Friday, September 21, 2007

Podcast #2

It's been quite a week. If you would've told me last weekend, while I was researching free agent options, that I'd spend the second half of the week defending Nick Punto, I wouldn't have believed it.

Tonight was spent working on the other new project, the podcast of my friends watching various sporting events. If you missed the first one, I think you missed something pretty good. I was nervous that the only people who would think it was entertaining was the people who were actually there, but then I got this email from a guy I know in Chicago:

I am about to soil myself and I am only 4 mins in.

So I'm taking that as a positive sign. This Vikings/Lions game was considerably more painful, but I think the podcast turned out better. For starters, it includes much better language, with only one word I wish I could bleep. Also, the audio is quite a bit better, and without the volume changes that were so painful for the first one. It was also quite a bit easier to put together, and I'm getting the hang of this Audacity software a little, though there are at least 20 things I would like to learn about it.

So, anyway, if you like hearing guys talk about random stuff while watching football, give it a try. This week's is about 15 minutes long. You can subscribe to the podcast using:

Or, if you just want to try this one, you can listen to it at:

Please let me know what you think, whether you like it or not. I'm a big boy. I can take it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Killing the Messenger

I saw the headline in the Strib and smirked. I read the story and smiled. It was going to fuel more Twins Territory energy than the lethal concoction of dollar dogs and Chuck Knoblauch. This was going to be fun.

La Velle E Neal reported yesterday that Ron Gardenhire was leaning toward starting Nick Punto at second base next year over prospect Alexi Casilla. Punto, of course, has posted a batting average significantly lower than, well, than most writers/bloggers weight, present company included. I wonder if Neal giggled as he wrote it in anticipation of the public reaction. Honestly, how could he not have?

The reaction was as conservative and placid as most internet-based stories. I counted three blog entries by noon, and several other blogs where the comments section was overrunning with reader reaction. The prevailing sentiment was that this was symptomatic of larger issue with the Twins and that Ron Gardenhire was an idiot.

Taken altogether, it wasn’t unlike an uprising. And the more I thought about it, the more the message was distilled into three short words that are a staple of angry mobs.

“Kill the messenger!”

Face it Twins Territory, Gardy is simply telling us an unpleasant truth that we already know: Alexi Casilla has done almost nothing to indicate that he is anywhere near ready to play at the major league level. Hell, I’ll take it a step further. Alexi Casilla has done almost nothing this year in terms of growth other than age a year. And any objective observer who hasn’t bought into the spring training hype and trade deadline excusathon would conclude the same thing:

  • This year he hit .269 in Rochester.
  • His plate discipline declined from last year.
  • His major league OBP is .278.
  • He’s been prone to boneheaded mistakes in the field and on the base paths.
  • Versus left-handed pitching he has been positively abysmal (454 OPS)

Put yourself in Gardenhire’s shoes. Compare that player to a guy who had .300 average last year when he discovered plate discipline, has an excellent glove and is guaranteed $2.4 million whether he plays or not. Which one would you lean towards starting there next year?

Even the decision to play Punto at second or third base in front of Brian Buscher and Alexi Casilla at this point in the season makes some sense. Again, whether we want to admit it or not, the Twins already "know what they have" with all these guys. So do we.

  • Casilla is a speedy slap hitter who hasn't shown, either at AAA or MLB, that he's ready for the majors.
  • Buscher is a late prospect, ala Lew Ford, whose upside is probably Ron Coomer, both offensively and defensively.
  • Punto is a starting middle infielder if he's hitting well and showing plate discipline, which he did last year. He’s a utility infielder if he isn't, which he did every other year.

Of the three, the one I feel least sure projecting next year is Punto, then Buscher, then Casilla. So why are we so worked up that Casilla is riding the pine?

Don’t get me wrong – this is really depressing news. It's most depressing because it is undoubtedly true. There isn't much help in the free agent market for second basemen, and there is no way that Casilla takes that job away from Punto in spring training if Gardy has it in his mind that it's Punto's.

But Gardenhire isn’t to blame that Alexi Casilla got a year older without getting a year better. That rests solely on Casilla’s shoulders. Or maybe we should blame Terry Ryan for using Casilla’s development as an excuse for the Luis Castillo trade. Or maybe we should look in the mirror for buying into the party line and wishcasting a player to be something he’s not. (Yet.) It seems thereare plenty of other accurate targets for our anger.

Let’s leave the messenger alone.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Filthy Rich Twins?

Gloom and doom seems to rule the airwaves and print media surrounding this team, especially when it comes to the upcoming offseason. But one fairly significant fact surrounding this team has been overlooked, and it could make all the difference for new General Manager Bill Smith.

The Twins have a LOT of money to spend this offseason:
  • Add up all the Twins likely salaries, including arbitration award increases, and it adds up to about $50 million. (For details, see the 2008 GM Cheat Sheet part one and two)
  • The Twins payroll this year was about $73 million heading into the season, and about $70 million after losing Luis Castillo, Jeff Cirillo and Ramon Ortiz. That’s about $10 million more than they spent in 2006.
You don’t have to be a sabremetrician to see that leaves at least $20 million for the Twins to spend this offseason, and up to $30 million if they increase their payroll again (which a great many other MLB teams seem to be doing, even without new ballparks on the way).

Now, that money doesn’t include money the Twins might need to pony up if they want to re-sign Torii Hunter, but the sticking point on Hunter has never been the amount of money he would be paid next year. The question is whether the Twins want to guarantee him an enormous chunk of ching when he’s turning 37 in 2012 (which other teams will undoubtedly do).

But even if they don’t re-sign Hunter, that still leaves an enormous amount of money for this franchise, more than they had in any single year that Terry Ryan oversaw the franchise. The erroneous criticism of Ryan was that he didn’t like to spend money on free agents. Whether he liked to or not, there’s certainly no evidence he ever had any to spend.

(Personally, I can hardly wait to see the media reaction if Smith does make a big free agent splash. Will columnists speculate that Jim Pohlad is more willing to spend than his father? Will radio hosts suggest that Smith is better at persuading the Pohlads to spend than Ryan was? Will radio callers wonder if Ryan was the obstacle to spending money all along?)

So are there any particularly good fits on the free agent market for the Twins? Strangely, the easiest hole to fill might be the one left by Hunter:

Center Field – If the Twins don’t re-sign Hunter, they can take comfort that there are a fair number of replacements. Brave Andruw Jones is the biggest name, but he’s had a terrible year. Odds are, he would be willing to sign a one-year deal to increase his value again. Padre Mike Cameron is on the down slope of his career, but would be a capable and more affordable option. Phillie Aaron Rowand has a combination of defense, offense and youth that is going to earn him a bigger contract than anyone expects. In fact, he might be as desirable in the market as Hunter. Finally, Indian Kenny Lofton would be a nice short-term solution to replace Hunter in the field and Luis Castillo at the top of the order.

Third Base – The position that Twins fans mention the most (and the one that has hurt the Twins this year the most) will also be the hardest to fill this offseason. The big name is Yankee Alex Rodriguez, but the Twins aren’t going to be getting him, no matter how much money they have. Red Sox Mike Lowell is more likely, but he’s 33 and will be looking for a long-term deal, ala Hunter. Beyond those two, the only real improvement over someone like Brian Buscher would be Mike Lamb, but can he hit left-handers?

Designated Hitter/Left Field – If you’re dreaming of adding a big bat, you would think this would be the best place to start. Umm, maybe not. The Reds have a $13M option on 28-year-old Adam Dunn that I’m guessing they’ll pick up, but if not, he’ll be at the top of the list. (I also wouldn’t rule out a trade between the Twins and Reds for him). Beyond Dunn, you have to start checking expiration dates, because some of these guys are likely starting to curdle: Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Bobby Abreu.

As one looks at the names available, it’s a little ironic (and depressing) that the free agent market is so thin at exactly the time that the Twins have money to spend. But it shouldn’t be overlooked that the Twins do, indeed have money to spend. Fans recognize that this is a critical offseason for this franchise. We should start expecting it to be a rewarding one, too.