Monday, May 24, 2010

Dreaming of Roy

Normally when you a see top tier trade target you can take the Twins out of the running, so when Roy Oswalt decided to declare his eligibility on the trade market (much to Houston's chagrin, I'm sure) it took me awhile to realize that we might actually have interest.

The Twins have set the standard high this year -- making sweeping moves in the offseason, locking up the best player in baseball to a record contract, and matching those moves with solid upper echelon play on the field.

The only thing lacking? A legitimate ace. Liriano could be that ace if he keeps that magic alive and forgets his last few starts, but it's not so often you see someone of Oswalt's caliber waiting to fall into your lap.

I could get into all sorts of stats that show that despite entering his mid-thirties he's still a better starter than anyone on our staff, but Gleeman is much better to read in that regard. Let me just sum up a few thoughts:

- Salary. We've committed a lot of money to the team we have and Oswalt's owed a good chunk of money this year and next. Sure, the front office has been willing to spend this offseason for a contender, but how much is too much? If we acquire Oswalt we could be stretching our budget at the seams, and that always leads to disappointment and payroll shedding.

- Who does he replace? Slowey's been a little ineffective this season but do you give up on him when we all know how good he can be? If not Slowey, I don't think that Pavano, Baker, Liriano, or Blackburn have done anything to justify demotion. Perhaps his acquisition would simply bump Slowey or Blackburn into something of a long-relief role in the 'pen? I suppose too many starters is a good thing but you still have to answer who doesn't take the mound every fifth day.

- What do we have to give up? I don't think Oswalt will command a king's ransom, but he won't be cheap either. Houston's top prospect is a catcher so I doubt Wilson Ramos becomes a trade chip. So what other top prospects do we build a trade around? I don't think anyone wants to put Kyle Gibson in a package, that would be shortsighted. Is Ben Revere blue-chip enough? Maybe something like Ben Revere, Alex Burnett and Jeff Manship? Or maybe Bromberg and Revere? Whoever we give up for Oswalt is going to hurt and it's going to be a risk. There's no way we send them Luke Hughes and Drew Butera...

- He's durable and effective. Last year was a little bit of an off year for him, but other than that you could bank on 30 starts, 200 innings, and a respectable ERA, WHIP, and K/BB ratio. That's the kind of pitcher every team wants and someone I'm sure we would to.

- He'd be our ace. That would take a ton of pressure off Liriano, who everyone still looks to this year to carry this rotation. If Oswalt is here to take some of that pressure off, perhaps Liriano can find his groove with a little less spotlight shining on him.

- He legitimizes us. I think every national writer loves the Twins but remarks on how we don't have any established stud in our rotation yet. Oswalt being a Twin changes all of that, and we suddenly become a team that goes toe-to-toe with anyone in a short postseason series.


All that being said, I think there's legitimate reason to pursue Oswalt if the price is right. I actually wouldn't be surprised this year if we winds up in a Twins uniform, but I don't think I'd be heartbroken if he doesn't land with us.


Monday, May 17, 2010

I Saw The Lights Go Out on Broadway

I've lived in New York for 7 years now -- and despite attending at least one Twins game in the Bronx every year, I had never seen a win. We might be playing well or leading into the 9th inning, but the results were always the same: Frank Sinatra blasting over the speakers about how amazing New York is and the smug looks on Yankee fan faces as I trudge back to the subway.

This year, I had the opportunity to go to all three games in the Bronx. I figured with one of the strongest teams we've ever fielded and with how well we've been playing of late, I was guaranteed to reverse my trend.

Friday I ditched out of work with a co-worker as soon as we could (he's a Yankee fan and thus acted as my bodyguard during my time in enemy territory). We missed the first inning as we hung out in line for our first beers and hot dogs of the season and by the time we made it to our seats I realized I hadn't faced one insult yet. I think it was either the fact that I had my Yankee "bodyguard" with me, or maybe they just realized how sad Twins fans must be....

View from our seats Friday night

This game actually started off great. We were playing competitively and I was able to forget about our complete ineptitude in the Bronx and actually imagined that we might, might stand a chance.

Then came the at-bat that still sends shivers down my spine. Guerrier vs. A-Rod. The place was in uproar. From the time A-Rod stepped out of the on-deck circle the cheering was so loud I wanted to shove forks in my ears. If we had actually shown any reasonable amount of success in the past, I might have been a little more confident (I didn't have the Guerrier/A-Rod career numbers in front of me...) but I knew this was the beginning of our decline.

Twins fans in front of me feel my malaise as well...

Let's just say it was a long walk home to the subway again...

One thing about coming back from Yankee Stadium is that it's always a surging mass of humanity on the way back to public transportation. You actually get home fairly quickly as they stack trains for you and fill each one up, but you still inevitably stand around on the platform surrounded by gloating Yankee fans whose eyes you can feel burning into your back as you try to remain as discreet as possible...


This time I was accompanied by both a fellow-Twins fan and a new Yankee fan "bodyguard" to protect both of us. We grabbed some brunch and cabbed it up to the stadium to make it in time. This was the day I was most excited about: I've been talking up Liriano's return to dominance to every Yankee fan I know.

My long march to disappointment...

I had my company seats today (which are awesome, and my work is quite generous to always remember when my home team is in town).

Sheltered from the sun slightly too so I don't get sunburned or rained on...

This game unfortunately just spiraled out of hand from the get-go. Liriano sure didn't look the part of the ace that I had been bragging about. While he actually didn't pitch that bad and ended up stranding plenty of runners, he still let those runners on and that was the tough part to watch.

As soon as the wave broke out for the second straight day I knew this game was over and began trying to distract myself...

...thankfully I couldn't see much of the field at that point because of some Yankee douche having fun on free hat day...

I could easily look into the press box so I spied on La Velle, Kelsie Smith, Kelly Thesier, and #StupidSouhan a little ... and I also got to watch Nick Swisher on some sort of cooking show? Because I guess the game wasn't interesting enough at that point?

My blackberry zoom isn't good, he's in the red hat. Don't know if the chef or the food would make me vomit first.

(Also I need to point out somewhere that I totally predicted Lookin' At Lucky to win the Preakness but I never made it to the OTB! He was #7, which is Mauer's number, and I was hoping we'd get lucky on Sunday.. in the bar pool though I drew Yahwanna Twist and kept trying to trade with the person who drew Lookin' At Lucky. But this is all besides the point...)


I was a little worried about today. I was sitting up in the cheaper seats towards the top (which is the same area I sat in the playoffs last year). My buddy Tim took me to the game, one of the nicer Yankee fans I know, but I am of the firm belief that the rowdier and douchier fans tend to congregate towards the top of the stadium and thin out the further down you get. So perhaps my lack of verbal abuse was about to finally even out...

For being up high we had an awesome view!

I wasn't too encouraged about our chances going into this game. Despite the fact that the law of averages said we should win a game sometime, and despite the fact that we were going up against Sergio Mitre (my second favorite Yankees pitcher after Javier Vasquez), I knew we could find a way to lose if we really wanted to.

That being said, I tend to remain horribly optimistic. Even on Saturday I had hung around until the last pitch just in case we mounted a miraculous comeback. In the 8th inning as Joba began to struggle with control and our bats started to wake up a little bit, Yankee fans had completely forgotten to take us seriously. Half the stadium was back into the wave for the third straight day and was finally starting to get it traveling by the time Texeira made an Adrian-Peterson-like fumble to load the bases.

This seemed to wake everyone up a little bit. My pulse was racing as I saw Girardi come out to the mound and heard the first few chords of Enter Sandman start playing over the loudspeakers. It was like a maelstrom of activity between Yankee fans going crazy cheering, my phone vibrating with new text messages every 10 seconds, and my heart racing at the thought that maybe we might actually stand a chance.

That Kubel grand slam was the closest feeling to euphoria that I can remember.

It was like the air was sucked out of the stadium around me as Yankee fans everywhere collapsed into their seats cursing and groaning. It was beautiful. Not only did we end our drought against the Yankees and our drought of bases-loaded hitting, but we paid them back for all the times they slaughtered Joe Nathan and sent us home with heartbreak.

The tides have turned. That was the only way to come out of the Bronx that day with any sort of momentum or sense of success.

Now I can't wait to go back in October...

(leaving you with a ghost of old Yankee Stadium...)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Adventures in Left Field

There is a third outfield position beyond that which is known to man. It is a position as vast as Safeco and as timeless as Fenway. It is the left-center ground between stadium lights and nightfall, between stats and gut managerial decisions, and it lies between the pit of fielders' errors and the summit of their web-gems. This is the third outfield position of natural baseball instincts. It is an area which we call "The Left Field".

The roar of applause as the Twins take the field. And it's a field now. Not something made of newly designed astroturf and concrete, this is actual Kentucky Bluegrass and you can feel it give under your cleats as you sprint through the infield on your way out to that vast territory -- that sprawling landscape encased on one end by the Budweiser Party Deck and on the other by that I Love Lucy-era cartoon billboard that lights up and shakes hands when you score.

So there's a certain extra weight on your shoulders now. You used to have that old excuse: It wasn't ever a field before. Not in Tampa; not in pre-outdoors Scandinavia. It was a dome, and things were lost in the lights, and the ball carried differently -- now it's just a normal ballpark: the kind you played in when you were a kid where you were the main attraction (only this time there's 30,000 some fans watching your every move).

No pressure. You were once thought to be the answer. Some franchise outfielder leaves and what's their answer? You. You. You. They even trade away a first-round talent (whose box score you try to ignore every 5th night) just to slot you into their offense, no big deal right?

Well there's that fact that you've never seen a curveball you didn't like to chase. The dirtier the better. Watching its nice leather skin get all soiled up around the plate as you swing your bat -- that's the feeling you've come to love.

But it's not your plate discipline (or lack thereof) that you're worried about tonight: it's the fact that you don't know how to play any defensive position other than DH. Nothing looks more comfortable than the pine over there in the dugout. It's understandable too, because when anything is hit in your direction you look about as awkward as a stuttering 8th-grader trying to read Shakespeare at the Globe ... in Chinese. Do you go left? Do you go right? Do you break towards the warning track or move in? Better wait until it gets closer and just randomly dive for it so you can look like you really exhausted your physical abilities on that play...

It's OK. Try thinking of the math. There's 3 outs every inning and 27 every game. There's also 9 positions on the field. So if you all get an equal share of the outs you're only responsible for 3 of them. 3 fly balls ... that isn't so tough is it? 3 balls per game on an average night? But that's 486 of them over the course of the season, it's like those baseballs are just seeking you out trying to make you run yourself to exhaustion and awkwardness.

Or maybe they're just seeking you out to hurt you...

A never-ending cycle of baseballs flying at you that pop out of the heel of your glove or travel to your right when you are angling towards the other direction. You'd better hope there isn't an alternate universe where Sports Center shows the Bottom 10 plays every morning, because you don't like attention...

***Crack of the bat***

Oh, s**t, what were you thinking about again? Wait, is that coming towards you? Can't tell! Hold on...

You'd much rather be waiting tables right now, wouldn't you?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Our Minors are a Major Help

It's only been around 30 games into this season and our team has already been reaping the benefits of our bountiful farm system. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like the injury bug has been biting everyone on our team to some extent, and really testing our depth in several areas. While we haven't had any major, season-ending injuries yet (that happened before the season) all the nagging day-to-day injuries can start to rack up.

One of my primary concerns coming into the season was if we had the depth in our minors ready to step in and help out. Our major league team looked solid from top to bottom, but what if we needed to start filling in replacements during the season?

Well, whether it be rotation, bullpen, or positional players, we've answered everything thrown at us so far:


Filling in for a spot start to replace Blackburn, Manship came up and didn't miss a beat. Lasting 6 strong innings, and giving up only 2 runs and a walk while striking out 6 Indians, he looked every bit the big-leaguer -- and if I remember nothing more than the Cleveland announcers bemoaning our seemingly endless supply of pitchers in the minors.


Other than giving us the catharsis of finally seeing out what we've been missing out on, Ramos has been a more than capable player over this stretch, despite being way above his head. Despite getting off to a record-setting start, Ramos has understandably cooled and shown everyone that maybe he isn't quite ready to take the majors by storm yet, but it's still been fun to see his name pencilled into the lineup everyday -- and I have to admit that I don't get nervous or upset whenever I see him walk up to the plate because you can see the potential brimming out of him.


Talk about coming out of nowhere this year! Despite his obvious talent, I don't think anyone saw Burnett breaking camp with the big league team this year -- and I'm sure no one expected him to last this long. While his dominance from the minors hasn't translated completely, he by no means looks overmatched in a Twins uniform on a major-league mound. Averaging just over 1 strikeout per inning, he's one more reliable arm in our pen (which has been one of the best in baseball this year, despite the loss of Nathan). Obviously anything can happen but if Burnett keeps pitching at this level I don't see him heading back to the minors at all this year.


Until my dying day I'll say that his reputation as a defensive whiz catcher is vastly overrated -- but I think people mean to say that he calls a great game. And THAT I cannot deny. He definitely looks mature and confident in the crouch behind home-plate, and despite the fact that he doesn't really know how to connect with the bat, he still managed to show up Mauer's return to the lineup against the Orioles. Obviously I'd rather see Morales or Ramos playing when Mauer isn't in the lineup, but to have 4 major-league quality catchers on your roster is something most other major league teams can only dream of.


Sure, he only had a cup of coffee, but it's about time someone brought him up to get a look at the next level of competition. And how did he respond? How about a homerun in his first plate appearance! Ramos may have gone 4-5 in his debut, but Hughes absolutely jacked one in his first at bat. This is the kind of role-player production from unheralded sources that great teams can utilize.


So who's next? We could see Hughes or Manship again before the year is out. And we'll more than likely see Ramos again at least in September after his more than certain return to the minors.

We still have top prospects about to arrive from Rochester in the form of Danny Valencia, Anthony Slama, and Rob Delaney. There's speculation that Revere, Tosoni, and even Bromberg might get to taste big league action if needed this season.

By no means do I want anyone on our major league roster to become injured or ineffective, but I must admit that I'm excited to see who gets called up next!