The Speckled Mind

Monday, December 24, 2007

Guest Blogging

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That guest blog was brought to you by my 5 month old nephew, Philip Johnson. What can I say, the kid's got a future...


Friday, December 14, 2007

Good Music Year: Best of 2007

Another year is drawing to a close, friends, and that means it's time once again to review this year's good music. There was a lot of it this year. In fact, there was too much good music to limit to a 'top ten' list, so I'm gonna go with my top 15 this year. I hope you'll join me as I run them down. A few things before we begin:
Now, without further ado...

15. A Weekend In The City by Bloc Party

Bloc Party is a relatively new band to me. Their 2005 debut album, Silent Alarm garnered wide praise from a number of critics. I, however was not one who took notice of the band that year. What can I say, there were just so many other good albums occupying my attention that year. Nevertheless, when I heard 'Waiting for the 7.18' for the first time, I was hooked. Bloc Party is lyrically provocative ('Where is Home'), rhythmically and harmonically creative ('The Prayer') and can rock out with the best of 'em (Song for Clay [Disappear Here]). And, of course, lead singer Kele Okereke is dreamy. You can't go wrong with these guys right now, and I have a feeling that their best days are still ahead of them.

Standout Album Track: 'Song For Clay [Disappear Here]'

14. 'Once' Soundtrack by Glen Hansard et al.

Watch this film. Seriously. I promise that doing so will make you a better musician by osmosis (sort of like what happens if you happen to shake hands with Bono). Both Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova give amazing performances in what might be the best musical of our generation. And, if you think that's an overstatement, watch the film. But, as I found out when I saw it for the first time, you'll be better off if you can watch it with subtitles; some of the accents are impossible to decode without them.

The soundtrack to the film is beautifully minimalistic, preserving the journey of the two fragile main characters in a profoundly authentic way. The songs on this album have a delicacy and honesty to them that dramatically outshines the versions found on The Frames' (Hansard's band) 2007 album The Cost. If you see the film and want to preserve the memory in musical form, I highly recommend getting the soundtrack to the film instead of the full band interpretations found on The Cost.

Standout Track: 'When Your Mind's Made Up'

13. Mice Parade by Mice Parade

Paste Magazine turned me on to this fun little experimental - electronica - post-rock band from New York. And if you're thinking, "Hmmm...Mice Parade is a strange name for a band," you're right. It turns out that the brainchild of this project, Adam Pierce, couldn't come up with a good band name, so he made an anagram out of his own name. Brilliant.

If you like music that's creative but very laid back and pretty user-friendly, Mice Parade is a great band to check out. The tracks on this album--which, though it is self-titled, is actually the band's seventh release--range from the haunting ('Double Dolphins on the Nickel') to the beautiful ('Circle None'). And, speaking of 'the beautiful,' this is definitely one of my favorite album covers of the year.

Standout Track: 'The Tales of Las Negras'

12. The Flying Club Cup by Beirut

For those of you who have never visited before, welcome to Beirut! I am admittedly a bit late to the party on this band. Beirut's 2006 effort Gulag Orkestar didn't cross my radar screen until it was far too late to be included in my 'Best of 2006' list; it certainly would have gotten a nod had my head not been in the sand.

So what does young this band sound like? Imagine you and all of your middle-aged Balkan Gypsy friends went to a bar together, each of you brought an instrument (trumpet, accordion, guitar, etc.), you had about four drinks each and were still able to make beautiful music. That's what Beirut sounds like. The weird part is that Zach Condon is a 21 year old kid from Sante Fe, New Mexico. I should give a disclaimer--this band is not for everyone. My wife, for instance, would second the description I gave minus the 'beautiful music' part. Getting into this band takes work, but I promise it will be worth it. Beirut is making music unlike anything else you'll find.

Standout Track: 'In The Mausoleum'

11. In Our Bedroom After The War By Stars

The band Stars is part of the burgeoning Canadian indie rock scene that has produced such acts as The Arcade Fire, Feist, Metric and Broken Social Scene. Stars' sound is best described as 'Chamber Pop'--a delicate blend of indie and classical music sensibilities. Lead singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Milan seamlessly interact in many of the songs, creating a call and response aesthetic on such tracks as 'Personal' and 'Midnight Coward.' If you're looking for sheer vocal beauty, it doesn't get much better than Stars' unique brand of tunefulness. However, in the interest of full disclosure, if you're going to purchase one Stars album, make it 2005's Set Yourself On Fire. You won't be sorry.

Standout Track: 'Midnight Coward'

10. Cassadaga By Bright Eyes

Conor Oberst got all 'new-age' on me this year. This album is full of references to energy, psychics, palm readings, etc. Dude is crazy. He's also skinny, pretty, misunderstood, angry, and sad...which means that he's still making great indie rock music.

Making great music, of course, is something to which the 27 year old Oberst has grown very accustomed. Cassadaga is his 10th full length album under the Bright Eyes moniker (not to mention a few dozen singles/EP's), and he has recorded a host of other albums under different band names; his creative output is startling. Even more startling is the number of songs/albums that are of the highest quality and integrity. Oberst has become the poster child for the emo/indie rock scene and has drawn comparisons to Bob Dylan for his ability to wax poetically on all the pertinent social issues of the day. For those unfamiliar with his work, I highly recommend picking up this album--it is one of the most accessible he has made and shows a marked increase in the maturity of an already mature singer/ songwriter/ producer/ record label pioneer. Oh, and I couldn't finish this entry without my favorite lyric of the year (from 'Soul Singer in a Session Band')
I had a lengthy discussion about the power of myth
With a postmodern author who didn't exist
In this fictitious world all reality twists
I was a hopeless romantic, now I'm just turning tricks
Standout Track: 'Coat Check Dream Song'

9. Sky Blue Sky By Wilco

Like Conor Oberst, Jeff Tweedy is another seasoned veteran in the music business; Sky Blue Sky is his sixth studio LP under the Wilco banner. Almost everyone I know who is 'really into music' likes Wilco, but until recently I had held out on getting into this band. After all, how many bands can one person really follow?

Apparently one more.

My friend Zach handed me this album earlier this year and said, "You'll be hooked after the first seven seconds." So I put Sky Blue Sky in my car's CD player on the way home and listened as Jeff Tweedy's voice delicately sang the first line of 'Either Way', "Maybe the sun will shine today...." Zach was spot-on. I was hooked, and you will be too--it turns out that there's a lot more to like on Sky Blue Sky than just the first seven seconds.

Standout Track: 'Either Way'

8. Sound of Silver By LCD Soundsystem

This is not the kind of music I usually go for. It's basically a dance album. But this isn't your average Britney Spears (now, if that's not a contradiction in terms, I don't know what is...) dance album. On this nine track disc, James Murphy combines the rhythmical attention to detail of someone like Jimmy Tamborello with the biting lyrical wit of someone like Ben Folds and then dusts the whole thing with indie rock sensibilities of a group like Death Cab for Cutie. If that amalgamation sounds interesting to you, LCD Soundsystem is a band you should check out. Many critics have referred to this record as being "perfectly crafted," and I can't help but agree. It's just one great track after another. If there hadn't been so many good records this year, Sound of Silver definitely would have been in my top five.

Oh, and for as much as my wife hates Beirut, she loves this band. I don't think she's listened to anything else since I bought it last month.

Standout Track: 'New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down'

7. The Reminder By Feist

Time for a bit of honesty, friends. Everyone who bought this album because the iPod commercial featuring '1234' told them to, you can confess under the Comments section at the end of this post.

Just kidding.

There really is no bad reason to buy this album, and there are over a dozen good ones. Leslie Feist is definitely on her way up, thanks in no small part to the aforementioned advertising and some spectacular musical sensibilities. The Reminder was recorded in an old country house just outside of Paris. Feist wanted to get a big, spacious feel to these laid back tunes, so she put microphones all over the place and just let them record the ambient noise as she played. Fortunately for her (and for us), the tactic achieved the exact effect she was hoping for. So, whether you're looking for sweet pop ('1234'), indie folk ('Intuition') or the musical equivalent of sipping your favorite drink at a pub ('Brandy Alexander') you can't go wrong with The Reminder.

Standout Track: Brandy Alexander

6. The Shepherd's Dog By Iron & Wine

Sam Beam, the man responsible for the brilliance of Iron & Wine, has a number of things going for him. First, he is a phenomenal songwriter, producer and performer. Second, he has a beard that can sport up to eight or nine woodland creatures at a time. Seriously--look at that thing. It's amazing. I think they could film an entire Disney movie inside of that guy's beard.

Beam is remarkable in terms of both beard and bard, and the latter has never been more evident than on his new album The Shepherd's Dog. Though it's more eclectic, high-fi and adventurous (in terms of arrangements), Iron & Wine has lost nothing of the musical sensibility that made 2002's The Creek Drank the Cradle or 2004's Our Endless Numbered Days a hit with folk lovers everywhere. The haunting and hypnotic single, 'Boy With a Coin' is easily my favorite track of the year.

Standout Track: 'Boy With a Coin'

5. Armchair Apocrypha By Andrew Bird

If there's one guy who can challenge The Decemberists' front man, Colin Meloy, for the title 'King of Lit. Rock,' it's Andrew Bird. Bird approaches the songwriting task with a mind-boggling aptitude for rhyming couplet novelty. Here are just a few: sycophants/elephants; closeness/mitosis; mezzanine/Dramamine; Sarmacians/Thracians. The best part about this literary fortitude is that it isn't gratuitous--Bird's vocabulary serves him well as he twists tales about the rise and fall of military machines ('Scythian Empires'), existence and location of the soul ('Darkmatter') or fear of dying in a plane crash ('Fiery Crash').

Did I mention he can whistle?

Andrew Bird commented in a recent article that the California whistling champion once contacted him and asked him, "Do you want to jam sometime?" So, whether you're looking for great songwriting, whistling skills or more ten dollar words than you can shake a stick at, Armchair Apocrypha is an album you shouldn't pass up.

Standout Track: 'Scythian Empires'

4. Marry Me By St. Vincent

Many of you probably haven't heard of Annie Clark before; you're also unlikely to have heard of her band, St. Vincent. But that certainly doesn't mean she's a newcomer to the indie rock scene. In fact, she's done time in some very well known groups in the past few years, including The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens' Illinoisemakers. But it would appear she is through playing second fiddle.

On this, her first full length album, Clark explodes onto the scene as an artist who demands to be known by her contemporaries. Marry Me is an intelligent, tactful and highly creative art-rock album that often defies conceptualization. I don't want to give the impression that Marry Me has a steep learning curve--it is actually surprisingly accessible. On this record, Clark doesn't just write songs, she paints pictures--and each one is the kind of artwork a person could stare at all day long without experiencing the fullness therein.

Standout Track: 'Now , Now'

3. In Rainbows By Radiohead

Much has been said about the ways in which Radiohead have single-handedly changed the music industry with their approach to this album. If you don't know what I'm talking about, here's the short version--rather than signing on with a new record label to record, promote and release In Rainbows, Radiohead decided to do it all themselves...and to allow users to decide how much they wanted to pay for the digital download of In Rainbows' ten tracks. Rumors have flown hot and heavy about how much the band made in the first couple of days this experiment, but the band hasn't yet released any stats, so we'll have to wait and see how it turned out (if they ever decide to tell us).

One thing is for certain, however. Radiohead still makes great music. Really great music, and they are doing it exactly how they want in terms of the creative process, the recording and the marketing. Radiohead are in many ways determining the future of the music industry with their every action--it should be fun to watch what the next few years will bring in that respect. Was this experiment a novelty or the way of the future? Only time will tell. But don't make the mistake of thinking that this was some kind of publicity stunt to cover for a weak album. In Rainbows is a tour de force of things I've always enjoyed about the band (and it manages to avoid many of the things that turned me off about them). And, though the band's website is no longer allowing digital downloads of the album (and iTunes doesn't sell it) I'm quite confident you'll be able to find it somewhere else on the world wide web.

Standout Track: 'Weird Fishes/Arpeggi'

2. New Moon By Elliott Smith

There's just so much that can be said about Elliott Smith. And, since he's been dead for four years now--this being his SECOND posthumous record (and I don't expect another anytime soon)--I hope you'll indulge me while I ramble on about this record and why Elliott Smith is my favorite artist of all time.

New Moon is a 2 disc collection (24 songs) of some of Elliott Smith's songs that didn't make it onto his other LP's or EP'; some are primitive versions of songs that did make it onto those other records (notable are early versions of 'Pretty Mary K' and the Good Will Hunting theme, 'Miss Misery'). If you're anything like me (and you're probably not) you will gawk as you listen to this record thinking, "How in the world did songs this good hit the cutting room floor?!"

Most of these tracks are just Elliott and his guitar--not that they lose anything from the minimalism of the production. He can create higher emotional highs and lower emotional lows with sparser instrumentation than anyone I've ever heard. 'Talking to Mary' is a great example. When the song climaxes at the bridge, "It's no problem, I'll just keep quiet if it's easier for you..." you can't help but feel your heart will break from emotional loneliness along with his. Though melancholy is the primary emotion of the album, it's not all sadness on New Moon--songs like 'Thirteen,' 'Either/Or' and 'First Timer' bring about a pleasant existential nostalgia.

Elliott Smith's shockingly sad suicide in October of 2003 left the musical world with a void it has yet to fill. Rest in peace, Elliott. Thanks for one last album.

Standout Track: 'New Monkey'

1. We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank By Modest Mouse

...and the winner is Modest Mouse! Congrats to Isaac Brock and the rest of the boys. First of all, if you've been a half-hearted fan of this band or flat out disliked them, We Were Dead... provides a great opportunity to jump (back) in--the water has never been more perfect (that's my subtle nod to the ever present nautical/aquatic theme that pervades this album...)! Nor, for that matter, has this band's songwriting, arranging, lyrics or production.

Adding notable Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr plays a big part in helping the ease of access factor for new listeners on this album. Also helpful is the fact that Brock sings more and keeps the grunting and screaming--usually a staple of MM fare--to a minimum. There is an undeniable tunefulness in this album that I'm confident will win over anyone to Modest Mouse fandom.

I think the thing that impresses me most about We Were Dead... is its depth and complexity. There is a new place to get lost every time you listen to it. Particularly impressive in this respect are the band's lyrics. Subtle lyrical changes in the chorus lyrics of 'Dashboard' and 'We've Got Everything' (with great background vocals by James Mercer of The Shins) keep these songs from getting tired after multiple listens. Also contributing to the beauty of this album is Brock's grasp of imagery and irony in his lyric writing. Aspiring songwriters should take note of the way Brock twists a tale.

I think this album will continue to get frequent play on my iPod well into the 2008 and 2009 musical years. I honestly never tire of it, and I trust you won't either.

Standout Track: 'Spitting Venom'

Some of you may have noticed that I always provide links to buy the 'Standout Tracks' on iTunes. It turns out that iTunes also allows you to customize a playlist in their store. So, if you find my music tastes to be worthwhile, you can click here and buy all my 'Standout Tracks' from 2007 (excluding Radiohead, which is unavailable on iTunes and Once, which is only available as a full album).

Happy 2007, Speckled Mind readers. And remember--life is too short to listen to bad music.

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Some Days Are Better Than Others

So there I was.

Like any other Friday at 11:40 I was heading home from work, walking through Union Station toward the Metro, when I was stopped suddenly in my tracks.

It was like I had walked into a brick wall.

At first, I thought I was mistaken. Was it really him, or just someone that looked like him? But any doubt in my mind was instantly erased by the sunglasses he was wearing (indoors) and the guitar he was carrying.

"Holy expletive," I thought. "I just walked past Bono."

Seriously, THE Bono. The one, the only. The rockstar, the maker of world peace, the founder of the One campaign. The subject of many, many blog entries by the myriad of crazy U2 fan-boys. So, I did what any self respecting music fan would have done at that point.

I turned around and followed him.

Fortunately I didn't have to stalk him for very long. He was just getting in line at the cab stand outside of Union Station. That's when the debate began. Because, I didn't want to be that guy. You know which one I'm talking about. The one who goes up to a well-known celebrity and makes a complete ass of himself.

And believe me, friends, I have the potential to be that guy.

At first, I decided I would just walk away. Maybe it was enough to tell my friends that I had seen Bono. But then I realized I could never forgive myself if I didn't at least say hello. So, abandoning my fears and throwing caution to the wind, I walked up to the most famous rock star in the world.

I said hello and then told him, "I have a number of friends who would literally kill me if I didn't at least shake your hand."

He laughed, shook my hand, looked into my eyes and said, "Be Well." I thanked him and walked away (with my dignity intact, I might add).

The moments following that meeting are still a bit foggy to me. I think I just wandered aimlessly around Union Station saying to myself (or, possibly out loud--I don't really remember), "Did I really just shake Bono's hand?!"

It was one of the most surreal moments of my life. Words fail me; I'll let Bono take it from here:
Some days you hear a voice
Taking you to another place

Some days are better than others

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

In Which My Old Man Calls Me Out...

I got an email from my dad this morning:

So, the Colorado church shootings deal: Was one of the big questions for you- Why was there an armed guard at the church...what does the church need an armed guard that considers killing as OK- and where are you in this non-violent discussion?

Some of you may recall the non-violence discussion my dad was referencing from a blog I posted last month. It's a good question, and I definitely appreciate that my dad is trying to keep me honest to the real world as I work through the issue of the Christian's duty to be nonviolent in a violent world. So, a few thoughts on this issue.

First, it should be said that this was a terrible situation for all involved. We lament the passing of all the deceased, including the antagonist in this situation.

Second, I would love to hear some more background (as my dad alluded to in his email)--what led to the decision to have a guard on the church's campus? What led to having an ARMED guard on the church's campus? Etc., etc., etc. I want to hear a full explanation of the church's rationale for feeling that they needed that kind of protection. Then, I would be interested to find out if these issues arose as a product of managing a church as large as New Life. After all, I've never heard of a church of 200 - 500 people having an armed guard. My suspicion is that the factors leading to the church having an armed guard were not directly related to the gospel of Christ or the Kingdom of God but had a lot to do with managing the realities of a church of 10,000 people. It's just a hunch.

Third, in terms of a discussion about nonviolence as a Christian norm, we must not allow this issue to be framed as a 'lesser of two evils' quandary. Our only options here should not have been 1) Shoot the gunman so that he doesn't kill any more church members; or 2) Refrain from a violent response and allow the gunman to kill more church members. Such binary reductionist thinking does not take into consideration any of the questions listed above. Such thinking is also fatalistic in the extreme because it does not consider what could have been done to prevent such a situation in the first place. It's a bit like three men getting lost in the wilderness because they didn't bring a map for their journey, burning all of their food to stay warm and then having the audacity to assume that their only options are 1) to starve; or 2) to draw straws to see which of them will be killed and eaten. The decisions made further upstream must occupy the thrust of our attention with regard to the ethics of the situation.

So, with all of these things in mind, I think it's wise to turn to scripture. Two passages came to mind immediately. First, Luke 19: 41 - 44:

41As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."

I could spend ten pages on the exegesis of these verses, but I think only a few things bear specific mention. First, Jesus is clearly referring to the impending destruction of both the temple and Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. He wept because he knew that the Zealots would incite violence against the Romans, trusting that God would protect them and His holy city. However, their confidence was sorely misplaced, as both Jesus' prophecy and history clearly show. Second, Jesus weeps not because of the judgment about to fall on Jerusalem, but because she had ample opportunity to embrace 'the things that make for peace' but instead chose her own way and trusted God to bless that way instead of the way that truly brought His kingdom on earth.

The application is obvious--there were very likely things that could have led to peace in the situation at New Life Church, but they instead chose the false either/or of 1) helplessness against an armed assailant or 2) violence as a constant, ever-ready option to be used. I think Jesus wept over the meeting in which New Life church leadership discussed this absurd duo of violence-laden choices.

The second passage that came to mind was Matthew 26: 47 - 52:
47While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him." 49Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him.

50Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for."

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

52"Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." [italics mine]

Again, much to be said. First, we must not deny the particularity of this passage. Obviously Jesus was speaking a specific message to a specific person and was not giving some sort of timeless truth in verse 52. Also, although all four gospels record this account, only Matthew preserved the saying in this verse. That being said, I think Jesus was speaking (in some regard) about the cyclical nature of violence. As both past history and current events illustrate, violence tends to beget violence...which, in turn, begets further violence. This is why 'just war' theory (or a 'just violence' theory) never quite rings true for me--it is not on a trajectory toward the good future God has in mind in which (Isaiah 2: 4),

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Even if the disturbed young man from Colorado took aim at New Life members because he loathed their genuine love and faithful adherence to the gospel (which I doubt), I still don't think the armed guard's violent response was the right answer. For, then the church's duty should have been to, with the New Testament apostles, consider suffering for the name of Christ to be an honor and a delight.

Of course, I'm not under the illusion that such a course of action is easy. Nor do I recall our Lord claiming it would be. Quite the opposite, in fact. Yet, the difficult, imaginative, humbling, frustrating and wrath-absorbing way of non-violence is the way of Jesus to which each of us has been called. The path that leads to violence is wide and easy. May we all seek the more narrow way.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christmas Happenings

Hi, friends.

Christmas in DC is off to a very good start. Last night, Jess surprised me by getting tickets to Handel's Messiah at the National Cathedral. The sound was absolutely amazing--transcendent, one might even say. A couple of etiquette issues bear mention though:

First, you cannot possibly whisper quietly enough to be unobtrusive in a venue like this. So...SHUT UP! If you want to talk, go to a bar.

Second, if a concert venue has beautiful natural reverb, DO NOT start clapping until the final chord has completely ceased.

In other Christmas news, Jess and I got our first real Christmas tree. It smells wonderful. It was surprisingly easy to set up and decorate--we got it level in about two minutes. In fact, the only awkward part of the process was loading the tree on top of my Honda and driving it back to the apartment. For those of you keeping score at home, the number of odd things I've hauled in/on my Honda are: a Christmas tree and an Ikea recliner. The latter was a spectacular bit of spacial engineering on my part, if I do say so myself.

And I do.

Oh, one more bit of Christmas related material--I bought my first eggnog of the season. I bought the 'Light 'Nog' version, so as not to die an early death. I hope that, in heaven, eggnog will be fat free. Until then, I will have to settle for the lite stuff as a concession--part of the 'not yet' of the eggnong eschatological tension.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I'm Dreaming of A...Complete Overreaction?

Well, friends, it's snowing like crazy here.

And by 'like crazy,' of course, I mean an inch and a half. And they're closing everything. The schools closed at 12:00 this afternoon in anticipation of the inch and a half of snow that would soon arrive. My place of employment had me salt the sidewalks so that 'no accidents would occur.'

Jessica and I may brave the weather and walk down to our local grocery store. There, we will stock up on canned goods and inquire about the possibilities of getting a generator.

Just remember, all ye hardy mid-westerners--these bunch of lightweights are daily making decisions that affect everyone in the world.

Did I mention it's supposed to reach 63 degrees on Monday?

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Hot Stove Update

Apparently the Red Sox are starting to see things my way.

Ladies and gentlemen, we may be getting a new center fielder from Boston very soon.

And his name won't remind you of a breakfast cereal.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Drop It Like It's Hot Stove

Sports, Sports, Sports, Sports, Sports (consider yourself warned, Brad).

Even though the new season of MLB is three months away, it has been on the forefront of my interests lately. A big part of that is the central place the Twins have in Hot Stove discussions in all corners of the country right now.

Torii Hunter? Gone. Is it a big deal? Maybe not. I'll be very interested to see the kind of numbers Torii puts up this year for the Angels. Usually guys like Torii see a major downturn in production the year after signing a big free agent contract (Copyright Alfonso Soriano). And my guess is that he doesn't make it the whole season without an extended DL stint (ditto Copyright Alfonso Soriano). We'll see about that.

The Twins big trade with the Rays was both surprising and refreshing for long time fans of the club. It was good to see the long time "we don't trade pitching prospects" stance soften under the leadership of new G.M. Bill Smith. The fact of the matter is that it doesn't do you a lot of good to have a team with Santana, Liriano and Garza if you're going to lose every game 2-1 due to a lack of offensive production.

Delmon Young is an intriguing young player...when he's not throwing bats at umpires.

Hopefully he's got that out of his system. I just think it's a beautiful thing to have a young outfielder that has the potential to put up genuinely huge offensive numbers. Not to mention his durability--he's one of the youngest players ever (22) to play all 162 games in his rookie season. Hopefully that will continue. Though, I'm a little worried about him roaming the Metrodome outfield, as he's known to be a below -par outfielder. Hopefully we won't see another Lew Ford style 'giving a fat guy an inside the park homer' situation this year. One of those is enough for a lifetime.

And now on to the granddaddy of Hot Stove speculation--what about Johan Santana? My inkling is that we have seen Santana pitch his last game in a Twins uniform. With the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Mariners, Dodgers and Angels all seeking his services, it's likely that one of those teams will do what it takes to land the two-time Cy Young award winner. A few people have asked me if I think it's 'good' or 'bad' that the Twins are going to trade Santana, but I don't think you can put it in those categories. It's just a fact; the Twins often have to trade off marquee players at the peak of their careers because Carl Pohlad is the stingiest billionaire in the country. But it's hard to blame the Twins on this one. Santana will be looking for a deal somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 years/$120 million. That's a lot of coin.

The best trade scenario for the Twins would be to work a deal with the Mets that would bring Jose Reyes to Minneapolis. Mets GM, Omar Minaya, has balked at the idea whenever it's discussed, but that doesn't mean it's out of the question. The fact is, the Mets DESPERATELY need a top shelf starter--far more than any of the other teams listed. I still think it's a very long shot, but anything can happen at the winter meetings next week.

The next best option would be to trade him to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera, Ian Kennedy and Philip Hughes. Not only would that send two great young pitchers to Minneapolis, it would also guarantee that, between Cabrera, Cuddyer and Young, the Twins would have the best stable of outfield arms in all of MLB.

The Boston deal is out of the question unless it includes Jacoby Ellsbury, whom the Red Sox seem completely unwilling to give up. Their loss. If they want the best pitcher on the planet to be a Yankee, their blood is on their own heads.

I guess that's about all for now. The GM winter meetings start on Sunday in Nashville, so the few of you who made it to the end of this post should stay tuned for more information. With any luck, there will be much more Twins news to discuss in the coming days.

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