Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Monday, February 27, 2017

Twins DFA Park and Other Stuff

    A few days ago the Twins designated Byung Ho Park for assignment. While no teams were willing to pick him up and take on his nine million dollar contract, there's still a good chance that this signals the end of the Park era in Minnesota. A thing to remember here is that despite only making his debut last year, Park is already 30 years old, another factor into this decision. The biggest thing here is how much it shows the Falvey-Lavine regime taking charge in deciding what direction to take the team. While their biggest acquisition was rather pedestrian (Jason Castro) this is one of two big choices (the other being releasing Trevor Plouffe) to let guys go and clear up a previously foggy looking future. If there's a bright side to this disaster of a signing, (somehow not even the worst Asian import they've had) it's that we know where we stand on the corner infield in the future: Sano's going to be the full-time third baseman, Mauer's the first baseman. There are only a few more questions going into spring training. Let's take a look at them.
Who's the DH this year?
There aren't a ton of options here. Obviously it won't be Park. Kennys Vargas and Robbie Grossman seem like the only ones with a shot out of spring training. With that said I predict it's Vargas unless he has an abominable spring. Grossman was fine last year, especially for a midseason signing, but he just doesn't fit into the long-term plans. Vargas is out of options, so this will for sure be his last chance to impress. After a disappointing 2015 campaign, he quietly had a decent season last year, posting a respectable .333 on base percentage. If he can cut down on his strikeouts, his ability to hit pitches the other way will become a major asset in the future.
Will Escobar hang on to his shortstop spot?
Possibly. It all depends on how Polanco does in spring training. Escobar is fine for a utility infielder, but after an unprecedented 2014 campaign where he hit .275/.315/.406 with a .330 BABIP. Since then he's been fine, especially as a shortstop for a team that ranges somewhere between mediocre and terrible. That said, now would be a good time to see how Jorge Polanco can do over the course of an entire season. He was solid in his 245 at bats last season, hitting .282 with a .332 on base percentage. The Twins don't seem to be sure about his glove. According to Fangraphs, his fielding cost the Twins eight runs at short last year. That's one of the reasons I was hoping for a Dozier trade this offseason. I'd rather see Polanco at second than shortstop. Anyway, his bat's good enough that he'll at least get a shot at some point. If it's not right out of spring training it'll be within a couple of months.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Potential Suitors for Brian Dozier

Dodgers
The Dodgers have emerged as the frontrunner for Dozier for a few reasons: 1) They badly need a second baseman. Chase Utley played in 137 games there last year and hit a paltry .252/.319/.396. 2) Dodger Stadium's dimensions are ideal for a right handed power hitter like Dozier, with the foul poles being just 330 feet from home plate. So far in the negotiations it sounds like Los Angeles is willing to part with right handed pitching prospect Jose De Leon, but the Twins want another blue chip prospect and the Dodgers won't budge. Time could be running out, apparently the Dodgers are in discussions with the Rangers about possibly acquiring Jurickson Profar,
Cardinals
I hate the idea of Dozier going to St. Louis because I can't stand the Cardinals and I know if he went there he would instantly become the best second baseman in the league. The Cards organization just has the bizarre ability to get the most out of every player*. Anyway, if this deal were to go down, it would probably include Kolten Wong, who I would be a lot more excited about if this was 2013. That said, if they could get former minor league player of the year Luke Weaver in the deal, it might be worth it. Weaver didn't pitch well in his brief time in the big leagues last year, but he's a former first rounder with good velocity and control.
*I have no doubt that Stephen Piscotty, Matt Adams, and Randall Grichuk  would just have been mediocre players anywhere else.
Braves
The Braves aren't contenders like the other two teams here, but with a loaded farm system there are some intriguing possibilities here. As with all these other possibilities, the Twins will be looking for pitching, and Atlanta can provide it with last year's number three overall pick Ian Anderson. If not Anderson, Patrick Weigel could also potentially be a main part of the deal. While he doesn't have the potential of Anderson, the 6'6" Weigel is much closer to the big leagues with a fastball that occasionally hits triple digits
Nationals
The Nats have been mentioned a few times to be interested in Dozier, but there seem to be too many moving parts for a deal to be realistic. For starters, they all ready have Daniel Murphy coming off of a career year at second base. He would need to move to first to make room for Dozier, and after selling the farm for Adam Eaton, the Nationals don't have enough assets to compete with even a mediocre offer from the Dodgers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Top Eight Minnesota Sports Things of 2016

     I don't usually write introduction paragraphs because I hate them*, but I feel I should warn you that this list that's supposed to be optimistic is going to get really depressing really fast.
*New Year's resolution: Be more straightforward
8. Wild make playoffs again
...And then lost in five games to Dallas, but that's not important. The important part is that they made it, and in a terrible year for Minnesota sports, that means a lot.
7. Gopher basketball starts off hot
After going 12-1 in the nonconference season we knew the Gophers were, at the very least, better than last season. After a huge road victory over Purdue things are looking up. Amir Coffey has done well surrounded by a lot of local hype and Nate Mason has built on his solid sophomore season and was tremendous down the stretch against Perdue. I still think the biggest difference between this year and last year is the presence of Reggie Lynch. Last year's Gophers were badly missing someone who could protect the rim, Lynch provides that and its made a huge difference.
6. Young T-Wolves
Karl-Anthony Towns is the future, but he has his own section later on. Here, let's take some time to appreciate all of the young Wolves. Wiggins, Lavine and Towns are all averaging over 20 points while Dieng's been steady at center. The biggest issue here is depth. Once that first unit of Rubio-Lavine-Wiggins-Towns-Dieng comes out, there's no one who can lead a unit off the bench. Dunn has had his moments but it too inexperienced, Shabazz is more of an energy guy than a reliable scorer. That's going to be one of the biggest factors in them becoming a playoff team.
5. Buxton's hot finish
This Twins season was depressing on just about all fronts, including until the final month of the season, Buxton's performance. But then September rolled around. In his final 21 games, Buxton hit .287/.357/.653 with nine homers, eight more than he had hit in the previous five months of the season. He still strikes out way too much, but this was the first extended look we've gotten at how good he has the potential to be.
4. Lynx win the WNBA championship
Wait, did this happen or not? I assumed it did because it seems to every year but now that I think of it I realize that I actually have no idea. Regardless, I don't care enough to look it up and this year sucked so it's staying on.
3. Dozier's season
I should have named this column "Things that gave me hope during an awful year in sports". Dozier's a really interesting case. He was almost 25 when he made his debut as a shortstop in 2012 and hit .242 with six homers in 84 games. From there he established himself as a decent power hitting second baseman 18, 23, and 28 homers in the next three seasons respectively. But that was nothing compared to 2016 when he overcame an abysmal start to club 42 homers and drive in 99 runs. Now there's a chance of him being traded this winter. I'm saving my thoughts on that for its own column.
2. Towns wins rookie of the year
There are very few player in the league with Towns' combination of size, athleticism, passing, and shooting ability. The best part? He's only 21 years old. Things will improve.
1. Vikings 5-0 start
Well, that was fun while it lasted. Before this season fell off a cliff we had those six glorious weeks where a Super Bowl seemed like a possibility. Shortly after that dream start it became painfully clear that a team can't win with no offensive line and while having to rely on the defense to score every game. Here's to a better 2017.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Twins Offseason Update

     The Derek Falvey era officially began a few weeks ago with his first offseason move. That move was to sign a catcher who hit .210 last year to a three year deal. I've been trying to look at this positively, convince myself that Falvey is a genius, that he knows something we don't. Unfortunately, after looking at this from all angles, it doesn't look good.
     Let's start with the good stuff: Castro is an excellent pitch framer, stealing 96 strikes last year, according to StatCorner. This is a huge upgrade over Suzuki who, according to that same site, cost the Twins 38 strikes last year. Castro is a former first round pick and was an all star in 2013, so we know he has the potential to be pretty good. Also, his name is an anagram for "On taco jars". Being the optimist that I am, I'm going to consider that a good sign.
     Now for the bad news: Just about everything else. That all star 2013 season was inflated by a .351 BABIP, a mark he hasn't come within 50 points of in three seasons since then. On a related note, in those seasons, he's hit .222, .211, and .210 respectively.
     So what alternatives did the Twins have? One option would have been to go after Wilson Ramos. He won't be ready to start the season because of his ACL injury, but that injury significantly brought down his price range to the two year 12 million dollar deal that he signed with Tampa Bay. If he fully recovers he could be a major deal. Another option could have been resigning Kurt Suzuki to a one year deal, dealt with one more year of him and then gone after Yasmani Grandal, who's basically a rich man's Castro.  
     While we're on the subject of things the Twins should do, here's one more: Trade Dozier. His value's never going to be higher than it is right now.  This is a very streaky hitter who's going to be 30 in May. Jorge Polanco seems to be ready to play fulltime and dealing Dozier would allow the Twins to address their more pressing dire pitching situation.
     We saw a less extreme version of this play out with Plouffe over the last few years. Between 2014 and 2015 he hit .251 with 36 homers and a whopping 75 doubles. If the Twins had traded him after either of those seasons they could have gotten a few prospects for him at the very least, but they hung onto him and released him last month. Let's hope they don't make the same mistake with Dozier.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Notes from the Gophers' Preseason Opener

     After a disastrous 2015-16 season, Gopher basketball was back in action Friday night at Williams Arena against the Louisiana Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. I was there. Here's a look at some of the players looked, new and old.
Reggie Lynch
Of all of the new players, Lynch impressed me the most. He looked comfortable in the post, scoring several of his ten points there. But what impressed me the most was how he protected the rim. He only had one block but affected at least five other shots throughout the game. Rim protection was something the Gophers were badly lacking last year with their top frontcourt player, Jordan Murphy, standing at only 6'6". If Minnesota makes drastic improvements this year, Lynch will be a big part of it.
Amir Coffey
The top recruit out of Hopkins looked solid but unspectacular in his debut. What stood out to me the most was 1) his size, standing at 6'8" and playing guard, and 2) despite that, his face makes him appear to be about 15 years old. He scored 13 points on 3-for-5 shooting including 2-for-3 on threes. He was also aggressive, getting to the line eight times.
Akeem Springs
Springs looked intriguing, standing out for a couple reasons, including his hair, which I can't find a good picture to link to but it doesn't matter because you have to see it in person to fully appreciate its beauty. He looks like he has the potential to be a energy guy off the bench, who can make a real difference if he's hot, which he was in and first half and not in the second. In his 23 minutes he managed to jack up ten shots including eight threes, making three of those plus two free throws for 11 points on the night.
Michael Hurt
He only played 12 minutes and didn't do anything particularly noteworthy. I just bring him up to say that he'll take Joey King's old spot as the team's awkward looking local white guy.
Jordan Murphy
Last season, Murphy's inconsistency was one of the most frustrating and perplexing parts of the team, which is really saying something. He's excellent in the post despite his size but his biggest weakness was staying on the court because of foul trouble. The aforementioned small stature for a frontcourt player made it tough for him to guard taller players, so his troubles on defense would often take one of the Gophers' top offensive players off the court. Both of those qualities were on display Friday, as he looked good, scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds, but four fouls limited him to just 18 minutes.
Nate Mason
The Gophers' most reliable player from last year had his usual solid game scoring 15 points and dishing out seven assists. For the team to make any improvements this year, he needs to make the leap from solid starter to potential all Big Ten.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Friday Playoff Recap

After a crazy day of playoff baseball, here's a quick look at each game and who contributed the most.
Blue Jays 5 Rangers 3
Game Balls
1. Troy Tulowitzki
The shortstop continued his hot hitting from the Wild Card game on Tuesday, going 2-for-4 with a homer.
2. Roberto Osuna
Osuna entered the game in as tough of a situation as you'll see a reliever in, with the tying run at the plate in Ian Desmond and Francisco Liriano having left the game after being struck in the neck by a line drive. He got Desmond to ground out en route to a five out save.
3. Ian Desmond
The most notable person since George Bush to relocate from Washington to Texas quietly had a solid game, picking up three hits and driving in two runs.
Game Goat
Jonathan Lucroy
Nobody had an outstandingly terrible game, but somebody has to be the goat, so I'm giving it to Lucroy, the high priced catcher from Milwaukee who went 0-for-five today.
Indians 6 Red Sox 0
Game Balls
1. Corey Kluber
Kluber went up against a tough Boston lineup and didn't allow any runs while striking out seven over seven innings.
2. Brandon Guyer
The Cleveland left fielder had three hits, driving in one and scoring two runs.
3. Lonnie Chisenhall
The third baseman turned right fielder hit a big two run homer to right in the second inning to put the Indians up 4-0.
Game Goat
David Price
Price's postseason woes continued, allowing five runs in three and a third innings. That moved his career postseason ERA to 5.54. On an unrelated note, he's being paid 30 million dollars a year for the until 2022. He needs to turn things around fast for the Red Sox to have any chance because you can't make it far with your number two starter pitching like Mike Pelfrey.
Dodgers 4 Nationals 3
Game Balls
1. Justin Turner
Turner went 2-for-3 with a homer off of Scherzer in the third.
2. Kenley Jansen
Similar to Osuna, Jansen came in in the eighth to record a five out save.
3. Anthony Rendon
Rendon has been a little disappointing since failing to build on his 2014 season, but he's still been a solid player and had a good game last night, going 2-for-4 with a key RBI single in the third the get the Nats back in the game.
Game Goat
Max Scherzer
He didn't have a complete meltdown, but four runs in six innings isn't good for anyone, much less a number one starter and Cy Young candidate.
Cubs 1 Giants 0
Game Balls
1. Jon Lester
He played with fire early, allowing two Giants into scoring position in the fourth, but got out of it with nobody crossing the plate and eventually settled in to retire the last 16 guys he faced.
2. Johnny Cueto
Despite the loss, Cueto was nothing short of masterful, going eight innings, striking out ten, allowing three hits with only one run scoring on a mistake to Baez.
3. Javier Baez
His clutch 3-2 homer off of Cueto in the eighth provided the only run for either team.
Game Goat
None
I know what I said earlier about each game having to have a goat, but this was so well played it would be unfair to name somebody. Let's hope we get at least one more like this today.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What Happened to the D-Backs?

     Over the offseason, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed one of the best pitchers on the planet, traded for a solid, young arm and continued to employ one of the best players in the league along with an underrated rising star outfielder. Even if they weren't the favorites in a tough NL West, it looked like they would at least contend. Now, they're in fourth place with a record of 65-91, sitting in dead last. Obviously, things went very, very wrong. Lets take a look at what those things were.
     There are so many reasons for this garbage fire of a season, but one of the main ones is A.J. Pollock's injury. The centerfielder had a breakout year in 2015, batting .315/.367/.498, hitting 20 homers and stealing 39 bases, all while playing Gold Glove level defense. He tore an elbow ligament in Spring Training, knocking him out for almost the entire season. Having traded away their 2015 right fielder Ender Inciarte in a deal for Shelby Miller, (more on that debacle later) the D-Backs suddenly found themselves short on outfielders, having to rely on the washed up Michael Bourn before trading him to Baltimore.
     The aforementioned Shelby Miller trade is another reason Arizona's underperformed this year. We'll get to who they gave up in a second, but we knew it would likely be bad in the long term. What people weren't expecting, was that to the horror of the Diamondbacks' higher-ups, Miller was a complete disaster this year, posting an ERA of 6.90, setting career worsts in just about every stat, and was basically a poor man's Ricky Nolasco.
     It was a bad trade that's only going to get worse as time goes on. Atlanta made off with shortstop Dansby Swanson in the deal. The 2015 number one overall pick is considered to be right up there with Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor as the top young shortstops in the game. So far in his young career, Swanson has hit .300/.347/.400 while providing steady defense at short. Did I mention he's 22 years old? Now, trading a shortstop that young and that good straight up for Shelby Miller is egregious enough, but Arizona also lost Ender Inciarte in the deal. Inciarte had a solid season in Phoenix in 2015 and is now one of the few steady presences on the Braves, hitting .299/.355/.388 with 16 stolen bases.
     All this is bad, but it shouldn't have undermined the season, losing Pollock hurt the most out of those, but what has ruined the Diamondbacks season more than anything else is simply that players they were counting on haven't delivered. Zack Greinke was a top three pitcher in all of baseball in 2015, barely losing out on the Cy Young to Jake Arrieta. This year has been a different story, to say the least. His 4.37 ERA puts him in the same neighborhood as guys like Doug Fister and Ricky Nolasco. (Damnit did I just compare two different guys to Ricky Nolasco in the same column?) His 2.2 WAR has him making 15.5 million dollars for every win he brings to the table. For comparison's sake, Kris Bryant is making roughly 74 thousand dollars this year for each of his 8.4 wins. Admittedly, he had been doing better before going on the DL in July, but even then, he was nowhere near the standard he had set over the last few years, sporting an ERA of 3.62..
     When you go to the advanced stats, there are a couple of potential reasons for this. One is his move to the hitters park that is Chase Field from the decidedly more spacious Dodger Stadium. That could explain why his homers per nine innings have spiked from .57 to 1.30 this season. Another is that the Diamondbacks rank 18th in baseball in defensive runs saved this year with -11. It isn't terrible, but it's still nine runs worse than the 2015 Dodgers. Those don't totally explain his fall, there's still a lot of mystery, but it at least provides some information.
     It wasn't just Greinke disappointing either. Miller, Patrick Corbin, and Robbie Ray all had ERAs of at least 4.77 despite the fact that they're all under the age of 26 and all have had seasons with ERAs under 3.60. In fact, the starting rotation as a whole had a collective ERA this year of 4.37, eighth worst in the league. No matter how much Paul Goldschmidt is raking, it's hard to win with the other team scoring that much.
     Everyone knew the NL West was going to be tough this year, with the Dodgers coming off of another strong season and the Giants making improvements (along with it being an even year), so even after the D-Backs signed Greinke and traded for Miller, it was tough to say how much they would contend. After a full season of those guys on that team, we now have the definitive answer: None.