Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Initial Reaction to the Santana Trade Report


Defeating Evil

Sign Johan Santana to a 6yr, $126 million extension. Limited no-trade clause, escalator clause if traded.That's what the Twins should do.

Unless they get Martinez, Gomez, Guerra, and a close pitcher, they're going to lose big to the Mets. Let's face it, the Red Sox are only in it to make the Yankees pay. They themselves won't cross the line. The Yankees are smarter now with a triumverate of power, so they're not crossing that line either.

I guarantee the Yankees would pony up if Santana were signed by the Twins, even with an escalator clause. Right now they just figure they can outspend everybody next year for him, and as long as they dangle Hughes, no team can really beat them in a trade. It's pure evil all-around, and the only way to defeat it is to sign Santana.

Too Much for Two Men?

This past Friday the Twins announced the signings of Justin Morneau (6 yrs, $80 million) and Michael Cuddyer (3 yrs, $24 million) with the hope it would appease the Minnesota Twins fandom. It appears to have worked. Whether or not the signing were good ones and how they affect the Johan Santana situation are, as always, very well reviewed by Aaron Gleeman.

My reaction to the deals, as usual, was spot on with Aaron's, at least objectively speaking. I sense that Morneau will be special, and that the money he got won't be overkill, but I'm taking a risk with that assessment. Cuddyer I know was flat-out overpaid. He had two more years of arbitration, from which he would have "only" totaled around $12-$13 million. He is white, though, lest we forget.

I'm only sort of kidding...he's average, he's now hit the backside of his peak age, and he plays a position a normal team should have plenty of options at...I can't figure out why the Twins wouldn't go year to year with him. My only guess is that he's a typical Twin and the typical Minnesotan can identify with his race, his decent work ethic, his laid back, no-waves manner, and his staying out of trouble. Boy Next Door get $24 million...stay tuned.

Oh, and did anyone notice that the Twins spent $8.75 million of this year's payroll in bonuses for these two guys? I had wondered whether the money that seemed available was going toward paying a new 3B or CF, and it obviously could have been used for that purpose. It now appears now we can be pretty assured the names Monroe, Pridie, Lamb, Harris, and Punto will cover those two positions and 2B, barring a CF returning in any Santana deal.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Twins Avoid Arbitration with Lefty Bats

Yesterday the Twins avoided arbitration with LF/DH Jason Kubel, agreeing to a one-year, $1.3 million contract. They followed that up with the signing today of 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau to a one-year, $7.4 million deal.

It's clear the Twins want to avoid last year's rather ugly situation where they couldn't come to agreements with their top three hitters prior to figures being submitted. While they successfully avoided arbitration with all three, the Twins spent a lot of energy on the tasks, and ultimately didn't make any headway on extending soon-to-be free agents Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, and Torii Hunter. That may have had more to do with former GM Terry Ryan's conservative approach to spending his boss' money, but it's pretty obvious that new GM Billy Smith does not want a few hundred thousand dollars to occupy his time and energy when he needs to spend it all on determing the constitution of his club for 2008 and beyond.

Right now, Santana is the priority, and it should be. It's been debated endlessly what the best option is with Santana, but Smith seems determined to treat the issue appropriately: as the deal that most likely will define his tenure with the Minnesota Twins. So he's not messing around with the fact that Morneau might only deserve $7 million.

Kubel's deal might seem light these days for an improving hitter with three years service time, but while the arbitration process usually favors undeserved money for mediocre play, in this case the arbitrators would be looking at a player whose first year of service time was spent on the DL. Kubel's nasty knee injury, incurred in the 2004 Arizona Fall League season, probably actually prevented the pure hitter from any decent production until the finals 3-4 months of the 2007 season. $1.3 million seems right for Kubel, but my opinion is that by the end of 2008, Smith will wish he had signed Kubel long-term. Stay tuned.

The feeling here is that Morneau's deal is just a prelude to a long-term deal that will be dealt with after Santana's situation is resolved. The Twins still have to reach an agreement with RF Michael Cuddyer, and we'll address this next week. Others Twins eligible for arbitration are relievers Matt Guerrier and Juan Rincon.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What I like about Al Nolen

People who know me are pretty sure I'm not high on Gopher freshman point guard Al Nolen, but the opposite is actually true...I just don't think he's a star player, and as a fan I want the Gophers to have all star players in their starting lineup like most big-time programs do. It's a case of setting my expectations high. I want a team that is obviously the best team in the Big 10 prior to the season because we've recruited so well. Great, good, average or bad I'll cheer like hell for (and criticize) them once the season starts. And then the most important thing, infinitely more important than what they look like on paper, I want the Gophers to win the Big Ten and have a shot at the national title.

I've always held those expectations, because I believe without them, you allow yourself to slide into taking what recruits you can get. And that's what has happened with previous Gophers coach Dan Monson and what I thought happened with his recruiting in 2007. I thought Blake Hoffarber was a great shooter in high school and a very good player. I didn't see that translating well necessarily to college, at least not early, though I never doubted his talent. Of course, I didn't expect the Gophers would have Tubby Smith coaching him.

As for Nolen, I was pretty sure (along with many) that he wasn't Big Ten caliber, though I almost always qualified that I hadn't seen him play. It was someone Monson could get. He didn't score in high school, and who doesn't score? A Big Ten quality player is going to score at will in HS. When I finally got a chance to watch him play, it quickly became obvious that the Gophers were better with Nolen on the floor. But I also noticed he wasn't ready for the Big Ten right then. His great plays were at the expense of some pretty bad competition, including the guards Iowa State put out there. I thought quality guards would shut him down and make his play inconsequential and ugly, and the Florida State game seemingly proved me right. At that point I still wasn't sure if he could be a positive impact against good teams once the Big 10 season started.

What I started to notice after FSU is that I was most comfortable with Nolen and Hoffarber on the floor. Nolen's basketball IQ is extremely high, so much higher than anyone Monson coached. We haven't seen a true point guard in these parts for a long time. He is truly selfless on the floor, and it occurs to me that's why he wasn't scoring in high school. When Al Nolen is ready to play in the B10 against the top teams and top guards, I have no doubt that the team will play on a high level, relatively, because of him. Is that now? We'll find out here quickly as the Gophers play the Indiana Hoosiers in just a few hours.

Nolen is a good ball-handler, a hard-working defensive player with quick hands, a good passer who will get better when he understands he can't get away with every fancy pass against better competition, and he creates a sense of calm on the floor. I think he has a soft shot that will eventually be a dangerous weapon on the rare occasions when needed. He has the ability to penetrate somewhat, though we still need to see whether he can take top guards and finish. I don't see it right now, but there is potential. I'm unsure of his half-court defense on the ball, whether he can guard a guy like Indiana's Eric Gordon and his penetration, but I have no doubts that part of his defense will develop if it's not there already.

I'm of the belief, though, that there is no reason we can't recruit great players, including a great PG. I have no doubt that if Nolen is the primary PG for a very good squad that the Gophers can possibly win the Big 10 in 2-3 years. But he'll only really be a star in our memories, much as Arriel McDonald. A 5-star PG recruit who is an amazing threat when he has the ball can be the ultimate weapon. And an experience Nolen teamed with someone like that will be a perfect combo to lead the Gophers to the promised land.

Some people have compared Nolen to 1994 recruit and Final Four PG Eric Harris. I agree, except I think Nolen might be even better as a freshman. Of course, not as much was needed from Harris on that year's NCAA tourney team. The talent on this Gophers version is spotty, and there is no way this team dances without Nolen. I think Nolen is solid now and will end up being very good, but I just don't see him ever being a star, the definition of which is the ability to completely take over a game and change its outcome on his own. He'll always be a solid piece, though.

Tonight we have an opportunity to evaluate where he is on the ladder toward becoming a quality Big Ten point guard.