Thursday, November 3, 2005
Sid Sparks Controversy
What to do for 2006
by James Mathewson
Good Morning everyone! First things first. I hope that many of you will take the time to e-mail me your entry into the Carew Statue Contest. If you aren't sure what that is, click here for the Rules of the Contest. The contest deadline is Thursday afternoon, so please e-mail me your entry ASAP! Thanks!
Secondly, please stop over at BrentNet's site today. I happen to have heard about him being taken to the hospital in an ambulance the other night, so I went to his site and there is a picture of him there. (Apparently before the ambulance got there, he was able to put a quick posting on his site!!) So, please check it out, and be sure to keep him in your thoughts this weekend!
The past two Thursdays, our Guest Writer has been "Roger" who took the time to inform us of his ranking formula for the Twins minor league hitters and pitchers. Today, our Guest columnist is James Mathewson. You may have read James's Why Baseball article last week. James is a big baseball fan with many well thought out ideas about the Twins and other baseball topics. I think you'll really enjoy his thoughts on the 2006 Minnesota Twins roster.
So, without any further ado, I present What James Thinks the Twins Should Do for 2006. As always, if you have any questions or comments for me, or for James, please e-mail me, and I will be sure to pass along any thoughts to James. I know he would love to hear them.
What to Do for 2006
by James Mathewson
With the General Managers (GM) meetings right around the corner, Twins GM Terry Ryan (TR) and his staff have been busy planning their most important off season since 2003-2004, when TR made two of the three best trades in his tenure and eventually earned Executive of the Year awards in the process.
With the World Champion White Sox and the quickly improving Indians in his division, TR has less margin for error this time around. He simply must upgrade his offense within a status-quo budget structure if he hopes to content for the Central Division in 2006. That means at least one trade and probably a free agent acquisition as well. And his stated goal is that the acquired hitters be “veterans”, which means he will need to get creative on salaries. (Whether you agree with that plan or not, I will take it as a given.) The end result is perhaps a more active off season than 2003-2004.
Though few trades are closed during the GM meetings, much of the groundwork is laid at these meetings for trades that close during the owners’ meetings in December. And that groundwork determines what TR will do with his 40-man roster and arbitration players between now and December. My guess is that TR is not getting a lot of sleep these days. I’m going to add my recommendations to the piles of scouting reports and staff suggestions he must sift through in the coming days in the hopes that he might actually read them and take them to heart. I know it’s a long shot, but if this report has a chance help the Twins in any way for 2006, I have to try.
I will not spend much time discussing pitching, except to suggest pitchers that could be sent to other clubs to acquire bats. By my estimation, the Twins have a glut of pitching, and how TR uses this glut to compensate for the team’s dearth of bats will determine whether the team will contend in 2006. I will first analyze the types of bats needed to improve production from this offense. Next I will analyze the Twins’ depth chart at each position and try to match positions with spots in the line-up. Finally I will suggest a few possible moves to fill holes. Note: I will spare you raw numbers simply because I know you all can find the exact data as easily as I can. I will stick to facts and let the reader verify them with raw numbers if they doubt the facts I cite.
Analyses of what went wrong with the 2005 line-up are like water in a river. It seems a new one comes out every day, but when each is analyzed, the truth kind of slips away and they’re found wanting. Any adequate set of recommendations must start with a strong analysis of what went wrong in 2005. Here’s my best shot. The Twins failed in every aspect: getting on base, manufacturing runs, driving in runs, and clutch hitting. Because it was such a full-scale collapse, it’s hard to see what needs to be fixed.
But the thing that stands out among all the Twins woes is a failure for the clean-up hitter to produce. With Joe Mauer hitting third and getting on base consistently all year, an adequate clean-up hitter should have at least 100 RBIs. Justin Morneau and Matthew LeCroy’s at bats in that spot put together did not equal 100 RBIs. LeCroy is gone and Morneau has shown he’s not ready to take the responsibility for the clean-up spot. So TR’s first priority must be finding a good veteran clean-up hitter.
The second most glaring weakness with the offense was getting on base at the top of the order. Considering that Mauer had a solid, consistent year as the #3 hitter and still managed less than 70 RBI, clearly the lead-off and #2 hitters failed to produce. Seth did an excellent analysis late in the year of Shannon Stewart’s struggles as the worst lead-off hitter in the game in 2005. And Gardy’s insistence on using light-hitting middle infielders in the second spot, who failed to execute basic bat-control plays like bunts and hit and runs, magnified the problem. Whatever TR does, he has to figure out how to get more production out of the lead-off and second spots.
Of course, the bottom of the order didn’t fare too well, either, at least until Morneau hit down there and Cuddyer started to produce. But Jacque Jones had a bad year. And Gardy had a revolving door at the rest of the line-up. Still, If TR fixes the order from 1-4, recognizing that Mauer will fill one of those positions, he can easily fix the rest of the order with players on the roster. Torii Hunter can hit fifth. Justin Morneau can hit sixth. Cuddyer/Kubel, Bartlett, and Maza/Rodriguez can fill the last three spots in the line-up adequately. What Gardy needs is an everyday line-up from 1-6, and the Twins have three of those guys right now. TR must find him a lead-off hitter, a #2 hitter and a cleanup hitter.
Before I go into a position-by-position depth chart analysis, let me say that either Shannon Stewart or Torii Hunter will likely be traded to make salary room for productive veteran hitters. I’ve analyzed this 100 times and I just can’t see how TR can keep both players, acquire pricey veterans, and stay under the team’s $58-60 million self-imposed salary cap. Of course, Jones is gone, but his salary is not enough with the other raises on the team to make a dent. Either Stewart or Hunter must go.
But the question is, do you trade Stewart or Hunter? Most pundits favor trading Hunter because his absence would free up $4 million more in 2006 and $12 million more in 2007, he would bring much more in return, and his absence might settle down the clubhouse more than Stewart’s. Given all the comments Hunter has made since he got hurt, he is openly trying to get traded. But I don’t think he’s the right guy to trade. Why? Because when your biggest hole is a right-handed power hitter, you don’t trade your only right-handed power hitter.
If we assume that Lew Ford would replace the departed guy, I would rather have Lew leading off and playing left field than playing center and hitting fifth. The only way the Twins should consider trading Hunter is if the other team sends them a slugging veteran right handed hitter in return. And I just don’t see that happening, not within salary constraints (Soriano won’t work ‘cause his salary will be more than Hunter’s). TR can always trade Hunter at the end of the year to clear room in 2007, if need be, but 2006 is not the year to make that trade.
So I will assume that TR packages Stewart in with a pitcher or two as one of the trades he uses to acquire a #2 or clean-up hitter. And I will assume that Lew is the lead-off hitter and left fielder (with help from Jayson Tyner) for 2006. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the position-by-position break-down. Note that I will only name players as possibilities if they are on the 40-man roster or are playing either in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) or the Venezuelan Winter League (VWL).
C: Joe Mauer, Mike Redmond, Chris Heintz and Rob Bowen. (Remember all the fuss about Corky Miller?) This is the Twins’ most solid position. Expect Mauer to improve somewhat in 2006 as he gets stronger this off season and learns the pitchers more.
1B: Justin Morneau, Garrett Jones, Danny Matienzo. Others can play here (Cuddyer, Tiffee), but these three are the primarily first baseman, and primarily because they’re too clumsy to play anywhere else. I think Morneau will have a better year next year because he will be able to work out more, which was the source of his power in the past. I also think a change to Joe Vavra as hitting coach, his roaming instructor in the minor-leagues, will help him. He obviously did not respond well to Scott Ullger. Jones is in the AFL and hitting better there than he did in AAA. He will probably go back to AAA next year, but could play a role off the bench. Matienzo is a right handed power-hitting bat who’s really struggling for Aragua in the VWL. He had good numbers in New Britain, though, so I would expect him to go to Rochester and split time with Jones at first and DH.
2B: Luis Maza, Luis Rodriguez, Nick Punto, Juan Castro. I’m listing these guys in the order I would like them to get opportunities in spring training. Not that Gardy would do it this way since Gardy systematically eliminated Maza from consideration in the past, despite the fact that he has the most distinguished minor league career of any Twins second basemen since Todd Walker, and he’s a better fielder than Walker ever was. Maza continues to rip up the VWL this year, earning player of the week honors and hitting for power. Of all the candidates, he has the best chance of producing. A flexible platoon with Rodriguez would also work. L-Rod had a good year last year and, like Maza, he’s done everything the organization has asked him to. If not a Luis, then the Twins should go outside the organization. I’m not convinced Punto or Castro are anything but utility players. And though either could be good in the utility role, I don’t think the Twins should continue to hinder their bench by carrying both these guys.
3B: Michael Cuddyer, Terry Tiffee, Matt Moses. Cuddyer had an up-and-down season in 2005, and was the victim of Gardy’s benching and doghouse at times. The jury’s still out on whether he earned the right for a second chance in 2006. Tiffee is s puzzle. But he is a AAAA player who has been successful through hard work rather than talent. He could be a bench player, but not an everyday player. Moses is the third baseman of the future, but he’s two years away, despite playing well for the Grand Canyon Rafters of the AFL (in limited play behind the Yankees’s Eric Duncan). But if the Twins need to upgrade two positions, and both need to be run producers, 3B is a likely candidate for an acquired player. I wouldn’t be opposed to giving Cuddyer another chance here as the #7 hitter, but I’m not making the calls. In interviews, both TR and Gardy have stated that Cuddyer has had his chance, and failed. Thus he spent most of September in right field. Bottom line, between second and third, third is the position the Twins look to upgrade through trade or free agency, because the Twins have better internal options at second than third and there are better available external options (think Boston) at third than second. Note: I thought the Twins would retain Glenn Williams for third, but they released him, and since he’s still hurt, they have not resigned him. They did say they would resign him and perhaps they’re just waiting until after the hectic times to do so.
SS: Jason Bartlett, Punto. Bartlett had a disappointing year, but I can’t really fault him. Given that he had 0 major league experience going into the year, Gardy should have put him out there every day and batted him ninth. Instead, Gardy put him in the #2 hole and, when he struggled, Gardy started to blame him and his counterpart on the left side of the infield (Cuddyer) in the press. The standard line, published by every columnist Gardy ever talked to as late as August, was that the line-up didn’t work because of Bartlett and Cuddyer. This messed with Bartlett’s head and they ended up needing to send him to AAA. Even after he got sent down, the pundits blamed him, but he played well enough down there to earn a promotion and played good in August but not so good in September. I for one saw enough of his plate discipline and bat control to say he can be a good hitter, if Gardy would just leave him in the eight or nine hole and play him everyday at short, where his fielding really shines. And both Gardy and TR gave him a vote of confidence going into the off season, calling him one of the team’s “core” players.
LF: Lew Ford, Jayson Tyner, Kevin West. I already explained that I’m assuming the Twins trade Shannon Stewart. Lew has shown an ability to hit leadoff when he plays everyday and, in many ways, he’s a prototypical leadoff hitter. He’s patient, he’s fast, he hustles out infield hits. He sometimes makes bone-headed plays, which lands him in Gardy’s doghouse. But when he’s not battling for an everyday job, like he has the last two years, he relaxes and plays really well. I think he’ll have a better year in 2006; and he’s a huge upgrade over Stewart in left. Jason Tyner had a good year and a great September He gets on base and plays the game right. Nothing flashy, but he doesn’t try to do too much. He could be a nice complement to Ford and a fourth outfielder/pinch runner. West has had two very good minor league seasons at AAA and is hitting the snot out of the ball in the VWL. I would like to see him take LeCroy’s roster spot next year, but it will be tight if the Twins acquire that veteran slugger for the DH role.
CF. Hunter, Josh Rabe, Denard Span. As I wrote above, Hunter is the key guy who can hit ahead of Morneau and drive in runs. True, he’s a free swinger, but when he tries other approaches, his power goes down and he slumps. He’ll never hit 300 (in fact, he’ll struggle to a 300 OBP), but with a good top of the order, he should knock in 100 runs, hit 30 dingers and steal 30 bases while playing a gold glove center field. As the only remaining position player from the 99 season, his success is vital to the 2006 campaign. Josh Rabe is one of those guys who puts up good but not great numbers year after year and gets labeled a AAAA player because of lack of opportunity rather than ability. He’s got five tools. They’re not all top tools, but he’s a complete player who will provide good depth should our fearless center fielder end up on a cart again. And he’s showing that he can play at this level with an impressive season in the VWL. Span is the center fielder of the future, more in the mold of Tyner--a slap hitter who can run. The difference is, Span doesn’t run, he flies. He’s had a nice AFL season so far, spitting time with the Mets’ Lastings Millage. But he’s two years away, assuming he continues to hone the fundamentals.
RF: Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, The million dollar question this off season is, will Kubel’s knee hold up to play regularly in right? If not, TR better go out and get a right fielder. Actually, I’m pretty sure TR will pencil in Cuddyer in right and get a third baseman, considering that Kubel can’t slide or play in the field more than a year after the injury and four months before Spring Training. If Kubel’s healthy, he’s the best hitter on the team, which is why his loss was the most underreported aspect of the Twins 2005 demise. I was more optimistic about Kubel opening the season in right a month ago. But his Instructional League performance indicates that the best we can expect is a part-time right fielder and part-time DH. This is another reason why I hope West makes the team: He can also play right. Still, I hope Kubel recovers in time to help the Twins win the division.
DH: I’m leaving this blank because the Twins go into the off season without a DH, having cut LeCroy loose. There is reason to be optimistic here is the glut of old timers with questionable value to National League teams who can still hit. I won’t tip my hand here, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see an acquisition for a certain first baseman during the GM meetings.
Surplus pitchers: Kyle Lohse, JC Romero, Juan Rincon, JD Durbin, Boof Bonser. TR will have to trade Lohse before the deadline to tender him a contract because he can’t afford to tender him a contract and risk needing to pay his $4 million salary unexpectedly. This is one reason I think he’ll try to consummate a trade during the meetings, as he did with AJ Pierzinski two years ago. Romero is gone, but the Twins will need to replace his arm from outside the organization because they have no internal candidates who are ready. I’m not sure about Rincon: He’s a great set-up man who should be better after minor elbow surgery and he’s cheap. But for all those reasons, combined with the fact that the Twins are very deep at that position (Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, VWL ace Willie Eyre [who’s starting and dominating for Aragua], Travis Bowyer [who’s struggling for the Rafters, but has electric stuff], Bonser and Durbin [who’s pitching much better in the VWL than he did in AAA, especially early]), Rincon will fetch a pretty penny. I don’t think TR would trade both Durbin and Bonser because he understands the importance of depth. But he could get away with trading one of them without killing his depth.
Potential acquisitions: All you can do here is speculate, so this is of questionable value. But, allow me to suggest two acquisitions. First, the Twins trade Shannon Stewart, Kyle Lohse, and JC Romero to the Phillies for Jim Thome and a big pile of cash. This trade only works if the Phillies agree to pay all but $6 million of Thome’s salary for each of the three remaining years on his contract. If they balk at that, the Twins could ask for Ryan Howard. Maybe that would convince the Phillies to cut their losses with Thome! The second is to sign Bill Mueller as a free agent. This one hinges on the Theo Epstein talks. If Epstein signs, expect him to try to retain Mueller, which would make Kevin Youkilis expendable. In that case, I’m sure Youkilis could be had for Rincon, considering the desperate state of Boston’s bullpen. TR would prefer Mueller, whom he tried to acquire at the trade deadline, because he’s a veteran, he’s the prototypical #2 hitter, and he wouldn’t need to cough up Rincon to get him.
Imagine this line-up: Ford, Mueller/Youkilis, Mauer, Thome, Hunter, Morneau, Cuddyer/Kubel, Bartlett, Maza/Rodriguez. It wouldn’t set the world on fire, but combined with great pitching, the Twins could contend with it.
So, there you have it, James's thoughts on the Twins organization, looking at need by position and much more. I think it's great. I may agree with most of this, and may even disagree with a little bit too. However, that's the best part about the offseason, looking forward to next year. Looking forward to the Hot Stove League. It is fun to play GM and put try to figure out how to put together a team we could watch, and we think could win. There is not much better for a baseball fan than playing GM! So, please, if you would like to ask me or James and questions, please feel free to e-mail me.
SID SPARKS CONTROVERSY
Any chance that you read yesterday's Sid Hartman column? If you read the whole thing, you read the following:
Leo Lewis, who spent 24 years with the Vikings as a player and administrator, has been interviewed for the vacant associate athletic director position at the University of Minnesota. He would be one great addition to a staff that ought to add a black person.
I'm sorry. Maybe I'm reading into this comment too much, but isn't there just a hint of something not quite right there? I am NOT calling Sid Hartman a racist. He has done too much for Gophers athletics and been such a staunch supporter of the entire system and all of the athletes, white or black. I just happen to think that either this paragraph was written wrong, or should have been edited a little bit. First, Leo Lewis has done a LOT to distinguish himself as a very viable candidate for the job since his days as a Wide Receiver for the Vikings. I wish some of those things, and some of the projects and roles he has had would have been highlighted. Is Sid saying that he should be hired because he is black? I am sure that is not his intent. But read the last sentence a couple of times. Isn't that how it comes across?
And then, isn't there an editor at the Strib? Shouldn't someone have altered this a little bit? I am really surprised that I haven't heard more about this one line. And again, I'm not saying Sid Hartman is a racist, far from it. However, I really think that this is a bad, horrible sentence!
Any thoughts? E-mail me.
Here is John Sickels' Review of his preseason Top 20 Twins Prospect Lists. It is interesting to see who ranked where. Also, there are some fun responses in the comments.
Remember last week when I mentioned that the rumor was out there that an outfielder on an American League playoff team roster had tested positive for steroids? I listed out all of the starting outfielders for the four teams because the report said that it would be a name we would care about. Well, it was true, but I didn't list the player. So, who was it? Well, former Twins OF Matt Lawton, who ended the season with the Yankees, tested positive and will serve a 10-day suspension to start the 2006 season. Of course, Lawton is a free agent so it will be interesting to see how this affects him.
I made a terrible and foolish mistake that I will regret for the rest of my life. I take full responsibility for my actions and did not appeal my suspension. I apologize to the fans, the game, my family and all those people that I let down. I am truly sorry and deeply regret my terrible lapse in judgment.
Kevin West is hitting just .196 (10-51) with 21 strikeouts in Venezuela right now. But he also has five homers already. Alex Romero went 3-4 to increase his batting average in Venezuela to .343. Matt Guerrier also threw seven four-hit innings. His ERA is 1.89, and in 19 innings, he has given up 14 hits and three walks. He has struck out 14.
One game down, One win! Wolves 90, Trailblazers 86. That is definitely a positive. Head coach Dwayne Casey was able to get his first win in his first game, coaching against Nate McMillan who he coached under the last few years in Seattle. There were definitely other things to take out of the game in a positive light.
Kevin Garnett was excellent. He had 18 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and two blocks. He was 9-13 from the field. Not bad for a guy who played in just two of the team's preseason games!
Wally Szczerbiak got 15 shots! That is great news. He scored 16 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. He is so non-good off the dribble, but he can shoot with anyone!
Richie Frahm was signed to replace the injured (heart surgery) Fred Hoiberg. He did his best Hoiberg impression last night. He made his first five three point attempts and made 3-4 free throws down the stretch for 18 points off the bench.
Marko Jaric is awesome! He had 14 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. He pushed the ball when it was there, made the right passes and slowed things down when necessary. He also played some defense. He was excellent on post-ups with a smaller point guard on him. He also is able to play the 2 and 3 positions, allowing Anthony Carter to get minutes as the point guard.
The dreaded DNP-CDs were interesting. Nikoliz Tskitishvili didn't play. I didn't expect him to play a lot of minutes, but figured he would get into the game a little bit. But the surprise was that Troy Hudson didn't play. He has been injured, but was eligible to play, so I'm surprised he didn't get any time.
Trenton Hassell showed off his shooting abilities with a nice 1-7 day. He did play better defense though.
First-round pick Rashad McCants got his shots in! He went 3-12 from the field in his 22 minutes for six points.
However, it is also important to remember that the Wolves played the Portland Trailblazers, a team many rank very near the bottom of the NBA. The Wolves will not be a bad team by any means. They have some talent. However, I just don't know that their talent can compete with the likes of the Spurs. That said, who can? I mean, Michael Finley is their sixth man!
And on those notes, I will call it a day. I certainly hope that you have found James's Twins article worth reading, and I hope that many of you will have comments for him. I will be back tomorrow for more of my own thoughts, as well as the NFL "Expert" Picks. If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me.
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