Friday, November 09, 2007

Question for Everyone....

Does anyone know the specifics of Johan's no-trade clause?

I think I know this:
1. He had one from last year for his final position in the Cy Young race.
2. He didn't get one this year from his final position in the Cy Young race.

But does anyone know how long the no-trade clause from last year lasts? Does it extend through the end of his contract? Until the trade deadline? Until Opening Day? Until the first of the year?

For those people who think trading Santana is something that probably should be done, this isn't a small issue. If Johan gets to pick what team the Twins can trade with (ala Griffey) the Twins leverage in a trade could be significantly different than it is if they can take the best offer. If the no-trade clause lasts until Opening Day, trading him during the season might give them a lot more leverage than they would have this offseason.

Thanks for any info anyone can provide.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tough Call

We must be made of stone. Because there's just no two ways about it - you need to be tough to be a Twins fan.

Start by withstanding decades of losing. Follow that by gazing stoically at botched stadium and broadcast negotiations. Then trust in mercurial young talent. And then wave goodbye to old friends. And finally, bear the playoff losses, knowing that a return next year is never a given.

Now, as we face a possible end of the Twins competitive cycle, we find a fresh new hell - the gamble. Faced with an impending doom, our team must start rolling the dice for one more shot at glory, picking up players whose only guarantee is that they’ll provide some sleepless nights. Whether we want to face it or not, the Twins entered that phase two years ago, when players like Tony Batista, Rondell White, Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz made their way onto the roster.

Oh, sure, there are always good reasons. He just needs a change of scenery. He's off the sauce. He contributes with his glove. And my favorite: he looked pretty good in Japan.

But the most dangerous reasons, and the most seductive, are usually about health. Extrapolate his statistics for a full year, and he would have 25+ home runs. He's taken longer to recover than we thought from that freak accident, but he could become that star he was supposed to be. Plus, he's adjusting his offseason regimen to keep those hamstrings healthy for the whole year.

You might want to start getting accustomed to those last three examples, because I didn't just make those up. Or rather, I did, but I did it unintentionally, as rumors started swirling about the Twins talking to the Devil Rays about centerfielder Rocco Baldelli. It was a reflex. A seductive, damning reflex.

If he can stay healthy, Baldelli has the potential to be a dream pickup for the Twins. He's just 26 years old. He was once the top prospect in the game. He held his own as a starting centerfielder when he was just 21 years old. He posted a 872 OPS (.302/.339/.533) in 2006.

Oh, and for the Twins, his contract is especially delicious, as he makes just $2.25 million next year, and the Twins have three more years of team options. He could replicate Torii Hunter's offensive production at a fraction of the cost, and would be under contract through 2011. If he can stay healthy, he's perfect.

Of course, if he could stay healthy, he wouldn't be available. He hasn't been remotely close to healthy for three years running. First, he tore up his ACL in a backyard ballgame in October of 2004. When that healed, he developed elbow problems that led to Tommy John surgery. (So much for 2005.) His elbow was basically healed and he was throwing during spring training before the 2006 season.

That's when the hamstring injuries started. They limited him to 374 at-bats in 2006, but he put up Hunteresque numbers as a 24-year-old. During the offseason, he proclaimed that those injuries were likely behind him. They weren't. In fact, last year he was out most of the year, getting just 137 at-bats, and hitting just .205.

So, in true tough guy fashion, you really need to ask yourself - are you feeling lucky, punk? Because the team that is giving him up is the freaking Devil Rays. If ever there was a franchise that was able to accept risk, this is that franchise. This is the team that carried Elijah Dukes into the season - and he was a legitimate threat to kill a random bystander at some point during the season. The D-Rays eat risk for breakfast.

But Rocco Baldelli and his amazing hamstrung hamstrings? Apparently that's just crazy.

And it's not like the Twins can point to a lot of recent success in this area. Rondell White leaps immediately to mind. Jason Kubel has taken a year longer to recover than anyone thought. And the Metrodome's concrete underbelly has taken its toll on Cristian Guzman's back, Joe Mauer's knees and Jason Bartlett's neck. Hell, our manager went in for surgery last year. When the coaching staff needs to play through pain, it’s not a good sign.

On the other hand, the clich├ęd secret is to buy low and sell high. Baldelli's stock may well sink lower. It can always sink lower. But it’s pretty damn low. At this time last year, trade rumors surrounding him included names like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was the primary chip that landed Mark Teixeira at the trade deadline. The Devil Rays apparently wanted more than that. Now? The Twins are likely dangling a young pitcher that isn't Matt Garza or Francisco Liriano.

Which brings us to another factor that makes this deal so seductive - it precludes almost nothing. If the Twins made this trade, they would still have plenty of money to spend. They'd still have plenty of pitching to deal. They could still re-sign Hunter and play Baldelli at DH (where he presumably could stay healthier). And they would have insurance if Hunter left. And that insurance would be very young, very cheap, and provide plenty of payroll flexibility.

But it's a huge gamble, and precisely the sort of move over which bloggers and the local media have feasted (see Ortiz, Ramon and Ponson, Sidney). That isn't likely to stop if Baldelli ends up on the DL for a month, which means Bill Lee is going to need to be every bit as tough as his fans.

But the Twins are at a point where gambling makes sense, whether we want to admit it or not. And if you're looking to gamble on toughness, who better than a guy named Rocco?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before....

You’ve likely heard the joke, though I won’t blame you if you’ve forgotten it.

A guy brings his family to the stadium to watch his favorite, but terrible, sports team. But he accidentally leaves the four tickets on his car dashboard. When he returns to the car, he finds the windshield smashed and in the spots where the four tickets were he finds....

....eight tickets.

That’s the joke I thought about as we walked back towards our car at halftime of the Gophers-Illinois game on Saturday night. I was walking with The Voice of Reason™ and The Boy™, and another family with two boys, age seven and nine. The three boys were about as excited and energetic as they had been all night. Because we were leaving.

I don’t know the last time I went to a homecoming game for the U. My impression? I think it’s probably a pretty good place to sober up, and that’s good, because there were a fair amount of college students who could use precisely that kind of help. Not that I blame them. I don’t think I’ll make the mistake of attending another Gophers game without some serious toxins in my nervous system.

Otherwise, it’s just too painful. I took our family and our friends to the game because the tickets were free. I treated the kids to popcorn and some pop and the beautifully occupying magical malt cup. And I STILL felt like I was torturing them.

It was that bad. The score was 7-0 before we sat down. It was 14-0 before I brought them the popcorn. When the Gophers pulled within 11 points, it felt like a moral victory. Within fifteen minutes, the boys started spacing out, which meant they missed out on both opportunities to cheer. The Boy™’s favorite part was watching the Illinois cheerleaders do their pushups and flips.

I mean, I’m dealing with grade school boys here. There is absolutely NO WAY to interest them in a football team that is perennially terrible. Which is why I’m barely a Gopher fan, because I was in their shoes thirty years ago. And why I feel so silly writing this. The stadium was half empty for its homecoming. We now have several generations of kids trained in apathy. Do I really think anyone is going to be reading this?

With two minutes left in the first half, I realized that every minute longer was another minute too many. This wasn’t a nice family outing. This was the 21st century equivalent of the endless wood-paneled station wagon treks with the family across Nebraska. The high point was going to be the end. And the low point was going to be every single minute before the end. And if you add up all of those single minutes, I think we’re going on something like forty years.

So as we walked back to the car, I reflected. I had spent my Saturday night introducing my son and his friends to the joke that is U of M football.

I won’t blame them if they do their best to forget it.