Thursday January 15, 2004
TIMBERWOLVES TOPPLE SPURS
DISCUSSION QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Note - be sure to check out this week’s Discussion Questions, and if you would like to participate and share your opinions with me, e-mail me and your thoughts will be posted on this site tomorrow! Thanks and enjoy today’s posting on the 2004 Minnesota Twins.
WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THE TWINS???
From Leslie Monteiro:
What's your take on the Twins as we get ready for spring training soon? Jim Souhan wrote a good article on the state of the Twins and it's not really a good one. Twins are so thin on the starting pitching. Who knows if they can hit? I think their bullpen will be fine with Silva and Nathan. Twins got so many questions marks and I am not sure if they can answer em. They are lucky to be in the AL Central. I have my doubts. Souhan and Reusse have painted a bad picture for the 2004 season. I think the Twins will have a winning season like winning 83 games and that's basically it. No playoffs this year. If Ron Gardenhire can lead them in the playoffs, then it's time for Gardenhire critics to shut up for good.
From Tim Gibson:
When reading your page today, you caused me to realize that I am (at this point) no longer thrilled about the Stewart contract. I guess that I never really believed that Pohlad would stand so firmly on that salary line, I figured that he would cough up another 4-6 million ... as a fellow businessman, I can understand why he would stand firm, but as a fan, I am disappointed. There are big holes in the pitching, they are clinging tightly to a overflow of OFers & there is no money to be found. As much as I am frustrated by Reusse's negative nellie columns, I really think that he is closer to the truth than he is a doomsaying chicken little. When you compare the moves made by the rest of the central, the Twins are looking at a 'transition year' as Terry Ryan stated. The Twins fighting it out for 3rd or 4th place is not a terribly unrealistic notion. I suppose that Helling could somehow be reinvigorated by playing so close to home, but I think that is a big gamble.
I hope that I am utterly & completely wrong.
From Pat Lewis:
Here is my gut thinking. Pohlad imposed a $55 million cap for salaries in 2004. Frankly I truly think he wants it much lower than that. And I think he will then kick in some money for the new ballpark and make himself look to be a hero with that gesture. Pack them in the first two or three years of the new venue which I think will turn out to be a terrific ballpark. Make a ton of money, point out to prospective buyers the drawing power of the team in their new digs, then sell to someone for a ridiculous figure.
Pardon me for being so cynical but tell me I am wrong and point out to me why I am. I hope I am proven wrong about the situation.
SETH’S THOUGHTS (BEWARE!!!)
I have received a LOT of e-mails like the above from Twins fans who are incredibly frustrated with the direction the Twins organization has proceeded in this offseason. So what are my thoughts about the Twins right now? I’ll try to answer that question as best I can.
The first point I have to make is that I am an eternal optimist. I figure that today’s date is January 15. Pitchers and catchers don’t even report for another month. So, I may frustrate some of you by being too positive. That’s just me, and that is how I choose to feel at this point.
There are many situations that have created such a negative feeling about the Twins. The Souhan article was probably very honest. The Twins are unlikely to make more moves. But does that concern me? Not really. Yes, I would have preferred they do a few things differently. I wish they would have resigned LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado with the money it took to resign Shannon Stewart and a couple of minor league contract guys. The Stewart signing, coupled with Terry Ryan’s inability to trade Jacque Jones has created a glut of outfielders. I am incredibly frustrated by that situation. The fact that Eric Milton was traded in essentially a complete salary dump is upsetting.
But what does it all mean? Where do I think the Twins stand as of today?? I need to break things down a little bit to discuss this, so here we go:
It is cluttered out there. And, I think that two or three of these guys need to go! But, looking at the situation and the depth for just the 2004 season is encouraging. A starting outfield of Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones is great! Stewart provided a spark from the leadoff position and always hits .300. Torii Hunter should hit better next season. How can he not? Even in a poor season, he hit almost 30 homers. Jones is still rumored to be traded, but if he is around, he will hit .300, and if he stays healthy is sure to hit 20-25 home runs, if not more. All three have incredible range out in the outfield. Torii Hunter is the best defensive outfielder in the American League and has a strong, accurate arm. To summarize, that outfield has the ability to be very good!
Where the questions come is with the depth. Michael Cuddyer is all but assured a roster spot, especially since he can also play two or three infield positions as well. Michael Ryan is probably going to take a spot because he is left-handed and can be a bat off the bench. Like Souhan said, it comes down to Michael Restovich and Lew Ford for that other outfield spot. Restovich had a strong winter league season, so the assumption is he is leading that race. Resto also played well when called upon for the Twins last year. But Lew Ford played incredibly in his chances in 2003. He missed time due to injury, but I think the club knows what he can do. I think that he could be a solid leadoff hitter if needed. He could have had a good Winter League season too, if not for a wrist injury.
My point is this: For 2004, the Twins have seven very solid outfield options. My thinking that two should be traded this year is because next year, Josh Rabe and Jason Kubel could be ready. Then what?
Who knows what to think about this group? One thing we know is that Doug Mientkiewicz will play a great defensive first base! We know that Corey Koskie will play a great defensive third base. Those two things might be all we know though.
Because of that, I will let my positivity take over! I think that Doug Mientkiewicz will continue to hit a lot of doubles and keep his average around .300 while taking a lot of walks. I think that Corey Koskie will stay close to .300 and continue to take a lot of walks and regain some of that power. The keys in both of these situations? Injuries. Mientkiewicz has had wrist problems for a couple of years and it was really painful last year. Hopefully his surgery went well, and he will be able to stay at 100% all year. The situation with Koskie was similar. It seemed like every time he started hitting well, he would get hurt, and it would take awhile for him to regain his form. I believe that if Koskie stays healthy, he will hit and make himself a middle of the order hitter again.
It really is difficult at times to stay positive about the Twins middle infielders. But I’ll try. Luis Rivas turns the double play really quickly. Cristian Guzman had just seven errors last year. That’s all I’ve got. The extra positivity comes from this; Guzman is in a contract season. Maybe that is enough incentive for him to at least make it look like he is trying. I want to see him hit a lot of triples. I don’t care if he doesn’t hit any home runs; I just want to see him hit the ball and run (and bunt for hits sometimes!!!). Here is what ESPN.com’s Jim Baker writes about Guzman in his “Most Entertaining Players” column:
If Cristian Guzman starts smacking triples again at the same rate he was back in 2000-01, then he'll climb to the top of my list. Triples are baseball's most exciting hit and Guzman was on his way to being the latter day King of the Triplers before being slowed by injuries.
I think injuries are one reason. I think his lethargic attitude is another. Maybe the contract situation will push him.
Luis Rivas signed for $1.5 million for the 2004 season. Believe me, if he does not finally produce something this season, he will be non-tendered following this season. So essentially, this is a contract year for Rivas too.
Matthew Lecroy and Michael Cuddyer could get some time at 1B as well. Obviously a downgrade defensively, but Mientkiewicz does need time off at times. As for the middle infield, the Twins got rookie Nick Punto from the Phillies. He’s done little in the major leagues, but may at least be some competition. Augie Ojeda? Well, he’s got a cool name. Not sure if he’ll make the team.
By the way, I will include Designated Hitter into the infielders. It sounds as though Matthew Lecroy will be the every day DH. I have nothing against this. I am guessing that Justin Morneau will eat up AAA pitching again, and by May or June we’ll be wondering when he will get the call up. Now, I am incredibly high on Morneau. I have written numerous times that, if he is given 500 at bats, he could ‘accidentally hit 30 home runs,’ and I have no doubt about that.
Losing AJ Pierzynski hurts from an offensive perspective (probably), but losing AJ Pierzynski may help the team in immeasurable ways. Getting him out of the clubhouse, away from the teammates, etc., may help the Twins. Joe Mauer is the future. My prediction is that he will hit .280 as a 20 year old rookie. He won’t hit for much power, but that’s ok. He will also take some walks. The key though is that he will have the respect of the pitchers. He will handle the staff very well. The team loves him, and why not? I choose to remain very positive on the future of Joe Mauer!
Henry Blanco will be the backup catcher. He has been around quite some time and has experienced much success. Terry Ryan does seem to do a good job of bringing in ‘character’ guys, so I assume that Blanco is not only able to lead Mauer and some pitchers, but that he will do it well. Also, since he is from Venezuela, he may be of particular help to Johan Santana and Juan Rincon, not to mention Luis Rivas. The negative, as I also pointed out, he is slower than me!
Rob Bowen may fit into the equation at some point in the season if there are any injuries, or should Mauer struggle. He was given little opportunity for the Twins in 2004 to show that he can play, but his offensive game has really come together the last couple of years. Matthew Lecroy could also be called on to catch if absolutely necessary.
We are sure of three things with the starting staff; Brad Radke, Johan Santana and Kyle Lohse. Brad Radke had an incredible post All-Star break last year, and hopefully he will build on that. Johan Santana will finally get a full season as a starter. The Twins have been really slow to make him a full-time starter, and maybe long-term that is a good thing. However, when he is on, he can be as dominant as any pitcher in the American League. Kyle Lohse was incredible in spurts last season. The key for him will to be able to be more consistent throughout the whole season. I think he seemed to learn a lot from his struggles, and should come back stronger.
That is what we know. There is much that we don’t know! 40% of the starting rotation is up for grabs. Who could those two spots go to? Rick Helling? Grant Balfour? Carlos Pulido? Carlos Silva? Juan Rincon? Sean Douglass? Seth Greisinger? Joe Roa? Now, none of those names jump out or make a Twins fan really excited. Rick Helling gives up a lot of hits and homers, but if he even provides the team with 200 innings and an ERA of under 5, he could be very helpful. He has won 20 games in the majors. He has been on winning teams. Grant Balfour certainly has the stuff to be a very good pitcher. Hard thrower, with good ‘stuff’, who can strike out hitters. Carlos Pulido doesn’t have a lot of the “tools” that some have, but based on his incredible AAA season last year, he deserves the chance. Carlos Silva has been discussed as a possible starter. He’s been good in the bullpen the last couple of seasons and will probably get a chance in spring training. The same can be said for Juan Rincon. He was a pleasant bullpen surprise last year for the Twins. He has very good stuff and throws hard. Apparently he is working on a split-fingered pitch, which would give him a third pitch and a better shot at becoming a starter. The others? Well, they are guys that have had a lot of AAA success, and I don’t think they would hurt the Twins if injuries forced them into making a few starts for them
My choices at this point for the 4th and 5th starters? Rick Helling and Grant Balfour. I think that prospect JD Durbin should start at AA or even AAA and if he is experiencing a lot of success early, the Twins brass should not hesitate to call him up and throw him into the rotation.
Losing Eddie Guardado doesn’t bother me at all. Losing LaTroy Hawkins without even making an effort to sign him hurt! Losing BOTH of them is really disappointing. But I can not blame either of them in the least for taking the offers that were presented to them. Fact is, they’re gone, and the Twins have to move on.
Starting with the Closer job. That is also up in the air. Joe Nathan was incredibly dominant as a set-up man for the Giants last year. I believe that he should be given the first shot. I think that he could do very well in that role! If not Nathan, I think that Jesse Crain, and his 98 mph fastball, should be given a very long look at the closer spot. However, the more I think about it, the more I would like to see Jesse Crain spend one year as a set up guy before becoming the closer. Mariano Rivera set up John Wettleland for the Yankees when they won the 1996 World Series. Wettleland left via free agency and Rivera was ready for the new role. That pattern should be used with Crain as well, if possible.
What about the rest of the ‘pen? Well, I think that Rincon and Silva slot in nicely as setup men. JC Romero needs to regain his 2002 form. That leaves probably two spots available. Those spots will probably go to Adam Johnson, Michael Nakamura, Brad Thomas, Aaron Fultz, Kevin Tolar, Peter Munro or any of those on the starters list who don’t crack the rotation. I don’t like Johnson. I don’t mind Thomas. I think that Fultz was a great pickup! And Peter Munro did well for the Houston Astros last year. No, none of these guys are household names, but there are a lot of very good relievers who you’ve probably never heard of. It only matters that they get people out.
So, I don’t think that the Twins are as bad off as we continue to hear and read. Based on my thoughts above, here would be my Twins 25 man roster as of today:
C - Joe Mauer
1B - Doug Mientkiewicz
2B - Luis Rivas
3B - Corey Koskie
SS - Cristian Guzman
LF - Shannon Stewart
CF - Torii Hunter
RF - Jacque Jones
DH - Matthew Lecroy
B/U C - Henry Blanco
Util IF - Nick Punto
Util IF/OF - Michael Cuddyer
RH PH/OF - Lew Ford or Michael Restovich
LH PH/OF - Michael Ryan
And the pitching staff:
SP - Brad Radke
SP - Johan Santana
SP - Kyle Lohse
SP - Rick Helling
SP - Grant Balfour
CL - Joe Nathan
RH RP - Jesse Crain
RH RP - Juan Rincon
RH RP - Carlos Silva
RH RP - Michael Nakamura
LH RP - JC Romero
LH RP - Aaron Fultz
There is my roster. I would be willing to take my chances with that roster in the American League Central any day. People don’t like the pitching staff, but I like starters 1-3, and I think that 4 and 5 can be adequate. The bullpen may be young, but there is a good mix of guys with some experience and guys with some very good ‘stuff.’ On the offensive side, assuming health, I am comfortable with the nine starters (well, except Guzman and Rivas, but I am even fine with them).
And, I hate to keep bringing it up because people don’t like to hear it, but the Twins play in the American League Central. I think they could go 80-82 and win the division. That said, I think that the team I mention above could win 85-90 games. The key is to get to the playoffs and try to be on a roll then and take your chances.
This is a transition year for the Twins. They need a new stadium (please go to Save the Twins site here). They need to get the Victory Sports situation figured out. They need to try to compete and get to the playoffs. They need to use their minor league system. But, I think that this can be a very successful team. I am extremely excited for Spring Training to get started, and for the season to begin.
Maybe I’ll be wrong. Maybe the team will fall flat on its face. But you know what? Even if they do, I will watch or listen to every game, and I will continue to cheer for them. If will still try to make the 6+ hour drive to the Twins Cities to get to a few games. I’m a Twins fan. I may be frustrated by the fiscal-thinking of Carl Pohlad, or the lack of movement this offseason, or at times, the excessive movement this offseason, but they’re still my team, and I choose to remain positive about them.
WHAT MORE CAN BE DONE?
Like I mentioned, there is still time before Spring Training. There isn’t much talent left in the free agent market, at least not that the Twins can afford. But I think there are a couple of moves they could make yet. Here are two moves I would propose to Terry Ryan:
1.) Trade Jacque Jones to the Atlanta Braves for MI Wilson Betemit and RHP Bubba Nelson. I realize that this looks like a salary dump to, but just hear me out. Betemit could be the 2nd utility player or even compete with Guzman, Rivas and Punto for playing time. He could start at SS or 2B in 2005. Bubba Nelson is probably a couple of years away from the big leagues, but an organization never has enough pitching. From Atlanta’s perspective, they could move Chipper Jones (a bad defensive LF) back in to 3B or 1B (depending on if Adam LaRoche is deemed ready), and play Jacque Jones along side Andruw Jones.
2.) IF the Twins were to make the above move, or a similar move, to get rid of Jones and some salary, I believe that the Twins NEED to sign Ugueth Urbina. To lose a player of the caliber of Jacque Jones, they need to get something out of it. Ugueth Urbina is the best reliever left. I would offer him a one year $3.75 million contract, with an option for the second season. Urbina could be the Twins closer for 2004, and the Twins would have the option of keeping him for 2005 if they want, or give the job to Crain at that point.
So, have I helped anyone become a little more positive about our Twins!? Send me your thoughts. I’d love to hear them. E-mail me.
TIMBERWOLVES TOPPLE SPURS
If I thought I was surprised to see the Wolves pull out a road win against a strong New Orleans Hornets team on Tuesday night, imagine my surprise when the Wolves came back to beat the Spurs, in San Antonio last night 100-93. After trailing by 4-6 most of the game, Sam Cassell led the Wolves to the lead, then used Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell to seal the deal. It was just a great game for the Wolves.
Tim Duncan finally came to play. He is putting up good numbers, but I don’t think anyone who watches the NBA can say he is playing up to his potential. Last night, he met that potential. I don’t know if it was the meeting with KG or what. Tim Duncan scored 36 points, grabbed 20 rebounds (10 offensive) and dished out 7 assists. Kevin Garnett scored 22 points, and grabbed just 10 rebounds, an “off-night” for him. But do you think that he even cares? Not at all. All KG cares about is the wins. He now has the teammates that can help him to that.
Sam Cassell scored 33 points, while dishing out 9 assists. Latrell Sprewell scored 24 points and pulled down 7 rebounds. He also played incredible defense, which led to a late-game steal and dunk at the other end of the court that clinched the win. The Big Three are playing so well.
With the win, the Wolves improved to 26-11 (.703). The Spurs dropped to 26-13 (.667). The Wolves have now won 16 of their last 19 games. Understatement coming!!! “That’s pretty good!”
The mid-point of the season is coming up shortly, and in my mind, there is no question whatsoever who the NBA MVP is at this point. Kevin Garnett. Averaging over 24 points, over 14 rebounds and over 5 assists. His team is the best in their division. It’s a no-brainer.
Any thoughts on KG, Spree or Sam, or any Wolves thoughts, e-mail me.
DISCUSSION QUESTION OF THE WEEK (Reprinted from yesterday)
I haven’t had a Discussion Question for quite some time. Since I am not writing much today, I would like to ask a couple of questions. As with other Discussion Questions, I will present the question today. I hope that most of you will e-mail me and send me your responses to the two questions. Tomorrow, I will post your responses on this site. Make sense? Since you don’t have to spend a lot of time reading my thoughts today, you have a few extra minutes (and no excuse not) to reply to these questions. So, please e-mail me.
1.) The past few years, the Twins have had great success handing out bobbleheads at Twins games. The selections have been either current or former players. My question:
If you were working in the Twins marketing department and had to choose who would appear on the 2004 Twins bobblehead dolls, who would you choose? Remember, current or former players could be selected. Also, you need to come up with four players, since they have had four bobblehead promotions each year. Please feel free to add a comment or two to your selections. Click right here and e-mail me your choices. (I expect to hear from everyone!!)
Who were your favorite player or players and why? Awhile back, I wrote about why Claudell Washington was my favorite player. He may not be a Hall of Famer, or a common name, but I liked him. Who are those players for you? Are there any “obscure” players that you would call your favorite? Admit it!! E-mail me
Thanks for stopping by the site today. I really hope you’ve enjoyed what you read and check it out again sometime! Also, tell all your friends about this web page!!! PLEASE! If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me!
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