Archive for the ‘Soap Box’ Category

Will $10.5mil for Cuddyer buy Mauer?

11/08/2009

Michael Cuddyer

Yesterday the Twins Picked up Michael Cuddyer’s 2011 option for $10.5 million, inspiring expressions of joy from generally player-loyal and baseball-dim Twins fans, and head-scratching from the newsrooms of national media outlets.  Sure, Cuddyer had a career-high 32 HR in 2009, and showed that his career-best 2006 season (.284/24/109/41 2B/.867 OPS) was not necessarily the fluke it appeared to be — but even in today’s market it would seem picking up that pricey option a year in advance might be a little hasty.

As a long-time critic of the Twins’ obsession with the perennially underperforming (and locally overrated) Cuddyer, it would be expected that I would be critical of this signing, but a look back at recent Twins’ history will illustrate the potential value of this move.

Back in the winter of 2004, the Twins were coming off a heartbreaking playoff loss to the Yankees.  They had been riding high as the feel-good story of baseball — offered up for voluntary contraction by tight-fisted, miserly owner Carl Pohlad (then saved  by some fancy legal wrangling), the too-young-to-know-any-better Twins responded like the fictional Cleveland Indians of the movie Major League, rattling off division championships in 2002, 2003, and 2004.  But the exciting young nucleus (Torii Hunter, Jacques Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz, Korey Coskie, Christian Guzman, Luis Rivas, Johan Santana) were approaching their arbitration and/or contract years and big paydays.  The Twins had already jettisoned Matt Lawton and A.J. Pierzynski to save cash.  David Ortiz had been cast away and evolved into a baseball-crushing monster in Boston.  Up-and-coming local kid catcher Joe Mauer was viewed as a cheapskate, safe pick by the Twins who passed on fireballer Mark Prior and his contract demands in the 2001 draft.  The Pohlad family was showing disgust for the citizens of Minnesota for their reluctance to pass tax-dollar welfare onto his family to build a new stadium.  Some players were not-so-secretly beginning to doubt the organization’s long-term commitment to winning.  And to top it off, the contract of Twins top-of-the-order mainstay and league-coveted pitcher Brad Radke was up.  The Twins’ organization seemed to be poised to come apart at the seams.  Hell, it was a good run while it lasted, right?  How long can a “small-market” team like the Twins really expect to compete?

Poised for the worst, Twins fans got good news in early December, as the Twins re-signed Brad Radke to a 2-year, $18mil deal – probably overpaying him somewhat in the process.  And although the team failed to make the playoffs in 2005, the Radke signing had long-term significance to the team, demonstrating a competitive interest (on some level) from Ebenezer Pohlad.  The Twins, in turn, were able to retain the services of Hunter and Santana through the 2007 seasons, remain perennially in the thick of AL Central competition, and keep positions filled with key players during the development of Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer.  Paying a little too much for Radke effectively righted the Twins’ ship as it seemed to be headed straight for the rocks, and put down chatter of a mutiny among the crew.

The 2009 version of the Twins are not in quite the same troubled waters as their predecessors, but still face many tough personnel questions.  In particular, the extending of Joe Mauer past 2010, where he’ll be due to make in the ballpark of $20mil on the free-agent market, having emerged as probably the best catcher in all of baseball (if not of his generation).

The Twins finally move into their new outdoor ballpark in 2010 but, in spite of “If you build it, we will pay” promises, have disappointed fans with an ongoing reluctance to pay up for premier veteran talent – opting instead to go the Brett Boone/Livan Hernandez/Adam Everett route (low-cost, low-risk, expendable veterans).  In spite of this business-smart/entertainment-cheap management approach, the team foolishly threw a four-year fortune at closer Joe Nathan before the 2008 season, then let the rest of their bullpen and rotation fall into disarray by ignoring a couple of key injuries, assuming four low-velocity control pitchers could hold up a rotation, and pretending short-term successes like Francisco Liriano, Jesse Crain, and Juan Rincon were odds-on locks.

Having now addressed an obvious problem area by acquiring shortstop JJ Hardy from the Brewers (which simultaneously eased the OF logjam and freed up at-bats for potential phenom Delmon Young who began to show fans a bit of his upside with a monstrous late-season offensive campaign), and showing dedication to clubhouse chemistry by extending Cuddyer and Morneu, the Twins hope to be sending the right signals to Joe Mauer before the Yankees come calling.  Still unaddressed, however, are the seemingly inevitable losses of key stretch performers Carl Pavano (now officially a free agent) and Orlando Cabrera (apparently done as a Twin following the Hardy trade), as well as the 3B situation in light of Joe Crede’s doubtful return to Minnesota and a lack of an obvious frontrunner to fill the position.

Will possibly overpaying the streaky, inconsistent, and defensively mediocre (but hardworking and charismatic) Cuddyer do enough to entice Joe Mauer to stay in the Twin Cities (possibly at a hometown discount)?  Does it buy time for the Twins to get their apparent wealth of minor league OF (Aaron Hicks, Ben Revere, Chris Parmelee) talent ready for the bigs?  Or is it just another case of the Twins’ braintrust trying to not look cheap to the fans by foolishly spending on local name-recognition rather than more-expensive value or less immediately recognizable talent?

One thing is for sure, if the Twins fail to contend and lose Mauer after the 2010 season, public outcry over stadium taxes will be the least of their PR concerns…

Go-Go, We Hardy Knew Ye…

11/06/2009

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It’s official, the Twinkees have addressed their outfield logjam and their shortstop vacancy by trading sometimes fan-favorite CF Carlos Gomez to the Brewers for SS JJ Hardy.  This, for the time being, closes the book on the Twins’ highly criticized trade of Johan Santana to the Mets, for which they received Gomez and pitchers Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and Deolis Guerra.  Humber was released by the team early last year*, and Mulvey was claimed by the Diamondbacks on waivers later in the season.  Still only 20 years old, Guerra is now the only player from the Santana trade still in the Twins’ system, ending the 2009 season at AA New Britain with moderate success.

The Twins receive former All-Star Hardy in the deal, ending any speculation that they will resign late-season rental shortstop Orlando Cabrera.  In Hardy’s two best seasons he produced in the .280BA/25HR/80RBI range, but struggled last season – hitting only .229/11/47 and spending some time back at AAA.

If Hardy can find his 2007/2008 stroke, the Twins will have acquired a nice right-handed bat to compliment Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel as well as a solid defensive shortstop as they open their new outdoor stadium 2010.  The lefty-heavy Twins are perennially in search of a righty stick with Hardy’s upside, and the pairing seems to be a great fit.  Hardy is due for a pay raise this season through arbitration that should push his salary into the $6mil range.  The pre-arbitration Gomez made less than $500k last season.

In Carlos Gomez, the Brewers receive a lot of raw potential in an exciting and notoriously reckless package.  Gomez brings blazing speed, a good glove, and a flash of power-potential to Milwaukee but has often shown poor baseball instincts and judgment in his two seasons as a Twin.  Not yet 25, he has spent a good share of time in Manager Ron Gardenhire’s doghouse for aloof, over-aggressive, and often boneheaded play – never managing to crack the lineup as a full-time starter.

*Correction: Philip Humber was designated for assignment by the Twins in April, but remained in the Twins’ system at AAA Rochester.

God-Damn Yankees…

11/05/2009

Nation’s Nine-Year Vacation From Yankees Ruined by New York Yankees World Series Victory.

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A collective sigh and the sound of millions of televisions being turned off simultaneously filled the air last night from the Atlantic Seaboard to the Pacific Coast as Phillies’ Outfielder Shane Victorino bounced out weakly to Yankees’ First-Baseman Mark Texeira to produce the final out of the 27th World Series to be not won by a team not called the “Yankees.”

Although emotions ran high inside George Steinbrenner’s new $1.5billion full-scale replica of Yankee Stadium (and in the dingy apartments and parents’ basements of many baggy-panted young men with sideways, oversized ballcaps bearing the famous “NY” logo pulled down over their ears), most Americans greeted the anti-climatic event with disinterest and even nausea.

Somehow getting contributions from their $13,000,000 Japanese-born slugger Hideki Matsui; their $33,000,000 pet third-baseman Alex Rodriguez; $20,000,000 first-base purchase Mark Texeira; $15,000,000 man-mountain C.C. Sabathia; $13,000,000 defensive liability Johnny Damon, $16,500,000 weak-link A.J. Burnett; $21,600,000 pretty face Derek Jeter; $13,000,000 part-time catcher Jorge Posada; and $15,000,000 leather-faced closer Mariano Rivera, the Yankees were able to overcome the Twins, Angels and finally the Philadelphia Phillies to once again annoy the shit out of the rest of the country.  While wingnut Christian Andy Pettite pledged a trip to Disney World following the victory, Rodriguez and Jeter made immediate plans to find new celebrity girlfriends in the offseason.

5 Live Albums Actually Worth Listening To

10/16/2009

Live albums are typically the low points of any given band’s discography.  Generally thrown together by a record company as a cheap money maker, or used to fulfill a contractual product release obligation, these records usually get a couple of half-hearted listens and then disappear into the far reaches of the unlucky owner’s music collection to rarely see the light of day.  Almost always painfully boring (see Jay Farrar‘s Stone, Steel, and Bright Lights), and cheaply designed (again, Stone, Steel, and Bright Lights), wise music fans are generally best to steer clear of these albums.  There are, however, a few rare, shining moments in the history of recorded music where the live album has been a purposeful and effective vessel for showcasing the work of fine musicians.  Here are five of my favorite examples:

5. Magnolia Electric Company: Trials and Errors (2005)

In 2003, singer-songwriter Jason Molina dropped his long-time recording moniker Songs:Ohia, electing to relaunch his musical franchise as the Crazy Horse influenced Magnolia Electric Company.  In a ballsy move by Molina, the band’s first official release (not to be confused with the 2003 Songs:Ohia finale entitled Magnolia Electric Company) was recorded live in Belgium while Molina and his band still toured under the “Ohia” handle (Confused yet?).  Complicated naming transitions aside, Trials and Errors is not only a well-recorded, very listenable documentation of rock-solid rock concert, but an exciting and radical creative departure from traditionally sour-mooded recordings of Jason Molina.  From the first fuzzy notes of the album’s intro “The Dark Don’t Hide It,” through to the driving conclusion “The Big Beast,” the pairing of Molina’s gloomy imagery with his newfound Americana-via-Neil-Young arrangements is a fine nod to the sweet sounds of the past and a showcase for forward-thinking originality.

4. Boogie Down Productions: Live Hardcore Worldwide (1991)

Always ready to call out wack MCs while boasting of his own skills, Boogie Down Productions frontman KRS-One used 1991’s Live Hardcore Worldwide as an opportunity to put his mic where his mouth was.  Compiled from live recordings in New York City, Paris, and London, Live Hardcore Worldwide was KRS’ vehicle to defy live hip-hop’s often well-deserved reputation for being little more than an underwhelming forum for musically ungifted hacks, dependent on invisible studio engineers to sculpt their sounds from behind the scenes.  After sharply criticizing live rap performances on prior studio recordings (“They want dancers, they want lighting / They want effects to make them look exciting / But its frightening, cause without that /The whole crew, is whick whick whack”), BDP set out to show the world what a hip-hop show could and should be.  Spanning almost 64 minutes in 24 tracks, Live Hardcore Worldwide includes on-stage renditions of BDP staples like “Criminal Minded,” “My Philosophy,” and “South Bronx,” while also showcasing KRS’ freestyle showmanship and a handful of previously unrecorded material.  Almost 20 years later this recording is virtually unrivaled in its genre.

3. Townes Van Zandt: Live at The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (1977)

Perhaps even more enigmatic in his abbreviated life than in death, Townes Van Zandt was a standalone as a flesh-and-blood embodiment of his own tortured artistry.  This 1977 Tomato release pulled from Van Zandt’s 1973 performances at Houston’s tiny Old Quarter put Townes’ captivating persona on display in a way that his often too “clean” studio albums fail to capture.  Since his unexpected (but hardly unforeseeable) death on the first day of 1997, dozens of live Van Zandt recordings and bootlegs have surfaced but Live at The Old Quarter is definitely the gold standard.  Painful, funny, sad, moving, enlightening… this is Townes’ Van Zandt in his purest form.

2. MC5: Kick Out The Jams (1969)

I don’t care what anyone tells you, Motor City is the birthplace of punk rock and the MC5‘s 1969 masterpiece (along with The Stooges 1969 self-titled debut) are the infant movement’s first cries of life.  6 years before the Ramones formed in Queens, the MC5 harnessed the unresolved angst of the 1967 Detroit Riot to create a never-before-heard sound that would become the blueprint for the punk noise of the 1970s.  Having already built a reputation with their dizzying performances (in support of basically no recorded material), the MC5 and Elektra records chose to bypass a studio session and use this live recording as the band’s record store debut.  Rowdy, bluesy, political, aggressive, forceful… Kick Out the Jams did more for music in 40 minutes than the Sex Pistols did in three years.

That being said, “Kick out the Jams, Motherfucker!

1. Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison (1968)

Do I even need to say anything about this record?  An absolute masterpiece.  The crown jewel of Johnny Cash’s brilliant career.  Perfect.

RIP Ted Kennedy.

08/26/2009

Dumb-O-Crats:  Get off your asses and pass Real Health Care Reform NOW!