Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Talkin' Twins

With baseball camps starting to open up and baseball preview magazines hitting the store shelves I can't help but to have my thoughts turn to baseball (and the fact that the Gophers are driving me crazy isn't helping).  Here are my quick thoughts (ok, probably not quick) on the team this season, position-by-position:

CATCHER:  Joe Mauer is going to be who Joe Mauer be, which means he'll probably hit around .330 and OBP over .400 - both outstanding numbers for a catcher.  The real question is if he has power more like in 2009, or is the 2010 version the real one.  Personally, I think 2009 was a bit of a fluke, but I think he has more power than we saw in 2010, although it's harder to see thanks to the power reducing abilities in Target Field.  I would put his HR total OVER/UNDER at 10.5, but as long as he keeps banging out those doubles his other numbers make him one of the most valuable players in the game.  And are we really going with Drew Butera at back-up catcher again?  Seeing as how he's the only other catcher on the 40-man roster and both of the other intriguing options (Morales, Ramos) were shipped off I guess so.  I mean, I like the guy, he's excellent defensively and his name is really fun to say, but you could DH for him and let the pitcher bat instead and at worst that's a lateral move.

CORNER INFIELD:  Was it really just two seasons ago Justin Morneau played in 163 games and finished second in the MVP balloting? It seems amazing given how fragile he's been and missing half a season after getting bumped in the head is a huge red flag.  It's hard to believe it's even possible he won't be ready to opening day, but then again I said the same thing about last August, September, and October.  Plus, we already know from Corey Koskie that the only reason somebody born in Canada plays baseball instead of hockey is because they can't take a hit, so temper your expectations, I've got a bad feeling about this.

As far as third base goes I liked what I saw out of Danny Valencia last year, but I didn't quite see enough to be ready to hand the job over to him for the next five years.  I'm also not sure what other options they have because Matt Tolbert should never, ever start a game and the only other 3B on the 40-man roster is Luke Hughes, but it's starting to look less and less likely that he's the guy.  I do like Valencia, and his second half numbers were still good and probably more what we're likely to see this year.  If the power he showed in September carries over, the Twins will likely have a very good defensive third baseman who hits .280/.320/.460.  Solid, but not spectacular.  Like Reese Witherspoon or Chipotle.

MIDDLE INFIELD:   I can't wait to hear Dick and Bert butcher Tsuyoshi Nishioka's name over and over again.  I guarantee that they come up with a nickname within a week of the season opener, probably something as simple as Yoshi, which is fine as long as it's not the next Kaz Matsui, which is what he's known as around my house.  Maybe I've just been beaten down by scrappy, light-hitting middle infielders with little to no plate discipline for so long that I have the same confidence in him that Jerry's mechanic has in that gasket.

And speaking of light hitting middle infielders, Alexi Casilla will get another chance to start, because as Lindsay Lohan and Dean Koontz have proven if you just keep giving second and third chances things will eventually work out.  Seriously, how is Dean Koontz on the best-sellers list all the time?  I read about 10 of his books just thinking I must have grabbed his bad ones and kept waiting to read a good one and I never found one.  Servants of Twilight was decent, but everything else is just total crap you'd have to have a brain injury or the intelligence of a lamp to enjoy.  Family Guy is mostly stupid and written for cretins, but I laughed my ass off during and episode right after Stephen King got hit by a car when Peter hit somebody with his car and goes "was that Stephen King?" and Lois says "No, it was Dean Koontz" and Peter puts the car in reverse and runs him over again.  Suck it, Koontzy.   

OUTFIELD:  Here we go again.  A bunch of mediocre to kind of good bats packaged along with terrible terrible terrible defense.  Honestly, with Young, Span, and Kubel out there if there was a contest between those three and Carlos Gomez all by himself who do you think would catch more fly balls?

Defense aside, Span is the biggest concern and he really needs to be more like his 2009 self than last year's version.  His walk rate dipped last year from 12.2% and 10.5% in 2008 and 2009 down to 8.5% last year and after walking 17 times in April he walked just 16 times in May & June combined and 17 times in September & October combined.  Basically he stopped walking and starting flying out too much.  He is absolutely a key to this team and needs to be their table-setter.

He also needs to find a way to get better defensively, because he needs to cover for the three corner guys:  Jason Kubel, Delmon Young, and Michael Cuddyer.  Young finally put up an offensive year his potential said was there, and although it feels like the kind of thing you can't quite trust, in fact he put up the best year of his career in the same year where his BABIP was at his career low.  Yes, low.  Meaning with a little more luck he could have had even better numbers.  I actually anticipate his power going down a bit, because I think that surge we saw was a little more fluky than anything else, but I can easily see him hitting .320 or so over the course of the year with 40 or so doubles and 15 homers.  That's a very, very good year.  If he ever figures out some plate discipline he would have a chance at being truly dangerous.

Kubel I don't know about anymore.  He's one of the best on the team when it comes to plate discipline, but regressed quite a bit from his career year in 2009.  A lot of that can be attributed to a BABIP of just .280, 20 points lower than his career mark, and he should be able to bounce back to something closer to that 2009 version than last year's, but the real problem is that Kubes continues to be absolutely dreadful against lefties and at this point I don't think you can wait for him to snap out of it.  If he's in the lineup even once against a left-handed pitcher it's one time too many.

Finally, Cuddy will be returning to the outfield, assuming Canada-boy gets himself back into play, and that's not exactly a good thing.  I know he's a great teammate and his ability and willingness to play any position where he's needed is an excellent quality to have, and he's got a great arm.  He is also nearly as slow as Young or Kubel and still refuses to lay off the outside slider in the dirt with two strikes despite the fact that every single pitcher throws it at him every single time he has two strikes on him.  Honest to god, how do people watch Mark Reynolds day-in and day-out?  Cuddyer doesn't strike out nearly as often as Reynolds, but he just makes me so angry.  I'm not even especially anti-strikeout, even if they are fascist, but he just looks so weak and over-matched when he does it.  At least Adam Dunn has the decency to swing hard when he misses a ball by 2 feet.

DH/BENCH:  Jim Thome should basically have the DH locked down.  I'd say the Twins would be better off sitting him against lefties, but what's your other option?  I already mentioned Butera and Tolbert, neither of whom could get a hit even if they were married to Whitney Houston.  And, assuming they carry 11 pitchers, they only other player on the bench will be Jason Repko.  I secretly love Repko and have even used his name as a password on an account for something or other, but sometimes reality sets in and I remember he OPSed just .671 last year, a number basically identical to Tolbert, even if Repko seems like 10x the hitter Tolby is.  So basically this is a pretty damn shallow bench. 

STARTERS:  Pretty underwhelming here, yeah?  I hate that they're just rolling with the same group, although I can't really come up with any kind of master plan to make it any better, but lame, right?  Baker is a #3/#4 on most teams, Slowey is a #4, Pavano - although I'm glad to have him back - is a #3, and Blackburn should be in AAA.  We still don't know how good Duensing can be, but I think his absolute upside is a #3, which leaves Liriano for the excitement factor, and the Twins seem to be doing everything they can to try to make sure he isn't in their long term plans, which is ludicrous considering his 3.62 ERA last year was basically a worst case scenario based looking at his other stats - Aaron Gleeman breaks it all down better than I ever could here.  Is it a good enough rotation to win the Central even though it's not as good as Chicago's group?  Yes.  Good enough to win the World Series?  Well, I'll just wait for Kyle Gibson while I ponder that one.  But no.

CLOSER:  I'd imagine that Matt Capps will start the year as the closer with Joe Nathan getting eased in, but if Nathan looks close to form he'll slide back into his old job.  That's as it should be since Nathan can be unhittable at times and has stuff Cappsy can only dream about.  And a full season of Nathan, regular season only I mean, makes me feel pretty good.  A full season of Capps makes me feel sweaty and nervous, like a fat girl before her first aerobics class.  Don't you fear he's got a little bit of Bobby Jenks in him?  Like, he's just a half mph or half inch or a little bit worse luck away from a 6.00 ERA?  To put it another way, if Nathan is even 90% back from injury his downside is basically Cappsy's upside.

BULLPEN:  As much as I don't love Capps as a closer, I think he's a good option as a set-up guy and that's good because if the starters are underwhelming the bullpen is just a picture of guy with a thought balloon and in that balloon is a question mark.  Basically other than Capps and Jose Mijares we have one gigantic guessing game, with the biggest question being, "Why the holy hell did they essentially get rid of Rob Delaney in order to grab Dusty Mother Effing Hughes, somebody so bad at pitching a baseball that the KC Royals didn't even want him?"  And who is Scott Diamond and why, by taking him in the Rule 5 draft, is he good enough to warrant a guaranteed spot on the major league active roster?  Jim Hoey is getting a lot of play as a guy who could be a big-time setup guy, but he hasn't pitched in the majors since 2007 and owns a career ERA over 8.  What about Neshek in year 2 since his elbow fell off?  Is Glen Perkins head on straight and is his stuff good enough to become a reliable bullpen option?  Can Anthony Slama's mustache get anybody out, or is he your classic AAAA type player?  Is Alex Burnett a mop-up/long relief type who won't embarrass you or something more?  Are Jeff Manship and Anthony Swarzak future starters, relievers, or ushers?  Why did Eric Hacker get a major league contract?

I mean, look at this.  That's what, 9 possible guys for 3-4 spots and doesn't even take into account that they have 6 non-Gibson starters for five spots.  I guess the one big positive is that they do have a lot of options, so maybe that increases the odds that enough of them work out to make this a viable, quality bullpen.  Sort of like increasing your chances of winning the Powerball by buying two tickets instead of one.

OVERALL OUTLOOK:  I don't know, man, it seems like everywhere I look the Twins are getting picked to win the central again, but I don't know.  It feels to me like the White Sox and Tigers did more this offseason and it wouldn't take much to push either of those teams out ahead of the Twins.  I haven't really broken down the rosters to really get a clear view, but right now it feels like the downside is a rough year and third place division finish, while the upside is a narrow division win and a quick exit from the playoffs.  It's hard to get excited about that.  Again.

But you know what?  I'll be watching.  Damn near every game.  And I'll be living and dying on damn near every pitch.  And when I'm fishing up at the cabin the radio will be tuned to the game every damn night.  Because it's the Twins, it's baseball, and I couldn't shake it if I tried.


Sidler said...

I hate the middle infield. Give me Punto over Casilla/Tolbert.

WWWWWW said...

I don't know. Casilla at least has a little potential - emphasis on little. But I'd agree and take Punto over Tolbert.

Can we all agree to call Yoshi "A poor man's Kaz Matsui?"

John R said...

That bench is putrid. Weak, non-fast hitters. DH is concerning, too. 41-year old Thome's best option for days off is against lefties but then who do you put in there, Kubel? Repko? Yuck.

The (unfortunate) reason we brought in guys like Hacker, Dusty Hughes, Jeff Bailey, etc. is because we were forced to promote players too quickly due to MLB promotions and injuries. This did not bode well for guys like Deolis Guerra for example. Our AA and AAA teams lost close to 200 games last season if I'm not mistaken. Without looking it up, I would bet every team in the division exceeded that with their high level minor league teams.

We need to win now and that requires matching or exceeding the moves of teams like the White Sox or Tigers. It's even more frightful to think of what potential playoff opponents such as the Red Sox pulled off this offseason.

WWWWWW said...

Well that was pretty god damned depressing, John R. And 100% accurate. I wish I hated baseball.

Dharma Bum said...

I agree with everything you said which scares the hell out of me. The only thing I'll quibble with is I don't mind the bullpen strategy. I didn't like paying capps that much but at least it's just for one year so we can get rid of him when he sucks. I think throwing out those 9 arms and seeing who has a good year is a good strategy for the bullpen.

snacks said...

I hate agreeing with DB more than anything in the world, but he's right about the bullpen. Remember last year around this time when all of you idiots were freaking out about not having a closer after Nathan got hurt and I told you you were all being idiots and anyone can close? Well that turned out just fine, even before they picked up Capps. You don't need established big league relievers to be successful. There are a million guys out there who can come in and effectively get three outs. Makes sense just to throw as many as we've got out there to find the ones that are more effective.

WWWWWW said...

Please point out where I said the bullpen was going to be terrible or anything similar.

John R said...

Odd as it is, and for as many key guys as we lost this offseason, the bullpen is not much of a concern for me. I think Burnett, Neshek, Perkins, Mijares, Capps, Nathan and a failed starter/AAAA guy will work out just fine. We will also score a lot of runs, maybe more than last year. What I'm worried about is a. the starting rotation, which leads me to b. someone instilling a (and I hate this term but) killer instinct in this team. I respect the hell out of playing the game "the right way" but there seems to be a disturbing lack of pride and fight in these guys when they are asked to exceed expectation. That HAS to be placed on the coaching staff does it not? If I was a manager/pitching coach and saw the weak and feeble demeanor that I see on Scott Baker's face when he gets pulled after 5 2/3 innings, I would not stand for it.

I don't think it's any coincidence that the only apparent remnants of the Dougie Baseball/A.J./Torii/Radke attitude/style of play are in Morneau. It was instilled in him by those guys. And funny - that inspired 2002 team was Tom Kelly's doing, not Gardy's - regardless of the shift in power. What have we done since then?

WWWWWW said...

If this is just another way to say Gardy sucks, I whole-heartedly agree.

John R said...

Yeah I tend to get long winded when I don't want confront reality. Very Brett Favre press conference like.

Kate J said...

This post had me hiking my fat ass over to the High Bridge thinking it might be time to throw in the towel. (and myself--into the river, that is...)

I am appalled that I can even say this, but I hate this team. Hate it. How supposed "baseball people" keep picking them to win the division I do not know. I am not much of a fatalist, but really, it's a little ridiculous to consider the moves that the other teams in our division (say nothing else about other certain-to-be-playoff-teams in both leagues) vs. the absolute complacency the Twins have shown.

Are we to be completely won over by the Pavano signing? Swooning over Thome? Salivating about Matsui-Nishioka? This team hemorrhaged pitching this offseason, did not make any quality starting rotation additions or acquire any RH bats off of the bench. Jason Repko? Love him, seriously weird baseball crush, but yeah, not gonna be an impact bat.

Still looking forward to getting my tickets in the mail in a few weeks. Hopefully this news about Miguel Cabrera getting a DUI will bouy my spirits.

John R said...

Cabrera's mugshot is classic. Damnit man I'm always arguing with football/basketball fans that baseball is a superior sport because crap like this doesn't happen!

WTF?: Asked by the officer who was with him, Cabrera said, "I am going to (expletive) kill him."

I also have a strange feeling that Leyland doesn't just huff down a heater when he disappears into the clubhouse during the game. He's probably taking a swig of something as well.

"Do you know who I am?!"

... go spring. go baseball. go twins.

snacks said...

Did you expect the Twins to sign Cliff Lee? Or trade the whole farm system for Greinke? Get real. There were no realistic moves available to upgrade the rotation - many "experts" had Pavano as the second best starter on the market. While the current rotation is not exactly lights out, they are all experienced and above average. Could be a lot worse.

WWWWWW said...

Did you read what I wrote at all, or are you talking to somebody else?

snacks said...

somebody else

John R said...

I didn't expect the Twins to sign Cliff Lee, no. But I expected them to make a serious offer for him at the trade deadline last year. Word on the street is that the GM for the Mariners was so offended by our initial offer that he ended discussions right then and there. Nice. And FYI we didn't have what it takes to get Greinke. Even though I think the Royals got Brewered in that deal. No matter. They'll rule the AL Central '13-'20.

Nishioka won't wear our uniform or practice on the same field as his teammates. This is my main concern. He better be Ichiro. Except a winner.

"While the current rotation is not exactly lights out, they are all experienced and above average. Could be a lot worse." - you just epitomized the organization's approach to pitching.

Anyone else miss Brad Radke?

Kate said...

No. I did not expect the Twins to go after either Greinke or Lee. I'm a rube to be sure, but not a moronic rube.

I just don't think it's acceptable to expect Twins fans to be excited about re-signing Carl Pavano. Sure, he pitched well last season, but if there is a team that has had any less luck than the Twins with players having "career years" and then absolutely tanking immediately afterward, I'm not sure who that team is. Same goes with Thome.

I guess, with all of the extra income generated from Target Field, I thought they would try to make a splash somewhere. They are not (with the exception of Gibson-who will be here in June) especially deep in starting pitching (or any pitching for that matter) in AAA specifically, but also throughout the organization.

We also know how injury prone our starting rotation is--Baker already has elbow issues, Liriano has "tweaked" his arm and will need to alter his throwing program, and yeah.

I guess I just think that they could have done more this offseason--looking at what other teams in our division did to get better and then looking at Pavano / Thome just doesn't do much for me.

Sorry if I came across like an idiot--I'll try to keep myself a little more under control.

Already missing sliding into 1st said...

Kate, you're a woman talking about sports, there's no other way for you to come across.