October 28, 2002

Missing baseball already

Every year for baseball fans the time between the last out of the World Series and the time pitchers and catchers report for spring training seems like an eternity.

Sure, there might be a lot of free agent signings to read about during the off-season, the occasional trade to get you excited and lots of talk about “next year,” but in those long months between the last out of one season and the first out of the next, baseball fans go through some serious withdrawal.

Well, baseball fans, your baseball fix is just a plane ride away. There is baseball being played as you read this. Good baseball, competitive baseball. In nice stadiums, in great weather, with great players.

Let me introduce you to the Arizona Fall League. Every year, each team in baseball selects a handful of their top, young prospects and sends them to Arizona to compete with the best young talent baseball has to offer in a short “fall season.”

For two wonderful months these prospects battle it out, not for money or exposure (the pay is very small and the crowds are even smaller), but for the love of the game and to continue their quest to be big leaguers.

My uncle and I took the trip to Arizona in the fall of 2000.

We left the cold weather of Minnesota for the phenomenal ("dry heat" and bugless) Arizona weather.

We rented a convertible and spent a week traveling to the various ballparks all over Arizona.

We went swimming outdoors in November (which to someone from Minnesota sounds somewhat like the opposite of hell freezing over).

We ate philly cheese steaks from Greasy Tony’s every single day.

And above all, we saw baseball in the middle of November!

We saw Albert Pujols a few months before he began his rookie-of-the-year season.

We sat next to Detroit farmhand Matt Miller’s grandparents while he was on the mound and discussed his struggles through the minor leagues.

We listened as Phillies prospect Nick Punto and various teammates stood on the top step of the dugout and discussed the many attractive females in the stands.

We saw then St. Louis minor league speedster Esix Snead struggle to hit grounders past the pitcher's mound and then sprint to first base like an Olympic track champion, causing both of us to simulataneously say something along the lines of “He's trying to steal first base!”

We sat in crowds of less than a thousand people and watched the futures of major league teams.

We came away impressed with two players: Joaquin Benoit (then a 22 year old minor leaguer with Texas) and Lee Marshall (then a 23 year old in the Twins system).

Benoit has since made it to the big leagues, totaling 90 innings for the Texas Rangers in 2001 and 2002 with a 5.32 ERA. He appears to have a good shot of making their opening day rotation for 2003.

Marshall pitched 78 innings for the Rochester RedWings (Triple-A) in 2002, going 4-6 with a 4.85 ERA.

We may not have a future as scouts, but we sure did have a lot of fun.

If you have a chance to experience the Arizona Fall League, do it.

It is one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.

I would go this year, but, well, I don’t have any money and my uncle hasn’t offered to take me, plus I do have be at “school” in November.

The AFL lasts until November 23rd this year, so get those tickets and get out there.

And while you are out there, tell Greasy Tony I said hello.

Past participants in the AFL include current major league stars like Jason Giambi, Mike Piazza, Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Pat Burrell, Eric Chavez, Nomar Garciparra, Brian Giles, Roy Halladay, Derek Lowe, Mark Mulder and (the aforementioned) Albert Pujols.

Current World Champions like Troy Percival, Garret Anderson, David Eckstein, Brad Fullmer and Adam Kennedy.

And current Minnesota Twins like Michael Cuddyer, Bobby Kielty, Corey Koskie, Doug Mientkiewicz, Matthew LeCroy, Kyle Lohse, Latroy Hawkins, Denny Hocking, Torii Hunter, A.J. Pierzynski.

A quick Twins note...

The Twins announced a few transactions today.

They picked up the $3 million dollar option for Latroy Hawkins in 2003 and they also picked up the 2003 option on backup catcher Tom Prince.

Bob Wells' option was not picked up and he was given a $250,000 buyout instead.

The Twins also declined Denny Hocking's $1.5 million dollar option for next season.

If you read my 2-part article on the Twins over at Baseball Primer, you know that I suggested they not pick up Hawkins' option.

Here is what I said:

$3 million for a guy coming off of a season with a 3.39 ERA in 80 relief innings is certainly a reasonable price. But, this isn’t just any reliever, this is a guy with a career ERA of 5.38 and a total of 2 seasons out of 8 with an ERA under 5.00. Not to mention, the Twins aren’t the type of team that can be paying $3 million dollars to very many relief pitchers.

I have no doubt that there are many teams in baseball that would jump at the chance to pay Hawkins $3 million in 2003 and probably a lot more for several years. I just don’t think the Twins should be that team. They need to conserve payroll and a good place to start would be by declining his option.

The $3 million could be better spent on paying the salary increases from the various arbitration eligible players, instead of a reliever with a horrible track record and a 50/50 shot of being completely useless.

I still think they would be better off not paying Hawkins $3 million dollars in 2003, at least assuming their payroll isn't suddenly going to go up.

That said, Denny Hocking's option was apparently a "mutual" one and by declining Hocking's option, the Twins gave Hocking a choice of whether or not he will pick up his half of the option.

If he declines, the Twins would be off the hook for about $1.5 million in 2003, which is half of what they will pay Hawkins.

So, when you think of it that way...

I would definitely rather pay Hawkins $3 million than Hocking $1.5 million.

Having Tom Prince back for 2003 is the safe move, I guess.

I would have let him go and given the job of Pierzynski's caddy to Matthew LeCroy.

It is certainly not a horrible move and it isn't like Prince is going to cost them very much.

Cutting Wells loose is a no-brainer.

He hasn't been effective in a couple of years and he isn't worth more than the minimum salary.

I also read that Mike Jackson, who is a free agent, is not expected back with the Twins.

I think this is a good move.

They got exactly what they wanted out of Jackson, a cheap, relatively effective, one year filler for the bullpen.

Odds are they can find the same type of player for 2003 and if they can't, they have several options within the minor league system (one guy I really like is Grant Balfour).

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