December 30, 2005

Link-O-Rama

Before I get to this week's link dump, I want to apologize for the lack of substantive entries over the past four days. I have been absolutely swamped with various writing gigs (some pretty cool stuff that I'll talk about shortly, once all the deadlines are met) and have more or less been spending every waking hour typing up thousands of words for other places.

I'd like to be ranting about the Twins and linking to pictures of Elisha Cuthbert, of course, but everyone has to pay the bills. Plus, I'm sure you guys can benefit from getting a break from me every once in a while, especially at the end of the year. With that half-hearted mea culpa out of the way, let's hit the links for the final time in 2005 ...

  • I always get a kick out of how people describe me based solely on my writing. This time it's "cranky blogger Aaron Gleeman."
  • What's with the sudden run on oddly attractive actresses parking in handicap spots? First it was Kirsten Dunst and then came Amanda Bynes. Who's next, Claire Danes?
  • There have been a lot of very favorable reviews written about The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006, but my favorite is probably this week's from Eric Simon over at Mets Geek.
  • Former Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com, Jessica Alba, was recently photographed buying lingerie. That's obviously extremely thought provoking, but in the end buying stuff like that is fairly pointless when you look so good that people are posting screen captures from the DVD version of your latest horrible movie so that everyone can gawk over them on the internet. Seriously, do you think her lucky bastard of a boyfriend sees the lingerie on her and goes, "Wow, now you really look good!"
  • I hate to kick a team when they're down (especially since the Vikings are down too), but this is perhaps my favorite headline of the entire NFL season: "Season-high 25 people arrested at Lambeau."
  • Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had a very nice article last week about Gophers basketball walk-on Zach Puchtel. It's an interesting story about a guy who started out at Harvard, made more interesting to me by the fact that I went to summer camp with Puchtel for a couple years.

    Not only that, but I distinctly remember him kicking my ass on the basketball court on numerous occasions, in large part because he was about a foot taller than everyone else there (he is 6'6" and 250 pounds now). And yes, that's twice this month that I've reminisced about playing childhood sports with someone who was written up in the newspaper. Meanwhile, I got winded just writing this sentence.

  • Finally, the poker boom has extended to the world of porn (marginally not-safe-for-work link).
  • Is anyone else as excited as I am about January 9?
  • Contrary to what the great George Costanza once so eloquently explained, sometimes "worlds colliding" can actually be a good thing. For instance, one of my favorite bloggers, Jon Weisman, interviewed one of my favorite actors, John C. McGinley, and they talked about baseball.
  • The slam-dunk choice for the most ridiculous hyperbole of the week goes to ESPN.com's Scoop Jackson, who named the launch of the execrable Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith one of his "What mattered most in 2005" events:
    No one really got the magnitude of this. Not even at ESPN. When the deal went down and "Quite Frankly" was born, the first thing I wanted to do was write a column about it. Not happening. "Too self-promoting" was what I was told. But "QF" was bigger than that. It was bigger than ESPN.

    When "Quite Frankly" aired on Aug. 1, 2005, it broke down a barrier that had been up for over a decade. And the following sentence is no disrespect to Bryant Gumbel, Michael Wilbon, John Saunders, Montell Williams, Orlando Jones or DL Hugley, but not since they pulled Arsenio Hall off the air in 1994 has a black man had his own talk show -- or been slated to host one with his name in the title. The fact that Stephen A. was given the format to do him -- to be himself, unscripted, unapologetic, unleashed -- was historical in the landscape of broadcast television.

    Right. Either that or ESPN gave an incredibly annoying person a show on which he could be incredibly annoying and no one watched it.

  • It turns out that Denny Green is as big a fan of running the football as he is of winning playoff games.
  • Bill Simmons' piece about the final Monday Night Football broadcast on ABC was right on the money. While Simmons was unemotional about the show despite actually feeling strongly about it decades ago, there was never a moment in my entire life when Monday Night Football meant more to me than some random football game being played a day after the rest of the NFL schedule.
  • I found this story odd, but only because of which passenger the cop allegedly wanted an autograph from.
  • I have always dreamt of being able to take pictures like these ones. Instead, I take pictures like these ones.
  • With the NFL season finishing up, this was my final week of writing Football Daily Dose columns for FoxSports.com. If you're interested, here are the links: Tuesday ... Wednesday ... Thursday.
  • And finally, here's a link to this week's baseball column over at Rotoworld, which is about the free agents who are still looking for work this offseason.
  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Ten Things I Didn't Know a Couple of Weeks Ago (by Dave Studeman)
    - Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)
    - Daily Graphing: John Patterson (by David Appelman)

    Pick of the Day (158-139, +$1,695):
    UCLA -2 (-110) over Northwestern

    Saturday's Pick:
    New York -7 (-110) over Oakland

    Sunday's Pick:
    Pittsburgh -17 (-110) over Detroit

    Monday's Pick:
    Notre Dame +5 (-110) over Ohio State


    December 28, 2005

    Open Chat: I'm Too Busy

    There is quite a bit of Twins-related news floating around, but sadly I'm ridiculously busy working on another writing project right now. I should have some free time to write something up for tomorrow, but in the meantime feel free to chat about whatever it is that you people chat about while I'm busy working.

    Oh, and Jeff Reardon robbed a jewelry store Monday. Seriously.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Franchises at Birth: The Royals and the Brewers (Part Three: 1975-1980) (by Steve Treder)

    Pick of the Day (158-137, +$1,915):
    Seattle +8 (-110) over Minnesota

    Thursday's Pick:
    Denver -6 (-110) over Seattle


    December 23, 2005

    The Final Piece

    The Twins signed Rondell White yesterday, inking him to a one-year deal with an option for a second season. The details of the contract are a little confusing, but basically if White plays well and stays healthy it'll be worth about $8 million over two years. If he plays poorly and/or gets hurt, it'll only cost the Twins $3.25 million for one season.

    I like the signing a lot. It has very little risk, even for the cash-strapped Twins, and unlike signing Tony Batista, White actually comes along with quite a bit of potential upside. Plus, the fact that Terry Ryan was able to move so quickly to lock him up for a fraction of what Jacque Jones received from the Cubs earlier this week is impressive.

    Here's what the Twins are getting in White ...

    RONDELL WHITE | 6'1" | 205 LBS | DOB: 2/23/1972 | BATS: RIGHT

    YEAR G PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ BB SO
    2003 137 534 .289 .341 .488 119 31 79
    2004 121 498 .270 .337 .453 108 39 77
    2005 97 400 .313 .348 .489 122 17 48

    Entering his 14th major-league season, White can be counted on for two things. One is providing average offense in an outfield corner or at designated hitter, and the second is not staying healthy for a full season. He is a career .289/.343/.472 hitter who has posted an OPS between .790 and .900 in eight of the past nine seasons, and he has played in 90% of his team's games just twice (which is why he's earned the nickname "RonDL").

    For overall offense, White is similar to what Jones provided at his peak in 2002/2003. While Jones' production has dropped off significantly over the past two seasons, White's has stayed remarkably consistent with the rest of his career. Plus, White is capable of holding his own against both right-handed and left-handed pitching, whereas Jones was good against righties and completely lost against lefties.

    2003-2005               OVERALL             vs RHP             vs LHP   
    Rondell White .289/.341/.476 .284/.334/.481 .302/.360/.464
    Jacque Jones .268/.322/.443 .280/.333/.474 .238/.295/.363

    The gap between their overall numbers grows larger once you account for the fact that White has played the past three seasons for teams with extremely pitcher-friendly ballparks. Adjust for that and White's .289/.341/.476 line from 2003-2005 was good for a 116 OPS+, while Jones' .268/.322/.443 line over that same span was good for just a 98 OPS+. To put that in some context, a 116 OPS+ would have led the Twins in 2005, while a 98 OPS+ is what Michael Cuddyer posted.

    White doesn't have much plate discipline or great speed, but he'll likely hit in the high .200s with good power, makes surprisingly solid contact for a free-swinger, and is still a very capable defensive corner outfielder who covers plenty of ground when healthy. Of course, the "when healthy" part has plagued White for his entire career and is why he was available to the Twins at a discount.

    A shoulder injury limited White to just 97 games in 2005 and he has averaged 118 games over the past three years. When White goes down with his inevitable injury in 2006, his at-bats can go to guys like Jason Kubel, Lew Ford, and Cuddyer. That's obviously not an ideal situation, but the Twins are fairly well-equipped to handle it and White's production in the 120 games he does play should be good enough to make it worthwhile.

    It sounds like the Twins plan to play White exclusively at designated hitter, which should lessen the chances of a major injury. White often served as Detroit's DH over the past two years, but was still the Tigers' left fielder most of the time. He's good enough defensively to start in left field over Shannon Stewart (and owns a similarly horrendous throwing arm), but if keeping him on the bench when the Twins are in the field makes White even 10% more likely to make it through the season, it's worth it.

    Signing White is not a headline-grabbing acquisition, but like dealing for Luis Castillo it is a quality decision. Both Castillo and White have established levels of performance that are safely above average and each came at a reasonable price in terms of money and players (in White's case, just money). Rather than misguided, shoot-the-moon fantasies involving overpaying for guys like Hank Blalock or Alfonso Soriano, these are exactly the sort of moves the Twins should be making.

    The sad thing is that I like trading for Castillo and signing White so much that it makes me even more upset about signing Batista. The Twins took two steps forward and one step back, while it would have been relatively easy to fill all three spots with good hitters. The upgrades at second base and DH are still sizable, but they're partially offset by Batista sucking up outs at third base and the overall impact of the offseason maneuvering is less than it could have been.

    White is arguably the biggest free agent the Twins have signed in a decade, and I'm guessing the team is done making major moves. Ryan will probably look to finish up the offseason by adding a couple middle relievers or a bench bat, but unless he decides to trade Kyle Lohse I don't expect the roster to look much different than it does right now.

    Here's what the Twins' lineup looks like at the moment, barring a complete recovery by Jason Kubel (which may be more likely than initially thought) or a surprise move before spring training:

    C    Joe Mauer          .303 AVG     .377 OBP     .427 SLG
    1B Justin Morneau .266 AVG .336 OBP .491 SLG
    2B Luis Castillo .321 AVG .401 OBP .391 SLG
    SS Jason Bartlett .281 AVG .354 OBP .387 SLG
    3B Tony Batista .237 AVG .270 OBP .392 SLG
    LF Shannon Stewart .283 AVG .342 OBP .399 SLG
    CF Torii Hunter .264 AVG .328 OBP .447 SLG
    RF Michael Cuddyer .263 AVG .340 OBP .427 SLG
    DH Rondell White .286 AVG .336 OBP .464 SLG

    The batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage numbers listed above are Baseball Think Factory's ZiPS projections, which give a very rough estimate for what to expect from each player in 2006. The bench will consist of some combination of Kubel, Ford, Mike Redmond, Nick Punto, Juan Castro, Luis Rodriguez, Terry Tiffee, and Jason Pridie. I still don't think it's a strong enough group unless everything breaks right, but it certainly looks a lot better than two months ago.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - It's Not The Second Advent In The Bronx, People (by John Brattain)

    Pick of the Day (156-135, +$1,935):
    Los Angeles -1 (-110) over Orlando

    Saturday's Pick:
    Carolina -4.5 (-110) over Dallas

    Sunday's Pick:
    Chicago -7 (-110) over Green Bay

    Monday's Pick:
    New England -5.5 (-110) over New York

    Tuesday's Pick:
    Cleveland +2.5 (-110) over New Jersey


    December 21, 2005

    Nothing Doing

    I try to keep Twins-related topics set aside for times like this, when not much is going on. In fact, right now I have no fewer than 10 things saved up to write about whenever the mood strikes between now and Opening Day. Stuff about Twins history, stuff about last season, stuff about future seasons. None of it is particularly time-sensitive, so I can always push them back when things like a trade for a good second baseman or the signing of a horrible third baseman occur.

    Anyway, after finishing up my various writing gigs yesterday afternoon, I was considering breaking out one of those topics to write about for today. After all, the dust had settled on the Tony Batista signing, Jacque Jones had already made it clear that he was declining arbitration, and there didn't seem to be much else brewing for Terry Ryan. Instead, I began thinking about how depressing it is to be a Twins fan sometimes.

    I'm not quite sure why it finally got to me yesterday, but I guess I just made peace with the fact that this offseason will be a disappointment. Ryan made a nice move for a quality second baseman in Luis Castillo, but then went bargain shopping in Japan for a hacktastic third baseman, took away much of Michael Cuddyer's value by banning him from the infield, and was ignored by free-agent targets like Nomar Garciaparra and Bill Mueller.

    I'm not certain to what extent the Twins were ever seriously involved in discussions with Garciaparra or Mueller, but either way it's likely that the cost was too high and neither player was particularly interested in coming to Minnesota. Instead, Batista is manning third base, a move that wipes away whatever gains came from adding Castillo to the top of the lineup, and the best third-base option on the roster is relegated to right field or designated hitter.

    And what's in store for the rest of the offseason? Well, if history tells us anything, not a whole lot. The Twins are still reportedly in talks with aging sluggers like Mike Piazza and Frank Thomas, but it's clear that whatever fantasies fans had about significant offensive upgrades taking place this offseason were never likely to happen.

    The best-case scenario at this point -- barring the creation of a time machine to erase the Batista deal and send Ryan back to the 1980s so someone can give him a Bill James Abstract for Christmas -- is probably signing Piazza or Thomas to a one-year deal laden with incentives. Even in that case, it's not clear to me that the Twins' offense looks much better heading into 2006 than it did leaving 2005.

           2005                            2006
    C Joe Mauer Joe Mauer
    1B Justin Morneau Justin Morneau
    2B Nick Punto/Luis Rivas Luis Castillo
    SS Jason Bartlett/Juan Castro Jason Bartlett/Juan Castro
    3B Michael Cuddyer Tony Batista
    LF Shannon Stewart Shannon Stewart
    CF Torii Hunter Torii Hunter
    RF Jacque Jones Michael Cuddyer
    DH Matthew LeCroy Mike Piazza/Frank Thomas

    Aside from Cuddyer switching positions yet again, the only real changes are Nick Punto/Luis Rivas, Jones, and Matthew LeCroy leaving (or going to the bench), and Castillo, Batista, and Piazza/Thomas arriving. Is that an upgrade? Probably. Is it a big enough one for a team that had the worst offense in the AL? I doubt it, and that's even under the far-from-safe assumption that the Twins can land Piazza or Thomas.

    To seriously compete for the division title in 2006 the Twins are likely going to have to find a way to score at least 50 more runs than they did this season. That's a big number, but it would still only take them from 688 runs (14th in the league) to 738 runs (ninth in the league). At this point, the chances of doing that look fairly slim and once again come down to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

    They need Mauer to stay healthy and build on an outstanding first full season, and they need Morneau to emerge as a legitimate cleanup hitter. An optimist in search of more offense might also point to potential improvements from Cuddyer and Jason Bartlett, a bounceback from Shannon Stewart, or healthy seasons from Torii Hunter and Jason Kubel, but I've never been accused of being optimistic.

    At this point I'd bet on below-average offense from shortstop, third base, left field, and right field, with first base and designated hitter looking iffy as well. The Twins will be competitive in 2006 regardless of their hitting, but it's December 21 and I officially have no expectations of them winning the American League Central. The pitching staff is great and may actually be better than it was in 2005, but the lineup is simply not good enough.

    Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)
    - Baseball Chain (by Matthew Namee)
    - Daily Graphing: Chris Young (by David Appelman)

    Pick of the Day (155-134, +$1,945):
    New Orleans +8.5 (-110) over Minnesota

    Thursday's Pick:
    Dallas -6 (-110) over Sacramento


    December 20, 2005

    Twins Notes

  • I guess I jumped the gun a bit on this story last week, because Jacque Jones didn't officially decline arbitration until yesterday. For those of you who didn't read my thoughts on Jones' exit the first time around (when it was only sort of official), feel free to check it out now.

    If Terry Ryan has the ability to make a move on a significant designated hitter, I'm guessing it will happen soon. Ryan has consistently said he wanted to clear Jones' salary from the books before doing anything, so now he's free to pursue guys like Mike Piazza and Frank Thomas without the threat of going over budget.

  • The Royals signed Doug Mientkiewicz to a one-year deal worth $1.85 million. It's an odd move for a number of reasons, first and foremost that Mientkiewicz is a first baseman hit .240/.322/.407 in 2005 and .238/.326/.350 in 2004. Why a team that went 56-106 this season needs that is unclear to me, although I suppose it'll help the young infielders and pitchers some to have a good defender at first.

    Beyond that, adding a mediocre veteran first baseman seems like the last thing the Royals needed to do. They already have Mike Sweeney and Matt Stairs on the roster, and one of their top prospects is Justin Huber, a first baseman who hit .326/.417/.560 with 23 homers and 97 RBIs in 120 games between Double-A and Triple-A this year. Luckily, I stopped trying to figure the Royals out a while ago.

  • Charley Walters' column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press last week had an interesting note:
    Word is the Twins wanted pitcher Chien-Ming Wang and second baseman Robinson Cano from the Yankees for center fielder Torii Hunter before Minnesota acquired second baseman Luis Castillo from the Marlins.

    As I've said before, if the Twins can acquire multiple young players who are both good and cheap for Torii Hunter, they should jump all over it. Chien-Ming Wang and Robinson Cano certainly each fit that bill, and if there are similar offers out there from other teams keeping Hunter for 2006 is a mistake.

  • Nomar Garciaparra, who was probably the free agent targeted most often by optimistic Twins fans this offseason, signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers. Like Bill Mueller, Garciaparra agreed to a reasonable deal that the Twins seemingly could have matched. And like with Mueller, I'm guessing Garciaparra never had any interest in coming to Minnesota.

    Remember those big plans for the offense everyone had back in November? Well, at this point the Twins' moves have boiled down to replacing Jones and Nick Punto with Tony Batista and Luis Castillo. Batista actually replaces Michael Cuddyer at third base, but Cuddyer seems likely to take over for Jones in right field. Oh, and they've also lost Matthew LeCroy, who was one of the team's most productive hitters in 2005, and are still searching for his replacement. Good times!

  • I am trying to keep an open mind regarding new MLB.com Twins beat writer Kelly Thesier. With that said, she wrote 320 words on Batista in a "Mailbag" column yesterday and didn't once mention his complete inability to get on base. She mentioned his homers and RBIs plenty, of course, so it looks like we've got another person covering the Twins who probably doesn't know Bill James from Rick James. Oh well.
  • Today at The Hardball Times:
    - Franchises at Birth: The Royals and the Brewers (Part Two: 1971-1974) (by Steve Treder)
    - Not So Sweet Surrender (by Dan Fox)
    - Daily Graphing: A.J. Pierzynski & Heath Bell (by David Appelman)

    Pick of the Day (155-133, +$2,055):
    Los Angeles +3 (-110) over New Jersey


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