Saturday, July 15, 2006

Links for the Weekend

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This weekend’s links brought to you by Francisco Liriano’s glove

  • You know, it really is a shame that WCCO is losing its Twins flagship status. That means we’re going to be deprived of future brilliance in investigative reporting.

  • A look back at the first half of the season, courtesy of the Phat Phree, home of the internet’s finest preseason predictions.

  • Speaking of the internet, we all know how complicated and confusing this new technology seems to the layperson. Thankfully, we have Senator Ted Stevens to explain to all of us how our internets work.

  • My crack research staff has informed me of the following: this article appeared in Friday morning’s New York Times. The Auburn admissions department received Gary Russell’s application at 12:38 PM.

  • Barry Bonds is back in a spot of trouble. For the best coverage of the ongoing story, I would suggest Only Baseball Matters.

  • For anyone still waiting for the Tigers to fade, history is not on your side.

  • And finally, your Audio Daily Double. The Target Center will be basking in the glory of MJ this winter. No, not that MJ. The Mike James MJ. Chad Hartman had the thrilling announcement live on his show, and you can find the audio here and here. Definitely worth twenty minutes of your time. Among other topics, Mike discusses losing at Golden Tee, betting on black, and cheap prostitutes. Also, anyone that can explain to me why James’ pregnant wife is “sleeping with the enemy” wins a free paragraph in next weekend’s links.

Enjoy the ESPYs, everyone. See you next week.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Right Way™

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This weekend the Twins will begin their quest to recapture the title of American League Central’s resident dynasty of the “oughts”, and will do so against the AL Central’s dynasty of the nineties. Popular perception for Cleveland’s recent domination of the division is that they did it The Right Way™, by developing young players and signing them to long-term contracts. That perception is half right.

It’s true that Cleveland’s talented teams were largely home grown. It’s also true that they further developed the practice of offering long-term, guaranteed contracts to promising young players in return for a hometown discount. On the other hand, some of those contracts, like those for Carlos Baerga, Kenny Lofton or Roberto Alomar, eventually became loadstones around their neck. And the practice of giving away countless prospects, without acquiring the ace starter they seemingly needed, will likely haunt Indian fans until their next chance at a world championship.

Regardless, the front office fielded dominant teams from 1995-2001 and the Indians won six division titles. But guess what else Cleveland did from 1995 – 2001?

Cleveland started spending in 1992, and kept increasing their payroll until 2002. This was almost entirely fueled by their new ballpark, Jacobs Field, which opened in 1994. Previously, they had never spent more than $20 million on payroll. By the end of their run, they had more than quadrupled that number.

Pop quiz, hotshot. What’s the difference between a three-year streak and a seven-year dynasty?

Answer: Revenue.

The Twins are attempting to do now what Cleveland did in the late 90’s – renew a dynasty as one generation of players replaces another. Those departures weren’t due to the player development side. They were driven by limitations surrounding marketing and sales. The Twins have relied on the same revenue sources they relied on in the nineties: namely, attendance in a crappy indoor stadium and TV contract in a market that is monopolized by a single regional sports channel.

The new ballpark is one attempt by the Twins to change that paradigm, and the contract negotiations with WCCO are another. Their failed attempt at Victory Sports was yet one more. Whether you think the Twins are justified or not in these endeavors, whether you think the Twins are competent in their effort in these areas, and whether or not you think some moral high ground exists surrounding these issues, you can't argue with one point:

Winning consistently takes money. It's the gas that fuels continued success.

So understand that you can't have it both ways. You can't complain about the Twins being small market, or never signing a big free agent, and also complain about the passed stadium bill, or wax nostalgic about your history with a particular AM frequency. They're two sides of the same coin.

But Carl is RICH!! He's a billionaire, for Chrissakes! He can't take that money with him - why not spend an extra $20 million??!!??"

Indeed, he is rich. And he probably could shake half that much just out of the cushions of his couch. Of course, he could also give that $20 million to the fine arts. Or to homeless shelters. Or maybe children's cancer research. Hmmm....maybe we should let him decide what to do with his money.

Cleveland did it The Right Way™ all right - they used the success of their team to harvest additional sources of revenue, and used that revenue to continue to fuel the success of their team. It's a cycle that feeds itself until the talent dries up. At which point, you scale back, stock the minor leagues, rinse, lather and repeat.

As for our favorite small market team, the Twins success for this year will rest on the shoulders of Terry Ryan, the coaching staff and the farm system. But the Twins success for this decade and the next is resting on the efforts of the rest of the organization, like President Dave St. Peter. This realization is Cleveland's true lesson for small market teams.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Looking for Hope

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Can the Twins can really make a run at the nine game deficit that they face for a playoff spot? With two weeks left to determine if they’re going to be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, answering that question isn’t just fun, it’s necessary. So, let’s look at the remaining 76 games and see if the schedule maker is going to help them out…

Good news: 22 games versus the White Sox and Tigers, 13 of which are at home. It’s not often that a team is excited to play nearly a third of their remaining games versus the two best teams in the major leagues. For this team, it’s their best hope.

Bad news: Fourteen games versus Cleveland. They’re a much better team than they appear in the standings, having outscored their opponents by 45 runs this year. They also have a trio of left-handed pitchers that could give the Twins fits.

Good news: Eleven games versus Kansas City, seven of which are at home. The Royals are playing better, but we’ll see how motivated they are as they sniff that upcoming five-month vacation.

Bad news: Six games versus the Yankees and Red Sox on the road. Strangely, they’re not on the same road trip. The Twins face the Yankees Labor Day weekend, and travel to Fenway Sept 19-21.

Good news: Seven games versus the Devil Rays. Did you know Tampa Bay has a baseball team? It’s true. Though it’s worth noting that the Twins have been beat-up by the D-Rays in recent years.

Coin Flip: Seven games versus Baltimore on the road. Four versus Toronto at home. Three versus the Athletics at home. Six games versus Texas.

The schedule has more good news than bad for a team trying to make up ground. The schedule leans towards home games, is heavy on teams below .500, and leaves lots of chances to play the teams the Twins are chasing. In addition, the White Sox and the Tigers still have most of their head-to-head match-ups (12 games) remaining on their schedule. The opportunity is still there for the Twins this year, if they care to seize it.

Trusting Our Eyes

"If he hits .400, I’ll buy him a car."
- Torii Hunter, on what he'll do if Joe Mauer hits .400 (as reported by the Kansas City Star)
"A Hyundai."
- Hunter, when asked what kind of car

We were warned about this “catchers wear down” thing, and we may have seen the first signs of it as the All-Star Break approached. Chairman Mauer went 3-18 on the last road trip, though two of those three hits were home runs. More telling were some plays not made behind the plate, such as some wild pitches that shouldn’t have been, and a clean miss of a one-hop throw that would have assasinated a Royal in Kansas City.

This probably says more about our expectations than Mauer’s performance. He was fighting a stomach ailment, hitting third, playing catcher on the road in July in Kansas City and Texas, and dealing with the attention that comes from his first All-Star selection. Oh, and he’s 23 years old. Given all that, it’s amazing that we can categorize a four game lapse as a “slump”. That’s how other-wordly his performance has been so far this year.
So let people quote the numbers about how few catchers have won batting titles, just like they used to tell us how few 6’ 4” catchers had any kind of baseball career. While they’re at it, they should probably add some trivia demonstrating how difficult it is to hit .400. It’s fine to understand the history, but my eyes tell me I’m watching something different.
Status Report
Cleveland: You might never see another team that’s 16.5 games out of the playoff race and is this good. They’ve actually outscored their opponents by 45 runs this year, and yet they’re 40-47 and in fourth place of the AL Central. They’ve even started to trade players away to contenders, looking towards next year, which still looks bright.
Minnesota: After a memorable, if not historical, hot streak, they stumbled on their last road trip before the All-Star Break. They’re 47-39, 11 games behind the Tigers in the AL Central.
On The Hill
Cleveland: Cliff Lee (8-6 4.76 ERA)
  • 2005: 18-5, 202 IP, 143 K, 3.79 ERA

  • 2006: 109.2 IP, 127 H, 73 K, 31 BB, 17 HR

  • Came in 4th for the Cy Young award last year. He was that good.

  • You never want to see bigger numbers next to “H” than you seen next to “IP”. For the first time in his career, Lee has been really hittable, and too many of those hits have been home runs. After a very tough May, the Tribe thought he was tipping his pitches, and he had a fair amount of success in June.

  • However, in his last two starts versus Cincinnati and the Yankees, he had very mediocre outings, giving up four earned runs in six innings in each start.

  • Gave up five runs in five innings in a 6-5 loss versus Minnesota on 5/23.
    • Minnesota: Francisco Liriano (10-1, 1.83 ERA)
      • 2005: 1-2, 24.2 IP, 33 K, 5.70 ERA

      • 2006: 88.1 IP, 63 H, 102 K, 23 BB, 5 HR

      • Everyone thought he’d be good, but this is just silly. He’s the best pitcher in the American League right now, and nobody’s particularly close, not even Johan. If the second half of the year is anything like the first, the only thing that can keep the Cy Young away from him is some quibbles about how many innings he’s pitched.
      • Please, god, keep this kid healthy.
        • Links of the Day for 7/13/06

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          What do baseball fans do during the all star break? Surely we can't spend our time reading articles like this and this?

          How about some mid-season grades? Jesse at Twinkie Town and Nick N. and Nick and Nick's have assigned grades to the players. It's actually pretty scary how similar their grades are. The largest deviation between them is their assessment of Torrii and Lew's performance to date.

          Are you losing interest in your twinkies? Team Assessments given by the Twins themselves are, not surprisingly, upbeat- we're still in this! If you're not convinced by Kelly Thesier's article, Twins Territory and Sethspeaks have given us some reasons to continue to watch. has also given us an excuse to watch - the shear greatness of Joe.

          I suppose if you're reading this, your the type of fan who'd tune in even if Ron Coomer was our only all-star.

          Oh, and there was a game yesterday. We won. I bet Mark Redman will sleep a lot better knowing that the AL has home field advantage in the World Series this year.

          Monday, July 10, 2006

          Links of the Day for 7/11/06

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          • It’s official—Fransisco Liriano is an All Star! After Jose Contreras bowed out with a bit of “Pedroitis”, Ozzie Guillen named the Cisco Kid, otherwise known as the “biggest All Star snub” to the team. Whether or not that will push him back in the rotation is a question that has yet to be answered. Hopefully, the game falls on the same day that he normally throws between starts, so that the Indians get to enjoy the experience of futile flailing at Fransisco’s filthy fastball (and slider—did you enjoy reading that alliteration as much as I enjoyed writing it?).

          • If you’re free tomorrow around 1pm (CST), make sure you tune in to Bud Selig’s Live chat from the All Star game festivities. Before you do that, make sure you can come up with some quality questions for Budzilla, which you can submit here. If you need some help thinking of something to Stump the Selig, check out Deadspin for some ideas. Personally, I’d like to know what he’d do if the All Star game ended in a tie again this year.

          • Oh Ruben, we hardly knew ye.

          • Finally, if you’re like me, you took in the World Cup Final yesterday. And what a final it was, ending when the Italians defeated the French on penalty kicks. That being said, it was all overshadowed by French star Zinedine Zidane head butting an Italian player in extra time. Surprised? Horrified? Laughing out loud? Well, as the saying goes, don’t judge a man before you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Or in this case, until you’ve played a flash game starring him. (Move Zidane with your mouse and click to head butt the Italians).

          Sunday, July 09, 2006

          Links of the Day for 7/10/06

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          • Halfway through the season, and we’re already running out of ways to describe Joe Mauer’s prowess. But even as we become (unfairly?) accustomed to Mauer’s dominance, there’s still little question that we’re seeing a performance that ranks with the all-time great seasons by a catcher. At the halfway mark, Mauer is on pace for the best batting average by a catcher in major league history; is threatening the all-time on-base mark set by Mickey Cochrane in 1933; and is even on pace to shatter Mike Piazza’s record of 201 hits in a season. And even with all that, there still seem to be Twins fans who would like to see Mauer moved to another position on the flimsy notion that it would extend his career. What that idea misses, of course, is that Mauer is also one of the outstanding defensive catchers of his generation, and he handles his pitching staff as well as any catcher currently in the majors. Even if he never again approaches the offensive level he has achieved in the first half of 2006, his value behind the plate should continue to thrill Twins fans for years to come.

          • Speaking of people named Mauer, those with a sentimental bent will doubtless enjoy this online package put together by the Strib…

          • How good has Francisco Liriano been since joining the starting rotation? So good that people in New York have actually heard of him, and are writing articles about him without even once speculating as to whether he will wind up playing for the Yankees or the Red Sox three years down the line. Since there is considerable evidence to suggest that people in New York are actually unaware that the western border of the U.S. is not on the Pennsylvania-Ohio state line, this is a remarkable measure of Liriano’s accomplishments.

          • One of the more under-covered aspects of the Twins’ new ballpark story has been the role of the “ballpark authority” which will oversee the planning and development of the park, and which will eventually be in charge of the venue. Late last week, Minnesota State Auditor Pat Awada made a surprising announcement that she would (unilaterally, as far as anyone can tell) assume an oversight role with the authority, acting as a “watchdog” for taxpayers.

            Depending on whom you ask, Awada’s insertion of herself into the process was either a stunning overreach by an ambitious politician running for reelection, or a much needed reminder to the Twins that the state intends to insure that its investment is protected. Of course, there’s no state money in the project, so Awada would likely be treading on shaky legal ground if she attempted to intervene in any significant way.

            The upshot of those legal questions is hard to assess: if the cynics are right, Awada has no real intention of making herself a part of the ballpark effort and is merely hoping to garner a few votes from the Taxpayers’ League crowd; but if she really does start making noise over specific aspects of the design and construction of the park, more than a few sparks could fly. Stay tuned...

          • Over at the PiPress, Gordon Wittenmeyer (who, for Intern Sam’s money, has established himself as the best baseball writer in the Twin Cities,) is writing what looks like an excellent series examining the precipitous decline in the number of African-American baseball players. Among the highlights of Sunday’s opening salvo, which follows Torii Hunter’s efforts to spark an inner-city baseball revival, is the controversial assertion that Americans simply don’t have the interest in racial equality that we once did:

            "Through the civil rights movement, I think a lot of critics of American race relations have seen the black experience in that same trajectory,'' [Douglas] Hartmann said. "You have this high point in the '50s and '60s where Americans as a nation realized the faults of slavery and Jim Crow and stood up against that and started creating policies to sort of reverse those trends. The effects are you start to see improvements in employment and income and education status.

            "And starting sometime in the '80s, as people are willing to spend less money on those specific programs, you start to see gains African-Americans have made at least stagnate if not decline.''

            What did Major League Baseball do at this time? Nothing, really. Which might be part of the issue.

          • On a less serious note, LaVelle E. Neal III is getting a wee bit tired of the All-Star Game and all its attendant silliness.

          • In minor league news, the whole bobblehead thing is officially out of control. Way, way, way out of control.

          Links of the Weekend

          • Twins phenom and FreeDarko favorite Francisco Lirano put together another ho-hum start Saturday night: 7 innings, 4 hits, 3 walks, 8 strikeouts. Those seven innings re-qualified Kid K for the league’s ERA lead, giving the leaderboard a Minnesota flavor.

          • Of course, it wasn’t enough to land Liriano in the Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Nick and Nick chime in on the flawed selection process here.

          • frightwig writes an excellent bit here running down some of the Twins’ All-Star history. The immortal Ron Coomer takes home the crown for worst Twins All-Star of all time.

          • Friday night may not have been the most pleasant of games for Twins fans, but it did feature the debut of rookie Pat Neshek. Sporting one of the strangest deliveries in the league and a history of two-inning saves, it will be interesting to see how he’s used. You can get to know him here.

          • Roger’s latest Minor League Report is up. I always make a bee-line for New Britain’s section to check on pitchers Matt Garza and Kevin Slowey, both of whom continue to pitch well.

          • From the Continuing Items Department: minor league teams have the best promotions.

          • And finally, the All Star companion: the MLB “They’re Still Playing? Team”.

          Enjoy the Celebrity Softball Game!