December 12, 2007

Twins Sign Monroe

He's only been on the job for about two months, but general manager Bill Smith has already proven to be very different than predecessor Terry Ryan in several important ways. Last month's huge swap that sent Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Eduardo Morlan to the Devil Rays for Delmon Young, Brendan Harris, and Jason Pridie proved that Smith is significantly more willing to take risks than Ryan, who shied away from such franchise-altering moves during the final days of his tenure.

Beyond that, from the Garza-for-Young deal and letting Torii Hunter walk via free agency to shopping Johan Santana and cutting Lew Ford and Jason Tyner loose, Smith has also shown that he's far less willing to let loyalty guide his decision-making. I'm not especially fond of the six-player swap with the Devil Rays and for all his faults Tyner was worth keeping around, but generally speaking more risks and less loyalty are things that will serve Smith well compared to Ryan's final couple years at the helm.

Unfortunately, Smith showed yesterday that he's still very much like Ryan when it comes to overvaluing veteran mediocrity, signing Craig Monroe to a one-year deal worth $3.82 million plus incentives. The Twins acquired Monroe's rights from the Cubs last month for a conditional player to be named later, hoping that he'd accept a pay cut from his 2007 salary while realizing that they could simply non-tender him without owing anything if he balked.

The Twins got what they wanted, as Monroe agreed to slice his 2007 salary by 20 percent, which is the maximum allowed for an arbitration-eligible player. However, getting what they wanted also involves paying $3.82 million for a 31-year-old corner outfielder who was never all that good to begin with, has declined in three straight seasons, and batted just .219/.268/.370 in 2007. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Monroe's contract is unique in that it's only partially guaranteed. If the Twins decide to cut him during spring training, they'll be on the hook for just one-sixth of his total salary, which comes out to "only" $636,667. Of course, the odds of the penny pinching Twins throwing away over $600,000 based on how Monroe looks in a few meaningless exhibition games down in Florida are beyond slim. He'll make the team and he'll make at least $3.82 million.

The Twins' front office no doubt views Monroe as a "power hitter" and "proven run producer" because he averaged 22 homers and 82 RBIs while with the Tigers from 2003-2006. However, that's the same type of misguided thinking that led Ryan to sign Tony Batista two offseasons ago. Like Batista back then, Monroe has shown that he's no longer the player he was just a few seasons ago. And like Batista back then, the player that Monroe was just a few seasons ago wasn't especially good to begin with.

Lost in the nice-looking homer and RBI totals is that Monroe has hit .256/.303/.446 over 2,658 career plate appearances in the majors, which is nearly identical to Batista's .251/.299/.453 career mark. He's still a better player now than Batista was in 2006, but in both cases the Twins willingly signed up for low on-base percentages and mediocre defense that wipe away whatever value that comes from the decent power.

Monroe has some power, but major-league corner outfielders are supposed to have some pop in their bats and his all-around offensive game is lacking for the position. MLB corner outfielders as a whole batted .277/.347/.453 in 2007, which is about nine percent better than Monroe's career numbers and a level of production that he hasn't approached since 2004. Even at his best Monroe was more or less an average hitter for a corner outfielder, and those days are likely gone:

YEAR       G      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     IsoP     IsoD
2003 128 .240 .287 .449 .736 .209 .047
2004 128 .293 .337 .488 .825 .195 .044
2005 157 .277 .322 .446 .768 .169 .045
2006 147 .255 .301 .482 .783 .227 .046
2007 122 .219 .268 .370 .638 .151 .049

Monroe has hit .254/.300/.439 over the past three seasons and his .219/.268/.370 line from 2007 looks like something that belongs to Rondell White. However you slice it, Monroe is overmatched as an everyday player. Of course, with Young and Michael Cuddyer established in the outfield corners and Jason Kubel seemingly entrenched at designated hitter, the odds of Monroe being an everyday player appear minimal unless the Twins get crazy and play Monroe or Young in center field.

A right-handed bat who's produced a horrible .249/.296/.425 hitting line against right-handed pitching during his career--including a pathetic .194/.247/.308 against righties in 2007--the optimal use for Monroe is to limit him almost exclusively to facing left-handed pitching. For his career he's batted .273/.319/.495 versus left-handers, including .271/.309/.496 against them despite his overall struggles in 2007. As a platoon starter against lefties, Monroe has some value.

Unfortunately, that value isn't anywhere close to $3.82 million for a small-payroll team and as far as lefty-mashing platoon bats go Monroe isn't even particularly outstanding. Monroe has hit .281/.332/.481 against lefties over the past three seasons, which looks pretty good until you realize that it's actually below-average production for a right-handed hitting corner outfielder facing left-handed pitching. Most decent right-handed hitters thrive against lefties and true lefty mashers tend to ... well, mash them.

Kevin Mench, who was non-tendered by the Brewers this week and will probably sign somewhere for less than Monroe, hit .305/.368/.558 against southpaws over the past three seasons. Emil Brown, who was non-tendered by the Royals yesterday, batted .289/.353/.488 against lefties during that same three-year span. Former AG.com favorite Bobby Kielty, who was non-tendered by the Red Sox two weeks ago, hit .313/.372/.494 against lefties from 2005-2007.

Those are just three examples of players who recently became available, but the point is that finding a right-handed bat capable of matching Monroe's production against lefties isn't overly difficult. Mench, Brown, and Kielty are each better hitters than Monroe against lefties, yet were all cut loose by teams that were unwilling to pay them what the Twins are going to pay Monroe in 2008. Corner outfielders capable of posting solid numbers against lefties are available cheaply all the time.

Even if Monroe bounces back from his awful 2007 season, the Twins have paid a premium for a part-time player who's at best mediocre offensively and defensively. And counting on that bounce back taking place is a mistake as well. Monroe's strikeout rate has gone from 15.3 percent in 2005 to 21.5 percent in 2006 and 25.1 percent in 2007, with the decreased ability to make contact suggesting that returning to his pre-2007 performance could prove tough.

Monroe has always been a free swinger, drawing a non-intentional walk in fewer than six percent of his career plate appearances (about the same rate as Hunter). He once managed a high enough batting average to somewhat make up for the lack of plate discipline, but that hasn't been the case over the past two years. From 2001-2005, Monroe batted .266 while striking out in 17 percent of his plate appearances. Since then he's batted just .240 while striking out in 23 percent of his trips to the plate.

Striking out about 35 percent more often is a sure-fire way to see your batting average plummet and it's also a sign that Monroe hasn't taken well to being on the wrong side of 30. In other words, reversing what has been a steady multi-year decline is going to be extremely difficult and the payoff is modest even if he succeeds. Monroe is ill-suited to be an everyday player and vastly overpaid as a reserve, and there are better, cheaper players available to fill either role.


Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #16 Corey Koskie

CORDEL LEONARD KOSKIE | 3B | 1998-2004 | CAREER STATS

G PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+ WARP WS
816 3257 .280 .373 .463 115 38.2 108

A star baseball, hockey, and volleyball player growing up in Manitoba, Canada, the Twins used their 26th-round pick in the 1994 draft to select Corey Koskie out of Kwantlen College in British Columbia. He signed quickly and debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton as a 21-year-old, but then spent one full year at each of low Single-A, high Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, failing to receive any midseason promotions despite consistently putting up excellent numbers.

After finally reaching Double-A as a 24-year-old in 1997, Koskie batted .296/.408/.531 with 23 homers, 55 total extra-base hits, and 90 walks in 131 games to make the Eastern League All-Star team as the starting third baseman. He moved up to Triple-A in 1998, hitting .301/.365/.539 with 26 homers, 63 total extra-base hits, and 51 walks in 135 games before finally earning his first in-season promotion in the form of a September call-up to Minnesota.

When starter Frankie Rodriguez and reliever Dan Serafini combined to give up 10 runs while recording six outs against the Angels on September 9, 1998, Koskie came off the bench in the sixth inning to make his major-league debut, going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts after replacing Ron Coomer at third base. Koskie saw his next action three days later against the A's, pinch-hitting for Chris Latham in the eighth inning and singling to center field off Tim Worrell for his first career hit.

Koskie started seven of the final 15 games and didn't show much while going 4-for-29 (.138), but still broke camp with the Twins the next spring. Koskie played sparingly through midseason, starting just 41 of the team's first 81 games in large part because manager Tom Kelly didn't think much of his defense at third base. Fewer than half of those starts came at third base and at one point Koskie went nearly six weeks without a single start there as Coomer and Brent Gates manned the position.

The bulk of his sporadic early playing time came at designated hitter or right field (after Matt Lawton was injured), which allowed Koskie to at least show that his bat was clearly MLB-ready. He hit .301/.349/.462 through 81 games as one of the few capable hitters on a team that went on to rank dead last in the league offensively, yet totaled just 189 plate appearances. With the team 20-plus games out of the division race in early July, Kelly finally decided to make Koskie the regular third baseman.

Koskie continued to sit against most left-handed pitchers while starting 52 of the final 81 games, but more importantly each of the 52 starts came at third base. He batted .318/.421/.471 during that stretch, finishing the season at .310/.387/.468 in 117 games overall to lead the Twins in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage as a rookie. In fact, Marty Cordova (.285/.365/.464) was the only other hitter on the entire team who was even above average offensively.

Looking back, it's amazing how quickly Koskie went from playing right field or DH because his defense wasn't considered strong enough at third base to playing exclusively third base while being considered a very good defender there. Koskie never set foot in the outfield again after his rookie season and made a combined total of four starts at designated hitter over the next five years, all while establishing himself as one of the best, most underrated defensive third basemen in baseball.

The Opening Day starter at third base in 2000, Koskie hit .300/.400/.441 in 146 games for an offense that ranked second worst in the league. He was one of three above-average regulars on the entire team, along with Lawton and David Ortiz, and ranked fourth among AL third baseman in Value Over Replacement Player behind Troy Glaus, Travis Fryman, and Eric Chavez. Having mastered defense while emerging as the team's best hitter, Koskie moved on to developing his home-run power.

Koskie homered once every 24 at-bats in the minors, including 20-homer seasons at both Double-A and Triple-A, and batted .298/.388/.445 through his first two full big-league seasons. However, he managed just 21 homers in 845 at-bats, including nine homers in 474 at-bats during his sophomore campaign. That all changed in 2001 when Koskie put the finishing touches on his all-around game while having the finest year of his career as the Twins had their first winning season since 1992.

Perhaps sacrificing some batting average for power after hitting .310 and .300 in his first two seasons, Koskie batted .276/.362/.488 with 26 homers, 37 doubles, 103 RBIs, and 100 runs. He played 153 games, logging over 1,300 innings at third base, and shockingly stole 27 bases at an 82-percent clip. Koskie's VORP trailed only Glaus and Chavez among AL third basemen and along with Gary Gaetti in 1988 it was the best non-Harmon Killebrew season ever by a Twins third baseman.

Koskie's power dipped in 2002 without an increase in batting average and he missed a couple weeks with a hamstring injury that proved to be a sign of things to come when it came to his ability to stay on the field. Despite that, Koskie still managed to rank fourth among AL third baseman in VORP by hitting .267/.368/.447 with 15 homers, 37 doubles, and 72 walks in 140 games as the Twins won 94 games and the AL Central while advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 1991.

A strained back limited Koskie to just 131 games in 2003 and his 20-homer power failed to resurface, but his batting average and OBP returned to their 2000-2001 levels as he hit .292/.393/.452 to lead the Twins in OPS. Koskie turned 30 years old midway through the 2003 season, but between a rapidly balding head and increasingly slow gait had the look of an old man for whom doing nearly anything seemed to be a chore.

Koskie set a career-high with a .495 slugging percentage and smacked 25 homers in 2004, but saw his batting average dip to a career-low .251 while more injuries sidelined him for two weeks in May and three weeks in September. Despite showing plenty of signs that he was wearing down physically, Koskie actually played his best down the stretch, batting .281/.349/.607 from August 1 to the end of the season as the Twins held off the White Sox and Royals to win the division.

He then came up big in the Twins' third straight trip to the postseason, batting .308 with a .474 OBP in the ALDS while nearly becoming a hero against the Yankees. After winning Game 1 at Yankee Stadium behind Johan Santana's seven shutout innings, the Twins trailed 5-3 heading into the eighth inning of Game 2. Mariano Rivera came in and got a fly out from Shannon Stewart before striking out Jacque Jones, but Jones reached first base on a wild pitch.

Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau followed with back-to-back singles, cutting the Yankees' lead to 5-4 and bringing Koskie up with runners on the corners. Luis Rivas pinch-ran for Morneau, providing excellent speed as the go-ahead run at first base, and Koskie slashed a Rivera fastball into the left-field corner. Hunter jogged home with the tying run and Rivas had a chance to claim a lead that could have put the Twins up 2-0 in the series heading back to Minnesota.

Except the ball took a big bounce, hopping over the left-field wall for a ground-rule double that kept Rivas locked at third base and the game tied at 5-5. As Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said afterward: "They would have scored two, no doubt about it." Instead, Jason Kubel and Cristian Guzman stranded Rivas 90 feet away from the plate and Alex Rodriguez's 12th-inning double scored Derek Jeter with the game-winning run.

Instead of Koskie's hit off Rivera putting the Yankees on the verge of elimination, one bounce wiped away his series-changing moment and the Twins lost back-to-back games at the Metrodome to end their season. A pending free agent, that proved to be the final big hit of Koskie's career in Minnesota. In previewing the market that winter over at The Hardball Times, I wrote that Koskie was the "forgotten man among free-agent third basemen" and added:

Just looking at Koskie, you'd think he was all washed up. He does everything methodically, from walking to swinging a bat, and it often appears as though he's in a constant state of hurt. After every diving stop at third base that ends an inning, he rolls the ball back to the pitcher's mound and slowly ambles over to the dugout, like an old man who forgot his walker.

[...]

Through all the pain, through all the missed games, through all the "did Koskie just hurt himself again?" moments, he has been one of the most valuable third basemen in baseball over the last five years. ... What you get with Koskie is power, patience and defense, but it also comes with a price. He's going to miss games, he's going to go through stretches where he looks completely lost at the plate, and he's going to struggle against left-handed pitching.

If a team can overlook that, they'll have 130 games of great defense and solid hitting against right-handed pitchers, and they'll get it for a bargain price. With that said, there has probably never been a 32-year-old in baseball history who screamed out for a short-term, incentive-based contract quite like Koskie, who has spent a career teetering at the edge of the proverbial cliff.

The Twins showed little interest in re-signing Koskie and he returned to Canada by inking a three-year, $16.5 million contract with the Blue Jays, thanking fans for their support with a full-page newspaper ad. After hitting just .249/.337/.398 while missing 65 games with a broken thumb during his first season in Toronto, the Blue Jays made Koskie available for pennies on the dollar via trade and the Twins once again passed despite having a hole at third base that they eventually chose to fill with Tony Batista.

Koskie ended up with the Brewers, as the Blue Jays picked up most of his remaining contract and accepted a low-level prospect in return. He got off to a strong start in Milwaukee, batting .261/.343/.490 with 12 homers and 23 doubles in 76 games, but suffered a concussion after falling while chasing a pop-up on July 5. A debilitating bout with post-concussion syndrome followed, causing Koskie to miss the remainder of 2006 and all of 2007 while putting his career in serious doubt.

A free agent again, Koskie indicated in October that he hopes to play again, but added: "If I can't play, I at least want my life back." He's often criticized for his lack of durability, which is certainly fair to some extent and could be a big part of his legacy given the way that his career may end. However, it's also likely overstated. He missed 44 games during his final season in Minnesota, which was the lasting image that Koskie left fans with, but prior to that he had 550 plate appearances in four straight years.

His 3,257 plate appearances rank 20th in team history and ignoring his rookie year, when Koskie was kept out of the lineup by his manager rather than by injuries, he averaged 138 games per season in Minnesota. For comparison, Torii Hunter averaged 141 games in seven seasons after he became a full-time player. Hunter somehow has a reputation for being an iron man and had different types of injuries, but at the end of the day was essentially out of the lineup as often as the "injury prone" Koskie.

VORP is a "counting stat" that blends together performance and playing time, and lack of durability or not Koskie led the Twins in VORP three times and ranked second twice before finishing third during his final year. A .280/.373/.463 career hitter with the Twins, he ranked sixth, fourth, third, sixth, fourth, and seventh among AL third baseman in VORP during six full seasons in Minnesota. Among hitters with at least 3,000 plate appearances in a Twins uniform, only six posted a higher OPS+ than Koskie:

                      OPS+
Harmon Killebrew 146
Rod Carew 137
Tony Oliva 131
Kent Hrbek 128
Bob Allison 127
Kirby Puckett 124
COREY KOSKIE 115

That's some elite company and Koskie's 115 OPS+ ranks ahead of Gaetti, Hunter, Lawton, Earl Battey, Chuck Knoblauch, Tom Brunansky, Roy Smalley, Cesar Tovar, and Jacque Jones, among others. For comparison, Morneau has a Koskie-like 117 OPS+ in 2,299 career plate appearances. Beyond that, VORP and OPS+ only account for offense, and Koskie was an outstanding defender who added a ton of value with his glove at third base.

A clubhouse favorite whose numerous pranks included filling an unsuspecting Ortiz's underwear with peanut butter, Koskie spent part of his Twins career starring on horrible teams and then finished his time in Minnesota cultivating an "injury prone" label that he'll never shed. The end result is a career that goes down as one of the most underrated in team history and a player who ranks as the best Twins third baseman of all time.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:

OBP .373 7th
OPS .836 8th
Home Runs 101 11th
SLG .463 11th
Walks 385 11th
RBIs 437 12th
Doubles 180 14th
XBH 294 14th
Total Bases 1290 16th
Runs 438 17th
Hits 781 18th
Steals 66 18th
AVG .280 19th

For a complete list of other write-ups in the ongoing "Top 40 Minnesota Twins" series, click here.


Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

December 10, 2007

Twins Notes: Eckstein, Rule 5, and Jennie

  • While speaking to reporters at the winter meetings last week, Ron Gardenhire indicated that he'd like the Twins to pursue free agent David Eckstein, saying: "I've always had a lot of respect for him. He catches the ball. He knows how to play. He's a proven winner." There's plenty of room to poke fun at a quote like that and the comments section here was predictably filled with a lot of anti-Eckstein (and anti-Gardenhire) sentiments.

    There's little doubt that Eckstein is significantly overrated by a fawning mainstream media and Nick Punto-loving managers, but the perception that many fans seem to have of him being a horrible player is just as off base. Eckstein has seemingly become so overrated in some circles that he's underrated in other circles. In other words, he's a poor man's Derek Jeter. At the end of the day how Eckstein is "rated" matters little, which leaves his actual on-field performance to evaluate.

    Judging from the many comments and e-mails that I received on the subject, many people seem to view him as a Punto-like hitter. In reality that's far from the case, as Eckstein's .286/.351/.362 career hitting line is vastly superior to Punto's .245/.314/.321 career mark. Instead, the player who Eckstein truly resembles offensively is Luis Castillo. In fact, whether looking at this season or the past three seasons, Castillo and Eckstein have been about as similar as two hitters can be:

    2007            PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS
    Eckstein 484 .309 .356 .382 .738
    Castillo 615 .301 .362 .359 .721

    2005-2007 PA AVG OBP SLG OPS
    Eckstein 1449 .297 .357 .375 .732
    Castillo 1791 .299 .369 .367 .736

    They're both middle infielders who were born in 1975 and have consistently hit around .300 with very limited power and good on-base skills. Eckstein is basically a right-handed hitting version of Castillo, except that he can play a passable shortstop while Castillo is limited to second base. Beyond that, Eckstein's .297/.357/.375 hitting line over the past three seasons also compares favorably to Jason Bartlett's .272/.341/.362 career mark.

    To be clear, I'm not suggesting that the Twins should sign Eckstein to a three- or four-year contract, because that would be an obvious mistake. At the same time, as a short-term fix for a team that's currently lacking in appealing middle-infield options he'd be fine if the price was right. His defensive numbers at shortstop were sub par this season, but he's shown the ability to capably man the position in the past and would likely be above average at second base (where he played in the minors).

    At worst he's a better fielder than Brendan Harris, a much better all-around player than Punto, and essentially represents the best-case scenario for Alexi Casilla offensively. Is Eckstein as good as guys like Gardenhire or Tim McCarver or Joe Morgan think? Definitely not, but if Eckstein could hit his usual .300/.350/.375 with decent defense up the middle he's a very solid player who could absolutely help the Twins in 2008.

  • Last Monday in this space I noted that "the Twins are in danger of losing several solid prospects" via the Rule 5 draft, which took place Thursday afternoon at the winter meetings in Nashville. Among the players exposed to the draft and eligible to be plucked from the organization by other teams were Brock Peterson, Yohan Pino, Garrett Guzman, and David Winfree, all of whom figured to make my annual list of the Twins' top 40 prospects when it comes out later this winter.

    The good news is that the Twins avoided losing Peterson, Pino, and Winfree. The bad news is that they had a total of six players plucked from the organization, including Guzman, who was selected by the Nationals. Between Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Wily Mo Pena, Elijah Dukes, Nook Logan, and Ryan Langerhans the Nationals seemingly have way more than enough outfield depth, which increases the chances of Guzman not making the team out of spring training.

    If that happens then Guzman will be offered back to the Twins prior to Opening Day, in which case no harm is done. Of course, strong outfield depth or not the Nationals may simply decide to keep Guzman around as their 25th man, in which case the Twins have given away one of the few solid upper-minors hitting prospects in the entire organization for absolutely nothing just because they didn't see fit to give him a spot on a 40-man roster that had plenty of room.

    Guzman is certainly a long shot to become an impact player in the majors, but he's also very capable of becoming a solid big leaguer after hitting .312/.359/.453 in 125 games at Double-A in 2007. He's a .290 hitter in 516 minor-league games who's struck out in fewer than 11 percent of his 2,085 career plate appearances and has shown increased power since coming back from a broken neck that wiped away his 2005 season following a car accident.

    In other words, he's a solid young hitter who has a chance to carve out of an MLB career, which can't be said for many of the Twins' position-player prospects above Single-A. Toss in Alexander Smit and Alex Romero, and the Twins have given away three perfectly good prospects in the past year. There's a chance that all three fail to become anything worthwhile and losing Guzman may become a non-issue, but at some point these repeated mistakes made managing the 40-man roster will hurt the Twins.

  • Guzman was the best of the Twins prospects lost in the Rule 5 draft, but reliever Tim Lahey actually went No. 1 overall. Drafted as a catcher out of Princeton University, Lahey moved to the mound in 2005 and has posted a 3.94 ERA with a 145-to-70 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 178.1 career innings. Lahey had a 3.45 ERA and 56-to-33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 78.1 innings at Double-A in 2007, which is far from a great performance in a pitcher-friendly environment.

    On the other hand, Lahey is 6-foot-5 and about 250 pounds, induces tons of ground balls, and has far less pitching experience than most 25-year-olds at Double-A, so there's more room for long-term development than his mediocre numbers suggest. With that said, the Twins can't be blamed much for exposing him to the draft and the fact that he was picked at all is a surprise. That he went No. 1 overall and was then traded for $150,000 is a shock.

    Lahey will try to crack the Cubs' bullpen, but like Guzman there's seemingly a strong chance that he'll be offered back to the Twins. Along with Lahey leading off the draft, another surprise was that the Mariners selected R.A. Dickey one week after he joined the Twins on a minor-league deal. Chris Gomez was selected shortly after signing a minor-league contract a few years ago, so it's not unheard of, but it's odd given that the Mariners could have convinced Dickey to sign with them instead.

    Losing a minor leaguer days after signing him obviously isn't a big blow, but Dickey is intriguing after going from "regular" pitcher to knuckleballer and posting a 3.73 ERA with a 119-to-60 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 169 innings at Triple-A. He was slated for the Rochester rotation and could have found himself in Minnesota at some point. Dickey, Lahey, and Guzman were lost in the draft's MLB phase, but the Twins also lost three guys in the minor-league portion (which is how they got Brian Buscher last year).

    Losing right-handers J.P. Martinez and Joshua Hill is no concern, but Martinez was a ninth-round pick in 2004 and Hill has been in the organization since signing out of Australia in 2001. Neither pitcher projects to ever be anything more than a middle reliever in the majors, if that. Rashad Eldridge is also a long shot to have any sort of MLB career, but as a center fielder who hit .291/.360/.429 in 105 games at Double-A in 2007 he was worthwhile depth in an organization that's thin in the outfield.

  • Last week the Twins inked Casey Daigle to a minor-league contract. Daigle was a first-round pick back in 1999, but has been a bust as a pro and posted a 6.59 ERA in 109.1 innings at Triple-A in 2007. He'll probably step into Dickey's spot in the Rochester rotation and there's admittedly little reason for me to make note of his signing, except for the fact that he's married to Jennie Finch. Finch is one of the most successful softball players of all time, starred on the 2004 Olympic team, and looks like this:

    Here's a picture of the happy couple, who amusingly named their son "Ace." Not to take anything away from Jim Mandelaro, but the crowd at Red Wings games just got a lot more attractive.


  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    December 6, 2007

    Link-O-Rama

  • Thankfully, being fat and being resourceful have always gone hand in hand:


    When you've been "fat since birth" it leads to some truly miraculous discoveries.
  • On the other hand, when you spend about 25 years being exceptionally attractive and then become somewhat less exceptionally attractive, the discoveries made while swimming in public places aren't quite so miraculous.
  • Grow, damn it!
  • At first glance this offer seems fair, but I still think that the Twins should hold out for Matt Kemp.
  • Otis Nixon looked to be approximately 48 years old when he was playing center field for the Twins in 1998, but now he's actually 48 years old and is writing a book about his life "in the belly of the beast."
  • Two weeks ago in this space I passed along some gossip from the Bubba The Love Sponge radio show about how Timberwolves guard Marko Jaric once "dated" Penthouse Pet Jaime Hammer. At the time I wrote that Jaric "must be doing something right" despite being an overpaid role player because "Hammer probably isn't the only woman he's dated who makes a living by being attractive." Little did I know at the time how right that was.

    Jaric is reportedly now dating (without the quotation marks) Victoria's Secret model Adriana Lima and being with her has seemingly improved his on-court performance. Jaric is averaging 15 points and six assists per game over the past two weeks after averaging just five points and two assists in 70 games last season. As teammate Mark Madsen explained: "Ever since he started dating Adriana Lima, he's a new man. He's flying all over the court. He dunked! I've never seen him dunk." A comparison:

    That's Hammer on the left, the NBA's luckiest player in the middle, and Lima on the left. It took me about 15 minutes just to find a picture of Hammer that features her in some level of clothing, which shows the great lengths that I'm willing to go for my readers. UPDATE: There's also this.

  • Earlier this week the New York Times ran an article about the most painful breakup of my life.
  • I'm not sure why, but this picture of David Ortiz struck me as hilarious.
  • The people have spoken via a poll on Playboy's website and with "nearly 40 percent of the votes" Erin Andrews of ESPN predictably won the title of America's Sexiest Sportscaster. I continue to believe that Bonnie Bernstein and my NBC Sports colleague Shana Hiatt were robbed. Someone really needs to put together a local version of the contest, if only so that the millions of Marney Gellner fans can be heard from.
  • Presumably FSN will be contacting me any day now to establish a similar partnership.
  • When he's not forcing people to turn off their televisions, getting fired from his newspaper gig for sub par work, and typing up columns on his Blackberry, Stephen A. Smith has some wonderful thoughts on bloggers. My favorite part is when Smith said, presumably with something resembling a straight face: "I respect the journalism industry." If Smith and Bill Conlin ever team up, bloggers are in trouble.
  • If you've ever wondered what Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III looks like while doing his job, here's your chance:

  • And yes, it's every bit as thrilling as it appears. Sadly, no one snapped any photos of the assembled media at Ron Gardenhire's winter meetings press conference last year, when you would have seen me front and center playing reporter-for-a-day with my little notebook. Gardenhire got more dressed up this time, ditching the sunglasses-around-the-neck look that he sported last year. The first person to identify every media member in the above photo gets a free year's subscription to AG.com.

  • Here's the winner of this week's Ridiculously Homerish Thing Written By Sid Hartman:
    Manager Ron Gardenhire has shown his ability to keep clubhouse problems from escalating out of control.

    Does it count as "escalating out of control" when a pitcher takes a baseball bat to the manager's office door? Or how about when one of the team's star players attempts to punch another of the team's star players in the face, but misses and hits one of the team's worst players instead? Apparently the Twins' clubhouse would be like Thunderdome if Gardenhire wasn't so great at keeping things calm.

  • Speaking of Torii Hunter's attempt to punch Justin Morneau in the face, Hartman's colleague Jim Souhan predictably opined in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his beloved "face of the franchise" only "did so because he thought that's what his manager wanted." Such a prince, that Hunter.
  • What do you get when you combine Hartman's obliviousness with Souhan's horrendous analysis? St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Bob Sansevere suggesting that the Twins should acquire Jonathan Papelbon, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz from the Red Sox. But wait, the idea that the Twins could somehow pry those five players away from Boston actually isn't the most absurd part. Seriously.

    Among the players Sansevere thinks the Twins should send back to the Red Sox in his proposed trade? Free agent Carlos Silva, who the team has absolutely zero control over and can sign anywhere. A well-paid, high-profile writer who's long been employed to provide sports analysis for a major newspaper, Sansevere finishes his embarrassment of a column by writing: "I have just one question. What's Twins general manager Bill Smith waiting for? He should have this deal done by now."

    Anyone wanna buy a newspaper?

  • For someone reason I often forget to include Marisa Miller when the subject of Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidates comes up, which is clearly a mistake.
  • Having seen his last MLB action in 2005, former Twins prospect Matt Kinney is heading to Japan, potentially setting up a historic Kinney-Lew Ford matchup in 2008.
  • As a Dan Barreiro fan from way back I'm glad to see him sign a new contract, but hopefully at some point within the next six years he'll stop the illogical ax-grinding against Kevin Garnett and Joe Mauer.
  • Bill Simmons' recent letter to a junior-high version of himself was very amusing.
  • One thing that you can always count on is that when a mainstream media member mentions me in a positive light while doing an interview somewhere, I'll link to it (scroll down to the final question).
  • As a longtime Adam Carolla fan, I couldn't possibly be rooting any harder for former Eagles running back and kick returner Vai Sikahema. I've never actually heard Sikahema speak, but nothing would make me happier than to see them fight for the co-host job.
  • One of the Diamond-Mind keeper leagues that I'm in suddenly has several openings. It's a hardcore, time-consuming league and we're looking for people who have previous Diamond-Mind experience. If you're interested and fit that bill, drop me an e-mail.
  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Anthony Hamilton doing a live, low-key version of "Charlene" while accompanied only by a guitar:


  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

    All Santana, All The Time (Again)

    Yesterday was one of the most-trafficked days in the history of AG.com, so apparently everyone enjoyed the near-hourly Johan Santana updates. Things seem to have slowed to a crawl on the Santana front after a frenzied 48 hours and the winter meetings finish up this afternoon, so there may not be a ton of Santana-related speculation to pass along today. However, just to be safe I'll devote one more day to Santana rumors. As was the case yesterday, notes will be posted in reverse-chronological order ...

  • 10:05 A.M. UPDATE: Over at his Boston Globe blog, Edes notes that Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein is leaving the winter meetings without a deal for Santana, but "said there would continue to be an open dialogue with the Twins."
  • 8:45 A.M. UPDATE: For whatever it's worth, LEN3 passes along this quote from Bill Smith regarding the possibility of simply keep Santana long term: "I've said all along, it's our first choice. We would love to have him, love to keep him." While that sounds good, there's zero chance of Santana sticking around unless the Twins significantly increase their reported offer both in years and per-season salary.
  • 2:30 A.M. UPDATE: Over at his Minneapolis Star Tribune blog, Official Twins Beat Writer of AG.com LaVelle E. Neal III writes that "the winter meetings are over as far as I'm concerned" because "unless the Twins have a whopper announcement when I wake up, nothing is happening." LEN3 previously reported that the Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, Mariners, and Rangers were all in the mix, but now thinks that Seattle and Texas are long shots because Santana may only want to go to the East Coast.

    Along with the Santana update, LEN3 had some interesting thoughts on the winter meetings:

    These meetings were a disappointment. The media horde wanted to see a bunch of deals, but only one was announced this week. ONE! We tired of writing about the same rumors and recycling the same names and putting teams in negotiations, pulling them out and then putting them back in.

    I didn't update as much because I didn't know anything new. We shook our heads as crazy rumors were floated. It got to the point where the plausible outranked the factual, and that's when you know you've been here too long. Someone here described the winter meetings as, "four days where good journalism goes out the window." I agree.

    We fed the monster. We're tired of feeding the monster. All we want to do is go home on work on the Christmas card mailing lists.

    Aside from the part about Christmas card mailing lists, that's almost exactly how I felt after attending last year's winter meetings in Orlando (where I was lucky enough to witness first-hand LEN3 fending off boredom by forcing other writers in the media room to talk about soccer). And on that note, it's probably time for a little sleep.

  • 2:00 A.M. UPDATE: David Lennon and Ken Davidoff of New York Newsday report that "the Mets sweetened their offer to the Twins by adding players to the package, but as long as Jose Reyes is not part of it ... the Twins insist a deal is virtually impossible." General manager Omar Minaya reiterated that he has no plans to trade Reyes and Newsday notes that "Minnesota apparently is not satisfied" with some combination of Carlos Gomez, Fernando Martinez, Mike Pelfrey, and Philip Humber.
  • 1:30 A.M. UPDATE: Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe reports that as of Wednesday night "there was scant evidence that a trade for Santana was in the offing." He notes that the Red Sox "expected to maintain some dialogue" about Santana, but that the Twins seemed "no more inclined to accept the Sox proposals than the Yankee offers that went by the board earlier this week."
  • 12:15 A.M. UPDATE: Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports reports that the Red Sox "warmed to the idea of trading for" Santana "mere hours after questioning the merits of the deal," but that "the parameters of the trade have not changed." In other words, the Twins are still looking at a Jacoby Ellsbury-led package or a Jon Lester-led package. While Brown confirms previous talk of the Mariners joining the mix for Santana, he notes that "talks there have stagnated, as they did with the Angels."

  • Once you're done here, check out my latest "Daily Dose" column over at Rotoworld.

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