Twins comfortable with Harris at third

Joe Crede‘s tenure at third base for the Minnesota Twins looks like it will remain a brief one.

Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune is receiving hints that the club will not bring Crede back. Twins GM Bill Smith says he’s comfortable with the current group of in-house candidates the team has for the job.

Assuming the Twins don’t sign a second baseman and Nick Punto stays there, Brendan Harris appears to be the frontrunner for the starting job at third base, with Matt Tolbert also being an option.

When we talked to Christensen’s colleague La Velle E. Neal on the radio last week, he thought that Crede still remained an option for the Twins at that time.

Crede didn’t hit much in 90 games last year, but he did flash a little bit of pop with 15 homers and is still considered to be a very good glove at third base.

In all likelihood, Harris will keep the starting job warm for prospect Danny Valencia. Indications are that he will be with the Twins at some point in 2010, despite not receiving a September call-up last year.

No matter how you slice it, Harris was not a productive option offensively or defensively at third base last year. Among third basemen receiving at least 400 plate appearance, his slugging percentage was third-worst (ahead of only Florida’s Emilio Bonifacio and Baltimore’s Melvin Mora) and his OPS was second-worst (ahead of only Bonifacio).

Defensively, among players with at least 300 innings at third base, his fielding percentage was fifth-worst of the 46 players eligible.

Prefer the more complicated defensive metrics? In UZR/150, which judges how many runs a player costs his team over 150 games at the position, Harris ranks third-worst at a minus-26.3. No surprises among those near the bottom. Baltimore’s Ty Wigginton and Florida’s Jorge Cantu are the only ones behind Harris, and no one else is even close to those three.

Any right-handed hitter at Target Field should go pull crazy next year, with Harris at third and Delmon Young in left field. The Mike Redmond opposite-field hitting approach would not be wise against these Twins.

Valencia is the closest thing the Twins have to a major league ready position player at Triple-A, but it’s odd that the organization didn’t feel comfortable giving him a spot on the team in September, but now is looking at having him as a starter sometime in 2010.

Valencia was great at Double-A last year and actually cut his strikeout rate after a promotion to Triple-A, but his on-base percentage took a nose-dive from .373 to .305.

In previous promotions, he fares much better in his second year at each level, so the Twins can hope his numbers will get even better this year.

I wouldn’t rule Crede out just yet. The market still has a couple of Crede-like guys out there, and I just don’t know what teams would be interested in them. The price of these free agents should continue to drop, making it much tougher for the Twins to pass up.

Gophers in need of a chef

When Bill Parcells left the New England Patriots because he felt he didn’t have enough input in personnel decisions, he uttered the phrase, "If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for the groceries."

Well, that’s not a problem in college football. A head coach can find that player he wants and works as hard as he can to convince him to come to his program. He’s the man when it comes to personnel.

The University of Minnesota elected to give "the man" Tim Brewster a contract extension. The two sides agreed to terms Friday, which will keep Brewster under contract through 2013.

Brewster hasn’t done much in his time at the helm of the Gophers. He’s just 6-18 in three seasons in the Big Ten and 14-24 overall. He’s led Minnesota to two Insight Bowl apperances, both ending in losses. It’s basically the equivalent of a basketball program losing in the first round of the NIT or WNIT.

He needed a nail-biting win over South Dakota State just to get bowl eligible last season. Funny how he doesn’t want to play the Dakota schools, yet he depends on victories against them just to land in third-rate bowl games.

What attracted the Gophers to Brewster to begin with was his reputation as a recruiter. This is what he brought to the table.

And his recruiting classes have often ranked pretty well by sites like Rivals.com, especially when you consider the meager records he has posted. Try going into a kid’s house and convincing him to play for a team with the resume the Gophers had last year!

But what good is recruiting if it can’t be developed into anything useful on the field. Untapped talent is just that.

Minnesota doesn’t need someone to shop for the groceries. It needs someone to take those groceries and make a three-course meal out of them. Dinty Moore Beef Stew simply won’t suffice.

Two years later, the ace-less Twins find a way

If somebody went back in time two years to Jan. 29, 2008, and told a Minnesota Twins fan that the four players the franchise got that day for trading pitcher Johan Santana had made little significant contribution to the team, a Doomsday scenario could likely have been predicted.

Hard to believe it was two years ago today that the Twins and Mets agreed to that deal.

The Twins gave up a lot, and quite frankly didn’t get much back. Yet somehow, the last two years the team has managed two one-game AL Central tiebreaker appearances, one of which led to a postseason berth. They did all of this without an ace, at least not one of Santana’s caliber.

Santana got a prolific payday. At the time, he was due to become a free agent after the 2008 season. But after agreeing to waive his no-trade clause and go to the Mets, Santana signed a six-year, $137.5 million contract. That seems like chump change when you consider what Joe Mauer’s rumored contract extension could be worth when and if he signs one.

Santana got the cash, while the Twins got Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra. And just two years later, only Guerra remains with the Twins.

Despite the lopsided returns, not much changed for the two sides involved.

Santana went to a franchise that, despite having more money to stay competitive, has made just three playoff appearances in the last 20 years. The Mets last season were 70-92. That was good for fourth place in the five-team NL East, and also good for a punchline by a few New York-based comedians. This, of course, has come at no fault of Santana, who has continued to pitch great.

For the Twins, their run of competitive play didn’t stop despite the departures of Santana and Torii Hunter – who signed with the Los Angeles Angels – that offseason. They’ve had just one losing season in the last nine years.

Gomez was as exciting as he was enigmatic. He was a pretty regular part of the Twins the last two years, and will be best remembered for scoring the winning run in last season’s one-game playoff victory against Detroit. He was an outstanding defensive presence, but a hair-pulling offensive one. He was shipped to Milwaukee this offseason for shortstop J.J. Hardy.

Humber and Mulvey made 13 and 2 relief appearances, respectively, during their Twins careers. Humber was designated for assignment last year, while Mulvey was the "player to be named later" that was sent to Arizona when the team acquired reliever Jon Rauch.

Guerra remains in the club’s organization, but the returns so far have not been impressive. Guerra reached Double-A last year, posting a 5.17 ERA im 12 games at New Britain. But at just 20 years old, he could still amount to something.

So in the end, the Twins have Hardy, Rauch and Guerra to show for the Santana trade, which doesn’t look quite as bad as Gomez, Humber, Mulvey and Guerra.

Warner to announce future Friday; Favre … not so much

Many Minnesota Vikings fans are hoping Brett Favre takes a page from Kurt Warner.

Warner, the veteran Arizona Cardinals QB, will announce whether or not he plans to retire Friday or if he’ll return for the 2010 season.

Favre, notorious for his back-and-forth decision making during the offseason, should take notice.

Warner and Favre present similar cases. Both have taken a lot of hits during their careers, and both are on highly competitive teams and surrounded by talent. Warner has Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. Favre has Adrian Peterson and Sidney Rice.

My gut tells me both return, but I think there’s a better chance of Favre returning than Warner.

Warner strikes me as a guy that’s at peace with what he’s accomplished in his NFL career. His story is a made-for-TV movie that needs not be repeated here. Everyone knows how he went from grocery store stockboy to the Arena Football League to a Super Bowl champ.

I still think Warner will return, though, because that team is just too good to walk away from.

Favre is faced with the same dilemma. The Vikings were one play away from going to the Super Bowl, and I have a hard time believing he’ll just walk away now. I know he took some ferocious hits in that NFC championship game, but a quiet offseason will have him forgetting about those hits in no time.

So I think we’ll see both future Hall of Famers back in 2010. But if one of them decides not to return, I bet it’s Warner.

The commitment to winning

I’m not a big fan of Twitter. I mostly use it to see what others in my profession are writing about since they often provide links to their stories on Twitter.

Lot of interesting Joe Mauer stuff cycling around on it today. Mauer, entering the final year of his contract with the Minnesota Twins, was at Cretin-Derham Hall High School last night to tape an episode of the show "Homecoming" with ESPN’s Rick Reilly.

For those who haven’t seen the show, it’s kind of like "This is Your Life."

Fans of the Twins who were at the event have made some posts on Twitter. In response to what is more important, playing close to home or playing for a winner, Mauer said, "Why not have both?"

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale must have been in attendance too, and he said on Twitter that Mauer told him he’d like to stay with the Twins if they remain committed to winning.

Statements like that seem kind of ridiculous, and granted Mauer is just the latest in a long line of pro athletes to say that. What team isn’t committed to winning? The Pittsburgh Pirates and the Kansas City Royals probably aren’t right away, but I’m sure if they had Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel on their roster, they’d be different franchises too.

Sure, fans and players alike would love to see some deeper runs in the playoffs. But if that’s what’s important, a guy like Mauer should sign with the Los Angeles Angels or the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox, if he wants that guarantee. Those franchises will always be there. But for a team like the Twins in that next level of markets (I’m reluctant to use the term "small market"), how much more can the Twins show?

Remember the attention "Moneyball" got for the Oakland A’s? How have they been since that book came out? They got one playoff series win against these Twins in 2006, but that’s about it.

The reality is that despite giving substantial amounts of revenue to the Minnesota Vikings while they were renting the Metrodome, the Twins managed to remain a consistent playoff contender. I think they’ve had one losing season in the last nine years. That’s five division titles since 2002, and a sixth that slipped out of their hands in a one-game playoff in 2008.

But back to Twitter, because I do want to leave Twins fans with a Twitter post they might find encouraging. This from Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune and AM 1500:

Hum is getting louder that Twins will announce Mauer contract extension as kickoff to Twins Fest.

I believe TwinsFest starts Friday.

Also, I just ran across this on the Web site/blog of Murray Chass. More about the Twins and A’s.

Points of interest from Wednesday’s radio show

We had a very interesting conversation with Minnesota Twins beat writer La Velle E. Neal from the Minneapolis Star Tribune in the first segment of "Sports Talk" on 970-AM WDAY radio on Wednesday.

Here’s a few of the highlights from the discussion with Neal, for those of you who didn’t catch the show:

  • Delmon Young is still "the guy," meaning he will continue to be an everyday player. Neal says the Twins could very well likely go with the hot hand when making decisions on whether to start Young or newly signed slugger Jim Thome.
  • Neal expects Thome to get no more than 300 at-bats.
  • The Chicago White Sox weren’t as interested in Thome because he had built up equity with the fan base, making it tougher to just plant him on the bench five nights a week. I guess I can understand that. Still feel like for $1.5 million, he’s a heck of a bargain.
  • Neal expects no big moves coming. He believes the contract offer to free-agent starting pitcher Jarrod Washburn is no longer on the table. He thinks free-agent infielder Orlando Hudson will cost too much. "What you have right now is what you see," Neal said.
  • Third baseman Joe Crede remains a possible free-agent addition, but Neal was told "no" regarding Orlando Cabrera. So you can shut the door on O-Cab. He said the Twins think Danny Valencia will contribute this season, which makes the fact that he didn’t get a September call-up last year kind of unusual. Must have been sending a message, unless there was an injury to him that I don’t know about.
  • Neal expects Brian Duensing "will be appointed the leader by the pitching coach Rick Anderson" for the team’s fifth starting spot, though it’s up for grabs to Glen Perkins and Francisco Liriano. The team has Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey pretty much locked into the first four rotation spots.
  • Like myself, Neal expects the Chicago White Sox will be the biggest AL Central threat to the Twins in 2010. That rotation - Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd – could be filthy.

Plenty of Twins talk on Sports Talk today

If you’re a Minnesota Vikings fan and need a distraction from the loss, we’ll be talking Minnesota Twins baseball on "Sports Talk" from 1-2 p.m. on 970-AM WDAY radio today.

Joining us for the show today will be Twins beat writer La Velle E. Neal from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. We’ll talk to Neal about the Twins signing Jim Thome, his thoughts on a future contract extension for Joe Mauer and what team poses the biggest threat to the Twins in 2010.

I’ll be joined in studio for Forum colleagues Tom Mix and Kerry Collins.

We’ll probably discuss a little bit of Vikings, too, but we’ll keep that at the back end of the show.

If you’d like to take part in the show, call (701) 293-9000 or (800) 279-9329 or e-mail talk@wday.com.

Also, I ran across this on the Web. It’s a theme song for the Twins’ 1991 World Series championship run. How’s that for a pick-me-up?

Twins agree to terms with Thome

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is reporting that the Minnesota Twins have agreed to terms with Jim Thome on a one-year, incentive laden contract.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune says the deal is for a $1.5 million base salary with $700,000 in incentives available to him.

Let’s start with this: Who is Thome?

  • A 39-year-old designated hitter / pinch hitter.
  • A sure-fire Hall of Famer after he retires – barring a steroid admission, which you just never know these days - with 564 homers and a career .557 slugging percentage.
  • That slugging percentage is 23rd best in big league history. To put that in perspective, players 20 through 22 on the list are Stan Musial, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.
  • The 564 homers are 12th-most in big league history, and he could very easily pass Rafael Palmeiro and Harmon Killebrew to land in the top 10 if he gets decent at-bats. Big "if" though.
  • Last year in 124 games, he had a .249/.366/.481 (BA/OBP/SLG) line with 23 homers and 77 RBIs.

So, Thome was still a pretty productive player, even at his advanced age. That on-base percentage of .366 is higher than every player on the Twins except Joe Mauer, Jason Kubel and Denard Span. Yes, it was just a tad higher than Justin Morneau.

The .481 slugging percentage is higher than everyone on the Twins except Mauer, Morneau, Kubel and Michael Cuddyer.

Yes, the batting average isn’t great, but clearly he has a great eye at the plate and remains a feared hitter. And with the Twins, there will be plenty of pop around him.

The biggest question is: How much will Thome play? My guess is he’ll play two to three days a week. Injuries happen, and any injury to Delmon Young, Kubel or Cuddyer would free up playing time for Thome. He’ll probably take some at-bats from Young, which would not be a bad thing at all. And if Young gets off to his typical slow start through the first four months of the year, he’ll likely steal a lot of at-bats from him.

How much should Thome play? In my opinion, almost every day. I’d stick Young on the bench, giving him at-bats against left-handed pitching. I’d start Thome and Kubel every time a righty is on the mound for the opponent. Now that the Metrodome is in the rear-view mirror, the Twins don’t need to worry so much about Kubel’s balky knees running around on that concrete-like Dome turf.

But no matter how you slice it, the Twins have added much-needed depth without spending very much money at all. They just signed a future Hall of Famer who – despite being past his prime – is still a very productive player when healthy, and the cost will be roughly a third of what Nick Punto makes next year. Think about that!

And while you’re thinking about that, how about this: Thome will make less than half of what the Twins paid Mike Lamb in 2009, and they cut Lamb in 2008!

We’ll talk about Thome and other Twins topics on "Sports Talk" on 970-AM WDAY from 1-2 p.m. Wednesday. I have a guest scheduled for the show that I’m pretty excited about, and the timing couldn’t be better. Make sure to tune in for the show, or check back here tomorrow when I reveal who that guest is.

Serving up some morning links

There’s a lot of Jim Thome opinions floating around the Web, and a couple other worthwhile links too. Let’s get it started.

Thome becomes a more realistic possibility for Twins

It’s official. The Chicago White Sox won’t be taking designated hitter Jim Thome back.

And not only that, but it’s also been reported today that Thome’s agent and the Minnesota Twins have spoken with each other this afternoon.

I go back and forth on Thome. Not because I don’t think he’s a worthwhile addition. But having no idea how much the Twins are willing to spend for payroll this year, it would be a shame for them to sign a guy like Thome if it prevents them from upgrading at third base or second base.

Secondly, I worry the Twins wouldn’t use Thome correctly. What I mean by that is that you have a hard time convincing me the Twins aren’t better off with Thome as an everyday DH and Jason Kubel as an everyday left fielder than they are with Kubel at DH and Delmon Young in left field.

Thome is a far superior offensive player to Young. His on-base percentage is 70 points higher, and his slugging percentage is much higher, too.

Defensively, Kubel might actually be an upgrade over Young. Yes, I said it. Here’s how Fangraphs rates all left fielders in Major League Baseball last year with at least 550 innings at the position. Young ranks dead last in Ultimate Zone Rating, which is a very important category.

I know some of you aren’t statgeeks or sabermetrically inclined. That’s fine. But it’s hard to dispute the UZR players who rank poorly. Carlos Quentin. Manny Ramirez. Garrett Anderson. I don’t think anyone is surprised to see those names near the bottom.

Kubel scored a -2.3 in UZR/150 last year defensively in left field in just 208 innings. Small sample size, but he can’t be any worse than Young, can he?

The reason the Twins would never go Thome/Kubel over Young/Kubel is because they have so much invested in Young. He’s a player who is under team control for the next few years, and they traded a future ace (Matt Garza) and an everyday shortstop (Jason Bartlett) for him. And both of those players keyed Tampa Bay’s run to a World Series in 2008.

Here’s how I rank the Twins’ offseason needs at this point:

1. Third base/second base addition (Orlando Hudson, Felipe Lopez, Joe Crede)

2. Thome

3. Veteran "innings eater" starting pitcher (Jarrod Washburn)

Too bad about Denny Hecker‘s problems. Thome makes a great pitchman too.