Keys to 2013: Oakland Athletics

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Starting Pitching Key: Jarrod Parker

With the departure of Brandon McCarthy and the questionable status of Bartolo Colon (he’s getting blasted in spring training following his suspension for PED use), the A’s need Parker to step in and be a top-of-the-rotation starter with 200 innings and ace-level performance to match his abilities. Once he harnesses control of his live fastball and gets his changeup over the plate, he can be a star. He has to mature sooner rather than later if the A’s have any chance to repeat their success from 2012.

Relief Pitching Key: Ryan Cook

Grant Balfour is streaky as the closer and in 2012 lost his job to Cook. He regained the job and held it during the team’s magical run to the division title. While Balfour will start the season as the closer, he’s a free agent at the end of the season and will be looking for more money than the A’s are willing to pay. Maybe something can be worked out that’s agreeable to both sides for Balfour to stay. Balfour must be cognizant of the crashing market for closers and understand that the A’s aren’t married to the concept of the highest paid arm automatically closing based on his salary. Cook is the cheap closer for the future if Balfour’s gone and maybe even if Balfour’s still there.

Offensive Key: Josh Reddick

Anytime there’s a player who surpasses what could reasonably have been expected in a realistic scenario, it’s unwise to think he’ll repeat it. That could be said of Brandon Moss and it could be said of Reddick.

In spite of Billy Beane playing up the journeyman Moss and refusing to discuss him in trades, the sudden display of power from Moss might disappear as rapidly as it happened. With Reddick, the A’s got him for his superior outfield defense and figured he’d hit 15-20 homers if he played every day. Instead, he hit 32. They’ve bolstered the offense with the acquisitions of Jed Lowrie, Hiroyuki Nakajima, John Jaso and Chris Young. Even with that, they need at least 25 from Reddick in 2013 to mitigate Moss’s unavoidable fall to earth.

Defensive Key: Hiroyuki Nakajima

It’s unfair to pigeonhole Japanese imports because of the failures of their predecessors, but if something repeatedly happens, it has to be factored into the equation. Neither Kazuo Matsui nor Tsuyoshi Nishioka could play shortstop well enough defensively to stay there. Matsui could hit a bit and was moved to second base, having a few productive years after he left the Mets; Nishioka was a disaster for the Twins.

Nakajima will get the first shot at shortstop for the A’s, but they acquired Lowrie because they know he can handle the position defensively. If Nakajima hits but proves to be another Japanese player who can’t cover the ground on grass that he did on the preferred surface in Japan, turf, he’ll play at third or second with Lowrie taking over at short. How long the A’s stick with him at short if he can’t play the position adequately is the question. Given the way Beane runs the team, it won’t be long before a move is made if Nakajima can’t do it.

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American League Central—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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I recently looked at the AL East, how they’re faring now and their prospects for the future. Now let’s look at the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

There are few baseball executives for whom their statements should be taken at face value, but White Sox GM Ken Williams is one. Because of that, when he says he misspoke about blowing the whole thing up at the conclusion of the 2011 season, then didn’t blow the whole thing up and instead made moves to try and win while getting younger and more flexible, I believe him.

The White Sox success can be chalked up to: manager Robin Ventura’s calm demeanor in stark contrast to the raving lunacy of Ozzie Guillen; Jake Peavy coming back from injury and pitching like a top tier starter; Chris Sale’s development as a starting pitcher; Adam Dunn’s and Alex Rios’s comebacks; and the parity around the American League.

Ventura and Mike Matheny have become a regular “example” that managers don’t need to have managerial experience to be successful. Of course it’s nonsense and taken greatly out of context. Ventura’s done a good job and his cachet as a former All Star player and popular person in Chicago has helped him greatly, but anyone other than Guillen would’ve been taken as a welcome respite from the daily haranguing and controversy that surrounded the former manager’s big mouth and followed him—with disastrous results—to Miami.

As long as Williams is the GM, the White Sox have a chance to be competitive because he has no patience for long rebuilds and makes aggressive maneuvers accordingly.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have been inconsistent in every facet. Their defense, while not being as bad as predicted, still isn’t good; the offense is 7th in the AL in runs scored despite having two MVP candidates Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, plus Austin Jackson having a fantastic year; the bullpen has been shaky; and Justin Verlander has been excellent and is still a Cy Young Award candidate, but has taken enough of a step back from his CYA/MVP of 2011 back to humanity to account for the Tigers fighting for a playoff spot.

There’s been talk that manager Jim Leyland, in the final year of his contract, could be in trouble if the Tigers don’t make the playoffs. It’s silly. Leyland can still handle the egos in that clubhouse and the very last thing the Tigers need to do and, tying in with the concept of a manager with zero experience, is to hire someone young just to make a change.

The Tigers dealt away several prospects including Jacob Turner to get Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, but they’ve held onto Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos. The farm system is not barren and as long as they have Fielder, Cabrera, and Verlander, they’ll be competitive. Changing managers for the sake of it makes zero sense.

Kansas City Royals

It’s ludicrous how those who felt the Royals were going to parlay their loaded farm system into a leap to legitimate contention jump off the train as soon as a rebuild doesn’t adhere to the “plan”. Young players sometimes hit speedbumps on the way up. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are still two players around whom to build; Alex Gordon is a solid presence at the plate and in the field; Billy Butler is emerging as an unknown star; and Salvador Perez and several young pitchers got hurt.

The talent is still there. As long as they don’t panic, there’s no reason they can’t contend in 2013.

They do need to show improvement for manager Ned Yost to keep his job past next May/June; and GM Dayton Moore will probably get one more managerial hire if Yost has to be replaced, then the onus will be on him.

Cleveland Indians

2012 went completely wrong with 2013 not looking much better. They got off to a good start and were hovering around contention through mid-season until they collapsed completely and, since being 50-50 on July 27th, have gone 10-36. Manny Acta has a contract for next season, but since the Indians don’t have much money to spend and are openly ready to listen to offers for one of their few marketable players Shin-Soo Choo, there’s no point in sending Acta back out there as a lame duck when they have a managerial prospect in the popular former Indians’ hero Sandy Alomar Jr. on the coaching staff.

Closer Chris Perez ripped the organization from top to bottom recently and will presumably be shipped out of town for his candor. Considering that Perez is a slightly better-than-average closer, it’s not his place to be opening his mouth. The Indians are short on foundational talent. Asdrubal Cabrera is a very good player; Carlos Santana doesn’t appear to be an everyday catcher and his skills are less impressive as a first baseman; and their supposed top two starters, Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson, haven’t pitched well.

The Indians have a long road ahead of them and may have to restart their rebuild.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins were competitive for a decade after a decade of being so terrible that they were a target of contraction. Now instead of being a target, they built Target Field and spent money to try and win in 2010. To that end, they traded away a top prospect Wilson Ramos for a mediocre reliever Matt Capps; they signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka and repeated the Mets’ mistake with Kazuo Matsui, except Nishioka isn’t as talented as Matsui was; and they brought back their old GM Terry Ryan who still hasn’t had the interim label taken from his title.

Ownership has said that they want Ryan to take the job on a permanent basis. We’ll see. If Ryan isn’t fully committed or ownership wants to go in a new direction with an outsider, manager Ron Gardenhire could be in trouble as well.

Offensively, they’ve rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011 with Joe Mauer back to being Joe Mauer; a tremendous year from Josh Willingham; and Justin Morneau finally returning to form after his concussion problems.

They’re still severely short in the pitching department and are running into identical issues as the Mets did when they moved into their new park after contending for several years and building a canyon instead of a ballpark. The Mets moved the fences in and started a full-blown rebuild. The Twins have yet to do that, but they’re going to have to infuse the organization with more talent to get back to competitiveness.

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Even With Willingham, the Twins Have a Long Road

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Twins GM Terry Ryan is making intelligent acquisitions to address some of the issues that caused the Twins to fall from being picked in certain circles to go to the World Series down to a 99-game losing disaster. But even with the apparent contract agreement with Josh Willingham, they’re still only about a third of the way to putting a competitive team back on the field.

Few are truly realizing how bad the Twins were last year. It’s not injuries and poor personnel decisions that caused the train wreck but that they were simply bad.

Offensively, the Twins were next to last in the American League in runs scored, OPS and total bases; they were last in home runs.

Their pitching was last in BABip; next to last in ERA; gave up the second most hits and runs; and were last in strikeouts. Their starters didn’t provide depth and the bullpen led the league in allowing inherited runners to score.

Defensively they had the second most errors; were next to last in fielding percentage; and last in defensive efficiency.

On the surface, it’s clear why they were so atrocious, but you need to look at these numbers closely to truly understand the level of awfulness they exhibited in all phases.

It was cyclical. When you combine an injury-ravaged team that doesn’t hit home runs, doesn’t get on base and can’t score with a pitching staff that doesn’t strike anyone out and has a horrific defense behind them, you wind up with 63-99.

Ryan has gotten an adequate part-time backup for Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau with Ryan Doumit; using addition by subtraction, he removed Tsuyoshi Nishioka from the regular lineup; shored up the defense by signing Jamey Carroll and moving Alexi Casilla back to second base where he belongs; and he’s brought in a proven and underrated power bat in Willingham.

When he was with the Marlins and Nationals, the player to avoid in their lineups with runners on base was Willingham—not Hanley Ramirez nor Ryan Zimmerman.

The improved defense will help the contact-centric pitching; the offense will be better with the new players they’ve imported; but the bullpen hasn’t been improved—in fact, it’s been downgraded with the departure of Joe Nathan. No matter how much better the Twins defense is, they can’t rely on their old template of fundamentally sound defenders; functional starters; and a deep, interchangeable bullpen if they don’t have the bullpen arms they once did.

Bullpen performances fluctuate so there’s a good chance of marked improvement; but their starting rotation is still mediocre at best.

Ryan’s made decisions to bring them back to respectability and they’re cheaper. Given how atrocious and overpaid they were in 2011, that’s not all that difficult. Fixing the other holes and bringing them back to where they were for a decade—as an annual playoff participant—will be.

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Terry Ryan’s Back

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If there had been any doubt as to the new direction of the Minnesota Twins under new/old GM Terry Ryan, that was dispatched with his signings of under-the-radar, inexpensive and useful free agents Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit.

Under fired GM Bill Smith, the Twins signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka to a 3-year, $9.25 million deal to play shortstop not knowing how the Japanese import would react and transition to the North American game. He didn’t transition very well. In fact, he was awful in every single aspect of the game. He couldn’t field or hit. It was a terrible signing in theory and, predictably, in practice.

With Ryan in command, they’re paying less money to the long-underrated Carroll to a 2-year, $6.5 million contract and will know they’re getting an experienced and versatile veteran who can hit, field, get on base and steal a few bases.

Doumit was signed to a 1-year, $3 million deal. With Doumit, the only question about him is whether he can stay healthy. Has he overcome his concussion problems? Is his shoulder is in good enough shape to throw acceptably from behind the plate so teams won’t go crazy when he’s catching? Doumit’s a switch-hitter with some pop; he can play first base and the outfield in addition to catching and that’s precisely what the Twins—with the frequent injuries to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau—need. They couldn’t go into the 2012 season with Drew Butera or some similar no-hit journeyman functioning as Mauer’s backup. If Doumit can catch, that frees Mauer from having to catch 20-30 games while still keeping the star’s bat in the lineup. Doumit could be another player who blossoms when he’s released from the Pirates’ purgatory and is in a venue with more structure and positivity.

Now the Twins are on the lookout for a closer and you can bet Ryan’s not going to revisit the insipid Smith idea of trading Denard Span to the Nationals for Drew Storen.

Ryan doesn’t function that way.

He’s either going to bring back Matt Capps; look for a cheaper arm on the market that’s been a closer previously; or he’ll find a pitcher that another team might be willing to trade—Luke Gregerson, Bobby Parnell, Michael Stutes, Santiago Casilla—who could conceivably close if given the opportunity.

This is Ryan’s way and it’s better than the desperate staggering around in the dark the Twins have been doing since he retired.

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The Twins Lost Their “Way”

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And General Manager Bill Smith was fired because of it.

You can read about the Smith gaffes everywhere—how he shunned the Twins reliance on trusted bullpen arms; spent terribly on Tsuyoshi Nishioka; traded a needed backup catcher and top prospect Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps.

The Twins retreated from the template that made them an admired organization who functioned under a system and a budget by spending money badly and executing poorly conceived, desperation trades.

A change had to be made.

Former GM Terry Ryan is taking over on an “interim” basis that some don’t believe is all that interim.

If he’s taking the job, he should just take the job and say he’s taking the job.

Don’t think that Ryan is going to walk back into the GM chair and fix the 99-loss Twins immediately. Already they’re said to be cutting the payroll from an un-Twins-like $113 million in 2011; he has to address the backup catcher situation and decide exactly how many games Joe Mauer will catch and how many will be spent DHing or playing first base; they’re losing Michael Cuddyer and possibly Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan; Justin Morneau‘s playing status is in limbo after repeated concussions and other injuries; Nishioka is a disaster; the starting rotation is mediocre at best and the bullpen is in shambles.

With the defending division champion Tigers; the high-priced White Sox; and the rising Royals and Indians in the AL Central, it’s going to be next-to-impossible for the Twins to contend in 2012.

It’s not as if Ryan oversaw a quick-fix the first time he took charge as GM in late 1994 replacing Andy MacPhail.

The Twins were mostly terrible from 1995 through 2000; only in 2001—Tom Kelly‘s final season as manager—did the team finish over .500 and this was after threats of contraction and haplessness surrounded the franchise.

From 2002 onward, the Twins have been a case study in frugal and gutsy free agent signings and trades; Ryan adhered to the designated limits on payroll and weeding out players who didn’t behave off the field and execute fundamentally on the field.

His top-level drafts were shaky, but he did find some late-round sleepers who were integrated into that “Twins way”. He served the organization’s best interests in drafting Mauer over Mark Prior in spite of the insistence of armchair experts that they should’ve taken Prior; he selected functional late-rounders in Kubel, Danny Valencia and Pat Neshek; his picks of Denard Span, Jesse Crain, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing and Kevin Slowey yielded useful big leaguers who fit into roles; his trades for Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano and Nathan were strokes of genius.

Now he’s looking at a club not dissimilar to that which he took over in 1994. Rife with bloated mediocrity at the big league level, there are some young players with promise—Chris Parmelee and Joe Benson among them. Both make it less of an issue to let Cuddyer walk and to field offers for Span.

That’s what the Twins have to do.

Ryan’s first order of business will be to consider dealing Liriano and Span now or wait until the season is underway—the Twins must infuse the club with young, high-level and cheaper talent. That’s the way he built the club that dominated their division for most of the past decade.

It’s not something that can be done on an interim basis.

If he’s not in it for the long haul—loyalty to the organization or not—then he shouldn’t be entrusted with the all-important deals that can make or break a franchise.

He’s done it before.

Ryan has a lot of work to do and he needs to be all-in to do it properly.

Is he?

He and the Twins have to make that determination quickly and act boldly; and if he’s not, the Twins need to hire someone who is. Someone who knows and understands The Twins Way.

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Get Yu Darvish

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I had prepared to write about how pitchers from Japan have a small margin for error and terrible history, especially when the hype-machine is so stifling that no one could possibly succeed. That history with the likes of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Irabu should make clubs reticent about the astronomical posting bids for the right to even negotiate with them. In addition to that, the number of pitchers who arrived without the media exposure and did well—Hideo Nomo, Hideki Okajima—should give greater pause before going all in with cash and expectations.

Part of my argument was intended to be centered around the same teams that passed on Aroldis Chapman being after the latest hot commodity, Yu Darvish.

I still don’t know how Chapman wound up with the Reds and not the Yankees or Red Sox—he was the real deal before he signed and is the real deal now.

But after looking at video clips of Darvish, he’s going to be a dominating pitcher in the big leagues.

His motion combines the height and ball-hooking quirkiness of Rick Sutcliffe; the deception and charisma of Tim Lincecum; and the leg drive and finish of David Cone.

Watching Darvish in the video below, you see the similarities to Sutcliffe.

Sutcliffe was 6’7″, had a set of mechanics that no pitching coach in his right mind would teach, but were actually technically perfect in terms of balance and usage of both arms and intimidating size. The hooking of the wrist toward the forearm is said to be bad for the elbow, but that’s the way he threw; sometimes it does more damage to alter a natural motion that it would be to try and fix it; in some cases, it’s the oddity that makes them effective.

Darvish turns his back to the hitter similarly to Lincecum, he collapses he back leg to load up for the drive to the plate, and uses a leverage-based torque to generate power. The difference being he’s doing it at 6’5″ while Lincecum is (supposedly) 5’11”.

Cone was listed at 6’1″; was actually around 5’11” and threw everything at the hitter from a variety of arm angles; Darvish is said to throw a wide array of pitches including the conventional 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs; a wicked off-speed curve; a forkball; and a slider.

Here’s Cone as he’s just about to release:

And here’s Darvish:

I would totally ignore the results against against Japanese hitters—that’s a mistake that’s repeatedly made in trying to translate the success from Japan to North America. It’s happened not only with the above-mentioned pitchers who didn’t work out as hoped, but with hitters like Tsuyoshi Nishioka who was played up as a batting champion when he signed with the Twins and was a disaster.

With his unique heritage of an Iranian father and Japanese mother; a clear love of the spotlight; and the goods to back it up, Darvish is going to come to the big leagues and be a sensation.

The teams that miss out on him due to being gun-shy after prior errors are going to regret it. He’ll be a devastating force as a big league pitcher.

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Joe Mauer Was In Right Field

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Joe Mauer was in right field last night because the Twins were horribly short-handed and had no choice but to stick him out there, but that’s only a symptom of the larger set of problems the club has.

To grasp how bad the Twins truly are, you have to look at their record against the mediocre AL Central.

Against the Tigers, they’re 3-9; but playing the White Sox, Royals and Indians they’re 21-14. It could be worse.

But if you see how they’ve fared against other divisions, the situation becomes clear. They’re 9-22 against the AL East. Put them in the AL East full time and they’re well on the way to losing 100 games.

They’re awful and it’s no secret why.

For a predominately successful organization, the Twins are notoriously devoid of rational thought when looking toward the future. Did they really think that giving Tsuyoshi Nishioka $9 million was a good idea? He’s what Kaz Matsui was to the Mets, only worse.

Did they have an inkling that they were going to possibly shift Mauer out from behind the plate at least part of the time last year when they traded Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for Matt Capps and didn’t find a backup who could perform more competently than Drew Butera?

Did they realize that if they did move Mauer for 20 or so games that it’s a bit difficult to function in the major leagues with Butera behind the plate?

Even if there was no immediate intent to move Mauer to first base, the outfield or have him DH 10-15 games, they should’ve had a contingency plan better than Butera just in case what happened did happen—Mauer getting hurt.

The injury excuse doesn’t gloss over the multitude of potential disasters they had when the season started.

Their bullpen was gutted; they overpaid to keep Carl Pavano; there are black holes in the lineup; they counted on repeat seasons from the likes of the recently dispatched Delmon Young and Pavano; and they’ve endured injuries to the key players Justin Morneau and Mauer.

The biggest issue they have is their pitching, which has been top-to-bottom terrible. In years past, they’ve gotten by with mostly average starters because of a deep bullpen and a lineup that could score; but considering the bullpen subtractions without adequate replacements, the bad starting pitching, the injuries and aforementioned black holes, how could they contend?

There’s been a general reluctance from the Twins to give up on seasons and they’ve been validated for that strategy by staging remarkable comebacks in 2008 and 2009; but there’s no such magic now and it was acknowledged when they dumped Young on the Tigers for a low-level minor leaguer.

They’re lucky that the trade proposal that would’ve included Denard Span going to the Nationals for Drew Storen didn’t go through.

Will they trade Jim Thome now that he’s hit his 600th homer and would be in relatively high demand for a contending club to bolster their lineup? They should. But that doesn’t mean they will.

Are the injuries to Mauer and Morneau as much of a factor in this disappointing season as has been implied by those who were expecting a “normal” season from the Twins? Only if you want to engage in “what ifs” as I have by suggesting they’d lose 100 games if they were in the AL East. If Mauer and Morneau were 100% from the beginning of the season until now, the Twins would probably be within striking distance of the top of a weak division.

But they’re not.

They’re a bad team.

Period.

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Team Turmoil

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By now you’re probably aware of the Jack WilsonEric Wedge disagreement over Wilson leaving last Wednesday’s game after making two errors at second base—Seattle PI Blog.

Most observers have taken stood squarely behind Mariners new manager, Wedge. I also agree with Wedge’s anger, but have to give some perspective as to Wilson’s position—literally and figuratively—in the matter.

While it’s not as egregious as it was last year, this Mariners early season distraction is a sign of still simmering issues in the clubhouse. The front office flung manager Don Wakamatsu overboard as the team’s promising season was a disaster on the field and a humiliation off. Wedge was hired because he’s more of a known quantity and fearless disciplinarian who isn’t going to tolerate similar nonsense as that which undermined Wakamatsu’s credibility and, in part, cost him his job.

But here’s a legitimate defense of Wilson: he’s a shortstop and not a second baseman; he’s a free agent at the end of the year; and it’s not very fair of the Mariners to do this to him at this point in his career.

Learning a new position on the fly in the final year of his contract is difficult on many levels—financial and practical; clearly he’s going to have trepidation about the shift and won’t be immediately comfortable. We’ve all had moments of “forget this, I’m leaving”; it just so happens that Wilson did it on a major league baseball diamond and had to answer a load of questions about it after contradicting his manager’s statement as to why.

It was a mistake and a lack of communication, but Wilson’s point-of-view isn’t out of order.

Wilson may statistically be seen as inferior defensively to Brendan Ryan at shortstop (and it’s highly debatable), but shouldn’t Wilson—as the returning veteran—have gotten priority to where he plays independent of stats?

Ryan can play second base as well. It’s not as if they imported Ozzie Smith to play shortstop; we’re talking about Brendan Ryan.

Wilson had never played second base professionally before this season and Ryan has. Is it fair to expect Wilson to be able to handle it without missing a beat? Without mistakes and frustration? Even a little fear?

Tsuyoshi Nishioka of the Twins just had his fibula broken by Nick Swisher on a clean play in which Swisher was breaking up a double play. It’s one of the hazards of playing second base and overcoming those mental hurdles without adequate preparation or experience takes time.

Regardless of the new, no-nonsense manager in the Mariners dugout, this provokes greater outside wonderment at the club hierarchy and why they’re so fond of making these questionable changes for negligible reasons. Last year it was the moving of an elite defensive third baseman, Chone Figgins to second base and Jose Lopez to third; this year it’s Wilson to second to make room for Ryan.

It seems that the Mariners are shifting players around based on numbers without accounting for the human being who’s asked to do something he’s unsure of and possibly lacking competency in doing.

As said earlier, Wilson’s a free agent at the end of the year and at age 34 with injury issues and poor offense, his options aren’t going to be great to begin with; it’s probably his last chance at a decent, long-term deal. The last things he needs are an injury or terrible year playing second base instead of shortstop.

As for Ryan, this is the second time this young season he’s been discussed in a bizarre context and neither have been his fault. First there was the NY Times column about which I wrote a posting on March 27th where the Cardinals winning record in games with Ryan in the lineup last season were somehow connected (banished logic included); now he’s caught in the crossfire of a teammate being usurped.

For a limited in talent, journeyman player, Ryan’s getting a lot of—too much—attention and now it’s affecting the whole Mariners team; a team that didn’t need controversy after a disastrous 2010 and hired the new manager specifically to get past all of that.

Instead of turning the page, the Mariners have picked up where they left off. And it’s not good.

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

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If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

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Yankees vs Twins Aftermath

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Nick Swisher plays clean.

There was no way Nick Swisher intended to injure Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka breaking up the double play in yesterday’s 4-3 Yankees win.

Swisher doesn’t play that way. You can see the video clip here on MLB.com.

Playing second base is a treacherous position, but so too is sliding hard to break up a double play. When a second baseman/shortstop throws to first base to complete a double play, he’s taught to fire the ball sidearm directly at the face of the incoming runner; it’s the runner’s responsibility to get down out of the way.

That’s the way it is. If the unwritten rules are not adhered to, he gets blasted.

It’s the same thing for the second baseman/shortstop trying to turn two. The second baseman is in greater jeopardy because he’s got his back to the runner, but it doesn’t matter. He has to be able to leap out of the way; if he doesn’t, he gets hit.

Swisher could reach the bag, he didn’t go out of his way to “get” Nishioka; it was a clean slide and not a roll block.

Nishioka’s broken fibula was unfortunate and inadvertent.

Carl Pavano returning to the Yankees would’ve been a disaster.

As laughable as it was that the Yankees made an offer to Carl Pavano, the still simmering comments from the club regarding that pursuit are bordering on insane.

Joe Girardi was paraphrased during the game the other night having said something to the effect of Pavano had overcome his injuries and become an inning-eater.

Yes. Well…

The risk/reward of bringing Pavano back was too great to consider, let alone do. The myriad of reasons it would’ve been a disaster range from the obvious (he was and is loathed in the Yankees clubhouse; the fans would’ve treated him worse than they treated Javier Vazquez; the media would’ve been salivating for the first…anything), to the practical (his numbers last season weren’t precisely matching his performance).

I’m willing to toss out his first start this season in which the Blue Jays ripped him for 3 homers and 7 earned runs in four innings. But what would’ve happened had he returned to the Yankees and delivered that type of performance in his first start? Can you even conceive the response from the fans, media and—privately—teammates?

Then what if he felt a twinge anywhere on his body? I have to think that Pavano would not have had the nerve to say he was hurt; he’d go out, pitch and either get shelled or hurt himself worse.

As short as the Yankees pitching is; as desperate as they were last winter that they presented a legitimate offer to Pavano, it’s better for both sides that it didn’t work out because it simply wasn’t worth it.

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available and will be useful for your fantasy leagues all season long. It’s not a “preview”; it’s a guide.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter. We’ll hash out the details.

I’ve started a Facebook fan page if you’d like to check it out.



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Minnesota Has Bigger Problems Than Just Michele Bachmann

Books, Management, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

All due respect to the overt danger of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann contemplating a presidential run and that there are unsupervised adults who are supporting this endeavor, there are bigger issues currently confronting the people of Minnesota.

Representative Bachmann has zero chance of being elected president, thereby rendering her run meaningless. The Twins on the other hand have had a viable claim to being World Series contenders for much of the past decade. It’s not simply due to talent; the “Twins Way” has been as responsible for their consistency as any trades, free agent signings, smart draft choices or stability.

There’s a chain-of-command with the Twins; a code of conduct and behavior off the field; and an adherence to fundamentals on it that has served them well despite injuries, defections and financial constraints.

But now there are holes that they’ll have a tough time overcoming.

Let’s take a look.

Systematic departures:

The Twins are not a club of dominating starting pitching. Their rotation—apart from the potential star Francisco Liriano—is a strike-throwing, innings-gobbling group of cogs in the machine.

They’re not asked to do too much. They need to pound the strike zone, not surrender crooked numbers and get the game to the bullpen with a lead.

That’s the problem.

Departed relievers Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Jesse Crain were keys to manager Ron Gardenhire’s strategy.

Guerrier was durable with 70+ appearances every single year and consistent numbers. Crain didn’t allow many homers, threw hard and could strike people out. Rauch was versatile, able to set up and close.

All three are gone and so too is sidearming Pat Neshek who was placed on waivers and claimed by the San Diego Padres.

The return of Joe Nathan and a full season from Matt Capps (one will close, the other will set-up) will help in their efforts to move forward without the above-mentioned pitchers, they still have several gaps to fill in the middle innings. And they haven’t done it.

If you think Carl Pavano‘s 2010 season and his brilliant spring training are a portent of a continuation of that work into the regular season, you’re banking a lot on a pitcher who was a running joke not long ago and has a history of relaxing (to say the least) once he has contractual security.

Apart from Liriano, the rest of the Twins staff is extremely hittable and will be hurt badly by the departures of the defensively-oriented J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson.

With a bullpen-based team and mediocre starting rotation that needs its defense, do you see the problem here as the bullpen has been drastically altered and gutted of the unsung arms that were imperative to team success?

Teams don’t realize what they had until it’s gone; replacing Guerrier, Rauch and Crain won’t be a matter of plugging someone else in andc continuing with the same template.

Questionable defense, declining offense:

Alexi Casilla has moved to shortstop to replace J.J. Hardy. Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka—a shortstop in Japan—will play second base.

Do you know what to expect from either one of these players?

It was a year-and-a-half ago when Casilla—the erstwhile second baseman—was sent to the minor leagues for poor, lackadaisical play. Will he hit? And can he play shortstop on an everyday basis?

Nishioka has killed the ball this spring, but that means nothing. You won’t know how a Japanese import is going to perform until the season starts and he does it. Nishioka batted .346 last season; stole 22 bases; and walked 79 times—stats.

But so what?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you don’t know what you’re getting from a Japanese import. You could be getting a Hideo Nomo-like phenomenon; you could be getting a Hideki Irabu disaster. Offensively, you might get Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui or you could get Kaz Matsui.

You don’t know.

There are some who believe that a team is only as good as their up-the-middle personnel. The Twins have Joe Mauer behind the plate—state of the art and one of the top three all-around hitters in baseball; in center field, they have the talented Denard Span who should rebound from a sub-par 2010; at second and short, they have two question marks both offensively and defensively.

A weaker offense:

The Twins seem to still be holding their collective breaths with Justin Morneau as he recovers from the concussion he sustained last year. They have the depth to mix-and-match and survive with Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Jim Thome in some permutation.

But with the departures of the bullpen pieces; the new middle of the diamond; the likelihood of a fallback year from Delmon Young; and the questions surrounding Morneau’s health, they won’t score as many runs as the did last season and will allow more due to a diminished pitching staff.

The Twins are banking a great deal of their 2011 season on Casilla and Nishioka—an eventuality I would not be comfortable with.

Hangover and fallout:

The Twins put everything they had into last season. They spent money to acquire veteran talent Orlando Hudson, Hardy and Thome; they made bold in-season acquisitions with Capps and Brian Fuentes; they felt they had the goods to finally take out the Yankees.

For five innings in game 1 of the ALDS, they were killing the ghosts from their playoff nemesis…then the wheels came off.

After the Yankees exploded for 4 runs in the top of the 6th inning of game 1, the Twins put forth their final stand in the series by tying the game in the bottom of the inning; but Mark Teixeira‘s 2-run homer gave the Yankees a 6-4 lead—which they held.

The Twins whole aura changed. All the confidence and self-belief they carried into the series, telling themselves that this time would be different, floated off into the distance and disappeared like a lost helium balloon.

As much as it’s said that such an instance can be overcome when the next season starts, this is not the same team. It’s weaker and the White Sox and Tigers are stronger.

It all adds up to a down year for a model franchise.

The 2011 Twins are going to go about as far as former Governor Tim Pawlenty’s own (more realistic than Rep. Bachmann’s) presidential aspirations: the Twins players and Pawlenty are good guys; solid backgrounds; experience; systematic beliefs and a limited chance to win based on reality.

They’re in for an awakening and it’s not going to be gentle.

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I published a full excerpt of my book a week ago here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s out on Amazon Kindle too! Dig it!!!



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