The Great Jucy Lucy Hunt


MINNEAPOLIS, MN — The first thing I planned to do once I got into town and set my suitcase down on Saturday evening was to go get a Jucy Lucy. What is a Jucy Lucy, you ask? It’s a cheeseburger that has the cheese inside the meat patty in addition to on top. It’s a thing here in the Twin Cities.

A couple of places lay claim to inventing it, but my survey of locals told me that I needed to get it either at Matt’s Bar in South Minneapolis or The Blue Door Pub in St. Paul. I was closer to Matt’s so I decided to go there. Oh, and the reason I’m spelling it “Jucy” is because that’s how Matt’s spells it. I don’t know why. I just go with it and try not to insert myself into local politics as much as possible.

Getting my Jucy Lucy was a process. It started by me getting into the elevator in my hotel and encountering my friend Keith Law, of ESPN. If you know Keith you know that his passion for and knowledge of fine cuisine is just as great as it is of and for baseball. I have dined with Keith before and his judgment has never steered me wrong, so I was more than a little unsettled when our conversation went like this:

Me: Hey, Keith. Good to see you!

Keith: Good to see you too!

Me: Where are you headed?

Keith: To a restaurant called Saffron to meet some friends. How about you?

Me: To Matt’s Bar to get one of those Jucy Lucys.

Keith: [a beat or two of silence] . . . Those sound absolutely disgusting. Oh well, if you survive, let’s meet up tomorrow!

All I can say is (a) I am still alive; and (b) I didn’t see Keith anywhere yesterday, so maybe he was killed by the Sautéed Parisian Gnocchi with spring vegetables, soft herbs and black truffle-taleggio cheese fondue at Saffron. Maybe he shoulda gotten one of those cheese-stuffed burgers? Just a thought.

A short cab ride got me to Matt’s, which looked like this at 7PM on Saturday night:


Those heads on the bottom were part of a long, long line out the door. A long, long line that did not budge for a good while. As I waited for it to move, a Twitter correspondent told me that, if I didn’t feel like waiting, I should walk about a mile to the southeast and go to Northbound Smokehouse and Brewpub instead. That sounded like a capital plan, so I did. I’m glad I did!

Northbound has some fantastic beer, one of which is called the Ground Rule Double IPA. Since it had a baseball name I decided that NBC was paying for it. And I decided to have two. Research, you see. As I sipped my beer, two “small world” incidents occurred in the space of ten minutes.

First, a woman with whom I struck up a conversation said “Oh, you write about baseball? I used to know a guy here in town years and years ago — sorta dated him for a while — who I think writes about baseball. A blogger maybe?” I was prepared for her to say “Aaron Gleeman,” but then I realized that “years and years ago” for a woman her age would’ve put Gleeman in Zubaz and Timberwolves jerseys in the fourth grade, so it couldn’t have been him. But she then said “Bonnes. John Bonnes.” Some of you may know John as “Twins Geek” from Twins Daily, and the podcast partner of Aaron’s on his “Gleeman and the Geek” podcast. Second person I talked to in town knows one of the two Twins bloggers I’ve ever met.

The second small world incident was more of a quirky thing. The bartender took my credit card and said “Craig Calcaterra? Weird. That was the name of my math professor at Metro State.” I know who this is, actually, as he is around my age, got his math PhD at about the same time I was coming out of law school and, because the Internet was new for most of us back in the mid 90s, he and I found each other while ego-surfing, thought it was quite funny and decided that, given our extremely different careers and skill sets, we were opposite poles of the quite small Craig Calcaterra Karass existing in the universe. I’ve never met him, but we used to do things like comment on each other’s websites and friend each other on Facebook in order to confuse people. Make fun of us if you must, but do appreciate that two Craig Calcaterras finding one another in the universe is somewhat less likely than a couple of John Smiths running into one another.

At that point my two ground rule doubles and the coincidences made it feel like the walls were going to fall in on me, so I booked it back to Matt’s. This time the line was not long and I got what I came for:


Oh, baby. If you ever get one, though, heed the server’s warning about it being very hot. That cheese is molten and it’ll melt your face off, bro.

I washed it down with “The Ringer” from Fulton Beer. I guess I could’ve stretched it into a baseball thing and saying that it was somehow related to Fulton County Stadium, but eh. Besides, Matt’s Bar is a cash-only establishment, so I couldn’t use the company credit card anyway. And, really, some things you have to keep personal. Like the Jucy Lucy. Which, though I don’t think is anything I’d ever make a habit of due to me not wanting to die in my 40s, is something I shall always keep very close to my heart. Because that stuff was awesome, yo.

Your move, Keith.

2018 Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Tampa Bay Rays.

A lot of teams start one season looking very different than they did at the end of the previous season. Usually you can see those changes coming as early as August or September. What the Rays look like now, on the eve of the 2018 regular season, however, is very different than the sort of change we assumed as recently as the Winter Meetings.

We knew they’d let Alex Cobb walk in free agency and they did. But we did not expect them to trade Evan Longoria, to designate Corey Dickerson for assignment coming off an All-Star year, to trade 30-homer outfielder Steven Souza, or to trade Jake Odorizzi as spring training was getting underway as opposed to some time later when, perhaps, he could bring more value. The baseball justifications for some of these trades were better than they were for others, but the way they were done and the timing of it all cast a pall on the offseason, appearing as they did to be payroll slashing moves. The certainly didn’t impress the MLBPA, which filed a grievance against Tampa Bay last month, accusing them of pocketing revenue sharing money instead of trying to make the team better.

None of that played well, but if you take a couple of steps back, it’s possible to defend it all by realizing that even with all of those guys, the Rays were an 80-win team last year and would not have had a huge amount of upside this year if they had kept it all together. I’ll leave it to prospect experts, number crunchers to decide whether the Rays did a good job of tearing it down — and I think they could’ve done better than they did with stopgap measures until their minor league talent matures — but it’s at least understandable that they wanted to tear it down and start anew.

Until the fruits of those deals — and the fruits of a minor league system which has been pretty darn good in recent years — are ripe, though, the big league Rays are going to have a lot of question marks.

On offense the biggest question mark is health and durability. Here’s a pretty plausible Opening Day lineup Kevin Cash may send out there:

DH Denard Span
3B Matt Duffy
CF Kevin Kiermaier
RF Carlos Gomez
2B Brad Miller
C Wilson Ramos
1B C.J. Cron
SS Adeiny Hechavarria
LF Mallex Smith

Not terrible, but not durable or, in some cases, consistent. Kiermaier has had some freak injuries, but the nature of his play — hard, fast and diving for stuff — makes that a hazard and, as such, he’s really only played in one full season. Matt Duffy missed all of last year and, let’s face it, has never struck fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. Wilson Ramos knows the disabled list like few others. Meanwhile, Carlos Gomez, C.J. Cron and Brad Miller have had fairly substantial swings in production across recent and within recent seasons. Adeiny Hechavarria and Mallex Smith are not serious offensive threats.

It’s easy to squint and to imagine Span, Kiermaier, Ramos, Gomez and maybe Cron forming the nucleus of a respectable attack, but it’s also easy to see half of that lineup playing in only, like, 107 games, Cash penciling in dudes like Jesus Sucre and Daniel Robertson a lot or putting Denard Span out in the outfield more than he should to cover for whoever. The Rays featured the 14th-best offense in the AL in 2017. I can see a case for it improving a tad, but not by much, and if the injury fairy flies through the window, this could be really bad.

On the upside, most of these guys can pick it pretty well, so the defense should be pretty decent and potentially even superior. The pitching is good on paper too, but there is gonna be some weirdness afoot if Cash sticks with the plan he outlined earlier this month.

Even with the departure of Cobb and Odorizzi — and even with the season-ending surgery to top prospect Brent Honeywell — the Rays have five good starters in Chris Archer, Nate Eovaldi, Blake Snell, Jake Faria and Matt Andriese. Except they’re not going to use all five starters in their rotation. They’re going to go with a four-man rotation and a bullpen game every fifth day. At present it appears that Andriese, who started 17 games last year, is the odd man out and will be part of the all-hands-on-deck crew on day 5, whenever that comes up.

Early on this should not make a difference. There are a lot of off days in the first month of the season, so the need for that bullpen day will be pretty limited. One wonders, though, what this will do to their effectiveness and durability as the temperature rises and the season wears on. Yes, “bullpenning” got a lot of press in the postseason, but the idea that a bullpen can stay fresh with such a high-level of use for 5-6 months with few days off is a questionable one. That’s especially the case when three of the Rays’ four starters — Eovaldi, Faria and Snell — pitched limited innings last year and can’t be expected to go six or seven innings per start in 2018 (who can anymore?). Maybe Archer is a horse, but the rest of your games you’re going to need three relievers to finish things up based on how life works these days. Maybe more.

In light of that, is the bullpen going to be able to handle nine innings once every five days? Color me dubious. I think they’ll be fried by July. At least if they truly do use that fifth day as a true bullpen day and don’t, say, just call up a new fifth starter every week and a half and use that slot to audition organizational depth before ultimately just handing it over to Andriese. Indeed, now that I’m thinking about it, I’d wager that the fifth day plan morphs into that pretty quickly and that we’ll be smiling at the notion of a true bullpen day by the All-Star break.

As for the arms in that bullpen, Alex Colome is the closer, mostly because the Rays couldn’t find anyone to deal him to this past offseason. In support are old hands Daniel Hudson and Sergio Romo, neither of whom have been relief aces in recent years, even if Romo did do well for the Rays after coming over late last season. Dan Jennings, Jose Alvarado, Ryne Stanek and a cast of similarly anonymous guys will take the ball a lot. Even Johnny Venters, who had three Tommy John surgeries, could be in the mix at some point. The cast will be as big as “Love Actually.” Whether they are as annoying depends on who you’re rooting for.

Where does that leave the Rays? It leaves them with some serious dice rolling in the lineup, some good defense, some respectable pitching but a potentially odd and possibly detrimental approach to its deployment. It leaves them with a still very good farm system and a roster that looks really nice for 2020. I think it leaves them in some pretty serious trouble for 2018, though, especially in a division as top heavy as the AL East.

As far as on-the-fly rebuilds go, it’s not a bad one, but it’s still one that’s gonna leave the Rays in the low-80s win-wise at best, with some pretty serious potential downside.

Prediction: Fourth Place, AL East.