Impact of Nishioka’s addition to Twins would be tough to predict

I blogged last week about the Minnesota Twins being awarded exclusive negotiating rights with Japanese middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

I mentioned in that post how it was unusual to see a Midwest team win the bidding, since seemingly the majority of well-known Japanese imports (Hideki Matsui, Ichiro, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideo Nomo, etc.) have ended up on the West or East Coasts.

But according to Minneapolis Star Tribune writer Joe Christensen, Nishioka sounds pretty excited about the possibility of playing for the Twins if a contract agreement can be reached.

Nishioka is coming off a career-best season in which he hit a Japanese Pacific League-leading .346. He can play both shortstop and second base.

You could argue that infielders from Japan have had the least amount of major league success when compared to other position players or pitchers from that country. The three Japanese infielders that come to mind are Tadahito Iguchi, Kaz Matsui and Akinori Iwamura.

The first conclusion I would draw from this is that power does not transfer over well from the JPL to Major League Baseball. In fact, it virtually disappears. But in looking at the three infielders above, speed actually does. Two of those three actually stole more bases in their first seasons in MLB, despite playing in far fewer games in each case.

For Nishioka, that’s not terrible news. Last season, he was more speedy (22 steals, has a career high of 33) than powerful (11 homers, career high is 14). And at Target Field, it’s safe to say he would be nothing more than a gap hitter.

The other thing to keep in mind is age. Nishioka would be the youngest of the group, being only 26 years old on Opening Day 2011. Iguchi was 30 when he started out. Matsui was 28 when he debuted with the Mets. And Iwamura was 28 in his first season in Tampa.

So Nishioka, at least in terms of age, has more good years ahead of him than his predecessors. But at the same time, his skills could be less refined. His rate of efficiency in stealing bases in Japan isn’t the greatest. No doubt that the Twins wouldn’t mind getting Rod Carew or Paul Molitor to help him out in that area should he sign with the team.

Iguchi and Iwamura have actually been pretty good players at one time or another in the big leagues. The problem is neither aged (or in Iwamura’s case, appears to be aging) very well. But that’s not hard to understand when you consider that in Japan, they both relied heavily on the home run. In the United States, that ability was diminished (though in Iguchi’s case, he had 33 homers combined between 2005 and 2006).

There’s no doubt the Twins would be taking a gamble in signing Nishioka. But considering how weak the free-agent market is with middle infielders this year, it’s a gamble worth considering.

Minnpost’s Aaron Gleeman gives his take on Nishioka here.

Here’s a video of an ad that Nishioka did in Japan:

Gophers depth to be tested, plus NFL picks

The University of Minnesota men’s basketball team will have its depth tested at one key position for the forseeable future.

Al Nolen

The Minnesota men's basketball team will miss defensive stopper Al Nolen (0) for the next couple of weeks. Associated Press photo

Point guard Al Nolen will miss the next couple of weeks and maybe more with a foot injury. The 15th-ranked Gophers are already without one of their more talented players in combo guard Devoe Joseph, who is suspended indefinitely for violating unspecified team rules.

Minnesota’s next game is one of its last solid tests before the Big Ten season begins. The Gophers face Virginia in a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game at 6 p.m. Monday on ESPN2.

Week 12 NFL picks

I’m back to my old ways again, going 3-2 last week after a 1-4 week the week before. That puts my season record picking the spread at 24-21.

Here we go for Week 12:

  • Pittsburgh by 6 at Buffalo: Steelers
  • Kansas City by 1 at Seattle: Chiefs
  • Baltimore by 7 1/2 vs. Tampa Bay: Bucs
  • San Francisco by 2 1/2 at Arizona: 49ers
  • Philadelphia by 3 1/2 at Chicago: Eagles (As a Bears fan, this pick kills me, but I just think Michael Vick is more machine than man right now. The guy is unstoppable.)

Twins awarded negotiating rights to Japanese infielder

The Minnesota Twins, reportedly with a bid of $5.3 million, will get the right to negotiate with Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

Nishioka, who plays both second base and shortstop, won the batting title in the Japanese Pacific League last season with a .346 mark. I blogged about him here (video included).

The Twins have one month to agree to terms with Nishioka. I wonder how intrigued Nishioka is with Minnesota. Seems like almost every Japanese import that requires a bid to get negotiating rights for ends up with a West Coast or East Coast team.

Also worth keeping an eye on shortstop J.J. Hardy. The Twins could decide to non-tender Hardy if they get Nishioka. Without knowing what the Twins plan to spend on payroll, there has to be some within the organization uncomfortable with just handing Nishioka a starting job at shortstop. You just don’t know how he’ll adjust to the American game if he does decide to come here.

Patrick Newman of FanGraphs breaks down Nishioka in this post.

Timberwolves making strides, albeit baby steps

I’m sure a lot of Minnesota Timberwolves fans were disappointed by the team blowing a 21-point lead Wednesday night en route to an overtime home loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

David Kahn

Is Timberwolves president David Kahn a mad genius, or just plain mad? Associated Press photo

I still have some doubts as to whether or not a foul should have been called on that Spurs’ 3-point attempt in the final seconds of regulation. The ensuing free throws allowed San Antonio to tie the game and send it to overtime.

But forget about that. They may have blown the game so to speak. But I still see some things I like:

  • As I’ve blogged about before, Kevin Love is an absolute force on the glass, and he’s not a bad scorer either. Plenty of players have made a good living averaging 19 points and 14.5 rebounds per game, as Love has so far this season.
  • Timberwolves president David Kahn became a punchline in the offseason after re-signing Darko Milicic to a four-year, $20 million contract. But Milicic has not been too bad. He’s tied for first in the NBA in blocks, averaging 2.9 per game. And in the last three games, it seems like something has clicked with him. He’s scored at least 20 points in each of those games, shooting over 50 percent from the floor in each. How about Milicic repeatedly posting up against Tim Duncan? Hook shot after hook shot. Didn’t expect to see that.
  • Wesley Johnson, who was drafted fourth overall in the 2010 NBA draft, has been a nice addition so far. He’s averaging nearly 10 points per game this season and given the team the long-range shooting that they were lacking last season. Still plenty of room for improvement, notably with his pre-free throw handshakes.
  • And finally, there’s Michael Beasley. He’s averaged 21 points and 6 rebounds per game. Great numbers on the surface. But then there’s games like the one Wednesday night against the Spurs, where you forgot he was in the game when he wasn’t throwing the ball into the front row, which he did a couple of times I believe. Still, Kahn got a pretty good price.

A few links:

Why I can’t stand the BCS

It’s too easy to argue against the Bowl Championship Series. That’s because it’s mere existence is so absurd to begin with that I imagine 100 years from now, historians will look back on the BCS and laugh at our creative little system. It’s like sitting here now and thinking back to helmetless hockey. What a crazy idea!

I don’t even like talking about the BCS, because the fact that people talk about probably just encourages the NCAA to keep it. Any publicity is good publicity, as they say.

But I read stories like this one on ESPN.com about what Ohio State’s president has to say about Boise State and TCU, and it ignites that fire inside me again, that fire that won’t be extinguished until the BCS is gone.

“I do know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it’s like murderer’s row every week for these schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day.”

These comments by E. Gordon Gee, the same guy who once abolished the athletic department while at Vanderbilt, make no sense.

First of all, having seen enough University of Minnesota football games this season, there are a few patsies in the Big Ten that would have a tough time keeping their heads above water in a conference like the WAC or wherever.

Secondly, if you’re Boise State or TCU, what are you supposed to do? What school in their right mind would schedule a nonconference game against you? Look at Boise State. They beat nearly every major conference team they play. What does a school like Ohio State or Auburn or Texas have to gain by facing a team like that?

I’m not going to sit here and say that Boise State and TCU are the two best teams in the country. But why is that for me or anyone else to decide? Let the players play it out, and the chips fall where they may. That’s what sports is supposed to be all about.

I simply do not like the premise that anyone but players decide who wins a national title. An eight-team playoff solves that problem. Yeah, some good teams will be left out, but any team that can be argued to be the best in the country will be in, and that’s what matters.

Thanks for reading my vent. Days like this are why I love this blog.

Childress never had fans’ backing from the beginning

For a coach who improved his win total in his second, third and fourth seasons, it always seemed to be an uphill battle for Brad Childress in getting fan support.

Childress was fired Monday, one day after the Minnesota Vikings were throughly embarrassed and outplayed in a 31-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will replace Childress on an interim basis.

I think the time was right for Childress to be let go. I had blogged a couple months ago about how clear it was that Chilly had lost his locker room to a degree that made it seem difficult for him to ever get it back.

He may have lost the locker room, but he never had the fan base.

I am left wondering why it seemed like from the beginning that Vikings fans were never pleased with Childress.

I think a lot of fans didn’t like the hire from the start, questioning whether or not Childress’ credentials made him suitable to be a head coach in the NFL. Being an offensive coordinator for Andy Reid doesn’t mean as much as it does under other systems since Reid is calling the plays.

I’m sure part of it too is that Chilly isn’t the most electric personality. Say what you want about Mike Tice, but Tice was as fan friendly as they come. I don’t know too many other head coaches that took questions directly from fans like Tice did on his weekly show. So in some ways, from a fan perspective, Tice left some big shoes to fill.

If you think I’m off-base in saying fans never liked Chilly, or if you have another reason as to why you didn’t, feel free to leave a comment. I’m interested in what Vikings fans have to say about it.

And if you’d rather look ahead, ESPN’s John Clayton has a list of potential replacements for Childress. Brian Billick is an intriguing name.

Gophers are good. Vikings are not.

Yesterday, I encouraged Minnesota Vikings fans on Facebook to turn their attention to the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team. Now, I ask GSB (Goethe Sports Blog) Nation to do the same.

What do you want first? Good news or bad news? Let’s go with the bad.

The Vikings are not a good football team. I would say up until two weeks ago, fans were holding out hope they would get things turned around. But after back-to-back clunkers against division rivals Chicago and Green Bay, it’s pretty safe to say at 3-7 that the season is over.

To make matters worse, those Vikings fans ready to run head coach Brad Childress out of the snow-filled Upper Midwest will have to tolerate his presiding over the team for at least one more week, according to this story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

NOTE: Scratch that above statement. The Vikings fired Childress and promoted Leslie Frazier to interim coach a couple hours after I wrote this. I’ll leave the rest of the post as is for now.

After watching the Vikings the last couple of weeks, I’ve noted how surprisingly deep the Vikings problems run:

  • Any discussion about the Vikings starts and ends with Childress. I’ll never understand how their best player – Adrian Peterson – is limited to just 15 touches in a game like he was Sunday. And in his last three games, he hasn’t reached 20 carries in any of them. Their second-best player on offense – Percy Harvin – had just two catches for 12 yards. Chilly has to find a way to get Peterson and Harvin more involved.
  • Brett Favre is brutal right now. And unlike any other team that has a struggling QB, I don’t think Vikings brass is capable of sitting Favre. I know it’s hard to believe for some people, but I think we’re at the point where Tarvaris Jackson gives you the best possible chance to win. In an NFL that’s built to encourage offense, Favre has 10 TD passes and 17 interceptions. Wanna take a guess how many QBs with enough pass attempts to qualify for QB rating have thrown more picks than TDs this season? Just five. And three of the other four have the difference between the two categories at two or less. Favre, by the way, has the worst QB rating of any player who has played in more than six games this season.
  • The Vikings corners and safeties are having a really difficult time right now. Chris Cook, of course, got plenty of attention Sunday, and not just for his struggles on the field. He got into an argument with defensive end Ray Edwards on the sidelines that that TV cameras caught, too.

I could go on and on, but let’s get to those beloved Gophers.

The Minnesota men’s basketball team won the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship Sunday. In back-to-back games, they beat the No. 8-ranked team in the country – North Carolina – and a Final Four participant from a season ago.

Sunday’s game was pretty well-played, much moreso than Friday’s win over the Tar Heels. West Virginia had a guard that in the first half couldn’t miss in Casey Mitchell, who finished with 27 points. Yet the Gophers built a one-point lead at halftime, then kept a slim lead throughout much of the second half.

I’ve heard the naysayers point out that the Mountaineers aren’t even ranked and that the Tar Heels hardly looked like the eighth-best team in the country. I have two points for you:

  • Aren’t teams looking bad against the Gophers a byproduct of Tubby Smith’s defensive system?
  • The Gophers are doing all of this without their best player in guard Devoe Joseph, who is serving an indefinite suspension for violating team rules.

The Gophers look really deep right now. They have had depth the last few years. But that depth is now starting to really develop.

Al Nolen was superb on Sunday. Still like to see him cut down on taking long-range shots, but he’s pretty adept at doing anything else.

Trevor Mbakwe is a man among boys down in the post. And Blake Hoffarber was doing his thing as well, knocking down open 3s, including a big 3-pointer in the final minute to give the Gophers a lead on Sunday. And South Dakota’s own Colten Iverson had a great game Sunday too.

Although I don’t really need to tell North Dakota State fans any of this. Bison fans can see for themselves what the Gophers look like on Wednesday when NDSU travels to Williams Arena. Should be fun.

Packers fans get one last look … maybe? … at Favre, plus NFL picks

The Minnesota Vikings-Green Bay Packers game might not be drawing quite the headlines that it did, say, a year ago. But it’s still Vikings-Packers, and once again, Brett Favre is playing in it.

Brett Favre

Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre faces his former team again Sunday. Associated Press photo

It’s been a difficult season for Favre. He’s injured his ankle, his shoulder, his ego … you name it! He’s already more than doubled his interception total (16 this year, 7 last year) from a year ago, despite having played in just nine games.

And his Vikings find themselves on the brink of falling out of playoff contention.

But Sidney Rice will be back on Sunday. He was activated by the Vikings on Saturday and should play against Green Bay.

Week 11 NFL picks

Rough week last week, going 1-4. That puts me at 21-19 for the season. Here’s hoping for the rebound this week:

Titans by 6 1/2 over Redskins. Titans

Cowboys by 7 over Lions. Cowboys

Steelers by 8 1/2 over Raiders. Raiders

Falcons by 3 over Rams. Falcons

Eagles by 3 over Giants. Eagles

Gophers win over No. 8 Tar Heels impressive on the surface

I had to work last night - ’tis the season – but went home afterwards and watched the Minnesota-North Carolina men’s basketball game that I recorded.

Working in sports can be great. The one thing that’s tough from a sports fan perspective is that when you have to work during a game you want to watch, there’s no way of avoiding finding out what happened. I mean, it’s part of my job to know during work last night that the Gophers upset the eighth-ranked Tar Heels.

But since it was an upset, I had no problem at all sitting down to watch it despite knowing the result. I had to know how they did it.

It went pretty much as I expected. With Tubby Smith, wins like Friday’s victory are all about defense, defense, defense.

Both teams were really sloppy in the first half, and UNC never fully stopped playing that way. That was a pretty disappointing effort from a Tar Heels squad that looked lost on offense as freshman stud Harrison Barnes was held without a field goal.

The Tar Heels just didn’t  have that go-to scorer down the stretch. The Gophers really don’t either since Devoe Joseph is suspended indefinite for violation of team rules. But the Gophers are a veteran team. The core of this team has played together the last couple of seasons outside of Trevor Mbakwe, who was a beast on Friday night.

And how about that offensive rebound-turned-dunk by Rodney Williams? Pretty sick play. I suppose he should get a lot of the credit for Barnes’ struggles since I think he defended him most of the game. Williams is still pretty unpolished, but that kid oozes athletic ability.

This is a very good win for Minnesota come selection time, no matter how bad UNC looked. Everyone talks about what a bad team the Tar Heels were last year, but they still won 20 games, didn’t they?

North Carolina is a perennial power. The Gophers caught them on a good night and made the most of it.

Gardenhire earns national respect despite local angst

Major League Baseball’s Manager of the Year awards are for regular-season only. And considering that, it’s pretty surprising it’s taken Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire this long to win one.

Ron Gardenhire

Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire finally wins the AL Manager of the Year award. Associated Press

He finally picked up the American League honor on Wednesday, with 108 total points in the voting system. Texas Rangers skipper Ron Washington finished second with 80 points.

The award is voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Funny how many fans in this region were ready to see the Twins oust Gardenhire after Minnesota suffered another first-round sweep out of the playoffs this past season. But despite many second-place finishes in the voting, this is the year he ends up winning it.

I know the sting from that postseason defeat hasn’t worn off for a lot of fans out there. But there’s no denying that Gardy did a pretty masterful job with the Twins, which dates all the way back to spring training, when the team learned that closer Joe Nathan would miss the entire season.

They also navigated through the second half of the season without former AL MVP Justin Morneau, who suffered a concussion in early July.

I’m a bit of a Gardy apologist. Personally, I’ve always felt like players play and players win, and often times the best thing a manager can do is get out of the way. But it’s really not that simple.

Managing a team of extremely talented athletes means managing extremely huge egos. And, from a distance anyway, it seems this is where Gardy does his best work. At least, that seems to be what’s typically written about him.

In that regard, you could say there’s a certain coach presiding over the Purple who probably wouldn’t mind getting a little advice from the Twins skipper. Though it’s tough to say how Gardy himself would have handled the Brett Favre-Randy Moss locker room.