiz, though. Expect him to be back, therefore, barring a trade.

Matt Guerrier is by far the most difficult player to evaluate. Guerrier was terrible in August and September -- but ironically, that might have been enough to make him more affordable in an arbitration hearing, so the Twins may gamble for this year on getting him for a reasonable price in 2009. It all depends on how the Twins internally evaluate what happened to Guerrier -- is he a good pitcher who was overused for the first four months, resulting in his collapse for the last third? Or has he somehow lost what he had for the past couple of years, when he was an asset in the bullpen and an above average reliever? Guerrier is by far the most likely of the arbitration eligibles to simply be let go by the Twins -- but I suspect they'll keep him and hope that he can return to form next season. Again, I think the gamble is a relatively small one because of his poor numbers for the season (especially the ERA above 5.00 for the year). He'd get a raise through arbitration, but the nature of his position and his poor season should mitigate that raise to the point where it's worth it to take the chance on him.

Clearing out the Deadwood
There are always players on the 40-man roster at the end of the year who don't really belong there, and who are likely to be removed from the roster (likely via unconditional release waivers). There are several players on the roster right now for whom this seems like a likely (or at least a possible) fate.

The first player who faces this possibility is reliever Julio DePaula. DePaula, who has one option year left, had a terrible year in Rochester. He posted a 5.70 ERA and gave up 86 hits and 41 walks in 77.1 innings of work. He never put himself into a position to repeat the callup that he earned in 2007, and he's fallen far, far down the organizational depth chart. The Twins may decide to keep him around to see what one more year would do (under the theory that they have the option year available, so why not use it). However, I suspect that whether DePaula stays around probably depends on how many Rule 5 Eligible players the team wants to protect before the November 20 deadline to get guys on the roster. I personally don't see much reason to keep DePaula around, and I think there's a good chance the Twins will sever ties with him soon.

The Twins have another tough decision in starter Oswaldo Sosa, who like DePaula will be entering his third option year in 2009 if he stays on a roster (although unlike DePaula, Sosa should have a fourth option year available in 2010 due to the number of "full seasons" he will have played in the minor leagues). Sosa regressed this year, starting off in New Britain and being demoted to Ft. Myers after putting up a 5.81 ERA in 62.0 innings. He didn't do much better with the Miracle, with a 5.44 ERA in 43 innings. He also had a poor K-BB numbers at both levels, which is usually not a good sign (and which is different from his 2006 and 2007 performances). With Sosa seemingly so far away from being big league ready, will the Twins want to continue stringing him along on the roster? I actually think they'll keep him around for another year, but I wouldn't be surprised if they cleared him off the roster.

Recently added catcher Ryan Jorgensen is the poster child for the kind of guy likely to be removed from the roster quickly. Jorgensen was added to the roster to give the Twins a third catcher in September, and he was virtually unused. He's a journeyman veteran who should be able to be easily replaced, and with Jose Morales already on the roster (and hopefully in recovery mode from his season-ending injury), the Twins don't need Jorgensen on the roster anymore. I'd be stunned if he wasn't removed.

Randy Ruiz presents another interesting question. Ruiz had a very nice year for the Red Wings, and he performed reasonably well after being called up at the beginning of August. However, he barely played in September and it's unclear what kind of future he has with the team. I'd like to see the Twins keep him around for another year, and I think the Twins will do so -- but I also wouldn't be surprised if his lack of playing time was indicative of the Twins intention to let him go.

Finally, the Twins need to make a decision on what to do with Sergio Santos, the middle infielder claimed from Toronto earlier this year. Santos is out of options going into next year, so he'd have to make the big league club out of spring training or be exposed to waivers -- but as with Chris Basak last year, it's unclear why the Twins claimed him or what role he really plays in the organization. He doesn't seem likely to play a significant role with the team, and so there seems to be a good chance that Santos will be removed before November to make room for someone else.

Rule 5 Additions
Since the deadline to add players to the roster in order to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft isn't until November 20, I'm not going to make my predictions on who the Twins will add for protection purposes until that date gets closer, so that I have a better idea of just how many slots they actually have to play with. Certainly, though, the Twins should have at least 4 or 5 spots open (even if they want to keep 2 or 3 spots available for potential free agent additions).

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Playoff Predictions

The playoffs get underway today, and even though the Twins aren't going to be part of the fun, I'm still pumped for the start of the best post-season of any professional sports league. Since I'm a glutton for punishment, I figure I should give my predictions for how the next few weeks will play out. If I'm lucky, I'll be a little closer than I was when I predicted who would make the playoffs in the first place.

For the record, here's who I predicted would get into playoffs at the beginning of the year:

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)
NL East: Philadelphia Phillies (94-68)
NL Central: Houston Astros (88-74)
Wild Card: New York Mets (93-69)

AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (93-69)
AL East: Boston Red Sox (100-62)
AL Central: Detroit Tigers (99-63)
Wild Card: Cleveland Indians (95-87)

So, I did alright -- at least I got half of the participants correct. That's not exactly a shining example of accuracy in predictions, though. Nonetheless, here's my guess on how the post-season will turn out:

American League Division Series
Tampa Bay Rays (3-1) Chicago White Sox
Los Angeles Angels (3-2) Boston Red Sox

National League Division Series
Chicago Cubs (3-1) Los Angeles Dodgers
Philadelphia Phillies (3-2) Milwaukee Brewers

American League Championship Series
Los Angeles Angels (4-2) Tampa Bay Rays

National League Championship Series
Chicago Cubs (4-1) Philadelphia Phillies

World Series
Los Angeles Angels (4-2) Chicago Cubs

This isn't what I'm rooting for, mind you -- I want the Cubs to win the world series, and as much as I'm growing to dislike the Red Sox, I have to admit that a Cubs/Red Sox series would be great. I'm also rooting for the Rays, because as I mentioned previously the Rays were my backup team back in the day in case the Twins moved away or were contracted. I wouldn't mind a Cubs/Rays series because of that, but such a series would have a bit less cache than Cubs/Red Sox. Worst case scenario -- somehow the White Sox win the World Series. A close second -- the Red Sox do it again. Can't wait to see how it plays out!

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