December 2009


Game 163 — a chance to live it all over again

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Shortly after the Twins’ season ended, Star Tribune sports editor Glen Crevier came up with the idea for an in-depth story reflecting on Game 163.

It all happened in such a blur, that 12-inning, see-saw epic to determine the AL Central title. The Twins won 6-5, in one of the most exciting games most of us could remember seeing. We tried doing it justice on deadline that night (Oct. 6), and had flights to New York first thing the next morning.

If the Twins had made an extended playoff run, the legend of Game 163 might have built, but the Yankees spoiled the fun with a three-game sweep. We knew it would make a great follow-up story, but first we needed to track down a copy of Game 163. It seems everyone had forgotten to set the DVR that night, myself included.

Eventually, the Twins helped us track down a copy, courtesy of TBS, and Jim Souhan spoke with several players and coaches for this story, which ran last weekend. Anyway, it was fun for us to go back and watch the actual telecast, and soon everyone else will have a chance, too.

The Twins and Fox Sports North have teamed up to present a look back at Game 163, telling the story through the eyes of people on and off the field. The first showing will come Christmas night. Eventually, there will be four showings (all at 7 p.m., on FSN):

Friday
Jan. 26
Feb. 15
March 9

This time, I’m going to be sure to hit ‘Record.’ For now, I’m curious what stands out the most from that game in your mind? What’s the first thing you think of when someone says, “Game 163?”

Update: KSTP AM-1500 also will be airing a replay of Game 163 on Thursday at 5 p.m., so check out that one for the call from John Gordon and Dan Gladden.

Holiday gift ideas for the baseball fan in your life

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Before the Twins’ annual holiday party Wednesday, the team’s employees received another surprise from Santa Morneau. 

Last year, Justin Morneau and his wife, Krista, gave scarves to each Twins employee. Teammates teased Morneau for making the rest of them look bad for not giving their own gifts, but the Morneaus were undeterred. This year, they gave winter hats and autographed cards.

I’ve been meaning to write a post with my own gift ideas — books, always books — so here goes:

The Machine, by Joe Posnanski
A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series — The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds

Posnanski delivers with this highly anticipated book profiling the Big Red Machine, then and now. It has the reporting and writing we’ve come to expect from Posnanski, and he does a masterful job weaving cultural events from 1975 into the narrative. He captures the personalities of Manager Sparky Anderson, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez — especially the enigmatic Rose. The beginning and ending anecdotes about baseball’s all-time hits leader stick with me, several weeks after reading it.

The First Fall Classic, by Mike Vaccaro
The Red Sox, The Giants and the Cast of Players, Pugs, and Politicos Who Reinvented the World Series in 1912

This book snuck up on me because, unlike “The Machine,” I had no idea it was coming. I started reading a few pages and couldn’t put it down. (This happened with Posnanski’s book, too, but I’d been looking forward to that one for so long, there wasn’t the element of surprise.)

If you love history, Vaccaro takes you back to the year Fenway Park opened and back to a time when gambling hovered over the game. You ride the train between Boston and Manhattan between games with Christy Mathewson, Tris Speaker, Smoky Joe Wood and Boston’s Royal Rooters. After scouring newspaper accounts, Vaccaro uses his writing touch to bring these characters back to life. An excerpt from before Game 3, as the writers interview Giants manager John McGraw (from page 112):

“Will sharing the Polo Grounds [with the New York Highlanders in 1913] be awkward?” Grantland Rice of the Mail wanted to know.

“Those animosities are long gone,” McGraw insisted, his generosity no doubt fortified by the 50-102 record the Highlanders posted in 1912. “Besides, when our park burned last year, they showed great hospitality to us. They took us in, and treated us neighborly, and we plan on treating them the same exact way. Though they’ll likely need a new name now that they won’t be playing in the highlands of Manhattan any longer.”

“Our headline writers already call them by a different name,” said Damon Runyon of the American. “They call them the Yankees.”

“Yankees, eh?” McGraw said. “Hmmm. I wonder if that name will catch on?”

Did Toronto do better with Halladay than Twins did with Johan?

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

If your head is spinning, trying to determine winners and losers in this week’s blockbuster deal between Toronto, Philadelphia, Seattle (and Oakland), ESPN’s Jayson Stark gives a good team-by-team breakdown here.

I’m most impressed by Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik’s ability to get involved and give his team a 1-2 punch of Felix Hernandez/Cliff Lee at a time when the Angels have just lost John Lackey (to Boston) and Chone Figgins (to the Mariners).

I don’t know enough about the prospects involved to know how Toronto ultimately did in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes, or how Philadelphia did in the Cy Young for Cy Young swap of Lee for Halladay. For Twins followers, Stark makes an interesting point toward the bottom of his column:

Whether the Blue Jays’ end of this deal makes total sense is another story. “I thought they’d get more,” said one scout. But when you size this up, they did better than the Twins did in the Johan Santana deal, got more than the Indians got in either the CC Sabathia or Lee deals and at least got this over with — for everyone’s sake.

Tuesday update: Chapman, Twins 3B options, White Sox move

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

I had concerns about overplaying the Twins’ interest in Cuban LHP Aroldis Chapman with this story after hearing they’d have two scouts in Houston today for Chapman’s highly publicized workout.

No, I don’t think the Twins will sign Chapman because that would mean outbidding the big boys (Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, etc.), but the Twins surprised us earlier in the fall by signing Dominican SS Miguel Angel Sano. Tony Oliva has raved about Chapman, based on reports he’s heard from Cuba, but it’s not like the hard-throwing lefthander has been a secret. He was lighting up the radar gun in the World Baseball Classic last spring.

Chapman, 21, has been called a lefthanded version of RHP Steven Strasburg, the San Diego State phenom drafted No. 1 overall by the Washington Nationals. One MLB executive told me yesterday that if Chapman were in the June amateur draft, he’d be a high first-round pick.

Again, he’s a prospect who will likely need to start in Class A or Class AA before gaining the polish he needs for the big leagues. So it’s not like we’re talking about the final piece of anybody’s 2010 rotation. This will be an investment in the future. ESPN.com has reported that Chapman has a $15.5 million from the Red Sox. I can’t imagine the Twins matching a bid like that, but they have become a team to watch on the international market, and their interest in Chapman is at least notable.

Notes: Heard Monday that the Twins are nowhere close to a move for a 3B, as that market is oversaturated with options, which figures to eventually drive down prices. Doesn’t make sense to overpay now when there will be bargains to be had later. Meanwhile, across MLB, moves are being made at a dizzying pace. Besides the Roy Halladay/Cliff Lee blockbuster, the White Sox traded for CF Juan Pierre. Here, Aaron Gleeman notes that this appears to complete Chicago’s offseason puzzle.

Pushing 90: A new Twins payroll glance

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

When Carl Pavano accepted the Twins’ salary arbitration offer Monday, it pushed the team’s 2010 projected Opening Day payroll close to $90 million, based on salary estimates for those players currently in the fold.

Last year’s Opening Day payroll (for the 25-man active roster) was about $65 million, and there have been indications the payroll could reach $90 million as the team enters Target Field. Twins officials are careful not to mention specifics when discussing the payroll budget, so it’s unclear if the team is willing to exceed $90 million as it continues addressing the roster.

It’s important to keep this perspective when discussing the team’s various free agent and trade pursuits, so here’s an updated look at the team’s roster and salary estimates. Again, this isn’t my suggested Opening Day roster, but more of a depth chart. I’m not sure exactly how much Pavano will command through arbitration, but my best guesstimate is $7 million.

Another fun part of this exercise: Deciding the 1-5 spots in the starting rotation. Should Pavano or Scott Baker get the ball on Opening Day? And, as La Velle noted in his coverage from the winter meetings, what becomes of Glen Perkins, and how about that battle for the fifth spot in the rotation?

LINEUP
1. CF — Denard Span: $450,000 (estimate based on his 0-3 years service time)
2. SS — J.J. Hardy: $6,000,000 (arbitration estimate)
3. C — Joe Mauer: $12,500,000
4. 1B — Justin Morneau: $15,000,000
5. DH — Jason Kubel: $4,100,000
6. RF — Michael Cuddyer: $9,417,000
7. LF — Delmon Young: $2,000,000 (arb. estimate)
8. 3B — Brendan Harris: $1,000,000 (arb. estimate)
9. 2B — Nick Punto: $4,000,000
—————————————————-
Total (9 starters): $54,467,000

BENCH
C — Jose Morales: $410,000 (0-3 estimate)
INF — Matt Tolbert: $415,000 (0-3 estimate)
INF — Alexi Casilla: $440,000 (0-3 estimate)
OF — Jason Pridie: $400,000 (0-3 estimate)
C — Drew Butera: $400,000 (0-3 estimate)
———————————————
Total (5 bench players): $2,065,000

ROTATION
1. Scott Baker: $3,000,000
2. Carl Pavano: $7,000,000 (arb. estimate)
3: Nick Blackburn: $450,000 (0-3 estimate)
4. Kevin Slowey: $450,000 (0-3 estimate)
5. Francisco Liriano: $1,000,000 (arb. estimate)
———————————————
Total (5 starters): $11,900,000

BULLPEN
Joe Nathan: $11,250,000
Jon Rauch: $2,900,000
Matt Guerrier: $3,000,000 (arb. estimate)
Jose Mijares: $420,000 (0-3 estimate)
Jesse Crain: $3,000,000 (arb. estimate)
Pat Neshek: $800,000 (arb. estimate)
——————————————
Total: (6 relievers): $21,370,000

Projected 25-man total: $89,802,000

40-MAN ROSTER DEPTH
(Starting pitchers)
LH — Brian Duensing: $410,000 (0-3 estimate)
LH — Glen Perkins: $460,000 (0-3 estimate)
RH — Anthony Swarzak: $410,000 (0-3 estimate)
RH — Jeff Manship: $410,000 (0-3 estimate)
RH — Deolis Guerra: $400,000 (0-3 estimate)

(Relievers)
RH — Boof Bonser: $800,000 (arb. estimate)
RH — Bobby Keppel: $410,000 (0-3 estimate)
RH — Rob Delaney: $400,000 (0-3 estimate)
RH — Anthony Slama: $400,000 (0-3 estimate)
RH — Alex Burnett: $400,000 (0-3 estimate)
RH — Loek Van Mil: $400,000 (0-3 estimate)

(Position players)
C — Wilson Ramos: $400,000 (0-3 estimate)
INF — Luke Hughes: $400,000 (0-3 estimate)
INF — Trevor Plouffe: $400,000 (0-3 estimate)
INF — Estarlin De Los Santos: $400,000 (0-3 estimate)
INF — Steven Tolleson: $400,000 (0-3 estimate)