Picking from the scrap heap

Beggars can’t be choosers, and the Twins are really in need of some pitching. There’s not much left to pick from even if the Twins had money to spend.

The Star Tribune puts the Twins’ payroll at roughly $96 million after the addition of outfielder Josh Willingham. If they really do plan to have a payroll of around $100 million, that doesn’t leave much left if the team really wants to add arms to the rotation and to a bullpen that finished with the worst ERA in the major leagues last year.

Free-agent starter Roy Oswalt is apparently interested in accepting a one-year deal somewhere, but would he really go to the Twins? And for how much?

I haven’t seen Oswalt’s name linked to the team. The guys that I have heard the Twins might be interested in on KFAN today are a pretty motley crew. I’ll rank ‘em:

  • 1. Paul Maholm. Sorry, folks. If you’re seeing Maholm at No. 1, this is probably pretty discouraging. He has a 53-73 record in his seven-year career, all spent with Pittsburgh. But a few positives: 1) He’s 29 years old. 2) He carried a sub-3.00 ERA into mid-July last year, but finished at 3.66 before going on the DL with a shoulder strain. 3) Prior to 2011, he has been durable.
  • 2. Joel Piniero. The 33-year-old posted a 5.13 ERA in 27 appearances for the L.A. Angels last year. But he was quite good in 2009 and 2010, with ERAs of 3.49 and 3.84 with St. Louis and the Angels in those two years. Like Maholm, he doesn’t miss a lot of bats. But unlike Maholm, he hasn’t been much of a horse. While Maholm missed time last year, he was good for about 180 innings per season. Piniero has eclipsed 155 innings only once since 2006.
  • 3. Jeff Francis. Go back four years and Francis was a promising 26-year-old lefty for the Colorado Rockies. But those days are over for Francis. At 31 years old on opening day, Francis is coming off of a ho-hum 2011, going 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA. Opponents hit .301 off of him. He doesn’t get strikeouts anymore. Twins would be wise to avoid this one.

Selanne returns to Winnipeg, and NFL picks

There’s a big NHL game tonight just three hours from Fargo. And for once, I’m not talking about the first-place Minnesota Wild.

Teemu Selanne returns to Winnipeg tonight to take on the Jets in the same city that he made his prolific splash in the NHL nearly two decades ago.

As a rookie with the Jets’ previous incarnation, Selanne enjoyed one of the great rookie seasons in North American professional sports history. He scored 76 goals in the 1992-93 season, shattering the previous NHL rookie record of 53 set by Mike Bossy. Selanne would go on to play 4 1/2 seasons with Winnipeg before being dealt to the Anaheim Ducks.

The Jets franchise packed its bags and headed to Phoenix after completing the season that saw Selanne get traded. But Winnipeg got a new Jets franchise this season, giving the 41-year-old Selanne an opportunity to play in front of his former home fans one more time.

Week 15 NFL picks

Went 2-3 last week.

  • Saints by 7 at Vikings: Saints
  • Bears by 3 1/2 vs. Seahawks: Seahawks
  • Titans by 7 at Colts: Titans
  • Patriots by 4 1/2 at Broncos: Patriots
  • Ravens by 1 at Chargers: Chargers

Alaska Nanooks’ new intro video is out!

Some of you might remember one of my favorite YouTube video’s from a year ago. Alaska-Fairbanks has become popular in hockey circles in part due to their impressive and also over-the-top intro videos introducing their hockey team before each home game.

Well, the 2011-12 video is out.

 

It was hard to live up to the bar set in 2010-11. Here’s that one. It’s crazy.

Would two quarterbacks be better than one?

Nothing keeps a 2-11 team the talk of a town like a good ol’ quarterback controversy. And at the same time, it seems Christian Ponder‘s struggles have ignited a whole new debate.

I’ve heard quite a few people since Sunday’s loss advocate that the Vikings – who in all likelihood will have a top-three pick – select yet another quarterback in the first round of April’s NFL draft.

Everyone has their reasons for this: 1) Often times, young QBs show in their first year whether or not they are going to be great, and Ponder hasn’t done that. 2) If you take a QB in back-to-back first rounds, one has to pan out, right?

There’s no way that the Vikings will have a shot at Andrew Luck. At least, it doesn’t appear that way right now. But what about Matt Barkley? Or Robert Griffin III? How high will they be picked?

Regardless of what QB is available, I’m against that type of thinking. I think the Vikings would be better served doing one of two things:

  • Trade down and let a team that really wants a “franchise QB” overpay for it in draft picks and players.
  • Fill one of the Vikings’ multitude of other needs with the top-three pick.

Twins reportedly add Willingham, who reportedly can’t pitch

“The Hammer” appears to be on his way to Target Field.

The Minnesota Twins reportedly have agreed to terms with Josh Willingham, likely spelling the end of Michael Cuddyer‘s tenure with the organization.

Willingham and Cuddyer are pretty similar players. Both have some pop, and neither is a very good outfielder. What they both don’t do is pitch, which will continue to be an area of concern in 2012 since the Twins have done nothing to improve in that area. And one has to think that the team is running short on money to spend.

Besides the fact that pitching is being neglected, I like the Willingham move. Yeah, he hit just .246 last year. But he jacked 29 homers in 136 games for the Oakland A’s playing in a stadium that might be more hitter-unfriendly than Target Field is.

Cuddyer and Willingham will be both be 33 years old on opening day, which makes it easier to compare them. Cuddyer has hit 10 points higher than Willingham over the course of his career, but they have identical on-base percentages.

My guess is Willingham will come cheaper than Cuddyer. And while much has been made about Cuddyer’s leadership being needed in the Twins clubhouse, I think that can be overplayed. I would think it would be awfully tough to be a leader of a clubhouse if you’re not considered the team’s best player.

It’s not like Joe Mauer was too concerned about what Cuddyer thought when Mauer was reportedly resistant to doing a rehab assignment at Triple-A Rochester, instead opting for the sunny skies of Single-A ball in Florida, then returning to the majors and struggling from the outset.

Willingham will definitely help the Twins offense. But will it really matter if they go into 2012 with the same pitching staff as they one they had in 2011 (minus Joe Nathan)?

Fantasy football review, and NFL Week 14 picks

While Minnesota Vikings fans might be looking ahead to 2012, those that play fantasy football may not be ready to close the door on the NFL season just yet.

Week 14 means in most leagues that the fantasy football playoffs are about to get under way. How was this year for me? Solid, but not spectacular. My team in a 10-team league has been dominant, thanks to waiver-wire adds like Cam Newton, Victor Cruz and DeMarco Murray, and a midseason Vick-for-Chris Johnson swap. Grabbed the No. 1 seed for playoffs in that league.

The team in my 16-team league will not be defending its title. That squad sputtered to 6-7, never recovering from the loss of Jahvid Best at running back (a top-1o back prior to his latest concussion). Injuries are a killer in leagues that deep since there isn’t much on the waiver wire. Was actually fifth in scoring among the 16 teams, so there was some bad luck there as well. That team has also gotten great production from waiver-wire add Tim Tebow, who will be a keeper option to consider going forward.

Anyway, before the season, I posted some players I liked for fantasy football. Let’s review:

What did I get right

I actually performed better with my deep sleeper picks than my list of undervalued players. I nailed the Matthew Stafford selection much like many people did, although even his performance has tailed off in the last few weeks.

James Starks likely gave you solid production, though John Kuhn has prevented Starks from realizing his full potential by poaching many TDs. Ryan Grant certainly has not been a factor.

Looking at the deep sleeper list, a few names jump out. Murray has been an outstanding add in any-sized league. Eric Decker has had a very good season. Ben Tate has been a sneaky play despite being a back-up on his own team (I managed to get him thrown into the trade I mentioned earlier in this post). Even Denarius Moore has provided a couple of really good games.

What went wrong

Well, almost everyone in my undervalued list. Knowshon Moreno, Felix Jones, Austin Collie and Lee Evans have proven to be train wrecks of fantasy picks, and I don’t blame you for never taking my advice again if you selected those four.

I always figured Aaron Hernandez – not Rob Gronkowski – was the tight end to own for the Patriots, thinking that Gronkowski’s TD total from last season was a bit of a fluke. Boy was I wrong!

Week 14 NFL picks

Another strong showing two weeks ago, going 4-1. I didn’t make picks last week while I was on vacation. Regardless, I need to quit procrastinating and add up my totals. I have to be doing pretty well for the season.

  • Saints by 4 at Titans: Saints
  • Falcons by 3 at Panthers: Panthers
  • Patriots by 8 1/2 at Redskins: Patriots
  • Bengals by 1 vs. Texans: Texans
  • Cowboys by 3 1/2 vs. Giants: Cowboys

So far, I’m loving the new NBA

Drunk-dialing CEOs and angry owners and Ricky Rubio … oh my!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m loving the new NBA. 66 games? That’s great. Season was too long anyway. And there was so much juicy news this week too. I could care less if the league ever starts holding games.

Let’s begin:

Pujols deal with LA will be good for Cards in the end

I’m watching MLB Network right now, and it’s so obvious how hard of a time Los Angeles Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto is having fighting off an ear-to-ear smile. And who can blame him? His team just got the best slugger and best pitcher on the free-agent market on the same day.

Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson each agreed to deals with the Angels. Pujols’ deal is for 10 years somewhere between $250 and $260 million. Wilson’ deal is 5 years and $77.5 million.

It’s a tough day to be a Texas Rangers fan, having lost Wilson to a division rival to boot.

And it’s a tough day for St. Louis Cardinals fans too. My annual ballpark tour landed me at Busch Stadium last year, and I got to see first-hand the way that city cheered and flat-out worshipped Pujols.

But Cardinals fans shouldn’t be discouraged. I know there’s always a desire to have the great players in the game play for the same teams throughout their careers, a la Stan Musial and Bob Gibson. But these are much different times, and they require a much different approach.

And let’s face it: It’s a two-way street. Pujols walked away from a big offer from the Cardinals. He could have been a rich man in St. Louis. But he decided he wanted to be elsewhere. Not much the Cardinals can do about it.

Pujols is the most feared hitter in the game. But he is 31 years old, and his batting average and OPS numbers have dropped in each of the last three years. He still hit .299 with 37 homers this past season. I’m sure we all wish we could regress to something like that, but you get the picture.

The point is that five, six or seven years into this deal, this could be a really bad deal. A franchise-killing deal. The Angels did the same thing – on a much smaller scale – four years ago by signing a 32-year-old Torii Hunter to a six-year, $90 million deal. Four years into that deal, Hunter is not the same player, and the Angels have been eclipsed by the Rangers as the dominant team in the AL West.

The Minnesota Twins saw first-hand this past season what can happen when a player making $23 million per season contributes very little. The Twins’ woes went well beyond Mauer, but when looking at how they fell to 63 wins, Mauer gets the first glance. People are always going to start by focusing their frustrations on the man who signed a lucrative eight-year deal and who once upon a time was mentioned in the same breath as Pujols when they both won MVPs in the same year.

What the Cardinals lost in a star slugger, they make up in payroll flexibility. And Prince Fielder is still out there too. How would Brewers rooters like to watch NL Central rivals like the Cards and Cubs launch into a bidding war over their free-agent slugger?

Give the Angels credit. The Dodgers are down, and they are seizing control of that Los Angeles market. But don’t hang your heads in St. Louis either. That’s a great organization and will continue to be one.

I’m back!

My vacation “stay-cation” from work is over. And, other than mentioning the Joe Kapp fight, it was a vacation from the blog too.

So, what was I up to? Not too much. Just had to burn through some PTO. Gave me a chance to catch up on the DVR (I’m now addicted to “Storage Wars”), went to a Spuds-Bruins hockey game, entertained some friends in town from the Twin Cities … but mostly just relax.

Since I haven’t blogged for about a week, I figured I’d post a few questions that I’ve been asked over the last few days and my responses to them.

What did you think of the Matt Capps deal?

From the Twins perspective, I didn’t mind it. But that was until I saw that the Colorado Rockies basically gave away Huston Street today, trading him to San Diego for a player to be named later. Comparing Capps and Street is night and day. And while Street’s ERA and WHIP have increased each of the last two seasons, he’s still a reliever with a career 3.11 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. I like those kind of numbers. Heck, the Twins could use him AND Capps if they’re serious about fixing that bullpen.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I know a lot of you out there want Michael Cuddyer to come back, but it’s just not the best way to spend money. It’s widely believed that signing him would leave the Twins with almost no money left. How do you feel about Lester Oliveros as your right-handed option in the eighth inning? Or adding nobody of relevance to the rotation? That’s what I thought. The Twins should let Cuddyer walk and examine what’s left of the pitching market.

Where are the Miami Marlins getting all of this money?

Who knows? Obviously, there’s a new stadium about to open. But their payroll is going to more than double, which is raising a lot of eyebrows.

The Marlins have proven to be the “big fish” at this winter meetings (sorry). They’ve added Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and Jose Reyes in recent days and are supposedly the frontrunners for C.J. Wilson. Not a bad haul. NL East could be an interesting race with the Marlins, Phillies and Braves next year.

What did you think of the Spuds-Bruins hockey game?

I love high school hockey. Among my favorite activities to attend in person. Moorhead obviously has another strong team this year (Spuds won that game 4-1 by the way). Give Fargo South a lot of credit. That game was 3-1 after the first period, but the Bruins kept it close the rest of the way. After the first period, Moorhead only held a 21-17 shot advantage the rest of the way.

I’m more excited about Thief River Falls’ 6-6 tie against Roseau in the opener last week. Will be fun to see how the Prowlers do when they play at Moorhead in about a month.

What is going to happen to the Bears’ playoff hopes?

Most of my friends that root for other teams are really enjoying watching the downfall of my team. I knew that losing Jay Cutler was going to be rough, and I really felt people didn’t realize how well he was playing beyond his statistics. But who knew the dropoff from Cutler to Caleb Hanie would be this severe? I actually said after Sunday’s loss that the Bears should call Brett Favre. Can you believe that?

I really don’t see how a reeling Bears team will resurrect its season Sunday against Tim Tebow and the red-hot Broncos.