March 29, 2007

Link-O-Rama

I went to a concert last night and am officially buying a house today--perhaps handing over a very large check and being handed the keys as you're reading this very sentence--so you'll have to forgive me if this week's Link-O-Rama isn't quite as plentiful as usual ...

  • If you liked Mike Redmond and his naked batting practice, you'll absolutely love Brian Giles and his naked comedy.
  • Despite the fact that he plays for one of the Twins' division rivals, Curtis Granderson has quickly become one of my favorite players (and one of my favorite bloggers).
  • As a Frank Thomas fan from way back, I enjoyed this note about Japanese pitcher Masumi Kuwata from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review:
    Kuwata did a double-take when designated hitter Frank Thomas dug in at the plate. Kuwata is 5-foot-10. The "Big Hurt" stands 6-5, 275 pounds. "When I pitched to him, he was terrifying," Kuwata said. "He looked like an elephant."

    It sort of ruins the story, but Kuwata "got Thomas on a weak grounder."

  • Soccer star Diego Maradona was hospitalized recently due to what is being called "excessive eating and drinking," which immediately takes over for "buy a house" as the No. 1 thing on my to-do list.
  • If you only see one movie this year, make it Adam Sandler and Kevin James starring in the sure-fire blockbuster Jessica Biel In Her Underwear.
  • I'll be posting my official season predictions here Monday, but if you can't wait that long or would rather get the predictions in video form, you can watch me on NBCSports.com's "Fantasy Fix" season preview show with Tiffany Simons and Gregg Rosenthal. I'm not sure if I'm just finally getting more comfortable with the whole call-in thing or the show's loose format worked well, but the final product turned out great this week and I got a lot of compliments from my bosses, so check it out.
  • Who knew that the state of Minnesota had so many nerds who like baseball? Incidentally, I'm 24 years old and dropped out of school, despite what the otherwise-solid article about Victor Wang and Gross Production Average would have you believe.
  • I'm confident that the man behind Twins Junkie, Trevor Born, will have a whole lot more success than I did with the "go to the University of Minnesota, get into the journalism school, and write for the Minnesota Daily" career path. As I wrote back in January, "At this point, my best chance for landing a newspaper gig might involve waiting a couple decades until Born is the editor-in-chief somewhere and hoping he remembers me." At his current rate, it'll be a couple years rather than a couple decades.
  • When it comes to Torii Hunter, Emil Brown apparently hasn't been reading this blog.
  • I'm probably a little too excited about this development, but the possibilities are pretty amazing. Plus, the bigger mixed martial arts gets as a sport and the more coverage NBCSports.com gives it, the better chance there is that I'll end up octagon-side at a fight one of these days.
  • In case anyone is curious, James Morrison's concert at the 400 Bar last night was excellent. He sounded every bit as good as his album and even tossed in a nice cover version of Van Morrison's "It Stoned Me." It was great to see him perform at such a small venue and, considering he's from England and not particularly well known in America, I was shocked by the number of people singing along and the number of girls screaming at seemingly random intervals.

    My cousin Annie, who had never heard Morrison before last night, thought he was good, but suggested that he needs some work on between-song banter. I agree, because between mumbling into the mic and a heavy Warwickshire accent he sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher. Interestingly, one of the few words of banter that I heard clearly was this one. Oh, and much like Morrison's banter, Annie wants the world to know that the bartender she chatted with at the 400 Bar "lacks substance."

    She doubted that I'd print that here, but she was wrong.

  • As expected, the Twins were forced to place J.D. Durbin on waivers yesterday because of his lack of minor-league options and the Diamondbacks claimed him. The likelihood of that taking place is why I ranked Durbin as the Twins' No. 37 prospect back in February, while Baseball America (somewhat inexplicably, in my opinion) ranked him No. 10. I'm not particularly upset about losing Durbin, but it's an interesting move given who the Twins decided to give the final roster spot to instead.

    Remember the whole Corky Miller fiasco from a couple years ago? As with seemingly every other mistake they've ever made, the Twins have decided to ignore any lessons they may have learned from the experience, change the names involved, and let history repeat itself. Much like losing Durbin for nothing, carrying a third catcher isn't a huge mistake--especially considering Joe Mauer's recent injury scare--but it's another example of questionable decision-making when it comes to roster construction.

  • If you ever find yourself with about 10 hours to kill, I highly recommend watching the first 20 episodes of Arrested Development in a row.
  • They don't have a Twins version yet, but Maple Street Press has published a series of team-specific, high-end magazines previewing the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, and Detroit Tigers. Each version includes a ton of excellent content produced by some big-name writers and the presentation is second-to-none. (Full disclosure: Last year I contributed to MSP's annuals on the Red Sox and Notre Dame football, but my contract with NBCSports.com precludes me from doing so now.)
  • Howard Sinker of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has set up a blog-sponsored get-together for Twins fans on Saturday, April 7. I'll be there, as will Sinker, John Bonnes, Will Young, Trevor Born, Nick Nelson, and Nick Mosvick, and a couple other Twins bloggers may be in attendance too. It should be a fun time, whether you're interested in meeting some of us bloggers or simply want to watch the Twins play the White Sox with a bunch of other Twins fans. Here are the details:

    Who: Sinker, Gleeman, Bonnes, Young, Born, Nelson, Mosvick, multiple Bloggers to be Named Later, and various other Twins fans and blog readers.

    What: Eat, drink, be merry, watch Twins beat White Sox.

    Where: Buffalo Wild Wings in Crystal (5590 West Broadway, to be exact).

    When: Saturday, April 7, at 2:30 p.m.

    Why: Because previous get-togethers have been a lot of fun and good attendance at this one means we can justify doing more of them in the future.

  • That's it from me for this week, but not only is Monday Opening Day--seriously, Monday is Opening Day--if things go according to plan I'll be blogging about Johan Santana shutting down the Orioles from The House That Blog Built.

  • March 28, 2007

    Silva In, Garza Out

    As expected, the Twins sent Matt Garza to Triple-A yesterday and handed the final spot in the starting rotation to Carlos Silva. Silva pitched horribly last season and was even worse this spring, while Garza is one of the elite pitching prospects in all of baseball and was fantastic in Fort Myers this month. The Twins' decision had nothing to do with any of that, however. Instead, Silva received a spot in the rotation because the Twins decided back in November to guarantee him $4.35 million this season.

    A mistake five months ago essentially locked them into a bad decision yesterday, and now three-fifths of the rotation consists of Silva, Ramon Ortiz, and Sidney Ponson, who combined to go 26-36 with a 5.84 ERA in 2006. After each of the many times I've written something similar over the past few months, I've gotten comments along the lines of: "What's the big deal? The Twins can always ditch them and bring up the prospects." While technically true, that line of thinking ignores several key points.

    First, games played in April and May count as much as games played in August and September. The Twins dug themselves out of a deep hole last year, but planning to do the same every season is hardly a successful strategy. The AL Central may contain four of the 10 best teams in baseball this year, and the Twins will almost certainly need every win they can get. Under very few scenarios does going with the likes of Silva, Ortiz, and Ponson mean maximizing a team's chances of winning games.

    Beyond that, ditching some combination of Silva, Ponson, and Ortiz won't be nearly as easy as ditching Juan Castro and Tony Batista was last year. Castro and Batista dragged the team down for one-third of the season, but ultimately cost the Twins about three percent of the payroll, which is an easy pill to swallow. The Twins can certainly choose to eat the salaries of Silva and Ortiz much the same way, but this time they'll be wasting over 10 percent of the payroll.

    At this point you can throw a rock and hit a Twins fan who's upset about the decision to go with Silva over Garza, but that's not where the criticism should be aimed. Sure, if you look at it in a vacuum, choosing to hand a rotation spot to an inferior pitcher is a poor move. However, it's really just the predictable and seemingly inevitable end result of a poorly constructed plan that represents a much larger mistake. In fact, at the core it's part of an annual tradition of similarly misguided decisions.

    Devoting a huge chunk of the payroll to mediocre veteran starters hurt the Twins' ability to build a strong team and handing 60 percent of the rotation over to those mediocre veteran starters will hurt the Twins' ability to win games with that team. It's debatable which is worse, but I tend to focus on the root instead of the tree. Would picking Garza over Silva have been wise? Perhaps, but regardless of that the decision to commit $4.35 million to Silva and $3.1 million to Ortiz wouldn't have become any better.

    The Twins can ditch Silva, Ortiz, and Ponson if they pitch poorly to begin the year. The Twins can quickly call up Garza, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, and Scott Baker if they impress at Triple-A. The Twins can bounce back from the slow start Silva, Ortiz, and Ponson may help cause. The Twins can succeed despite wasting a large percentage of their payroll on veteran mediocrity rather then spending it to improve other areas. The Twins can do all of those things, but that doesn't mean they should have to.

    The decision to go with Silva over Garza to begin the season doesn't really bother me. What bothers me is everything that led up to that decision and everything that leads to similar decisions being made on a near-annual basis. The names change while the story remains the same, and I'm sick of this particular history repeating itself. Those four days between Johan Santana's starts are going to be long ones. And all for just $9 million.


    March 26, 2007

    Get-Together & Twins Notes

    As hinted at in this space Friday, Howard Sinker of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has set up a blog-sponsored get-together for Twins fans on Saturday, April 7. I'll be there, as will Sinker and Will Young, and I expect at least a couple other Twins bloggers to be in attendance too. It should be a fun time, whether you're interested in meeting some of us bloggers or simply want to watch the Twins play the White Sox with a bunch of other Twins fans. Here are the details:

    Who: Howard Sinker, Aaron Gleeman, Will Young, multiple Bloggers to be Named Later, and various other Twins fans and blog readers.

    What: Eat, drink, be merry, watch Twins beat White Sox.

    Where: Buffalo Wild Wings in Crystal (5590 West Broadway, to be exact).

    When: Saturday, April 7, at 2:45 p.m.

    Why: Because previous get-togethers have been a lot of fun and good attendance at this one means we can justify doing more of them in the future.

    If you're reading this right now and live within driving distance of the Twin Cities, I encourage you to show up, along with multiple car loads of friends and family. If you plan to be there, drop me a note via e-mail or the comments section, so we can get a general idea of what kind of turnout to expect and plan accordingly. For any bloggers out there planning to stop by, please let me know and I'll add your name (and link) to the list of scheduled attendees.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    A few Twins notes with Opening Day (and my closing!) now less than a week away ...

  • For one day at least, the "Face of the Franchise" was apparently a scowl.
  • Joe Nathan would like to sign a long-term deal before the end of spring training, but Kelsie Smith of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that it doesn't sound likely.
  • The Biz of Baseball's Jerry Differding recently interviewed Terry Ryan and, as usual when Ryan talks on the record with someone, it's worth reading. In particular, Ryan's lengthy response to a question about prospects who haven't developed as the team had hoped stuck out to me:
    I am not too bent on looking at raw statistics to decide their fate, you go see them play, watch how they react, see how they compete, what kind of health history they have had, their age versus the league they play in, the ballpark they play at, all those things. If you go and watch them play and continue to see some sort of movement and some sort of mental and physical advancement you don’t give up on them, you just continue to move them along.

    While I'm certainly a big believer in minor-league statistics being important in evaluating prospects, I'm in complete agreement with everything Ryan said above. In fact, I'm pleased to see him talking about placing "raw statistics" in the context of age, level of competition, and playing environment, all of which are things I focus on when putting together my own prospect rankings each year. With that said, the second half of his answer struck a nerve with me for whatever reason:

    There is no better example than Cuddyer. He never had great statistics in the minor leagues. You just keep moving them along and if you have faith, and see that they are going to be a good teammate, work hard in pregame, work on situational hitting and on their base running you just keep them moving.

    Again, I agree with Ryan's overall premise about how to treat prospects whose numbers don't match their potential, but the idea that "there is no better example" of that than Michael Cuddyer is untrue to the point of being the opposite of reality. Specifically, Ryan's statement that Cuddyer "never had great statistics in the minor leagues" is simply false. In reality, people like me touted Cuddyer as someone the Twins should give 500 at-bats to because of his consistently outstanding numbers in the minors.

    Prior to Cuddyer finally being given a chance to work his way into an everyday role over the course of nearly the entire 2006 season, I spent countless words here and elsewhere describing what I felt was the Twins' misguided treatment of him. I didn't like the way they jerked him in and out of the lineup based on a couple weeks' worth of performance, and I didn't like the way they demoted him back to the minors after he clearly had nothing left to prove there.

    There are several reasons for why I felt that way, but without question chief among them was the fact that Cuddyer's minor-league numbers were excellent and suggested that he would become a very good major-league player if given the opportunity to do so. And so you don't think this is merely after-the-fact rationalizing on my behalf, here's something I wrote about Cuddyer for The Hardball Times back in May of 2004:

    Cuddyer has been an excellent hitter in the minor leagues, hitting .308/.380/.541 in 139 games at Triple-A and .301/.396/.560 in 141 Double-A games.

    There's plenty more where that came from, but I'll limit the self-quoting to one more passage from that same article. Back then the Twins were into giving Cuddyer brief "chances" to establish himself both offensively and defensively at a new position, before pulling the plug and jerking him around again. On that particular date second base was the position and then-starter (and former AG.com whipping boy) Luis Rivas was his competition, so I compared the two players:

    Rivas has played every day for years and Cuddyer has been given brief stints of a week or two at ever-changing positions, before getting sent back to Triple-A or the bench. ... Given a chance to establish himself at one position, to get his feet entrenched in the job like Rivas has, I have no doubt that Cuddyer would blow Rivas out of the water offensively.

    "Blowing Rivas out of the water offensively" is obviously no great feat, but the larger point remains. Suggesting that "there is no better example" than Cuddyer of a prospect whose numbers didn't match his potential is like saying Johan Santana is a perfect example of someone who wasn't helped by developing a changeup at Triple-A or Joe Mauer is the best example of someone who turned into a great player despite not being highly touted coming out of high school.

    From Cuddyer to Santana to Mauer, each of those three statements are clearly false. In Cuddyer's case, anyone who could look at his track record and conclude that "he never had great statistics in the minor leagues" while suggesting he's an example of a prospect who numbers underrated is either deliberately attempting to spin the issue in a different direction or simply doesn't know what he's talking about. For the record, I would never accuse Ryan of failing to know what he's talking about.

  • The Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune, reports that the Twins have more or less decided upon which 25 players they'll break camp with next week. As Ron Gardenhire put it yesterday, "We pretty much know what we are going to do. We aren't going to announce it right now, but pretty much know." It sounds like the Twins wanted to go with 11 pitchers and 14 position players, but are re-thinking that with Lew Ford and Alejandro Machado sidelined.

    LEN3 makes it sounds like J.D. Durbin has little chance of making the team despite having no options left, which means the Twins will either trade him for whatever they can get or risk losing him on waivers. With Durbin apparently out of the picture, that leaves No. 1 prospect Matt Garza and 33-year-old situational left-hander Mike Venafro fighting for the 12th spot on the pitching staff, assuming Gardenhire and Ryan don't shake things up in a big way by demoting Carlos Silva to Triple-A.

    Every indication is that the Twins are extremely disappointed with Silva's spring performance and very impressed with how well Garza has pitched, but Silva's $4.35 million contract clouds the issue. All of which is why I spent most of the winter discussing what a bad idea it is to give large amounts of guaranteed money to pitchers who had ERAs nearing 6.00 last year. There's no doubt that Garza is one of the team's five best starters, yet there's plenty of doubt about whether he'll have a rotation spot.

    Even setting aside the fact that I expect the veteran trio of Silva, Ramon Ortiz, and Sidney Ponson to collectively pitch horribly for the $9 million the Twins will be paying them, breaking camp with a non-optimal team in place for reasons that go far beyond on-field factors is a shame. Of course, it's also par for the course with the Twins. As I've lamented before, between Garza, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey, and Scott Baker it's very possible that four of the Twins' six best starters will be in Rochester.

  • UPDATE: LEN3 reports that the Twins have cut Venafro (plus Matthew LeCroy and others) despite his 0.00 spring ERA and the stated preference for a second left-handed pitcher in the bullpen alongside Dennys Reyes. The Twins may be hoping that Venafro will accept the demotion to Triple-A and potentially join the team later, much like Reyes did. They now have 29 players left in camp, including Garza and Durbin.

  • March 22, 2007

    Link-O-Rama

  • I'll try to make this an especially long Link-O-Rama, because my guess is that I probably won't have the necessary energy to put something lengthy together next Friday. Consider this note a preemptive apology. The final walk-through for my new house is Thursday afternoon, I'm heading to the James Morrison concert at the 400 Bar Thursday night, and the closing for The House That Blog Built is Friday afternoon. Under normal circumstances that qualifies as about three months' worth of activity for me.

    If anyone else is planning to go see Morrison Thursday night, let me know and I'll look for you. I've somehow managed to talk two cute girls into going with me, so I won't look quite as dorky as I would have standing all by myself, and I'll gladly buy a drink for any AG.com reader in attendance. If you're on the fence about going--it costs $12 and I think it's a pretty small show--here's a clip of Morrison doing an acoustic version of "This Boy" to sway you:

  • I'm not familiar with Morrison's opening act, Jessie Baylin, but the songs on her MySpace page sound pretty good and she's nice to look at.
  • Despite some initial concerns, it sounds like Joe Mauer's leg injury isn't overly serious, but just in case, here's everything you could ever possibly want to know about a "fibula stress reaction."
  • Here's an amusing quote from a big-league general manager talking about an immensely talented young starting pitcher:
    He's trying to become a man, and we're not letting him. It's time to let him. He's stupid young. It's ridiculous. That is so forgotten because ... he's sure of himself and he's never done anything wrong. People look at him like Bob Gibson. But he was a child last year.

    In theory that quote could have been from Terry Ryan talking about Matt Garza, except the Twins aren't going to "let him" do anything but beat up on Triple-A hitters to begin the season and there's slightly less than a zero-percent chance that Ryan would ever use the phrase "stupid young" in a positive way. To find out which GM actually said it, and about which young pitcher, click here.

  • Strange but true: A year ago today I was featured in Sports Illustrated. At the time I was quite certain that being pictured with my Boston Terrier alongside Bill Simmons was going to be the highlight of my life, but in the year since I've dropped 90 pounds, signed a multi-year contract with NBC Sports, and bought a house. Plus, I even exchanged e-mails with Simmons, using the whole SI connection to keep him interested long enough for a few back-and-forths. In other words, SI should really feature me now.
  • I enjoyed this great clip of Adam Sandler subbing for David Letterman earlier this week, but most of all came away from the whole thing convinced that Matzah Ball should be Letterman's permanent replacement.
  • Over at SI.com, friend of AG.com Alex Belth did a very nice job interviewing the man who recently became the blogosphere's all-time leader in wins, ERA, innings, and strikeouts, Curt Schilling. Here's my favorite part:
    SI.com: Do you think that Internet-based baseball analysts and writers should be available for BBWAA awards and Hall of Fame voting?

    Schilling: Oh, it'll come full-circle at some point. Why wouldn't it? They already have a much larger impact than the Murray Chass' of the world would like to believe. I mean, you've got guys who are putting out what I know to be legitimately valuable statistical information and its relevance to a game in a win or a loss at Baseball Prospectus. Then you have guys that I'm not too fond of, like Murray Chass, who says, "What is VORP and who cares?" It was a stupid article. The only thing it did was show his ignorance to me in modern day baseball. Because those numbers do matter, those numbers do have value. Do they have value to me in getting a player out? No. But I would tell you that there are a lot of front offices that use those numbers for a lot of important decision making.

    I'll be curious to see how Schilling's blogging holds up once the regular season gets underway, but so far he's pumped out plenty of interesting content and even posted yesterday's news about Jonathan Papelbon moving back to the bullpen before just about every mainstream media outlet had it.

  • Along with Schilling, Gilbert Arenas, and Pat Neshek, Curtis Granderson has now joined the still-short list of legitimately outstanding players who write a regularly updated blog that's worth reading.
  • I occasionally get complaints about my Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com updates, but thankfully they're greatly out-numbered by comments in favor of the ongoing topic. Every once in a while I even receive a passionate e-mail supporting the OFGoAG.com cause, like this one from a reader who I've decided to spare some public embarrassment by calling simply Matt K.:
    I do think you should make Jenna Fischer the OFGoAG.com. I realize it isn't meant as a deep expression of your feelings about the universe, but it would be nice to pick someone who is a decent combination of cute-and-hot, and seems to have something of a brain. (I'm not kidding myself, of course--I'm sure, as a Hollywood actress, that she's on her way to being incredibly narcissistic and self-important. Sad.)

    It would be a nice way to set yourself apart from the image of "bloggers" and "statheads" as assumed by idiots like Chass and Reusse, and, indeed, picking Fischer over the usual string of untalented, quasi-pornstars and bimbos would be the "smart" move in making a choice off the beaten path not unlike someone realizing that Matt Stairs was a much better hitter than Garret Anderson in their respective primes.

    I'm not sure how much of that I even agree with, but it's nice to know that my linking to pictures of good-looking women for no real reason beyond that fact that I enjoy looking at them has such a profound impact on some of you. In an effort to help you decide if she's indeed the Matt Stairs of women, here's Jenna Fischer's spread in Wired Magazine. Stairs has a career OPS+ of 118, but I suspect he's never looked quite this fetching while wearing nothing more than a bunch of post-it notes.

  • If Fischer is equivalent to Stairs, does that make former OFGoAG.com Elisha Cuthbert comparable to Garret Anderson? Either way, I'm really not sure what to make of this.
  • I had such low expectations when it came to the University of Minnesota's search for a new men's basketball coach that yesterday's hiring of Tubby Smith came as a complete shock. I laughed at the people who suggested big names like Rick Majerus or Flip Saunders could possibly be interested in the position, and would literally have believed that the Gophers hired Saul Smith before I believed they got his father.

    Smith is not without faults and there aren't a whole lot of Kentucky fans who're sad to see him go, but it's a no-brainer move for the Gophers. I would love to hear exactly how this whole thing came about and what kind of sales pitch athletic director Joel Maturi gave to Smith. Even if reports about Smith stepping down from Kentucky to avoid being fired are true, it's fascinating that he'd choose a low-rung Big Ten school over any number of more appealing jobs, including a couple in the same conference.

  • A study may have shown that Minnesota has "the nation's shyest men," but at least we aren't into necrophilia with large animals like our neighbors to the east.
  • I already linked to this Wednesday when ranking Tim Lincecum the No. 10 prospect in baseball, but it's definitely worth repeating: Carlos Gomez took a fascinating, video-aided look at Lincecum's unique delivery over at Baseball Think Factory.
  • Here's a nice article from the Los Angeles Times about former Gophers star and current Angels bench player Robb Quinlan.
  • One week after the Minneapolis Star Tribune let 24 staffers go, the Boston Globe followed suit by cutting its newsroom staff by the same number. Meanwhile, longtime Timberwolves beat writer Steve Aschburner, who was among the two dozen employees bought out by the Star Tribune, has surfaced covering the NBA over at AOL Sports. Of course, as someone in the comments section will surely tell us, none of that is evidence of the newspaper industry declining. Seriously, someone will say that.
  • If you participated in Tom Tango's "community forecasts" that I linked to yesterday and feel like making a few more Twins-related predictions before Opening Day, check out the ongoing player-by-player "community projections" over at Twinkie Town.
  • Last but not least, I've been talking with Star Tribune blogger Howard Sinker about setting up a get-together for blog-reading Twins fans in early April, so look for details relatively soon. If we can draw a solid crowd, including what I hope will be a good showing from the plentiful Twins blogosphere, it's something we could set up somewhat regularly throughout the season.

  • March 21, 2007

    Twins Notes

  • UPDATE: LaVelle E. Neal III reports that Joe Mauer has a potentially serious leg injury:
    Twins catcher Joe Mauer has been diagnosed with a stress reaction in his left fibula. He will be treated with a bone stimulator and physical therapy and will be re-evaluated on Sunday.

    Mauer came to the ballpark today complaining of soreness in the leg. An MRI was taken, which revealed the stress reaction.

    A stress reaction is considered a precursor to a stress fracture. The Twins say they are optimistic that the condition was diagnosed early enough to keep it from becoming a serious long-term problem.

    I'll try to post most details as they become available, but ... well, I guess it's not worth getting worked up over quite yet.

  • UPDATE #2: Two people with knowledge of the situation have contacted me to say that the Twins think Mauer will be able to avoid being sidelined for a significant length of time and may actually be in the Opening Day lineup. So, for now at least, disaster averted.
  • It's early yet, but Jason Williams' replacement at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Kelsie Smith, has been pumping out some good articles. Among them is a well-written piece that looks at the early stages of Francisco Liriano's lengthy comeback from Tommy John surgery, including how things might change once his elbow allows him to begin throwing again:
    Once Liriano gets back on the mound, [pitching coach Rick] Anderson said they would work to smooth out his delivery. "We'll make some adjustments to keep him (facing) the catcher more instead of being violent and falling off (the mound)," Anderson said. "If anything is good about this, it's that he's starting over with his delivery."

    Liriano said he's not going to "put away" the wicked slider ... "I'm going to throw my slider, too, you know," Liriano said, "but I'm going to throw more of my changeup, my two-seamer."

    Last season, Liriano hesitated in telling manager Ron Gardenhire when his elbow was bothering him. He said he's learned now that it's more important to be honest. "I'm more open this year," Liriano said. "Last year, that was my first year, I wanted to pitch, make sure that I was going to be up the whole year with a major league team. I thought if I got hurt they might send me down to Triple-A."

  • Between Smith's solid start on the Twins beat and the Pioneer Press' long-overdue website redesign, it's been a good week for the Twin Cities' "other" newspaper.

  • The source of Alejandro Machado's ongoing shoulder problems was found to be a partially torn labrum that will sideline him well into the season and may require surgery. Machado is a Rule 5 pick, which means the Twins have to offer him back to the Nationals if they fail to keep him on the major-league roster for the entire season, but the injury allows them to stash him on the disabled list and buy some additional time to make a decision.

    Between the natural amount of time needed for Machado's shoulder to heal up and the long and leisurely minor-league rehab assignment the Twins could send him on once he's reasonably healthy, the team could put off a decision for most of the year. Of course, while that makes it a little easier to keep Machado in the organization long term, it also means the Twins are without a backup middle infielder right now.

    Thankfully, Ron Gardenhire appears to have softened on his initial stance about Nick Punto sticking solely to third base, indicating that he'd be willing to use Punto to back up Jason Bartlett at shortstop if necessary. Not only is that an obvious, reasonable solution, it would allow the Twins to keep Jeff Cirillo and Luis Rodriguez as the backup infielders despite the fact that neither of them can handle shortstop.

  • With Machado out of the picture there was briefly talk of keeping Alexi Casilla as a backup, but the Twins smartly realized that would waste development and service time. While interviewing Gardenhire at the Winter Meetings in December, I asked if Casilla "would be the guy coming up if there was an injury to an infielder." Gardenhire said Casilla "impressed the heck out of us" and "would probably be first in line." Asked a similar question by a real reporter this week, Gardenhire gave the same answer:
    Casilla is one of those guys that if something happened to one of my infielders after the season starts, and it's for an extended period, he's the guy I'd want out there playing.

    I suspect that both Gardenhire and Terry Ryan would ideally like to be able to keep Casilla at Triple-A until September, before handing him the starting job at second base next spring following Luis Castillo's departure. Assuming Bartlett and Castillo can stay relatively healthy, it's a plan that should work as long as Gardenhire is willing to take advantage of Punto's defensive versatility.

  • Apparently Sidney Ponson's relationship with the Baltimore media while playing for the Orioles was pretty horrible, because plenty of ugliness on both sides was documented by various newspapers when Ponson pitched against his former team last week. For instance, here's how the Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly began a column about Ponson:
    Different uniform and different hairstyle. Same old Sidney Ponson.

    The Prodigal Right-hander was back at Fort Lauderdale Stadium yesterday, happily greeting old teammates, taking jabs at Orioles fans and stiffing the Baltimore media. It was like old times, except he now has a thick dark mullet, wears the Minnesota Twins stripes and hasn't posed for a mug shot in months.

    It's interesting to note than Ponson appears to have a good relationship with Joe Christensen, who covered Ponson in Baltimore before joining the Minneapolis Star Tribune last year. More importantly, Ponson appears to have secured the final spot in the Twins' starting rotation, predictably beating out Matt Garza and Glen Perkins. In other words, as I've been fearing all offseason, the Twins will pay $9 million and give 60 percent of their starts to a trio of pitchers who combined for a 5.84 ERA last season.

    Even Baby Dash can see the problem with that.

  • Justin Morneau and the Twins have ended contract negotiations without agreeing to a long-term deal. Morneau reportedly turned down a deal that was similar to the four-year, $33 million contract that Joe Mauer agreed to this offseason, but doesn't seem overly upset about it: "Oh, well. I'll just have a good year and we'll try to get something done next year." Because of Morneau's service time, he won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2010 season anyway, which means a four-year deal would have simply given the Twins some cost certainty.
  • A quick update on two former Twins: Willie Eyre was sent to Triple-A by the Rangers and Cristian Guzman is still fighting his way back from shoulder problems with the Nationals.
  • As part of their ongoing team-by-team season previews, I appeared on Baseball Prospectus Radio to discuss the Twins with Will Carroll. Click here to listen to what is, I think, the first over-the-phone radio interview I've ever agreed to do.
  • Friend of AG.com Tom Tango is running "community forecasts" to see if the "wisdom of crowds" can out-perform various projection systems when it comes to predicting how players will fare this season. He's specifically looking for some hardcore Twins fans to share their predictions, so go check it out.

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