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ISSUE 119 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/4/2005

Inside the Lines: One last swing

By Ryan Maus
Staff Writer

Friday, November 4, 2005

As the calendar flips over to November, we have officially entered the winter sports season. Professional and college football has been in full swing for two months, the NHL is back and skating (finally) and the NBA gets underway this week. There should be plenty to keep sports fans occupied as winter tightens its icy grip around the Upper Midwest.

However, even if you’ve already moved on to more pertinent topics, I’m not quite ready to leave summer in the rearview mirror. Although you probably didn’t watch it (TV ratings were at an all-time low), the World Series just ended last week, as the Chicago White Sox captured their first championship since 1917.

Often billed as “the second team in America’s second city” in reference to their traditional status behind the nationally-beloved Cubs, the White Sox simply tore through the competition this year, never falling out of first place. All this came from a team that most pundits (myself included) predicted would finish no higher than third in their own division. The Pale Hose didn’t have a massive payroll and won the old-fashioned way: with pitching, defense and timely hitting.

While we know the White Sox will be primed to defend their title in 2006, what is the outlook for the rest of the league? Even though the “Hot Stove League” has been cooking for a mere week, plenty has already taken place, with much more to come. Managers and general managers have been replaced with seemingly reckless abandon since the start of October, and over 100 players have already filed for free agency.

This winter’s free agent market is arguably the weakest in many years. There are no true superstars available for purchase this season – flame-throwing righthander A.J. Burnett figures to be the top prize, and despite a history of arm problems, he will probably garner around $50 million from a pitching-hungry large market team. Paul Konerko’s postseason heroics have driven his price into the $15 million per year range, and Boston fan favorite Johnny Damon will undoubtedly find a team willing to pay handsomely for both his hitting prowess and swoon-inducing good looks.

Yet, if you happen to be a fan of Minnesota’s hometown nine, all this free agent posturing means very little. The Twins, as always, are unlikely to make a noticeable splash on the market this winter. However, it is generally acknowledged in Twins territory that general manager Terry Ryan needs to make some drastic changes before 2006 if his team is to rebound from a disappointing 2005 campaign. The Twins have the pitching to compete with the White Sox and Indians in the suddenly-fearsome American League Central Division, but they are woefully lacking offensively.

Don’t be surprised if the team makes a blockbuster trade this winter involving five-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter; he is scheduled to make $12 million next year and is coveted by many teams, including the Yankees. $12 million can buy a lot of offense (far more than Hunter’s average output of 25 homers, 85 RBIs and a .270 batting average) and the Twins already have an above-average centerfielder in Lew Ford.

So, as you turn your attention to the gridiron, basketball court or ice arena, keep one eye on the baseball news this winter. It promises to be an eventful few months, and perhaps thinking about this summer pastime will help you stay warm as temperatures take that inevitable plunge into oblivion.

For me, the countdown has already begun: Only 103 days until spring training 2006…

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