Tag: Minneapolis

Minnesota Twins Changeup: Matts Capps Replaces Joe Nathan as Closer

One of the many questions entering the 2011 season for the Twins was “Will Joe Nathan be ready?”

Twins faithful got their answer and that answer is apparently no.

The ball club announced that last seasons trade deadline acquisition Matt Capps will take over the closer role while Nathan tries to fully regain his composure. Nathan had two blown save opportunities on Thursday and then again on Saturday which prompted the move.

“Until I start getting that back, and I know I will at some time, I don’t want to put this team at any risk and cost them ballgames right now,” Nathan said. “I just thought it was the right thing to do for the ballclub and myself. Give myself a chance to get out there and still pitch on a consistent basis. Obviously that’s what I need to do. Getting away from where every pitch could cost us a game.”

Capps picked up the save in a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays Sunday, his first save as the Twins’ official closer.

The Twins are dealing with a double-edged sword of sorts here. On the one hand, they will get consistent work out of Capps, whom they traded catching prospect Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for. But on the other hand, you want Nathan to be your man at the end as the Twins bullpen can’t take too much more weakening.

Prior to the switch, Capps was the Twins’ setup man and Nathan was the closer. Now Capps is the man and the Twins will cycle through setup men.

Nathan’s recent woes are not really much of a surprise. It was naive to think he would come back from Tommy John surgery and be 100 percent. Nathan missed all of the 2010 season due to the surgery and many doubted he would ever come back given his age and the severity of the surgery.

But Nathan passed all spring training tests and made his triumphant return during the Twins’ first series of the year in Toronto.

After that Nathan’s ERA would skyrocket to 8.44 in six games despite saving his previous three chances prior to Thursday. Even before the surgery, Nathan has shown signs of trouble in the ninth. He’s still one of the better closers in the league, but he still doesn’t provide a rock solid confidence when he enters the game.

Nathan will now have time to work on his stuff before he makes his second return. He spoke with manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson about possibly taking a hiatus from closing after he allowed two runs in a third of an inning Saturday.

Nathan is just one of many depleted Twins as stars Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are both struggling with illnesses. Mauer is on the 15-day DL and Morneau sat out Sunday’s win in Tampa. Nathan hopes he’ll be back sooner, and better than ever.

“We’re definitely close, it’s not like I’m miles away,” Nathan said. “I don’t think this is too far off.”

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB: Best Division Debate; Chicago White Sox Rule AL Central Squad

In recent memory, we’ve always heard about how the AL East is Major League Baseball’s toughest division, with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays beating up on each other, along with the rest of the American League.

Some people make a case for the NL East, where the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves have a stronghold, combined with an over-acheiving Florida Marlins squad and an even more under-acheiving New York Mets team.

It’s easy to say one division is better than the other based on records alone, so I had an idea: What if we take the best player at each position, from each division and create separate “All-Star” teams?  Which division would have the most talented squad?

That’s exactly what we are going to do in hopes we can finally come to a realization of which division is MLB’s best.  You might be surprised at how good (or bad) some of the teams end up being.

The selection process is simple: It will be the best player at each position today. It won’t be based on future potential, and it won’t be based on a player having a monster season five years ago. 

This will be a seven part series over the next two weeks: one part for each of baseball’s six divisions, followed by a summary piece that will hopefully allow us to figure out and debate which division really is MLB’s best.

We begin with the AL Central.

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Meet the 2004 Boston Red S–Er, the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays

Does any other MLB fan find it weird when a team goes out and buys former superstars, seemingly anticipating that putting them back together will magically bring back the spark from seven years before?

It’s happening again this year, and it’s certainly not the first time that two World Series champions have played on entirely different teams together. It’s just weird to have it happen in the AL East and for it to not be the Yankees doing the purchasing.

Today it was announced that Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon (2004 World Series Champions) will be joining the recently depleted/farmed out Tampa Bay Rays. It’s not unrealistic that Tampa Bay would sign a few players (practicality says they needed to do so after losing the talent they let walk out the door over the offseason for nothing in return), but this is not the Tampa way.

As a Red Sox fan in Minneapolis, I take a lot of guff: “They’re just like the Yankees” tends to be the weapon of choice from the loyal Twins fans up here. I don’t understand the argument, and this latest move by the Rays emphasizes the point that I attempt to make every time I am forced to defend a contender in the AL East that doesn’t have the highest payroll. If you want to contend in a competitive division, money must be spent. The difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees, is the Red Sox spend money to keep talent, whereas the Yankees spend money to acquire talent.

In order to amass the team that Theo Epstein has over the last 10 years, talent acquisition had to take place, but talent retention and development also took place. I don’t see the same technique employed by the Yankees nor the Rays. After the 2007 World Series, the Red Sox had some decisions to make – they let Alex Gonzalez walk, but they retained staples (home-grown staples) like Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon, etc.

Of course, not all of the talent of the 2004 and 2007 squads was drafted and developed, Manny, Papi, Curt Schilling, ‘Tek and the gang were acquired through trades and free agency – but it was a balance.

The Yankees transaction history from this offseason alone could easily take an article to chronicle, but the song remains the same in New York – the core four plus the highest paid free agents of any given year.

I thought the Rays were more like the Red Sox (develop and retain) than the Yankees (catch and release, then buy). With these signings today, coupled with the exit of solid talent such as Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano, I begin to wonder about the managerial know-how of their front office.

I’m not complaining mind you, as a Red Sox fan, I’d love to see Tampa and the hipster doofus that is Joe Maddon fall into last place where they belong, but it is sad to see a team that took the division from the Yankees last year (with one of the smallest payrolls in the league) go from the top to the bottom.

Perhaps it is too early to speculate, but given the performance of Manny and Johnny in 2010, I think it’s safe to say the 2011 Rays can only hope for the same outcome as the Red Sox of 2004 enjoyed.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Trade Rumors: 10 Starting Pitchers the Minnesota Twins Should Target

After missing out on Zack Greinke, though it was unlikely he’d be traded in-division, who is a second top SP the Twins can get to team with Francisco Liriano (assuming the Twins sign him long-term)?

The Twins have enough power to win with good pitching and defense, but they need another postseason-dominant pitcher as opposed to their typical control-based rotation.

The following are 10 starting pitchers that would look good as the No. 1 guy ahead of Liriano or behind him in the No. 2 slot.

It is important to note that at the time of publication, Carl Pavano and the Twins were in discussions on a two-year contract.

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Minnesota Twins Face Trap Season in 2011

In sports, when a team looks too far ahead or dwells too much on what has already happened, they often fail in the present.  Sometimes it’s off the field issues, sometimes it’s injuries, sometimes it’s egos and sometimes it is just plain bad luck.  A trap season is the perfect storm of all these variables and more.  The 2010 Minnesota Vikings defined a trap season better than maybe anybody ever.

Watching the Vikings plod through their last meaningless game today made me realize that Ron Gardenhire better be careful.  The 2011 Twins season is heading for the classic Minnesota trap season and Gardenhire could be out of a job.  The trap season is defined by four noticeable characteristics.

1. The team has a history of having consistently above average to great regular seasons. 

2. The team fails repeatedly in the postseason.

3. The team is coming off a terrific regular season highlighted by a particularly disappointing and or traumatic postseason experience.

4. Fan expectations (the status quo) are at a peak.

Before typecasting this as another “Fire Gardy” column (it’s not), realize there are precedents set here besides the debacle that was the 2010 Vikings.

From 1992 to 2000, Dennis Green took the Vikings to the playoffs every year except once and never had a record below .500.  He established a series of teams that we fans would complain about every so often, but for the most part could get behind because they were always competitive, and made the playoffs.  This was enough for us as we ignored their penchant for folding under pressure year after year. 

Until we stopped winning in the regular season that is.  He was fired with one game left in the season in 2001.  Why? Let’s look at the list.

1. Established above.

2. Green’s postseason record was 4-8.

3. The 2001 Vikings were coming off a postseason in which they lost 41-0 in the NFC Championship game.

4. It’s hard to remember or even fathom at this point, but Daunte Culpepper was coming off his first season as a starter.  He was a Pro Bowler, threw for almost 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns.  He was thought to be the best young QB in football.  Pair him with Randy Moss in his prime and fan interest was through the roof.

Need more proof?  Let’s change sports and go to basketball.  Flip Saunders took over the Timberwolves in 1995, took a team that never had a winning record to the playoffs eight years in a row, culminating in 2003-2004 season with a trip to the Conference Finals.  The very next year Saunders was fired mid-season after an underwhelming start (the infamous Latrell Spreewell “I gotta feed my family” season). Check out the Saunders File.

1. Established above. Eight straight trips to the postseason

2. Seven straight years of losing in the first round.

3. The ’03-’04 season was the best in Timberwolves history.  They won 58 games and received a No. 1 seed in the playoffs, but were upset by a drama filled Lakers squad.

4. Kevin Garnett was coming off of an MVP season, was still in his prime and the Wolves had essentially the same supporting cast as the year before.  As hard as it is to imagine now, Garnett owned this state.

It is really pretty remarkable when you start to connect the dots. 

Now, do this same exercise with recently ousted Vikings coach Brad Childress and apply it to this season.  You could write a book.

Apply all of this and the central idea behind our motives as fans comes to life.  If you as a coach don’t deliver in the playoffs, we fans only have the regular season to look forward to. 

After years of heart breaking failures in the postseason, we are conditioned place an exaggerated importance on the regular season.  Thus, when teams do run into adverse situations, it leads to decisions and opinions that for the better or worse, that are usually made on emotion, rather than on history.

That’s the Minnesota sports juggernaut in a vacuum.        

Which brings me back to Gardy and his 2011 Minnesota Twins:

1. They are consistently among the upper echelon of teams in baseball, a having won six division titles in Gardenhire’s nine years and contended in the other three.

2. Gardenhire’s postseason resume is now rather infamous for all the wrong reasons. 

3. The team is coming off one of maybe its best regular seasons ever followed by another first round sweep at the hands of the Yankees. This one stung even worse as the Twins had home field advantage and the Yankees were exposed as an aging fraud of a team by the Texas Rangers. 

4. Fan interest, which is always high for the Twins, will be at a fever pitch come spring.  With the collapse (literally and figuratively) of the Vikings this year coupled with the complete ineptitude of the Timberwolves and Year 2 of Target field, fans will be pining for something good to cheer.

Sounds like the makings of a trap season to me.  After struggling through this Vikings season, I hope I’m wrong.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Trade Rumors: 10 Deals for Minnesota Twins to Hold Off White Sox and Tigers

Two months until pitchers and catchers report. Baseball can’t get here soon enough!

With the Tigers and White Sox being active in the early free agent market and loading up to chase the Twins in 2011, it is setting up to be a three-team race in the American League Central.

In this installment, we will look at some deals the Twins should look at to maintain their hold on the division and earn their third straight division title (and maybe even get into the ALCS or World Series).

The deals are based on trades with other teams or being active the last couple months in free agency going into spring training.

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Jesse Crain Is Leaving: Should Minnesota Twins Fans Be Upset or Grateful?

Earlier this week, Jesse Crain signed a three-year, $13 million contract with the Chicago White Sox.

As I mentioned in a previous article, the Twins are going to really need to bolster their bullpen in order to three-peat as Central Division champions.

But is losing Crain such a bad thing? Let’s examine this question.

First, Crain had a tough start to the 2010 season, and it can be said he would have had a tougher finish if it weren’t for his talk with Jon Rauch. Rauch gave him some mechanical as well as pitch selection advice, and Crain took off in early summer and continued through the final days of the regular season.

He was almost unhittable in August and September but again fizzled out during the playoffs (the bomb hit by Mark Teixeira comes to mind).

Second, Crain is a one-pitch pitcher. He has fallen in love with the slider, and anytime you fall in love with a pitch that takes that much physical toll on your body, you are asking for arm problems. Crain has had surgery already in his brief career, and throwing the slider as your primary pitch doesn’t help things. Yes, it is a strikeout pitch, but you don’t want to rely solely on one pitch, which Crain had certainly done.

Third, Crain wanted to close. Even if Joe Nathan comes back at 80 to 90 percent of what he was prior to the Tommy John surgery, he’s better than Crain. Throw in Matt Capps and Crain wouldn’t have closed anyway. He has stated numerous times that he wants to close, and being in the situation that he was in, it wasn’t going to work out for him.

Which leads me to the last point: Did Jesse Crain really want to be a Twin anyway?

Looking into his quotes from his press conference, my thoughts are he couldn’t get out of here quick enough. “I’m not sure what they are doing” comes to mind when asked what he thought the Twins were doing by not re-signing him. That quote alone makes me wonder, do we want you in a Twins uniform anyway? Just because you aren’t closing, don’t throw your former team under the bus.

Judging on past performances, the Twins will be licking their chops to get a look at No. 26 this year.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Tsuyoshi Fever: How Infielder Nishioka is Changing Baseball in Minnesota

Just one week ago, Minnesotans found themselves in the midst of one of the biggest blizzards in the state’s history. Twenty inches of snow and one collapsed Metrodome roof later, the impact of the storm left a mark on the Twin Cities. But just as people in the Twin Cities finally moved past the storm, a tsunami that goes by the name of “Yoshi” or “Nishi” rolled into town.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka arrived in Minneapolis on Thursday, effectively beginning a new era in Minnesota baseball. Nishioka has become the first Japanese player to sign with the Minnesota Twins. The move takes the Twins off the list of four remaining teams in Major League Baseball that had never signed a Pacific League player.

After seeing second baseman Orlando Hudson leave for San Diego in free agency and trading shortstop J.J. Hardy to Baltimore in exchange for a couple of pitchers, the Twins had two key spots in the infield that needed to be filled.

While it hasn’t officially been confirmed by the organization, it has been widely speculated that Alexi Casilla will finally get his chance to be an everyday starter in the Twins infield. Assuming Casilla finds a permanent home in the starting lineup, Nishioka is the final piece to the infield puzzle.

But the signing of Tsuyoshi Nishioka signifies much more than just the replacement of a position. Nishioka brings an entire nation with him in joining the Minnesota Twins. Elite baseball players in the Pacific League gain the same amount of media attention overseas that movie stars and famous musicians face on a daily basis in the United States.

Entering the conference room at Target Field for the press conference to officially introduce Nishioka as a member of the Twins, it became very apparent that the Twins game day experience will never be the same again.

More than an hour before the news conference was scheduled to start, the room was completely full, foreign media making up around 80 percent of the crowd. As the conference started, even Twins third baseman Danny Valencia found himself scrambling to find an open seat to watch the proceedings.

Flashbulbs and camera clicks took over when Nishioka arrived in the room, and a rousing applause rang out when he put on his No. 1 jersey for the first time. Before allowing his translator to moderate the news conference, Nishioka even tried his hand at speaking English, sharing with the media in attendance the following statement: “I’m excited to be part of the Twins family. Thank you.” Along with Nishioka’s seemingly constant smile, the statement brought another round of applause from those in the room.

As Nishioka continued, it became easier to see how he could be so well-liked in his native Japan. When asked if he would rather be playing second base or shortstop, Nishioka simply responded, “I don’t think I have any say to have a preference of playing second base or shortstop. I’m preparing for both. I’ll do whatever the manager tells me. If the manager wants me to be a ball boy, I’ll do that.”

Speaking with members of the Japanese media who had regularly taken part in covering Ichiro’s time in Seattle, I was told that people in Minnesota should expect a massive following to arrive at Target Field as spring comes around. After asking the reporter to elaborate, I was told, “Fans will come in large groups to every game, signs and banners written in Yoshi’s native language will be everywhere.”

He continued, “This won’t only be for games in Minnesota, but also in other cities. Asian Americans everywhere followed these elite players closely when they were in the Pacific League, and that won’t change now that they’re in the United States.”

It will be interesting to see how the marketing team for the Twins handles their newly expanded fan base in 2011. The Seattle Mariners management made many game-day changes when Ichiro arrived, including expanded concession offerings such as sushi and stir fry. Team chants in Ichiro’s native tongue were played over the PA system regularly when the star rightfielder would come up to bat.

As 2011 approaches, you can bet that Target Field will adopt some of these customs, stretching the reach of “Twins Territory” farther than ever before.

In an offseason where the Twins have seen their division rivals stock up with talent, Twins fans needed to see a move that would show that the team isn’t content to hold its position. The signing of Tsuyoshi Nishioka signifies a major change for baseball in Minnesota, a change that the organization hopes will help catapult the team to the next level in 2011.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

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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MLB Trade Rumors: 10 Reasons the Minnesota Twins Should Acquire Zack Greinke

With the 2010 MLB Winter Meetings heating up, everyone is waiting to find out whether the Yankees, Rangers or perhaps another suitor will win the Cliff Lee sweepstakes. No matter what team Lee ends up choosing, his decision is sure to set off a chain reaction in the baseball world, as Lee’s signing will be just one major move in what promises to be a busy winter.

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Zack Greinke might be the second hottest topic this offseason, as the Royals seems poised to trade away their Cy Young award winning ace to the highest bidder. Teams that lose out on acquiring Cliff Lee via free agency will be forced to focus their pursuit on the services of Greinke.

The Cliff Lee saga may have passed for the Minnesota Twins this past July when they were unable to make a trade happen, but as we move towards 2011 Zack Greinke appears to be on the radar for Twins management. Given the disappointing finish to this past season and some uncertain circumstances heading into 2011, the Twins would be wise to do whatever possible to bring Greinke to Target Field.

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