June 2007

Up ahead: The midpoint

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

MidpointCafe.jpgAt 41-37, the Twins are three games from the season midpoint. This morning, I filled out a midseason questionnaire that Tracy Ringolsby, of the Rocky Mountain News, organizes for writers around the country. It’s good to take a big-picture look at things once in a while, so this was an important exercise. See my thoughts below, but if you have any suggestions, especially in the “Best Game” categories, it might help jog my memory.

What went right? Torii Hunter, in his free agent walk year, is having arguably his best season. As of this writing (June 30), he is leading all center fielders in OPS, at .914. … Justin Morneau, the reigning AL MVP, has 20 homers and 60 RBI. … Johan Santana, reigning Cy Young, is 9-6 with a 2.76 ERA. … Carlos Silva has had a turnaround season, going 6-8 with a 4.15 ERA. … After two years in mop up relief duty, Matt Guerrier has become an invaluable reliever, posting a 1.85 ERA. With Jesse Crain (torn rotator) lost for the season, and Juan Rincon (4.08 ERA) struggling, Guerrier and Pat Neshek (1.18 ERA) have been the late-inning set-up men for closer Joe Nathan.

What went wrong? As expected, Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz flopped as veteran stopgaps in the rotation. Ponson was released and Ortiz has been buried in the bullpen. Matt Garza, their No. 1 pitching prospect, spent the season’s first three months at Class AAA Rochester. With Francisco Liriano (Tommy John) out for the season, the Twins miss the 1-2 (Santana/Liriano) lightning they had for 2 ½ months last season. … But for all the talk about starting pitching, the team’s real problems have come on offense. LF Rondell White has missed all but three games with a torn right calf muscle, and the Twins spent many games with six of nine spots in the batting order combining for 0 home runs. 3B Nick Punto has been abysmal (batting .212). SS Jason Bartlett (.259) only recently started hitting well. LF Jason Kubel (.247) also has struggled. … The Twins entered Friday ranked 29th in the majors in 3B OPS (.638), 30th in LF OPS (.630), and 27th in DH OPS (.656), and 27th in 2B OPS (.657). They led the AL Central with 514 singles, but had just 202 extra-base hits (ranked fourth in AL Central), compared to 298 for Detroit. … Reigning batting champ Joe Mauer missed 29 games with a strained quad muscle.

What’s ahead? CF Torii Hunter, 2B Luis Castillo, RHP Carlos Silva and LF Rondell White are their pending free agents. LHP Johan Santana and closer Joe Nathan are up after 2008.

Is the team a seller/buyer and who is it selling/buying (at least an area it wants help)? The Twins are currently buyers, but it’s interesting to note that since Wayne Krivsky left to become Reds GM, Terry Ryan has made three major league trades – two with Krivsky (Juan Castro and Kyle Lohse for minor leaguers). They haven’t made an impact in-season trade acquisition since they acquired Shannon Stewart from Toronto in 2003. … This year, they need a 3B or a DH. Tampa Bay’s Ty Wigginton has been mentioned internally, as has Milwaukee’s Kevin Mench. … If the Twins were to go into a horrendous tailspin, they could begin selling off parts. Pending free agents Hunter, Castillo and Silva would be the logical targets.

Best Quote: “I think we’re strong enough mentally and physically to get through these things, but right now it doesn’t feel very good,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said May 16, after the team fell to 18-21. “We have to be a better baseball team, starting with me.”

Best Game nominees: June 14, a 3-2 victory over Atlanta at the Metrodome. Twins trailed 2-0 entering the ninth inning but rallied for three runs off Braves closer Bob Wickman, with Mike Redmond delivering the game-winning hit.

Worst Game nominees: June 9, a 3-1 loss to Washington at the Metrodome. Levale Speigner, a pitcher the Twins lost in the Rule V draft, and a horrible pitcher at that, got the win, and Johan Santana took the loss. “I’m feeling good. I’m doing my job. It’s just not working out,” Santana said. “It takes more than one guy. … I always say it’s a team game.”

Best Single-Game Performances (Individual): Johan Santana tossed his fourth career shutout and added his first career double on June 19 at Shea Stadium in a 9-0 victory over the Mets. TV analyst Bert Blyleven had told Santana he’d let him shave his head if he pitched a shutout. So the next day, Santana took the clippers to Blyleven’s noggin.

Worst Single-Game Performances/Gaffe (Individual): Ramon Ortiz started the team’s 15-7 loss at Cleveland on May 15. His line: 1 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 0 K.

Trade target series: Jacque Jones

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Jacque2.jpgFirst, another tribute to those who make us laugh. Panic Clown writes: “JOE! I liked this segment but it’s sort of like daydreaming about dating the hottest girl in school when you’re Ronald Miller without the $1500 bucks from mowing lawns all summer. We can’t buy love here.”

Fair enough. La Velle had the scoop Thursday that the Twins looked into re-acquiring Jacque Jones from the Cubs, who were reportedly willing to eat $6.6 million of the remaining $7.2 million he has on his contract, which runs through 2008. (*New photo, right.)

According to a club source, the Twins have no flexibility to take on payroll beyond this year because of the raises right fielder Michael Cuddyer and first baseman Justin Morneau will get through arbitration after the season. The club also could make another run at locking up lefthander Johan Santana beyond 2008 and possibly re-sign outfielder Torii Hunter.

That is revealing in one significant aspect: If the Twins add a hitter before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, it will likely be a player whose contract expires after this season.

Even if you brushed off the idea of a potential Jones re-acquisition, this gave you some valuable insight into the Twins’ thinking. It also explains why we, at Trade Target Central, have not wasted too much time here throwing out big-salary players under contract past ’07, Dunnder Whifflin being the exception.

That, by the way, was our favorite nickname to date. You guys seemed to be reaching with ideas like Matt “I never take the” Stairs, and Matt “Elevator” Stairs. C’mon, imagine if he went deep one night to win a game for the Twins. You know Batgirl would drop a “Stairway to Heaven” on him. Picture him as part of her Sept. 25, 2006 post:

And magically, in those ill-fitting pieces, we found superstars—not just the Cy Young pitcher and President of the United States of Batgirl, but the sweet swinging hometown boy, the golden-locked Canadian with lumberjack arms and potential to hit the ball many many mooseantlers, the Automatic closer, the Nathanest of Joes, who lost not a game this season, and, yes, that clipped-winged center fielder who hit his 30th home run tonight. But it wasn’t just them, it was Punto, Bartlett, the resurgent Rondell, John Paul Bonser, Jason Renyt Tyner, Sideshow Pat and the Bullpen of Doom, Punxsutawney Phil, (Stairway to Heaven), Naked Batting Practice’s one man Pep Squad, and of course the One Armed Man who stared deep into the abyss and told it to go…

That is, you know, if she still ran the greatest blog ever. But, we digress. Time to re-introduce ourselves to Little Sweetcheeks:

Name: Jacque Jones, Cubs OF

Basics: He’s 32 (turns 33 on April 25). Bats L, Throws L (insert joke here). 5-10, 200 lbs. Born in San Diego. Drafted by the Twins out of USC as a second round pick in 1996.

Stats: Batting .233 with 2 homers and 20 RBI. A .294 on-base percentage and a .327 slugging percentage, which is why the Cubs are practically giving him away for free. He hit .285 with 27 homers and 81 RBI last year, his first in Chicago.

Salary: $4 million this year. His deal also pays him $5 million in 2008.

Good Twin because: He’d be coming home. He’d be away from the catcalls at Wrigley Field. He’d be back with Torii Hunter. Manager Ron Gardenhire still loves him. The guess here is he’d understand his role behind the more promising Jason Kubel and take whatever at-bats he could get, even as the DH. Most importantly to the Twins, he’d come cheap.

Available?: Oh, yes.

Probable cost: If the commissoner’s office lets the Cubs eat that much salary, and the mystery men making ownership-level decisions about the team’s finances agree to swallow much salary, the baseball people could demand a prospect in return.

Potential Batgirl nickname: Looking at her Nickname Guide, she called him Little Sweetcheeks. (Hunter, of course, being the original Sweetcheeks).

Odds this trade happens: 10-to-1. La Velle reported that the Cubs’ efforts to trade Jones have fallen apart because they decided they can’t eat that much salary. If Chicago changes its mind, the Twins should pounce. Hate on Jacque all you want, but this would be the baseball equivalent of shopping at Dollar Discount Store.

Garza gets the call

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

The Twins recalled Matt Garza from Class AAA Rochester after today’s game, and he will join the team tomorrow in Detroit. Garza will pitch out of the bullpen and then start one of the two games in the Twins’ doubleheader in Chicago on July 6.

Manager Ron Gardenhire had been saying the team needed to go to 12 pitchers for the road trip, and Garza got the surprise call. Backup catcher Chris Heintz was sent back to Rochester, clearing room on the 25-man roster.

“Terry [Ryan] and the boys decided that it’s time [for Garza],” Gardenhire said. ”He’s been getting passed up by a lot of people, and it’s time for this young man to come up here, and let’s see where he’s at throwing the baseball. We’re going to use his arm strength out of the bullpen, maybe to blow some people away.

“The feeling is, they want to see him in the big leagues. He’s starting to get a little frustrated, so we bring him up here, give him a chance to pitch for us right here.” 

Thomas hits No. 500

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Frank Thomas hit his 500th home run in the first inning against the Twins today, a three-run shot off Carlos Silva that gave Toronto a 4-0 lead. Thomas raised his right arm in triumph as he reached first base, and the Metrodome crowd gave him a standing ovation. 

Justin Morneau will return to the lineup today, batting fifth, as the DH. He took batting practice on the field, with Manager Ron Gardenhire pitching. “He was killing me, but I’m only throwing 60 miles per hour,” Gardenhire said. Morneau has been out since Friday with a bruised right lung. Gardenhire said the plan is to have Morneau DH through the weekend series at Detroit.

The Twins plan to add a 12th pitcher to their roster following today’s game. Not sure whom that will be. … Luis Castillo is getting the day off. No surprise there. His knees don’t respond very well this early in the day.

Blue Jays: Alex Rios RF, Howie Clark 3B, Vernon Wells CF, Matt Stairs 1B, Frank Thomas DH, Aaron Hill 2B, Adam Lind LF, Jason Phillips C, John McDonald SS. Starting pitcher: RH A.J. Burnett.

Twins: Jason Tyner RF, Jason Bartlett SS, Joe Mauer C, Michael Cuddyer RF, Justin Morneau DH, Torii Hunter CF, Jason Kubel LF, Luis Rodriguez 3B, Nick Punto 2B. Starting pitcher: RH Carlos Silva.

Metrodome. Scheduled first pitch: 12:10 p.m.

Morneau could return Thursday

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Justin Morneau, who has been out since last Friday night with a bruised right lung, wants to return to the lineup Thursday, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said following tonight’s 5-4 loss to the Blue Jays.

Morneau was cleared to participate in baseball drills earlier today. He was in the batting cage, drilling soft tosses from hitting coach Joe Vavra. Morneau will take batting practice on the field Thursday morning.

“He said he felt great [today], so we’ll see what happens,” Gardenhire said. ”They [team doctors] recommend Friday, but he talked like he wanted to get in there tomorrow. We’ll see. He’s kind of excited.”

If not Thursday, Morneau seems like a sure thing to DH the next series against Detroit.

“Mourny’s real close,” Gardenhire said. ”He could be available tomorrow. Definitely for Friday. We’re probably going to DH him the whole weekend. They told me we’d be able to use him. Start out using him as a DH, and move on from there.”

Look for updates here Thursday morning.