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With most of the Twins’ offseason attention focused on trading Johan Santana, it’s understandable that Twins fans were apprehensive. Today, the Twins gave their fans reason for optimism by signing Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer to longterm contracts. According to the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal, Justin Morneau signed a 6 year, $80 million contract while Michael Cuddyer signed a 3 year, $24 million contract with a team option for a 4th year at $10.5 million.

The best news of the weekend is that Twins GM Bill Smith says that today’s deals won’t stand in the way of them negotiating with Johan Santana in the hopes of keeping him with the Twins. While I think keeping Johan is improbable at best, the thought of keeping him here the next 4+ years excites me.

Signing Johan would give the Twins a rotation of Santana, Lirano, Baker, Perkins & either Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn or Boof Bonser. Their bullpen would be solid, too, with Matt Guerrier, Pat Neshek, Jesse Crain and Dennis Reyes setting up Joe Nathan.

The biggest news this offseason that nobody’s talking about is that the Twins lineup is much improved. If the Twins don’t trade Johan for a starting centerfielder, they’ll sign either Corey Patterson or Kenny Lofton. Personally, I hope it’s Lofton because (a) he isn’t aging, (b) he’s still productive & (c) he’s got a great veteran presence in the lineup.

Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that the Twins keep Johan & sign Lofton. Here’s what their batting order would look like:
Leadoff- K. Lofton, CF
2nd- J. Kubel, DH
3rd- J. Mauer, C
4th- M. Cuddyer, RF
5th- J. Morneau, 1B
6th- D. Young, LF
7th- M. Lamb, 3B
8th- A. Everett, SS
9th- B. Harris, 2B

They’ll likely be a bit weak at the bottom of the lineup but they’ll more than make up for it with the top & middle of the lineup. When the Twins traded for Delmon Young, I loved the move because he has the potential of being a superstar. He’s got one of the strongest, most accurate arms in baseball. He’s a power hitter. He’s got pretty good range defensively, too. He’s got the tools to become the Twins best hitter by 2009.

Having a middle of the lineup inhabited by Mauer, Cuddy, Justin & Young would be imposing at minimum.

Something that people haven’t thought much about is how good the Twins will be defensively. On any other team, losing Torii would be devastating defensively. If they sign Lofton, he’ll be solid defensively in terms of range, though he doesn’t have Torii’s throwing arm. Whatever they lack in center, they’ll more than make up for on the corners. Teams won’t take extra bases on Cuddyer & Young because they’ve got the two best throwing arms of all the corner outfielders in baseball. PERIOD.

The infield defense should be pretty solid, too, especially with the addition of Adam Everett at shortstop. While Everett’s bat isn’t a plus, everything I’ve read said his defense will be a positive. The reports I’ve read say that he’s got above average range, a strong arm & picks everything hit in his direction. Justin Morneau hasn’t made people forget about Doug Mientkiewicz or Kent Hrbek defensively but he’s improved defensively each year. The scouting reports on Brendan Harris & Mike Lamb are solid, too.

I’m not convinced that this is going to be a major rebuilding year. It might turn out that way but I won’t think that until I know Johan’s status. Until that’s settled, I’ll just be thankful that they’ve locked up 2 important players like Cuddy & Morneau for the foreseeable future.

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Bill Smith learned under Terry Ryan but that isn’t to say that he’s TR’s duplicate. Proof of that came this evening when Smith completed his first major trade. Here’s the details of the trade:

The Twins sent top pitching prospect Matt Garza, shortstop Jason Bartlett and relief prospect Eduardo Morlan to the Rays for Young, infielder Brendan Harris and minor league outfielder Jason Pridie.

Let’s first state this: Matt Garza is an outstanding pitching prospect who will likely turn into a top-of-the-order pitcher sometime soon. Jason Bartlett is a top shortstop talent.

Now let’s look at this from the Twins’ perspective. Delmon Young is 22, has a cannon for an arm & he hits for power and average (.288 BA, 13 HRs, 91 RBIs in 2007). Brendan Harris is a capable offensive player. According to his ESPN statline, Harris hit .286 with 12 HRs & 59 RBIs. He’s definitely got some pop in his bat, as evidenced by his hitting 12 HRs with 35 doubles.
In addition to this trade, it’s confirmed that the Twins have contacted Aaron Rowand’s agent. That they’re even inquiring into his availability is a major departure from TR’s strategy.

Still, the centerpiece of the rest of this offseason is Johan Santana. Here’s the latest Santana-to-Boston rumor I’ve seen:

Got further confirmation today that the Twins want Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury and prospects for Johan Santana, but Boston is reluctant to give them up.

We’ve also heard that several names have been kicked around during talks, including lefthander Jon Lester, shortstop Jed Lowrie, outfielder Brandon Moss and major leaguers Coco Crisp and Kevin Youkilis (note: got the impression that Youkilis’ name was barely kicked around).

I’d be perfectly fine trading Santana for Crisp & Youkilis because it’d fill their biggest remaining gaps: third & CF. That said, I’d rather hold out for Ellsbury & either Lester or Buchholz.

Hypothetically speaking, if Santana is traded for Crisp & Youkilis, the Twins batting order would likely look like this:

CF- Crisp; 3B-Youkilis; C-Joe Mauer; LF-Delmon Young; 1B-Justin Morneau; RF-Michael Cuddyer; DH-Jason Kubel; SS-Brendan Harris; 2B-Nick Punto.

While that isn’t as imposing a lineup as the Red Sox or Yanks, it’s pretty solid. It’s a definite upgrade over last year’s lineup.

Alot can & likely will happen before players report for spring training. Thus far, though, I like how GM Bill Smith has hit the ground running.

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Earlier this week, I emailed Scott Wright from , telling him that I’d fire Childress & bring back Daunte. Yes, that’s a sign of desparation on my part. I admit that I’m tired of seeing QB’s with rag arms (Brad Johnson) or QB’s who shouldn’t be starting in the CFL (TJax). Daunte had his faults but he made all the throws and he was accurate. Anyway, Scott chose to answer my email on his Wright Stuff blog. Make sure you check Scott’s answer out.

I’d post his answer here but that might stop you from checking Scott’s website out. I’d feel bad for you if you didn’t check NFLDraftCountdown out. Like I said last year, Scott’s site is a must read for NFL Draft junkies like me. Scott spends the entire week in Mobile for the Senior Bowl as well as the weekend in Indianapolis at the annual NFL Annual Combine.

Scott is one of the most informed guys in the mock draft business. The best news is that we don’t have to subscribe like we’d have to for that ESPN guy.

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I knew that Scott Baker had his best stuff tonight when he struck out 5 of the first 6 hitters. Although I told my nephew that Baker’s slider was looking particularly nasty, little did I realize that I was watching Scott Baker pitch the game of his life.

Torii Hunter made 2 great catches to keep Baker’s bid for perfection alive but the reality was that Baker wouldn’t need much help in putting the Royals down. Time & again, Baker’s slider would bite in on the lefties. KC third baseman Alex Gordon had a particularly rough night, striking out all three times on nasty, unhittable sliders. Each time, Gordon swung over the top of Baker’s slider. Several times, Baker’s slider started about belt high on the inner third of the plate. Each of those times, the ball landed in the dirt just to the inside of home plate.

Twins analyst Ron Coomer made a great point during the postgame show, saying that this was a throwback pitching performance, with Baker busting hitters up & in before striking them out on that nasty slider. He said it had been a few seasons since he saw a pitcher force hitters to change eye levels & eye angles. I totally agree with that. I didn’t see a Royals hitter get a good swing off Baker. Most were tentative but some were downright defensive, please help me looking, swings.

A jam shot single from Royals captain Mike Sweeney broke up Mr. Baker’s no-hitter in the ninth. Even that pitch was a tough pitch that Sweeney just muscled over the infield for a clean hit.

Baker has been one of the most consistent pitchers on the staff, with Johan Santana being the only Twins starter who’s been more consistent than Baker. This bodes well for the Twins next year. Any rotation that starts off with Santana, Liriano & Baker is a pretty nice rotation. Filling it out with Matt Garza and either Boof Bonser or Glen Perkins sounds like a rock solid staff.

My hat’s off to Scott Baker, who’s had an incredibly memorable week, which started with the birth of his second son, Easton Timothy. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving guy.

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With the 7th overall pick in the NFL Draft, the Vikings took Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson. Once Washington took LaRon Landry, this was the pick I expected them to make.

I hope that Mike Mayock’s information isn’t accurate:

The running back thing really fascinates me. I spoke to two teams earlier today; both teams told me that the medical on Adrian Peterson’s collarbone is pretty significant. You may have to re-break the bone, insert a plate. If so, he’s probably ’08. And if you try to play him this year, there’s a chance it could re-break.

This might’ve been another team planting some misinformation, hoping that AP would drop to them in the middle of the first round. NFL teams have been known to do that to get an edge. Only time will tell.

On the positive side, ESPN’s Chris Mortenson said that famed orthopedic surgeon James Andrews said that the injury isn’t serious & shouldn’t affect his career. One that’s undeniable is that this kid’s got the work ethic & the talent to be another Ladanian Tomlinson. One of the ESPN announcers said that his Oklahoma teammates nicknamed him AD, as in ‘All Day’, because of his work ethic. He doesn’t have any red flags in terms of character.

Check back throughout the day for more draft updates. I’m outta here. I’m now heading out to the back yard to grill up a thick steak.

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It appears so according to this article. Here’s some of the initial details:

The landowners have agreed to the eminent domain process. A judicial panel will decide the price after both sides submit their arguments next month. County commissioner Mike Opat has been the county’s lead negotiator for the ballpark site. He says there are still some details to be worked out, including an agreement with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad to move some tracks that would run close to the new ballpark.

That’s good news for Twins fans. The only thing that I’m worried about is them building this new stadium without it being ‘retractable ready’. Cleveland was scheduled to start the season with a 10 game homestand, only to see Mother Nature put the kibosh on that. They’re now moving their middle series of that ‘homestand’ into Milwaukee’s domed stadium. Building a stadium in the northern United States that isn’t dome ready is foolishness.

Opat said the work to begin preparing the site for construction can probably begin within a few weeks.

Now if the Twins were to beat the Yankees this week, I’ll be a happy camper.

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Herb Carneal, the longtime voice of the Minnesota Twins, passed away today at the age of 83:

Longtime Twins radio broadcaster Herb Carneal died this morning of congestive heart failure at his home in Minnetonka, the team announced.

Carneal, 83, who received the highest honor in baseball broadcasting in 1996 when he was named the recipient of the Ford C. Frick award, had spent six weeks in the hospital this winter battling a variety of ailments.

He had been scheduled to work 36 homes games this season, including the Twins opener on Monday night against Baltimore.

Carneal, though, said late last week he had decided against working that game because of his health but was hopeful of returning to the booth at some point this season.

Twins great Harmon Killebrew, who was getting ready to come to the Twin Cities from his Arizona home Sunday to attend Monday night’s game, was saddened to hear the news.

“It’s hard for me to say exactly what I thought about Herb Carneal,” Killebrew said. “He was a wonderful man. He was not only a great announcer but a real professional. He was just a wonderful human being. We’re going to miss him terribly.”

Former Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek grew up in Bloomington listening to Carneal before joining the organization. He had continued to listen to Carneal since retiring in 1994.

“He has been part of Twins baseball as much as Harmon or Tony Oliva or anybody like that,” Hrbek said.

“This is a sad day for the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of baseball fans across the Upper Midwest,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said in a statement.

“Herb Carneal’s voice was the signature element of Twins baseball for multiple generations of fans. Clearly he was one of the most beloved figures in Minnesota sports history. The Minnesota Twins will proudly dedicate the 2007 season to the memory of Herb Carneal.”

St. Peter said plans for how the ballclub intends to honor Carneal at Monday’s game were being discussed Sunday.

“We’re going to adjust things within the pregame,” St. Peter said. “I expect that fans will see both in the ballpark and obviously watching on TV and listening on radio, there will be a tribute to Carneal.”

St. Peter said the Twins also likely will wear black arm bands for the game and that an on-uniform patch will be designed to honor Carneal.

Carneal joined the Twins broadcast team in 1962, the team’s second season in Minnesota. He had spent the previous five seasons doing play-by-play for the Baltimore Orioles and before that had worked Philadelphia Phillies and A’s games.

This would have been his 52nd season of describing major league games. Tired of the travel schedule, Carneal had cut back to just doing home games in 1998.

In addition to the honor he received from the Baseball Hall of Fame, Carneal was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Metrodome’s baseball press box was renamed in his honor in 2005.

Carneal’s death marks the third year in a row the Twins have lost a beloved personality just before the season. Longtime public address announcer Bob Casey died at the age of 79 in 2005, Hall of Fame center fielder Kirby Puckett passed away last March at the age of 45.

Carneal is survived by his daughter, Terri, and grandson, Matthew. Funeral arrangement are pending and will be announced when they become available.

One of the reasons that I fell in love with Twins baseball was because of Herb Carneal’s broadcast style, which I’d describe as soothing. One Carneal trademark was that he measured his words, except in moments of humor. In short, his broadcasts were that of a gentleman describing a gentleman’s game.

It isn’t overstatement to say that Major League Baseball, especially the Minnesota Twins, have lost a great man today. Herb, I pray that you rest in peace.

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Good news for NFL draft junkies: Scott Wright posted his most recent mock draft tonight. Make sure you check it out for your favorite team.

I’ll just say that I like the players that Scott has going to the Vikings.

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This has been a fun night for me because, in addition to the Gophers signing Tubby Smith as their new head basketball coach, the Wild trounced the St. Louis Blues 5-1 at the Xcel Energy Center tonight. Pavol Demitra score the Wild’s first goal on a breakaway, with Marian Gaborik giving him a perfect feed to send him in alone. Brian Rolston scored the Wild’s second goal, his thirtieth of the season, which turned out to be the gamewinner. Gaborik got the next 2 goals, his 27th & 28th goals of the season, both power play goals before Mikko Koivu scored his eighteenth goal of the season to finish the scoring.

This has been a magical season thus far for Wild fans. After suffering through some disappointing seasons, GM Doug Risebrough finally put some talent around Gaborik this offseason. He started by trading for Gaborik’s Czech friend Pavol Demitra on draft day. That paved the way for their resigning Gaborik, a true superstar, to a three year extension.

The chemistry between ‘Gabby’ & ‘Pav’ has been positively electric. Gaborik is a jet blur when he wants to be. He also has as nasty of a quick-release wrist shot as I’ve ever seen. Tonight, they worked together at as high a rate as Peter Forsberg and Joe Sakic did back in their heyday.

It’d be a mistake, though, to think of Gaborik & Demitra as the team’s only stars. Nothing could be further from the truth. Another key move this past offseason was keeping Brian Rolston. While Gaborik has been Minnesota’s most electric player this season, Rolston’s been Minnesota’s most consistent player this season.

There’s been some magic involved, too, in this season’s run. Another key offseason move was signing Niklas Backstrom from Europe. The thought was that they’d use him as an emergency goalie this season, a backup to backup Josh Harding, if you will. When Harding got injured in training camp, Backstrom became Manny Fernandez’ backup. When Fernandez got injured, Backstrom became the starter, with Harding returning to be Backstrom’s backup. Things couldn’t have worked out better.

Finally, it’d be a huge mistake to not mention the job Jacques Lemaire has done in molding this team into the legitimate Stanley Cup threat that they are. Lemaire has always been one of the best coaches in the NHL. Now that he’s got big league talent on all his lines, he’s opening up the offense to play to the team’s strength, which are its forwards.

How far the Wild will go this offseason is anybody’s guess. What’s certain is that nobody’s anxious to meet them in the first couple of round of the playoffs.

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According to this KSTP article, Tubby Smith will be the next head basketball coach for the U of M. I officially pronounce this as a dramatic step forward for the Gophers’ basketball program. Smith has a great track record, which includes a national championship while coaching the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Here’s what KSTP is reporting thus far:

Tubby Smith will be named the new head coach of the University of Minnesota basketball team, a source close to the Gopher basketball program tells 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. The University of Minnesota has not yet commented on the naming.

Smith has been at the University of Kentucky for the last ten years and won a National Championship there. He is considered one of the elite coaches in college basketball.

Early reports are that Smith will be paid $1.8 million per year.

That’s a big salary for a coach but Smith will fill up the Barn in a hurry. He’ll be a great recruiter, too. In other words, the increased revenues brought in by a great program will more than offset his salary. In other words, Smith will put the Gold back in the Golden Gophers.

Earlier this year, Joel Maturi replaced longtime head football coach Glen Mason with Denver Broncos assistant coach Tim Brewster. At the time that he fired Mason, I said that Maturi had to go. Based on the moves he’s made, I fully retract that statement and I congratulate Mr. Maturi on his bringing in two coaches that will raise the profile of sports on the U of M campus.

As I’ve written before, former Gopher Trent Tucker has hinted that he’d like to have an active role in the next coaching staff. In my opinion, he’s perfect for the jobs of recruiting director & assistant coach. Double T knows the game inside & out. He’s worked with several Minnesota high school kids on their game. He’s a close friend of Michael Jordan’s from their time on Chicago’s last NBA Championship team.

Translation: That’s the resume of someone who’d have instant credibility with kids on the recruiting trail.

That will all work itself out in the days ahead, though. The good news for Gopher hoops fans is that our long traverse through the desert is over, thanks to Mr. Maturi’s hiring of Tubby Smith.

UPDATE: I just watched Sportscenter and I’m more excited now than I was earlier tonight. Dick Vitale said that “The winner in all of this is Minnesota. They hit a grand slam baby. They got a Harmon Killebrew special.” I’m normally not a big Vitale fan but I totally agree with him.

Former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps said that this was a good move by Smith, that the Gophers will be getting a great coach.

Here’s a picture of Tubby Smith arriving at Williams Arena:

FSN North announced after tonight’s Wild game that they will carry the press conference live from Williams Arena at noon Friday. Expect every sports reporter in the Twin Cities to be there for the announcement. Getting a guy of the caliber of Tubby Smith is major news in Minnesota.

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