RandBall

Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.

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Mid-day talker: With Hughes extension, Twins attempting to stockpile arms for the long term

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 22nd at 1:35pm 286588151

ryanhughesYou can never have too much starting pitching. If it becomes a bona fide surplus, and there just aren’t enough spots for guys who deserve them, a major league team can always make a trade — and usually a very good trade — sending out a pitcher and bringing back something else useful.

You can certainly, though, not have enough starting pitching. The Twins know this because they learned it the most memorable way: the hard way. The 2011-14 Twins have been the Hard Knocks School of Starting Pitching , never finishing better than 26th in MLB in ERA despite attempts, to various degrees, to fix the problem.

What they’ve apparently discovered along the way — a good thing — is that hoping and wishing are not the same as planning. What they’ve also discovered is that best-case scenarios, or even modest-case scenarios, don’t always pan out. So even if you have five starting pitchers you think might form a decent rotation given a break here or there, it’s probably not going to work. Injuries happen. Ineffectiveness happens. Exceeding expectations occasionally happens, but not enough to offset the overall failure of the whole (see: Phil Hughes, 2014).

The Twins in these past four years have usually had pitchers available to start games. In 2012, 12 different pitchers started at least five games. What they’ve lacked is quality options. They usually ended up with a couple decent starters, if they were lucky. And in this era of baseball, when elbows get wonky and scouting reports catch up fast, you need more than five.

The Twins don’t yet have five. What they do have is more than $150 million invested in three — including what amounts to a three-year, $42 million extension for Hughes that was announced Monday — that will take all of them through at least 2017 (Nolasco, with an option after that), with Ervin Santana (2018) and Hughes (2019) even longer-terms. There are no guarantees with any of those three, particularly Nolasco after last season, but they are investments that indicate real effort to fix a problem.

Throw Kyle Gibson into that mix — 13 wins, ERA of 4.47, FIP of 3.80 last season — and there’s at least more than just wishful thinking for a fourth spot.

After that, you get into the whole cast of “maybes.” Guys like Mike Pelfrey, Tommy Milone have had decent MLB seasons in the past. Trevor May and Alex Meyer could be ready to challenge for a spot. J.O. Berrios and Kohl Stewart have potential further down in the minors.

Here’s the thing: In some years past, Pelfrey, Milone and those others would have been THE plan. They wouldn’t have been the competition at the bottom of the rotation. They would have been the competition at the top (see: 2012, with the likes of Pelfrey, Kevin Correia, Vance Worley, Scott Diamond and Liam Hendriks as the top options).

So if you find yourself wondering how the Twins are going to integrate some of their young pitchers or holdover arms into their rotation … don’t worry. They don’t have pitching depth — yet. If they do get starting pitching depth, it will be a nice problem to have and an easy problem to solve.

Monday (The difference is Teddy) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 22nd at 2:59pm 286565421

fridgewaterThe last three Vikings head coaches have gone into their first full seasons with quarterback questions — and QB hopes in the form of high draft picks who were rookies.

Brad Childress, in 2006, primarily used veteran Brad Johnson as the team slogged to a 6-10 finish, but at the end of the season he turned things over to rookie second-round pick Tarvaris Jackson.

Leslie Frazier, shedding the interim tag after taking over for Childress, went into 2011 with Donovan McNabb as the starter but first-round pick Christian Ponder presumed to take over at some point. Ponder ended up starting 10 games of a 3-13 season.

And now Mike Zimmer, a rookie coach in 2014, had to give the keys to rookie first-round QB Teddy Bridgewater a little earlier than expected because of an injury to veteran Matt Cassel. Bridgewater has started 11 games this season, posting a 5-6 record in a 6-9 season-to-date.

All of those seasons have flaws. The first two gave way to better times ahead — the Vikings made the playoffs by 2008 and the NFC title game in 2009, then also made the playoffs in 2012 — but one could argue those appearances were largely in spite of and not because of those first two rookie QBs.

The difference this year, quite plainly, is Bridgewater. We’ve been critical here of certain kinds of throws he has difficulty making, but we’ve also seen enough progress over a long enough stretch of time to at least say he is the most promising young Vikings quarterback since Daunte Culpepper.

In his last four games, Bridgewater has completed 73 percent of his passes for 1,021 yards, seven TDs, four INTs and a 105.7 passer rating. It hasn’t been flawless, but it’s been as good a stretch of quarterback play as the Vikings have had since Brett Favre’s 2009 season. And he’s done it exclusively without Adrian Peterson — a luxury Jackson had in 2007-08 when he started 17 combined games, and a luxury Ponder certainly had for the vast majority of his starts.

It’s not really fair, we suppose, to compare all these quarterbacks. But it is natural, and conclusion is simple: Bridgewater, after his rookie season, will have the Vikings and their first-year head coach thinking far more positively about the future of the quarterback spot than Jackson and Ponder did after their rookie years for their rookie coaches.

Hot Take Roundup: Selig's $6 million retirement salary

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 19th at 4:18pm 286406061

It’s a gift, really. We feel #blessed. On the second day of our pledge to bring you a roundup of the hottest sports takes we can find, news comes out that Bud Selig is getting $6 million per year in retirement.

It’s the stuff that Hot Takes legends are made. As such, here are some of the piping hottest ones we found on Twitter. Put on a fire suit. You’re going to need it!

Five thoughts about the Corey Brewer trade

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 19th at 3:34pm 286397871

randmid_1403631294_flipThe Wolves just traded Corey Brewer and Ronny Turiaf to the Rockets. Here are five thoughts on the deal:

1) We applaud Flip Saunders’ commitment to a full rebuild. Brewer isn’t a great player, but he’s a useful player. That said, this season was going to be a struggle already, and injuries to top players only hastened the Wolves’ demise. Might as well trade Brewer and free up more playing time for younger players, with Shabazz Muhammad presumably at the top of that list.

2) Getting to include Turiaf in the deal is nice, too. The Wolves weren’t going to get anything out of him this year. This is an amicable parting to a nice guy who wasn’t healthy.

3) The Wolves received guard Troy Daniels and two second-round picks in the trade. The two second-rounders probably won’t amount to much, but they are still assets. Daniels can flat-out shoot. He’s only 13 for 43 this season from three-point range (30 percent), but last season between the regular season and playoffs he was 20 for 40 (50 percent) from long distance. The Wolves have a decided lack of shooters. If he can fill a role — and cheaply at that, under contract for this year and next at less than $1 million a season — he could be a valuable steal.

4) The downside to this is losing Brewer. He’s a player with value, he’s a good human being and there is something to be said for young players having someone like Brewer around for stability.

5) Overall, though, we like this trade. Saunders the GM knows that in the short-term it will make life harder on Saunders the coach, but that’s a hit he’s willing to take for long-term development.

Nuclear Wessel: 40 English Premier League matches in 13 days

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 19th at 12:36pm 286376891

nuclearDana Wessel produces the K-TWIN Morning Show with Rider and Rena Sarigianopoulos on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am.

Welcome to the happiest time of the Premier League season, Nuclear Wessel lovers!

Seriously, we have matches on matches on matches. The run from now until New Year’s Day has enough soccer that it could easily be grounds for divorce for a lot of people. Forty matches in 13 days. Every team plays four matches. Get ready for the table to be more jumbled than a jigsaw puzzle being done by drunk person wearing mittens in the back of a moving pickup truck.

Lets break it down for you. We have a normal full slate of matches spread out over the weeknd coming up. Then, every team plays on Boxing Day (December 26th). Then there are two days off before a full Sunday/Monday slate. Followed up by every team playing on New Years Day. I got misty-eyed just typing that.

It can be a glorious time or a disastrous time for your favorite 11. This is where squad depth and health come play a huge factor. A lot can, and will change from 1-20.

So saddle up and enjoy.  One quick programming note: the matches come so fast and furious that I doubt there will be time for more Nuclear Wessels during the holiday stretch. Maybe I’ll claw out an update before the New Year’s Day matches if time (and Rand) allows. I am on vacation for two weeks and the more time my hands spend typing is less time they have to go for the Donkey Kong world record and eat wings. I know you understand.

No. 1: Manchester City vs Crystal Palace at Etihad Stadium

When: Saturday at 6:45AM on NBC Sports Network

Last year: City won this match last season 1-0. Happened just about a year ago on December 28th. The eventual champions got the full three thanks to a 66th minute goal by Edin Dzeko

If you have a pair of cleats and have ever played striker in your life, you might as well report to Etihad on Saturday for a tryout with City.

Yes, the current title-holders are indeed having issues up top. And by issues, I mean they don’t have a single healthy striker. Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic will all be watching the match in their little jumpers and scarves from the seats against Palace. And since watching a soccer match is more fun with friends, they’ll be joined by captain Vincent Kompany who continues to be nagged by that hamstring. Time to catch up on their gossip!

So City are striker-less and captain-less. Thankfully for them they have the grubby Crystal Palace who have just one win since October (it was against Liverpool, but still) and sit at 16th place, just a point ahead of the drop zone.

Even without a striker and a captain, City should be fine, right? But wait! In the completely meaningless stats department, four of the five teams that City have dropped points to this season have been clubs based out of London. And where is Palace based out of?! London. So Palace have that, and only that, going for them, which is nice.

It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Palace could be competitive in this one, but Pellegrini has these guys playing well and they now have Chelsea in their cross-hairs. December sets up pretty nicely for them, too, with matches against West Brom, Burnley, and Sunderland to follow this. If you’re gonna have a boat-load of players gossiping in the stands in their jumpers, better to have it now than after the first of the year when matches with Chelsea, Arsenal and a Champions League tie with Barcelona looming large.

City roll by a pair of goals.  

No. 2: Aston Villa vs Manchester United at Villa Park

When: Saturday at 9:00AM on NBC Sports Network

Last year: This fixture was not a contest last year, with United winning 3-0. Current Arsenal man Danny Welbeck had himself a brace and Tom Cleverley added one to rub Villa’s face in it.

You want a take so hot that it’ll scorch your face worse than Clark Griswold’s christmas tree?

OK. Get your fire proximity suit on….

Manchester United will be atop the league at some point this season.

Hot enough for ya? I picked this club to finish top four but I thought it would be in a dogfight for that 4th spot with Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham etc. But Louis van Gaal’s men have separated themselves and taken hold of that third spot in the table. United have won six games in a row, and if some semblance of that form continues, they can definitely challenge Chelsea and Manchester City.

This kinda bums me out. I was hoping the United downfall was going to last more than a year. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted them to eventually return to prominence. The world is better with Darth Vader, Shredder and Manchester United. But I feel like I didn’t cherish the embarrassment that was the Manchester United season enough. So let that be a lesson to you kids out there, anytime a rival team is laying face down in dog poo, enjoy every second. Take pictures, Keep a journal. Paint a picture. It will end faster than you know.

But back to the match, there is little reason to believe United won’t win their seventh straight game. Villa haven’t beaten the Red Devils at Villa Park since 1995. Villa started December with a pair of wins before taking an egg to the face against the mighty West Brom last week.

United are rolling. Sounds like they might even get Angel di Maria back in the fold. Villa are Villa. United will pick up all three points to tighten their grip on third and continue to show the league they are for real.

No. 3: Liverpool vs Arsenal at Anfield

When: Sunday at 10:00AM on NBC Sports Network

Last year: This one, uh, this one didn’t go so well for Arsenal. The Gunners left Anfield after a 5-1 beating. Martin Skrtel, of all people, had two goals inside of 10 minutes. Raheem Sterling also had two of his own.

Brendan Rodgers is a desperate man. Liverpool’s season has been an abject failure thus far and he knows his days could be numbered. He is now saying he hopes that Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Bournemouth in the League Cup quarterfinals will be a turning point for the Reds this season.

Brendie, I know you are desperate, and I know you have to say things like that, but it’s the League Cup. Semifinal berths are nice and all, but they don’t make up for Champions League group stage knockouts and 3-0 embarrassments at Manchester United. You are grasping at straws here and it really shows.

Arsenal come into this match after demolishing an in-form Newcastle team 4-1 last weekend. You have to imagine they are licking their chops looking at their wounded rivals. They sit in the middle of that 4-8 logjam in the table with 26 points. They desperately want to keep collecting wins to separate themselves from the Tottenhams and Southamptons of the world.

Liverpool have only won three of their eight matches at Anfield this season. They also have just two wins against Arsenal in their last 14 meetings. Something tells me that those stats will be even worse once the match ends Sunday and Arsenal will be leaving with all three points.

Alright, that’ll do it for this week, Nuclear Warheads. Enjoy the holiday season. Be safe. Have fun. Watch the Premier League until your eyes fall out.

Until next time, keep your socks up and your headers down.

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