Friday, March 30, 2007

Short at Short

Ron Gardenhire and Terry Ryan can be a stubborn bunch, so now that the Twins 25 man regular season roster has been finalized, I'd be pretty surprised to see them tweak it before opening day. It's just not the way things are done in Twins territory.

All throughout spring training, we heard Gardenhire's opinion that the number one concern for the club was finding a backup shortstop. Gardy was too stubborn to want Nick Punto - the team's starting third baseman, but a natural shortstop - to play any position other than third, instead opting to give Luis Rodriguez and Jeff Cirillo a heavy shortstop workload over the past two weeks of spring. These are not answers. Rodriguez is a marginal second baseman and bad third baseman, and is not even close to possessing the range necessary to handle short. Cirillo is a two-time All Star who was once one of the premier defensive third basemen in baseball, but he is 37 years old and has played exactly five games at shortstop in his thirteen big league seasons.

Unable to acquire a backup shortstop, Gardenhire finally conceded the other day that if and when Jason Bartlett needs a day off, he will in all likelihood play Punto at shortstop and plug either Cirillo or Rodriguez at third (hopefully Cirillo!), which is just common sense.

Tonight, though, just hours after J.D. Durbin's release and Josh Rabe's demotion to Rochester, for all intents and purposes finalizing the roster, the Kansas City Royals released the perfect piece to this Twins puzzle.

Alex Gonzalez (not to be confused with the current Reds and former Red Sox and Marlins shortstop), the longtime Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs shortstop, was trying to make the Royals as a utility infielder. He was in Royals camp on a minor league contract and probably would have made the team had second baseman Mark Grudzielanek's injury been as serious as originally thought.

Gonzalez hit .444 this spring for the Royals, and while that is hardly in line with his .243 career average, it did show that he still has something left in the tank. While it does seem like he's been in a major league uniform for ages, he's still just 33 years old. He has a reputation of a solid, if not spectacular, defender and a good teammate. He averaged about 15 home runs a year as a full-time player from 1996 to 2003. And as recently as 2005, he hit .269 with 9 home runs in 349 at bats.

Gonzalez wouldn't push Bartlett or Luis Castillo for their jobs, and he certainly won't be a name that would generate much excitement among the general Twins fan base, but personally, I would feel a hell of a lot better with him as my primary utility infielder than Luis Rodriguez. He's out there right now, easily available for a pittance. Dammit, though, Gardy and Ryan have decided on their 25 guys, and with opening day three days away, I don't see them changing their minds now.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

When "The Deal" Goes Down

Almost exactly two years ago, as the Twins 2005 spring training season was concluding, one of the most discussed topics was what to do with Michael Restovich.

Restovich, a local product from Rochester, Minnesota, was drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 1997 amateur draft. His hulking 6'4" frame, prodigious power, and especially his local ties led to some inevitable whispers of him being "the next Kent Hrbek."

But in spring training of 2005, Restovich and the Twins were at a crossroads. Restovich had steadily worked his way up through the Twins minor league system, leading to brief major league stints toward the end of the 2002, 2003, and 2004 seasons, but by 2005 he was out of minor league options, meaning if he didn't make the Twins 25 man major league roster, he would have had to pass through waivers before he could be sent back to the minor leagues. With the outfield set, Restovich's only chance to make the club was as its 25th man, but the Twins were being overly cautious on franchise catcher Joe Mauer's tender knee, and decided to break camp with four catchers on the roster (Mauer, backup Mike Redmond, DH Matthew LeCroy, and third-catcher Corky Miller), leaving Restovich without a job.

When it was announced that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays had claimed Restovich off waivers, there were cries from hometown fans in Rochester, Minnesota all the way to the Twins' AAA affiliate in Rochester, New York. "How could we let him go for nothing?" "I can't believe they couldn't even get a minor league prospect for him!" "This is going to come back to haunt the Twins, like David Ortiz all over again!"

Well, two years later that decision has not exactly hampered the Twins. One week after the Devil Rays acquired Restovich, they tried sneaking him through waivers themselves (Resto never did appear in a big league game for Tampa Bay). He was picked up by the Colorado Rockies, who did keep him on their big league roster... for about one month. In May, Restovich was sold by the Rockies to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his 2005 stints with the Rockies and Pirates, Restovich combined for 115 at bats and produced a measly .676 OPS. In 2006 he picked up 12 at bats in 10 games for the Chicago Cubs, collecting only two hits. He spent most of the season with the Cubs Iowa farm club. This season, he's set to play for the Washington Nationals minor league club in Columbus.

So why all the Restovich reminiscing? Well, now at the conclusion of spring training '07, the Twins are faced with the same dilemma. They have a former second round draft pick who is out of minor league options, and they risk losing him for nothing if he doesn't make the final roster.

J.D. "The Real Deal" Durbin (nickname self-proclaimed) was the hottest pitching prospect in the Twins system in 2004. Dude threw gas! A September call-up in 2004 yielded ugly results, though (8 innings pitched, 12 hits, 6 walks, and a 7.36 ERA). Control problems plagued him in 2005 and he stayed in the minors all season. J.D. finally started putting it all together in 2006, and seemed destined for another late-season stint with the Twins until injuries ended his season prematurely.

This year seemed to be Durbin's best shot to stick with the Twins, but he obviously is not fully recovered from his arm injuries. He has posted a 12.38 spring training ERA so far. There's no way he makes the team, but (as of this writing) he still hasn't been given his pink slip. Obviously, the Twins are trying to deal "The Deal", which makes sense. If they can get something - anything - for him, it's better than nothing. But there does seem to be a sentiment that they need to get something for him.

Why? Because if they don't he might come back to haunt them? Fans who are panicking about the possibility of losing Durbin on waivers are overvaluing him. If someone else (Washington? Kansas City? Tampa Bay?) wants to take a chance on him, let them have him. He’s a guy fighting his way back from injury, a LONG way away from being able to help a major league staff, and he’s always been bigger on hype than on production anyway. Remember, Pat Mahomes and Willie Banks could once throw 95 MPH, too!

At 5:00 PM today, KFAN is reporting that the Twins have officially received nothing for J.D. Durbin, as he has been claimed off waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Gang of Four

I paid absolutely zero attention to college basketball this year. Zilch. I think the most invested I was all season in college hoops was watching the final seconds of the Gophers vs. Penn State at Red's Savoy Inn after my fiance completed her first half-marathon in January. My parents took us out for some celebratory pizza. On our way out after the meal, my dad made a pit-stop at the men's room. While waiting for him to finish, I caught my only real glimpse all year of the maligned Gopher men, and watched them close out a rare conference win against the truly underwhelming Nittany Lions.

And that was it.

So when March Madness brackets were released, I didn't join in on any office pools, I didn't sign up for any online contests, and in general I cared less than I've cared since before the great Clem Haskins-led Willie Burton/Kevin Lynch/Melvin Newbern/Richard Coffey/Walter Bond Gophers teams of the late '80s/early '90s. But I decided to fill out my brackets anyway because... well... what else is there to do at 2 AM?

So go figure that this is the year that I correctly picked all four teams in the Final Four.

For the record, I have Florida defeating UCLA, Ohio State defeating Georgetown (although, after actually watching these teams play a little bit, I don't feel real great about that pick), and Florida then defeating Ohio State for the championship. I wonder - if that happens - if it'll be the first time ever that one school (Florida) will have defeated another school (Ohio State) in both the college basketball and college football championship games in the same year. We'll see how I do on those predictions.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


I can guarantee that the 2007 Minnesota Twins baseball experience will be unlike any other I have had in my lifetime.

I have seen by beloved hometown team celebrate two World Series titles, and I have seen them field the worst team in all of Major League Baseball. I have seen them set an American League attendance record, I have seen them on the cusp of contraction, and I have seen them celebrate the promise of a new stadium. I have seen Joe Mauer, but I have also seen Matt Walbeck. And after suffering through Dan Serafini and Rich Robertson, I have seen Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano. I've had the pleasure of listening to Bert Blyleven and Jim Kaat analyze telecasts, and I somehow survived a season of Tommy John (which I can pretty safely assume was more painful than his namesake surgery).

One constant, that perhaps I have not fully appreciated until late last week, was our "good neighbor": 830 AM. WCCO.

The Twins radio broadcast contract with WCCO expired after last season, and they bolted for the bigger dollars of the mostly conservative talk radio KSTP (1500 AM), ending a 45 year relationship with 'CCO.

On the surface, not much has changed. John "Gordo" Gordon is still the main play by play man, confusing opposing players with others of similar names, filling us with misinformation (see some earlier Foul Tips posts). Dan "Dazzle Man" Gladden is still here, too, still improving as an analyst. (It appears, based on spring training broadcasts, that the Twins are insisting to continue with the trainwreck experiment of letting "Dazzle" handle a few innings of play-by-play each game.) I believe they are still planning on wheeling Herb Carnael's bones (or at least his voice box) out of his tomb for the occasional home weekend and day game broadcasts.

The big differences will be in the subtleties of the broadcast. The pre-game and post-game shows will likely have a different feel, with different hosts. It's unlikely that 1500 will demonstrate the same surprisingly good taste (The Hold Steady, The Replacements, Sean Na Na) in gametime bumper music. Jeff McKinney will no longer cut into an important mid-August game from the 'CCO newsroom to update us on the golf-ball sized hail in Annandale, nor will he spend the next 15-20 minutes taking calls from "weather spotters." Will KSTP obsess about the weather in the same manner as WCCO? Remains to be seen.

And, of course, the station's non-Twins programming will be different.

Since the majority of the Twins schedule takes place at night, this probably won't be much of a problem once the regular season starts, but all these afternoon spring training games are taking a toll on me.

Last week, I spent one afternoon running errands. I had the Twins-Dodgers Grapefruit League game on my car radio. There were plenty of advertisements between innings welcoming me to the Twins new radio home. A few of them hipped me to stay tuned for "the best post-game show in baseball." Mildly curious as to what made KSTP's post-game show so great, I took their advice and stayed tuned. But there was no post-game show. There was a brief game recap from Gordo and Dazzle, immediately followed by one of the station's signature shows, Garage Logic with Joe Soucheray.

I had never actually listened to the Garage Logic program before that day. My father has been recommending this "absolutely hysterical" show to me for a couple of years now, but given the political and social differences that the old man and I have, I've always sort of had the feeling that Garage Logic wasn't really my bag. On a couple occasions (usually stuck riding with my dad on a Saturday morning), I've caught Soucheray's Saturday Sports Talk show with Patrick Reusse, but on that show Soucheray's more of a supporting player to Reusse's disgusting curmudgeon. (Reusse is an awful writer and an even worse human being. He once came to speak to my high school journalism class. He plopped his fat ass down on the chair behind the desk and basically told us, "Give up now. It's too hard and you don't have what it takes to be a journalist," not making eye contact with a single one of us during the course of the hour.)

But now the game was over, my radio was still on, and Soucheray opened his show by bringing up the subject of instant runoff voting. His opening statement to his show was, "I've been hearing a lot about instant runoff voting over the last year. I don't understand what instant runoff voting is, I don't know how it works. All I know is that the DFL is for it, so naturally I'm against it."


This is my reward for leaving the radio running for five minutes after a Twins spring training game? Some upper-class white guy wearing his own ignorance like a uniform? My jaw hung in disbelief. The car behind me started honking, catching me staring at my radio after the light had turned green. I can't say I was able to generate more anger that day; as I released my foot from the break I pressed the #2 pre-set button in time to catch the end of Chad Hartman's show on KFAN.

On Tuesday of this week, I was running more errands. I had the Twins and Cardinals going, listening to Johan Santana battle Albert Pujols, catching the Twins string together a nice mid-game rally, then leaving the car for about an hour and a half. By the time I started the car again, the game was over.

Garage Logic was on.

The subject was polar explorer Ann Bancroft and her recently abandoned Arctic expedition. For the record, Bancroft's and Liz Arneson's decision to cut their journey short was essentially that the temperatures they were experiencing were much colder than anticipated and the weather much more unpredictable, and the reason why their expectations were off was because of the effects of global warming.

Soucheray wasn't buying. "You're telling me that the temperatures were colder than they expected because of global warming? That doesn't even make sense!" He spent the next five minutes or so pontificating on how ludicrous it was of Bancroft to blame her "failure" on global warming. One brave caller, who admitted to being a registered Democrat, tried bringing up facts from the Al Gore film An Inconvenient Truth, but they were not swaying Soucheray's stance. The caller asked him, "I know you're not a fan of Al Gore, but are you telling me you won't believe anything he says in his movie?" Soucheray's reply was, "Nothing. Zero. I will say that doing things in your everyday life to conserve the environment is probably a good thing, but when it comes to Al Gore, I do not believe a word that comes out of that man's mouth."

Realizing that it was probably a driving hazard to be so infuriated while behind the wheel, I had to switch the station once again.

Where have you gone, Dark Star?