Archive for the ‘Sports Noises’ Category

Will $10.5mil for Cuddyer buy Mauer?


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…



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…


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


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.