October 2009


Peers vote Mauer AL Player of the Year

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Joe Mauer’s offseason hardware collection continued Thursday, as he was voted American League Player of the Year by his peers in the Major League Baseball Players Association.

Mauer, 26, is strong candidate for AL MVP honors. That award will be announced Nov. 23 by the Baseball Writers Association of America. This is Mauer’s first Player of the Year selection by the MLBPA.

Albert Pujols took home NL Player of the Year honors for the seventh time.

Tuesday update: Decker, two new managers, and one prediction

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

A few quick notes on World Series eve:

(*) The Twins drafted Gophers WR Eric Decker in the 27th round this year but no longer have his rights. The deadline to sign him was Aug. 17, and Decker had committed to playing football. Now, Decker is out for the season and might need surgery to repair a sprained foot. Though Decker hadn’t planned to play baseball for the Gophers next spring, the Twins or one of the other 29 MLB clubs could still draft him, hoping he reconsiders a baseball career.

(*) The Astros and Indians reportedly both made managerial offers to Manny Acta on Saturday, and he chose the Indians, who offered a third year guaranteed, while the Astros offered two years with an option. This makes it look like the Astros had to settle for Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills. But I think both of these hires are solid.

I first met Acta in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic during the 2004 Caribbean Series. I was covering the Orioles, and they had just signed Miguel Tejada, who was playing for Acta on the Dominican squad along with David Ortiz. It always stuck with me, how much passion Acta, Tejada and Ortiz showed in winning that tournament.

Acta received good reviews during his first year managing the Nationals, in 2007, when they went 73-89. Some questioned Acta’s passion before the Nationals fired him this year, after a 26-61 start, but the team’s talent was so thin, it was a hard situation to assess. I felt he deserved another chance somewhere else.

I don’t know Mills personally, but I’ve heard terrific things from people in the game I really respect. My hunch is both of these managers will help steer their clubs in the right direction.

(*) I don’t remember the last time I got a World Series prediction right, but I am looking forward to this Yankees/Phillies matchup and believe it has promise for a long, captivating series. I’d like the Phillies’ chances more if they were starting LHPs Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in the first two games at Yankee Stadium. Manager Charlie Manuel’s decision to start Pedro Martinez over Hamels in Game 2 is an easy first guess, but Manuel knows this situation far better than me, and it would be great theater to see Pedro prove him right Thursday (weather permitting).

The Yankees have looked unstoppable this month, but all the numbers change to zero again. This is A-Rod’s first Fall Classic, so no matter what kind of zone he’s been in, he has to prove himself yet again. The bullpen edge seems to favor the Yankees, especially with Mariano. Then again, Brad Lidge said he’s finally feeling healthy again for the Phillies, and that can make all the difference.

Almost all my instincts tell me to pick the Yankees in 5, but I’m taking the Phillies in 6.

Offseason Week 1: Twins plot their strategy

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

The Twins are holding their annual organizational meetings this weekend in Fort Myers, Fla. General Manager Bill Smith and his top advisers will review everything with Manager Ron Gardenhire, along with managers, coaches, instructors and scouts from throughout the system. They’ll discuss the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, and hone their offseason strategy.

To think along with the Twins’ brain trust, check out the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook 2009-10. The think tank of Seth Stohs, John Bonnes, Nick Nelson and Parker Hageman have outdone themselves. For $9.95, you get 137 easy-to-read pages that will help sharpen your own opinions moving forward.

There’s a look at key offseason dates, report cards on the 2009 Twins, a payroll analysis (2010 and beyond), an organizational depth chart, along with chapters on “The Joe Mauer Dilemma,” 40-man roster decisions, trade targets and the free agent market. Finally, there are suggested blueprints for Smith. Stohs, for example, makes a strong case for the Twins to trade for Marlins ace Josh Johnson.

(*) In our offseason preview package, I wrote a piece headlined, “Don’t count on any big changes for the Twins.” If you haven’t yet, I’d suggest reading the chart that accompanied that piece, “Heavily Invested,” as a reminder of the commitments the Twins have for 2010. Even if this team doesn’t lift a finger, the 2010 payroll would swell to about $78 million.

Reusse advocates trading Joe Nathan and making sure “Carlos Gomez has a complete list of housing options in Rochester, N.Y., so that he will be comfortable while spending the 2010 season as the Red Wings’ starting center fielder.” Souhan and Reusse debate the Nathan trade idea here.

(*) Some readers hammer us for not being more critical of the Twins’ approach, but I think it’s because the Star Tribune’s baseball coverage brings with it decades of experience and a perspective that spans MLB. We’re not sugarcoating what it means to go 2-16 in their past 18 postseason games, but we’re also not going to suggest a radical makeover. Here’s an interesting perspective on the Twins’ latest three-and-out postseason from former Dodgers GM Fred Claire.

The bottom line is that if you were to take a poll of those involved in Major League Baseball, my guess is that the Twins would come out as the most respected organization in the game. You hear this from the scouts and player development people throughout the game, and you hear it from the general managers of other teams.

(*) More food for thought: The Twins had MLB’s fifth best local TV ratings this season (6.25), for games on Fox Sports North, according to the Sports Business Journal. The Twins’ ratings actually declined by 16.4 percent from 2008, but their games were still viewed by an average of 108,000 households.

For comparison, the Cleveland Indians’ ratings plunged 27.4 percent, to 2.84, and the Indians were viewed by an average of 43,000 households. Cleveland entered the season with high hopes — not to mention an Opening Day payroll of $81.6 million, compared to the Twins’ $65.3 million — but after sputtering early, the Indians conducted a mid-season fire sale, and as expected, viewers were not impressed.

For me, this was another reminder of the strengths the Twins have moving forward. Their brand is strong. They are now unhinged from the revenue limitations of the Metrodome, and there will be no excuse for not being aggressive with their payroll at Target Field. That doesn’t mean they have to win a bidding war for free agent John Lackey, but they better keep Mauer and the rest of their core intact, while finding the right complementary pieces to get this team over the hump.

Note: The Twins named Ben Revere their 2009 Minor League Player of the Year, and David Bromberg took home their Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors. Revere, 21, won the same award last year, becoming the first Twins prospect to do that since LaTroy Hawkins in 1993 and 1994. The outfielder batted .311 with a .372 OBP, a .369 SLG and 45 stolen bases in 121 games for Class A Fort Myers. Bromberg, 22, went 13-4 with a 2.70 ERA, with 148 strikeouts and 63 walks in 153.1 innings pitched for Fort Myers.

The morning after: MLB turns out the Metrodome lights

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Several baseball writers ended up at Maxwell’s on Sunday night after bidding goodbye to Major League Baseball at the Metrodome. The Phillies and Rockies were tangled in a close late-inning ballgame on TV, and it was heartening to hear the temperature at Coors Field was 27 degrees. That could be Target Field some October.

As Brad Lidge survived his latest tightrope act, you could see the players’ breath, and some were wearing those ridiculous, yet practical, Elmer Fudd ear-flap caps. But it was baseball. Sweet postseason baseball.

I knew it wouldn’t hit me until the very end, but just before leaving the Metrodome, I looked at all the blue seats, looked at the baggie, with those big yellow ads, looked at the mangy green carpeting, and looked down at the pressbox seat where I’ve spent so much of the past five years. Wow, I thought, this is really it.

Earlier Sunday, the Twins had led several members of the national media on a tour of Target Field, and it was nice to hear their reviews coinciding with our reviews. “A lot of nice touches,” one well-traveled scribe said. It’s neat to think about all the firsts coming in the new ballpark, with those exhibitions against the Cardinals on April 2-3 and the regular season home opener April 12 against the Red Sox. (Corrected.)

But today, as snow falls outside my window, I’m still thinking about all the good times inside the Dome. The Twins sure made it fun. Others might be bitter about the latest 3-and-out postseason, but not me. They capped a 17-4 regular season finish by winning a game for the ages. After that tiebreaker triumph over Detroit, the Twins awoke last Wednesday as 10-to-1 underdogs to win the AL pennant, and 20-to-1 long shots to win the World Series, according to www.bodog.com. The Yankees were 4-to-5 and 9-to-5, respectively.

The Twins got beat by a well-oiled machine. Yes, they beat themselves with inexplicable baserunning gaffes, a lack of timely hitting and shaky relief. But with Kevin Slowey, Justin Morneau and Joe Crede injured, it would have taken a near-perfect effort for the Twins to survive the first round.

You want to talk about changes for 2010: Third base? Shortstop? Starting pitching? A lifetime extension for Joe Mauer? La Velle and I will spend the cold months covering those decisions inside and out. Matter of fact, we’re getting started today. (Look for more in tonight’s first editions.)

But before we move on, I want to pay last respects to the Metrodome. As depressing as it was to walk inside on countless gorgeous days to watch a game meant for the outdoors, the Dome had its moments. It was quirky and downright goofy at times, but for 28 years, it was still Major League Baseball. I’m grateful for having such a good seat.

From the Metrodome: Twins/Yankees Game 3

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

Clearly, the Twins need to take these one at a time, but to advance to the ALCS, they would need to win three games with these three probable pitching matchups:

Sun: Carl Pavano vs. Andy Pettitte
Mon: Scott Baker vs. CC Sabathia
Wed @ NY: Nick Blackburn vs. A.J. Burnett

On his weekly radio show, on KSTP AM-1500, Manager Ron Gardenhire said he would likely use Jose Morales as his DH today, with Jason Kubel in right field and Brendan Harris at third base. In other words, Carlos Gomez will be back on the bench.

Gardenhire’s pregame press conference starts momentarily, so I’ll post the lineups and updates shortly.

Update: If the Twins win Game 3, the game time for Game 4 on Monday will be 6:37 p.m. If necessary, Game 5 would be Wednesday at 7:07 p.m.

(*) Gardenhire said Morales has looked more relaxed in batting practice and looked fine in a simulated game Monday against Twins pitcher Jeff Manship. Morales had a late-season slump, but there’s hope he’ll be better today, swinging righthanded.

“I’m looking for [Morales] to have a good ballgame,” Gardenhire said. “He’s had time to reflect a little bit, hopefully relax a little bit. It’s not going to be easy for any of us who are all going to be in the same boat.”

(*) Asked about the potential of having Baker pitch Game 4 and Blackburn pitch Game 5, Gardenhire said, “Our pitching’s set up the best it can possibly be set.”

(*) Gardenhire also said: “This team’s been fun, and I don’t expect anything to change. I expect to come out there and fight tonight. You never know what’s going to happen, but you know what? They’re ready to play.”

(*) Gardenhire on whether he considered putting Mauer at DH because of his sore hip: “No, no consideration whatsoever. I can’t tell you how it’s feeling and how much it hurts. You would have to ask him, and he is going to tell you the same thing he told me on the plane, ‘I have been playing with it a few days here and I will continue to play with it.’

“Will it hinder him?” Gardenhire continued. “Only time will tell. I don’t think he ran the bases as good as he can, but he ran the bases, and he does have to run the bases because he keeps getting hits, but he will be out there, he is a gamer, and everybody is playing with a little bit of something this time of year.”

Update: Joe Crede, who had back surgery last month, returned to the team for tonight’s pregame introductions.

YANKEES (2-0)

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Johnny Damon, LF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Hideki Matsui, DH
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Robinson Cano, 2B
8. Nick Swisher, RF
9. Melky Cabrera, CF

Starting pitcher: LH Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16 ERA)

TWINS (0-2)

1. Denard Span, CF
2. Orlando Cabrera, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Michael Cuddyer, 1B
5. Jason Kubel, RF
6. Delmon Young, LF
7. Brendan Harris, 3B
8. Jose Morales, DH
9. Nick Punto, 2B

Starting pitcher: RH Carl Pavano (14-12, 5.10 ERA)

Metrodome. First pitch: 6:07 p.m. TV: TBS