February 2009


Today’s live chat: Another small step in an evolving craft

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

In a new age for baseball coverage, things are changing by the minute. The TV airwaves are filled with baseball talk, and so is the Internet.

We’re working hard to stay ahead of the curve at Startribune.com. This week, I went through a video training seminar.

(For those who’ve found it amusing watching my occasional appearances in front of the camera, wait until I get behind the camera. But I realize these are skills that can enhance our coverage.)

Today, I’ll be doing my first live chat at noon from our snowy headquarters in Minneapolis.

La Velle, Souhan and photographer Jerry Holt have been providing terrific content (stories, video and blogs) from Florida, where I’m headed Monday, for the rest of spring training.

Other programming notes

(*) The Star Tribune has a dedicated Twins page on Facebook, helping highlight our coverage. Join our growing list of fans by clicking here.

(*) As Twins players get cut from big league camp, many will be headed to Class AAA Rochester (N.Y.), where they’ll be filmed as part of a 13-episode reality series for PBS. Neat story about this by Jim Mandelaro in yesterday’s Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

(*) Also, as La Velle mentioned in today’s notebook, a 96-minute film about Delmon Young’s family called “We are Young: A Baseball Family” will be aired Monday on MLB Network.

We got to see the film during production last year, and it offers a fascinating look at the way Larry Young, a former Navy pilot and Top Gun, dedicated himself to raising sons Dmitri and Delmon into baseball players.

Anyway, if you’re in the mood to talk baseball — whether it’s Twins, other teams around the majors, or the changing way the game is covered — stop by at noon and send a question.

Prized prospect turns into a booby prize

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

For some amusement, I just went to Nexis and read some of the glowing praise I heaped on Andy Marte after Cleveland acquired him in January 2006.

Four times — in February, March, May and July 2006 — I referred to Marte with the same adjectives, “prized third-base prospect.”

Sorry folks. Sometimes you shouldn’t believe what you read. Cleveland designated Marte for assignment today to make room for newly acquired reliever Juan Salas.

On its annual list of the game’s 100 top prospects, Baseball America had Marte ranked No. 9 in 2005. That next winter, Atlanta traded Marte to Boston for Edgar Renteria, and then the Red Sox shipped Marte in a six-player deal that brought them Coco Crisp.

I assumed Cleveland had locked up its third baseman of the future at a time when Twins had settled for Tony Batista. I knew the Twins weren’t all that high on Marte and hadn’t been, even back to his days as Atlanta’s top prospect. Time would tell, I figured.

Well, the Twins still have a revolving door at third base. Batista sure wasn’t the answer, just as Marte wasn’t the answer for Cleveland. (I think Indians fans were a tad more surprised.)

Now 25, Marte has batted .211/.265/.337 in parts of four big league seasons, racking up 112 strikeouts in 513 at-bats. Note to self: Let’s not ordain anyone as a “prized prospect” for a while.

Your turn: What are some of your favorite memories of can’t miss prospects who missed? Which major league prospects are you most excited to see in 2009 (i.e.: Baltimore C Matt Wieters, St. Louis OF Colby Rasmus, Tampa Bay LHP David Price)?

A-Rod’s candor was refreshing; let’s hope it was the whole truth

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

I was highly skeptical today when the Alex Rodriguez press conference began. I thought he’d dodge specific questions and tell more half-truths to leave loopholes for whatever evidence might surface against him in the future.

But A-Rod was pretty candid. Despite his past lies, he seemed somehow believable. By the end, I felt like it was a pretty good cleansing for this chapter of baseball history. 

A-Rod said he never took HGH. (Not sure we can believe him, but at least he didn’t dodge the question.) He said he did take Ripped Fuel, a stimulant that has since been banned by MLB, when he was playing for the Mariners.

Then, from 2001 to 2003, with his cousin’s help, he began injecting a steroid that can be bought over-the-counter in the Dominican Republic.

A-Rod sure seemed forthcoming for those of us who’ve suffered through Mark McGwire (“I’m not here to talk about the past”), Sammy Sosa (“No hablo Ingles”), Rafael Palmeiro (and his infamous finger point) Jason Giambi (“I made a mistake, but my lawyers won’t let me tell you what it is”), and the repeated denials, despite all evidence, by Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

A-Rod followed the script Andy Pettitte used one year ago at the start of spring training for the Yankees, insisting he was putting all his cards on the table.

Why should we believe A-Rod now after the way he lied to Katie Couric? Why should we trust him after the way – just last week in his interview with Peter Gammons – he disparaged Sports Illustrated reporter (and proud Star Tribune alum) Selena Roberts?

Those are fair questions, and I still have my doubts. But I’m ready to move past this now. I’m not saying I’ll vote Rodriguez into the Hall of Fame someday, but as of right now, he’s higher on my list than McGwire, Bonds and Clemens.

And if my daughter was old enough to understand all this — at six weeks, she’s got a whole different view of supplements – the part I’d reinforce with her tonight is the importance of honesty.

Steroids have given baseball a foul odor. The lying has only made it worse. But today, truth was in the air – or at least I hope it was – and it sure felt refreshing.

Planets are aligned, but is Crede a wise investment?

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris aren’t headed for extinction if the Twins sign Joe Crede. They’re a big reason Crede is worth a gamble.

If you’re going to sign a player coming off a back injury, you’d better have alternatives. In fact, a key to keeping Crede’s back healthy will be giving him regular time off, especially on FieldTurf.

Buscher would still get starts at third, and he’d be a lefthanded option off the bench. Harris would still get starts at third, shortstop, and maybe even second base.

Question: What if Nick Punto or Alexi Casilla goes into a huge slump? It’s happened to both of them before, and Harris gives the Twins some insurance. He could jump in at shortstop, with Punto or Casilla at second base.

The case against signing Crede

The planets have really aligned for the Twins with Crede. They are under budget, they have the market cornered, and they have a chance to sign a 2008 All-Star third baseman to a one-year deal.

To play devil’s advocate, you have to wonder why the White Sox aren’t making more of a push for Crede. They love the guy, they aren’t sold on Josh Fields at third, and Cuban prospect Dayan Viciedo is probably a year away.

(more…)

Bankruptcy no threat for cash-flush Twins

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Veteran Star Tribune reporter Randy Furst covered Wednesday’s press conference, as the Twins unveiled plans for Target Plaza, the gateway to their new ballpark, which opens in 14 months.

Furst had questions about the cost, at one point asking how the Twins felt unveiling such an “ostentatious” plan in this troubled economy.

“Randy, you’ve really gotta let this money thing go,” said Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports, Inc. “Not every company is bankrupt.”

Ouch.

These are tough times for newspapers, no doubt. The Star Tribune is trudging through Chapter 11, even though readership is at an all-time high, between print and online.

Meanwhile, the Twins are practically recession-proof.

Though they’ve done almost nothing to improve last year’s team, their season ticket sales are at an all-time high, as fans angle for priority seating at Target Field.

Hennepin County committed $392 million to the ballpark project, through a sales tax increase, with the Twins paying $130 million, along with any cost-overruns. (The plaza will cost nearly $9 million, with the price split between the Twins and Target.)

Franchise value soars

Last week, Twins CEO Jim Pohlad described why his family has no plans to sell the team, even after his father’s recent death.

“It’s a community investment,” he said. “It will be a good investment. It hasn’t so far been the best, but we have confidence in it for the future.”

As well they should. Major league franchises are gold mines.

This month, a group led by Jeff Moorad purchased the San Diego Padres for more than $500 million. John Moores had bought the club in 1994 for $84 million before San Diego helped build a new ballpark.

Forbes magazine estimates the value of every baseball franchise each year, and owners scoff at the inflated estimates. Last April, Forbes put the Padres at $385 million, an apparent underestimate. The magazine had the Cubs at $642 million, and they recently sold for $900 million.

One can guess the Twins’ estimate — $328 million — was low, as well. Carl Pohlad’s purchase price, in 1984, was $44 million.

Indeed, not every company is bankrupt. But some have been handed incredible advantages.

Besides the public support for their new ballpark, the Twins also collect millions annually from MLB’s revenue sharing and luxury tax plans, and many millions more from the game’s national TV, radio and Internet deals.

Payroll still down

Still, after letting their payroll reach $74 million in 2007, the Twins let that number dip to $57 million last year, and their current 25-man Opening Day projection is $60,452,000.

Every nickel counts, too.

Under the collective bargaining agreement, the Twins had a right to cut Delmon Young’s salary by 20 percent this year. Including his pro-rated signing bonus, he made $1,440,000 last year, so the least the Twins could pay him was $1,152,000.

On Thursday, the Twins signed Young for that amount, exactly.

They also pulled a $3 million offer to free agent reliever Eric Gagne, eventually settling on a $1.3 million deal for Luis Ayala.

Hey, it’s business. Not personal.

Now, they seem to have the market cornered for free agent third baseman Joe Crede. The only other team reportedly bidding is the Giants, who have a promising third baseman in Pablo Sandoval, who batted .345 last year in 145 at-bats.

Crede, 30, wants a one-year deal with a base salary of about $7 million, with incentives that would pay him at least $11 million if he stays healthy.

He was an All-Star last year but a back injury limited him to 97 games, after he played just 47 in 2007.

No doubt, he’s an injury risk. But even with all their payroll room, their lack of home run power and their untested platoon of Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher at third base, it’s a risk the Twins are in no rush to take.

In their thinking, Crede’s agent, Scott Boras, is in denial about the market. They’ll show him.

See, it’s not enough for the Twins to operate from a position of strength. Sometimes they like to rub it in.