February 21, 2006

Twins Notes

  • Over at his blog, John Sickels has been doing "crystal ball" career projections for various young players. It's basically just a fun little exercise where Sickels tries to predict what a player's entire career will end up looking like 20 years down the road. Yesterday he looked into the future for Joe Mauer and found 17 seasons, a .298 batting average, 2,477 hits, and 308 homers. Oh, and an entire career spent in Minnesota.

    Those are pretty optimistic numbers (Sickels is a Twins fan, after all), although he does put a slight damper on things by predicting "a major injury down the line ... that forces him to move to another position (probably first base) around age 30." Of course, by that time Mauer will have had 10 seasons behind the plate, which is a whole career for all but a couple dozen catchers in baseball history.

    Anyway, I've been oddly fascinated by Sickels' previous career projections -- Prince Fielder, David Wright, Felix Hernandez, Jeff Francoeur, Delmon Young, Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira -- and the Mauer one is certainly of added interest to anyone reading this blog. Sickels also looked into his crystal ball for Jason Kubel and Francisco Liriano earlier this offseason, but the results weren't quite as pretty.

  • Earlier this month I posted an e-mail from a reader in the Dominican Republic who had seen Tony Batista play winter ball and wasn't impressed. The response from Batista's supporters ranged from saying "what does he know?" to actually doubting the e-mail's authenticity. Then several other people who saw Batista play in the Dominican Republic chimed in with their thoughts, all essentially agreeing that Batista looked out of shape and performed poorly.

    Well, now we can add Twins scout Joe McIlvaine to the list of people who weren't exactly awed by Batista's play this winter. Patrick Reusse's column in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune included the following from McIlvaine:

    Batista was a little too heavy when I saw him. He still has the hands to play third, although range is an issue -- and, on turf, that might show up more.

    When told that Batista has reportedly lost some weight since he saw him last month, McIlvaine said, "He could stand to lose some more." Reusse also added that "the review from [Japan] was Batista was fat and disinterested."

    To recap, the Twins have all but handed the third-base job to a 32-year-old who was let go by the Japanese League team he played for last season, had a .272 on-base percentage in his last big-league campaign, and can't be bothered to get in shape in preparation for what might be his last real chance in the major leagues.

  • ESPN.com released its first "MLB Power Rankings" for 2006, and the Twins rank 15th. I disagree with a few of the teams ranked above them, but the general assessment seems right. The Twins enter 2006 as an average-looking team that could be a lot better based on a few key factors going their way. Interestingly, ESPN.com ranks the White Sox #1 and the Indians #4, and also has the Tigers just behind the Twins at #19. The division is going to be really tough this year.
  • Over at his blog, Will Young has been posting some really great articles on Twins history by using ProQuest to access old newspaper stories. If you haven't read them already, go check them out:

    - The First Free Agent Signing
    - The Three Trades of 1979
    - After the 1975 Twins
    - The 1975 Twins

    It's all really good, unique stuff and is exactly what makes the Twins blogosphere so great. Seriously, go read those four entries and then tell me the last time you've seen something like that printed in either of the Twin Cities' newspapers or on the Twins' official website.

  • Francisco Liriano has been asked to pitch for the Dominican Republic in next month's World Baseball Classic, and Ron Gardenhire suggests that not being in camp could hurt Liriano's chances of beating Scott Baker out for the fifth spot in the rotation. I happen to think that the Twins have all but decided on Baker already, in which case Liriano might as well pitch for his country if it means a lot to him.
  • There have been several articles floating around lately quoting Brad Radke as saying that 2006 could be his final season. I won't pretend to know what's really going on inside Radke's head, but I don't think this is the first time he's been undecided about his future. Plus, as Barry Bonds has shown over the past couple days, asking a guy about his future in the middle of February is pretty silly.

    If Radke does retire after this season, the Twins should be in decent shape to handle it. The best-case scenario has Baker beginning the year in the rotation and pitching well, Liriano replacing Lohse as the fifth starter sometime around midseason, and Glen Perkins being ready to step in for Radke next spring. A rotation of Johan Santana-Carlos Silva-Liriano-Baker-Perkins in 2007 and beyond is pretty exciting (and cheap).

  • February 20, 2006

    Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #34 Matt Lawton


    771 3150 .277 .379 .428 106 25.3 87

    Taken in the 13th round of the 1991 draft out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Matt Lawton advanced slowly but surely through the Twins' minor-league system. After posting .400 on-base percentages in back-to-back seasons at Single-A and then hitting .269/.361/.434 in 114 games at Double-A in 1995, Lawton made his major-league debut pinch-hitting for Pat Meares in a loss to the Tigers on September 5, 1995.

    He struck out in that at-bat against Mike Christopher, but picked up his first hit against submarining southpaw reliever Mike Myers the next day and ended up starting quite a bit down the stretch. Lawton hit an impressive .317/.414/.467 in 21 games as a 23-year-old, and smacked his first career homer against 245-game winner Dennis Martinez and the Indians on September 28, 1995. Martinez also hit Kirby Puckett with a pitch in that game, and it was the last Puckett played.

    Lawton began 1996 as the everyday right fielder, but was sent down to Triple-A after hitting just .205 in April. He returned in late June, but was sent back to Salt Lake with a .231 batting average in mid-July. After hitting .297/.377/.481 in 53 total games at Triple-A, Lawton was called up again in early August and this time stayed for the rest of the year. He finished with a .258/.339/.365 hitting line in 79 games, batting .294 in the last two months of the season to earn the team's confidence heading into 1997.

    With his days in the minor leagues behind him for good, Lawton split time between all three outfield spots in 1997 and hit .248/.366/.415 in 142 games. It was a modest season even for a 25-year-old, but Lawton was actually one of only three Twins regulars with an adjusted OPS+ above league-average (along with Paul Molitor and Chuck Knoblauch). As you might expect from a team with that little offense, the Twins finished 68-94

    The Twins continued to struggle in 1998, going 70-92, but Lawton had his first big year. He played primarily right field and also filled in as the center fielder when Otis Nixon had his jaw broken by Felix Martinez, hitting .278/.387/.478 with 21 homers, 36 doubles, 86 walks, and 16 steals in 152 games. Lawton won the team MVP award and led the Twins in nearly every offensive category, including on-base percentage, slugging percentage, homers, total bases, walks, runs scored, and RBIs.

    Lawton got off to a slow start in 1999 and was hitting just .262/.345/.406 when he was hit in the face by a Dennys Reyes pitch on June 8. A fractured right eye socket sent him to the disabled list for over a month. He returned in mid-July and continued to get on base at a good clip through the end of the year, but his power disappeared. Lawton hit five homers with a .406 slugging percentage prior to the injury, but managed just two homers and a pitiful .299 slugging percentage after coming back.

    Lawton came back strong in 2000, bouncing back from what could have been a very serious injury to put together arguably his best season. He hit .305/.405/.460 with 13 homers, 44 doubles, 91 walks, and 23 steals in 156 games, making his first All-Star team and winning his second team MVP. The Twins continued to stink, winning just 69 games, but unlike several of the team's "All-Stars" during that period of losing Lawton was actually somewhat deserving with a .330 first-half batting average.

    The 2000 season showed Lawton at his very best -- taking a ridiculous number of pitches, working long counts, drawing walks in bunches, lacing singles and doubles all over the Metrodome from that goofy batting stance, and stealing bases at an efficient rate. He did just about everything a hitter could possibly do besides hit for big power, and even batted .294 against lefties and .326 with runners on base.

    After eight straight losing seasons the Twins got off to a 14-3 start in 2001 and carried a 55-32 record and five-game division lead over the Indians into the All-Star break. The Twins won the first game of the second half and promptly went in the tank, losing 13 of their next 17 to fall into a tie with Cleveland atop the AL Central. On July 30, with the division slipping away, the Twins traded Lawton to the Mets for Rick Reed.

    It was a controversial move at the time, in part because Reed was a 36-year-old former replacement player making $7 million and in part because Lawton was the best hitter on a team that was fairly short on offense to begin with. Lawton was hitting .293/.396/.439 at the time of the trade, while Reed was 8-6 with a 3.48 ERA for New York. After the move, Brian Buchanan and Dustan Mohr replaced Lawton in right field, Reed went 4-6 with a 5.19 ERA in 12 starts, and the Twins went 25-32 to fall out of contention.

    It wasn't so much that picking up a good starting pitcher was a bad move (although certainly you could argue about Reed being the right guy), but rather that in order to get Reed the Twins had to take from an area that was far from a strength. That's typically not how contending teams bolster themselves for the stretch run, and there was speculation that Terry Ryan intended to swing a second deal for a hitter to replace Lawton (Dmitri Young, Shannon Stewart) that fell through.

    Reed went 15-7 with a 3.78 ERA in 2002 as the Twins made the postseason for the first time since 1991, and then was a complete mess in 2003 because of back problems. Meanwhile, Lawton hit just .246/.352/.366 for the Mets in 2001 and was traded to Cleveland for Roberto Alomar during the offseason. He spent three mediocre seasons with the Indians while struggling through shoulder injuries, split last year between the Cubs, Pirates, and Yankees, and signed with the Mariners as a bench bat for 2006 (after he serves a 10-game suspension for steroid use).

    Lawton's strengths as a player (drawing walks, getting on base, efficient baserunning) tend to be overlooked and his Twins career seems to be underrated given how productive he was. He had three very good years in Minnesota and another season that was pretty good, all before his 30th birthday. Here's what I wrote about Lawton back in 2003:

    I always had a soft spot for "Matty Law" and I'm not sure why. I guess he was just a very solid all-around player who had a lot of nice moments as a Twin. Lawton and Brad Radke were sort of like the bridge from the Kirby Puckett/Chuck Knoblauch Twins to the current group.

    And as any Twins fan can tell you, it was a long bridge.


    OBP .379 4th
    Steals 96 7th
    Walks 408 9th
    OPS .808 14th
    Doubles 163 16th
    Runs 423 18th
    RBIs 384 18th
    XBH 248 18th
    Total Bases 1144 20th
    Homers 72 22nd
    Hits 739 22nd
    AVG .277 23rd

    February 17, 2006

    Welcome to the Blogosphere, Boys

    I remember a time not so long ago when my dream was to become a national sports columnist. The respect, the audience, the opportunities, the money -- it has always seemed to me like the perfect job for someone who loves sports and writing. Actually, it still does. On the way there -- in August of 2002, to be exact -- I became a blogger.

    I suppose they're technically the same thing -- writing about sports for audience, sharing your opinions and analysis rather than reporting -- but that's sort of like saying Jessica Alba and Janet Reno are technically both women. It's true and they each have their strong suits, but in reality they're far enough apart that they don't even seem to be in the same species. Well, no longer. We've officially entered into some kind of a bizarro world, where suddenly Alba actually wants to be Reno.

    As of yesterday, ESPN.com now hosts blogs written by Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark, in addition to Buster Olney. It used to be that people within the mainstream media would focus on the negative aspects of blogging, like not having an editor and not having a code of standards in place. These days the focus of those same people seems to have shifted to the positive aspects of blogging, like being able to speak to an audience in a much more informal manner and being able to publish immediately.

    I used to become annoyed reading Olney's columns, in part because I felt his analysis was often lacking. However, since he began blogging last season I see him in a somewhat different light, as his personality is able to come across more and his strengths as a writer are more apparent. Blogging allows him to show a side to his audience that being an old-school columnist kept hidden away. (Olney told a story on his blog about Deion Sanders earlier this week that's a perfect example of this.)

    The main reason I enjoy reading blogs is not just that the writing is good, it's that the writing is good and it comes along with a personal touch. I quickly grow tired of cookie-cutter articles that you can get in the average newspaper, and my favorite bloggers are the ones who are able to go well beyond that. They are able to speak to their audience like human beings, rather than like writers or columnists or reporters or whatever label you want to slap on them.

    I'm glad ESPN.com sees the value in that as well, and I'm glad they're willing to take what is a pretty large leap for a major media outlet. Of course, I do have a major criticism, which is that as far as I can tell none of the dozen or so blogs ESPN.com hosts actually link to other blogs. For instance, Olney's blog is made up primarily of links to outside stories and his brief comments on them, but in nearly a year I can't remember a single link that wasn't to a mainstream newspaper.

    I know from personal experience that ESPN.com has always had a somewhat stringent policy against linking to outside sites, but embracing the blogosphere is an essential step if they're going to call what Gammons, Stark, and Olney are doing "blogs." The value of blogs is in not always having to be like everything else, and while ESPN.com is going along with some of that concept they are still holding back on a crucial element.

    Right now ESPN.com is like a high-school jock who has the guts to join the drama club because he truly loves acting, but still makes jokes about the "losers" in the club to his buddies on the football team. You're either in or you're out, and if you're in then you can't be too good for the club when it suits your needs. I'm proud of ESPN.com, but it'll be even better when they really make the jump.

    Gammons' "reading" page includes a link to The Hardball Times (which was quite a thrill for me), but what I'm talking about is linking to a good Dodger Thoughts entry when Jon Weisman has something interesting to say about Ned Colletti or turning readers on to USS Mariner when David Cameron breaks down the greatness of Felix Hernandez after King Felix puts together a string of brilliant starts.

    The line between old-school and new-school is blurring all the time and I commend ESPN.com for accepting a relatively new medium when many of their fellow mainstream outlets have been amazingly resistant to do so. We're not quite "there" yet, but for now being able to call myself a "blogger" and have Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark be included in that same club is pretty cool. Even if they probably still call us losers behind our backs.

    February 16, 2006

    Open Chat: Lohse Wins!

    For the second straight year Kyle Lohse beat the Twins in salary arbitration, this time securing a $3.95 million salary for 2006. The entire arbitration process is fairly confusing to me, so I don't have a whole lot to say about this other than that there doesn't seem to be any sort of rhyme or reason to who wins and who loses.

    Lohse winning his case doesn't impact much aside from possibly making him slightly less appealing to another team as a midseason acquisition. It also means that the Twins have about $500,000 less to spend on a potential midseason trade of their own, but considering the money they've invested in Nick Punto ($690,000) and Juan Castro ($1 million) to corner the market on banjo-hitting utility infielders I doubt they're all that concerned about a half-million bucks.

    And yes, this means that over the past two years Lohse is 2-0 in arbitration and 18-26 on the mound.

    February 15, 2006

    Krivsky's First Moves

    It's wonderful to know that we can be sure about Wayne Krivsky, and not Terry Ryan, being behind those nasty Timo Perez-to-the-Twins rumors that popped up last month. Krivsky's first real move as general manager of the Reds was to sign Perez to a minor-league deal. It's not quite showing up to a new job drunk on the first day, but considering Perez hit .235/.272/.322 over the past two years and Krivsky is being paid to put together a baseball team, it's reasonably close.

    I read an interview Krivsky did with his new hometown newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and came away from it impressed. He showed a sense of humor, said some very intelligent things about such topics as sabermetrics and organizational philosophy, and generally just came across very well. I was starting to get nervous that Krivsky was more important to the Twins' recent success than most people (myself included) know.

    Then I saw the Perez signing, followed by the Scott Hatteberg signing, and began to wonder. Perez and Hatteberg are low-impact signings, but it's not encouraging that a GM felt the need to ink them within his first 72 hours on the job, as if he couldn't hold back the urge for crappy veterans any longer. Imagine your new boss ordering everyone in the office to wear sombreros and bowties every Friday. It's not really all that important in the grand scheme of things, but it's not a great sign for things to come.

    Of course, Krivsky's next move was signing Adam Dunn to a three-year contract that buys out his first season of free agency, which likely would have been the first thing I'd have done in Krivsky's shoes. It not only locks up the best player on the team for the foreseeable future, it should put an end to any Dunn trade rumors and also shows that Krivsky isn't afraid of a slugger who strikes out a ton.

    Krivsky also showed some creativity by signing Tuffy Rhodes to a minor-league contract yesterday. Rhodes hit just .224/.310/.349 in six big-league seasons, but then became a star in Japan. He's 37 years old and didn't have a very good year in 2005, but I'd take a flier on him long before I wasted time on someone like Perez (or Quinton McCracken, who also got a minor-league deal from Krivsky and the Reds yesterday).

    Basically I'm just as in the dark about Krivsky's real value to the Twins as I was last week, although I suspect he'll make a significant trade that we can properly judge sometime between now and Opening Day. After all, someone so intent on bringing in Perez, Hatteberg, and McCracken (which sounds like a really crappy law firm) right away must have a few players on the inherited roster who he desperately wants to get rid of. The first major mark in Krivsky's favor is that Dunn isn't one of them.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    I haven't given an update on my weight loss in a while, so bear with me while I do that today. I've now had an elliptical machine and been on a diet for 35 days, and as of last night I've dropped a total of 26 pounds. The first 10-15 pounds basically melted off immediately and it's been a much more gradual loss since then, but I'll be happy as long as the number keeps going down every few days.

    I notice myself eating slightly more and working out slightly less than I did during the first couple weeks, so I've got to be careful about that. The good news is that my cravings for "bad" food have decreased significantly. I haven't really been craving chips or donuts or cookies too much, although I still occasionally miss simply pigging out on McDonald's or getting really full on a pizza.

    Anyway, for the one percent of you who are interested, that's how the weight-loss effort is going. I'm down 26 pounds in 35 days, the cravings aren't bad, I often miss the actual sensation of eating a lot, I've yet to slip up once with bad food, and my stamina on the elliptical machine is about a thousand times better than it was a month ago. All in all things are going very well, but the second 25 pounds are the key.

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