Thursday, February 26, 2009

Twins Win Spring Opener

With the early afternoon news of Boof Bonser being lost for the 2009 season, the fight for bullpen spots officially began tonight. There were some good looking performances and then there were some not so good performances by some.

Recently acquired Luis Ayala came into the game during the 5th inning allowing one hit in his only inning of work. He got two quick outs and looked very good. I think he will end up as the 7th inning guy or possibly the set-up man for Joe Nathan. But it’s way too early to give a final prediction as to what his role will be.

Justin Jones, the relief pitcher acquired in the Rule V Draft, had a rough night. He also pitched just one inning, as was the case with many pitchers, giving up one earned run on 2 hits. He also walked one batter and struck out another. Small outings like this may not seem like they are a big deal, but they add up quick and before you know it, you are on the outside looking in.

There were many good performances by some of the Twins hitters, but the one that stuck out the most to me tonight was the hitting by third baseman, Brian Buscher. With all the talk of Joe Crede and who would enter 2009 as the Twins starting third baseman, it might get in his head and affect his performance. Well tonight he was able to look past that and go 2-for-2 as well as scoring a run. Even though Buscher could very well start in Triple-A Rochester, having a strong Spring performance could get him a shot to stay at the Major League Level.

Minnesota will face Cincinnati today at 1:05 EST. Lineups to be released towards game time.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Boof Bonser Lost For Season

What originally the Twins thought was maybe just a sore arm or something minor, turned out to be a major injury. Boof Bonser had surgery to try to figure out what was causing his arm soreness and pain. Well it turns out Boof had a torn labrum and torn rotator cuff in the right shoulder. Recovery time will be six to eight months, so count him out for the 2009 season.

The interesting thing about this is that he had two seperate MRIs performed on that shoulder and they came up clean. Usually you see this right away on the MRIs, but I guess not this time. This will open the competition up for the bullpen much more and will make things very interesting.

I will continue to keep you updated on this story as more information is reported.

On an happier note, here are the starting lineups for tonight's game against Boston:

Spring Training Preview

Spring Training will arrive in full force today as exhibition games begin. Every team can put the 2008 season behind them once and for all. However, that could be tough to do for the Minnesota Twins. They came within one game of making the playoffs last year, but fell short in the tie-breaking game with Chicago. But we can’t dwell in the past, as today marks the start of what I think will be a very exciting year for the Twins.

There weren’t any off-season moves made until last week when the Twins signed Joe Crede to become their full-time third baseman. A lot of people are afraid his back problems will flair up during the season, but I have a feeling he will remain healthy all year and provide that right handed power that they desperately need. He will play his first game as Twin on Friday. The Twins just want to give him time to test out his back and get adjusted to the team before throwing him out there.

Despite the fact that the Twins only signed one bullpen arm this off-season, in Luis Ayala. I believe this was a good signing. Although he struggled last season, he has shown that he can be a decent 8th inning guy, if needed. The Twins and their fans also learned this week that Boof Bonser will be out for a while as he will have exploratory surgery on his shoulder. He had reported soreness towards the end of last season and he wanted to rest it during the winter and see how it was in Spring Training. So this makes the Ayala signing that much better.

With the World Baseball Classic back for its second go around, the Twins will be without a few key players this spring. This will give some prospects to show the fans and the front office a glimpse of the future. Some of the names that will be participating in the World Baseball Classic and thus not playing Spring Training games are: Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain, Luis Ayala, Justin Morneau, and Nick Punto.

With Nathan, Crain and Ayala participating, this will set up a competition to see who might be capable of being part of the Twins bullpen. Another interesting note is that Twins Manager, Ron Gardenhire has speculated that he may go with just an 11-man pitching staff. So with the five starters set (Liriano, Baker, Blackburn, Perkins, and Slowey), this leaves 6 relief spots. But with Nathan, Crain, Ayala, Guerrier, Breslow set. This leaves that one spot with many candidates. So in my opinion, this will be the competition to watch this Spring.

Who starts in the outfield on Opening Day? That is a question many Twins fans have been wondering all winter. With the emergence of Denard Span last Spring, it will be very interesting to see if he can repeat that performance this year. The only difference is, he likely won’t be fighting Carlos Gomez for the center field job. I fully expect Carlos to be the Opening Day center fielder. This leaves left field and right field to be decided this Spring. There are three candidates for these two spots; Michael Cuddyer, Delmon Young, and Denard Span. With Cuddyer’s strong arm in right field, I would keep him there, assuming he gets the start on Opening Day.

Now the real decision comes in left field. Do you give it to Delmon Young, a right handed batter that has power potential? Or do you give it to Denard Span, who was a good lead-off hitter last year? I think Gardenhire will think this one over up until Opening Day. I think Span will win the job in the long run, but nothing is set in stone yet. We could very well see a platoon in left field with Delmon and Denard, but that is just an idea. So my guess is the outfield will be Span-Gomez-Cuddyer.

So there is a lot of interesting items to keep an eye on this Spring, but there is one piece that is very important. That would be the health of Joe Mauer. On Tuesday, he swung the bat for the first time since his procedure in December. He reported pain-free, which is a great sign, but expect the Twins to continue to take this at a day-by-day situation. Twins fans likely won’t see much of Joe this Spring, so this will open the door for fans to see Wilson Ramos. He is regarded as one of the Twins best hitting prospects. So it will be fun to watch what he will bring to the Twins when he eventually reaches the Majors.

These are the major storylines to follow during the Spring Training games. The Twins open against the Boston Red Sox tonight at 7:05 PM EST. Glen Perkins will get the start tonight.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Joe Crede Is a Twin

After many weeks and even months of talk about Joe Crede becoming the Minnesota Twins third baseman for the 2009 season, it has finally happened. The deal was first reported by SI’s Jon Heyman and later confirmed by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The contract is worth 2.5 million dollars with incentives that could increase the contract to 7 million dollars.

Many of the Twins fans were questioning whether Joe was worth the estimated 5-7 million dollars that we were hearing about since the start of these talks. It appears that the Orlando Hudson signing, 3.4 million dollars, with Arizona made this deal possible. That deal didn’t help Scott Boras, who represents Joe, to try and get the 7 million he wanted.

I commend Bill Smith greatly for getting this deal done, as I was a fan of the Twins signing Crede from the very beginning. Toss in the fact that it’s only worth 2.5 million dollars right now and that is possibly Bill’s best move as the Twins GM. With this move, Brian Buscher will more than likely be sent down to the Twins Triple-A affiliate, Rochester, while Brendan Harris will become a utility player for the Twins.

Joe Crede will probably be the #5 hitter behind Justin Morneau in the lineup, thus bumping Kubel and Cuddyer down one spot. If Crede can stay healthy, I predict he will hit .270 with 19 HRs and 68 RBI.

Juan Cruz Update: I have been hearing that the Twins and Diamondbacks are close on an agreement for a sign-and-trade deal that would bring relief pitcher, Juan Cruz to the Twins. I will update this as I get more information.

Also look for a player interview very soon. To give you a hint, he is a top 5 Twins prospect that could be with the Twins in 2010. So keep an eye out for that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Spring Training Update #1

Although only pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training so far, there are already a few stories coming out of Ft. Myers, Florida. The Lee County Complex is the headquarters for the Minnesota Twins during Spring Training and that is where all the news will be coming out up until Opening Day. There has been some comforting news and some not so comforting news thus far.

Let’s start with the comforting news. There are indications that Twins south-paw, Francisco Liriano may decide to pull out of the World Baseball Classic and practice with the rest of the Twins team in Ft. Myers. No official decision has been made, but I bet Francisco will stay and get up to speed. Although the Twins Front Office won’t force him to pull or prevent him from playing, they must be very happy about this news. I think this is a very smart move for Francisco, because he would get more done in Ft. Myers than he would be if he was just pitching once every 5 games.

Another bit of possible comforting news for all Twins fans is that we may be getting very close to signing Joe Crede. If you ask any Twins official, they will continue to deny it, but there are strong indications it could be a matter of days. The San Francisco Giants have even come out and said they feel the Twins will sign Crede. The Giants have been the only other known suitor for Joe’s services, but you never know what agent Scott Boras has up his sleeve. So if you ask, I think the Twins will sign Joe by the beginning of next week.

Now onto the not so comforting news out of Twins camp thus far. The first item is the continuing recovery of Joe Mauer. Back in December Joe underwent surgery to fix a kidney problem he has had since childhood. Now it was nothing serious, but they want him to take it easy and not rush back into the baseball mode yet. Although it seems Joe will be healthy at Opening Day, there is that small chance he could miss Opening Day. I will continue to keep you updated on this situation.

The last item is bullpen related. This past week Boof Bonser received a cortisone shot in his right shoulder to try and help with what he calls “a heavy case of tendinitis”. He will begin some light throwing on Wednesday and hopefully get up to full speed. But with the struggles of the bullpen last year, this is not news we want to hear before any major training begins.

Other than these items, there hasn’t been much development down in Ft. Myers. I will try to get one or two updates per week during Spring Training. I’m also trying to determine how to report during the Regular Season. So if any of you readers out there have any suggestions on how I should report during the season, please let me know. Whether its game recaps every night, or weekly recaps. Any suggestions would be helpful.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My Thoughts on Alex Rodriguez

As many of you out there in the baseball world, or for that matter the sporting world, you have probably heard about the reports of Alex Rodriguez testing positive for steroids in 2003. This is a big blow to the baseball world, as he was expected to become the true homerun king. He was supposed to be the breath of fresh air for baseball and allow people to forget about Barry Bonds. Well, all you people hoping and praying for that, you will have to pick someone else now.

Although he tested positive during the 2003 season, the year before Major League Baseball put their suspension program into effect, this really tarnishes Alex’s career. Now, I have been hearing people saying, “Well, this information was never supposed to get out to the public. They were sealed documents”. I’m sorry, but you can’t pull that stuff. Are you trying to tell me that Major League Baseball was going to cover this up and never let it out?

My first reaction to this news was stunned. I couldn’t believe that Alex Rodriguez illegally took steroids. I was one of those people who at first thought he would allow me to forget about Barry Bonds. But then I thought about it and I always had that gut feeling that he had taken steroids at some point. So I’m not totally shocked by this news, but at the same time it’s disheartening.

What will happen now to baseball? More importantly, what will happen to Alex Rodriguez? Will he go into denial mode like Barry and everyone else who tested positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs? If so, this could be a very nasty cloud hanging over the Yankees all season. Not like I care about the Yankees, but this could be a distraction to the whole organization. So if I was Alex Rodriguez, I would get back from vacation, where he supposedly is, and issue a statement telling the truth. Yes, the truth Alex Rodriguez. We don’t want any of this “well I didn’t know I was injecting myself with something illegal” non-sense.

So my question(s) to all you out there is “Who is next?” or “Will there ever be a clean homerun king in baseball post Aaron-era?” I hope so, but one thing I do know is, I will never stop watching, reading, learning about the game of baseball due to steroids and scandals.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Twins Sign Luis Ayala

Congratulations Bill Smith. You finally made a move during the post-season that I don’t disagree with. The Twins and pitcher Luis Ayala reached a 1 year, 1.3 million dollar contract on Thursday. Luis will provide more relief to Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain than anyone else in the bullpen. Both Guerrier and Crain both had to pick up the slack for Pat Neshek due to injury last year.

Last year Luis made 81 appearances with the Washington Nationals and New York Mets. He had a record of 2-10, along with nine saves. His ERA was much too high at 5.71. That will probably bring into doubt as to why Smith would make this signing. After talking with a fellow baseball mind in Joe DeMayo, who happens to me a Mets guru and followed Ayala as a Met, I feel that this was a good signing for the Twins.

If I was the Twins, my bullpen would consist of Bonser, Guerrier, Crain, Mijares, Breslow, Nathan, and Ayala. This leaves Humber on the outside looking in. Humber however is out of minor league options, so he would have to accept assignment in order to be sent to Triple-A Rochester. It should be interesting to see what the Twins do with him, as he was part of the Johan Santana deal.

Joe Mauer Contract Situation

Starting this Spring, I feel the Twins must sit down with Joe Mauer and/or his agent and begin to discuss a new contract with the All-Star catcher. His current contract is due to expire after the 2010 season and teams are already starting to talk about going after Joe if he were to reach free agency. Most notably, the Red Sox have already begun to plan for Mauer's arrival in Boston. They signed Jason Varitek to a 1 year deal with an option for 2010. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Twins fans, along with myself, are starting to have flashbacks to the Johan Santana fiasco. Now, we all know Santana wanted a ton of money, as we saw with the Mets giving him that large contract. But I don't expect Mauer to demand nearly as much, but he will still want a good amount. That is why the Twins need to start discussing this now and not wait until next Spring.

Not only would the fans be upset if Mauer does in fact not remain in Minnesota, but the front office would feel this due to merchandise revenue falling. Mauer is without a doubt the face of this franchise. But then again this is Minnesota and we have had many "faces of the franchise" leave. Do Kevin Garnett, Johan Santana, or Torii Hunter ring a bell? I hope and pray that Joe Mauer does not join this list.

Figuring Out Third Base

With just a couple weeks to go before Spring Training arrives, the Twins have failed to improve upon a position that has been a question mark since 2004. Some might say that the Twins are just fine with the team that we have right now, which is the mirror image of the 2008 roster. As much as I loved to watch this team last year get within one game of the playoffs, I felt as though we needed to bring in a player or two. If you would have asked me at the start of the off-season what our biggest need was, I would have said, “getting an everyday third baseman”. Well it’s been three months and that has not changed. We still have a few weeks, so I will discuss a few options that the Twins can explore.

The Twins have been looking for a consistent, everyday third baseman since Corey Koskie left the Twins after the 2004 season. Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris, Tony Batista are just a few of the names that have attempted to fill that void at third base. Last season, Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris split time at third base and did a decent job. Combined they hit .274 with 11 homeruns and drove in 96 runs. These two aren’t known for their power at the plate, so driving in 96 runs is pretty darn good considering they only hit 11 homeruns. But, if we expect to fight with the Red Sox or Yankees in the post-season, we will need the power at that position.

There aren’t many options left in the free agency market for the third base position, but one name has been brought up time and again this winter. Joe Crede has been mentioned by the Twins and their fans throughout the winter. After hitting 20 or more homeruns in three straight seasons, he had major back problems during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. So that is probably keeping the Twins from signing him to a one year deal this winter. There is also the question of how he would adjust to the turf at the Metrodome and if that would have any effect on his ailing back, which he says is getting better.

Recently, the Twins sent a few of their scouts down to Arizona to watch Crede taking batting and fielding. The scouts felt that they needed to see more before having the front office offer a contract. There is also another catch with Joe Crede and that is his agent, Scott Boras. As well all know by now, Scott is always looking for the big bucks, but what agent isn’t. The Twins really have to ask themselves though, “Do we really want to give Crede a 5-7 million dollar deal for one year?”. If I was the Twins, I would think about this a little bit longer, but also keep an eye out for other teams who may be interest.

The Twins will continue to explore their options at third base, but I have a feeling they will stick with Buscher and Harris. However, this could all change if the right deal or free agent comes around. But I have learned not to expect much from the Twins, but never say never.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Off-Season Thoughts

            Before I begin to share my thoughts about the off-season, I would like to take a moment to remember Twins owner, Carl Pohlad. Carl passed away this winter at the age of 93. He was a very loyal owner throughout the years. He brought us two World Series championships (1987 and 1991). After many years of battle with the Minnesota government, he also delivered us a new ballpark, which will open next season. So I greatly thank the Pohlad family and especially Carl for keeping the Twins in Minnesota.

            As the off-season winds down and Spring Training approaches, the Twins don’t have much to figure out on who will be making the team and who will be sent to Triple-A Rochester. This was a typical off-season for the Twins with very little movement in the free agent market or trade market. Twins fans have grown accustom to not expecting much during the off-season over the last several years, but somehow continue to support the team and their winning ways.

            One of the highlights of the Twins off-season was the re-signing of shortstop Nick Punto. The Twins and Nick agreed upon a 2 year, 8.5 million dollar contract with a 5 million dollar club option for the 2011 season. After hitting a miserable .210 in 2007, Nick regained his confidence and hit .284 during the 2008 campaign. So maybe he deserved a new contract. His defense is what really stands out on the field though. He is one of those players that you never know what he will do when a groundball is between him and the third baseman. Only time will tell though if this was a good move by Bill Smith.

            The one thing that bothered me all winter, were all the Delmon Young trade talks. For only having him one year, I don’t see why we would get rid of him that quick. So what if he had a slow start to the season. He was with a new team and just getting adjusted to how the Twins play small ball. In the second half of the season, he started to show us why he was voted the A.L. Rookie of the Year in 2007. If I’m the Twins, I hold onto this guy for at least a few more seasons, and then see where he is at. Of all the rumors that were centered around Delmon, not one of them was legitimate. One of the first rumors was a Matt Cain-for-Delmon Young deal with San Francisco. That would have helped us with pitching, but the Twins would have likely needed to toss in quite a bit more to get Cain from the Giants. As we all know, we already ripped them off once in the Pierzynski trade. So they likely will be very careful if they were to ever deal with us again. So, before we get any further into Delmon trade talks, lets give the guy a break and see how he performs in the 2009 season.

            Another thing I wish the Twins would have improved on this winter was the bullpen. With the loss of Pat Neshek for the 2009 season due to Tommy John Surgery, we don’t have that set-up man that we need before Nathan comes in. I was hoping that would be the focus point for Bill Smith this off-season, but not much happened with that. We did take a middle reliever by the name of Jason Jones in the Rule 5 Draft. Other than Jason, we will have to rely on the arms we had in 2008, along with a few candidates from the minors. I would say Guerrier, Crain, Breslow, Korecky, and Mijares are safe bets to make the team. So that leaves us with likely one ore spot to make it 12 pitchers on the Opening Day Roster. Some of the possibilities are Philip Humber, R.A. Dickey, and Brian Duensing. There had been talk of Eric Gagne signing, but the Twins backed out at the last minute, so hopefully Bill has something in the works to acquire a relief pitcher.

            Overall this off-season, on a scale of 1-10, I am at about a 7 of how satisfied I am with what Bill has done this winter. But I should be used to this by now after living and following the Twins since I moved to Minnesota in 1995. But then again, we weren’t expected to do well last year and we were one game away from the playoffs. Yes, I’m still bitter about the whole “who gets the home game” idea. So who knows how the 2009 Twins will do in their last season at the Homer Dome. </span>