Sunday, April 4, 2010

A New Baseball Season for the Twins

A new baseball season has arrived. I think the Minnesota Twins will have a good season. The everyday lineup of Denard Span, Orlando Hudson, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, J.J. Hardy, Delmon Young, and either Nick Punto or Brendan Harris will be formidable. Mauer is the best player in baseball. Morneau, Span, Kubel, and Cuddyer are All-Star level players. Hudson and Hardy were once All-Stars and have the ability to be so again.

With Jim Thome, Jose Morales (once he is off the disabled list), either Harris or Punto, and Alexi Casilla on the bench, the best manager in baseball will have more weapons to call on the he ever has.

I can easily see this team leading the league in runs scored. It is also a strong defensive team. In fact this is the best everyday roster the Twins have ever had outside of 1991 when the Twins won the World Series.

A minor leaguer to watch to watch is catcher Wilson Ramos who almost made the team this year. Ramos won’t be able to catch everyday in the majors because of some guy named Joe Mauer. However, Mauer and Ramos could combine to share the catcher and dh roles next year making the Twins offense even stronger.

Pitching of course is the key to all winning. The Twins starting staff of Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano, Kevin Slowey, and Francisco Liriano looks strong. Baker and Blackburn have had back to back good years while Pavano looks to have regained his his 2004 form. Slowey looks good, but needs to prove he can stay healthy all year. Liriano has to prove he is back to being a good pitcher again.

Keep an eye on Kyle Gibson the Twins #1 draft pick last year. It sounds like he could make a quick trip through the minor league system and could be ready for action in the majors next year.

One area of concern this year is who will close. The Twins bullpen is deep and talented. Jose Mijares, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, Clay Condrey, and Brian Dunesing have all proved themselves affective relievers at the major league level. However, none of them is Joe Nathan. With Nathan lost for the season, the Twins need to manage their bullpen well as not to let things unravel.

I think the closer role is overrated. If you can get people out in the 7th or 8th innings, why not the 9th – the pressure assigned to the 9th inning is artificial. Ron Gardenhire says he will use Rauch as closer and leave the 7th and 8th innings to Guerrier and Mijares. Hopefully the starters will regularly pitch 7 innings, so the bullpen will only have to handle a couple of innings each games. That is why good starting pitching is so important.

I look forward to the new baseball season, and the Twins new ballpark Target Field. I will be going to a game in May. I heard mostly nice things about Target Field. I heard there are a couple of spots that have obstructed views plus the seats in the outfield are mostly benches. I prefer an actual seat, and will buy my tickets accordingly.

I look forward to an exciting and successful season for the Twins who incidentally will be celebrating 50 Years in Minnesota.

On a side note I have recently received signed baseball cards from 3 former Twins I have been trying to get a response from for some time.

Dan Ford who played for the Twins in the 70s had a great nickname (Disco Dan) and a home run trot to be remembered (just before reaching home plate he would turn around and walk backwards across the plate). Mr. Ford has eluded me for some time, but not only did he sign a card for me (which was a card of him as an Angel), but sent a signed card of his own with him as a Twin. Thank you Mr. Ford!

Shane Mack played for the Twins in the 90’s and was a key member of the 1991 World Championship team. He too has eluded me for years. He seems to keep moving which caused me to get a lot of “return to sender – unable to forward” messages on my returned letters. Well after over a 300 day wait Mr. Mack finally signed a card for me. It goes to show perseverance pays off. Thanks for signing Mr. Mack!

Doug Mientkiewicz was a key member of the 2001 – 2003 teams that won 2 divisions and revived baseball in Minnesota. I started collecting signed cards through the mail after Doug had left the Twins. I have tried sending to him for the last 3 years and never got a response. Well this year he signed 1 of 2 cards for me. Thanks Doug!

Joe Mauer's Contract is Worth the Risk

In 1989 the Minnesota Twins fans feared the lost of the team’s best and most loved player; the man who had helped the Twins win their only World Series title. Fans were convinced the Twins would not be able to win another title without him. The Twins signed superstar Kirby Puckett to contract that made him the highest paid player in baseball at 3 million dollars per year. Fans rejoiced, and Kirby Puckett did indeed lead the Twins to another World Series title in 1991.

Puckett’s contract was again up after the 1992 season. Now even more loved than before, Puckett was seen as the player that could not leave. He almost did, but after some wrangling a 5 year 30 million dollar contract was signed. Fans rejoiced again. Kirby Puckett would be a Twin for life and more winning was ahead.

That was not how things turned out. Kirby Puckett was hit in the eye with a pitch at the end of the 1995 season and never played again. The Twins did not have a winning season again till 2001.

The example of Kirby Puckett shows the promise and the peril of signing even the best and most popular players to big money long term contracts. Puckett was a great player who was universally love and highly durable. He had never been on the disable list till 1995 when his career came to a stretching halt.

I thought about this when I heard the Twins signed Joe Mauer to an 8 year 184 million dollar contract extension. Joe Mauer is the best player in baseball. He will likely been seen as greater than Kirby Puckett. He is more popular. Joe Mauer is from Minnesota. He more than universally loved, he is ionic. The Twins had to sign him. He had to finish his career as a Twin and yet…

This years Twins team is the best on paper since 1991. Even with the lost of closer Joe Nathan many people think this team can win it all. The Twins are moving into their new, higher regarding home of Target Field. I like many fans cannot wait to see the Twins play there. To open Target Field without so be free agent Joe Mauer signed to a contract extension would have been problematic to say the least and yet…

Like Kirby Puckett in 89 and 92 Joe Mauer deserved the money he has received. He is that great. I believe Joe Mauer can lead the Twins to a World Series title. I believe he will be one of the greatest players to ever play the game. He will be the greatest Minnesota Twin of all-time. I also believe Joe Mauer can easily get hurt and stick the Twins with a huge contract and nothing to show for it.

So the question is would I have signed him if I were running the Twins? The answer is yes. Why? Because the rewards outweigh the risk; Joe Mauer is too good, too popular. If he were to left the Twins would not have the chance to win the World Series. Morneau, Span, Kubel, etc are good players, some great, but they are not at Joe Mauer’s level.

Yes, Joe Mauer could get injured, but he also could his .400 win multiple MVP awards and lead the Twins to multiple titles. Sports teams have to go for it when they can. Joe Mauer is a once in a lifetime talent.

Even with his $23 million a year salary the Twins probably have another $75 million to spend on rest of the team thanks to addition revenue from their new ballpark. That $75 million is what their payroll was last in year which was the highest it has even been.

The Twins have the chance to do something special like 1991 they must go for it.