Saturday, July 22, 2006

Links for the Weekend

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I’m sorry if this weekend’s Links don’t live up to your expectations. I’m still recovering from my night on the town with Mike James.

  • Another day, another dubya. Silva got slapped around, but it didn’t matter, as the Twins pounded out 14 runs on 18 hits.

  • Rondell White had another big night, continuing his sudden resurgence. For The Love of the Game runs down what White means to this team here.

  • The White Sox and Yankees also dropped their games last night. The Twins are now 3 and 1 behind in the loss column, respectively. Are we starting to believe?

  • Nick Punto continues to be a key part of the Twins’ lineup. Will writes on Punto’s new found extra-base power (and overall hot bat) here.

  • If we play our cards right, maybe we won’t have to wait until 2010 for that new stadium.

  • Woody Paige lays out his case for Halladay over Liriano in the Cy Young race. An airtight argument, to be sure.

  • And finally, remember to exercise your right to vote.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Where is The Cavalry?

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For the umpteenth time this season, the Twins called up a player from Rochester, and that player immediately provided a boost to the Twins offense. Jason Tyner had six hits in his first twelve at-bats and drove in five runs, including the game-winning run in the bottom of the tenth inning on Saturday.

It’s a great story, but Tyner isn’t really a prospect, since prospects aren’t 29 years old. That doesn’t mean Tyner can’t be a major league player. His track record suggests that he would be a very capable fourth outfielder on most major league teams, especially if he can recapture some of that speed that produced 31 stolen bases with Tampa Bay in 2001.

A more significant question is whether he can be a major league starting centerfielder. It would behoove the Twins to get an answer to that question when Jason Kubel’s knees quit barking. Moving Tyner to center field would get Kubel back in the lineup, and give them a chance to evaluate whether Tyner can be their center fielder in 2007.

But Jason Tyner isn’t going to provide an extended offensive boost that the Twins will need in Hunter’s absence. That’s going to fall to the other weekend call-up, Rondell White. White was supposed to be a better hitter than Hunter before the season started, and had the history and stats to back that claim up. His season-long struggles were unforeseen, a mystery that may have been solved by the realization that his surgically repaired shoulder was still a concern.

The mystery was solved, but the problem still needed to be fixed. The Twins passed over White several times to give him the full twenty days he could squeeze out of his injury rehabilitation time in Rochester, but finally relented when Stewart was placed on the Disabled List. It isn’t clear from the minor league reports whether White has made the necessary adjustments to allow his shoulder to catch up with fastballs again, but the home run this weekend is an optimistic sign.

The Twins should certainly hope so. Their cupboard at the minor league level is nearly bare, as seen by the recalls of Tyner and 27-year-old Josh Rabe. The Twins tentative position in the playoff race probably limits Terry Ryan’s desire to part with the prospects necessary for a big name at the trade deadline. Bounceback second halves by under-performing veterans, like White and Carlos Silva, will need to fuel any large leap in performance.

On The Hill

Tampa Bay: Jae Seo (2-7, 5.07 ERA)

- 2005: 8-2, 90.1 IP, 59 K, 2.59 ERA
- 2006: 87 IP, 93 H, 57 K, 34 BB, 16 HR
- Just acquired a couple of weeks ago in a trade with the Dodgers. He’s pitched much better in his three starts with the Rays.
- Can struggle with control. Prior to this year, he was with the Mets where he was effective without great stuff. It may take awhile for the AL to catch up with him.

Minnesota: Brad Radke (7-7, 4.97 ERA)

- 2005: 9-12, 201.2 IP, 117 K, 4.04 ERA
- 2006: 112.1 IP, 148 H, 60 K, 26 BB, 18 HR
- Relies primarily on an average fastball and a good changeup; also throws a curve.Why don’t you give up on a struggling veteran pitcher with an ERA over 7 in May? Because there is a reason he’s a veteran pitcher – he knows how to make adjustments. Radke’s adjustment has apparently been made. In June, Radke’s ERA was 2.09

Monday, July 17, 2006

7 Reasons to Care about the Devil Rays.

“Did you know they have a baseball team in Tampa Bay? It’s true.”
-, nearly every time it mentioned the Devil Rays since 2002

It’s been a running gag for years for a franchise that has become a running gag for major league baseball.

The deck was stacked against the Devil Rays from the beginning. They are an expansion team that plays in an indoor monstrosity (always a solid way to hold down revenue). Their fan base consists of retirees (who are always known for their free-spending ways) and they share that fan base with another expansion team. As the finishing touch, they were placed in the American League East, a division with the top two spending teams in major league baseball. Ok, guys - ready, set, compete!

Not too surprisingly, they’ve floundered. They tried building around speed. They tried signing aging sluggers. They bought a coaching legend. They’ve still never had a .500 record. In fact, they’ve never finished within 10 games of .500. They’ve finished last in their division every year of their existence except one.

This year they’re on pace to continue every one of those depressing trends. And yet, there are reasons for Tampa Bay’s fans to start banging their walkers in excitement. There are also at least seven reasons for Twins fans to care about the Devil Rays, starting with…

7. The Sale – With all the success that the Rays’ franchise had had, you’ll be shocked to hear that they were owned by a cheapskate owner named Vince Naimoli. Whoulda thunk? But in May of 2004, a huge stake in the franchise was bought by a new ownership group led by 45-year-old Wall Street investor and “baseball junkie” Stuart Steinberg.

6. They’re trading aggressively – Steinberg inherited a minor league system loaded with prospects, but a front office loaded with stagnation, so he cleaned house. New GM Andrew Friedman has been far more aggressive than his predecessor in trading players while they still have some value for other teams, mostly for young pitching. Within the last month he’s traded Joey Gathright (who was crowded out of TB’s talented outfield) to the Royals and Aubrey Huff (who becomes a free agent this offseason) to the Astros for three talented pitching prospects.

5. They would be an ideal trading partner for the Twins – The Devil Rays wouldn’t make a great trading partner for the kind of deal that is most commonly mentioned on sports radio around here – dumping Kyle Lohse, Shannon Stewart or Torii Hunter - but they’re almost a perfectly complimentary organization. The Twins minor leagues are loaded with young pitching that the Devil Rays need, and the Devil Rays organization is loaded with top-shelf hitting talent that the Twins could use. Could the Twins pry away infielder B.J Upton for Boof Bonser and Kevin Slowey? That’s not the kind of deal that happens at the trading deadline, but the two teams are a great fit for an offseason deal.

4. They’re rebuilding like the Twins – Ok, maybe “re”-building isn’t correct, since it implies there was something built in the first place. But Tampa Bay is no longer following in the footsteps of the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, who have thrown around money without a plan so they can finish in third place behind two teams spending at least $40 million more. The Devil Rays are trying to build a core of youngsters who will become stars, and then fill in the gaps, much like the Twins did in 1999 and 2000.

3. Their outfield is fun to watch – The Devil Rays outfield has a chance to become special, like when the Royals outfield consisted of a young Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye and Carlos Beltran. In center field is 24-year-old Rocco Baldelli who has 30 home run/30 stolen base potential. In right field is 24-year-old Carl Crawford, who already has 13 home runs and 32 stolen bases this year. (By the way, the Rays have contracts with both players through at least 2010). They should be joined later this year by baseball’s #1 prospect Delmon Young, who is just 20 years old and will likely end up being better than either of them.

2. Their AAA Club is reminiscent of Animal House – Young and their minor league talent might have a chance to shine if Dean Wormer doesn’t catch him and the rest of the Deltas violating their double-secret probation. So far this year, Upton has been arrested for DUI, Elijah Dukes has been suspended for 15 games for an “unspecified action”, and Young has been suspended for fifty games for throwing his bat at an umpire.

1. They’ve got Don Zimmer – How can you not love 75-year-old Don Zimmer, who is a little like a mascot for Major League Baseball, complete with muppet-like features. “Zim” left the Yankees staff after the 2004 season and became a Senior Baseball Advisor for the Devil Rays. He doesn’t travel with the team, which is a shame, because he has some history with baseball in our state. In 1965, Jim Kaat struck him out to deliver the Twins first American League pennant. Second, it was during his time playing with the St. Paul Saints that he was hit in the head by a pitched ball, which resulted in the celebrated metal plate in his head.

Hmmm. Or maybe he’s not so disappointed that he can’t come back to visit…

On the Hill

Tampa Bay: Scott Kazmir (10-6, 3.27 ERA)
- 2005: 10-9, 186 IP, 174 K, 3.77 ERA
- 2006: 115.2 IP, 108 H, 125 K, 44 BB, 12 HR
- He’s having his breakout season and getting plenty of attention for it. That’s unusual for a player in a small market, but New York Mets fans closely watch Kazmir because the Mets traded him two years ago in one of the few deals where Tampa’s management looked like geniuses. As the Mets search high and low for pitching, Kazmir’s success (which resulted in an All-Star appearance last week) is salt in Mets fans’ wounds.
- Kazmir is 22 years old and is second in the AL in strikeouts. Looks like the Rays have their future ace.

Minnesota: Francisco Liriano (10-2, 2.12 ERA)
- 2005: 1-2, 24.2 IP, 33 K, 5.70 ERA
- 2006: 93.1 IP, 68 H, 108 K, 26 BB, 8 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 Santana. 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.
- His last start was not good. If it points to a second half where he’s human, the Twins are done. No pressure, kid.
- Please, god, keep this kid healthy.

Links of the Day for 7/17/06

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All those injuries kind of put a damper on the Twins taking three of four from the Indians, didn’t it? While they managed to cut the White Sox lead in the Wild Card to only 6.5 games, it still seems like an insurmountable deficit now that the Twins’ outfield consists of Cuddyer and a lot of players who probably shouldn’t be patrolling the outfield.

Then again, as some have pointed out, so long as Kubel’s knees don’t keep him out of the DH spot, the Twins are still trotting out their 1-5 hitters and with Jason Bartlett in the 9 hole, they still have a lineup better than the one they began the season with. And, it seems, they only have to wait two weeks for Torii to get back. Of course, since that means he can’t play until July 31st, it effectively removes the option of trading him this year.

So what should the Twins do about Torii? Well, Jim Souhan thinks they should definitely pick up his option now. I’m still not sure how he manages to conclude that a stress fracture eliminates all of the other options, but it looks to me that the Twins could still trade Torii in the offseason (after he shows he’s over the fracture in the last two months of the season) or let him walk if they so chose. Then again, there’s a reason that Deadspin spotlighted him in their ongoing “Why Your Hometown Columnist Sucks” feature.

And now some quick links:

  • I have to say that this comparison by the folks over at 10,000 Takes is an apt one. Hopefully Stewart is the only Twin whose plane goes down over the Sea of Japan.

  • Is it just me, or is Bert going to be begging Terry Ryan to sign this pitcher when he comes over from Japan? If the Twins do, we’ll never have to listen to him complain about pitch counts anymore. (And we might get to see a gyroball!)

  • Finally, Peter Gammons was released from the hospital today, and he’s starting his rehab assignment. I, for one, can’t wait for ESPN’s only competent baseball analyst to get back on his feet and back to Baseball Tonight where he belongs.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


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Is this how it ends? Not with a dive into the turf, or with a leap over the baggy, but quietly, from a routine outfield sprint? Or maybe it ended more spectacularly last July in Boston, only we didn’t realize it, or didn’t want to realize it.

When Torii Hunter pulled up lame on Saturday night with what was eventually diagnosed as a stress fracture in his foot, it may have been the last straw the ends his career with the Minnesota Twins. He could get healthy and finish the year with the Twins – they certainly will have trouble trading him prior to the July 31st trade deadline given his questionable health – but it greatly reduced the number of scenarios in which Hunter could return in 2007.

That didn’t appear to be a question prior to the latest injury. There had been a deafening silence concerning trade rumors surrounding Hunter, both locally and nationally. The Twins, needing a solid centerfielder and right-handed power, looked poised to keep Hunter, whether it was by renewing the $2 million contract option they have or working towards a long-term deal. Hunter was having another year where he looked to provide exceptional defense, 25+ home runs and a .270 batting average (while occasionally making Twins fans pull out their hair). And the Twins payroll, assuming Brad Radke really retires, could have accommodated Hunter’s salary.

Instead, there are probably too many questions. The Twins must be wondering if Hunter’s surgically repaired left ankle will ever truly be healthy. Can they nurse it through a 162 game season with some rest (something Hunter and the Twins have not done this season)? And can they gamble $12 million next year on the answer?

But the Twins aren’t the only ones who have questions. Hunter has consistently said his heart is in Minnesota, but he’s always been cautious about playing on that damnable Metrodome turf. It’s certainly possible that the unnatural surface helped cause the stress fracture, and he may not experience the same problems if he plays eighty-one home games on grass. This injury might make his regrettable decision for him. There’s no amount of money a team can offer to replace a half dozen years of a players’ career.

It is a lose/lose situation for everyone. Hunter will face unanswerable questions in his first offseason as a free agent (and probably his last opportunity for a huge contract). The Twins will need to address a position that is thin both inside and outside of their organization. A fracture so small that x-rays were inconclusive could lead to a schism between the team and their most popular player. It’s a situation that nobody wants.

Least of all the fans. For several years, Hunter was able to negate the sterility of the Metrodome with his slugging, catching and smiling. It appears that again, the Metrodome will have the last laugh. Not by producing a spectacular flameout, but by utilizing quiet, debilitating erosion.

On the Hill

Tampa Bay: Tim Corcoran (4-0 1.57 ERA)

- 2005: 0-0, 22.2 IP, 13 K, 5.96 ERA
- 2006 (AAA): 5-1, 37.2 IP, 32 K, 1.91 ERA
- 2006: 23 IP, 19 H, 15 K, 9 BB, 1 HR
- Last year he was a reliever, and this year he was shelled in spring training, starting the year in AAA-Durham. Something good happened there. The 28-year-old had a great start and was called up in June to work in the Rays’ bullpen. A week later he was inserted in the rotation, where he’s continued to thrive.

Minnesota: Scott Baker (2-5, 6.06 ERA)

- 2005: 3-3, 54.2 IP, 32 K, 3.35 ERA
- 2006 (AAA): 3-2, 49.1 IP, 41 K, 2.92 ERA
- 2006: 49 IP, 66 H, 41 K, 8 BB, 10 HR
- Welcome back, Scott.
- “Keep the ball down” is a mantra to pitching coach Rick Anderson, and Baker didn’t do it his first time around, as evidenced by those hit and home run numbers. It looks like he was able to do that at Rochester, or maybe hitters there couldn’t make him pay like they could here. We’ll find out soon.

Links of the Day for 7/17/06

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Okay, first off, in the interest of full disclosure, we should mention that Intern Sam is putting together this post a full day in advance of its appearance on the GameDay site, due to circumstances beyond his control that will require him to be the hell out of this insane oven of a city on Sunday, attending to family business while sipping sangria in a lounge chair on the shores of beautiful Lake Hubert.

So nowhere in this filing will you find the very latest up-to-the-minute info on Torii Hunter’s ankle, Shannon Stewart’s plantar fascism (whatever – Bert can’t pronounce it either,) Jason Kubel’s exploded knee, Terry Tiffee’s newly arrived offspring, or Ron Gardenhire’s impending coronary. However, because we love you, we have put together a helpful Google News search which we believe should be most effective in locating any pertinent new injury tidbits. You’re welcome.

  • Apparently, Terry Ryan is still looking to acquire a veteran power bat, and he has not been in the least deterred by Exhibits Batista, White, and Sierra. Welcome to the family, Erubiel Durazo…

  • The news this week that the Twins will be cutting ties with WCCO radio this offseason and taking its radio rights in-house (with games to air on KSTP 1500 beginning in 2007) has not apparently sat well with the demographic Intern Sam likes to refer to as “Crazy Old Minnesota Coots.”

    If there’s anything positive to be gained from the changeover from the fan’s perspective, it might be that teams often use flagship changes as an excuse to rejigger their broadcast team. With a little luck, we might finally get a play-by-play man who gives the score occasionally and spends more time describing the game than he does laughing hysterically at nothing and hollering “TOUCH ‘EM AAAAAAAWWWLLL” in reference to quartz countertops.

    As for all the hand-wringing over the once-mighty (and strong signaled) WCCO losing the Twins after lo these many years, everyone should probably relax. It’s not as if KSTP is some nowhere station no one can hear – it’s a 50,000-watt station (admittedly without the long-range nighttime reach of WCCO,) family-owned and with a long history in the area. And while some Twins fans may not be altogether enamored of their team being on a station known primarily for right-wing talk, you’ve gotta love the idea of The Mischke Broadcast serving as a lead-in to the old ballgame…

  • Twins Ballpark 2010 (not affiliated with the Twins) is soliciting fan input as to what the team’s priorities ought to be in designing their new home, and so far, it seems that what worked for the Wild might just work for the Twins as well: embracing the area’s sporting history as a way of tapping into the sometimes subsumed passion for Minnesota sports.

  • The Twins are not a perfect organization, as we all know, but on occasion, it’s nice to be reminded of what a truly pathetic baseball franchise looks like, and how it differs from a basically successful team with a miserly and somewhat disengaged ownership. Intern Sam grew up a Phillies fan, and he is here to tell you that absolutely nothing about this sordid tale came as any kind of surprise to him or anyone else who spent their childhood in the 700 level of old Veterans’ Stadium.

  • Finally, from the boys at The Brushback comes news that the Chicago Cubs actually intend to show some life before the calendar year ends. Punching someone in the head doesn’t actually sound particularly productive in a baseball sense, but at this point, we suspect that the long-suffering Wrigley faithful would take it.