Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Spring Training Opener

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Hello everybody, and welcome to Minnesota Twins Spring Training action! I'm your blogger, Twins Geek, and we're about to bring you eight full months of baseball action. Tonight the Twins will kick off their spring training season against the Boston Red Sox. I'm joined today by my partner, the Geek Chorus.

Thanks Geek. Very glad to be Morgan Mundane to your Steve Cannon.

1st Inning
Chorus, you gotta like what we see of Michael Cuddyer in this first inning. A rocket throw from right field to third base, a nice running catch, and a drawn walk in his first at-bat. Cuddyer has yapped a lot this spring about how hungry he is, and that actually raised some red flags in my mind, because I wondered if he wasn't protesting too much. But he looks determined and focused today.

Plus, we're almost ten minutes into the season and he's not hurt.

2nd Inning
A good innning. I'd like to say the Twins exploded for four hits and three runs but "explode" should be reserved for hits that clear the infield dirt. The Twins were awarded four hits, but the most legitimate was a blooper. It resembled a Friday night softball league.

Except that the softball team usually knows how to slide.

Yeah, Alexi Casilla easily stole second but decided to start sliding approximately 10 inches from the base. And that was the second worst slide of the inning. The worst was by Delmon Young at home, which was awkward enough to be painful.

Paging Dr. Molitor. Dr. Molitor to the third base line, please.

3rd Inning
Brian Buscher gets his second hit of the night, both of them pulled and hit hard down the first base line. I wonder, if the Twins carry 12 pitchers, whether he'll make the roster. After all, Ron Gardenhire loves to have two backup middle infielders on his roster, but he also loves having a left-handed bat on the bench.

I'm switching my stance from earlier in the offseason and saying Buscher is probably screwed. The problem is that if Gardy carries Buscher, he needs a second middle infielder. But if he carries a second middle infielder, he can often live without Buscher.

The guys who are most likely to be hit for in this lineup are Punto, Gomez and Casilla. Assuming Gomez is on the field, then either Span, Cuddyer or Young is on the bench, so he's taken care of.

The other two guys are middle infielders, and if you hit Buscher for one of them, then Brendan Harris needs to field for him. Now you've wasted Harris as a potential pinch hitter, and there is nobody to pinch hit for the other middle infielder. And if you pinch hit Harris, you can't use Buscher for the other middle infielder, because there is nobody left to field for him.

On the other hand, if Tolbert is on the roster, you can hit Harris for a middle infielder and still have Tolbert on the bench. Gardy can then pinch hit one of his outfielders and then bring in Tolbert. Got it?

Um, what's on second? I don't know.

Third base! Anyway, that's why I think Gardenhire is talking about only eleven pitchers. It would allow him a big enough bench to pinch hit three timee every game.

Plus, it would allow the team to send yet another message to Jose Mijares about respecting the game.

You mean beyond waiting until the middle of September to get him into a major league game when they desperately needed an eighth inning set up guy? Wasn't sacrificing a postseason message enough?

Apparently not. Have you seen him this spring? He reportedly looks like he ate Boof.

4th Inning
Joe Nathan gives up the first Red Sox run of the game, on a couple of hits and a passed ball that looked like he crossed up Mike Redmond. Here is the Twins nightmare scenario this year: Nathan gets hurt.

(knock, knock)

He's been answering the bell reliably for six solid years now, and that's feeling like borrrowed time. I have every confidence that Gardenhire and Rick Anderson can piece together a decent 'pen with some of their minor league talent by the middle of the season, because they have that much depth. But I don't see anyone replacing our Shaggy look-a-like.


Fifth Inning
We see our first outing of Luis Ayala. He give up one baserunner, but on an error (I hope they ruled it an error) by Justin Morneau. I'm guessing he makes a good first impression on the Twins staff, becuase I count something like seven strikes and just two balls. Oh, and four batters, too. Those are the kind of statistics they're gonna love.

As opposed to fascist strikeouts.

Right. And I think that's going to have to do it for tonight, as the Twins have started subbing in players that only Seth and Roger recongnize. On behalf of my partner Geek Chorus, thanks for joining us tonight. The final score - the Twins 5 and the Red Sox 2. So long everybody!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Big Rocks

"If you can put a guy up there that has the capabilities of a Gold Glove and also a 25-30 home run guy, you have to take a chance. It's a good chance."
- Ron Gardenhire on signing Joe Crede as the Twins new third baseman.

In productivity seminars, there is a popular demonstration that involves trying to fit a bunch of rocks into a large tube. There are probably a half dozen large rocks, and probably a couple of hundred pebbles, and the challenge is to get them all to fit into the tube. The trick is to make sure you put the big rocks in first. Then you sort of shake it and let the small rocks flow around them. It's impossible otherwise.

Gardenhire's quote sums up the big rocks in this signing. The Twins signed a right-handed slugging third baseman who also happens to be a defensive whiz. The details - Crede's health, his career batting average, his struggles against lefties, and blocking Brian Buscher - are not as pretty. We'll hope that with the big rocks in place and a little shaking, these just end up being inconsequential filler.

It's fun to see the level of optimism this has inspired in Twins fans, and I wonder if it's warranted. So let's take a quick look at the rest of the third basemen in the American League, and see where Crede compares:

Group 1:The Cream of the Crop

NYYAlex Rodriguez
TBEvan Longoria

Alex Rodriguez is the current king and Evan Longoria is the heir to the throne, and there really isn't a third baseman who is close. ARod is obviously more accomplished, but if both were granted free agency today, I'm not sure which would end up with the bigger contract.

Of course, that's not gonna happen. They are both controlled through 2017 and 2016 by their respective clubs. The difference? ARod will make $275 million over the life of his deal while Longoria will make $47.5 million. Ouch. You gotta love the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Group 2:Inspiring Envy
CLEJhonny Peralta
SEAAdrian Beltre

This is the reason that the Mark DeRosa trade was so much better for the Indians than it would have been for the Twins. Jhonny Peralta had bulked his way out of being a legitimate shortstop, and his replacement was playing second base. So even though it looked like they needed a third baseman, they really needed a decent second baseman. That much DeRosa can do.

And if you compare Crede's OPS(773), age(30) and defense(awesome) to everyone in this entry, the player he most resembles is Adrian Beltre. That's misleading, because Beltre plays in a monstrous park while Crede played in the White Sox hitter-friendly stadium. Crede is a clear notch below Beltre (even without his health concerns), so let's see if he falls any further down the list.

Group 3: May Still Have a Big Year In Them
BLTMelvin Mora
BOSMike Lowell
TORScott Rolen
TEXMichael Young
OAKEric Chavez

Take a look at the ages on all the guys in this entry for a second. I count just four guys under 30. Lately I've wondered if third basemen can better afford to reach the majors later in their careers, and there seems to be some evidence to support that. That would be good news for fans of Buscher(28) and Danny Valencia(24).

This group has a bunch of guys who are mostly solid, but are clearly on a downward trend. They are useful, but overlooked, and probably one bad contract year from struggling to find a job. I wouldn't take any one of them over Crede, given his extra youth, though it's close.

Group 4: Give It Some Time
KCAlex Gordon
CWSJosh Fields*

The last two youngsters on the list. Alex Gordon was as hyped two years ago as Longoria was last year, but has stalled because he hasn't been able to figure out left-handers. Josh Fields looked like the White Sox third baseman of the future in 2007, lost his job to Crede in 2008, and then was hurt when Crede went down. But he's the reason the Sox were so willing to let Crede walk. (BTW, that OPS was in AAA last year.)

If the Twins had not traded for Crede, this group is where Buscher and Brendan Harris would've landed.

Group 5:Not Stereotypical, but an Asset
LAAChone Figgins

Chone Figgins is an exciting player that was a lot less exciting last year when he was hampered by hamstring and elbow problems. That pitiful OPS doesn't reflect that he's capable of stealing 40-50 bases when healthy, and has enough plate discipline to be a dangerous leadoff hitter. He's not the type of third baseman the Twins need, but he's a great fit for a number of teams.

Group 6: Um......
DETBrandon Inge

I don't think you can totally write off the Tigers this year. After all, they still look quite a bit like the heavily favored team that entered last season. But they have some major question marks, like the bottom of their lineup. Inge is easily the worst starting third baseman in the American League - and he's probably batting seventh in that lineup. Yikes.

So where does Crede land? Let's give him sixth place. He probably belongs in the bottom of that second group, and I'm tempted to also put him behind Alex Gordon just because of his age. That's not great, but it's quite a bit better than the Twins looked 48 hours ago.

Plus, they didn't give up anything to get him, and god knows he's going to be motivated given his one year deal. We'll add those factors to our other big rocks, shake hopefully, and watch to see if they fit together nicely.