Thanks Joe, and Yes — You’re a Hall of Famer

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Joe Mauer, in a fitting send off, donned the catcher’s gear one last time in the final inning of his final game in 2018. His career ended with a vintage Joe Mauer hit — a double to the opposite field. Joe Mauer will go into the Hall of Fame.

Full disclosure. I did not fully appreciate Joe Mauer while he played for the Twins for 15 years. He was never my favorite player, or even my favorite Twin. I’m not alone. For a variety of reasons that I won’t go into in detail here, many Twins fans were quite critical of their hometown star Joe Mauer. The reasons bordered from fair to ridiculous.

My critiques were not overly typical, and I wasn’t necessarily a Mauer critic. More so, I was frustrated that such a great player had his career altered by injury like my actual favorite Twin and baseball legend from childhood — Kirby Puckett. Unlike Puckett, Joe never took the Twins to the World Series. He never got them past the Yankees, and the various history-making dreams I had for him when he was 26 years old did not materialize.

We as humans tend to remember what has been done for us lately. Our historical memory or lack thereof leads to all sorts of problems, from repeating dark turns in history because no one is around to warn us anymore at the most serious end, to not remembering or putting baseball legends into their proper context until they’re gone.

At 26 years old, Joe Mauer won the American League MVP. He batted .365 to collect his third batting title in four years. He was the first AL catcher to win a batting title, period. He did it three times. In that magical 2009 season he flirted with .400. The last player to hit .400 was Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters ever. Ted Williams, like most great hitters, did not play catcher.

Joe Mauer in his prime was a great hitter, and also a great catcher. For ten years he played the most physically demanding position in baseball, perhaps in sports period, the most important defensive position in baseball and he played it at a high level.

  • 3 Gold Gloves (and a 4th one he should have won in 2017 at a second position, first base, where he played the final five years of his career after career altering concussions forced him out from behind the plate).
  • 5 Silver Sluggers (the best slugging percentage at your position).
  • 6 time All Star.
  • 3 Batting Titles (2006, 2008, and 2009, and nearly a fourth one, and a fifth one).
  • 2009 American League MVP.

In 2010 — Target Field just opened, I had started law school and moved to Saint Paul, MN , Joe’s hometown, and he had just inked an eight-year, 184 million dollar contract. He was coming off of a batting line of .365/.444./.587 to win the statistical Triple Crown (Batting Average, On-base, and Slugging percentage). If Joe wasn’t signed to be a career long Twin, Twins fans would have rioted in the streets… well lets be honest, they would have been passive aggressive and bought less tickets, making the tough years of 2011 to 2016, where they only had one winning season even tougher.

That year I figured Joe Mauer would equal the 7 batting titles Rod Carew won, collect 2,800 hits and only miss out on 3,000 because he is a catcher, hit 250 home runs because I just recently witnessed his power emerge with 28 home runs, and retire with a career batting average of .335 or .340 (he still retired with one of .306). I thought he would have another year where he made a run at .400 as well, and perhaps he’d appear in or win a World Series like Kirby Puckett did. Joe wasn’t clutch they said. But what is clutch? He actually led the league in batting average with runners in scoring position this year in his final year.

Joe Mauer should be judged on his actual statistics, which are excellent, not judged against the video game statistics we expected he would reach. He should be judged as a catcher, because that’s what he was for the vast majority of his career and that was his position during his best seven years. Joe’s best seven years match up against nearly every catcher in history that has made the Hall of Fame. He got on base 40 percent of the time six times in his career. Do you know how many other catchers did that? Zero.

In 2017 Joe had a bit of a resurgence batting above .300 for the first time in four years. I was hoping it was a sign that he was permanently recovered from concussions. But as we are learning more and more about brain science, it did not work out that way.

Joe made the right decision for himself, and his family. He could’ve kept playing. He is a great defensive first baseman, still gets on base at a solid clip, was finally being utilized correctly in the batting order by leading off, still taking professional at-bats, and still quietly leading the clubhouse with perhaps the most enduring trait that I’ll remember about him — character. The older I get, and the crazier things get in this country, the more I value character. Joe had it. He is the perfect ambassador for the Minnesota Twins, the state of Minnesota, and the beautiful game of baseball–America’s pastime.

The voters and gatekeepers of Cooperstown would be wise to vote in Joe to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The best catcher in baseball for a decade is a Hall of Famer. Period. Historic things are the markings of a Hall of Famer, and the days of analytics and saber-metrics have put the arbitrary indicators of 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, a bunch of RBI’s, etc. into history. As more baseball writers retire and more saber-metric writers get a say in who gets in, and most important, as time passes to put Joe’s career into its proper context.

He was so much more than just a singles hitter (he got on base all the time in an era of increasing strike outs, and hit tons of doubles too, and in general was a very strategic and professional hitter).

I know… people like the home runs, and the strikeouts, and all of those exciting things. In our post-factual society, they prefer the Greatest Show on Earth, to the steady, dependable, and sometimes, the boring.

 

 

 

Episode 41: In the Interest of Sanity

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On this episode of Agreeing Loudly Coast to Coast, Jered, Pat, and Troy bid farewell to the summer by discussing their hopes (and concerns) for the Minnesota Vikings. In addition, they continue their attempts at political commentary and discuss the end of the tragic Jacob Wetterling saga, the pipeline insanity of North Dakota, and whether the health of Hillary Clinton (or her body double) really matters. Meanwhile, Bill is lost in the wilderness somewhere training to be a Pokemon master.

Will Pat have words of wisdom to share, now that he’s joined the ranks of fatherhood? Does Jered have any faith in this year’s Minnesota Vikings? Will Troy’s new catchphrase catch on? Tune into this week’s episode to find out! Or do the cool thing, and direct download it instead.

Episode 40: Three White Guys Talk Politics…and It’s Not That Bad

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After a month long hiatus, we’re back with another fun-filled episode! This week your dutiful host (Jered) is joined by the legendary Pat Meacham and sporadic guest host and Agreeing Loudly contributor, Troy Olson. Sadly, Bill is once again in self-imposed exile trying to come to terms with Donald Trump’s drop in polls, but with any luck he’ll be back on the next episode.

This week we bring back the fabled Sports Round Up segment where we discuss the recently departed Rio Summer Olympics, the fate of the Minnesota Vikings, and a hypothetical scenario involving the Twins and David Ortiz. Also, a lot has happened in the world of presidential politics over the last month and we do our best to give our diverse, white male perspective on the state of the race.

To celebrate our return to the airwaves after more than a month absence we have decided this is the beginning of a new season. Will anyone care? Tune in to find out! Or save your data, and direct download it instead.

Intro 0:00

Sports Round Up The Rio Olympics, Vikings, and Twins Realities 3:43

Political Parrots 29:41

The State of the Presidential Race 29:41 Outro/Where to Find Us 49:47

Twins Organization Really Impressed With Prospect’s Chances to become Mediocre Veteran Player in 6 Years

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Minneapolis, MN — AAA prospect Jon Reed isn’t quite ready for the “show” yet, but the Twins organization and front office brass is really excited for his future, especially six years from now when he turns into a scrappy player whose peak-athletic years are behind him, but whose vast knowledge of the game will make him a perfect situational in-game manager from perhaps the shortstop position, but also occasionally spelling 2nd and 3rd base as well as one start a week in left field.

His .285/.360/.516 line has really excited fans and GM Terry Ryan alike, but don’t get too excited. As the 24 year old’s cup of coffee in the majors last week showed, he is not quite ready yet. Reed, who is repeating AAA ball this year and has been mashing all year, struck out seven times in just 23 at bats during his inconsistent and off-the-bench playing time over the course of 8 days. A sample size statistically insignificant to mean anything, but it was clear he was a little lost at the plate.

“We’d like to see more consistency out of him, so for the time being we’re going to have Miller start each day, he takes good at bats and really gets after it out there”, said an anonymous Twins front office official. Miller is sporting a .225/.279/.368 line for the season but his defense and ability to look like he knows what he is doing at the plate have impressed the dozen or so fans still paying attention to the 2016 Twins season.

Minnesota Twins Offseason (Part 2 of 50)

by Troy M. Olson

My monthly check in on the Minnesota Twins offseason…so far.

The Good

Byung Ho Park signed to play DH 

While this complicates matters in terms of where Miguel Sano is going to play, I think it is important to have him play a position until he proves otherwise. Park has hit a video game level amount of home runs the past few season in the Korean Baseball Organization. Twins fans looks ridiculous in allowing comparisons to Nishioka (a bust of an international signing to try and fill out shortstop hole 4 years ago after foolishly trading J.J. Hardy for next to nothing). First, Nishioka was a shortstop and had a completely different skill set. Second, he played professional baseball in Japan. Third, he had less of a successful track record compared to Park. Finally, Park could end up being a steal, and while he is unproven at the MLB-level, lets say the KBO is equivalent to AA or AAA: I think just about every Twins fan would get excited over a prospect who has hit 173 home runs over the last 4 seasons. That’s right, 173 home runs, and a batting average of .343 last season. Park not only replaces Torii Hunter’s bat in the lineup, it is conceivable he could immediately be an upgrade.

Aaron Hicks-J.R. Murphy swap with the Yankees.

The Twins dealt from a position of relative strength (organization depth in the outfield, especially at CF) to fill a position of organizational weakness (catcher). I was always a big Aaron Hicks fan, and I am worried about our ability to get on base going forward, and how much we strike out. However, we still are bringing back our two best on base guys (Sano by a mile, followed by Mauer), and despite Hicks fundamentally sound plate approach, he had always seemed a bit timid and lacked aggressiveness at the Major League level. I still think Hicks will have a nice career as he has historically been slow to adjust to each new level in his professional career but he appears to have turned the corner this past year. That being said, whatever we would have received from Hicks playing CF and potentially leading off someday we should also get (and hopefully, then some) from the top prospect in baseball, Byron Buxton.

J.R. Murphy meanwhile, not only matches the likely output of most catchers we could have had on the open market (who disappeared quite quickly and forced Terry Ryan’s hand in making a move to fill this positional need), Murphy differs in that he is just entering his age-25 season. In conversations locally with Yankee fans, they liked Murphy a lot and viewed him as a future long time starting catcher. In 2015, his first significant amount of plate appearances at the major league level, Murphy hit .277/.327/.406. If he can replicate that over 350-400 plate appearances, he should be a great fit. It also should be noted that his defense profiles as better than anyone in the Twins system. Expect a positional platoon with Suzuki in 2016, and Murphy taking over as full time starter after that. Also of note, Murphy is not arbitration eligible until 2018, and is not a free agent until 2021. So we will have him for his prime years. Solid trade. Should work out well in the long run for both teams.

Miguel Sano is going to be moved to the outfield. 

I’m mixed on this, but I have to grade this out as a good move at the moment. Miguel Sano is already, easily, the best hitter in the Twins lineup (sorry Joe Mauer, just get on base at a good clip and I’ll be happy), but he spent nearly every game of his rookie season at DH. While it is reasonable to look at certain players as DH-only from the start, Sano is too athletic to be considered one of those players.

It would be preferable that he plays the position that he has been playing throughout the latter half of his minor league career, but that isn’t in the cards right now. Because…

Trevor Plouffe will more than likely, not be traded.

Plouffe is what he is at the plate. He flashes the occasional power outbursts, has decent on-base skills, but his low-average will always keep in the serviceable, but not great category of player. He is a wait and see player. Where Plouffe brings the most amount of value to the Twins right now is that he has become one of the better defensive third baseman in the league. It’s preferable to keep what has become a decent defensive infield intact, and keep both bats that at worst grade out as league average. The Twins were right to look at this as a good problem to have. There was no need to trade Trevor Plouffe just because Miguel Sano plays 3B. Defense is a big part of the game, and for a pitching staff like the Twins, it should always be half of the focus. Twins pitchers do not strike out a lot batters which places a lot of pressure on their fielding. There is no guarantee that Sano figures out RF (with Rosario likely in left) right away but that matters a lot less with someone like Byron Buxton in CF, who will cover a lot of ground from day one even if his bat isn’t quite MLB-ready.

Twins seem to be going all-in with the youth movement.

Replacing the retired Torii Hunter with still-in-his 20’s Byung Ho Park and swapping out a 25 year old CF for a 24 year old C, as well as resisting the urge to go after proven mediocrity in the free agent market as they often have the last few off-seasons shows me that Twins GM Terry Ryan gets it. He knows the resurgence of the team last year was primarily youth-oriented. Going all-in on a talented youth movement is preferable to adding to rotational logjams of mediocrity or corner OF/1B/DH-type power hitting, low defense, low speed logjams.

Which brings me to…

The Bad

Doing nothing about our corner OF/1B/DH-type logjam so far.

Between Sano, Park, Mauer, Rosario, Oswaldo Arcia (remember he is a season removed from 20 homers in 350 or so at bats), and Kennys Vargas, the Twins have a lot of corner OF/1B/DH-players but only 4 positions in which to play them. Once again, not a bad problem to have per se, but they do need to figure out what role everyone fits into. It’s possible that Arcia and Vargas never take that next step forward but it would be a shame to see them go elsewhere for nothing and see them flourish.

The key to this problem not festering is leaving all options on the table. One option that is surely not on the able though is potentially considering Mauer a bench player role. While he is not there yet, and hopefully never will be during the life of his current contract, any further regression from Mauer at 1B should at the very least, result in batting him 7th or 8th and at most, making him a part-time player. Bad contracts happen. Unforeseen injuries happen. Scholarships are avoidable though. I still think Mauer is the best player to play 1B for the Twins right now, and the best to bat 2nd even (mostly be default), but players like Ricky Nolasco should have to earn their spot no matter how much they are getting paid in 2016. The Twins should put the best team on the field based on the talent they have available.

Going further away from defense and speed (with the trading of Hicks).

I alluded to this earlier, I’m a bit worried about any regression in their team defense or speed. Aaron Hicks provided both defense and speed which made him a near-five tool player during that 6 week stretch of solid hitting from him in 2015. The great thing about players like Hicks is even when they don’t hit they still provide defensive value and speed to the team. Buxton in CF, Plouffe at 3B, and Murphy in C should help mitigate this a bit defensively, but two of those players are unproven at the MLB-level offensively, and Plouffe is proven to be a very streaky hitter that grades out to either league average offense with slightly above league average power.

Not signing a RP yet, and many of the top relief arms are already off the market. 

Simply put, we needed to address the back of the bullpen given Perkins’ health the last few years. We have depth and a lot of high quality, high upside arms in AAA but whether those arms materialize into high leverage, quality MLB relievers will be one of the big question marks entering spring training.

The Ugly

Leaving Zack Jones unprotected, off the 40-Man roster, which left him exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. Not surprisingly, he was drafted. 

Unfortunately, one of those high upside arms, Zack Jones was lost to the Rule 5 Draft for no reason. They had room for him on the 40-Man roster. There is just no excuse for this.

Hopefully, between (potentially) keeping Trevor May in the bullpen, and the emergence of one or two of the following RP prospects: Alex Meyer, Nick Burdi, Jake Reed, J.T. Chargois, or Mason Melotakis, the bullpen will be a strength again in 2016. Because if the Twins are going to take the next step forward, they will need a better bullpen and a healthy, full-season of play from Glen Perkins.