November 2009

One Final Award

Mauer MVP.pngFor the first month of the season fans anxiously awaited the arrival of the hometown catcher while backups Jose Morales and Mike Redmond held down the fort. An injury and a late start weren’t enough to hold Joe Mauer back in 2009 however, and as November comes to a close the All-Star catcher has accomplished things that may never be accomplished again.
Some of the best catchers in baseball eternity never did the things that Joe Mauer did over the course of the past six months. Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench were two of the greatest catchers of all time, yet neither did some of the things Mauer did in his sixth major league season.
Mauer became the first player since 1980 and the first catcher ever to lead the league in batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage, his .365 average is now the best by a catcher in baseball history, and his third batting title matches the total of all catchers to ever play the game combined. 
Despite doing things nobody has ever done, Mauer had yet to win the Most Valuable Player award until now. He becomes the tenth catcher to win the award, joining the likes of Berra, Bench, Ivan Rodriguez and others.
The MVP award caps off an eventful early off-season for Mauer, who had already won the American League Batting Title, the American League Silver Slugger, the American League Gold Glove, and the American League Outstanding Player award.
Mauer’s off-season will now fully begin with the awards all handed out, but his schedule isn’t likely to slow down. The rising star has already been in Chicago on behalf of Gatorade this month and his contract, which expires after next season, will be a hot topic as winter moves forward. 

MVP: ESPN Picks Mauer

The American League Most Valuable Player will be announced on Monday afternoon, and if the 22 baseball personalities at ESPN are any indication of the actual voting, Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer will become the fifth player in franchise history to walk away with the award.

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Mauer has already been awarded the American League Batting Title, the American League Gold Glove, the American League Silver Slugger, and the American League Players Choice Award for Outstanding Player.
By Monday night he just might cap off his historic year with one more piece of hardware. 

Free Agency Underway

It’s a time of the year to guess, predict and hope, and after 15 days of an exclusive negotiating period, free agency has finally begun. The Minnesota Twins may have crossed one position off their list, but in the coming months they’ll be faced with several more decisions. 

The infield is partially settled with Justin Morneau and J.J. Hardy, but to their sides holes remain. After watching Joe Crede and a platoon of others play at third last season and after seeing Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert and several others man second, both positions are now empty.
Meanwhile the rotation is unsettled with two spots open for the team to fill with in-house competition, trade or free agency. While Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn will fill three of the five spots, the remaining options outside of Brian Duensing were injured or underperformed in 2009.
Team President Dave St. Peter recently said the team would like to move from being a low-market team funded partially by Major League Baseball to a mid-market team receiving no additional funds. Such a change would push their payroll up, and estimates seem to place it around $90 million.
With the current roster, and arbitration and other raises included, the Twins will have an estimated $80-$83 million invested before making another move. Putting everything together, the Twins have about three holes and $7-$10 million to fill them.
So, what should they do?
Fans and others will guess, but ultimately what the front office does is unpredictable. With options available within the organization at each open position, the Twins have several ways to go about spending their funds and putting together a roster for the inaugural season at Target Field.
In the rotation the Twins could settle with Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing as options outside of their three current locks. Their other option is to pursue three free agents they reportedly like: Jarrod Washburn, Carl Pavano and Rich Harden. 
In the infield the Twins could go with their rising third base prospect Danny Valencia to fill the left side and Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert or Alexi Casilla at second. Another option is to sign a player like Felipe Lopez to play second or Adrian Beltre, Mark DeRosa, Joe Crede or Pedro Feliz to play third.
The off-season is a time to dream of the big moves, but it too is very unpredictable. What the Twins will do remains uncertain, but the best bet is a combination of mid-level free agent signings and in-house alternatives. 

A New Identity

Span:Baker.pngThe roster and ballpark won’t be the only things changing in Minnesota for next season, the identity and wardrobe will be new as well. The Twins have announced new logos, patches and uniforms that the club is set to begin wearing for the 2010 season. 

While the home jersey will be nearly identical to previous seasons with the exception of the updated “Twins” wordmark, new road and throwback jerseys will be found in the lockers next spring.
The new solid grey road uniform no longer has pinstripes, and now contains a “Minnesota” script last featured on player jackets from 1961-1968. Meanwhile, the club has moved to a new throwback uniform that will be worn on Opening Day and each Saturday home game. 
After wearing a white throwback last season for Saturday home games, the team will wear a new beige colored jersey similar to the wool version worn during the organization’s first season in Minneapolis back in 1961.
New jerseys aren’t the end to the altered identity for the Minnesota Twins. The club has updated their wordmark and logos and unveiled patches to commemorate the Inaugural Season at Target Field and the franchise’s 50th Season in Minneapolis. 
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While the updated wordmark is simply redefined with sharper lettering, the logo has been further altered. The new primary logo now includes the words “Minnesota Twins Baseball Club”, and the stitches on the baseball have been readjusted. 
Patches.pngThe Inaugural Season logo will be found on commemorative baseballs, bases, the team’s home uniform and hats for the entire 2010 season. Meanwhile, the 50th Season logo will be worn on the road and home throwback jerseys.
After 28 seasons of indoor baseball, the Minnesota Twins will finally find themselves under the sun next season, and they’ll step out onto the grass with a new brand and uniforms.

Off-Season Outlook: Review

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Less than two days into the official off-season, and before there was any time to look at the team’s options, the Minnesota Twins made a move. With the acquisition of shortstop J.J. Hardy from Milwaukee, the team set the tone for what could be a busy off-season in Minneapolis. 
The trade for Hardy did many things: it took the number of infield question marks from three to two, it cleared up an outfield logjam, and it created an opening for a fourth outfielder.
Second base and third base remain open, the bench remains unsettled, and the rotation has openings too. So while the Twins put a dent in their to-do list, more is expected in the next three-plus months. 
Infield 
With Hardy at short and Morneau at first, the Twins have half of their infield set for the 2010 season. Recent comments by management suggest Punto will too be part of the equation, either as the second or third basemen.

If Punto is indeed already penciled in to start to the left or right of Hardy, the Twins will need to fill the one remaining void via trade or free agency. 

At second base, a good option seems to be Placido Polanco. The veteran doesn’t strikeout much, plays a good second base, and hit 10 homeruns and drove in more than 70 runners last season. 
If third base is the void, Adrian Beltre has drawn interest from the team in recent seasons and recently qualified as a Type-B free agent, meaning the Twins wouldn’t lose a draft pick. 

Bench 
The bench has questions, but most, if not all of them, will be solved within the organization. There are likely to be four bench spots; one catcher, two infielders, and one outfielder. 
A starting lineup with Punto would leave Brendan Harris, Matt Tolbert and Alexi Casilla as the three strongest candidates for two backup infield spots. Jason Pridie would be the leader to back up Delmon Young, Denard Span, and Michael Cuddyer, but a veteran leader and powerful hitter might help. The final bench spot, for Joe Mauer’s backup, is likely to be Jose Morales if the team moves forward without Mike Redmond. 
Starting Rotation
If the team so chooses, the 2010 starting rotation could be filled completely in-house. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn seem to be locks, leaving two spots unfilled. 
One or both of the spots could be filled with a combination of left-handed starters Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins or Brian Duensing. The Twins could use one or none of those options and fill the remaining openings via free agency. 
Jarrod Washburn is a player the Twins have watched for the past few seasons, and the team reportedly claimed Rich Harden off waivers this past season. Meanwhile, a low-risk signing of Ben Sheets could pay big dividends, and the team is interested in re-signing Carl Pavano.
Bullpen 
The rest of the pitching staff, which will likely consistent of twelve spots, will almost certainly be filled with current players. Joe Nathan, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Jose Mijares all seem to be locks, leaving three spots open for competition. 
Among the competitors are Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek and Boof Bonser. A few starters may be in the mix with Liriano, Perkins and Duensing possibly moving out of the starting role. 
Free agency is just days away and the Twins will undoubtedly be in the mix for infielders and starting pitchers. With the payroll likely to see and increase, the wait is on to see just how active the team will be.

The 2010 Payroll

The Minnesota Twins still have questions remaining after their trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. While shortstop has been solved, second base, third base, and the rotation have not been. 

As the off-season starts to get underway with arbitration offers, free agency and front office meetings, the Twins will have some payroll flexibility. Most teams, including the Twins, don’t publicize their plans for payroll. With that said, reports indicate that the team’s 2010 payroll could jump somewhere around $90 million.
While the jump would be nearly $25 million more than the team ended with in 2009, it is smaller than it seems. Players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Scott Baker are moving further into contracts and being awarded more guaranteed money. In addition, nine players will receive raises via arbitration.
With the raises and arbitration estimates based on various reports and opinions, the team’s payroll may be very close to the following before any signing or other trade occurs.
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The total of $78.55 million may be a little low if the players gain more than the shown estimates through arbitration, and it could be lower if any of the nine players are non-tendered (not offered a contract).
When all is said and done, it seems as though the team’s payroll will climb more than $10 million just with arbitration and players advancing in current contracts. If reports of a $90 million payroll are correct, the Twins will have around $12 million or so to help bring in a starting pitcher and potentially fix second base, third base, or both.
* In bold are rough estimates of contracts after arbitration.

Hello Hardy, Goodbye Gomez

It didn’t take long for the off-season to get started for the Minnesota Twins. Less than two days after the conclusion of the World Series, the team put a dent in their to-do list with a trade. 

With the infield filled with uncertainty outside of first base and Justin Morneau, it came as no surprise that the team’s first area of action was shortstop. In possibly the first of many off-season moves, the Twins sent Carlos Gomez up I-94 to Milwaukee and brought in 27-year old shortstop J.J. Hardy. 
Gomez had arrived in Minnesota two seasons ago when the Twins sent Johan Santana to New York in exchange for four players. A speedy outfielder, Gomez showed signs of promise, but upon his departure, his skills at the plate remained a question. 
Hardy meanwhile put up great numbers in 2007 to help earn a spot on the National League All-Star team. The numbers were matched again in 2008, but Hardy never rebounded from a slow start in 2009 and saw one of baseball’s top shortstop prospects, Alcides Escobar, take his spot. 
Since the 2005 season, Minnesota Twins’ shortstops have hit a combined .253 with 31 homeruns, and 287 runs batted in over the course of five seasons and 810 games. In that same span, Hardy has hit .262 with 75 homeruns and 265 RBI in 571 total games. 
Not only will the Twins potentially add power to the lineup, they’ll also add defense to the infield. Considered one of baseball’s best shortstop defenders, Hardy made eight errors last season giving him a .983 fielding percentage. 
While Milwaukee adds a replacement for Mike Cameron, the Minnesota Twins have answered two questions. Come spring, there will be no questions regarding the state of the outfield; Delmon Young, Denard Span, and Michael Cuddyer will start. 
Meanwhile, a position filled with uncertainty since Christian Guzman manned the spot in 2004 will now become more stable. Hardy is under the team’s control through 2011, and if he can rebound from a tough season, his tenure could last longer. 
Second base and third base remain as two of many questions, but quickly into the off-season, the Twins have already addressed one of their biggest holes.

Off-Season Outlook: Bench

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While sometimes an unnoticeable section of the roster, the bench played an important part in the Minnesota Twins’ success during the 2009 campaign. Without Alexi Casilla’s hit and Carlos Gomez’s run in the division tiebreaker, the team would have saw no division title and no playoffs. 
There will be plenty of options to fill what will likely be four bench spots for the 2010 season. Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert will still be under contract next season, and Brendan Harris will be too if the Twins choose to offer him arbitration. With only two spots open for infielders, one player may be left out unless one of the three gains a starting role. 
The fourth outfielder, which seemed to be Carlos Gomez down the stretch, will take one of the four spots and likely be the guy to provide rest on a regular basis for the other three outfielders. 
Despite options, two big questions remain as the off-season begins. Mike Redmond has been a key veteran presence for the team since his arrival, but after several seasons in Minneapolis, his contract has expired. The Twins have catcher Jose Morales ready to be Joe Mauer’s backup, and another young catcher, Wilson Ramos, is on the way. 
Aside from deciding whether to thank Redmond and move on with a younger group or bring the veteran back for one more season, the Twins have one weakness in the bench.

In recent seasons Rondell White, Craig Monroe, Ruben Sierra and others have become the power hitters off the bench. With two middle infielders and a small power outfielder on the bench so far, the Twins may be looking toward free agency for a player to provide some pop at Target Field.

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