October 29, 2009

Link-O-Rama

  • As a follow-up to last week's entry about the Twins signing 16-year-old phenom Miguel Angel Sano, here's a very interesting video detailing his life in the Dominican Republic and the signing process.
  • My initial plan for Halloween was to go as a fat baseball writer who doesn't like to leave the house, but that seems awfully ambitious and this costume may be even better in a "you are what you eat" way.
  • David Brown of Yahoo! Sports conducted a highly amusing interview with Denard Span (and special guest Brendan Harris).
  • I've been preparing for this moment my entire life. Seriously, right now I look like Kimbo Slice and the month hasn't even started yet.
  • What are the chances of a blond Philadelphia woman getting arrested for attempting to trade sex for World Series tickets and her not being Sweet Dee Reynolds? Which brings me to this amazing scene from last week's Phillies-themed episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia:


    Say what you will about Mac's love letter to Chase Utley, but at least he has good taste.
  • In his season recap, Pat Borzi said a lot of the stuff that I've been saying all year about the Twins, but in one well-written article for MinnPost.
  • In addition to letting Steve Phillips go, ESPN has now also fired the 22-year-old production assistant with whom he had an affair. Meanwhile, agent Steve Lefkowitz revealed that Phillips entered rehab for sex addiction in an effort "to save his marriage."
  • Sunday is the 65th anniversary of Sid Hartman starting at what was then the Minneapolis Tribune.
  • HBO renewed one of my favorite shows, In Treatment, for another season and Theo Epstein's sister is taking over as the executive producer, which caused me to stumble upon the mind-boggling "early life and family" section of his Wikipedia page. After reading that, my family really ought to be ashamed of themselves.
  • Many of the allegations about the NBA and referees in Tim Donaghy's new book are pretty damning.
  • Between this news and my discovery that EA Sports isn't even making NBA Live for Playstation 2 any more it may be time for a Playstation 3. Or maybe just admit that I'm old and stop playing video games.
  • One of my all-time favorite basketball players, Bobby Jackson, has called it quits after a career that included one unforgettable year with the Gophers and 12 solid seasons in the NBA.
  • We just finished the 12th season of "Gleeman World" in WhatIfSports.com's Hardball Dynasty game and it looks like we'll have one or two franchise openings. Hardball Dynasty is not a fantasy baseball game, but rather a simulation of running a fictional MLB organization from rookie-ball to the majors. It's incredibly detailed and time-consuming with a steep learning curve, so first and foremost we're looking for owners who've played Hardball Dynasty in the past, although anyone is free to express interest.
  • Random pizza recommendation: Sarpino's. I've had it multiple times recently and the pizza is a clear step above the usual Papa John's, Pizza Hut, and Domino's. Plus, their pasta is pretty good too.
  • My only rule in life is that I'll always link to a blog that calls me "the Jesus of Twins bloggers."
  • Adam Carolla's recent television pilot for CBS was not picked up, so now he's giving NBC a try.
  • Here's a new Twins blog to check out: The Blog That Boredom Built.
  • Some of the highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

    - Baseball's most underrated player: Utley
    - Where does Lee's gem rank in World Series history?
    - Did Coghlan have a "historic" rookie year?
    - Diamondbacks prospect Parker blogging about Tommy John surgery
    - Manny "planning to" exercise $20 million option, stay with Dodgers
    - Astros hire Red Sox bench coach Mills as new manager
    - Guerrero and his mom want to re-sign with Angels
    - La Russa returning as Cardinals manager
    - Johjima returns to Japan with $21 million deal
    - How good is Lackey and how rich is he about to be?

  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is Sam and Dave doing a live version of "Hold On, I'm Comin'" from 1966:


  • Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

    October 27, 2009

    Joe Needs a Caddy: Redmond or Morales?

    After spending the past five seasons as the Twins' backup catcher Mike Redmond is now a free agent and the 38-year-old made it clear last week that he has no plans for retirement. "I'm definitely planning on playing next year," Redmond said. "For some reason, I think people think I'm going to retire. I still feel like I've got a lot of fight left in me, a lot of energy left to play. I don't know if it will be here. But if not, I plan on being somewhere."

    Redmond signed a two-year, $1.8 million contract with the Twins as a free agent in November of 2005 after spending the first seven seasons of his career with the Marlins and then agreed to a three-year, $2.85 million extension in mid-2006. He's been a near-perfect fit in Minnesota, serving as the veteran, right-handed-hitting backup for the young, left-handed-hitting Joe Mauer while batting .297/.339/.359, throwing out 30 percent of steal attempts, and emerging as a team leader (and source of nude hijinks).

    He's remained a productive player far longer than most catchers, but Redmond has shown significant signs of decline both offensively and defensively over the past two seasons, batting .261/.310/.311 and throwing out 10-of-63 steal attempts. Even that kind of minimal hitting and weak-armed defense would leave Redmond as a reasonable backup catcher because the standard for that job is so low, but he can't be counted on to avoid further decline at age 39 and the Twins have another in-house option.

    Jose Morales shared catching duties with Redmond while Mauer spent all of April on the disabled list and hit .340/.380/.404 in 50 plate appearances, but was sent back to Triple-A once Mauer returned. He was called up again a couple weeks later and went 7-for-20 (.350) in a bench role before heading back to Rochester, where he hit .336/.413/.436 in 58 games. Morales rejoined the Twins for a third and final time when rosters expanded in September, hitting .269/.361/.308 in frequent starts at designated hitter.

    Morales has batted .328 through his first 55 games in the majors, which along with Ron Gardenhire turning to him as the DH down the stretch has the fans who don't know any better assuming that he's destined to be an impact hitter. In reality Morales will be 27 years old next season and failed to homer in 134 plate appearances with the Twins after going deep a grand total of eight times in 868 trips to the plate at Triple-A, so he's not exactly destined for stardom.

    However, he's a switch-hitter with a line-drive swing who rarely strikes out and draws plenty of walks, which combined with being somewhere between atrocious and passable defensively behind the plate makes him a very solid backup catcher. Morales has hit .317/.373/.413 in 222 games at Triple-A and .328/.394/.385 in 55 games with the Twins, so a reasonable projection for him going forward is likely pretty similar to the .297/.339/.359 line that Redmond produced over the past five seasons.

    The downside to Morales is that his defensive reputation pales in comparison to Redmond and his bat was more potent versus right-handed pitching in the minors, which makes him a less ideal fit to back up a catcher who should take most of his days off versus left-handed pitching. The upside to Morales is that he's a dozen years younger than Redmond and would probably be significantly more productive offensively if pressed into a full-time role because of a Mauer injury.

    My guess is that the decision to let Redmond depart as a free agent while turning backup duties over to Morales won't be an easy one for a team that no doubt places a huge amount of value on the veteran's leadership and experience, but realistically going younger and cheaper in the role makes sense given Morales' track record over the past three years. Don't let his batting average fool you into thinking that Morales has star upside, but he's earned a chance and is a better bet than a 39-year-old Redmond.


    Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

    October 25, 2009

    Should The Twins Trade Nathan?

    Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau underwent similar surgeries last week, with Nathan getting two bone chips removed from his right elbow and Morneau getting one bone spur removed from his right wrist. Morneau was already recovering from a stress fracture in his lower back that ended his season in early September and has him out of commission for several months, so relatively speaking a bone spur in his wrist is no big deal and just gives him something else to come back from in 2010.

    Removing two bone chips from the elbow of a 34-year-old pitcher like Nathan is a bigger deal, but the procedure is still not considered especially risky. For instance, Johan Santana had bone chips taken out of his left elbow in October of 2003 and won his first Cy Young award in 2004 by going 20-6 with a league-leading 2.61 ERA and 265 strikeouts while not missing a start. Nathan is a higher risk due to his age and somewhat diminished velocity over the past two years, but there's still no reason to panic.

    There's also no reason to assume that the bone chips "explain" his ugly postseason outing against the Yankees in Game 2 of the ALDS given that his elbow felt strong enough for him to finish the regular season by converting 13 straight saves with a 1.17 ERA and 19-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his final 15 appearances. And really there's no reason to "explain" one game, however awful, although certainly plenty of fans and media members are willing to equate the outing to some sort of weakness mentally.

    During the regular season Nathan blew five saves and allowed seven homers, so his blowing a save against the best offense in baseball by allowing a homer to one of the greatest hitters of all time hardly seems like evidence of much beyond the fact that good players can have bad games and the playoffs are unpredictable. Along with Nathan, the list of closers who've blown saves this postseason includes Jonathan Papelbon, Huston Street, Jonathan Broxton, Brian Fuentes, and Ryan Franklin. It happens.

    People who misguidedly think that every closer should convert every save opportunity in every playoff game are now calling for the Twins to trade Nathan, who since joining the team in 2004 has posted a 1.87 ERA in 419 innings while converting 91 percent of his save chances. That includes a career-high 47 saves with a 2.10 ERA, 89-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .171 opponents' batting average in 68.2 innings this season, so decreased velocity and elbow issues or not he remained a stud in 2009.

    On the other hand, while calling for Nathan to be traded because of one ugly postseason appearance is silly the notion of trading a 34-year-old closer, period, is perfectly reasonable. He's paid a premium for a limited amount of work because teams' over-reliance on the save statistic assigns added value to the ninth inning, but closers are created rather than born and Nathan himself was merely a very good setup man before arriving in Minnesota.

    A huge part of Nathan's value, both perceived and real, comes from the fact that the Twins use him for the ninth inning, but they're free to trade him and begin building up another pitcher's value by utilizing them in the exact same role. Successful closers aren't something that fall from the sky, fully formed with mid-90s fastballs and ice water running through their veins. Instead most great setup men who're given a chance to pitch the ninth inning become successful closers, and then the process repeats.

    Of course, the question is whether the Twins have that great setup man waiting in the wings, because regardless of what you think of saves as a measure of value and closers as a defined role the fact is that Nathan has been one of the elite relievers in baseball in each the past six seasons. Actually, that's probably understating his case, because Nathan has been one of the elite relievers ever. Here are the top adjusted ERA+ figures from relievers with at least 650 career innings:

                          IP     ERA+
    Mariano Rivera 1090 202
    Billy Wagner 834 182
    JOE NATHAN 685 157
    Tom Henke 790 156
    John Wetteland 765 148
    Trevor Hoffman 1042 147
    Troy Percival 709 146
    Dan Quisenberry 1043 146
    Hoyt Wilhelm 2254 146
    Mark Eichhorn 886 142

    If you focus on his run prevention Nathan has been one of the greatest relievers in baseball history. If you focus on his save percentage Nathan has been one of the greatest closers in baseball history. And in either case his performance this season fits in perfectly with the rest of his dominant Twins career. Regardless of the setup men waiting in the wings the chances of finding one to truly replace Nathan's performance are next to impossible.

    However, with his 35th birthday next month, a pair of bone chips recently removed from his elbow, and some signs of diminished raw stuff Nathan's odds of continuing that spectacular run aren't particularly great either. In other words, the Twins wouldn't be replacing the Nathan who has been one of the best relievers of all time through the age of 34, they'd be replacing the Nathan who's turning 35 and is owed $11.25 million in each of the next two years with a $12.5 million option or $2 million buyout for 2012.

    If you're going to call for the Twins to trade Nathan, don't do it because he served up a home run to Alex Rodrigez. Do it because he carries a huge amount of value, perhaps even more perceived value, and is about to turn 35 while being owed a ton of money over the next 2-3 seasons. In other words don't call for the Twins to trade Nathan unless you were calling for it before Rodriguez even stepped to the plate. For better or worse, it makes exactly as much sense now as it did then.


    Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

    October 22, 2009

    Link-O-Rama

  • Apparently photographers are now taking pictures of my dreams.
  • I've always said that I became a writer to avoid having to speak, so Arthur Krystal's essay in the New York Times makes perfect sense to me.
  • Someone sent me a Google Wave invite and I quickly deemed it too complicated for my feeble mind, but there are obviously some worthwhile uses.
  • Esquire recently named Kate Beckinsale the sexiest woman alive and I'm finding it awfully difficult to argue with them even if she was only Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com third runner-up.
  • Livan Hernandez has earned over $50 million in salary during 14 years in the majors, including $5 million from the Twins last season, but the Detroit News reports that he "faces foreclosure on his $1.3 million Miami home" and is being sued by various creditors.
  • If you like Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm, you'll love him on Hannah Montana:


    More or less embarrassing than being beaten up by Rosie O'Donnell? You decide.
  • I'm waiting for Tracy Jordan to do a spot for Rotoworld, but in the meantime this is a nice start.
  • In response to my criticisms that she wears too much clothing these days, reigning Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com Keeley Hazell is going back to her roots with a clothing-less calendar for 2010. Will it be enough to save her crown in the new year? We'll see.
  • Forget those silly bloggers, sportswriters now have bigger things to worry about.
  • Along with the usual Bill Simmons, Adam Carolla, and Two Jacks in the Hole, the latest addition to my podcast routine is Smodcast with Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier. They basically sit around and talk about random stuff for an hour each week, with a nice mix of thought-provoking, funny, and ridiculous. Carolla's interview with Richard Belzer was my favorite podcast of the week, although Simmons talking with Chuck Klosterman is always excellent and never ceases to make me feel like writing a book.
  • TechRadar.com has a list of "29 tech phrases you should be punched in the face for using" and I'm guilty of Nos. 1-4, 10-12, 14, and 21. I'm also guilty of Nos. 2, 5, 12, and 26 on this list of "the 32 most commonly misused words and phrases." I'm a pretentious idiot, basically.
  • Darryl Strawberry will be a contestant on the upcoming season of Celebrity Apprentice, where he'll compete against the likes of Sharon Osbourne, Sinbad, Cyndi Lauper, and Bret Michaels, plus many people who push the limits of "celebrity." Looking over the respective rosters, there were probably more famous people on the 1986 Mets.
  • Speaking of which, the silly Mariano Rivera "spitball" allegations this week reminded me of a much more amusing instance of a star New York player being accused of spitting. "That is one magic loogy."
  • Congratulations to friend of AG.com Jon Sciambi, who landed a full-time gig at ESPN after years as the local play-by-play man for the Braves and Marlins. Not only is Sciambi one of the best announcers in baseball, he's a really nice guy and stat-head who was one of the first recognizable "names" to ever contact me via this blog. If we're lucky the future of national broadcasts will have way more Sciambi and way less Joe Buck or Chip Caray.
  • It seems impossible, but someone at Shape going absolutely nuts with photoshop has managed to ruin pictures of Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com second runner-up Jenna Fischer in a bikini. Sort of.
  • Rotoworld news maven Drew Silva continues his quest for world domination. Nick Nelson too.
  • Lost update: In just five weeks I've watched all of the first four seasons and am now midway through Season 5. Some ups and downs after the extraordinary premiere episode, but it definitely ranks among my 10 favorite shows of all time. If you're like me and never got into the show initially, do yourself a giant favor and check it out Hulu (while you still can). If you're not hooked three minutes into the first episode, we probably can't be friends.
  • Earlier this week I passed the 1,000-post mark on Twitter, so obviously there's no going back now.
  • Some of the highlights from my NBCSports.com blogging this week:

    - Bad joke gets good singer dropped from ALCS opener
    - Tommy John surgery turns 35 years old
    - Johjima surprisingly opts out of Mariners contract, returns to Japan
    - Peterson joins Brewers as pitching coach
    - Inge plays hurt, hurts team, heads for surgery
    - GM: Freese may be Cards' third baseman in 2010
    - Ex-Mets GM Phillips in hot water over affair
    - Denkinger calls postseason umpiring 'kind of a disaster'
    - Thome plans to 'keep going' in 2010, but where?
    - LaPorta out 4-6 months following hip surgery

  • Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is DMX with a live, in-the-rain version of "Slippin":


  • Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

    October 20, 2009

    Twins Sign Miguel Angel Sano For $3.15 Million

    Lost in the Twins' late-season turnaround, dramatic Game 163 victory, and quick playoff exit is that they made a significant international signing, handing a $3.15 million bonus to a 16-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic named Miguel Angel Sano. Considered by many to be the best international prospect available this year and one of the most advanced bats to come out of the Dominican Republic in a long time, Sano saw multiple teams end their pursuit once MLB was unable to confirm his age.

    Instead of signing along with the rest of this season's top international prospects in July he waited until late September, choosing the Twins over the Pirates and several other teams. While he ended up with less money than initially expected, the $3.15 million bonus is the second-highest ever given to a Latin American prospect and by far the most the Twins have ever spent on the international market. And his signing is just part of the Twins' increased aggression on the prospect front this year.

    In addition to giving Sano a record bonus the Twins signed 16-year-old German outfielder Max Kepler for $775,000 and 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Jorge Polanco for $750,000 while investing more than the MLB-recommend slot price for first-round pick Kyle Gibson. In all they've dropped around $12 million on prospects this year, which is a huge amount for a team with a $65 million MLB payroll and a welcomed change from their past frugality in this area.

    Baseball draft picks are amazingly unpredictable, particularly compared to other sports, and teenagers from the Dominican Republic or Germany are even bigger risks. However, snatching up top talents that drop in the draft because of bonus demands is a tactic that big-payroll teams have long exploited and a big percentage of MLB's superstars were signed internationally as teenagers. Investing in high-upside risks makes a lot more sense than spending $12 million on the next washed-up veteran free agent.

    In other words the money paid to Sano may be massive in the context of prospect signing bonuses, but $3.15 million is still less than Nick Punto made this season (and will make next year). If one of Sano, Gibson, Kepler, or Polanco turns into a starting-caliber MLB player the $12 million investment will prove to be a bargain and if a star emerges from that group the Twins will have elevated the team's long-term outlook for about as much as they wasted on Livan Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz, and Craig Monroe.

    Sano's contract was contingent upon his receiving a work visa, which the government officially issued him yesterday, but even if everything goes smoothly on and off the field he's obviously a long way from the majors. That risk and a delayed payoff is why investing in international prospects requires a team with some gamble in them, but the consensus is that Sano has almost limitless upside offensively, so much so that no one seems to care that he has little shot of sticking at shortstop (or even third base).

    Sano is already 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, which obviously led to the doubts about his age, but even if he's actually 18 or 19 the signing is something that Twins fans should be absolutely thrilled about. Had he been eligible for the draft Sano almost surely would've been a first-round pick and perhaps a top-10 selection, and Gibson was widely considered a top-10 talent before a since-healed injury dropped him into the Twins' laps at No. 22 overall.

    There's a decent chance that neither player ends up making a big impact for the Twins, because that's just how baseball prospects work, but in terms of increasing their likelihood of developing star-caliber players and building championship-caliber teams the Sano and Gibson signings are big steps in the right direction for a franchise that has generally been risk-averse and far too willing to drop millions on veteran mediocrity. Throwing money into the player-development machine is a much better approach.


    Once you're done here, check out my NBCSports.com blog and Twitter updates.

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