Saturday, May 30, 2009

Joe Mauer and the Twins Future

The young catcher's hot-hitting has drawn national attention and sparked discussion regarding his future with the Twins. The cynics talk as though he already plays for the Boston Red Sox. On the other hand, the romantics picture the homegrown talent playing his career as a Twin because he is "Minnesota nice." Both sides raise valid points, yet overlook what the most relevant facts have to tell us.

Twins current payroll: $65 million/year
MLB Highest Salary (Alex Rodriguez): $27 million/year
Highest '09 signing and most comparable player (Mark Teixiera): $22 million/year
League Minimum Salary: $390 thousand / year.

The Twins could pay Mauer and Morneau $27 million each, and still have enough of their current payroll left to pay 22 players league minimum and Nick Punto the remaining $4 million. The suggestion may appear to be purely hypothetical speculation, but is it really that much of a change from the current roster? In all likelihood, the Target Field Twins will be a triple-a team with two stars and a few overpaid veterans.

The Pohlads always have run the franchise as a business. They know that they need fans to make money. I doubt Dave St. Peter wants to try to market the Twins should either Mauer or Morneau leave. Inversely, generating fan interest with that pair is considerably easier. Rightfully, fans love Mauer and Morneau, and in the AL Central, the team will always remain competitive enough to keep interest. St. Peter doesn't think fans expect much. In an editorial in today's Star Tribune, he declares, "It doesn't take much to improve the experience of our fans. The bar hasn't been set very high." That says it all. St. Peter and the Pohlads know that if a they can generate interest for a mediocre team in the Metrodome, then they can attract fans to watch a glorified AAA team at Target Field.

Here's the fun part, though. Now we don't have to tolerate it. The organization has no leverage over fans. If they don't field a decent team, we don't have to watch. We've built their stadium and they're stuck with us. Once Target Field opens, it's far easier for the franchise to convince Minnesotans to watch the home team than it would be to convince another metropolitan area to build a stadium. And no matter how much crap Dick Bremer tells us about being a "small market" the people making the business decision realize that the Twin Cities is actually a lucrative location.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Clubhouse Guys

Today I read a column reminding that not only is Nick Punto an atrocious hitter, but he's at best adequate in the field. I skimmed over some reader comments, and not surprisingly the Punto Apologists brought forth their final line of defense: He brings the intangibles. He hustles. He's a team leader. He's a good clubhouse guy. I recall one saying he'd rather have Punto than a "clubhouse cancer" like Manny Ramirez. Let me just ask this: As an opposing team, who would you rather see stepping into the batters box for a critical late inning at bat? Even as a Twins fan conditioned to quake in terror of puny middle infielders like Adam Kennedy, I'd take my chances that the Brave Little Toaster hits a dinky foul ball to the first baseman, spikes his bat in disgust, throws his helmet across the diamond, and slides headfirst into the bag to get his uniform dirty. Manny may be suspended presently, but when he returns, he'll still have more RBI's and HR's that Punto.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

That'll Show 'em!

The Twins return from their seven game road trip having outscored their opponents 42-35. I'd like to think today's 20-1 means that the Twins marks the recovery from a rough road trip and foreshadows a strong homestand. I'm worried that it will give players, fans, and coaches a false sense of accomplishment about the past seven games.

And guess who had the token ofer (with 3 k's) in the offensive breakout. It was none other than Nick Punto!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Breslow Release

Apparently the Twins released Craig Breslow. Will somebody please explain why they waived him in the middle of May, yet waited until June and September respectively with Juan Rincon and Brian Bass in 2008?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Blackburn's Outing

After Blackburn's struggle in New York last year and his walk-walk-hr sequence, I was tempted to blog about my disappointment. Then he goes and pitches several strong innings after that. Don't be mistaken. Pitching around two batters to give up a 3-run homer is a huge pet peeve of mine. But I like graceful recovery from such incidents almost as much as I hate the mistake.

I'd expect many question Gardy's decision to leave Blackburn in the game. I'm not one to second-guess managers. Heading into the 8th, I thought to myself, "Blackburn's going to get rocked. Oh, well. He can't do worse than the 'pen." Blackburn actually handled the inning respectably. I'm willing to risk a double to Matsui rather than walking him. The Yankees gave an out to move him to third, Damon grounded out, and then a two-out Texiera single drove in the run. That sequence is a considerable improvement over the bottom of the 3rd.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bad News

The Twins second struggling second-baseman Alexi Casilla down to the minors today. This is bad news for two reasons. First, it means he'll probably return. Let's hope by then he's at least conquered his fear of the ball in the field. Second, the alternative, Matt Tolbert, isn't much of an improvement. Let's no kid ourselves. Gardy will find every excuse he can to play him ahead of Harris. Tolbert will conveniently go 3-4 with a pair of doubles in one of his first games and do nothing after that.

Earlier this decade, I was one of few to defend Luis Rivas when most fans complained about how lousy he was. A second baseman with great defense, a .260 batting average and five to ten home runs would look pretty good right now. That's not to say they should have kept Rivas, but as second-basemen go, he was at least adequate.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mauer's Return

Joe Mauer returned to the lineup on Friday scheduled to bat third. Many had thought he would bat second, and Morneau and Kubel would remain in their respective positions. I respect Gardy patient confidence in Casilla. The manager's tendency to resist knee-jerk decisions likely pays dividends. But Mauer should be batting 2nd with Morneau and Kubel following immediately. Presently, there is no player who has any business hitting between Span and Mauer. You can't possibly want the team's worst hitter, Casilla, to be getting the second most at-bats. If Harris is at second base instead, he fits nicely into the 6th or 7th spot. He's not going to get on-base enough to justify putting him ahead of Mauer, Morneau, and Kubel, but he has enough power that he can be that extra threat after the middle of the order. Punto is doing fine batting 9th, so just leave him alone. I suspect Gardy sees things similarly, but wants to give Casilla another week or so. I doubt we'll be seeing anybody from Rochester; Matt Tolbert's .225 batting average leads all infielders for the Red Wings.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Walking In Runs

Usually when I sit down to watch or listen to a ballgame, I intend to follow it to the very last at-bat. If it gets out of hand, I may linger on another station for a few pitches after the commercial break or switch from television to radio, but I still have the game on. There are a few exceptional situations in which I allow myself to immediately bail out. Walking in a run is one of them. Walking all four batters to give up a run in the 11th inning is definitely one of them. Just give up the W$%(*&$#(*% Grand Slam if you really want. Throw the ball over the plate. Realistically, you'll still allow a run, but at least you have a good chance of getting an out.