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Twins at the Start, II

The previous column dealt with the position players, in this one we’ll go through the Twins pitching staff.

This offseason saw Johan Santana leave the Twins after he was traded to the Mets. It was a necessary move as the Twins have so much pitching depth that it didn’t make sense not to utilize that depth to fill in the organizational holes. Matt Garza also was traded by the Twins and Carlos Silva left in free agency. Three of the five men from the 2007 rotation are gone.

Amazingly, this barely left a dent in the organizations ability to field a rotation. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Boof Bonser are going to step in and make the Twins rotation at least close to the league average. Francisco Liriano, still recovering a bit from Tommy John surgery, will start the season in AAA but if he starts 20 games for the Twins later in the year he could turn a few heads.

Liriano probably won’t be the pitching phenom he was in 2006, but he could easily come in and provide better than average numbers.

There are also some talented starting pitchers in the Twins minor league system, They could easily find themselves in the rotation later in the year if the Twins get hit with some injuries. Among these players are Anthony Swarzak, Brian Duensing and Phil Humber.

Sadly enough, the Twins also signed Livan Hernandez as a veteran “innings eater” in the offseason. He should provide a lot of entertainment for opposing fans; his 6.38 ERA in the spring is a sign of things to come.

In the bullpen the Twins have Joe Nathan, the best closer in baseball right now, along with Pat Neshek in a set-up role. The gives the Twins one of the top game closing tag teams out there.

Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain will add to the bullpen while Denys Reyes will do his deeds against lefties and should do them well.. Juan Rincon will also be along but don’t expect much, he’s on the way out. Finally, Brian Bass snuck into the Twins bullpen and while he looks to be no better than a mop up man he at least gives Gardenhire some flexibility in the bullpen. The Twins are carrying 12 pitchers due to the relative youth of the collection and every arm is going to count.

Altogether the Twins should have a better than average pitching staff this year who will give the team plenty of opportunities to win.



If it were possible to manage the economy in such a way as to defeat the business cycle and prevent periods of slow downs and negative growth, wouldn’t we have figured it out by now?

Twins at the Start I

There have been a lot of changes in the Twins organization since last year. The most prominent is the departure of longtime GM Terry Ryan and the ascendency of Bill Smith to the throne. Smith appears as bland as his name and little is known about what kind of GM he’s going to turn out to be. Over the offseason we got our first peak but it wasn’t an entirely pleasant one.

Smith traded away the Twins best pitcher, Johan Santana, and in return he didn’t get the deal most Twins fans wanted. This is understandable as this was Smith’s first season of trying to make deals with other sharks in the GM circuit and eventually Smith will learn to swin a little better.

The other big trade from Smith was sending Matt Garza, Eduardo Morlan and Jason Bartlett to the Devil Rays for Jason Pridie, Delmon Young and Brendan Harris. Garza projects to be an eventual #1 starter while Bartlett was an average hitting and average fielding shortstop. Morlan is a relief pitcher with fairly good prospects. The Twins in return get a Young, who has All-Star potential, Pridie, a future 4th outfielder and Harris, an above average hitter and below average glove.

The trade is basically a wash but most analysts think the Twins got the better of the deal, if only slightly.

If anything else, when it came to the trades, Smith wasn’t incompetent. He got real value and provided the Twins with enough raw parts to put together a team while increasing the future value of his team.

His offseason signings also show a certain amount of unimaginative competence. Adam Everette was signed to take Bartlett’s spot at short. Everett is one the elite fielding shortstops in the majors but provides little offense. Mike Lamb was signed to play third base, filling a giant void left vacant by Terry Ryan. Lamb is 32 years old with a career .281/.339/.427 hitting line in 2421 career major league at bats.

Lamb had a great spring offensively but didn’t look impressive with the glove or the arm. But, after Nick Punto’s season last year (highlight: VORP approached -30 before the end of the season) Lamb will be a religious experience.

And yes, Nick Punto is still on the team getting paid a couple of a million dollars despite having one of the worst offensive seasons at third base in a generation. On fact, Ron Gardenhire considered Punto to be frontrunner for the 2nd base job during the offseason. Fortunately, Brendan Harris is going to start the year at second base after Nick Punto posted a .359 OPS this spring.

It’s too bad guys like Nick Punto keep their roster spots based soley on the amount of money they’re paid. Baseball should be a meritocracy and more deserving players like Brian Buscher and Randy Ruiz will miss out on The Show due to unwarranted loyalty of GMs to guys like Nick Punto.

On the bench Punto is joined by Matt Tolbert. Tolbert is a utility guy who had a good year at AAA last year and projects to be a replacement level player this year. Last year Tolbert probably should have made the club in a late September call-up but again, Nick Punto has some fans where it counts.

At first base the Twins have Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP. Unfortunately, Morneau is basically in the lowest quartile offensively among major league first basemen. He’s entering his expected peak years so there’s reason to be hopeful.

Morneau is important to the Twins run making machine, regardless of where he ranks among his peers. He will rank near the top in run production on this team as he did for the Twins last year.

At catcher Twins fans will once again see the best catching duo in baseball, Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond. Red is getting on in years but still is the best back up catcher in the league while Joe Mauer should be the All Star he always is when he’s healthy.

The Twins outfield became a bit of a mess during the offseason when longtime Twin Torii Hunter left in free agency to go to the Angels. Bill Smith failed to find a proper replacement for Hunter so this spring saw three players fight for the open center field spot.

Jason Pridie, Carlos Gomez and Denard Span were all in the running for the spot but Carlos Gomez captured the prize. Gomez was the centerpiece for the Santana trade but he appears completely unprepared to play at the major league level. The Mets rushed him through the minors making his track record more difficult to read. Pridie looked more mature in the field and he was my pick to make the team but Smith and Gardenhire saw things differently. Long time Twins “prospect” Denard Span spoke a big game and had the best spring between the three but his long term record in the minor leagues is unimpressive.

Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young will flank Gomez in the outfield. Cuddyer is a slightly below median offensive right fielder with the best arm at that position (which makes up for his poor range). Delmon Young’s performance will be of great interest to Twins fans. He swings big and strikes out a lot but he has plenty of time to grow as a player.

Jason Kubel will be the Twins likely DH and he should also see some time in the outfield. Everyone is waiting around for Kubel’s breakout season, he was a .320/.385/.499 hitter in the minors but has failed to come close to those numbers in 698 major league at bats. I think this will be his big year, but I said that last year too.

Finally, Craig Monroe will be the overpaid veteran pine rider. It’s possible Monroe will improve on his .219 batting average from last year but I have doubts. Veterans fall fast and hard and Monroe has been falling steadily since 2005. Overrated veterans absorb a lot of monetary resources and take spots from deserving younger players. Jon Knott would have been my choice for a bench outfielder spot but the Twins spent millions of dollars signing Monroe.

Money equal good I suppose.

That’s it for the position players, I’ll take a look at the Twins pitchers in Volume II

Rediscovered bit of Personal History


Packs or Singles

From Joey Abna writing at Beckett.com:

One of the questions I have gotten more than once in my inbox relates to the best way to grow your collection. It normally goes something like this, “I am a new collector with a limited budget, should I just buy the cards I need or should I buy packs and boxes?” I know people get tired of hearing the same old answer to questions but here it goes again, there is no right or wrong answer to that question.

But one of the things I love to do most is open packs. So I purchase singles, packs and boxes to fill my collections. I would spend less money if I just bought the singles I needed for my football collections but I would not enjoy collecting nearly as much as I do. Plus by buying packs and boxes I am able to trade cards with others and even sell some of the cards I don’t want on the net.

Let me just say, as someone who works part-time at a sports hobby shop, that the biggest rip-off in the card collecting hobby is packs and boxes. I have seen hundred of boxes opened and thousands of packs revealed. Only two or three times have I ever see cards nice enough to warrant the investment in the box.

I look at unopened card products as pull tabs, you’ll never get enough out of them to warrant the money you put in them. If you want to collect cards, team sets, autographs, indivdual players, sets or find items to trade with other collectors, just buy what you want on eBay.

Buying packs just hurts you. You’re paying for the brief bit of excitement as you open the pack but that’s it, the excitement is gone in an instant.

For the money I’ve seen spent on wax packs a person could put together a stunning collection of vintage and modern cards.

The only people who have the infrastructure to make money opening packs and selling the contents are those who own cardshops. We get the packs at a discounted price and a cardshop is the only place where I’ve seen base cards get near-book. The only problem is those who cardshops know they make a lot more money selling wax than they do selling individual cards.

In fact, most of the regular wax buyers I know will often leave base cards at the store. Sometimes entire contents from purchased baxes are left at the store as it’s impossible for anyone but cardshop owners to get any money on base cards.

Wax is terrible.

Local Government Aid

We believe local government aid is a property tax relief program.”

— John Sundvor, a media consultant for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, which in February called for the state Legislature to assist local governments in rural Minnesota. (Source)

Despite the fact I was on the parliamentary debate team in college, I hated the concept of debate. Really, learning debate is more about sophistry and obfuscation than about anything positive. Socrates was killed on conviction of the charge “making the weaker argument the stronger” and that is now a virtue in the world of debate. (and law?)

Unfortunately politics is now a breeding ground for people who are well practiced in the art of bullshit. Whether through lies, sophistry, ignorance or idiocy statements like the one above are fed to the public on a daily basis.

Local Government Aid (LGA) is not tax relief. With enough alcohol and spinning it might be possible to describe it as a tax offset, but it is not tax relief. It is redistribution.

The state takes from the city and then the cities fight to retain the money which was taken. It pits municipalities against each other. Every city wants LGA but not every city receives what was taken from it. LGA forces the State to favor some cities over others.

In fact, the amount of money taken from cities through taxes is never equivalent to the money given back. The state absorbs some money in fees, administration and other costs. There is simply no free lunch when it comes to government.

Leftover Reviews

One of my personal rules is I have to, in some form, review every book I have read. Sometimes I write full “feature” reviews, other times I throw something together at the last minute. So, you’ve been warned, here we go:

Next, Michael Crichton

In the early decades of the previous century a new scientific understanding of inherited traits had created speculation that you could breed a superior human race. This new science of Eugenics quickly became the darling of scientists and intellectuals across the western world. Millions would die before this idea was finally thrown on the ash heap of history.

Today, we are in the midst of a new scientific understanding involving genetics. We are closing in on the ability to control the building blocks of life or even to create entirely new forms of life based on our ability to manipulate the genes. It is important to consider these innovations with a skeptic’s eye. Ethics are also needed.

This book is doesn’t top the list of my favorite Crichton novels but the subject matter and the extensive bibliography make it worth the effort.

Damned Lies, Joel Best

Statistics are playing a larger role in everyday life, especially in the public policy arena. Unfortunately, a huge portion of the voting public is innumerate. Either through ignorance or apathy, a lot of us have problems critically analyzing the statistics that surround us in the world.

Trying to make sound decisions based on bad statistics is a fool’s errand and this book is supposed to offer a cure for the non-mathematically minded. It’s easy to read, well written with numerous real world examples and should be read by everyone who doesn’t have a ton of experience in statistics.

Personal Update

Just wanted to say thank you to the NightWriter for hooking me up with a new, fast and reliable laptop which I have been using for the past two weeks. (None to soo either, my previous laptop blew its motherboard a few days after I got the new laptop).

I Broke the Thing

You’re Not Exactly a Hippie…

While you’re not a hippie, you’ve got the spirit of one.

Like most hippies, you have deep beliefs and unusual interests.You may not buy into hippie fashions, music, or heavy drug use.

But at heart, you are a free spirit and suspicious of the status quo.

I think this test poorly discriminates between “rube” and “Hippie.”

John McCain’s Spring Training

With the continuing constest between Clinton and Obama on the Democratic side, John McCain has a unique opportunity to campaign direct to the American public without the typical mano a mano interplay between the political parties. This is a great time to get a little feisty, or “authentic” and keep the ol’ McCain name in the headlines.

Most presidential candidates are very guarded, and for good reason, a single lapse can ruin winning prospects. However, normally those mistakes have to happen close to an election and the mistake has to be very sizable. Even then, it’s hard to pin down a gaffe as causing a loss. (Like G. Ford, did he lose because he messed up on the Poland issue or was it simply the fact he was so far behind to begin with?)

McCain already has some problems, he’s old, he’s used slurs to describe his captors, he said Iraq may have US troops stationed there for 100 years. I don’t see much more he can do right now to mess up, the Democrats already have a lot of ammunition. So my thoughts here have little risk and some upside.

McCain can add to his credibility and authenticity by aggressively pursuing more (than normal) confrontative media platforms. If McCain is going to make any more mistakes, it’s better to flush them out now and be able to recover than risk getting knocked out close to the election.

It’s spring training time for McCain. He should be actively giving speeches to crowds of voters in states where there’s not a Democratic primary going on. He should risk himself by taking un-rehearsed questions from audience members. He should be letting loose a bit with Jon Stewart and Jay Leno. Radio interviews with conservative hosts who aren’t entirely in his camp.

Doing this will show McCain to not be a bumbling old man (I hope) but an intelligent and able public servant.

This is also a great time to start hitting up the local media outlets too. To use Minnesota as an example, McCain should be trying to get on with NARN, Joe Soucheray and should probably do a sit-down interview with a local TV personality. The National media might not bite as the Democrat primary is just too juicy a story not to lead off with but local guys will really take advantage of having access to a Presidential candidate.

McCain should start releasing in depth plans for solutions to issues that will be arising during the campaign. The economy is now a bigger issue than Iraq, McCain needs to give specific plans for the economy then let them run through and take a beating from the media. Then refine them in time for the debates.

Right now, McCain is doing some things right. He’s raising money and is probably knee deep in creating a national organization to get him elected. He’s traveling and building credentials. There’s the Veep issue too. But I think he could get more out of this “free time” than he is.

McCain is going to need to prove himself to voters. They’re going to want a competent, authentic, honest and open man in John McCain. A hero who happens to have some foreign policy gravitas and knows the meaning of sacrifice. He’ll also need to hold his own intellectually on issues outside of his strengths.

Now is the time for McCain to find deficiencies in his candidacy, not October.