Following are opinions from Mille Lacs County Times editor-sports editor Gary Larson, reporter Luther Dorr and former Times intern Logan Marxhausen. Note: This feature is written on Monday each week.
•Question: The Minnesota Twins were swept by Oakland over the weekend and dropped to a 36-52 record, 13 games behind first-place Chicago. That’s worse than at the same time last year (40-48) when the team went on to finish with 99 losses. Should the Twins take advantage of the upcoming trading period which ends July 31 and try to gather up some prospects? Pitchers Francisco Liriano and Matt Capps have been mentioned as players who might be in their final days with the club. Is it time to give up on Liriano and take advantage of any value he might have in making a trade?
-Dorr: I’ve never been in the camp that wants to trade Liriano. You’d have to get someone who could help (pitch) right away and I doubt if that is possible. Players swung and missed 30 times in his 15-strikeout performance last week, the most in the Major Leagues since 2007. Teams are batting .170 against him in his nine starts since coming out of the bullpen. Does he still drive his manager and fans crazy? Yes. But what can you get for him that will help the team? If you can get two players – one starting pitcher and a good position player – go ahead and trade him. But who will make a trade like that? Let Capps go if you can get something for him
-Marxhausen: If they can make a trade that brings talent or potential, or both, to the team then they have my approval. Liriano has a lot of marketable value if they were to shop him and Capps can fill in a hole in someone’s bullpen somewhere. The Twins are having fewer things to rejoice about and it is time the management gave the Twins and the fans something to look forward to besides the cliché saying, “well there is always next year.” What happened to the promise that the front office made when they signed Joe Mauer to a big contract? They told him they would make the Twins a World Series contending team. They have not done anything remotely close to that besides fill in holes when they need to. Management must not be watching this team very closely – otherwise it would be infuriated and actually attempt to make the Twins a winning team again.
-Larson: Keep Liriano. Trade Capps. The Twins don’t need to get robbed in another trade and Liriano has more value than what other teams are likely to offer. When the Twins obtain prospects the deal often ends in disappointment. The team needs players, not prospects. If Liriano continues to pitch well the Twins can extend his contract at the end of the season, or make a better deal for him.
•Question: Terry Ryan took over for Billy Smith as Twins general manager after the disastrous 2011 season. Ryan made some moves, acquiring outfielder Josh Willingham and catcher Ryan Doumit, who have performed well as they replaced Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. How would you grade Ryan so far in his return as general manager?
-Dorr: I said from the beginning it was wrong to let both Kubel and Cuddyer go and I’ll stand behind that. One of those two should have been retained. So far in July (through Sunday) Denard Span and Ben Revere have 24 hits, 23 of them singles. I’ve always thought Span was overrated and last week, in 12 innings, he was out on the bases three times, as well as dropping a fly ball that likely kept Liriano from a win in his 15-strikeout game. And the next night he made a bad throw. Revere is also rated too highly. Maybe Ryan could package those two and get a power hitter. But what team would want two outfielders who don’t have power, can run well and catch pretty well, and don’t throw very well? Willingham has been a great addition and Doumit can help in lots of ways. Ryan’s hands may have been tied a bit by salary constraints. If it was his decision to let both Cuddyer and Kubel go, he can’t get more than a C grade. Overlooked in the whole mess with Oakland last weekend was that the Twins didn’t send Scott Diamond to the mound. He’s been their best pitcher and hasn’t pitched since July 5. Unless he has arm problems, he should have been in the rotation right away. He pitched Monday against the Orioles after 11 days of rest. And why is Jamey Carroll, a 38-year-old infielder, in the lineup in a year like this? He’s 2 for 30 in July through Sunday.
-Marxhausen: There is ALWAYS something that can be and should be done to improve this Twins team. A record of 36-52 does not emulate a winning team. The Twins used to be a playoff team every year. Now, the team is looking even worse than the disappointing 2011 team. Right now, I give Ryan a C. Let’s hope Ryan targets more than just replacements to fill in for players walking out the door after this season ends.
-Larson: Ryan gets a D for his efforts since returning to his old job. The acquisitions of Willingham and Doumit save him from an F. It was obvious the Twins had to dramatically upgrade their starting pitching if they wanted to avoid a repeat of 2011. They didn’t and they’re now paying the price. And, with little to offer in trades and the Pohlads apparently now concerned about budget rather than performance, any rebuilding is going to take some time. Will fans be patient? We’ll see.
•Question: Who is currently the best team in the American League and who’s No. 1 in the National League?
-Dorr: It’s between the Yankees and the Rangers in the American League. The Yanks have unbelievable power but have some pitching woes. The Rangers have perhaps the best hitting lineup but also have pitching problems. Texas (.278) leads the Major Leagues in hitting and runs (450), and the Yankees (142) lead in homers. Both have team ERAs in the 3.80 area (Twins are a Major League worst at 4.96). I’ll take Texas right now but let’s see who has the fewest injuries the rest of the season. Washington has the best record in the NL but I’m not convinced the Nats are the best team, although I’m impressed that they have so many good young players. I’ll say Cincinnati right now, with Washington a close second. Tuesday note: Joey Votto is hurt for the Reds and may be out a month. That changes things dramatically.
-Marxhausen: The Texas Rangers are the No. 1 team on the American League side. Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton are lighting up the offensive stat sheet, with Hamilton second in home runs and first in runs-batted-in. Although I think they Yankees might have the edge when it comes to all-star pitching, the Rangers have some quiet talent on their team that can make a splash when put on the mound. Matt Harrison is tied in the Major League for most wins and Yu Darvish is No. 4 in the American League with 121 strikeouts and is on his way to a 20-win season. The National League is much more unsettled when debating who the top team is because there are about six teams that you could argue as No. 1. I am not just picking the Washington Nationals because they currently have the best record in the NL, but because of their defense and pitching. They have four consistent starters in the rotation even though the bottom two have a .500 record, and they have a consistent bullpen, with four players they can call on to help get them out of a jam. They are the only team to still have given up less then 300 runs as of Monday and this young team is looking to surge during the second half of the season.
-Larson: In the AL I’ll give a slight edge to New York over Texas. As Luther pointed out, both teams can light up the scoreboard but both have some pitching concerns. I like the Yankees’ lineup just a bit better. In the NL, Washington hasn’t convinced me it can maintain its .586 pace. I like Cincinnati as No. 1, but watch out for San Francisco.
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