Mauer ranks second to Jeter in jersey sales

CNBC’s Darren Rovell – after years of hounding, according to Yahoo’s Big League Stew blog – has finally gotten Major League Baseball to release jersey sales statistics for the first time.

Majestic – MLB’s jersey maker – released the numbers to Rovell, who published them Wednesday. The numbers reflect sales during 2010.

Twins catcher Joe Mauer ranked very high in sales of his jersey last year. Associated Press photo

Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer ranks second, behind only New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. This doesn’t surprise me. When I’m thinking about getting a Twins jersey, I always want to get one of a player I know is going to be around for awhile. And we all know Mauer isn’t going anywhere for a LONG time. Combine that with a new ballpark that’s selling out every game, and you have quite the demand.

Three of the top five were Philadelphia Phillies, as Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Cliff Lee finished third, fourth and fifth.

Rovell’s blog has some additional information that’s pretty interesting. Among the info:

  • Twins first baseman Justin Morneau ranks 15th in jersey sales.
  • Big-market teams like the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t have a single player in the top 20.
  • The Twins ranked ninth as a team in licensed product sales for 2010. That’s pretty impressive, but I’m surprised that wasn’t just a little bit higher, considering all of the factors I mentioned regarding the Mauer sales. That team moved A LOT of merchandise last year. These numbers put that in perspective.

Mauer making the TV rounds prior to spring training

If you’re a night owl like myself, you probably caught Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer’s appearance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” last night.

Mauer is on the TV circuit plugging the video game “MLB 2011: The Show,” which for the second straight year he is on the cover of.

If you missed last night’s TV spot, catch him this afternoon on “Baseball Tonight” at 2:30 p.m. today on ESPN.

Here’s last night’s clip (sorry, the video doesn’t embed for some reason):

Twins are best served leaving Mauer behind plate for now

After watching my Chicago Bears post another clunker en route to losing to Washington on Sunday afternoon, I decided to shift gears to baseball. I was surfing the Internet and found a blog post from Howard Sinker of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, in which Sinker said the Minnesota Twins should start transitioning catcher Joe Mauer to another position.

Joe Mauer

Sure looks like Joe Mauer will be a catcher - and not playing another position - for the Twins at least for the next few years. Associated Press.

I realize this happens. Not all catchers stay at catcher forever. Carlton Fisk did. Johnny Bench mostly did, for the first 15 years of his career. But not all of them do. Some have to move.

I can see why Sinker would write what he did. After all, fans should want Mauer on the field as much as possible. And he’s an immensly valuable player, regardless of what position he plays.

But even if moving Mauer to another position keeps him healthy and gives the Twins another 20 games with him in the lineup, are they really a better team?

Let’s face it: When the Twins traded catching prospect Wilson Ramos to Washington for closer Matt Capps, didn’t they make up their mind at that point that Mauer wasn’t going to move? I mean, who else is going to catch on this team?

I suppose if the idea is to just transition Mauer away from catcher, he would still catch a large chunk of the team’s games right now. But beyond Drew Butera, who else are we talking about as a catcher for the Twins? And I don’t think there’s anyone close to the big league level that’s viewed as an everyday catcher. So then what? You sign John Buck? Or Miguel Olivo?

Seems to me the Twins made up their minds about Mauer’s immediate future when they traded Ramos.

September slump shouldn’t concern Twins fans

Fans of the Minnesota Twins will have to excuse me for not being too worked up over the team’s losing streak, which reached four games after Minnesota failed to hold an early lead en route to losing 10-8 to Kansas City on Tuesday.

Fans can be quick-triggered, so after the Minnesota Vikings’ win Sunday, it’s easy to shift gears from Vikings panic mode to Twins panic mode.

But I think what the Twins are going through is pretty normal. Barring a huge collapse, they’ve had a pretty good grip on home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Since clinching a playoff spot last week, they’ve essentially been playing for two reasons: Getting an extra home game in the ALCS, and not getting injured.

Ballplayers are paid to play 162 games, but two of the team’s best hitters – Joe Mauer and Jim Thome – haven’t played during the slump.

I think for the Twins, it’s more important to enter the playoffs with a set rotation and a healthy lineup than it is to get home-field advantage in the ALCS when the Twins aren’t even guaranteed a spot in it. If Mauer or Thome misses time in the ALDS, it won’t matter what position they’re in with the ALCS. They need those two sluggers healthy.

As far as momentum, there’s an interesting comment on the latest blog post from Howard Sinker at the Star Tribune. I didn’t see the story the person who left this comment is referring to, but I’ll let you take a look at it:

Interesting tidbit in ESPN The Mag this week. They had a piece on the complete nonsense of “momentum” heading into the playoffs. Popular thinking has most fans believing it to be very important. Reality shows that only 2 of 20 teams that were 8-2 or better in the last ten games advanced to the WS. Contrarily, there were more WS participants that finished 3-7 or worse. Health and good fortune mean much more than how a team finishes the regular season.

Also, baseball fans, don’t forget to check out PBS at 7 tonight for the first in the two-part “Tenth Inning” of Ken Burns‘ “Baseball” documentary. The initial nine innings, which came out in 1994, were outstanding. Can’t wait to see what Burns has done with the years 1993-2009.

Reviewing the Week 3 NFL picks:

  •  Not as good this week. Got the Chiefs and Bengals right, but missed on the Saints, Giants and Redskins. I shouldn’t be putting faith in the G-Men right now. Record for the season in my picks against the spread is 8-7.

Twins can clinch as early as tonight

Danny Valencia

Minnesota Twins third baseman Danny Valencia has homered in three of his last four games. Associated Press photo

It’s currently the early morning hours of Tuesday, so as early as tonight the Minnesota Twins can clinch the AL Central division.

The Chicago White Sox lost a late game to Oakland on the West Coast on Monday, hours after the Twins defeated the Cleveland Indians at Target Field. So the party could be on, should that scenario repeat itself Tuesday.

Cincinnati and Texas both have the next lowest magic numbers at 6, so it’s safe to say the Twins will be the first team celebrating a postseason berth. And that has a good possibility of happening at Target Field sometime in the next two days before Thursday’s off day for both the White Sox and A’s.

Big news on Monday was word that Twins catcher Joe Mauer might need an MRI on Tuesday for his injured knee. Initially, it was reported that Mauer was day-to-day. Twins fans should be on pins and needles waiting for word that MRI.

Also, as seen on the Fox Sports Net North telecast, Jim Thome is the subject of a cover story for Sports Illustrated this week. I’m not sure when that hits store shelves and magazine racks. My guess is sometime Wednesday or Thursday or Friday. So I really don’t know.

If you were a loyal listener to “Sports Talk,” Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski told us last week that he was doing a story on Thome. So we know Posnanski wrote it, so no doubt it will be good.

Leave it to Joe to break up no-no

The way Joe Mauer is hitting right now, it’s hard to believe if he gets four chances to break up a no-hitter, he’s not going to do it.

The Minnesota Twins dropped a 4-0 decision to open a four-game set against the Texas Rangers on Monday in Arlington, with their start catcher breaking up a no-hit bid from the Rangers pitching staff with one out in the ninth inning.

Facing Rangers dynamite closer Neftali Feliz, Mauer laced a single to center field after an Orlando Hudson walk. Feliz struck out Jason Kubel and induced a harmless ground out from Michael Cuddyer to end the game.

Mauer continues to be red-hot since the All-Star break. He has only two hits in his last four games, but that’s mostly due to the fact that he’s walked seven times in 15 of those plate appearances.

And despite the fact that the current cleanup hitter Jason Kubel continues to mash, who can blame teams for pitching around Mauer?

In 33 games since the Break, Mauer is hitting an astounding .416 with a .497 on-base percentage and .632 slugging percentage. Further proof that he’s seeing the ball well is his 2-to-1 K/BB ratio since the Midsummer Classic. Pretty amazing how quickly he went in the batting average race of being outside the top 10 to reaching No. 3 with a .330 average, behind only Texas’ Josh Hamilton (.357) and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (.341).

Feliz was the third Rangers reliever trying to finish what Rich Harden had started. Harden is known as much for his injury-laden past as he is for his bona fide ace yet often wild stuff.

The right-hander, who is battling through the worst season of his eight-year career, tossed 6 2/3 hitless innings. But a high pitch count that resulted in five walks forced Rangers manager Ron Washington to pull him from the start.

This is a familiar setting for Twins fans, who just one week ago saw starting pitching Kevin Slowey yanked from a start after seven no-hit innings because of a high pitch count. Slowey, of course, landed on the disabled list following his next start.

Ramos’ stock took quite a dive

Before the season started, Wilson Ramos was a highly regarded member of the Minnesota Twins farm system.

Ramos was ranked the No. 2 prospect in the Twins organization prior the season and was dubbed the organization’s best power hitter and best defensive catcher by Baseball America.

Fast forward to Thursday, which saw the Triple-A backstop traded to the Washington Nationals along with another low-level pitcher for closer Matt Capps.

Capps is no slouch. He went to the All-Star Game and is enjoying a very nice bounce-back season after a dreadful 2009. In 46 appearances, Capps is 26-for-30 in save opportunities with a 2.74 and 38 strikeouts in 46 innings. His walk and homer rates are about half of what they were last year, but batters are hitting a rather robust .279 off of him.

And if you’re wondering, Capps is arbitration-eligible next year, meaning the Twins could have him through 2011.

All in all, there’s nothing wrong with adding Capps, who will step in and replace Jon Rauch as the Twins closer.

I know the closer’s job is often viewed as overrated, and I get all of that. But by adding Capps, the Twins hope at least that they’ve given themselves one more arm they can rely on in the bullpen. You can’t have too many of those.

But at the beginning of the season, Twins fans never would have dreamed that this would be the haul the team would eventually get when it traded Ramos, who is blocked at the big league level by Joe Mauer.

It’s been that kind of year for Ramos. He’s hitting .241 with just five homers in 71 games for Triple-A Rochester, and aside from a seven-hit showing in his first two big league games this year, it’s largely been a forgettable year for the once-touted prospect.

Hard to figure what’s wrong with Ramos. I remember talking to Jim Mandelaro of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on "Sports Talk" (weekdays 1-2 p.m. on 970-AM WDAY radio) a month or two ago. Mandelaro – if I remember right – said he felt that Ramos never thought he’d still be in the minors, and maybe that affected his play.

Regardless, I’m left wondering if the Twins would have been better off holding onto Ramos and letting his value get a little higher. He’s obviously at rock bottom right now.

This so far is the opposite of the Mauer contract: The Twins seemingly re-signed Mauer at the height of his career, costing them the most money. And they have sold low on Ramos.

That’s not to say Mauer can’t return to 2009 form or that Ramos will return to 2009 form. But as we sit here in the last week of July, both deals look poorly timed.

Twins lineup tough to look at

As the Star Tribune’s Howard Sinker put it, Sunday was a tough day for paying customers at Target Field.

With the Minnesota Twins falling behind 4-0 before their offense every took the field, the game seemed like it was over almost as early as it started. The Twins lost the series finale to Atlanta in ho-hum fashion.

Compounding the problem was the lineup, which Sinker was critical of on his blog this morning.

I agree with some of Sinker’s points. I don’t agree with others.

I rarely, if ever, have a problem with Twins manager Ron Gardenhire choosing to DH Joe Mauer on a Sunday to rest his legs. This is common practice throughout baseball, no matter what lineup is being tossed out there.

And while Sinker says Sunday’s game was "an important game," I would dispute that. As I’ve stated before, interleague games are the least important games on the schedule. They’re games that have the Twins facing teams in which Minnesota isn’t in direct competition for playoff spots with. If there was ever a time to "throw one away," this was it.

However, I was confused by the resting of a seemingly healthy Denard Span. With a day off today, I have to think Gardenhire could have waited a couple of weeks when J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson are back before resting his only center fielder and leadoff hitter. (Granted Hardy’s numbers are looking pretty Matt Walbeck-like right now).

And the wraparound 8-9-1-2 spots of Brendan Harris, Drew Butera, Nick Punto and Trevor Plouffe does cause me to puke in my mouth a little bit. I’m not sure what the solution is there, but I’m pretty sure having Punto hit leadoff isn’t it.

Ramos fever in full swing

If you’re a Minnesota Twins rookie about to make his major league debut, you can’t do much better than by matching a feat accomplished only by the one and only Kirby Puckett.

That’s just what Wilson Ramos did on Sunday. In his big league debut, Ramos collected four hits in a victory against Cleveland. Ramos, replacing the injured Joe Mauer, became the first catcher in major league history to get at least four hits in his first-ever game. He joins Puckett as the only Twins at any position to accomplish the feat.

Gaudy numbers for sure. And with those numbers comes the inevitable, "What are the Twins going to do with Ramos and Mauer?"

Early in spring training when Joe Nathan went down, I suggested trading Ramos to try and get a bona fide closer. But Ramos absolutely raked in spring training after doing so in winter ball, and I did a 180. I decided, "Let’s wait and see how this kid does."

I still feel that way now. It was great to see the game he had Sunday, but I’m going to reserve judgment. And why not? Mauer is now said to be week-to-week now with his injury, so let’s see how Ramos does as a semi-everyday player first.

I know there’s a tendency to jump to conclusions, and as someone who blogs regularly, I’m guilty as charged on that account. Heck, if I didn’t jump to conclusions, what would I have to write about? 

But at this point in the year, it’s hard to believe the Twins will be able to make any big trades, at least not until July. Trades like that can be made in spring training, but they rarely get made in the first half of the season. So I’m just going to see how Ramos does tonight, and the next night?

Ramos’ debut was very encouraging for Twins fans. But I’ve already talked myself into circles once with the Ramos debate. I’m reluctant to do it again.

Here’s the take from FanGraphs on the Ramos call-up.

Ramos gets his chance in bigs today

I’m not sure how long it will last, but Minnesota Twins super-prospect Wilson Ramos has been called up and will start today’s game against Cleveland.

The Twins needed another catcher with Joe Mauer nursing a bruised heel that’s expected to keep him out until at least Monday.

If for no other reason, I’m really looking forward to seeing the youngster play in a meaningful big league game. He looked great in spring training, and rumors are a lot of teams would love to acquire him.

Whether or not he can find a home at the big leagues with Mauer in front of him or not doesn’t matter. Either way, he’s a valuable commodity to have. Young catchers who can defend and swing the bat are tough to find. Now, let’s see if he can do that in the majors.

A couple more morning links