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Front Page: 2 Critical Steps for Jose Berrios in 2020

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Jose Berrios balances excellent raw stuff with an unrelenting work ethic. What does the Twins only returning starter need to do to take i...
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Front Page: Offseason Blueprint: Building a Bullpenner

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If we're being honest with ourselves, the Minnesota Twins probably aren't going to go out and sign Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg this...
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Front Page: Astros and Cubs Have Proven Twins Time to Spe...

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Going into 2020 the Minnesota Twins can spend to levels the franchise has never before seen. I wrote up how even a marginal offseason acc...
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Front Page: The Twins Shouldn't Give Up on Rosario

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During the final two months of the regular season, plenty of people started advocating for a trade of Eddie Rosario. He did show some reg...
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Front Page: Twins Could Lose Another Key Member Of Coachi...

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This time they are coming for Jeremy Hefner.According to Marc Carig of The Athletic, the New York Mets are set to interview the Twins' bu...
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Can the Twins Become the New Astros? Part 1

After recently reading both Ben Reiter’s Astroball and The MVP Machine by Ben Lindbergh and Travis Shawchik, both highly recommended, I found many similarities between the Houston Astros and our Minnesota Twins. In order to get a better idea of how the Twins plan mirrors the Astros’, let’s look at several areas in which the teams exhibit similarities. This is the first of a three-part series.
Image courtesy of © Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports
Embracing Analytics and Technology

After Jeff Luhnow became the top dog in Houston prior to the 2012 season, Houston infamously tanked for the 2012-14 seasons, while not even pretending to try. Although it was undoubtably an unenjoyable experience for Astros fans, the organization was able to rebuild by gaining top draft pics and completely overhauling the organization. Luhnow and his hand-picked staffers like Sag Mejdal were famous in baseball circles for their success in drafting by using and developing advanced analytic tools while working in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. They continued to be very analytically minded in Houston, also getting a leg up on the competition by being one of the first organizations to heavily invest in using new technology for player development.

The MVP Machine goes into detail about how the Astros immediately took pitchers like Justin Verlander and Ryan Pressly (and more recently Aaron Sanchez) whom they acquired through trades, and met with them, presenting a plan as to how they could best use their pitches. It basically boils down to having the pitchers throw their best pitches. Pressly talked about how having seen how a future Hall of Famer like Verlander succeed with Houston made him more open to a new approach. The authors went to explain how Pressly’s pitch use evolved with his new team:

“With the Twins from 2017 to 2018, Pressly had thrown his sinker 13 percent of the time against lefties. Only once in that span had a southpaw swung at it and missed. With the Astros, he threw the sinker to lefties less than 1 percent of the time. With the Twins in 2018, Pressly had thrown the curve 24 percent of the time. As an Astro, he threw it 39 percent of the time. With Houston, he also elevated his four-seamer and threw his slider slightly more often.”

To be fair, Minnesota’s new front office was already in place starting in 2017, so if they had similar revelations as the Astros, the message did not get to Pressly. Thad Levine acknowledged that the Twins had an opportunity to learn from the Pressly situation in an article from the Washington Post:

“We had uncovered some of what Houston implemented,” Levine said. “I think the biggest difference was their execution of a plan. … Certainly, that was something we reflected upon. Not unlike any other move we make, we try to assess what transpired, good, bad and indifferent, from every move. There was a lot to be learned from that one.”

Prior to the 2019 season the Twins made a big change in their pitching philosophy by going down to the college level to hire pitching coach Wes Johnson out of the University of Arkansas. Johnson champions biomechanics and the use of Trackman data to improve pitchers. No other MLB team had hired directly from the college ranks and the results have been great so far, with an emphasis on increased velocity and strikeouts.

Anyone who has followed the Twins can see just how much the Twins have changed since the Terry Ryan regime. “Small ball” and “pitch to contact” have been replaced by bombas and strikeouts. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have greatly expanded the analytics department and the Twins are incorporating technology like Trackman, Rapsodo, and Blast motion sensors throughout the minor leagues and in spring training as was documented by Twins Daily’s Parker Hageman here. They have also revamped the minor league coaching staffs and implemented better communication throughout the system to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to player development.

Communication

Enhancing communication throughout the system was important to Falvey and Levine, and not only through the minor league levels. Strong communication and a shared vision between the front office and the manager also seems to be a commonality between Houston and Minnesota. After coming to Houston Luhnow initially hired Bo Porter to lead the team, but after not seeing eye-to-eye, Porter was fired and A.J. Hinch took over, leading the Astros to the postseason in his first season with the team and a 2017 World Series title. Houston wanted a manager who would match their vision and they found him in Hinch. Hinch is a new-school style manger, who is a former player and had experience both coaching and working in a front office. His openness to analytics and more unconventional game tactics fit perfectly with Luhnow and the Astros, and Hinch was instrumental in getting the players to buy in.

Sound familiar? Twins first year manager, Rocco Baldelli is another former player who is young and had front office experience before coming over from Tampa Bay. Baldelli seems to be in line with Falvey and Levine and has been praised for his open communication with his players. This year’s team seems to gel together really well, and while it is never completely clear whether winning leads to better team chemistry or vice versa, Baldelli has done an admirable job of keeping the team loose and it’s hard to argue with the results. Paul Molitor wasn’t hand-picked by the current FO, and similar to Porter in Houston, he never really felt like a good fit for the direction in which Minnesota was moving. Baldelli, on the other hand, fits perfectly with the Twins more modern and analytic style of operation.

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33 Comments

The MVP Machine was a great read! I think it is pretty obvious Houston is ahead of everyone else in MLB in using data for player development, but the Twins have done a really nice job incorporating it recently.

 

Houston spent about $44M more than the Twins this season, and the fact Houston is a considerably bigger market than Minneapolis is what I see as the biggest reason the Twins can't copy the Astros plan.

 

Circling back to The MVP Machine, the Twins emphasis on player development will become increasingly important, and that is how they will narrow the gap between themselves and teams like Houston.

 

Really enjoyed your article.

    • brvama, Sconnie, DocBauer and 4 others like this
One by one... the old school operations are falling by the wayside.

But here’s the thing. It’ll be a short window for the Twins who were somewhat late to the party but not as late as others. We will enjoy the fruits of these efforts for a little while as the dinosaurs die off.

Eventually everybody will be in the same place in the future and a new thing will have to arrive to separate a brand new future new breed from the pack.

The Orioles new GM is from the Astros and they will follow the Astros path. The Giants have hired from the Dodgers.
    • birdwatcher and Platoon like this

I enjoyed this and am excited for the next two parts.

 

Patrick, regarding the analytical side of MLB teams, do you have any info on where teams stand? Is MN middle of the pack, top ten or late to the dance? Seems I read often that we are way behind MLB. My guess is we aren’t as late as has been suggested.

    • nicksaviking likes this
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nicksaviking
Oct 17 2019 08:19 AM

 

One by one... the old school operations are falling by the wayside.

But here’s the thing. It’ll be a short window for the Twins who were somewhat late to the party but not as late as others. We will enjoy the fruits of these efforts for a little while as the dinosaurs die off.

 

This always bothered me, though to be fair, with most innovation there seems to be some bumpy spots and false starts where some theories and procedures show up to not be effective only to be weeded out by trial and error. The delay may have let the Twins bypass those spots directly to a more efficient model.

 

Not that I'd let them off the hook, if any of that occurred it was clearly unintentional.

    • brvama likes this

 

One by one... the old school operations are falling by the wayside.

But here’s the thing. It’ll be a short window for the Twins who were somewhat late to the party but not as late as others. We will enjoy the fruits of these efforts for a little while as the dinosaurs die off.

Eventually everybody will be in the same place in the future and a new thing will have to arrive to separate a brand new future new breed from the pack.

The Orioles new GM is from the Astros and they will follow the Astros path. The Giants have hired from the Dodgers.

 

I think this is exactly correct. There is currently a transition when some teams have and use better information than others. That won't last long. It's a lot like financial markets in which a new analytical strategy works until everyone else jumps in.

 

Once we reach the new equilibrium, success will be based on getting the unmeasurables right. Examples: (1) finding the guys like Arraez who play way above their projections, (2) getting the clubhouse chemistry right so that each personality makes everyone else work harder and play better, and (3) getting the field chemistry right so that each player is asked to do what he does best (no Sano in RF).

 

It seems like the Twins have had good success this season with the unmeasurables. We'll find out over the next few years if this is good luck or repeatable good judgment.

    • birdwatcher, brvama and JDubs like this
Houston traded for expensive players, and signed at least one to an extension. They also dealt highly regarded prospects for another. This team has done neither. Until that changes, no, they aren't the next Houston.

The window is open. If it doesn't change this off season....
    • Steve Lein, h2oface and KirbyDome89 like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Oct 17 2019 10:38 AM

Houston traded for expensive players, and signed at least one to an extension. They also dealt highly regarded prospects for another. This team has done neither. Until that changes, no, they aren't the next Houston.
The window is open. If it doesn't change this off season....

I’m still not sure why the Twins didn’t trade for a starter at the deadline, as the Astros have done. Even if it meant offering Larnach or Kirilloff. Maybe something will change this offseason?
    • Steve Lein and Twins33 like this
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Hosken Bombo Disco
Oct 17 2019 10:40 AM
Glad to see that Levine quote. Probably should not have traded Pressly, but reflecting back on past actions is a good habit to be in.
    • birdwatcher, brvama, h2oface and 1 other like this

Glad to see that Levine quote. Probably should not have traded Pressly, but reflecting back on past actions is a good habit to be in.


Yes. I hope they learn not to give up too early during the season, and the struggles trading from weakness instead of surplus.
    • birdwatcher, h2oface, Hosken Bombo Disco and 1 other like this

What I saw as a difference maker this year is it didn't matter the name on the jersey they played the best possible players where in the past 4-5 people were in the line-up that maybe needed a week on the bench just for motivation.They also have brought in the staff and players like Cruz to set the tone. Each and every guy in their line-up knows there is someone right behind them waiting to get their spot.

    • birdwatcher, brvama and wabene like this
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birdwatcher
Oct 17 2019 11:58 AM

 

I think this is exactly correct. There is currently a transition when some teams have and use better information than others. That won't last long. It's a lot like financial markets in which a new analytical strategy works until everyone else jumps in.

 

Once we reach the new equilibrium, success will be based on getting the unmeasurables right. Examples: (1) finding the guys like Arraez who play way above their projections, (2) getting the clubhouse chemistry right so that each personality makes everyone else work harder and play better, and (3) getting the field chemistry right so that each player is asked to do what he does best (no Sano in RF).

 

It seems like the Twins have had good success this season with the unmeasurables. We'll find out over the next few years if this is good luck or repeatable good judgment.

 

I think THIS is exactly correct too.

 

Certainly, every team is going to pony up for the observation technology that has transformed the skill development landscape: Trackman, Rapsodo, Blast, etc. With that, teams will eventually follow suit by employing field and development staff more capable of making this new information comprehensible for the athletes. The Twins may now be ahead of the game already on this front, but we know this is an unsustainable advantage.

 

I like that this group is clearly initiating changes related to unmeasurables. The comments we heard throughout the season gave us plenty of evidence that "culture" and "chemistry" were important to players and management alike.

 

Houston has not missed on draft choices, to their credit, but it should be acknowledged that there was a bit of serendipity involved too, when Bregman, Correa, and Springer were pretty much there for the taking. I don't think they are any better than the Twins and many other clubs at this aspect of the job, nor are they way ahead of peers when it comes to IFA or FA. They've executed well in free agency with pickups like Chirinos, Brantley and Reddick. Falvey and his team have executed on the same level IMO.

 

Where Houston has separated itself from all other teams is in the execution of trades. Verlander, Cole, Alverez, Pressly, and Gurriel to name a few.

 

It's important to note that Houston has not traded away prospects that fit in the category of Royce Lewis and Kirilloff to acquire these pieces, as some seem to think.The price for Verlander was Daz Cameron, a fading first rounder who was in the second half of BA's Top 100, as was Franklin Perez, an IFA pitcher ranked at about #75 or so, and a third round catcher who really can't catch. Our equivalents might be Rortvedt, Duran, and Baddoo. So kudos to Houston for being proactive and active traders and for executing beautifully, but now that the Twins have the prospect quality and quantity from which to trade (ranked about ten slots above Houston now BTW), they should be able to close the gap here. 

 

They can't match Houston's revenues, and while this limits them to an extent, it can be overcome with the help of avoiding mistakes and with some of the same serendipity that Houston has enjoyed. 

    • Steve Lein, USAFChief, brvama and 3 others like this
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birdwatcher
Oct 17 2019 12:43 PM

 

Houston traded for expensive players, and signed at least one to an extension. They also dealt highly regarded prospects for another. This team has done neither. Until that changes, no, they aren't the next Houston.

The window is open. If it doesn't change this off season....

 

Houston is the gold standard, we know that.

 

Let's define "highly regarded" though. Verlander (who wasn't coming to Minneapolis) cost them Cameron, Perez, and Rogers. Our equivalents might be Baddoo, Duran, and Jeffers, maybe less, and not more. Pittsburgh unloaded Cole for Moran, Musgrove, Martin, and Feliz. Our equivalents might be Blankenhorn, Dobnak, Wade, and Stashak, not much more.

 

Altuve was a transforming IFA signing. He's on the books for $20M per season for the next few years. Sure beats paying $22M to Joe Mauer, right? 

 

If the Twins have a player worthy of $20M, Falvey will sign them. 

 

No one's the next Houston. Houston is probably not the next Houston.

    • Steve Lein, Twins33 and brvama like this

 

This always bothered me, though to be fair, with most innovation there seems to be some bumpy spots and false starts where some theories and procedures show up to not be effective only to be weeded out by trial and error. The delay may have let the Twins bypass those spots directly to a more efficient model.

 

Not that I'd let them off the hook, if any of that occurred it was clearly unintentional.

 

There are times when waiting for others to break through walls makes sense but once they do... you are behind. 

 

Personally, I have no ability to judge what went on inside the walls. I have never been in the room and have no right to make accusations. They are unfounded at best.  

 

However... By all reports the Twins went decades with one analyst and that was Jack Goin. I'm sure Jack was very talented but the amount of data that was being filtered through by other clubs requires a larger department. 

 

Intentional? Unintentional? Who knows but it does suggest "Blinders" were on as they trudged the same path they had always traveled. 

    • birdwatcher likes this

 

Houston is the gold standard, we know that.

 

Let's define "highly regarded" though. Verlander (who wasn't coming to Minneapolis) cost them Cameron, Perez, and Rogers. Our equivalents might be Baddoo, Duran, and Jeffers, maybe less, and not more. Pittsburgh unloaded Cole for Moran, Musgrove, Martin, and Feliz. Our equivalents might be Blankenhorn, Dobnak, Wade, and Stashak, not much more.

 

Altuve was a transforming IFA signing. He's on the books for $20M per season for the next few years. Sure beats paying $22M to Joe Mauer, right? 

 

If the Twins have a player worthy of $20M, Falvey will sign them. 

 

No one's the next Houston. Houston is probably not the next Houston.

 

this thread is literally asking if the Twins will be the next houston......

 

Houston traded for expensive players, and signed at least one to an extension. They also dealt highly regarded prospects for another. This team has done neither. Until that changes, no, they aren't the next Houston.

The window is open. If it doesn't change this off season....

 It looks like Houston is going to let one of the very best pitchers in MLB take his leave when this season ends for them. That is very Twins-like.;)

    • birdwatcher, wabene and JDubs like this

 

 It looks like Houston is going to let one of the very best pitchers in MLB take his leave when this season ends for them. That is very Twins-like.;)

 

I'm not sure I understand.....no team can keep every player they have ever acquired. 

Houston made savvy moves, and now they're the best team in mlb. Hard to be "the next" Houston, when Houston is still doing Houston things. The rise of Houston has as much to do with the cards falling in their favor as their approach.

Long have some of us on this forum, including Jack Goin, championed for an analytics approach. Terry Ryan was cemented in old school baseball. I think the entire league is changing as big data has become a huge narrative.

In order to be the next up and coming team, Twins need more top end talent. Houston is a great example: they have top 10 players in mlb at multiple positions, some arguably the best. That doesn't happen overnight. Hopefully they Twins can identify their own Cole and Verlander acquisitions this off-season. Add Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff the mix, and this team is positioned to compete again.
    • birdwatcher, Twins33, brvama and 1 other like this

I understand the part article has a couple more parts, so I'll reserve judgement on the body when it is completed.

 

In the meantime, this part deals with stuff on the margins. Smart philosophies and use of technology can't make average talent great...can't make 85-win talent beat (with any consistency) 95-win talent. Houston is Houston because they have better players. This, primarily because of how well they drafted (also great international signings) during the tanking years, and secondarily, because of their willingness to make trades. The stuff in this article, while it has value, is a relatively small factor in terms of impact on how good Houston is currently.

    • birdwatcher, Mike Sixel, Vanimal46 and 1 other like this
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birdwatcher
Oct 17 2019 02:44 PM

 

this thread is literally asking if the Twins will be the next houston......

 

 

We've talked past each other, Mike. My fault, I apologize for that. Since not even Houston can replicate Houston's past success, let's focus on the author's real question. That question is whether the Twins can emulate the things that allowed Houston to become the gold standard du jour.

 

Houston began its journey from the depths to the pinnacle by doing two things. One, they got new and better leadership. Two, they took advantage of their draft order. I argue that Houston had some luck, in that area, but they executed, and that's what matters. You probably disagree, but I believe our new leadership and our talent evaluators are as good.

 

Houston's technology advantage has dwindled. Other teams including and maybe especially the Twins, have emulated the Astros.

 

I'd be skeptical of any argument that the Twins are taking a back seat to the Astros or anyone else regarding the use of technology, data, coaching, development, and talent evaluation. In fact, I'd be more inclined to think they've been early adopters in a few areas now.

 

I don't know anything about Houston's philosophical underpinnings so I wouldn't make a comparison. That said, I think we're seeing some really great signs from our own organization with respect to the treatment and handling of players at every level. The impressive facilities in the DR and in Ft. Myers are symbolic, and Baldelli seems to run a very happy clubhouse. This organization seems to be really vibrant and healthy.

 

In my opinion, Houston's success with trades is unique because they executed beautifully, not because, as you seem to believe, they are willing to trade "top prospects" while the Twins are not.

 

Not one (Colin Moran may be an exception, I'm not sure) of the top prospects Houston has traded for the likes of Verlander, Cole. Greinke, Alvarez, Gurriel, Pressly, Marisnak, or anyone else, was ranked among Houston's top 6 prospects at the time of the trades. So you can't make an argument that the Astros have done something that a reasonable person would say the Twins would avoid. Houston did not trade top 6 prospects like Kyle Tucker or Derek Fisher to fetch Greinke, for example. Bukauskas is a lesser prospect than Duran. Seth Beer is a lesser prospect than Larnach.

 

I suggested the Twins can, and probably will emulate Houston's trading behavior, now that they have the quality and quantity. My hope is that they do the same thing Houston has done and trade from surplus of really good prospects like Javier, Rooker, Gordon, Baddoo, and others. 

 

All Houston or Minnesota can do is emulate what Houston has done in the past. Neither team can replicate it. Houston gets to reap the rewards of its past and recent success and good fortune. The Twins closed the gap considerably in 2019, but there's still a big gap when it comes to the 26-man roster.

 

Let's hope that the Twins are eventually the "new Houston" and Houston or Chicago isn't. Let's hope that some day soon Houston feels a need to examine a couple of things Falvey is doing and emulate it.

 

    • Mike Sixel, Twins33, Riverbrian and 3 others like this

Glad to see that Levine quote. Probably should not have traded Pressly, but reflecting back on past actions is a good habit to be in.


Lavine has mentioned in the past and eludes to it here. They were aware of Pressly’s capability but struggled with execution.

No way of knowing what that meant exactly but I have noticed a new pitching coach and manager since the Presley trade. Perhaps to improve execution?
    • birdwatcher, Twins33, brvama and 3 others like this
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birdwatcher
Oct 17 2019 03:40 PM

Fun fact: Houston has two prospects to which MLB Pipeline gives an overall value of 50 or more.

 

The Twins have 13 of these prospects today.

    • brvama, VOMG, wabene and 1 other like this

For me, the single biggest thing I wish the Twins emulate in the future is Houston's willingness/ability to get a deal done, despite any apparent obstacles.

 

When others wouldn't/couldn't find a way to acquire Verlander, they did.

Ditto Cole.

Ditto Pressly.

Ditto Greinke.

 

Two of those deals literally went down to the final few hours of a trade deadline. Their GM refused to quit trying, and ended up pulling off deals that others had dismissed.

 

There's a lot to like about how Houston does business. Add "determination" to the list, near the top for me.

    • birdwatcher, Mike Sixel, Twins33 and 7 others like this

Fun fact: Houston has two prospects to which MLB Pipeline gives an overall value of 50 or more.

The Twins have 13 of these prospects today.


Quoting this post rather than the last as it's shorter, lol, and still on topic.

Absolutely agree the Twins system has the depth to make moves, similar to Houston. Also agree Houston has been very smart in their trades, not overpaying, even though they moved some quality ballplayers.

Again, I think the Twins can and will do the same. The one caveat I would make for any team, including our beloved Twins, is the factor of luck/opportunity.

Let me be more clear: when the Astros traded for Verlander, he was available. The Tigers were going nowhere. This past season there were cries for the Twins to get "their" Verlander. But really, Greinke was the only similar player available, and he had us on a no trade. Believed or not, there were reports the Twins at least called, but the conversation went nowhere.

Full credit to Houston for striking when opportunity is there. Is there that kind of arm available now via trade? Who do the Twins identify as that game changer?

If there is one, then I sure hope they are just as quick to strike as Houston has been on the past.
    • birdwatcher, Twins33 and JDubs like this

Fun fact: Houston has two prospects to which MLB Pipeline gives an overall value of 50 or more.

The Twins have 13 of these prospects today.


Step 1: Check

Step 2: Find a Verlander, Grienke, Cole, Osuna, and Pressly type available via trade.

Then we'll be Houston.
    • birdwatcher, brvama and DocBauer like this
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birdwatcher
Oct 17 2019 05:32 PM

 

For me, the single biggest thing I wish the Twins emulate in the future is Houston's willingness/ability to get a deal done, despite any apparent obstacles.

 

When others wouldn't/couldn't find a way to acquire Verlander, they did.

Ditto Cole.

Ditto Pressly.

Ditto Greinke.

 

Two of those deals literally went down to the final few hours of a trade deadline. Their GM refused to quit trying, and ended up pulling off deals that others had dismissed.

 

There's a lot to like about how Houston does business. Add "determination" to the list, near the top for me.

 

 

I get this. Not an excuse here, but a possible explanation related to the FO's perception of timing, which we of course don't have to agree with (although it's nice when people grant an understanding of a different perspective). At least they were rather clear in saying earlier that they were trying to pry the window open whereas now they say they can feel a breeze. We all hope this leads to greater determination, right?

 

Okay, maybe this IS an excuse, Chief, but I can't help imagining a presentation by Greinke's agent: "Okay, which direction do you want me to go? The Astros, who are clear favorites to win the whole shebang this year, have room for at least two guys like you ad infinitum, and will host you in a no state tax state, or the Twins, who may have to sneak in the back door as a wild card, barely have room for one ace budget-wise, and will tax the darn heck out of you. Who do you wanna locker next door to, Verlander and his photo of Kate Bush, or Gibby and his big Desiderata poster?"

    • USAFChief, brvama, DocBauer and 1 other like this

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