Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Jeff: Morneausy Wins MVP

Minnesota Twins 1B Justin Ernest George Morneau has won the 2006 AL MVP Award. YEs the guy who I believe is not even the most valuable on his own team won the award for the whole damn league. Nevermind that slowly and quietly Canadians, not to mention BC Boys, are dominating American sports. Victoria, BC native Steve Nash is the reigning NBA 2-time MVP, and now to me, just as inexplicably, New Westminster, BC's own Morneau has won the AL MVP. As a fellow British Columbian living in the States, I'm ecstatic for Morneausy, and the incredible improvement he showed this year. He hit .321/.375/.559 with 34 HR's and was 2nd in the AL with 130 RBI, obliterating his previous career highs. Most Improved player in the American League? Without question. But just as Nash wasn't the league's best nor most valuable in either year he won it, Morneau was neither the Twins best or most important player.

Upon hearing the announcement, I emailed the following to Jer (yes he's still alive. Proof forthcoming):
Morneausy won the MVP. Wow. Just Wow. I love him and he's a Vancouver boy and all, but wasn't he the 3rd most important player on his own team? I'm counting Santana and Mauer ahead of him, and you could make an argument for Nathan and Liriano as well. Did I mention wow?

Jer's response was excellent as always, and it's this reasoning that won Morneau the MVP:
I see your point about Morneau, but I disagree in a sense. As far as leadership, he probably is the third most important person on his team, but you have to immediately rule Santana out because, whether you agree with it or not, he’s a pitcher and most writers aren’t going to vote for a pitcher. And as far as Mauer being more important than him, he is, in a sense, but Morneau played every single day (153 games) while Mauer played 120 games. In addition I think the non-tangible fact that by Morneusy being the power hitter that the Twins needed all along, this allowed the rest of the lineup to fall into place as it did (i.e. Torii being able to be a #6 hitter, Mauer being a #3 hitter), so the entire lineup was able to bat where it should and so to it’s greatest potential. There is no chance that Torii has the offensive year that he had if he isn’t batting in the 6th position. Plus, outside of batting average, his numbers are just better than Mauer.

I told you it was a good argument, yet I still disagree. For one thing Santana was this team's runaway MVP. He completed the pitcher's Triple Crown (Wins, ERA, K's) and was the unanimous selection as the Cy Young Award winner. Jer is absolutely right that "most writers aren’t going to vote for a pitcher" to which I think the writers are wrong. No matter how well Morneau or Mauer or the rest of the lineup hit, they weren't winning the AL Central without Santana's 19 wins, 2.77 ERA, and 247 strikeouts. They don't even get close. And if you're having a conversation about which player you'd want to start a franchise with, Santana's one of the first 3 names you'd come up with. So tell me again why he shouldn't be in the MVP conversation? (Jer wasn't arguing this point by the way, but I believe Santana's efforts works against Morneau's case).

As for Morneau being more important than Mauer, here I also disagree. Yes his numbers are better (except for average and OBP), but Mauer's a much better defensive player at the game's most grueling position, which even though it obviously doesn't, should count for something. Him getting on-base at a .429 clip also makes the jobs of the hitters behind him that much better. And although I totally agree that Torii Hunter had a career year because the Twins weren't counting on him in the middle of the order, you can attribute this just as much to Mauer and Cuddyer as you can to Morneau.

Beyond that, Mauer and Santana are the best players in the league at their position, and it's not even close right now. Morneau is certainly one of the better first basemen in the AL, but honestly, even factoring in their non-existent defense, HONESTLY- if you could have Travis Hafner (42HR, 118 RBI .297/.402/.583), David Ortiz (54 HR, 137 RBI .287/.413/.636) or Morneau, which one are you taking? You're kidding yourself if you don't say Morneausy is 3rd on that list.

Oh and one other thing: bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, with the winning run at second. Who would you want at the plate- Mauer or Morneau? You're kidding yourself if you pick Morneau there too.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Jeff: Ryan Will Be Earning Award this Offseason

As Strib beat writer Lavelle E Neal reports today, Minnesota Twins GM Terry Ryan has won the 2006 MLB Executive of the Year Award. The Twins of course won the Central Division on the last day of the season with a pitching staff decimated by injuries. Terry was indeed deserving for the moves he made last year on the usual shoe-string budget. But Ryan will really be earning that award this offseason if he can keep the "Little Engine That Could" in contention next year in what looks to be baseball's best division. The Twins needs for the offseason are the same as the seemingly are every year: a power bat and starting pitching. However, this offseason it will be tougher than ever to address those needs, especially with young ace Francisco Liriano out until 2008 with Tommy John surgery.

If you haven't heard by now, this year's free agent class is awful, lacking quality and depth in both starting pitching and power hitters- and pretty much everything else. Confounding matters for the Twins is that 1)it seems like EVERYBODY needs starting pitching and power and 2)it seems like every big market team with a big budget has money to spend. Just look at the Cubbies resigning 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez (he of huge power and no D, as well as little leadership) for about $14.5 million per season, or the Red Sox reportedly paying about $42 million just to talk to Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who despite never throwing a major league inning, is being dubbed as the offseason's top available pitcher. These are just the first two examples of the massive overspending that will take place in the next month.

Not that billionaire owner Carl Pohlad (who, I will point out again for the umpteenth time is one of the richest men in baseball), would ever allow Terry Ryan to be involved in signing a big-name free agent, but this year it will be a blessing. Ryan will be left to try and fill voids at DH and in the rotation from a less-than-stellar bargain bin, or through trade. Of course the trade market will be especially tough now too, since anybody with a tradeable commodity will be asking more than ever for it because of the dearth of available free agent talent. The Tigers just gave up top pitching prospect Humberto Sanchez and two other young minor league arms to get 39-year-old Gary Sheffield from the Yankees. Sheff, who missed most of last season due to injury, is in the twilight of his career, and yet the Tiggers shelled out $28 million for a 2 year extension. IF he stays healthy, and IF he continues to hit as he has, Sheffield could be the big bat (and finally a patient hitter) that Detwah lacked last year, but they still paid a bundle for him. But in this "win-now-at-all-costs" baseball world, that could end up being one of the better deals we'll see this winter.

Division rival Cleveland, who could have baseball's best hitting lineup outside the Bronx, landed young 2B Josh Barfield from San Diego for some minor league guys, in what can only be described as a "Terry Ryan-esque" move for the Tribe. Barfield's not great at anything, but he's young, dirt cheap for the next 3 years, and is a pretty solid all-around hitter. Like Minnesota, Cleveland will have to get creative to address their needs, but theirs, defense up the middle (which the Barfield acquisition certainly did) and the bullpen, are much easier to get than power and starters.

And the White Sox? GM Kenny Williams is one of baseball's best and most aggressive guys, and being one of the few teams with money, power and starting pitching, he's guaranteed to make splash this offseason.

Is the current Twins team good enough to win next year? I don't think so, and I doubt Ryan does either, so improving them should prove very interesting. The Carlos Silva and Torii Hunter signings were both shrewd, and hopefully Mr Ryan has a few more aces up his sleeve to get another arm and hopefully another bat. I'd love to see the Twins go after Mike Piazza. An extra catcher to spell Mauer who can DH when he's not behind the plate. And yes I realize he's not the hitter he used to be and is below-average at best behind the dish, but he'd still be a better presence in the 4 spot than Rondell White or Jason Kubel.

I'm not sure what the options look like for the rotation, but how much do you like the looks of Santana, Silva, Garza, Boof and Scott Baker? Yeah I don't like it much either. That's why as a Twins fan you should be glad that Ryan's in charge of this, because if anybody can do it with smoke and mirros, Terry's the man.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jeff: Glen Taylor Speaks...and You Should Listen

If you haven't heard, Citypages got a candid and indepth interview with Minnesota Timberwolves owner and Minneasota billionaire Glen Taylor. If you haven't read it, and you consider yourself a Wolves fan, take the time to read it. I don't know what I'm more amazed with: some of the things Taylor said, or just how bloody candid he was throughout the interview. You NEVER hear an owner or somebody in sports management be this blunt. I don't know how they did it, but it's a helluva read.

Here's a few highlights, mostly notably on our favorite player KG, and my least favorite VP of Basketball operations, Kevin McHale:

On McHale...
"I guess I would just say to the public, at the time last year, I didn't know of a person—and we have had different people that have asked for that job—I didn't see a person that I thought would do the job better than Kevin."

On the Marko Jaric trade...
"And I would just say that they sold me. I had seen him play before and I didn't see quite what they saw. But they were saying, "Gee, the guy is 6-7 and he can play all these positions, and boy, wait until the fans see him." Here's what I would say to our fans on that: Let us see what happens this year and judge that. Because whatever we did last year, we really messed up."

On getting rid of Wally...
"I'm just saying there was probably more to it that had to do with Wally that we have chosen not to talk about—that Kevin has never said and we have never said...But I would say some things came to a head that forced us to get into something we didn't necessarily want to do."

On former coach Flip Saunders...
"I can tell you that Chauncey [Billups] left not because of Kevin but because of Flip. Now, have we said that? We didn't want to say that about Flip because he was here at the time."

On getting Mike James...
"McHale had talked to Garnett and said, what do you really want? And Garnett said, I want an experienced guard. I have done the best when Sam was here, and with an experienced guard, I am a better player."

On trading KG...
"So I think there could be a scenario [where he leaves], but I don't think it will be because Kevin puts pressure on me or that I would blindside him. If it happens, it will be because we talk to each other and say, you know, it isn't going so good this year."

What Taylor would want in return for The Franchise
"...a couple of young players and a couple of draft picks, so we could build a team around [that trade]."

There's a ton more in here. The biggest surprise for me was Taylor laying the blame at Flip's feet for letting Chauncey go. I'm not saying he's wrong, I'm just surprised he said it. I know I have a biased opinion of Flip, and that it was McHale, and not the Nosis, who should have been canned a couple of years back, but after seeing the problems with players Flip's having in Detroit, perhaps there was more to this than first thought. Not that I'm taking the blame for this whole debacle off of McHale. What's baffling is that Taylor walks through most of the screwups McHale's made the past couple of years, admits they were screwups, but still comes back to "well I don't think anyone else could have done it any better." Looks like McHale's lifetime contract is safe.

Or is it? Midway through they talk about Fred Hoiberg, and it sounds like they're grooming him as McHale's replacement. For Timberwolves fans, that's great news. Let's just hope it happens sooner rather than later.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Jeff: The Monday Musings

San Francisco 9 Minnesota 3
I'm guessing you've already heard or read everything there is to say about this game, or thought it yourself, but let me add this thought:
Benching Brad Johnson is not the answer to the offensive woes. Yes he's turned the ball over 6 times in the last 2 games, and the team has scored a grand total of 7 offensive TD's (Johnson has thrown 4, Mewelde Moore and Ryan Longwell have each thrown one- I'm counting the Longwell TD as a special teams TD- and Chester Taylor has ran for 2 more scores) in 8 games. It's brutal, and I'm not sure with the '85 Bears defense that the Vikings would be a Super Bowl team. But pulling Brad Johnson means you're announcing to your fans and the league that the Vikings 2006 season is over. Period. It'd be one thing if the receiving core was making spectacular catches, or even routine catches, but they haven't. We saw again yesterday that even when Johnson makes the right read or throw, the receivers aren't coming through for him. Brooks Bollinger or Tavaris Jackson are not going to make this team better than Brad Johnson can, and with the Bears and Rams as the only winning teams left on the schedule, Johnson can keep you in the playoff hunt.

What I hope this season will do for coach Brad Childress is make him realize you need more than just his scheme to score points and win. Most coaches have that sense of arrogance that their scheme is the key, and that you can plug just about anybody into it and it'll be productive. Hey this idea works if you're New England with Tom Brady or Chili's former employer in Philly with Donovan McNabb, but you've got to have a good QB to make it happen. And you also need receivers that will catch the ball, and this year Minnesota has neither. You could get by with Johnson if the receivers were catching, but they're not and so the offense continually stalls in the red zone. I hope this makes Childress realize that he needs a good quarterback, and a couple of playmakers at wideout next year. If they get them, the Vikes are right there. For this season? We're probably in store for more ugly games like yesterday, but hopefully the Vikes will come out on the right end of it.

Indianapolis 27, New England 20
In his MMQB column, Peter King made some points I agree with about the Colts win over New England, and one big one I don't. Here's what I agreed with...
* That the Colts are clearly the best team in football right now (duh!)
* That the Colts won't go 16-0 (yes their sched is favorable, but as the Bears showed yesterday, anything's possible. THey'll lose at least once, and I think probably twice when they're resting their starters in week 17, before the playoffs)
* That Peyton Manning is the playing better than any QB in the league (a resounding yes to that one)

But what I disagreed with was this...
"But I would like to put that annoying he-can't-win-the-big-one story to bed."
Seriously I couldn't disagree more. Peyton has been the best REGULAR SEASON quarterback for at least the last 3 years. And yet every year his team loses in the playoffs. Last night's win over New England proved they were a better team than the Patriots right now- but I don't see how it proves he's ready to "win the Big One". Last year, with homefield throughout and the Patriots knocked out by Denver, was Indy's best chance for a Super Bowl, and they didn't even make it out of the conference. This certainly COULD be the year Peyton drops the "Alex Rodriguez of Football" tag, but no matter how well he plays in the regular season, we're not going to know the answer until February 4th in Miami for Super Bowl XLI. If the Colts make it there AND they win it, THEN and only the "annoying he-can't-win-the-big-one story to bed."

Miami 31, Chicago 13
This game shows the Bears are mortal, but the team's 6 turnovers shows that this could be more than just overlooking the Fish. We'll find out plenty about Da Bears in the next 3 weeks as they travel to the Meadowlands to play the Giants, and Jets, and then to Foxboro to play the Patriots. Contenders or pretenders? We'll know by Thanksgiving weekend. This loss also means we can start talking about the GIants, Philly, Carolina and a host of other NFC teams as having a legit Super Bowl aspirations. My pick, as it was to start the year, is still Carolina, but things as it stands now are pretty wide open.