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2010 MLB Hot Stove Rumors: Four Players The Minnesota Twins Should Pursue

It’s been a relatively uneventful offseason for the Twins, albeit only on the major league side. The Twins have landed a slew of relievers for their minor league system, as well as a few promising young prospects. Most notable is 17-year-old shortstop Javier Pimentel of the Dominican Republic. 

Besides the signing of Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Twins’ major league squad remains fairly depleted. Key losses of Carl Pavano, Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch and J.J. Hardy seem to overweigh the small but earnest gains.

Former Braves reliever Chuck James and young infielder Matt Brown are the most notable of the few major league additions this offseason. The Twins also added catchers in Steve Holm and Rene Rivera, who have spent limited major league time with the Giants and Mariners, respectively. 

Make no mistake, the club is headed in the right direction. Young arms like Brett Jacobsen and Jim Hoey (from the J.J. Hardy trade) will be ready to compete for a bullpen spot come spring training.

In-house bullpen candidates include Alex Burnett, Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins, Anthony Slama, Carlos Gutierrez and Jeff Manship, to name a few. With another veteran arm or two from the open market, the Twins should be able to put together a fairly decent bullpen in 2011. 

With the biggest concern being the bullpen, the starting rotation also has some question marks. The aforementioned Carl Pavano remains on the market, although a deal with Minnesota seems imminent.

The Nationals are also in the race for Pavano’s services, but the consensus seems to be that Carl will don a Twins uniform for at least the next couple seasons. 

As it stands, the Twins’ rotation rests with Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey. All have shown shades of brilliance, but seem to be repeatedly bitten by the inconsistency bug.

Liriano earned AL Comeback Player of the Year honors for 2010 after posting a 14-10 record with a nice 3.62 ERA and 201 K’s. Minnesota is no doubt expecting big things from Franky Franchise next season.

Kevin Slowey also had a good 2010, earning a record of 13-6. Injuries once again derailed what could have been a great season. His name has been mentioned as a possible trade chip, however. 

Young starters like Kyle Gibson and Kyle Waldrop may make a late-season appearance if any rotation patchwork needs to be done. 

Even with a host of young talent, the Twins will need help from the Hot Stove. Banking on Pavano signing, here’s a neatly ordered list of who could fill the open slots in Minnesota:

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Carl Pavano, Zack Greinke and Players Who Would Benefit the 2011 Minnesota Twins

Coming into the 2011 season, the Twins have a lot of questions marks:

Relief Pitching has been the main concern. After losing Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain out of free agency, only a few bullpen locks remain. Matt Capps was the steady closer for 2010, and Jose Mijares will most likely return with a bigger roll in 2011. Returning All-Star closer Joe Nathan should be ready for spring training, but it doesn’t make sense to expect too much from him after so recently undergoing elbow surgery.

Another area that could use help is starting pitching. It looks like Carl Pavano may return to the Twins with something like a 2 year/$20 million deal. But if they can’t retain him, The rotation would seem to look as follows: Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey. The Twins have recently announced that Slowey may be traded, so the retention of Pavano will be key this offseason. 

As far as the lineup pans out, the Twins are looking good. Since negotiations are complete with Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the starting 9 may look something like this:

1. Denard Span (CF)

2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka (2B or SS)

3. Joe Mauer (C)

4. Justin Morneau (1B)

5. Delmon Young (LF)

6. Jason Kubel (DH)

7. Michael Cuddyer (RF)

8. Danny Valencia (3B)

9. Alexi Casilla (2B or SS)

Depending on Nishioka’s effectiveness, the Twins could even move Span down in the order, and bat Nishioka and Casilla in the number 1 and 2 spots. Either way, having Span or Casilla at the bottom of the order bodes well speed-wise when they bat back into the top of the order. 

If veteran Jim Thome returns to Minnesota, he would give the Twins a great DH option and pinch hitter. But regardless if he comes back, the Twins may look for another bat or two to grace the bench

Trades and free agents could be the answer for the Twins, beyond their minor league depth. Let’s look at a few remaining free agents that could help the Twins in 2011.

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Minnesota Twins: Four Crazy Predictions for the Second Half

If I had more title space, I would have called this the “Twins Edition.”

With the Twins turning the tide at the beginning of the second half, it’s time to look at some of Minnesota’s big guns and the effect they may have on the American League.

Awards, playoffs, whatever works. I’ve got enough odd/frightening/bewildering/upsetting predictions to last us until next season.

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Minnesota Twins Falter Before Break: How Will They Turn the Season Around?

Let’s face it: The AL Central is the Minnesota Twins’ division to lose, and they did just about everything they could to lose it in the last month or so before the All-Star break. The starting pitching was atrocious and the offense faltered. 

So what should the Twins do? With Mauer and every starting pitcher besides Pavano underperforming, it’s looking pretty rough. I’ve got a few ideas to entertain:

Trade for Dan Haren or Ted Lilly

Cliff Lee already slipped by. I’m sick of seeing the Twins wait and wait for a great deal to land under their nose, only to get stuck with a lackluster upgrade right before the trade deadline.

Supposedly the Twins would have had Lee for Wilson Ramos and Aaron Hicks, but backed out. I understand that Minnesota values their prospects, but they’ve been developing some great young players for the last 19 years with no championships.

Why not trade the young guys? Looking ahead to the future is a good thing, but not if there is never a “present.”

Dan Haren would come to Minnesota with an option for 2013 if they could land him, and would be a better deal than Cliff Lee because he is young, proven, and isn’t just a rental. Roy Oswalt has been great this year, but hasn’t been given any run support and comes at a high price. Either pitcher would be a great upgrade, and the Twins absolutely need to make a push for one of the two. Shoddy pitching is not how teams win divisions. 

Some other starters that should be on the move are Ted Lilly and Fausto Carmona. Lilly could benefit from a change of scenery, as he has posted a 3-8 record in a Cubs uniform. The Twins would love another lefty starter as much as I’d like to see Lilly pitch in the American League. Carmona looks to be back to 2007 form, going 8-7 with a nice 3.64 ERA before the break. 

Shop for a Starter at Third Base

I’ve heard rumors about the Twins eyeing Miguel Tejada. He would bring great defense, and is currently hitting .276/7/35. Not too bad for an old guy. The problem is he likes playing in Baltimore. If the Twins could hoist him over to Minnesota, he would be a nice upgrade both offensively and defensively.

What about Joe Crede? He is apparently healthy and would sign for next to nothing. He promises stellar defense at third, but his offense is questionable. At this point, I don’t see why the Twins don’t sign him for $1 mil or so and spend some real big bucks on another offensive upgrade.

Mix Up the Starting Rotation

Trade Nick Blackburn. Cut your losses. Blacky has shown nothing but his inability to compete at the major league level, and hasn’t been effective since the end of May. 

Something else I’d like to see is Brian Duensing in the starting lineup. He’s been lights-out as a reliever and even showed great starting stuff last year, ending with a start against the Yankees in game one of the ALDS. Putting Duensing in the starting five would give the Twins another proven (although briefly) lefty starter. 

I wouldn’t even be opposed to sending Alex Burnett to the mound for some starts. He’s thrown 40 innings so far this season and boasts a 3.60 ERA from the bullpen. Sure beats Blackburn’s 6.40 or Baker’s 4.87.

Grab Some Relievers and a Real Closer

Neshek is injured, Condrey is injured, and Guerrier has imploded as of late. It’s about time to shore up the bullpen. A lot of guys could be moving, and I would expect one if not more to land in a Twins uniform by the end of July. 

A diamond in the rough down the stretch has been Jesse Crain. He’s been electric lately, although his numbers don’t really show it. I expect Crain and his rejuvenated slider to see a lot more time in the second half.

Matt Capps is somebody I would love to see end up in Minnesota. While I haven’t heard anything involving the Twins and Capps, he makes perfect sense. Matt has had some issues with the long ball this year, and Target field seems to be a pitcher’s ballpark through and through. The Twins need a good closer, and Capps could fit the role nicely.

Another (more likely) option for the Twins is David David Aardsma of the Mariners. Aardsma is a proven closer, but holds a rough 0-6 record and a sub-John Rauch 16-for-20 saves. At this point, I’d stick with Rauch unless the Twins can land a Matt Capps or Heath Bell kind of closer. 

Just Make Some Moves!

The Twins are going to need to be busy before the trade deadline. The White Sox have already been linked to some big players like Prince Fielder, and the Tigers don’t appear to be going anywhere. A new third baseman, a veteran ace, reliever and closer are what the Twins need. Here are my suggestions and hopefuls for said deficient positions:

Third Base Suggestion: Miguel Tejada
.277, 7 HR, 35 RBI

Third Base Hopeful: Kevin Kouzmanoff .266, 8 HR, 40 RBI

Starter Suggestion: Ted Lilly 3-8, 4.08 ERA

Starter Hopeful: Dan Haren 7-7, 4.36 ERA

Reliever Suggestion: Todd Coffey 2-2, 4.41 ERA

Reliever Hopeful: Mike Wuertz 2-1 5.60 ERA

Closer Suggestion: Kerry Wood 8 SV, 6.30 ERA

Closer Hopeful: Matt Capps 23 SV, 3.18 ERA

There’s the blueprint. A handful of moves could put the Twins back on track in 2010, and will hopefully help Ron Gardenhire win his sixth division title and first World Series as manager of the Minnesota Twins. 

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Nick Blackburn’s Stuff Disappears: Is He Done in 2010?

Nick Blackburn has always been tough to figure out. Finishing the last couple seasons with a “well-rounded” total of 11-11, he looks to be skidding into similar figures towards the end of June. 

But what worries me isn’t so much the new advent of suck, but it coming after a phenomenal month of May. Blackburn was 5-0 in May, winning all of his decisions. He pitched at least seven innings in every start, as well as starting off the month with a complete game.

With a 2.65 ERA during the month, Blackburn started out to 6-1 and looked like one of the best pitchers in the league. 

This month, Blackburn is 0-3 in four starts. Besides his great start in Atlanta where he got no run support, Nick lasted 3.2, 2.2 and 1.2 innings. Last night he all but imploded, giving up 8 runs to the fledgling Phillies. To add another hurtful statistic, Blackburn’s ERA for the month of June is a lofty 12.00. 

So what happened? Blackburn seemed to find something in May, and seemed to lose just about everything that made him successful during June. If he continues on the down-slide, is he worth being kept around?

I think the Twins should think about being shoppers before July 31st’s trade deadline and retool the starting rotation that remains consistently been inconsistent. 

But there might be hope: Something that really caught my eye is Blackburn’s month-by-month ERA. April ended at 6.85, May at 2.65 and June at 12.00. What could possibly make someone a completely different pitcher based on the month? (And don’t think I’m asking a ton of questions to reveal a genius answer, I have no clue.)

So here’s to July, Nick Blackburn. If it’s an every-other-month kind of thing, we’ll be sitting pretty.  

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Cliff Lee, Kevin Kouzmanoff Should Be on Twins’ Trade Deadline Radar

With the trade deadline looming over the next month-and-a-half of baseball, it’s about time for teams to get serious trade fever.

The Minnesota Twins have a few trade chips and are definitely in need. Surely, the front office will address a few issues before we see the end of July.

Let’s start talking about what the Twinkies could use.

Third Base: Third basemen in Minnesota are hitting a combined .211 through this point in the season. Kind of reminds me of a black hole. Little Nicky Punto has proven to have stellar defense, but he still can’t hit. Danny Valencia has added a little (I stress, little) pop to the hot corner as well as some nice defensive plays, but I can’t imagine him having an everyday spot until at least this time next year. 

Who Makes Sense:   Kevin Kouzmanoff is hitting .294 with six dingers and 35 RBI for the Athletics so far this year. He may be the best bet for the Twins, but its unclear how much they would want for him. Kouzmanoff would add a nice bat to the bottom half of the order, and make some nice plays on defense. He could also provide the first concrete third baseman for the Twins since…Corey Koskie?

Who Doesn’t: Mike Lowell. It’s as simple as that. Lowell is hitting around .220, barely above the Punto line. With Punto’s incredible defense, it makes absolutely no sense for the Twins to give up a prospect for the old and decrepit Lowell. Don’t get me wrong, for Lowell’s bat will probably pick up later in the season, but he’s still a health risk and rental player at best. 

Starting Pitching: The Twins have a very good staff, as they always do, but it’s not great . Liriano has shown shades of brilliance and looks to be the club’s only candidate for bona fide ace. The Twins have a pretty little trade chip in Wilson Ramos, so it will be interesting to see if he goes in a package for a pitcher.

Who Makes Sense: Cliff Lee does. I know you think I’m crazy, but he might be a great rental for only a couple prospects. I would think a starter like Pavano and a prospect like Ramos could help land Lee in Minnesota for the rest of 2010. But here’s why it really makes sense: After the season, the Twins could shop Lee for some top draft picks and continue to bolster their unparalleled farm system. Cliff Lee would give the Twins a great veteran southpaw to take the number one spot (and maybe a little pressure) off young Francisco Liriano. 

Who Doesn’t: Roy Oswalt is a phenomenal pitcher, but he has a steep $27 million price tag at the moment. There aren’t a lot of teams without the name “Yankees” or “Red Sox” that would be willing or able to absorb such a sum. 

So the Twins are sitting about where they were in the offseason: Barring Orlando Hudson, they have no third baseman or staff ace. They definitely have the trade pieces to get there, so it will be very interesting to see who they start calling up. 

Positions that were once in question seem to be doing just fine now. Delmon Young has exploded recently, upping his average to .295 and nearing the team lead in RBI. With a continued surge like this, it certainly wouldn’t be too much to ask to see him in the All-Star game. (Too bad he’s not from New York.) JJ Hardy and Hudson should return to health soon and give a significant boost to both offense and defense. 

I think a veteran starting pitcher like Lee or Dan Haren (who the Twins have already shown interest in) and a Kevin Kouzmanoff at third base would put the Twins over the top, and well on their way to a successful playoff run in 2010. 

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