Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On Contests, Nick Punto and Oil Wrestling

I'm betting that title got your attention, huh? Let's count them down in order....

1. Over at we started a contest to try and predict the Twins Opening Day roster. You just click over from the main page, fill out the roster the way you think it will look on Opening Day, and win a prize if yours is the closest. So pull out your crystal ball and go at it.

2. I filled out mine and almost immediately wanted to change it. I basically decided that the Twins would re-sign four of their free agents and that would pretty much be the end of the offseason. And that still might be right.

But I wonder how soon Joe Crede and his agent Scott Boras are going to be looking to sign a deal. Probably not soon. And so if the Twins re-sign Orlando Cabrera and then take a gander at all those free agent second basemen, I wonder if they don't sign one of them and move Nick Punto to third base. It's defensible, and the more I think about it, the more I suspect that might happen.

3. Speaking of Punto, I happened to compare his on-base percentage to those shortstops in MLB who had at least 500 at-bats. His .337 OBP last year ranks 11th of 20, sandwiched between Miguel Tejada and Rafael Furcal. I still say he doesn't make a bad shortstop, especially if his defense returns to where it was before 2009.

4. And finally, I've been blogging this since 2002. I've spent plenty of hours wondering where it would lead. And now I know that all of it was a complete waste of time. Because yesterday I got this email from Judd Spicer, who writes for GameDay and is a 'sports blotter' on the City Pages site. And is apparently the most brilliant blogger of all time:

For immediate release--

This Friday, October 30th, City Pages sportswriter Judd Spicer will be participating in an evening of women's oil wrestling, battling for the universal pride of those who cover sports for a living. Spicer's aim is to "dispel the notion that sportswriters are tubby, hot-dog-eating, booze-hounds that write about sport instead of participating in the field of battle."

His opponent in the exhibition match: The tenacious Amanda Hansen, former contestant on ABC's "Big Brother" and current finalist for 93x's "Ultimate Xgirl" competition. To learn more about Amanda and her Xgirl quest, please visit and vote for her here. (SFW)

The Event: An Evening of Women's Oil Wrestling, sponsored in part by "Seconds Out Boxing Promotions" (Facebook Page)

Start Time:Friday, October 30, 2009 at 8:00 p.m.
Location:Robert Bar in Mounds View
Street:2400 County Road H2
Tickets: $15 for General Admission
Special Guest Judge: "Golden" Caleb Truax
Get your pre sale tickets at

Spicer vs. Hansen - Never Question The Power of the Pen

Writer, schmiter. Spicer is a blogger, and I gotta say, I'm ashamed my brainstorming never included oil wrestling with a fetching lass.
Or, at least not that I'm going to admit.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Polanco Crush

One of the more interesting things about writing the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook was the internal debates that raged. The obvious ones are about Twins players. For instance, Nick Nelson and I have never seen eye-to-eye on whether Carlos Gomez or Delmon Young should be the Twins starting outfielder. I believe Young should play simply because the Twins have a substantial investment in both players and Gomez can play in Rochester. Nick believes Gomez should play because Nick is terribly, almost tragically, wrong.

A smaller debate flared up about the value of Placido Polanco during our meetings, mostly because I have a man-crush on Polanco, and have ever since he was with the Phillies. To me, he's a top-notch defender and a terrific #2 hitter. Polanco's career batting average is .303 and his ability to avoid strikeouts borders on legendary. In my offseason blueprint, I wrote:

"The market for second basemen is so thick you can take your pick. I’m budgeting up to $7 million for Placido Polanco, Freddy Sanchez, Mark DeRosa, Orlando Hudson or Felipe Lopez. Heck, I’ll even jump on Akinori Iwamura if his option isn’t picked up. I’m not that concerned about which one, and I’m not hesitant to offer a multi-year deal."

I wrote that I didn't care which one we got, but if you look at my final grid, the name that's in the slot for second base is "Polanco." And the Twins stealing him from their main division rival would only add to the impact. Mmm - sticking it to the Tigers. I recognize that warm feeling inside is a little ugly. It's still pleasant.

My feelings waned a little bit the final week of the season. Watching the Tigers, the 34-year-old Polanco looked old and tired. His defense, which has always been praised, looked limited. (Though I should mention, his UZR metric is +12.1, which is very, very good.) And while he looks like Chase Utley compared to what the Twins trotted out there last year, his OPS has fallen from 846 to 767 to 727 over the last three years. Of the available free agent second basemen (and there are a lot of good ones) he had one of the worst years.

There's also some question about whether Polanco will be available. The Tigers have a 24-year-old prospect named Scott Sizemore who hit over .300 this year in AA and AAA. He just broke his ankle in the Arizona Fall League, but that shouldn't affect his status for next year. So a possible replacement is in place.

Which means the Tigers have a decision to make. Although Polanco is a free agent, they essentially have a $6-7 million option on him for next year. That's because Polanco will be a Type A free agent, which means that if the Tigers offer him arbitration and he doesn't accept it, he'll cost a signing team a first or second round draft pick. Lots of younger second basemen last year with better years found out how tough it is to sign with a team with that artificial price tag hanging around their neck. If Polanco is offered arbitration, he would likely need to accept it.

The Tigers surely know this, and need to decide if their bloated payroll can handle another $6-7 million for Polanco. Detroit spent over $120 million last year while playing in the most economically depressed city in major league baseball. And they're going to have some raises to give, like to pitchers Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson. To be honest, I don't know how they could afford their team last year, and I don't know how they can afford it next year, so I'm not about to rule anything out.

We'll know on December 1st if the Tigers are offering Polanco arbitration. I have until then to try and talk some reason into myself. 34-year-old second basemen whose OPS has dropped 120 points over the last two years are not a good investement. They're certainly not a good investment if you need to offer a multi-year contract. I know this, just like I know that it isn't 2007 anymore.

But I still need to get over this Polanco crush.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Twins Internal Meetings

So you think the 137-page TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook has a lot of info? Try again. According to Minnesota Twins General Manager Bill Smith, it’s a fraction of the info the Twins generate in their annual internal October meetings to prepare for the offseason.

“We review all of the players in our organization from the Major Leagues down to the Dominican Summer League,” said Smith in an interview last week with TwinsCentric for the Handbook. “Each one of the players gets discussed, some more than others. Some are great prospects that don’t need a lot of discussion because it’s pretty clear what path they’re on; where they played this year and where they’re going next year. And others are organizational players that also for different reasons may or may not need a lot of discussion, but we talk about every player in the organization.”

Smith agreed to an interview with TwinsCentric for an appendix to the Offseason GM Handbook, which is currently available at In a 30-minute, 14-page transcribed interview, he revealed several details about offseason planning and the Twins future, including:
  • It looks like there won't be a Santana-esque rumor mill this offseason surrounding Joe Mauer. Smith is "very comfortable" going into spring training without Mauer signed to a long-term extension, provided he feels Mauer would like to stay long-term. Nick Nelson talks more about this at
  • The international signings of Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco are the result of a 10-year initiative to be more competitive in the international player markets, and that Twins fans should expect the Twins to continue to be aggressive in the international market. Seth Stohs dives into that at
(Just an administrative point for those of you who have already purchased the pdf of the Handbook: we are sending out the new version with the appendix attached on Monday morning. And for those of you who have received the free one-third book, we’re sending you a new version too, with a subset of the interview included. That’s also the version available at right now as a FREE download.)

The work doesn't stop once Smith and his team review their own players. "We talk about our free agents – our minor league free agents, our major league free agents," Smith continued. "We go over all of the major league free agents and attach some kind of a role grade to them. And we discuss every major league organization, where we see them, who might be good trade partners, what they need and what we think they need, what they may have available. So it’s a very, very good meeting."

The meeting occurred last week in Fort Myers. But the Twins don't put their information in a handbook. Instead ends up on enormous multi-colored boards in Smith's office. The long wall of his office is a series of big boards, with the names of each MLB team going across the top. Underneath each are names of those teams top major league and minor league players on little plaques that can be moved around.

"We use these boards every day of the year," Smith explained. "They’re color-coded with birth dates and by position and it really gives you an opportunity to look at a team and see strengths and weaknesses. We update transactions on these boards multiple times every day when somebody sees a trade or an outright assignment or an option or something. We try and keep them up to date."

But not all the players on the boards are under teams. Smith pointed to yet another wall. "We’ve got our free agent board behind you on the wall. Those are all what we call 20-D free agents, who are players that were on major-league rosters this year who have elected free agency." Within a couple of weeks, when players file for free agency, that board will change significantly. "That small board will transform into a huge board once all the major-league guys start coming up," Smith confirmed.

But the purpose of the internal meeting isn't to just gather and organize all that information. Its purpose is to gather opinions and gain alignment. Smith explains, "It’s a communication tool that gets everybody pretty much on the same page. We gather all the opinions. And a lot of the opinions are different. That’s why we do it. And then we move forward."

And "forward" means...

“Frankly, I hate to be this way, but I’m not going to tell you. I’m not going to tell you what our plan is," Smith answers politely.

But fortunately, after that statement, there are 4400 more words in the interview for us to dissect.

And infinitely more than that if you read between the lines.