MINNEAPOLIS -- Hello from the snowy Twin Cities!
It's time for another weekly installment of the Twins mailbag. Sure, it's sometimes difficult to think about baseball when the temperatures top out at 10 degrees up here in the North country, but I'll try my best to keep that Hot Stove burning.
The welcoming greetings poured in again this week, along with the many questions about myself, including about my background in baseball. For all those inquisitive minds, my baseball background actually started before my internship with MLB.com in Chicago last summer. For two years in college, I covered a low Class A Minor League team, the Lugnuts, in Lansing, Mich.
During my time covering the team, the club was the affiliate of the Cubs, but as of the 2005 season, it now is part of the Blue Jays organization. Getting to see baseball at that early level was an experience unlike any other, and one that I won't soon forget. It gave me a great chance to appreciate those dime-a-dozen, prized prospects and get a feel for the future players that we may all soon see in the Majors.
All right, enough about me and on to the real good stuff -- what's churning this week in Twins country. Plenty of news this past week with big signings throughout baseball and even one of their own for the Twins. To start off this week's mailbag, let's have a look at a compilation of letters addressing the real hot topic this week in the eyes of fans.
Given the very well respected playing abilities of new acquisition Tony Batista, why did he feel the need to leave the Majors and head to Japan?
-- Scott C., Ashland, Wisc.What do you think of the signing of Batista? He definitely adds some pop to the lineup, but what about his defense?
-- Nick B., Leesburg, Va.With the Twins signing Batista, does that mean they are no longer pursuing a trade for Hank Blalock? Although Batista has had a few decent years, wouldn't it make more sense to go after a young power hitting third baseman like Blalock, who already has two All-Star appearances, rather than a 32-year-old player whose most recent professional experience wasn't even in the Majors?
-- Tavis C., Kihei, Hawaii
Batista, Batista, Batista. It's definitely not difficult to get a read on what Twins fans are thinking about this week. The signing of the veteran player on Thursday sure created a buzz, albeit a mixed one. Many of you seemed happy that the Twins got a more proven bat to add to the lineup while others balked at the idea of yet another question mark being added to this offense.
So let's start out with the inevitable Japan topic. After nine years in the Majors, Batista left the U.S. before the 2005 season to play with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. It is believed that a two-year, $15 million contract was what enticed him to head overseas. But after only one season, Batista was released. It appears with his pretty strong numbers (.263, 26 HR, 90 RBIs in 135 games) that his dismissal had more to do with the Japanese team having a younger, less expensive prospect for third base waiting in the wings.
What signing Batista does do is add an experienced glove and a proven bat to the Twins' lineup. Sure, he has been absent from the big leagues for a year, but after seeing the type of talent that has come recently from Japan, Batista wasn't without some quality competition this past season. His career average of 29 home runs and 91 RBIs over his seven seasons in the Majors is an enticing prospect for general manager Terry Ryan and his staff. The Twins are still looking for a player to hit 30 homers in a season, which hasn't happened since 1987. Manager Ron Gardenhire expects to use Batista as not only a third base candidate but also a DH, and said that he can potentially play first, as well. They have left open the possibility that more moves could come at the position, but seem more content to chase another big bat for the DH spot first.
How is Jason Kubel's knee? Will he be returning this season, and if so, what kind of an impact could he bring?
-- Rob C., Lancaster, Minn.
That question, Rob, could be deemed the million dollar one this coming season. It seems knee problems have become a regular question mark during the offseason for the Twins with Joe Mauer's knee getting much of the attention last year. All reports seem to be gearing that Kubel's knee has been healing well. But the surgery that Kubel underwent is major surgery and the effect of that will have to be displayed when he has consistent workouts with the club during Spring Training.
If Kubel shows that he is indeed ready to go for this season, the impact could be tremendous. The talk of the young player has been rampant throughout the organization and nothing short of great things are expected of him by the team's brass. It appears that the team could try to give Kubel some time early on at DH if the knee isn't completely ready for the wear and tear of defensive play.
Welcome to the Twins beat, Kelly. Glad to have you on our roster. Assuming Ryan has approximately $60 million to work with, where does the current payroll stand and how much room does he have to get a power hitter in the lineup? Who's available for that amount? A trade involving pitching talent seems inevitable.
-- Patrick H., Burnsville, Minn.
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Thanks for the greeting, Patrick, but let's hope I'm not taking up one of the Twins' precious roster spaces. I think I would get even more critical mail than I do now if that was the case. But on a more serious note -- the Twins' payroll. Everyone knows that the Twins are limited more than most clubs in the amount they can spend. Last season, Minnesota's payroll was around $56 million, but there have been indications that this season the club could expand that to a little above $60 million. Right now, it stands somewhere between $56 million to $58 million. That leaves Ryan with a bit of a tight budget still to work with, especially if Jacque Jones' decision this week is to accept arbitration. Jones would make about $5 million for a one-year deal and that could eliminate the signing of either Mike Piazza or Frank Thomas.
The more realistic expectation is that Jones will decline the offer and Ryan will have some money to work with at enticing Piazza, Thomas, or another powerful bat to the Twin Cities. Exactly how much money Ryan can spend remains to be seen, but it should be flexible to get someone with power for the lineup. Ryan seems committed to improving the offense that was such a disappointment last season, so the Twins' work in attracting another strong offensive player isn't over just yet.
I understand a handful of Twins will be playing in the World Baseball Classic. Does that mean they will not be in Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla., from March 3-20?
-- Brian P., Austin, Minn.
Brian, you aren't the only one concerned about whether your favorite Twins will be in uniform down in Fort Myers. With this being the first year that such an event will take place, everyone is not exactly sure of how things will work. But this is the tentative plan. Players will report to their clubs' workouts and training on the usual date. The players will then report to a short training session with their country's team on March 3, unless it is a player from the Far East like China or Japan, who will report back home on Sunday, Feb. 26. Most countries will train at one of the Major League sites within the U.S., so the players will get plenty of training along with the game experience.
I was wondering what the situation is with the new ballpark. As we are from out of state, we don't get very much Twins news, other than on WNAX radio out of Yankton. We usually make it up to the cities for at least a couple games a year, and if we had a choice in the matter we would like to see a retractable roof stadium so we wouldn't worry about rainouts.
-- Roger H., Shelby, Neb.
Well, Roger, I think we have to start worrying first about actually getting a new ballpark built, and then start to focus on the details. The most recent plan put into place by the Twins and Hennepin County has been stuck for most of the past year in legislative gridlock. The deal, which uses some county money to help build the park, will expire on Dec. 31 if not passed by the state congress. With the congress in recess until next year, it appears that the Twins will once again have to start from square one on the ballpark proposal. It is an increasingly frustrating problem for the team and one that doesn't looked to be solved any time soon.
My wife and I are big fans of the Twins' version of the "M&M Boys." We were wondering how patient the Twins organization is going to be in 2006 with Justin Morneau if he has a similar season to 2005?
-- Bob S., Montgomery, Ill.
Ah, the M&M boys -- Mauer and Morneau. If only the Mars company would get on the bandwagon now, think of the marketing prospect ... well, that will come soon enough. The 2005 season didn't go exactly how either Morneau or the Twins planned. In his first full season with the club, Morneau hit .239 with 22 homers and 79 RBIs. These weren't the numbers that the team was expecting from him.
But to give Morneau a bit of a break, he struggled with health problems last offseason that limited his work. From having his appendix removed to pneumonia to chicken pox, the time off leading into 2005 wasn't very kind to Morneau. This year's time off has gone more smoothly, which is good news for the Twins. Ryan is very high on the first baseman and believes that he will eventually give the club that power wielding man on the corner that they have been seeking. Even if Morneau sees a few troubles like last season, it appears the Twins will try to stick with him.
The mailbag will now take a hiatus for the holiday season. Please keep those great questions coming, as it will return ready for the new year on Jan. 2.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.