March 31, 2011

Twins Notes: The Smiles Are Returning To The Faces

Little darling, it's been a long, cold, lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say, it's all right

Little darling, the smiles are returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since they've been there
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say, it's all right

Little darling, I see the ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear
There goes the sun
Here comes the sun
And I say, it's all right

- "Here Comes The Sun"

• Since the Twins open the season on the road against the Blue Jays tomorrow night I'm going to do a "live chat" here during the game. I realize Friday night isn't the ideal time for everyone to get on their computers and type things to each other while watching a baseball game, but if I'm willing to cancel my exciting plans with various supermodels hopefully at least some of you will stay in for some chat action. Carl Pavano versus Ricky Romero, chat doors open at 6:00.

• I wrote the season previews for all the AL Central teams over at Hardball Talk and concluded that the Twins, White Sox, and Tigers should basically be considered co-favorites in the range of 88-92 victories. RLYW's annual simulation of 100,000 seasons based on multiple projection systems thinks I'm a bit high on those win totals, but also has all three AL Central contenders within two games of each other. You can see my predictions for all the divisions here.

Joe Mauer's incredible popularity in Minnesota is no secret, but I was surprised to learn that he had the second-best selling jersey in all of baseball last season behind only Derek Jeter. Justin Morneau was also in the top 20 and as a team the Twins ranked No. 9 in merchandise sales. And according to Forbes magazine the Twins have the 12th-most valuable MLB franchise at $490 million, which is up 21 percent from last year. Pretty remarkable.

• There were several key statistical reasons for Denard Span's disappointing offense last year and the Twins have also talked about his struggling with some mechanical issues, but Parker Hageman at Over The Baggy combined stats and scouting for a truly unique analysis of Span's hitting that's a must-read and makes Patrick Reusse's recent Minneapolis Star Tribune column seem all the more silly for pitting stats versus scouting. As always, the best answer is "both."

• As part of my series ranking the Twins' top 40 prospects I called the farm system as a whole "solidly above average" but "not elite." Baseball America agrees, as their "organizational talent rankings" released last week have the Twins at No. 12. Kansas City ranks No. 1 with perhaps the best farm systems of the past several decades and the Indians are at No. 7, but the Tigers are No. 25 and the White Sox are No. 27.

Ron Gardenhire didn't pull any punches when asked why Jim Hoey was sent to Triple-A:

Hoey needs to slow the ball down. All he can do is throw hard, hard, harder. And on our level, hard, hard, harder normally gets hit, hit, hit.

Kind of an interesting quote considering the main criticism of the Twins' approach to pitching is that collecting strike-throwers with low-90s fastballs makes them too easy to hit when facing strong lineups. Acquired from the Orioles in the J.J. Hardy trade, Hoey has without question the fastest fastball in the entire organization now that Billy Bullock is regrettably gone.

Brendan Harris, whose $1.7 million contract the Twins dumped on the Orioles as part of the Hardy deal, has been assigned to Triple-A after failing to win a bench job in Baltimore.

• If the Twins ever change their minds about signing Francisco Liriano to a long-term contract extension, Chad Billingsley's new deal with the Dodgers may provide a template. Their service time is equal, but Billingsley avoided arbitration in his second year of eligibility for $6.3 million, whereas Liriano settled for $4.3 million. Los Angeles bought out his final arbitration year and first two free agent years for $32 million plus a $14 million option or $3 million buyout for 2015.

• I'm unsure if yesterday afternoon's game against the Braves at Turner Field in Atlanta counts as the spring training finale or a preseason exhibition, but it was nice to see Minnesota native, good guy, and friend of my family Andy Baldwin close out the win with a scoreless inning. He'll be assigned to Triple-A, where the combination of top prospects moving up the ladder and the Twins signing lots of minor-league veterans has Rochester looking strong after a terrible 2010.

• Most of the focus is obviously on the competition for spots on the Twins' roster, but this time of year also means making cuts in the minors and Seth Stohs notes that the Twins released a dozen players. No surprises or big names, but Michael McCardell twice cracked my annual list of the Twins' top 40 prospects, not so long ago some people thought Juan Portes had a shot to be a useful player, and once upon a time Justin Huber was a top prospect for the Royals.

• 1500ESPN.com has a mouth-watering collection of pictures showing all the new food choices available at Target Field. I'm planning to just stare at the pictures all season because I'm back on another diet, although as longtime AG.com readers unfortunately know by now that's highly unlikely to last until the All-Star break, let alone for 162 games. My (wildly unrealistic) goal is to lose more pounds than the Twins' win total. So far I'm really kicking their ass.

• I'd love to have overheard this conversation. I prefer to imagine they talked neck tattoos.

• Last but not least, thank you to everyone who stopped by here on a regular basis during the too-long offseason. My goal each winter is to find enough interesting stuff to write about that most of you keep showing up here, but I'm definitely ready to start talking about actual games again and look forward to my 10th season of blogging. Thanks for reading AG.com, thanks for following me on Twitter, and thanks for supporting my work at NBCSports.com and Rotoworld.

  • Carl

    This is always my favorite post of the year. Thank you Aaron.

  • TMW

    I think Gardy’s Hoey comment had more to do with the fact that his secondary pitches need development. If you only have heat you are going to get hit against major league hitters.

  • Adam

    The Twins ranking as the 12 most valuable franchise by Forbes in pretty remarkable, considering it was just a short decade ago that Bud Selig and Carl Pohlad were co-conspiring to wipe Minnesota off of the baseball map in the form of contraction.

  • http://www.mog.com/funoka funoka

    The jersey sales are pretty wild — when I went to a couple of games last year (I live in DC now), the number of M&M jerseys sported by kids and women had on floored me. A big contrast to the dark days of the mid to late 90s at the Dome.

  • Javer

    Also my favorite post of the year, every year. By the way I used to hate that frickin’ song, but ever since I started reading this blog I hear it in a whole new light. It’s playing in my head right now and I couldn’t be happier.
    Happy New Year, Aaron.

  • Eggs

    Love the Richie Havens video!

  • Jason

    so glad the season is starting…but dammit aaron, finish the top 40 twins of all time. i’m tired of reading 40-20 every offseason and never getting 20-1!

  • bclem

    so…no predictions this year?

  • Jake Depue

    Happy Opening Day!!!

  • http://fieldoftwins.blogspot.com/ Shane

    I definitely like that potential contract for Liriano. Too bad they didn’t get it done before the season.

    HAPPY OPENING DAY!

  • MacTheKnife

    Did anyone else read Reusse in the Trib today? 3rd in the central because we have players “past their prime”? Combine that article with the article mentioned in this post about how scouting is still the best way to find talent, and I truly believe Patrick has lost it. That’s also two articles in a row now that he mentions how baseball “used” to be. He needs to stop whining about how it was, and look at how it is. We live in a world where technology rules, and gives us better options when it comes to making decisions. He talks about how Tony O & Killer were injured in their 30′s, and then the Twins tanked. Sorry Pat, but back in the 70′s, guys didn’t work out the way they do now, and didn’t have the equipment & treatment options that players now take for granted. Get with the now!! Sorry for the rant everyone, just had to get it off my chest.

  • Zach Morris

    Haha I thought the same thing Mac. I generally enjoy the STRIB’s coverage of the Twins, but Reusse is losing it and his column’s are awful. It’s a shame because I used to enjoy him.

  • Leon

    Before I started reading, Aaron, my Opening Day theme song was “The Boys Are Back In Town.” I still like the Thin Lizzy, but your choice is definitely a quality one

    Happy New Year!