July 14, 2004

Reader Mail (Twins Talk Edition)

Last week, after printing a crazy e-mail I got from a lunatic reader, I promised to make an effort to respond to a larger percentage of the e-mails I receive. Since then, I've definitely answered more e-mails than usual, although that seems to have spurred a few of you on to drop me a new e-mail every few hours.

Still, I'm working on getting better about e-mails, so hopefully those of you who have sent me something in the last week and not heard back will cut me a little slack. To further clear out my mailbox, and to quasi-respond to some frequent e-mail topics, I'd like to do an All-Twins version of "Reader Mail" today.

Enjoy ...

Regarding The Official Pitcher of Aaron's Baseball Blog, Brian writes:

How in the world did a Hispanic guy from Venezuela, with the last name Santana, get the Scandinavian first name Johan? Was he adopted as a baby or something?

This is something I've wondered about in the past, too. Sadly, I don't have a real answer to give you. I think the unlikely pairing of "Johan" and "Santana" for a pitcher from Venezuela is similar to the pairing of "Vladimir" and "Guerrero" for an outfielder from the Dominican Republic.

If anyone has an answer for this, I'd love to hear it. Or are Johan and Vladimir more common names in those places than I imagined?

Last week, after the Twins got three straight complete game shutouts against the Royals, I wrote: "Just total domination, although it did sort of having that Danny Almonte in Little League feeling, in that the Royals had a makeshift lineup and aren't all that good to begin with. I mean, Kansas City started Damian Jackson as their DH in last night's game."

To which Matt responds:

What's worse? Damian Jackson at DH or Jose Offerman at DH? At least the Royals are a non-contending team. The Twins, contenders, are starting Awfulman at DH on a semi-regular basis. Where's Morneau? What a joke. The only theory that makes any sense is that the Twins can delay Morneau's arbitration clock by a full season if they wait until late this season to bring him up. There are two problems with this: 1. We need Morneau now. 2. Morneau will play in the Olympics if he doesn't get called up soon.

I'm sure Jose Offerman was dubbed Jose "Awfulman" by Dodgers, Royals, Red Sox and Mariners fans long before he even got to Minnesota, but I'm loving the nickname. It's both perfect and subtle. In print, typing Offerman as something like "OffEEEEEEEErman" is solid too, but it a) doesn't work in actual conversation and b) he has barely played defense this year.

Certainly it is worse for a first-place team with one of the best offensive prospects in baseball tearing up Triple-A to start someone like Awfulman at DH than it is for the Royals, languishing in last-place with a roster that is torn apart by trades and injuries, to start Damian Jackson. Still, on the most basic level, which is how bad it makes an offense look on a given day, Damian Jackson playing DH and batting ninth is about as bad as it gets.

The whole Offerman situation is maddening. I thought it was a bad idea when they signed him, but the talk at the time was that he would serve as strictly a pinch-hitter, which would limit the amount of damage he could do. But then the Twins had some injuries and Offerman started playing regularly and had a nice April, which basically guaranteed him plenty of playing time for the rest of the season.

Since that first month, he hasn't hit at all, batting .169 with a 231 slugging percentage in 65 at-bats. The really strange thing is that it was looking for a while like Ron Gardenhire was finally getting the idea that Offerman stinks. After getting 55 at-bats in April, he got 32 at-bats in May and then just 20 at-bats in June. But then something happened and Offerman started getting starts again.

He started four of the Twins' final six games heading into the All-Star break, DHing in all four games while going 3-for-12 (.250) with zero extra-base hits. To be honest, I have no clue what spurred this sudden need to start Offerman on. He had started just one game in the month before he suddenly began to get put in the lineup and there were no new injuries that could have pushed him into a bigger role.

My take on the Morneau situation is not a unique one. As I've been saying for at least two months, he's ready to play right now and the Twins' offense could certainly use him. I think it is a mistake to let him hit 40 homers at Triple-A, while Minnesota's 1B/DH combo is one of the worst in the league.

However, all this time I've been worried that the Twins would simply keep Morneau in the minors too long, when what I really should have been worried about is that they'll trade him. The team -- from Ron Gardenhire and his coaching staff to Terry Ryan, the GM -- has been very critical of Morneau this year, bashing him for his defense at first base (nothing new) and, amazingly, for his approach at the plate. There were actual quotes from people in the Twins organization saying they didn't like that Morneau was "swinging for the fences."

I suspect there's a reason why the Twins haven't had someone hit 30 homers in a season since 1987, while most other teams have 30-homer guys on a regular basis. For whatever reason they seem to value guys who slap the ball around the park and hit doubles. That's a defensible stance to take, but it also wouldn't hurt to have one or two power threats in the lineup. Right now, the Twins rank 7th in the AL in homers and Jacque Jones leads the team with 14.

There are rumors floating around that the Twins are looking into acquiring a starting pitcher like Kris Benson or Miguel Batista, and it scares me to no end to imagine Justin Morneau's name being brought up in these trade negotiations.

If you want to trade someone like Michael Restovich or even Jacque Jones for a pitcher like Batista or Benson, that's fine with me. But to even think about trading someone as talented as Morneau for a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher is insane. I'm just praying that Terry Ryan feels the same way I do.

From Tom:

Is there any update on when Jesse Crain will be coming up to the Twins? Is he still seen as the most dominating pitcher in the minor leagues, which was a tag he had last year? If so, is the Twins front office willing to entertain offers for Joe Nathan in the offseason and go with a rookie/sophomore as the closer in 2005?

There were some rumblings earlier this month about calling Crain up to help out in the bullpen for the second-half, but those seem to have died down a bit. As I said earlier this week, I am highly in favor of them calling Crain up immediately.

He is definitely still dominating at Triple-A, going 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA and 17 saves thus far. Crain has 55 strikeouts in 42.2 innings (11.6/9), has walked just 13 batters, and is holding opponents to a .226 batting average.

As for trading Joe Nathan and making Crain the closer, I think that's unlikely. Nathan has been fantastic for the Twins and he'll still be relatively cheap next year. I'd be shocked if the Twins went with Crain as the closer in 2005, particularly since they haven't been willing to let him even pitch in the majors yet. Still, a right-handed foursome of Nathan, Juan Rincon, Grant Balfour and Crain could be very dominant.

A reader named Joseph saw Crain in person a few times recently and had this report:

Crain's fastball and slider are the real deal. His slider is the best pitch I've seen all year in the minors (I've seen about 20 games in 15 or so different parks) but he also has been throwing a curveball that is frankly an awful pitch and needs to be scrapped before he goes to MLB. A short reliever only needs two pitches anyways.

Here's an e-mail about a trade rumor that has been swirling around lately:

From a Seattle fan to you ... any info in your neck of the woods on whether or not the rumors that are circulating in Tacoma are true? We're hearing that RHP Gil Meche was traded for the Twins' Cuddyer?

I've gotten a ton of e-mails about this over the last few days, but I don't really have any solid information to give. That seems like a trade that could possibly be made (although I don't like it from the Twins' side), but I haven't seen it reported anywhere except message boards.

I still think Cuddyer can become a very good hitter, and if the Twins are going to let Corey Koskie go after this season I'd like to see them give Cuddyer a shot at the third base gig, but I get the feeling that the Twins are tired of waiting for him to hit. It's a real shame, since he's still never been given a real chance to play every day for even a month.

Meche seems like the type of guy Terry Ryan likes ... still pretty young, some major league experience under his belt, good stuff but some struggles. Not totally unlike Carlos Silva, I guess. Still, not a trade I like at all as a Twins fan.

I watched the All-Star game from start to finish last night, while chatting it up with my fellow Hardball Times writers. We had a lot of fun chatting and I pieced together an edited transcript for your reading pleasure. Go check it out ...

The Hardball Times: THT Chats: All-Star Game

Today's picks:

No Games Scheduled

Total to date: -$2,975

W/L record: 121-164

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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