A Look Back: 2009

31 Dec

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net

If you’re one of the handful of people working today in the office (or if you’re just sitting at home, relaxing on a day off), you’ll want to check out a couple of podcasts from last night. First, I was on the Travis Talks Minnesota Sports podcast, talking Twins, Vikings, Gophers and more. But after that show, I listened to Fanatic Jack’s Twins Talk podcast and it was a great Year in Review, so I definitely recommend listening to it as well.

As we sit here on New Years Eve, we really have two things to do. First, it is important to look back at the year 2009. Second, you have to look forward to 2010. So, my first blog of the day will be a look back at the past 365 days. Later in the day, I will post something looking forward to 2010, so be sure to check back.

Looking back one year, the Twins were coming off of a tough 1-0 loss in Game 163 against the Twins, but the offseason was a pretty quiet one. For the first time in quite some time, the Twins did not go out and sign a veteran starter. Instead, we were all excited about the starting five of Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins all performed well enough in 2008 for the team to feel confident going into 2009 with the five youngsters. The bullpen had its struggles in 2008, and the Twins countered by signing Luis Ayala. They also offered arbitration to Matt Guerrier despite his rough final two months in 2008. Names like Eric Gagne, Joe Nelson, Russ Springer and Juan Cruz were discussed ad nauseum. The lineup was pretty solid. The team resigned Nick Punto to a two year, $8.5 million contract following a solid 2008 season. That created plenty of discussion, but I was of the opinion that it was a fair-market signing. There was a lot of discussion about Joe Crede. His agent, Scott Boras, wanted to get his agent $7 million base salary plus incentives. Well, Bill Smith wisely did not give in, and in the end, he beat Scott Boras. Crede signed late for a $2.5 million base with incentives.

In early April, the Twins opened their season without Joe Mauer. He had an injury that was mis-diagnosed, so he missed all of spring training and all of April. When he came back on May 1st, he homered on his first swing and then doubles on his second swing. He just continued to hit the entire season. As you all know, he led the league in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage. He won his third batting title, his third silver slugger, his second gold glove and his very first American League MVP. As much adoration and adulation as Mauer deserves, he was not the only story for the Twins in 2009.

Justin Morneau was a legitimate MVP candidate through the first half of the season. Power, batting average, driving runs in. In reality, he was just being Justin Morneau. But he struggled the last six weeks of the season, and in mid-September he was shut down when it was determined that he had a stress fracture in his back. On that day, Michael Cuddyer moved in to first base, and he dominated over the season’s final three weeks. He provided power, clutch hits and solid defense and really catapulted the Twins into the playoffs. He hit 32 homers and came up just shy of 100 RBI. Jason Kubel hit two three run home runs in Game 162 for the Twins and ended the season by hitting .300 with 102 RBI and finally showed all of his potential. Denard Span proved that 2009 was not a fluke at all. He hit .315 and got on base nearly 39% of the time.

Scott Baker missed his first start of the season and really struggled at the start of the season. Some were worried that he let his big contract affect is play. But he came on great after the first six weeks and won 15 games. Nick Blackburn was an All-Star candidate and the team’s top pitcher the first half of the season. After a bad start to the second half, he came on again in September with big start after big start. Kevin Slowey was the first pitcher in the Major Leagues to ten wins before bone chips in his wrist had to be surgically removed. Francisco Liriano and Glen Perkins had their struggles, but the Twins were able to replace that over time. Joe Nathan had another amazing season and set the Twins record for Saves in a season. Matt Guerrier was as good as any set up man in baseball. But the bullpen really struggled in the middle of the season.

But the Twins front office came through with some very good deals. Of course, there was also the failed signing of Mark Grudzielanek, but that was just a minor league deal, so no big loss. At the July 31st deadline, the team acquired SS Orlando Cabrera in exchange for minor league SS Tyler Ladendorf. Cabrera got off to a good start with the Twins, then was horrible offensively and defensively, but he came up big down the stretch. A few days later, the team acquired RHP Carl Pavano for a Player to be Named Later. The player ended up being Yohan Pino. Pavano was big in all but two or three of his starts with the Twins and pitched great in the Game 3 loss to the Yankees. Late in August, Bill Smith bolstered the bullpen by adding Jon Rauch for a PTBNL that turned out to be Kevin Mulvey, who the Diamondbacks claimed from the Twins who knew that Arizona was the first team able to claim him. They also added lefty Ron Mahay who had been released by the Royals a couple of weeks earlier.

When Justin Morneau went down in mid-September, the Twins were down a bunch, and Twins fans were ready to throw in the towel. There were several more times that Twins fans threw in the towel. And yet somehow, some way, the Twins found a way to tie the Tigers after 161 games. Both teams won on the final Sunday to end their regular regular seasons tied. The Twins celebrated their final game in the Metrodome with an incredible program, introducing the current Twins roster and many former players including players from the 1987 and 1991 World Series teams.  Of course, it wasn’t the final game after all. The Twins won the season series against the Tigers which gave them the home field advantage in Game 163 (after MLB learned the previous year that a coin flip is not the best, most fair home field determinant).  Game 163 had enough ups and downs and one of the great games. The Twins would lose to the eventual World Series champion New York Yankees in three games, but it was really another terrific season for the Twins.

There were plenty of other stories from the 2009 year for the Twins that are worth mentioning.

Kyle Gibson fell to the Twins with the 22nd overall pick because of concerns about his forearm. Negotiations went right up until the 11 ½ hour. But the two sides agreed to a $1.85 million signing bonus. That was way over MLB’s slot recommendation. The team’s first four picks were college pitchers, something the Twins have had success drafting this decade. They then selected Gophers 2B Derek McCallum in the 4th round. The next two picks were college catchers. The Twins have had terrific success drafting high school bats and college arms in the last dozen years.

Bill Smith also told TwinsCentric that the organization has been working for the last decade on developing their international scouting department. 2009 was a huge year for the Twins in that market. In July, they signed “the best prospect ever to come out of Europe,” Max Kepler to a $775,000 signing bonus. Kepler is very raw, but has a ton of tools. Jorge Polanco has a very good glove at shortstop. He was ranked by Baseball America as the #23 player from Latin America. And of course, the big news was the late September signing of Dominican shortstop Miguel Angel Sano to a $3.15 million signing bonus. The 6-foot-3, 190 pound shortstop is compared physically to Hanley Ramirez, with quick hands and a bat like Albert Pujols. Of course, he is 16-years-old with a long way to go, but the bigger story here is that the Twins now have a strong presence in the Dominican Republic. They have gained strong credibility. They have created in-roads around the globe, in Europe, in Australia, in the Far East and everywhere in between. This bodes well for the future.

The Twins had a strong presence in both the World Baseball Classic and the World Cup following the season. In the WBC, Tom Stuifbergen became a big name when he threw four shutout innings for The Netherlands in the elimination game against the Dominican Republic. Justin Morneau and Jesse Crain played for Canada. Nick Punto played for Italy. James Beresford and Luke Hughes were key contributors for Australia. Trevor Plouffe was the starting shortstop and second hitter for Team USA in the World Cup tournament in Europe after the season. Plouffe was a key contributor in the USA’s gold medal performance. Stuifbergen was one of the best pitchers in the tournament. Luke Hughes and Canada’s Rene Tosoni were two of the top hitters. Speaking of Tosoni, he also represented the Twins and Canada on the World Team of the Futures Game. Tosoni was named the game’s MVP.

Following the World Series, the Twins traded their fourth outfielder, Carlos Gomez, to the Milwaukee Brewers for JJ Hardy, who will hopefully be their shortstop for the next couple of years.

2009 was a very interesting and exciting year for the Minnesota Twins and their fans. Another very good baseball season, and signs that the Twins may be willing to spend more as they enter their new ballpark in 2010. As a fan, that’s really all you can ask for when you aren’t the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets or Angels!

Thank you very much to everyone for making SethSpeaks.net one of your daily (or weekly) stops. As I’ve mentioned before, it is the reader comments and interaction that make it all worthwhile.  Hopefully on at least a few of those days it was worth your time to stop here!

I want to also thank all of the other Twins bloggers. I need to thank the TwinsCentric crew (John Bonnes, Nick Nelson, Parker Hageman) for all the work and fun that it has been to put those books together and the projects that we have in the works. But the Twins blogosphere is pretty special and great to be a part of. We are all very supportive of each other and that makes it a lot of fun.

I will be back either later tonight or tomorrow morning with a look ahead to 2010, so be sure to stop by if you have a minute.

I wish you all a very happy New Year. Be safe! Don’t drink and drive!

If you have any questions or comments, Please feel free to discuss here.

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8 Responses to “A Look Back: 2009”

  1. clyde December 31, 2009 at 9:50 am #

    Happy New Year, Seth. Thanks for a great year of blogging. Did you happen to see this article: http://mlb.fanhouse.com/2009/12/14/bromberg-headlines-underrated-minnesota-system/ Bromberg is given a ton of love. “… [I]t’s about time he was considered among baseball’s best pitching prospects.”

    • Han Joelo December 31, 2009 at 1:36 pm #

      Interesting article, thanks for the link. Santana and Gonzales don’t get a whole lot of love it seems like, and I’ve maintained that Bromberg doesn’t get the ‘elite’ kind of talk he deserves. The next wave a of near major-league ready starters–Bromberg, Guttierrez and hopefully Gibson–looks pretty darn good.

  2. Justin December 31, 2009 at 10:57 am #

    Love the page. Do you have any suggestions for hotels/places to stay in spring training?

  3. Jesse H December 31, 2009 at 12:37 pm #

    Hi Seth,

    You correctly noted all of the positive aspects of the 2009 Twins Season but I would like to address some of the negatives:

    1. Offseason 3rd Base – While it is great that Bill Smith didn’t get ripped off on Crede I would note that Crede limped to a .700 OPS this year and the best thing you can say about that is it is better then what the combo of Harris and Buscher provided. Bill Smith passed on a 3 yr/$16.5 million contract for Casey Blake who had an .820 OPS last year, bats RH, and could help us this year.
    2. Offseason Relief – You did address that we got Ayala and listed some of the suspects we had been considering but if you look at the list for last year you can find large numbers of guys that worked out (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/features/freeagents?positionId=0&season=2008) Affeldt, Beimel, Cormier, Hendricksen, ect….. Given this you can call Bill Smith’s offseason attempt to fix the bullpen a big fail.
    3. Breslow – Dropping Breslow, who had a 3.38 ERA for the year, for Sean Henn was a dumb move.
    4. Santana Deal – Any mention of 2009 without noting that ¾ of the Santana deal players are gone is incomplete. Humber = Fail, Gomez = 2 Seasons of Hardy, Mulvey = 1+ Season of Rauch, Geurra = ???? but trending towards regular rather than exceptional.

    Jesse

  4. mike December 31, 2009 at 12:47 pm #

    Have you heard anything about the rumors regarding Seattle’s Jose Lopez and Francisco Liariano?

  5. Dave December 31, 2009 at 1:05 pm #

    Happy New Year, Seth. You have lots of readers, like me, who check your site multiple times each day. And your link to other bloggers is invaluable. In addition to making a big push for Miquel Tejeda, I still think we should be checking out Xavier Nagy and Josh Willingham. 🙂

  6. Dave December 31, 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    Xavier Nady.

  7. scot January 1, 2010 at 12:56 am #

    Happy New Years Seth and heres to World Series Championship for our Minnesota Twins in 2010 and a Super Bowl win for the Vikings!!

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