Season’s over, the trade failed!

In a previous entry, I noted the decision to trade my fantasy football league draft picks in order to move up and draft Adrian Peterson.
At the end of the season … it was a bad idea. I made the playoffs, but lost in the first round. And AP had a sub-par season, like the rest of the Vikings. Never again will I trade up for a Viking.
It was a long season of frustration. I could have had LeSean McCoy, and at least when he had a bad game or got injured it wouldn’t have bothered both my actual and fantasy teams. Of course, the team I traded with didn’t even make the playoffs, so … maybe it wasn’t the worst idea after all.

Trading up for AP

Just a couple minutes prior to the start of the 2013 Fantasy Football Draft in the league we have had going for more than a decade, I threw out an idea.

I offered to trade places with the first team in the draft, giving up my third position and throwing in my fourth-round pick. So essentially, we’d be swapping draft positions for the entire draft and I’d give up my fourth-round pick.

It seemed like a no-brainer. I pulled the trigger, and of course drafted Adrian Peterson first overall.

While pleased with my decision, it was difficult to give up the fourth-round pick, which turned out to be Mike Wallace, a pretty good wide receiver.

At the end of the draft, our league’s site computes what it considers the best team on paper based upon points projected scored during the season. I was disappointed to see that the team I traded with ended up with the best squad on paper going into the season.

Not all trades are created equally, and it remains to be seen if the end results follow the predictions. However, early on it appears I am on the losing end.


Positive signs to start Twins season

If you just glance at the team stats, it would appear the Twins missed the boat badly in placing Aaron Hicks in center field to start the 2013 season.

If you look closer, and past his dismal first 3 weeks of the season, and you see a glimpse of what Twins general manager Terry Ryan and manager Ron Gardenhire saw when making the decision to promote Hicks from AA to the majors.

Over the past 30 days, Hicks has a batting average of .226. Since May started, he is hitting .235. Granted, those numbers won’t make Ted Williams blush any time soon, but it is a significant improvement. When you take into consideration that Hicks is showing some flashes of power (2 home runs Monday night) and the ability to hit in the clutch (15 RBI) and there is more reason for the Twins to remain patient with their 23-year-old center fielder.

Hicks has also cut down on his strikeouts (only 9 this month after 26 in April), and is relatively patient at the plate, as he works counts and has drawn 15 walks this season.

On defense, he has shown a strong, yet accurate arm, and his confidence was shown yesterday when he leaped over the wall in center field to help preserve the Twins victory of the White Sox.

Hicks hasn’t answer all the question marks, but the past month has shown that he at least has a chance to be an everyday outfielder in the major leagues. At the very least, it should have calmed the fears that the Twins would have to go to a Plan B that at the current time doesn’t appear to exist.

Worth the price of admission

With fewer than 10 games left in the 2012-13 NBA season, it might appear like there is nothing to see at Target Center.

However, if you have been paying attention you know that is not the case.

Rubio with teammates

Sure, the Minnesota Timberwolves are nowhere near the playoff chase. And, yes, they have had more than their share (or the fair share of every team in their division combined) of injuries. But that’s not the point.

On a nightly basis – if you are a basketball fan – the Timberwolves, and more specifically Ricky Rubio, should be must-see TV.

Rubio schools Kobe

Rubio hustles on every play. He kicks chairs when there is a bad play. He shows uncommon passion. He leads the league in steals, and is among the league leaders in assists. His shooting isn’t going to remind anyone of Michael Jordan, but his passing is unlike anyone else for all the right reasons.

2013 Highlights

Prior to coming to the NBA, all most fans knew about Rubio was what they saw from YouTube clips. Ironically, two years into his Timberwolves career, YouTube remains the place to find his best moments. However, don’t think for a minute these are uncommon occurences. Most every night, Rubio shows you something you haven’t seen before.

Behind the back twice!

If you haven’t taken notice yet, check out the next couple of games. You won’t be disappointed.


Wild signings (while good) are being overrated

I’ll start this column out by saying the Wild nabbed the two best free agents in the NHL when Ryan Suter and Zach Parise signed 13-year contracts on the Fourth of July.

It was a nice haul. It’s also being greatly exaggerated as though Minnesota just picked up the two BEST players in hockey. At least that is what you’d think if you listened to talk radio, read the newspapers and blogs, or watched the nightly news.

The fact is Parise and Suter are both great signings. It’s the best the Wild could have done. They were the two best players on the open market. But it isn’t exactly like they signed Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Hull in their primes to anchor their first line.

I’ve heard some fans say this is the “greatest day in Minnesota sports history.” Umm, no. Not even close. Probably not even in the top 20.

In reality (when you take off the “State of Hockey” rose-colored glasses) Parise was ranked the 26th best player in the NHL and Suter was the 43rd best player in the league heading into the 2011-12 season by a panel of hockey experts polled by TSN, which is essentially Canada’s version of ESPN.

Parise and Suter will sell tickets, but the hype surrounding their signings has been overboard. For example, it would be the equivalent of an NFL team signing Julius Peppers and Champ Bailey. Or an MLB team signing Ryan Zimmerman and Tim Lincecum. Or an NBA team signing Tony Parker and Paul Millsap. All good signings, but I doubt we’d see the same type of fervor the Wild’s two signings have created.

The bottom line is the signings were huge for the Wild. They will help the team win, and probably make the playoffs next season and beyond. The Wild will be relevant again in NHL circles, and that is obviously important.

But to expect Suter and Parise to immediately make the Wild the favorites to win the Stanley Cup (or even their division) is a stretch. It will be interesting to see how close actuality comes to reaching the hype of the past few days.

If the Wild eventually win a Stanley Cup, then we can start talking about it being one of the best days in Minnesota sports history (it would still fall way behind the Twins winning the World Series in 1987 and 1991 by the way). Until that happens, it’s nothing more than a great day for hockey fans. And that is important, just not as important as it has been portrayed for the past 48 hours.


Why not a Minor League team in Minnesota?

Yesterday, the Minnesota Twins’ Class A affiliate in Beloit started the 2012 season with a 5-2 loss to Peoria.

The final score isn’t really the story here. The real story is that the announced attendance at the game was a paltry 759, which raises the question as to why the Twins have a minor league team in Wisconsin in the first place.

One can assume the typical Beloit baseball fan is also a Brewers fan. So why would there be much interest in attending a minor league game that had future players for the Minnesota Twins?

Beloit has the advantage of having some of the Twins top prospects, including highly-anticipated players like Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano. There are reasons for optimism and interest among hard-core Twins fans.

Imagine if the Beloit Snappers were instead the Rochester Snappers. Or the Duluth Snappers. Or, are you ready for this, the St. Paul Saints. Interest would be much higher if the minor league team played in the same state as its parent club, instead of a state that already has a major league team.

I know there are more reasons for having a team in Beloit than attendance, such as geography with other teams in the Class A Midwest League. However, geographically Rochester isn’t really far out of the picture, when you consider other teams on Beloit’s schedule include Cedar Rapids, Clinton and the Quad Cities in Iowa.

When you compare attendance from the opening day in the Midwest League, Beloit is by far the lowest with 759. Second worst was Clinton with 1,003. The other five teams with openers had at least 4,576, with two (Fort Wayne and Dayton) over 8,000.

Last year, Beloit averaged 1,030 spectators per game, ranking second worst in the league (Burlington averaged 835 per game). In the league, 10 out of 16 teams averaged more than 3,485 per game. Consider the Rochester Honkers, a member of a summer collegiate baseball league (the Northwoods League), averaged more than 1,100 in attendance for the 2009 season and 1,271 last season.

Moving a team to Minnesota makes sense for a variety of reasons, most of all it would give Twins fans a look at what they can expect in the future. And given the organization’s most talented prospects are all at the A level, that can only be a good thing.

The NIT can lead to bigger things

Over the years, I remember a lot of solid post-seasons by the Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team.

One that I remember fondly is one that probably most people don’t recollect as easily.

Following the 1993 season, Minnesota was left out of the NCAA Tournament, and was relegated to the NIT. While making the NCAA bracket is always the goal, the NIT that year was entertaining and memorable.

The Gophers played five games, starting with a 74-66 victory over Florida. Minnesota ended up facing major conference teams in each of the five games, also beating Oklahoma, USC and Providence before facing Georgetown in the finals at Madison Square Garden.

It was a five-game stretch over a three-week period that was entertaining to watch, as a young Gophers squad defeated the Hoyas 62-61 to win the NIT championship. It was a team led by Voshon Lenard and helped the squad get ready for 1993-94, when it made the NCAA Tournament and won a game before losing to Louisville (this season was later vacated due to NCAA violations).

This year’s Minnesota team is following a similar path to that 1993 NIT team, and has advanced to the NIT semifinals. Watching the Gophers win the first three games of this tournament has been enjoyable. Add in two more wins, and this will again be a memorable post-season for the U of M that could lead to bigger things next season.

Sure, the NCAA Tourney is the biggest deal. But winning an NIT championship has plenty of importance, no matter what the local radio talk show hosts proclaim.

Week Five: Is it the “L Word”?

After attending my first NHL game this weekend, I had an epiphany of sorts.

As the Minnesota Wild were defeating the St. Louis Blues at Xcel Energy Center, I realized that I had started to develop a stronger feeling toward hockey. I’m not yet ready to say the “L Word” but let’s just say there is at least an infatuation.

However, those feelings had very little to do with the NHL game I was attending. In fact, it all started a night earlier.

On Friday night, while channel-surfing I stumbled upon the North Dakota and Minnesota WCHA game at Mariucci Arena. At the moment I turned the channel, a Gopher player had just been ejected. I don’t know why, or even the player’s name, but North Dakota was starting a five-minute stretch on a power play. Those five minutes may have changed everything.

I sat in my recliner, watching the clock tick down that power-play. The Gophers on the ice played hard … no wait, more than hard. I can’t think of the exact word to describe it … let’s just call it “uber-hard” for lack of a better term.

I found myself getting more into the contest every time the Gophers cleared the zone. By the end of those five minutes, I couldn’t turn away. I watched every moment of the rest of that game, and when the Gophers scored the winning goal I pumped my first. Sure, I felt silly as I was in my own home pumping my fist at a game on the TV, but it didn’t matter. I was hooked.

The next night I packed up the wife and two kids and headed out to St. Paul for the Wild game. We parked for $15 in the Kellogg Ramp, and toured the Xcel Energy Center pregame and we all were impressed with what we saw. It’s a beautiful arena. Our seats were in the second to last row of the upper deck, and we paid more than $40 per ticket. The pregame introductions were fun, the game itself was OK. The most memorable part was when a woman in the lower deck got bloodied in the head after being hit by an errant puck.

Quite honestly, the NHL game didn’t do much for me.

But when I got home, I turned on the Gophers and North Dakota and watched every minute of the third period. I was hooked again. The Gophers scored late to tie it, then the game-winner with less than a minute remaining. Don’t tell anybody, but I fist-pumped again.

For me, it’s becoming clear. The NHL might not be for me, but college hockey is everything it is cracked up to be. I have already put a plan in place to get to Mariucci Arena to catch a game in person.

Hockey, this might be the start of something beautiful.


Don’t make a final judgment on Mauer just yet

There has been plenty of debate related to the season Joe Mauer is having for the Twins, and the catcher has come under a remarkable amount of criticism in recent weeks.

It’s fair to say Mauer has had a poor season. There is plenty of evidence if you look at the stats, and just by using the naked eye, to show that Mauer’s season hasn’t lived up to his $23 million contract.

The more important question is whether this season is the start of a trend, or simply a statistical anomaly. If you strictly look at the past two months, odds are this season is nothing more than a speed bump for Mauer.

For example, since July 1st, Mauer has batted .325, which is pretty close to his career average. If you consider the first two months of the season a period where Mauer clearly wasn’t healthy and disregard those results, he appears to be returning to his old form.

However, the power and production Mauer needs to exhibit at the plate haven’t returned as of yet. Even if you take those two months where Mauer has started hitting near his career average, the run production is still lacking. If you expanded July 1-August 31st into a full season, Mauer would finish with 2 home runs, a .325 average, 63 RBI and 30 doubles. Those are exceptionally good numbers for a catcher, but certainly not worthy of a $23 million contract.

This could be Mauer’s bad season. Pretty much every player goes through at least one of them, even Hall of Famers such as Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk, widely regarded as two of the best catchers in MLB history. For example, Bench hit .234 in 1976 and Fisk had only 7 HR and a .263 average in 1981. Even famed Twin Kirby Puckett had a down year, in 1990 when he hit .298 and had only 12 home runs.

So I’ll wait until next year’s results before making any grandiose statements about Mauer and whether his status as the state’s Golden Boy should be revoked.

It’s been a tough season, marred by injury and inconsistency. However, if he finishes strong and comes back next year with his typical season, which has resulted in four times Mauer being voted in the Top 8 of MVP voting, the criticism Mauer has received this year might look a little unfair.

Are the Twins sellers or buyers?

With only a few weeks until the non-waiver trade deadline in Major League Baseball, teams are trying to figure out whether they are in the pennant race or should sell assets to teams still with dreams of reaching the post-season.

For the Minnesota Twins, the answer to whether or not the front office should be buyers or sellers is simple. Yes, they should be buyers and sellers.

Typically teams that have a winning percentage over .500 at the all-star break consider themselves buyers. Those under .500 are sellers. The Twins are still 7 games below .500, but they’ve been playing well and most importantly they are only 6.5 games out of first place as the mid-summer classic takes place Tuesday night.

Why they should sell

The Twins should consider themselves sellers because although they are within striking distance of another division title, they are not likely to get healthy enough to sustain their current level of play. They have some assets that should attract value, and decent prospects, including (don’t laugh) Matt Capps, Denard Span, Jim Thome, Delmon Young, Kevin Slowey and Anthony Swarzak. You might even be able to include Jose Mijares in that group. Although Mijares has struggled, he is lefthanded and has good stuff. A change of scenery may be in order for him to get his career back on track.

What is nice about that list is that dealing them would be from positions of depth for the ballclub. Revere has proven he can fill in just fine in center field and in the lead-off spot. Slowey and Swarzak both are capable of filling fourth or fifth starting roles on a contending ballclub, and the Twins have 5 capable starters and a sixth (prospect Kyle Gibson) waiting in the wings. Capps would not be easy to replace, but full-time closer Joe Nathan appears to be close to returning to his normal self and he could fill back in as closer during the second half.

Why they should be buyers

The Twins are still in contention, despite their horrible start to the season (17-37 and 16.5 games out of first at one point). Trading any assets without bringing back Major League-ready talent could send a bad message to the squad.

Detroit has typically not played well in the second half, and Cleveland hasn’t proven yet it can contend all season long. The Twins have owned the White Sox the past three seasons and a run for the title is not out of the question for manager Ron Gardenhire’s team.

Adding some bullpen help could strengthen the team’s chances at contending in September. You could move Nathan back to closer, and Capps would become the set-up man oppposite Glen Perkins.

What should they do?

How about both? The Twins can deal Slowey, Swarzak and Young and add a bullpen arm or two without giving up the core of a team that can contend this year, without giving up prospects and affect future years. The Twins have depth, and dealing from that depth is the way to go. Revere could remain in center field, while Span would play left, improving the team’s defense and on-base percentage.