The Week Ahead: Twins move into new home

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target-field-100407.jpgFor the first time since 1981, the Minnesota Twins will be playing a regular season home game outdoors when they host the Boston Red Sox on Monday.

The special occasion is the opening of Target Field, a sparkling new venue that opens its doors just nine years after folks were seriously considering contracting the Twins. Not a bad turnaround for a franchise that until recently was considered small market. (Don’t tell anyone, but the Twins’ payroll is at more than $97 million this season – that’s 10th in the league and just ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers.)

And while not everyone is thinking happy thoughts about the new ballpark (yes the Twins will have to keep winning for attendance to hold. Sheesh, can’t they enjoy the moment?)  it’s hard not to get excited about the prospect of a good team playing in a nice stadium. I’m sure you Rays fans out there salivate at the idea.

The real question, though, is whether or not the Twins can build a home-field edge similar to that of the Metrodome, where fly balls routinely became invisible against the Teflon roof, and a hitter’s concentration would turn to mush under the frenzied roar of the Twins faithful.

From listening to those who should know, this is no small thing. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, termed the “Metrodome mystique” as “half the battle.”

And former Twins center fielder Torii Hunter had even more to say:

“If we lost a ball [in the roof], we knew how to pick it up,” said the Angels’ Torii Hunter, who played a decade in the Metrodome.

Hunter laughed at the long-held suspicion that the Twins would turn on an air conditioner late in the game, with the home team at bat, the better to carry balls over the fence.

“We knew, when they opened the doors, all the pressure went out to right-center field, so we would swing for right-center field,” he said. “They thought it was an air conditioner. But the doors were let open in the seventh inning to let everybody leave.”

The changing air pressure never seemed to have any effect on Joe Nathan, but who knows, maybe they shut the doors in the top half of the ninth inning. What fan would want to leave at that point anyway?

Of course there will be no issues with air conditioning or air pressure at Target Field, only good, old-fashioned weather issues. But if you’re thinking the Twins will gain an edge playing outside in the Minnesota cold, remember these wise words of Joe Mauer: “We’ve got to play in it, too.”

Besides, it’s not going to matter, at least not on Monday. They’re expecting a high of 74. Our own Aaron Gleeman will be there covering the festivities. Follow him here, and on Twitter.

Red Sox at Twins, April 12, 14-15:
In addition to opening Target Field, these happen to be two pretty darn good baseball teams mixing it up this week. We get Jon Lester vs. Carl Pavano, John Lackey vs. Kevin Slowey, and Tim Wakefield vs. Francisco Liriano.

Athletics at Mariners, April 12-14: Oakland enters the week with a 1 1/2-game lead atop the AL West. Seattle is tied with the Angels at the bottom. What’s next? Dogs and cats living together? Mass hysteria?

Giants at Dodgers, April 16-18: When former New York teams move to California, they take their rivalry with them, and this is nothing if not a crazy, intense rivalry. Plus, you have this.

Mets at Cardinals, April 16-18: Always fun when you get a big city team playing against the game’s best player. Plus, there’s the added bonus of a likely Chris Carpenter-Johan Santana matchup on Saturday.

Rays at Red Sox, April 16-19: Big week for Boston, as after the trip to Minnesota they come home for four games against the Rays. Wonder if the Tampa Bay players will complain about the stadium.

Monday, 4:10 p.m. ET: Red Sox at Twins (ESPN)
Wednesday, 8:15 p.m.: Astros at Cardinals (ESPN2)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: White Sox at Indians (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Giants at Dodgers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Mets at Cardinals (FOX)
Sunday, 1:35 p.m.: Rays at Red Sox (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Mets at Cardinals (ESPN)
*Check local listings

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Tigers in discussions with Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.

Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.

Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero

Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.