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Countdown to Spring Training: 10 Players Who Will Show Up to Camp in Best Shape

The countdown to Spring Training has begun with pitchers and catchers set to report for some teams in less than a month. It was a busy offseason in the baseball world with a ton of big names moving teams.

Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee and Jayson Werth were three of the top free agents on the market over the winter who found a new home. Now that most free agents have found a team the focus will shift to Spring Training.

As baseball is about to get underway, it’s always a good time to start rolling out some predictions. But since we haven’t even reached Spring Training yet, this set of predictions won’t have anything to do with who will win what or which teams are World Series contenders; we’ll save that for another date.

Instead, here’s a look at 10 players who will show up to camp in the best shape of their lives.

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Jim Thome: What Role Will the Minnesota Twins Slugger Have in His 21st Season?

Jim Thome came to an agreement to return to the Minnesota Twins for another season, Friday. The slugger agreed to a one-year, $3 million contract which is double what he made in his first season with Minnesota.

Thome played a vital role last year with the Twins and was thrust into a starting role because of a season-ending injury to Justin Morneau. Originally, Thome was brought to the Twin Cities to be a left-handed pinch hitter off the bench, and to have spot duty as the team’s designated hitter.

Instead, Thome ended up being a a key contributor to the Twins throughout the season and made the most out of the increased playing time. Thome hit a staggering 25 home runs in just 276 plate appearances, drove in 59 runs and hit a respectable .283, the highest batting average he’s finished with since 2006.

The 40-year-old was simply terrific last season, but with Morneau set to return from a concussion where does Thome fit with this year’s club? That’s an interesting question, to say the least.

When Morneau went down it forced a domino effect on the starting lineup. Starting right fielder Michael Cuddyer took Morneau’s spot at first while DH Jason Kubel moved out to RF, leaving Thome the DH spot. The problem with getting Thome significant at-bats is Kubel.

Kubel is also a left-hander, who has power and is best suited for the DH role. Last season, Kubel finished with 21 home runs, a .249 batting average and 92 RBI. The Twins are high on Kubel even though he hit seven fewer home runs and his average dropped .51 points from two seasons ago.

It’s never a bad problem to have two left-handed power hitters that you can always rely on in the DH spot, but it does cause Ron Gardenhire to make a tough choice every night. With the Twins’ roster as is, Thome’s role isn’t set in stone; all the Twins knew is that they had to have the guy back, so they brought him back. Even if that meant overpaying for his services a little bit.

There are also some other things that need to be taken into consideration when looking at Thome’s role. For one, last season he stayed relatively healthy minus some back troubles towards the end of the season, will he be able to do it again? Secondly, there’s just no way he replicates last year’s production. Finally, he’s just 11 home runs shy of 600.

So while Thome has an aging body working against him and Kubel—a younger, similar player fighting for at bats—he’s going to get enough opportunities to reach the milestone 600 home runs.  

Thome wasn’t just brought back to contribute on the field, either. The veteran is a fan favorite and a clubhouse leader who the younger players look up to. How great would it be to go to the ballpark every day and get tips from one of the greatest sluggers of all time?

When last season ended and Thome announced his intentions of playing another season it was widely believed he would return to the Twins. After some flirtation with the Texas Rangers, he ultimately turned down a more lucrative offer to remain in Minnesota.

It’s a good fit for both sides as Thome looks to join the 600 club. This will likely be the slugger’s last season and when he leaves the game, he will certainly be missed. For Twins fans, they’ll have the luxury of knowing that they’ll get to see more massive homers and possibly a piece of history, too.

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MLB Power Rankings: 5 Teams Whose Offseasons Are Essentially Complete

There were a number of big-time moves made this offseason that will affect the baseball landscape going forward. The Boston Red Sox were very aggressive through free agency in their pursuit to try and get back to the playoffs to win another World Series.

While the Red Sox were aggressive, there were teams that were exactly the opposite, such as the Minnesota Twins, who pretty much stood pat with their roster besides losing a few players here and there.

There is still time for players to be signed, traded for and released before spring training gets underway. But the following five teams have pretty much finished up their offseason, so you can expect them to take the players they have to spring training without any significant moves.

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Bert Blyleven Makes It Into MLB Hall of Fame, but Should He Have?

The baseball Hall of Fame added two new members to its fraternity today with Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven making it in after narrowly missing last year.

It’s been a long road for Blyleven to the Hall of Fame, as this was his last year of eligibility. 

Bert has often spoken out about how he feels he belongs in Cooperstown, but his repeated campaigning didn’t pay off until this year. Now, Blyleven can be at ease knowing he will be among baseball’s greats, but does he belong?

Yes, yes he does.

When making Blyleven’s case for the Hall of Fame, you have to look no further than his 287 wins, which he compiled through 22 seasons on a number of bad teams. Blyleven wasn’t an electric pitcher and wasn’t the most exciting player to watch on the mound, from what I’m told.

I never did have the pleasure of watching Blyleven pitch, but from what I’ve read and looking at his stats, he had a hell of a case to make the HOF. Blyleven is most known for his “12-to-6” curveball, which was his out pitch.

In his 22 seasons, he pitched for five teams, was on two World Series winners and pitched a no-hitter in 1977. While many critics cite his lack of cultural impact on the game, his overall numbers are too hard to ignore.

Blyleven threw 60 shutouts over his career and finished with an ERA of 3.31. So why wasn’t he a first-ballot Hall of Famer?

Well, he did lose 250 games, which can be attributed to pitching on some poor squads. Blyleven also gave up an inordinate amount of home runs over his career—in 1986 and 1987 he gave up a combined 96 homers.

There are reasons why Blyleven shouldn’t make the HOF, but when you add everything up, there are plenty more why deserves to mentioned with the greats.

After 14 years chasing HOF glory, Blyleven can now sit back and relax knowing that what he did over 22 seasons was finally enough.

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MLB Rumors: New York Yankees Or Texas Rangers, Which One Will Cliff Lee Choose?

The New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers went through an intense battle in the playoffs this year. But now both sides are at it again, this time over who will win the services of free agent Cliff Lee.

Reportedly, Lee has been offered $140 million over seven years by the Yankees.

Many would think that would be enough to sway the Rangers to back down, yet that doesn’t appear to be the case. Nolan Ryan isn’t giving in to the Evil Empire just yet, although it’s possible the Yanks will up the ante again, forcing Ryan to bow out.

This decision ultimately comes down to what Lee wants.

Does he choose to be loyal to the Texas organization, or does he want to team up with his buddy CC Sabathia in New York where he is guaranteed to compete for championships. 

That’s the million dollar question that everybody wants to know.

Not many players can turn down the bright lights of New York when the Bronx Bombers come calling, especially when they’re offering you big-time money.

That’s why Lee will wind up in a Yankee jersey by the end of all of this.

Unless the Rangers break the bank to top the Yankees’ offer, they are going to lose out. 

Lee’s been in the past two World Series, and both times he has had to watch the other team celebrate. There is no guarantee in sports that you’ll ever get back to the championship. 

But if you don the pinstripes, you know that the Yankees are going to keep reloading to compete for championships.

While the Rangers have some talented young players, will they be able to keep them down the road when they’re due for a big payday?

Texas is going to be competitive the next couple years, but Lee’s deal is likely to be six to seven years, and can Ryan guarantee to field a competitive team then?

Because NY can and will.

These are questions that have to be spinning around the lefty’s head.

When it’s all said and done, Lee is going to choose the Yankees, not only because they’ll offer the most amount of money, but also because the Bombers offer a chance at championships year in and year out.

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MLB Rumors: Derek Jeter Saga and Where Lee, Crawford, and Werth Could End Up

Derek Jeter, Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee, and Jayson Werth have the Hot Stove burning up and the MLB landscape is bound to look different, with Jeter the only one likely to end up back with the same team.

Rumors are flying around like mosquitoes in the summer time. The non-stop talk about Jeter can also be related to mosquitoes because they both do one thing to people: annoy them.  

Enough about mosquitoes, it’s time to get back to Hot Stove talk and address everything worth talking about right now in baseball.

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Victor Martinez Signs with Detroit Tigers: Weighing in on Decision to Add V-Mart

The Detroit Tigers have signed free agent catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez to a four-year, $50 million deal.

Martinez spent last season as a Boston Red Sox and had a productive year swinging the bat. He hit .302 with 20 home runs and finished with 79 RBI in 127 games.

Detroit had high expectations heading into the season, but they didn’t pan out, as the Tigers finished third in the AL Central with an 81-81 mark.

The signing of Martinez is going to bolster the lineup and give Miguel Cabrera some much-needed help. But will it be enough in a division the Minnesota Twins seem to have a firm hold of year in and year out?

That’s something to be discussed for another time. One thing is for sure, and that is Martinez can swing the bat. The problem is his defense. He’s 31 years old and has never been very good behind the plate. If he starts more games at DH and first base, then his value takes a hit.

The length and dollar amount of this deal aren’t a problem. Martinez should be a productive hitter over the next four years, and he’s been relatively healthy for most of his career. The problem with this deal, more than anything, is the Tigers’ mindset. 

They gave up the ninth most runs last season and scored the 11th most. Common logic would say to invest in help for the starting rotation or bullpen. But instead, they’ve chosen to spend their money on a guy who, near the end of this deal, will primarily be used as a DH or at first base.

All of that’s fine except Cabrera is already locked in at first base and the DH spot, which means this deal ultimately hinges on how effective V-Mart is behind the plate. Martinez’s numbers look good among catchers, but when put up next to DHs and other first basemen, they aren’t nearly as eye-popping.

The other catcher on the roster is Alex Avila, who hit .228 last year and is a superior defender to Martinez. Unless Avila drastically raises his average and becomes a much more productive offensive catcher, the Tigers are going to have to rely on Martinez to carry the load as the backstop. 

Once again, the length and dollar amount of this deal seem about right, but does this move propel the Tigers to the top of the AL Central?

Probably not.

If anything, it’s going to be the pitching staff that turns things around for Detroit and not the offense.

Tiger fans can rejoice at management’s commitment to spending money to improve the team. Fans now just have to ask how much better their team is with this latest signing. 

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2010 MLB Playoffs: Minnesota Twins’ Five Postseason Keys To Advance

The Minnesota Twins have clinched the AL Central and heading into the final week of the regular season they are likely to rest key players such as Jim Thome, Joe Mauer, and Michael Cuddyer.

A first round matchup with the New York Yankees is looking more and more likely with each Yankee loss and Tampa Bay win. 

Which team gives Minnesota the best chance to advance is a discussion for another time. The main focus here is going to be what the Twins need to do in the postseason to ensure they advance to the ALCS for the first time since 2002. 

Here we go…

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Grading Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins’ Pitching Staff: Starters and Closer

The Minnesota Twins appear to be on their way to winning back-to-back division titles and for the first time in two years, not having to go to a game 163. With the Twins sitting comfortably in front of the Chicago White Sox they will have the opportunity to rest pitchers down the stretch and set their rotation however they would like for the postseason.

There’s a good chance Francisco Liriano will be thrown out in Game 1 against either the Tampa Bay Rays or New York Yankees. The other option would be Carl Pavano, who has been a godsend for the Twins’ rotation with the way he eats up innings.

The postseason is creeping up closer and closer, which means it’s time to grade the pitching staff up to this point.


Francisco Liriano—B+

It was a tough choice not to give Liriano an A especially seeing how well he’s pitched since the All-Star break. While he’s had a very good season, he hasn’t pitched like a staff ace consistently enough. Consistency is something the promising lefty is going to have to work on if he ever wants to be considered an elite pitcher.

Right now, Liriano is having a good stretch, but as many Twins fans know, he is just as capable to fall into a three- or four-start funk.


Carl Pavano—B

He always seems to give Minnesota seven or eight quality innings every start and more importantly, a chance to win. When Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn were struggling, it was Liriano and Pavano who kept the Twins afloat.

Over June and July, Pavano compiled an 8-1 record, lowering his ERA to 3.21 at one point, which put him in the Cy Young conversation for a brief stint. Since then he has come back to Earth a bit, but without that remarkable stretch earlier in the season. the Twins wouldn’t be where they are today.

Scott Baker—D

“Moonshot Scott” is by far one of the more overvalued players in baseball.

For some reason Minnesota believes that Baker is an above-average pitcher, even though he hasn’t produced like it on the mound. Baker will sucker you in with a dazzling performance making you think that he’s turned a corner, only to break your heart with a subsequent poor outing. One complaint about Baker is his consistency.

That’s not the case this year as he has been consistently bad. 


Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn—C

Slowey gets a C because he simply is an average starting pitcher who is having an average season.

Blackburn is different. He was so bad at one point during the season that he was sent down to the Minors to try to rediscover his sinker ball. In May, he went 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA, which he followed up with two disastrous months leading to his demotion. Since being called back up, he has pitched very well and would most likely be the fourth starter in a seven game series. 


Brian Duensing—A

Since joining the rotation, Duensing has posted a 5-1 mark to go with a 3.06 ERA. Not to mention that he was a key member of the bullpen for the majority of the season before he was summoned to be a starter.

It’s clear that he has become the No. 3 guy behind Liriano and Pavano surpassing Baker, Slowey, and Blackburn. For the second-straight season, Duensing has stepped into the rotation in a pennant race and delivered. His stellar pitching helped the Twins surge past the White Sox into first place. 


Matt Capps—C-

Capps was acquired from the Washington Nationals in exchange for highly touted catching prospect, Wilson Ramos. While Capps‘s numbers with Minnesota may not look all that bad, they aren’t much better than the man he replaced, Jon Rauch. He’s blown two save opportunities in 11 chances, but has routinely given up base runners and made the game much more interesting.

That’s never a good thing if you are supposed to be a shut down closer. The complaint about Rauch was that he didn’t have overpowering stuff and gave up too many hits. Capps has come in and thrown the ball harder than Rauch, but not necessarily more effectively.

In 19 innings, the former National has given up 20 hits, while striking out 13 batters. The jury is still out on Capps as his so-so regular season performance with the Twins will definitely be erased if he is able to get the job done in October.

Something not even former All-Star Joe Nathan could do.

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Josh Hamilton’s Early Exit for Texas Rangers Vs. Minnesota Twins: Time to Panic?

Josh Hamilton left Friday’s game versus the Minnesota Twins with back stiffness.

The injury doesn’t appear to be too serious after hearing Hamilton’s comments, but the Texas Rangers were already worried about his achy knee that has flared up again. If you looked at the Texas slugger’s performance lately, you couldn’t tell he’s been banged up.

It’s likely that Hamilton is going to win his first MVP award and it’s also likely that, without a healthy Hamilton, the Rangers aren’t going to be making any noise in October. 

Texas is up 9.5 games over Oakland. But more importantly, they trail the Twins by 2.5 games for home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Over the final month of the season, Ron Washington is going to have to decide what’s more important: Is it playing Hamilton and trying to push for home field advantage? Or is it trying to get Hamilton healthy, which would greatly hinder the Rangers’ chances of passing the Twins?

If Washington chooses the latter, it could ultimately mean that the Rangers would wind up having to go into New York to face the defending champs.

There’s no denying that Hamilton has been able to play through the pain thus far. The million-dollar question is whether or not his knee and now his back will be able to hold up down the stretch run.

The Rangers gave the slugger a lubricant injection into his balky knee Tuesday, which was done to try to prevent him from having a third cortisone shot in his knee. If Hamilton’s back stiffness keeps him out for a couple of days, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, considering it would give his knee some much needed rest. 

Regardless of what happens in the race for home-field advantage between the Twins and Rangers, one thing is clear: Texas needs Hamilton if they have any chance of making a deep run in October.

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