Thursday, July 31, 2008

Confessions of a Sports Snob

You see them in every type of social setting: That Guy. The one who thinks they know more or are better than you and let’s you know it—either directly or indirectly. It could be the wine aficionado snidely smiling at your Franzia box purchase at the liquor store. It might be the car guy who openly mocks your “cute little foreign car”, or the fashion expert who can’t believe that you’re wearing a t-shirt and jeans again. It could be the guy at the gym who shakes his head as you attempt to curl 20 lbs. It might be the hair stylist telling you that you have a “neat” haircut, or the teacher who believes that their style is the only acceptable way to educate kids (sorry, personal pet peeve). No matter where you are, people like this are always around. I’ve always hated these people. Then I realized that I was one of them…

When it comes to sports, I’m That Guy. I’m not the super competitive-D League-slow-pitch-softball Guy, but rather the I-can’t-be-bothered-with-this-conversation-because-I-know-so-much-more-than-you Guy.

I may be That Guy, but I'm definitely not This Guy

I’ve been That Guy for a long time now, and I didn’t realize it until just recently. If I’m involved in any kind of sports conversation, I constantly find myself silently judging and usually mocking the others involved. “Oh you watched the Twins game last night? How cute. Do you know the batting averages and ERA’s of every player on the team within a hundredth of a point? Can you not only name, but speak intelligently about all the guys on the opposing team? Do you know the rosters of all of our minor league teams by heart? No? Then don’t try to talk to me about last night’s game." I can’t seem to hold a polite conversation with these people. I can’t even stand there nodding and smiling. I have to leave; I have to get away so I can get on my high horse. It’s incredibly rude and smug, even if these comments are only occurring in my mind. Yet some version of that goes through my head any time someone I deem “unworthy” makes any sort of sports-related comment. Hell, I often silently mock people if they’re simply wearing a Twins or Vikings t-shirt.

There's no way I'm the only one judging/mocking this guy.

Those who know me are probably not surprised by this revelation. I might have a bit of a reputation for openly and outwardly mocking people on a whim. But this self-realization about the level of my sports snobbery is a big step. I feel like I should start going to meetings:
Q: “Hello, my name is Adam and I’m a sports snob.”
Group: “Hi, Adam.”
Q: “Ah, I guess I’ve always had this problem, but I didn’t realize it until just recently.”
Facilitator: “That’s very common, Adam. The important thing is that you recognize it now and you’re getting help.”
Q: “Shut up. You’re probably the guy who loves Joe Mauer simply because he’s from St. Paul and has those stupid sideburns.”
Facilitator: “Now see, this is what we need to work on…”

You like sideburns? Me too! I wonder if there's a club we could join?

Before this article gets too self-deprecating, allow me to validate myself. I got this way through a lot of hard work. I can sense your skepticism, but hear me out. For as long as I can remember, sports have been my only hobby. Virtually every minute of free time I have is spent looking at or doing something sports-related. When people ask me “What’d you do this weekend?” or “What’ve you been up to lately?” my answer is almost always “Nothing much.” I say that because I’m embarrassed to admit that last night I spent two hours on the internet looking up statistics and batting trends of the New Britain Rock Cats (the Twins AA team) or analyzing the remaining schedules of every team in the AL Central. I don’t want to tell them that over the last two weeks I’ve been researching and reading books about the history of the Duke-North Carolina basketball rivalry. But that’s what I do and it’s hard, intense “work”.

This is research. I'm kind of like a scientist...

Yet I hesitate to take pride in my “work”. I do so because sports are viewed as recreation and thus not worthy of this extreme amount of time consumption. If someone told you that they spent their Saturday weeding their garden, most people would not view this as a waste of time. They might even praise them for being outside.

Really, this is acceptable?

However, those same people would likely look down on the fact that I spent my Saturday looking at the contract status’ of potential NBA free agents in 2010. Well gardening is as much of a recreational type of hobby (if not more so) as sports, yet time spent on this activity is not viewed as wasteful.

Maybe that’s why I’ve developed such an elitist attitude when it comes to sports. If everyone is going to degrade my passion, then I’m going to gravitate towards it even more. That’s gotta be it. That’s why the first hour and a half I’m home from work every day is spent on,, etc. while ESPN blares in the background. That’s why I have the Twins game on the TV while my computer has multiple windows open tracking the Angels-Red Sox, Cubs-Brewers, and Rays-Blue Jays games.

I'd call it multi-tasking

It’s not my fault; it’s everyone else’s. It all makes sense now.

My name is Adam, and I know more about sports than you do.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

The Randomness

Ok, so due to a lack of any real sporting news (I REFUSE to write about the d-bag with the 5 o’clock shadow over in Cheeseland), I decided just to throw out some thoughts on a bunch of random little things that are bothering me or that I’ve noticed. If you have any thought comments, or disagreements with what follows, please put it on the comment board and we can get some nice arguments going.

--The Yankees absolutely stole Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from the Pirates. A .330/15/60 guy and a powerful righty out of the pen for basically one decent prospect? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve heard that a bunch of MLB GM’s are upset about this trade, and rightfully so. At what point is the league going to stop letting the big market teams bully everyone around and do whatever they want? This is starting to get really embarrassing for Major League Baseball.

--Maybe the St. Louis Cardinals should have made a move. They just got swept, at home, by the Brewers over the weekend and are now 4 games back in the NL Central with two teams in front of them. Plus, both Chicago (Zambrano and Harden) and Milwaukee (Sheets and Sabathia) have two dominant starters that won’t allow them to go on any prolonged losing streaks. Not good times in Saint Louey.

--Let me get this straight, Devin Hester is getting $15 million guaranteed to return kicks? Seriously? I know the Bears say he’s going to get some time at wide receiver as well, but let’s get serious here: he’s nothing more than a return guy. Granted he’s the best around, maybe ever, but so was Dante Hall a few years ago. Remember that guy? The Human Joystick? He was absolutely dominant and now he’s not even an afterthought anymore. Hester has only been going for 2 years and now he’s holding out and getting a ton of guaranteed money? Sounds like a terrible idea to me.

--Blah, blah, blah. Something about Brett Favre. Blah, blah, blah.

--When we look back on it, there’s a pretty good chance that Josh Childress and Brandon Jennings are going to be pioneers of the new NBA. Europe is going to play a huge role in the future of the League, especially for economically challenged high school seniors and lower tier pros (end of the bench guys). If Childress and Jennings have any sort of success, or especially if they parlay their European vacations into lucrative NBA contracts, this kind of thing will become a trend, not an anomaly.

--The AL Central is going to be a tight, three way dance for the last two months. And the Twins have a very favorable in-division schedule the rest of the way out too. I’m just saying…

--Marcus Camby going to the Clippers will prove to be the most underrated move of the NBA offseason. With a core of Kaman-Camby-Thorton-Davis, LA will make the playoffs next year.

--As great of a story as they have been, the Rays remind me a lot of the 2001 Twins: a team that was the surprise, feel-good story of the first part of the season, only to fade down the stretch in August and September. That AL East division is just too tough for an upstart team like Tampa to win, especially when Boston and New York can go out and get any player they want via trade or free agency.

--Has one man caused more stress, unhappiness, unrest, etc. than Drew Rosehaus? Every NFL client he gets immediately hates his contract and thus causes major headache’s for their current team. If ever there was a reason for collusion, it’s this guy.

--The Twins continue to shop for a 3 bagger despite Brian Buscher’s .333 average and 26 RBI in 30 games. I wonder what he did to get in Gardenhire’s dog house? How is he still losing playing time to Brendan Harris and Hey-Didn’t-You-Use-To-Be-Mike-Lamb?

--Before you complain too much about the Vikings’ QB “situation”, keep in mind that the Bears had a coin flip to determine whether Rex “Sex Cannon” Grossman or Kyle “Neck Beard” Orton would take the snaps with the first team offense during training camp. Think about how ridiculous that is…

--Michael Redd and Tayshun Prince will be the keys to Team USA winning gold in Beijing. If they can shoot and play tough perimeter D, this should be a cakewalk for the Americans.

--I like golf; I play golf; I watch golf; I even play fantasy golf. That said, without Tiger Woods, the PGA Tour sucks. No athlete in the history of sports has ever been or will ever be this important to their sport. It’s really incredible to think about the effect he has.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

The Trade Deadline Approaches...

As the Twins returned from the All Star break, they continued their brilliant play of late by taking 2 of 3 from the Rangers (and in the process shutting down one of the best offenses in baseball—Texas’ 4 All Star hitters combined to go 5-40 in the series). Besides the great baseball that the team has been playing, there have been two major subplots revolving around our club: the Francisco Liriano situation (that post will be coming later this week) and the trade deadline.

Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline comes on July 31st. Some teams in the hunt for the postseason have already made moves to try and better position themselves for a playoff run. This is especially true in the National League, where the Cubs (Rich Harden), Brewers (CC Sabathia and Twins-killer Ray Durham), and Phillies (Joe Blanton) have all made huge splashes by acquired some of the top pitchers in the market. It seems like only a matter of time before some of the big guns in the American League (Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, and Twins) do the same thing to better their teams for the stretch run. So what are the Minnesota Twins going to do?

The big rumor over the last couple weeks has been that we should be/are going after Adrian Beltre, the third baseman from the Seattle Mariners. I dislike this idea for a number of reasons. First, this rumor is based on the assumption that we have a pressing need at third base. I’d say that we have a solid three bag prospect in Brian Buscher (5 hits in the Rangers series including a homerun, by the way), but for some reason Ron refuses to play him on a regular basis. Gardy somehow thinks that playing Brendan Harris, whose batting average is hovering in the .250’s, at third is a great idea because he’s a little bit better than Buscher (hitting in the .330’s) defensively—despite the fact that Buscher has looked solid at the hot corner most of the time. Oh, and Brian is left handed. This is a considerable handicap in Ron Gardenhire’s world. Unless your name is Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau, there’s no possible way that a left handed hitter can have success against a lefty pitcher. It’s simply not possible (this is a direct result of him coming from the Tom Kelly School of Coaching).

The second reason I don’t like this trade is because of what we might potentially have to give up. I’ve read recently that it might take one of our young starters (Baker, Blackburn, Slowey, or Perkins) to make this deal work. Are you kidding me? We’re going to trade away a starting pitcher in his 20’s who is just starting to come into his own for Adrian Freaking Beltre? If Bill Smith is half the man I think he is, then he’ll realize that this is a terrible idea. *Side contradictory note: if we trade the guy we perceive to be the weakest of the four, Slowey in my opinion, then that would open up a rotation spot for the Franchise and thus diffuse that situation altogether.

Finally, we’re talking about Adrian Beltre here. This guy parlayed one completely out of character, possibly steroid influenced, 48 homerun season (he hasn’t hit as many as 30 in a year since) into a monster, unwarranted contract. He’s the same guy who has hit over .300 only once in his career (guess what year that was?). He has been widely unproductive in Seattle; consistently hitting in the .260’s with 150 more strikeouts than RBI during his time in the Great Northwest. Plus, he signed with the Dodgers at a very young age, which history and Miguel Tejada has shown us could mean that he’s 29 years old, as his “birth date” would suggest. Or he could be 35—who knows? Oh and there is that tiny little fact that they seem quite willing to get rid of him…

If you believe that the Twins need to make a move to help their playoff chances, and I do, then the move to make is to acquire some bullpen help. Without the services of Pat Neshek, there has been a big hole in the pen in terms of getting the ball to Joe Nathan. Guys like Brian Bass and Boof Bonser have been incredibly terrible, while guys like Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain are good only on occasion. Having a dominant, shut down bullpen has been a signature of all good Twins teams over the past 6-8 years. It would be even more crucial to this year’s team because of the inexperience in the starting staff. Much to my surprise, my arch nemesis Ron Gardenhire actually agrees with me. In the Pioneer Press today, Gardy says, “If they could get somebody that can really help us at the end of the game, to set up, to take the place of Neshek, that would be really great.” For the first time in a long time, I think Ron and I are on the same page. /Shudders/

In one of the first ever posts on this site last summer, I lobbied hard for the Twins to acquire a bat to spark some life into their beleaguered offense—namely, Dimitri Young. I still think that was the right move. Can you imagine how dominant our lineup would be this year if Young was in the DH spot instead of the Kubel/Monroe platoon? Plus, Morneau might actually be able to get a day off every once in a while. But I digress. This year, I am once again campaigning for a new addition to the Twins: Brian Fuentes of the Colorado Rockies.

The guy has been a very good closer for Colorado (though he did briefly lose his job last year) and I think he would flourish as our 8th inning setup guy. I’ve been hearing a lot of talk on Baseball Tonight about how he could be available; though I have no idea what kind of package it might take to get him here. Acquiring him would mean that our starters would only need to pitch 6 innings and then they could hand the ball over to a Guerrier-Fuentes-Nathan trio to end the game. That would be very tough come September and October.

Realistically, however, most Twins fans know by now that one of two things will happen at the trade deadline. Either the team will stand pat and not make a move because they are unwilling to put together a solid package or deal prospects, or we will trade for some fringe Major League pitcher that no one has heard of (someone in the Craig Breslow mold). Then the blogs (like this one), sports radio shows, etc. will be all over the organization for not making an impact move. Until we make the playoffs, that is…

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008


You know who sucks? Dan Uggla. The following is the Marlins' second baseman's line from Tuesday night's All-Star Game:

0-4, 3 K, 1 GIDP, 3 E

Yuck. Way to step up on the big stage, Hank.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Yay or Nay?

They said I wouldn't look good in Purple...look at me now...look at me now...

This story is too good to ignore. This isn't going to happen is it? I'm putting it at 99% it doesn't, but Favre just came out today stating he wants to play for sure and not at Green Bay. He wants to be released and that's right from the horses mouth. September 8th is the first Monday night football game, Vikings at Green Bay. Can you imagine Brett Favre showing up as the quarterback of the Vikings to the game that the Packers were going to retire his number? That's the best sports story in 10 years. He might get murdered if that happens. That's not a joke. I can't wait to see how this plays out...

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Twins Mid Season Report

The All Star break is generally considered the halfway point of the 162 game MLB season (even though most teams have played closer to 90+ games at that point). Since that break is coming up this Monday, it seemed appropriate to review what has transpired so far this year and take a look towards the second half of this 2008 Twins season. What follows is a list of questions about the team and my breakdown/answers to those questions. If you have anything to add or a different opinion on something, feel free to get that comment section going.

--Is the Twins record (51-41 as of Friday) an indication that this team is better than most people thought, or the product of favorable schedule?
At this point in the season, most “experts” had the Twins penciled in for roughly 40-43 wins. Sitting 10 games above .500 with three games left until the break should be considered a major success. Of course part of the reason for that record is the run the team just went on where they won 18 of 21 games. Did we take advantage of a weak interleague schedule? You bet. But that shouldn’t take away from anything the team has accomplished so far. Going 14-4 against inferior competition is what good baseball teams do. It is funny to me how a couple of games can change everyone’s perspective in a very short amount of time. Before the Boston series, everyone was talking about us winning the division/wild card and discussing potential trade deadline moves that should be made. A three game sweep later (in which, it should be noted, we could/should have won at least 2 if not all 3) and suddenly the team has been “exposed” and the naysayers feel that we’re done. Not me. If you had told me, or any other Twins fan, that we would have at least 50 wins at the All Star break, I would have been ecstatic. I’m going to say that this team is good and will be in contention for both the division and the wild card throughout the rest of the season.

--Is the starting staff this good?
This might be the toughest part of this Twins team to figure out. The season started with Livan Hernandez of all people leading the way for our otherwise young staff. The young guys got knocked around a little bit, but they gained experience. As the season progressed, especially during the recent hot streak, all four of them (Baker, Blackburn, Perkins, Slowey) have showed signs of being capable, if not very good, major league starting pitchers. During that same stretch, Livan has shown signs of being the 5+ ERA pitcher that he’s been for quite some time now. Those shifts make this staff a bit tricky to figure out.

--So is the emergence of the young starters a sign of things to come?
The homer in me wants to say yes. I’ve watched a lot of games and it doesn’t appear that these are mediocre pitchers who are getting an enormous amount of run support or getting lucky throwing bad pitches. All four guys seem to have spot on control and a very good ability to mix their pitches. The only problem I see is that all four remind me of Brad Radke. That is to say that they are good pitchers who can be very solid at times, but not dominant, number one type guys. Can a team win a title with four good, but not great pitchers? Historically, you’d have to say no. Depending on what the teams around them do, they might be able to get into the playoffs with that kind of rotation, but it seems like you need that top dog in order to win in October. That said, they will be good enough to at least keep things interesting and keep the team in contention.

--What happens with Livan and Franchise?
The prevailing attitude among the fans and media in this town is that Hernandez should be shipped out for a box of baseballs at the deadline and that Liriano should be brought up to reclaim his spot as staff ace. That sounds nice and all, but there may be some issues with it. First of all, finding a taker for Livan might be quite a bit more difficult than most fans realize. Not too many contenders are looking for a starter who will pitch 6-7 innings with 10+ hits and 5+ runs every outing. Then there’s the matter of Liriano, who’s been less that dominant during his stint in AAA. It would seem that the Twins standing in the division and wild card races will be the determining factor in the fates of these two gentlemen. If we are still in contention at the end of July, Hernandez probably stays. If we seem out of it, Franchise comes up to set up the rotation of 09 and beyond.

--What do we make of the bullpen?
Oi. This has been, far and away, the most frustrating part of the Twins this year. There have been stretches where guys like Guerrier, Reyes, and even Crain have looked unhittable. Of course there have also been times where they have looked, well, let’s call it less than capable. The truth probably lies somewhere in between the two extremes. Here’s what we know: with Neshek out for the year, most of the guys in the pen have been pitching in situations that they are not used to. There’s also the issue of Gardy mismanaging the bullpen very badly, but we’ll get to that later. So basically, the answer is that we don’t know. If you believe that the Boston series was simply a hiccup or a learning experience for some of these guys, then they should only get stronger as the season progresses. If you’re in the camp that said series exposed our weaknesses and showed that we’ll buckle under pressure, then it could be a frustrating end to the summer.

--Can the clutch hitting continue?
Even with the struggles in Boston, the Twins still have the best batting average with runners in scoring position in the majors (and it’s not even close). The team has found a way to win games that we would not have won in the past couple years. Even more impressive is the fact that we are not leaning on guys like Mauer and Morneau to do everything. Seemingly every game has a different guy stepping up with multiple hits, clutch RBI’s, and/or some unexpected power. While this is very encouraging, you have to ask yourself, “Can we consistently expect guys like Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, and Brian Buscher to deliver clutch hits?” Realistically, it would seem like the team needs its stars to step up a bit over then next couple months. Sure we can hope that the younger players continue to improve and that the clutch hitting continues to be contagious, but in order to be a division winning team, you need the studs to carry the team at times.

--So where has Morneau’s power gone?
It seems like Justin has gone to the Joe Mauer school of hitting (Quick Swing not included) and has decided that it’s better to hit .310 with 20 HR’s (still 5x as many as Joe hits) than to hit .275 with 35 bombs—seemingly standard for all Twins hitters. While this approach is getting him quite a few RBI’s and keeping runners on base, I would say that it’s not the way to go. There’s no guarantee that guys like Span, Gomez, and Casilla are going to continue to be on base when Morneau comes to the plate. On top of that there are times, especially late in games, where a 1 or 2 out double simply isn’t going to be enough—we need the power. If it were up to me, I’d be pushing for #33 to participate in the Home Run Derby next week as a way to get the power back in his swing.

--What will the team do with the lineup when everyone gets healthy?
This is the most immediate and pressing issue facing the Twins right now. The outfield already has Gomez, Young, and Span looking like a very good, young core. Add to that Jason Kubel and Craig Monroe coming off the bench (and splitting the DH role) and you have a lot of talent. However, Michael Cuddyer is scheduled to come off the DL soon, so that gives the team a gluttony of players at this position. Do you really send Span back down to AAA? In the infield, Gardenhire has already shown that he’s determined to play Nick Punto on a regular basis at some position. Brendan Harris has been a viable player at multiple positions as well. Brian Buscher has been hitting very well, but has fallen victim to Gardy’s hatred of batting lefty’s against lefty’s. Also in the mix is Mike Lamb, who’s been terrible but is making a lot of money, and Matt Tolbert and Adam Everett are scheduled to return to the team soon.

--What can we realistically expect from The Kids in the second half?
The youngest players on the team (Carlos Gomez, Alexi Casilla, Denard Span, and Delmon Young) have been the most exciting and the most frustrating part of the offense so far this year. Gomez has the ability to bunt at any time and make things happen on the base paths, yet has shown poor plate discipline and an inability to get on base consistently. Casilla is still hitting over .300 and getting into scoring position for the big guns. Nevertheless, he was hitting only .220 in AAA for a reason. Span is flourishing (both in the bigs and in the minors) and seems to have found a bit of a niche in the 9 hole. But what happens to him when Cuddyer gets healthy? Young is hitting in the .280’s and has been hot lately, yet has shown none of the power that gained him many accolades during his rookie year in Tampa. So where does that leave us? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that each of these guys will continue to improve as the year goes along and will, at the very least, give the Twins and their fans a ton of hope for the future.

--What kind of lineup decisions are we in store for?
Loyal readers know that I’m nowhere near being a fan of Gardy’s. I think he makes sketchy lineup decisions and constantly misuses the bullpen. It is scary to think about the lineups that he will come up with once the team is entirely healthy. I still think it’s a mistake to bat Mike Redmond 3rd when he plays for Mauer. I know he’s a .300 hitter and all, but for some reason this organization just doesn’t understand the concept that a 3-hitter should drive the ball and drive in runs. The decisions that are sure to cause a lot of talk and head scratching will be who Gardy plays at short and third on a day to day basis. It’s a given that his boyfriend will play at one of the infield positions virtually every day, but the rotation at third will be the thing to watch. Brian Buscher has been ripping the ball and hasn’t been nearly as shaky in the field as he was said to be. Yet somehow he can’t find his way into any playing time. Apparently a .330 hitter with gap and HR power isn’t good enough for Ron. That leads to things like Harris playing third and Lamb somehow being our late inning lefty pinch hitter. Because, you know, that makes sense…

--How will Gardy use the pen—especially Nathan?
I’m going to try and keep this brief (because I can, have, and will go on at great length about all of the mistakes I think Gardenhire is making with this team) and just let you know about a few things that are guaranteed to happen in the second half of the season. 1) Gardy will continue to refuse to use Joe Nathan in non-save situations even though it would make sense to have your best reliever come in during the most crucial situations. 2) He will continue to pitch the “Bassman” (Gardy’s pet name for Brian Bass—gawd he plays favorites more than any other manager in the game) in situations where he has no business pitching. 3) Someone in the bullpen will get overworked to the point that their arm and performance suffers (like he did with Neshek last year). Leading candidate at this time is Guerrier.

--Will the team’s brutal July schedule be the downfall of this season?
Well, we’ve already seen the less-than-encouraging start to what appears to be a very difficult month of July. Along with the Boston and Detroit road trips that lead up to the All Star break, the teams has dates with the Yankees, Tigers (again), and White Sox, among others, still to come this month. The team’s struggles against the Bronx Bombers have been well documented, and shouldn’t come as any surprise should they struggle. They key to the month will be how well the Twins play against division rivals Detroit and Chicago. I know the media is trying to convince you that the Tigers are “coming around” right now, but that team doesn’t really scare me at all. I think we take 5 of 7 against them. Thus if we can simply hold our own against everyone else, we should be fine heading into August.

--How much will the long road trip in August affect them?
In an extremely rare scheduling quirk, the Twins will play 14 consecutive games on the road at the end of August. The majority of these games will be on the West Coast, which makes it even more daunting. With the AL West looking relatively tough at this point, except for Seattle of course, this might be a more important stretch than that brutal end to July that we just went over. If they can play well during that trip, it should give them the confidence to try and make a playoff push during the month of September. If not, it could be the beginning of a 2001-like collapse. Of course if we’ve already fallen out of contention by that time, all of this will be a moo point (you know, like a cow’s opinion—it doesn’t matter).

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Quale-ty Ramblings

Hey kids, I’m back with another set of tidbits that I was just itching to get off my chest. Hope everyone enjoyed the quick summer roundtables about the NBA Draft, but it’s time to talk baseball and a little bit of Purple. So as those annoying, awful, and incredibly poorly acted Coors Light commercials say, “Let's Vent!”

As we enter July, the Twins head into their most brutal stretch of the season. As has been documented in a previous post, they have to play, among others, Detroit 6 times, New York 3 times, Boston 3 times, and Texas 3 times. It cannot be understated then how important the Twins 14-4 interleague record was. The fact that they were able to beat up on inferior teams and pull within a ½ game (now 2 ½) of the White Sox could prove to be a huge factor in keeping them in the race. Now they need to find a way to keep up the impressive pitching performances and timely hitting against some of the best teams in the game. That means guys like Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn have to continue to be lights out—just like they have been over the last few weeks. The only reason we might crash and burn during this stretch will be our hitting. Having Cuddyer out doesn’t help things (really Mike? A finger, again?), and you know that Gardy will be playing Punto as often as he can.

Begin rant: So explain this one to me. The Twins are in the midst of a 10 game winning streak and playing phenomenal baseball, all without the “help” of Punto. Then the Tricky One comes off the DL and immediately gets a start over a red hot Brendan Harris (10 for his last 27, including a huge homerun, at the time of Punto’s unthinkable start). The result? A Twins loss and Punto putting up the big O Fer. The next day Harris is back in the lineup and the team wins again. Weird. And yes, in case you hadn’t noticed, I will bitch about Nick Punto every single chance I get. Get used to it. End rant.

So get down to the Dome to catch your second place Twins, just in case this momentum doesn’t last (which it might not if Monday’s game against Detroit is any indication—nice fastball, Jesse). And if they make it through this month within striking distance of first place, well then you may as well start printing the 2008 version of the Homer Hanky.

Because of the long season and the high number of games, baseball often gets thrown to the side until the playoffs, but this has been one of the best regular seasons in recent memory. At the midway point, we already have these incredible storylines: the Rays impressive play, Josh Hamilton, the Diamondbacks sharp fall, the Cubs impressive play, Ken Griffey Jr. joining the 600 HR club, the Tigers flat start and current rise, Chase Utley—a 3rd Phillies MVP?, Prince Fielder’s diet, Edison Volquez, the Under .500 Division, Rays-BoSox throw down, those gutty Twins, the potential end of Schilling and Smoltz, the end of Yankee Stadium, the Sidney Ponson Experience, the courting of CC, and Ozzie’s tirades. And we’ve still got 3 months and 82 games to go…

A few mid season awards:
MVPAL—Carlos Quentin (CHI); NL—Chase Utley (PHI)
This was an easy choice for me. I know a lot of people would put Hamilton here because of his amazing comeback year and high RBI total. But Quentin’s numbers are almost as remarkable and he has held together a first place team when their conventional run producers (Thome, Konerko, etc.) have floundered. As for the NL, Chipper Jones and Lance Berkman deserve consideration, but Utley’s 23 HR’s for a first place ballclub are extremely impressive and he should continue to put up amazing numbers because of all of the talent surrounding him in that Phillies lineup.

Cy YoungAL—Joe Saunders (LAA); NL—Edison Volquez (CIN)
I would have given this award to Cliff Lee, but since the Indians are so incredibly terrible at this point, I just couldn’t do it. With all of the mediocre pitching in the AL, the award had to go to Saunders, who is top 7 in ERA and tied for the lead in Wins for a first place team. Volquez gets the nod in the NL because of his miniscule ERA and because he reminds me of Francisco Liriano circa 2006.

ManagerAL—Ozzie Guillen (CHI); NL—Lou Pinella (CHI)
I know that Joe Madden probably deserves this award for the amazing way that his Rays are playing so far, but I have to give it to the most entertaining managers in all of sports—who just happen to coach in the same city. Ozzie’s outbursts not only motivate his players, but also keep the scrutiny away from their downfalls. Pinella is a much easier choice. His Cubs have had to deal with injuries to studs like Soriano and Zambrano, yet still have the best record in the league.

Playoff Predictions (Revised):
AL—East—Red Sox, West—Angels, Central—White Sox, Wild Card—Twins (homer pick here; most “experts” would tell you that it will be a team such as the Tigers, Rays, or Yankees)
NL—East—Phillies, West—Diamondbacks, Central—Cubs, Wild Card—Marlins (another wishful pick; again, there are more likely candidates including the Cardinals, Brewers, and Mets)

Am I the only one who’s noticed that the Purple have been everywhere in the sports media world lately? Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine had features on Jared Allen recently (as well as a Udeize update), Dr. Z picked us to win the Super Bowl, and the ESPN fantasy rankings have us with the #1 defense and #2 running back (Peterson). Now, I’m not the kind of guy who has a countdown until training camp going on, nor am I the guy that has already participated in multiple mock fantasy drafts (though I know a few people in each of those categories), but I’m really starting to get amped up for this year’s version of the Vikes. I know that the odds are against us, especially given the Minnesota Sports Curse and all, but has there been a Vikings team in recent history with this much hype and high expectations? The months of July and August are going to a lot of fun, and ESPN is going to have a lot of purple on its screens. Oh, and if you’re interested, the gentlemen of TK will be claiming their spots on the parade route sometime in mid-August, so feel free to join us.

Bonus NBA Rambling:
Ok, so I know that the guys already did their predraft roundtable and then discussed the Wolves moves at length on this site, but I have to add in my two cents. Let me preface this by saying that I like trading Jaric’s Contract for Cardinal’s Contract, and Mike Miller should help us out in the shooting department. That said, I really feel like everyone is talking themselves into Kevin Love at this point. We’re talking about an undersized power forward who is seriously lacking on the defensive end of the floor (where we already have multiple players who struggle there as well—Jefferson, McCants, etc.), and whose greatest asset is that he throws an outlet pass better than anyone else in the college game. Do I have that about right? I know K-Lo’s long passes got UCLA some easy transition hoops, but that kind of thing does not translate into the NBA. No one is hustling down for a quick two and that skill will be useless at the next level. What you’re left with is a guy who isn’t tall enough or strong enough to dominate on the boards (plus he’ll be fighting Al for those rebounds), doesn’t have a strong offensive game other than a 5-10 foot jumper, and will get abused on the defensive end of the floor on a nightly basis. Sorry, I’m not feeling it.

**Breaking News—Sources have confirmed that on Saturday, July 12, former major league baseball player and steroid snitch Jose Canseco will be fighting former NFL kick return specialist Via Sikahema in an absurd pay-per-view boxing match. Feel free to make your own joke at this time…

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

We love roundtables. Mayo/Love trade...

Yes, it is Tuesday, five days after the fireworks that was the NBA draft, but we needed to put down our thoughts on what went down. It was too good. Many people slipped into bed naked on Thursday night thinking OJ Mayo was the next face of the franchise only to wake up in the morning with a blockbuster deal that Kevin “I’ve ruined my playing career because I blow as a GM” McHale pulled off at midnight. I got a text message late night from my roommate (he lives downstairs, but he felt a text would be better than knocking on my door) saying: “We traded Mayo.” Marx, Fuzz and Dogg had to have a roundtable that stretched over the past couple days to analyze this beast. Here is what transpired...

Fuzz: I have mixed feelings about this. I even wrote about this in that roundtable last week about this very trade. I asked: Is a Love/Miller combo better than O.J. Mayo? Well, I got my wish. We will see, because it’s exactly what went down. The deal doesn't bother me too much, other than; I really wanted to see Mayo on this team playing with Big Al. That would have been intriguing. But, like Dogg said, would he have stayed in the long term? He expressed displeasure earlier this month about coming here but softened that when it got closer to the draft. Love seems like a guy you can keep around. Anyways, mixed feelings at this point from this guy. Mayo could be a superstar, but we got a good basketball player, a good shooter and got rid of one of the worst contracts ever to be given out to an NBA player (Jaric). McHale has no dumped Hudson, Mike James, Jaric, Blount, Davis and Walker's contracts. It's about damn time he fixes for his mistakes. The roster is getting cleaned up fellas.

Marx: I am not very happy about this. You win with star power in this league and O.J. Mayo is the only one in this deal who could become a star. Did we potentially get better with this trade---it would be hard to get any worse. This deal looks to me like a salary dump and a “McHale knows better” deal. In the salary dump we got rid of two guys (A. Walker and G. Buckner) who’s contracts were expiring after this season anyway. We got rid of Marko Jaric, but we picked up Brian Cardinal and his contract that is only one season shorter than Marko’s.

This deal also is saying that we did everything right the past three drafts and we still believe Randy Foye, Rashad McCants and Corey Brewer can get it done. None of those players is anything more than a rotation player. Hopefully McHale is right about this and Mayo never becomes an all-star, but I’m not thrilled with the deal.

Let me ask you-what would you be happy with from Kevin Love? Would you be happy if he’s averaging 12 ppg and 8 boards in 3 years? Is that better than a guy carrying a team and making the all-star team? Mike Miller is a nice, overpaid role player who can absolutely shoot.

Fuzz: I've heard both sides and I'm confused as ever. I don't know what to think about it. I almost don't want to like it because McHale is involved. I just want him gone. It would have been a lot better if say like Hoiberg was our GM and pulled it off. It would seem different for some reason. McHale bothers the hell out of me. Anyways, the Star Tribune blogger, Michael Rand wrote about it and had this to say:

Maybe it’s dangerous to trust gut feelings when they align with moves by a franchise that has been less than successful when doing things the hard way, rather than the obvious way. But we think the late night blockbuster trade of O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love and Mike Miller (and others, mostly for money reasons) will go down as the best in Wolves’ history and perhaps a fleecing for the ages (in the right direction) once all is said and done. We can’t explain exactly what we don’t like about Mayo. We just watch him and see more bust than boom — way more Rider than LeBron. And despite Love’s ridiculous chinstrap facial hair, we’ve been infatuated with his game for a while now. He’ll make Al Jefferson better. He’ll make Corey Brewer better. We would have been happy if the Wolves had taken Love at No. 3; instead, they parlayed the pick into Love, Miller and the shedding of two problematic contracts (Marko Jaric and Antoine Walker). Miller is a sharpshooter. Sure, Cardinal has a bad contract as well (two years and $13 million left), but he’s at least a bigger body who can be useful off the bench. Jason Collins is a 7-footer who has 407 career NBA starts. Mostly, though, it comes down to Love. We like Love over Mayo, straight up. Factor in the rest of the deal, and it was a slam dunk.

Now, the only quibble we have: the way it went down. It’s tough to sell the public on a player like Mayo and then pull him back in the dead of night. Is there a good reason this deal couldn’t have been arranged and ready to go the minute David Stern stepped to the podium? We don’t think so. As we watched the draft with some RandBall regulars (good time had by all), we started trying to convince ourselves that Mayo could be a good fit. Local fans who wanted Mayo were ecstatic, only to be disappointed later. The timing and handling was bad; the end result, though, will be the best thing to happen to this franchise in a long time. And we’re not just saying that because we kind of predicted it.

I thought this was interesting. I've been reading both sides of this thing. It's either hot or cold with a lot of people. I’m starting to warm up to it…

Dogg: Well you two know my feeling about the draft day trade, LOVE IT! I honestly pin a 95% chance on Mayo leaving here after his rookie contract if not earlier. We were making the playoffs when Marbury was here and even he was bitching every season about getting out of dodge. Mayo is just as high priced talent as Marbury and like Fuzz said, he showed discomfort getting drafted by MN even before we took him. Did you see his reaction by the way when we drafted him? He didn’t look the slightest bit impressed and I think Love is going to be a very good NBA player. If he continues to lose weight and hit the weights he could easily be a Carlos Boozer/Brad Miller mold, both very good NBA players. Getting rid of Jaric, Walker and Buckner is the biggest key. Jaric had 3 years $21M left on his contract. I don’t know what Brian Cardinal is getting paid but I can’t imagine it’s a worse contract that Jaric.

Marx, what is your issue with Foye? He had knee issues last year and I believe he has one full healthy season that he can be a legit 15 ppg 5 apg and 5 rpg. Almost an Andre Miller mold. It might be wishful thinking but he has major talent. I say we make the playoffs in two years if we can hold onto Mike Miller.

Marx: Andre Miller and Foye are totally different players. Miller is a true pg who looks to run the offense and pass (He can't shoot.) Foye is a gunner who would like nothing more than to squeeze off 20 shots a game. I don't have a problem with Foye; I just don't think he will ever be more than a rotation player, which is fine except we have a lot of those guys. Why are you guys so high on Mike Miller? He's a shooter, but he seems to be one of those guys who gets his number on bad teams. Has he ever been in the playoffs? Maybe once or twice in the first round with Memphis. He's a good player, but he is not going to get us over the top in the West. He seems like the kind of player you add when you are tweaking your squad to make a run, but not be one of the top players on a rebuilding team. I hope I'm wrong and maybe this trade will grow on me over time, but damn.

Fuzz: The key of the deal is still Kevin Love. He needs to prove he can play the NBA game. He's in between positions and he is for sure the key to this deal. He is a natural rebounder, regardless of his size, which I love. Big Al and Love should grab their fair share of boards. Mike Miller and Brewer are good rebounders also. We should be a good rebounding team next year. Mike Miller averaged 7 last year and that's not bad at all. What's our starting five? Foye, Miller, Brewer, Love and Al? Or do Gomes and Telfair (assuming we sign them) make the starting lineup?

I know Mayo looked pissed off being drafted by us, but how does he feel now? Memphis is probably worse off than us and this area has twice what Memphis has to offer. Maybe the cold factor got to him, but the Twin Cities is a lot better area for nightlife/entertainment than Memphis.

Dogg: Foye has been limited to jump shot because of his injuries. Did you see his game in college? Yes, he shot some 3’s but he was mostly a guy who took it to the tin and finished. I know we’ve gone through this discussion before and I think me and you just have totally different perspectives on Foye. Allan Ray was their gunner and Foye was the guy who did it all. Drive and kick, hit the open 3or take it all the way to the tin. I think he can be that all around PG you need. Mike Miller can bomb but also has a deceptive penetration game as well. He’s just not a stand-alone shooter like James Posey. James Posey showed how much damage he can do in big games and I think Mike Miller is a much better player than Posey.

Marx: Here's a question-Do we have anymore moves coming? I think Telfair, Gomes, Snyder, and Doleac are some type of FA, either restricted, unrestricted or they have an option. Do we bring those guys back? Do we try to sign somebody's else's FA, like Andris Biedrins, Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Antwan Jamison, or obviously much lesser players?

Fuzz: I heard all the money would be more available after this season. This is still a rebuilding year and I don’t think they bring in anyone new. I heard Gomes is on the traveling caravan this summer, so they must think they can sign him.

This portion was done after the weekend.

Dogg: Back to the Mayo deal. Sludge from KFAN loved Mayo but he warmed up to the trade over the weekend and was saying this morning how much he liked the trade. If he liked it I think we can be safe to say that it was a good trade for the time being. Whether Mayo turns out to be absolute stud, who knows but for now I like it a lot.

Fuzz: I started loving it more and more the next day and I'm absolutely on board right now. If it wasn't McHale pulling the trade, I think more people would like it. Some random tidbit's about it:

1) I'm assuming, but I think Mayo would have pulled a Marbury and bailed. We invited him to workout for us in Minnesota and he denied it. Said he wasn't coming up here to workout. That’s not a good sign. We had to see him in Chicago with other teams. Yet, Miami asked him on a whim last week for a secret workout and he was there in a millisecond. F-him. He expressed he wanted to go to a larger market early in June but softened that stance later. He wanted no part of us.

2) Ryan Moe, our close and personal friend made a good point to me saying we need to start acting like Utah. Dogg mentioned something similar also. Start drafting high character guys and not worry about the thugs and piss-poor attitude players. This market has a lot to offer but I don't think people realize that from afar. The cold scares them. Start drafting high character, system players. I do think we need to change coaches in 1-2 years to take the next step for this to work.

3) A high school friend of mine, Jon, said Love is going to be the next Sean May or Sheldon Williams. He hates the trade. I heard others comparing him to Al Horford. Since I like the trade, I obviously believe he'll be more like Horford. May and Williams didn't have a jump shot, that's where I think he's going to be better than those guys. Plus, he's a ton better passer than May or Williams.

4) Mike Miller loves the trade. He's from South Dakota and I've heard he's ecstatic to be here. Anytime you have guys wanting to play for you (love and miller), I think that's a good thing. Mayo could be a stud, but he's not the next Lebron.

Marx: The Utah argument is a little misleading. They sniped Boozer away from Cleveland and they traded up to draft the correct player (Deron Williams), which is where this argument stems from- the draft and trades. They also signed Mehmet Okur away from Detroit when he became available because Detroit had to pay their other guys like Chauncey and Prince.
If you’re talking about having a Utah model, then why don't we go after young foreign talent that’s potentially available this summer, like Andres Biedrins and Juan Carlos Navarro? I still don't believe McHale has the smarts and scouting ability to pick off these guys.

I heard today that next’s years draft is not great but it does have a couple pg's that could be very interesting. If we draft one of those next year then we can finally have a blueprint in place that makes sense. Realistically, Love is probably going to be somewhere in-between May, Williams and Al Horford.

Dogg: May, Horford and Williams never shot outside of 5’ in college. Love has a much better all around game than any of those guys. I say he’s better than all those guys including Horford. Who cares where Utah got their players from? They got them now and Sloan has never put up with any character issue guy like a Mayo. That is why Utah is always in the mix of things. Sloan knows which players will work hard for him and if you have talent and work hard, you’ll win. Everybody in the NBA has talent but half of them don’t want to work very hard.

Should’ve definitely kept Chalmers this year. I think he might be one of those 2nd rounders that turns in a nice pro career.

Marx: What do you mean "who cares"? That all comes back to McHale's drafting and scouting of available talent. We could have had Okur for a very reasonable price. They locked in on Deron Williams, traded up, and drafted him. All of this argument leads back to the draft, trades, and acquisitions by McHale. The Chalmers deal is what makes people so mad at McHale. A good GM would be able to think a couple steps ahead. If we had make the Love trade first, we never would have made the Chalmers move as we now need a pg, or at least a backup pg, and another player who can shoot. Chalmers fills that need and he was a potential 1st round pick who we got late. Why did we have to trade him on the spot? Why couldn't we wait until the next day or later? Sorry to be so negative, but I'm still not thrilled with McHale's moves.

Dogg: I know it is McHale’s fault. All I’m saying is I don’t care if you don ALWAYS draft well or don’t ALWAYS sign free agents well but do it well once in a while. Also, I’m saying find these guys via draft, NBDL, internationally…I don’t care but build your team around character guys like Utah and Sloan have done for years is all Fuzz and I are saying. The Chalmers move pissed me off. Now we are going to sign Telfair for more money than he deserves and also rumoring that we are signing John Lucas. Seriously? Chalmers would mop either of those two.

Fuzz: The point I was making about Utah is that they have high character guys that want to play basketball. They have guys that want to be there and aren't thugs. They don't have guys like Marbury, Melo, Artest, etc... They don't have any prima donnas, except maybe Ak47. He's pretty calm if you ask me though. I don't care where they are getting these guys, they aren’t drafting guys that don't want to be there or don't want to work. Getting rid of Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Marko Jaric & Antoine Walker is a very underrated thing. I like McCants, but on this point alone, I would have no problem dumping him. I think Mayo would have pouted here and we don't need that.

Dogg: Couldn’t agree more!!!

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