Talking Baseball….

With February just days away and having attended Twins Fest over the weekend, I’ve caught a tinge of baseball fever. After the Twins dismal 2011 season I wasn’t sure it would happen this time, but I should’ve known better, I survived post-1992 90 loss 90s.

From the Twins perspective, the most interesting development this off season was the dismissal of Bill Smith and the re-installment of Terry Ryan as general manager. It was move the organization had to make.

I don’t blame Smith for all the Twins recent woes, but I look at his two major trades - Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young and Brendan Harris; Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps - and I know they stand in direct opposition with everything Ryan stands for. A top line starter and starting shortstop for an outfielder? A potential All Star catcher for a relief pitcher? Ryan wouldn’t consider it.

That’s in the past however; it’s time to move on. The Twins added five players they hope will be major contributors in 2012. Let’s take a closer look…

Jamey Carroll, SS: Shortstop was a black hole in Twins Territory last season, Alexi Casilla, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe didn’t get it done. It’s because of this that a 38-year-old can get a 2-year, $6.5 million contract. It’s easy to wonder if Carroll can hold up as an everyday player despite the fact that he played a career high 146 games in 2011. If healthy he should be solid, with a career batting line of .278/.356/.348, but I’d like him a lot better as a utility player than a regular. Let’s hope Miguel Sano stays on the fast track to the big leagues.

Ryan Doumit, C-1B: Giving Doumit 1-year, $3 million was a classic Terry Ryan move. Having Doumit on the roster gives the team insurance for both Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. He’s a valuable, but not an impact, player. I look at Doumit as a Mike Redmond type. He can hit, but isn’t going to be throwing out any base runners. Although Redmond was better a receiver. Hopefully, the 30-year-old’s addition means the end of the Drew Butera experiment.

Jason Marquis, SP: Another pitch-to-contact innings eater. Marquis won’t light up the radar gun and won’t strike out or walk many batters. The 33-year-old isn’t the ace the Twins need, but for 1-year, $3 million, you get what you pay for.

Josh Willingham, OF: The Twins biggest free agent acquisition, Willingham inked a 3-year, $21 million contract in December. Since he’s replacing, and will inevitably be compared to, Michael Cuddyer let’s run the numbers. Both will be 33 on opening day, Willingham has a career batting line of .262/.361/.475, Cuddyer .272/.343/.451. Cuddyer is more versitale, but also (and probably most importantly to the Twins) makes $3.5 million more annually. It’s hard to get excited about Willingham, but Cuddyer’s probably been overvalued by Twins fans. Bottom line is neither he, nor Willingham, can carry a team.

Joel Zumaya, RP: Of all of the Twins moves, this one has the most upside. If Zumaya regains his old form - or even comes close - he could be a dominant force the bullpen, hitting triple figures on the radar gun. Since he hasn’t pitched since June 2010, that’s a big if. Either way, there’s little risk, Zumaya got just 1-year, $850,000. If he’s even decent, the 27-year-old will be great trade bait for a contender this summer.

As I mentioned above, I went to Twins Fest on Saturday where I bumped into Dwight Gooden, who was signing autographs with other African-American 20 game winners - Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Ferguson Jenkins, J.R. Richard and Dave Stewart - dubbed the “Black Aces”.

Growing up in the 1980s, Dwight Gooden was a larger-than-life figure, so when meeting him, I was a little star struck. Doc was very friendly, I bought an autographed ball and he posed for a picture:

That got me to thinking about Gooden and the Hall of Fame. Obviously, I knew he was eligible and not enshrined, but I wondered what kind of support he got from the voters. Did he get the 10% needed to stay on the ballot? With a record of 194-112, 3.51 ERA, 2293 strikeouts, a Cy Young and Rookie of the Year, 10% didn’t seem unreasonable. Also, Gooden’s 1985 season was among the best ever;  the 20-year-old went 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA, 268 strikeouts and won the pitching Triple Crown. His off-the-field issues and the tremendous impact they had on his career are well documented, but still that’s a very good, if not great resume.

So, when Dr. K appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2006, he got 3.3% of the vote. That doesn’t seem right.

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