By David Palmer
Why is the MLB off-season called the hot stove?Â Is it supposed to make us feel warm and fuzzy during the cold winter months?Â Where is this stove?Â Whose stove is it?Â Why donâ€™t other sports have similar meaningless monikers for off-season transactions?Â We could call the NFL off-season the ice box or the freezer, and say things like â€œMan, the NFL ice box is really giving me the chills this year.â€ or â€œIf we end up signing Brian Griese I might put my head in the freezer.â€Â Whatever the reason, this yearâ€™s hot stove is really heating up!Â Sort of.Â With the current economic crisis it looks like most teams are not looking to go on a shopping spree, unless you are a certain New York team that starts with a Y and ends in a Jeterblows.Â They didnâ€™t seem to mind that they were essentially bidding against themselves for a pitcher that is fat enough to be snapping balls to Brett Favre.Â
Looking out the window, watching the snow fall, seeing plows go by, as crappy Christmas music plays in the background means only one thing – thatâ€™s right, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in about 3 months.Â Itâ€™s officially the MLB off-season, but I canâ€™t help but to do a little fantasizing about the boys of summer, namely the hometown Twins, during this increasingly dreary winter.
As far as the Twins go, they have done their typical off-season routine:Â Make a half-hearted effort for a third tier guy (Casey Blake), sign a fifth tier guy to a semi-ridiculous contract (Nick Punto), and get fans excited with trade rumors that ultimately never happen (Beltre, Atkins, Kouzmanoff).Â Itâ€™s clear that we have two glaring holes that needed filling this off-season.Â One, get some bats from the left side of our infield and, two, get some middle relief bullpen help.Â So far, we are 0 for 2.
Nothing against Nick Punto, wait, yes this is against Nick Punto.Â I compare him to Squeak Scolari in the movie BASEketball.Â My friends and I even call him â€œbitch.â€Â Heâ€™s the guy that nobody really likes, but you keep him around so you can field a team.Â Letâ€™s just be honest about the Nick Punto era.Â The guy couldnâ€™t hit sand if he fell off a camel, his name means â€œpussyâ€ in Spanish slang, and his normally deft glove was unreliable down the stretch last year.Â He is now making 10 times the amount of Francisco Liriano-Â this is the guy who barely hit over the Mendoza line two years ago.Â I love a good coachâ€™s player as much as the next guy, but they should be platoon guys and bench players, not your starting shortstop.Â Bad times.
Now that Casey Blake decided he likes 80-degree weather and beaches more than ice fishing, the third base job remains a major question mark.Â Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher seem ripe for a platoon, but we can look forward to the inevitable Mike Lowell trade, and subsequent series of nagging injuries.Â It sounds like the Sox are trying to move him.Â He could find a spot in the Twins off-season panic move Hall of Fame, alongside greats such as: Tony Batista, Livan Hernandez and Ruben Sierra.Â Either way, I donâ€™t see much of an upgrade coming.Â GM Bill Smith seems a little reluctant to give away any young potential talent for a proven player.Â While weâ€™re here, why doesnâ€™t Brendan Harris ever get mentioned in the Young-Garza trade?Â While everyone was over-exaggerating that trade in the Raysâ€™ favor during the post-season, I never heard Harrisâ€™ name mentioned once.Â You could argue that he was every bit as important as Delmon Young last year.Â He stayed healthy while the rest of our infield acted like a bunch of 80-year-old women with osteoporosis.Â His batting average was nothing to get too excited about, but he did have 29 doubles, which is about the same number of balls that Delmon Young did not swing at last season.Â
I think it is safe to say that the Twins would have won the division in 2008 if their bullpen had a pulse.Â Losing Pat Neshek early on was an obvious blow, but Reyes, Guerrier, Guardado and Bonser sounds more like a mariachi band than an effective bullpen; now Neshek is gone for another season because our training staff thought a partial ligament tear would hold up with his herky-jerky motion.Â Iâ€™m no doctor, but surgery was going to be inevitable, right?Â So why wait for it to completely tear and then lose another year?Â So, it will be 2011 before we can realistically expect Neshek to be effective, if ever.Â The other bad news is that there are not many quality arms available for a reasonable price.Â Kerry Wood just signed with Cleveland for a preposterous $20 million for two years.Â I hope their training staff has Dr. James Andrews on speed dial.Â And you thought we had bullpen problems.Â The good news is we may have the answer to our problems within our own system.Â Southpaw Jose Mijares was lights-out in his 10 appearances in his September call up last year.Â In fact, he was setting up Nathan by the end of the season, which we should expect him to do in 2009.Â
Right-hander Rob Delaney was named Minor League Reliever of the Year after collecting 18 saves, striking out 72 and posting an ERA of 1.23 in Fort Myers.Â He will definitely be given the opportunity to make the club coming out of spring training, but he has yet to prove he can get big league hitters out.Â Anyway, the bridge from the starters to Nathan should no longer resemble the one in Temple of Doom next season.Â If not, I heard Juan Rincon is still available.
Note: Could have gone with 35 W bridge joke, thought better of it, I hate morals.
Judging by my latest Xcel energy bill, the hot stove isnâ€™t exactly keeping us warm with delusions of grandeur this winter.Â The Vikings will inevitably collapse in the coming weeks, and the Wild forgot that winning games means scoring more than one goal a game.Â But, we can still fantasize about Mauerâ€™s sideburns, Gomezâ€™s Usain Bolt like speed or Mike Redman and his impending Visanthe Shiancoe like display.Â Excuse me while I go put my head in the freezer.Follow paulmbanks