January 2009


Thoughts after a busy weekend

Monday, January 26th, 2009

All it takes is a couple banquets and TwinsFest to get a scribe fired up for spring training on sun-drenched fields in Florida.

Some thoughts coming off last week:

We raised $263,000 on Thursday for neurologial research at the U of M, which is less than last year but still an impressive number. In four years, the Diamond Awards banquet has raied just over $2 million for those causes.

It was also a great night to talk baseball, as Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and other Twins receieved awards from last season and gave some really good speeches.

As Joe C. pointed out, Morneau took a good-natured shot at me about my MVP vote. I was prepared to take a shot from him, but what I didn’t expect was for MLB.com’s Kelly Thesier to twist the knife. While presenting Morneau’s award, she pointed out that Morneau beat Sidney Crosby out for the Canadian athlete of the year award. “When you beat Sidney Crosby, you had a good season, an MVP SEASON…”

Needless to say, Thesier is on my list…..

Poor Anthony  Slama. Players were supposed to accept their awards and engage Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven in a Q and A and NOT deliever a speech. But Slama,“saw a podium and went for it.’ So Slama delievered a speech after receiving his minor league pitcher of the year award THEN did the Q and A. Now, every player felt on the spot to say something witty, which a couple of the veteran award winners weren’t thrilled about. (It also lengthened the banquet by about 30 minutes).

That, in addition to calling Twins GM Bill Smith, `Jim.’ set Slama up for a weekend of ribbing….

The annual Hot Stove Banquet on Saturday attracted a more hard core, rowdy crowd. It was a great time and it’s always great to see Mike Samelson. `Sammy.’ has survived three kidney transplants and had his left arm amputated last year but his spirit and love of the Twins remains unchanged.

It was great to hear speeches by Twins president Dave St. Peter and MLB umpire Tim Tschida. And former Twin Corey Koskie knocked it out of the park as the main speaker, telling funny stories from his playing days – including the day he put peanut butter in David Ortiz’s underwear and watched Ortiz nearly walk out of the clubhouse before someone suggested he check his shorts.

Saw Seth Stohs during the banquet. I quickly grabbed the microphone in front of me and fired at him, `You scooped me on the Russ Springer story, you Son of a ….!!” Which drew a lot of laughs.

St. Peter offered up Target Field as a possible location for next year’s banquet. That would be impressive.

Delmon Young looked in great shape, and Justin Morneau looks as powerful as ever.

Ben Revere couldn’t stop smiling.

Jesse Crain was adamant about the Twins bullpen being able to get the job done. He pointed out how careful the Twins were with him early last season as he came off of surgery and how that won’t be the case this year. so he’ll have a chance to get off to a fast start.

It will be interesting to see how Boof Bonser does this year. I sense that while he’s in the bullpen for now, he views himself as a starter. He could be an X-factor in the bullpen this year if he fully embraces the role. He did tell me he hit 97-98 on the gun his first year in pro ball and hopes he can consistently throw in the mid-9o’s this season.

Springer looks headed to Oakland. Brando Lyon is headed to Detroit. A Twins official told me over the weekend they still have options to land a reliever. Other than Eric Gagne, I’d like to know how many options they really have.

Thursday morning briefing – Is Joe Crede a real option now?

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Third baseman Joe Crede has arrived in Arizona and is set to work out for scouts sometime next week. The Twins are expected to be in attendance.

Why?

1. They have been in contact with Crede’s agent, Scott Boras.

2. Crede is willing to sign a one-year deal.

3. Crede, by all indications, is healthy.

Someone with knowledge of the situation told me that Crede thinks he’s finally licked the back problems that have limited him to 144 games over the previous two seasons. The main problem was a nerve issue in his back that was finally corrected with minor surgery after the season.

Crede’s back apparenty is fine – but he’s going to have to convince people in a hurry that he’s worth signing.

I will point out that one Boras client who was believed to be broken down but ended up producing was this man. The only thing that slowed him that year was a sports hernia.

The Giants reportedly have interest in Crede as well. The Rangers were linked to Crede earlier in the offseason but apparently will move Michael Young to third. Stay tuned on this one….

Eric Gagne update: The Twins have been swapping offers with Boras about reliever Eric Gagne too. Heard a couple days ago that things were heating up, then heard yesterday that things weren’t so hot. But there has been plenty of dialouge and it appears that Gagne remains on the Twins radar. So is Brando Lyon, but he might have a chance to close elsewhere.

Russ Springer??????: Seth Stohs, who offers prolific coverage of Twins prospects, has heard that the Twins are interested in Russ Springer. More power to Seth because I’ve checked and the Twins have shown interest.

But Springer doesn’t solve their problems. He’s put up nice numbers the past two seasons but he’s a seventh-inning, one-or-two-batter guy and the Twins need eighth inning help. That’s why I skipped his name on the list of relievers. Gagne appears to be a better option.

Reporter update: This might be the only post of the day. The Diamond Awards banquet is tonight and there’s a rehearsal this afternoon. If there’s major breaking news, Joe C. will handle it. That’s right, Joe C. is baaack!! 

Kubel agrees to a two-year deal

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

The Twins and outfielder/DH Jason Kubel have agreed on a two-year contract that will buy out his remaining two years of arbitration. The deal is expected to be finalized either this weekend or early next week. Terms of the agreement were not available.

Update: The deal includes a club option for the 2011 season.

One of the few things holding up the deal is Kubel passing a physical, which will happen later this week when he arrives in the Twin Cities to take part in TwinsFest. All Twins players undergo physicals during the event.

Kubel. 26,  batted .272 last season with 20 homers and 78 RBI as he began to settle in as the Twins’ DH. He was the second-leading home run hitter on a team that sorely lacked power. He’s expected to be the Opening Day DH but might have to split time with other players as the Twins head into the year with four starting-caliber outfielders in Delmon Young, Carlos Gomez, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer.

The Twins have been talking with Kubel’s agents in recent weeks as both sides worked toward avoiding arbitration. Matt Guerrier is the only arbitration-eligible player left.

The Twins and the World Baseball Classic

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Provisional rosters for the 2009 World Baseball Classic were released last night. I glanced at them right away and looked at them more closely today. Many Twins players – including a couple I’ve never heard of – could play in the WBC. Roster will be paired down before the tournament begins on Mar. 5.

(Reporter’s disclaimer: I love international competitions. I’m the guy who watches Olympic curling. I love the World Cup. I was ticked off at USA Basketball when it took tournaments lightly a few years ago. I even watched some of the hockey World Juniors a few weeks ago. So, heck yes, I’m pro-WBC).

Let’s take a look at Twins players and the WBC:

Australia

Potential Twins players: Liam Hendricks, RHP; Bradley Tippett, RHP; Matthew Williams, RHP; Allan De San Miguel, C; Kames Beresford, INF; Luke Hughes, INF; Daniel Berg, OF.

Overview: Twins fans will want to watch Hughes’ defense closely. That’s been the knock on him while he’s moved through the system. But he’s been able to drive the ball so far in his pro career.  There’s a chance he’ll be needed during the regular season. The Twins are one the big players in Austraila, which is why they have so many players on the provisional roster.

Canada

Potential Twins players: Jesse Crain, RHP; Justin Morneau, 1B; Eric Gagne????

Overview: Heard a few days ago that Crain would wind up in the WBC, so it looks like he’s in. If they pick a captain, you have to wonder if Morneau is the logical choice. Also check out Brett Lawrie. The Twins looked hard at him but decided to take Aaron Hicks in last year’s draft. I don’t think anyone is complaining about that pick, but it’s still worth tracking Lawrie’s development.

Dominican Repulblic

Potential Twins players: Francisco Liriano, LHP.

Overview: It’s a little surprising that Alexi Casilla isn’t on this list – but look at infielders this team has! This could be a great jumping off point for Francisco Liriano, who, barring injury, will open the season in the Twins rotation and undoubtedly wants to establish himself as one of MLB’s top pitchers.

Italy

Potential Twins players: Nick Punto, SS; Mauro Schiavoni, RHP

Overview: What are the odds that Punto will be the first player in the tournament to dive into first base. Schiavoni actually is from Argentina and pitched for Jake Mauer for the Twins Gulf Coast League team last season.

The Netherlands

Potential Twins players: Tom Stuifbergen, RHP; Raynard Doran, OF.

Overview: Stuifbergen is coming off of surgery and won’t play. Doran is no longer with the organization. BTW, Loek Van Mil, the 7-foot-1 righthander, has a strained elbow ligament and will miss the tournament too.

Puerto Rico

Potential Twins players:  Carlos Gutierrez, RHP; Luis Matos, OF.

Overview: I haven’t heard if Gutierrez is going to pitch. He’s on the verge of his first major league camp and is being converted into a starter, so my guess is that he’ll want to work out with the Twins. Matos was signed as a minor league free agent with an invite to camp. The Twins won’t stand in the way if a player wants to represent his country, but Matos might opt to come to camp and make a good impression instead of playing in the WBC,

  

South Africa

Potential Twins player: Robb Hein, LHP.

Overview: Who? He’s not in the media guide. Jim Rantz, the Twins director of minor leagues, said they do have some players in the systen who have yet to play a game as a pro. Hein was signed last year out of the European Baseball Academy.

USA

Potential Twins player: Joe Nathan

Overview: Nathan is the most accomplished closer on the roster but there are other options, too.

Venezuela

Potential Twins player: Jose Mijares

Overview: At first, I thought Mijares was set up to get a lot of work during the WBC. But lefties Cesar Jimenez and Reynel Pinto have more MLB experience.

Other observations:

Dennys Reyes is listed with the Twins but that is not true.

Eddie Guardado is listed on Mexico’s roster, which I think is funny because he speaks little Spanish.

There are A LOT of former Twins on these rosters, from Johan Santana to Grant Balfour to David Ortiz to J. C. Romero to Sidney Ponson to A.J. to Michael Nakamura…..

A few years ago, we were looking at Lapchick’s study of race in baseball and Ian Snell was listed as African-American. “Ian Snell is a black man?” I thought to myself. Now I see he’s on Puerto Rico roster. I know there are some stretches when placing players on these rosters but I still think it’s funny.

Japan still has to be considered the favorite. Can’t wait to see Yu Darvish pitch. Hopefully the USA steps up this time. Hopefully they’ll have more lefties in the bullpen than Brian Fuentes or they will lose to Canada again and everyone will have to endure Justin Morneau’s needling again.

Evening update

Monday, January 19th, 2009

 Heard from a source today that the Twins aren’t that far apart with righthander Eric Gagne but a second source cautioned that the club is looking at a handful of relievers and nothing was close. But it sounds like the Twins would like to get something done this week. It’s getting close to move-to-Florida time, so there should be a bunch of signings over the next couple of weeks.

Just heard about Joe Mauer’s comments to KMSP (good thing I had an early dinner tonight). Checked with assistant GM Rob Antony (who was still in his office). “Will he be ready to go all out the first day of camp. I wouldn’t say that,” Antony said. “But it won’t be an issue.”

If it was a knee, shoulder, foot or wrist surgery, I would be more concerned. It was a minor kidney surgery. Unfortunately for Mauer, whatever bugged him threw him off his offseason workout plans. I’m guessing he’ll be in the gym  a lot during the first few days of camp,

And wouldn’t it look strange if he was bouncing around camp as if nothing was wrong right after pulling out of the World Baseball Classic? I kind of expected him to ease into camp this year.