Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Iowa Kittens

A few weeks ago, we were visiting folks on the farm in Iowa and met these kittens.

Cute they may be, but the farm already had its quota of cats necessary to keep the rodent population down, so these were deemed expendable. Even if they could survive the hard winter, the farmer figured he'd have to abandon them in a field or drown them in the spring. Well, how could we look into their eyes and just leave them to that fate? We had to take them home.

Since then, they've been staying in the back bedroom. They've had their first two sets of shots, they've been tested for feline leukemia and FIV, and they're doing fine.

The two kittens above are 5 months old, a boy (left) and a girl.

The boy is quite the calm, collected type. When his sisters may be carrying on to get food or attention, he's most likely to sit by and observe quietly. He can be playful, but he also enjoys sitting still with a person and chilling. With his thick, plushy fur, I think he'll grow up to be a nice lap kitty.

The little girl is quite bright, more adventurous and eager to explore. She's likes climbing up on my shoulders, and it's easy to get her to play with something simple like a string. When she winds down, though, she also likes being with a person. As I go to sleep, she often curls up on or right up next to me.

Below, she's playing with a tassle toy hanging from the door, next to her big sister in the background.

This is the big sister, in the picture below, who is 4 months older than the other two. She's probably the most directly affectionate of the three. When I walk into the room, she clamors for attention. But then when I lay down in bed, she tends to go underneath when she's ready to sleep. So I guess she likes her space and privacy, too. She seems especially adaptable to the other cats in the house. She may walk up to one to say hello, but, if the other cat hisses, she'll back off deferentially and go about her business elsewhere.

They're all great cats. They like people and are surprisingly easy to handle, considering how they were left alone outdoors most of the time in Iowa. We didn't even have trouble getting them to use the litter box. But, truthfully, since we already have four cats in the house, it would be a hardship if we kept all three of these kittens. So I'd like to ask for your help. If you'd like to adopt a kitten, or know someone who would be interested, please drop me a line.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Now Playing 2nd, Meet Luis the Third

The Twins acquired 2nd baseman Luis Castillo from the Marlins today in exchange for pitching prospects Travis Bowyer and Scott Tyler. If this sort of deal had been made a couple years ago, I would have been thrilled. This sort of deal really should have been done to get a 2nd baseman back then. Is it what the team really needs now?

Well, Castillo is a switch-hitter, just turned 30, with a career batting line of .293/.370/.356. This past season, he hit .301/.391/.374 with splits of .423/.467/.649 in 120 plate appearances against lefty pitching, but .259/.368/.280 in 385 plate appearances against righties. That's pretty much in line with his 2002-4 averages, as well (.343/.403/.519 vs. LHP; .288/.373/.320 vs. RHP). So he gets on base to set the table nicely, but in about 75% of his plate appearances he has practically zero power.

His park-adjusted numbers cast him in a more favorable light. Considering that Pro Player Stadium significantly favors the pitchers, Castillo's .765 OPS comes out 8% better than the adjusted league average of .747. Baseball Prospectus credits him with a .281 EqA and a value of 25.7 Runs Above Replacement-Level at 2nd base in 2005, which rates 12th in the majors. By comparison, the whole combination of Luis Rodriguez, Bret Boone, Nick Punto, Luis Rivas, and Brent Abernathy were worth 8.6 Runs Above Replacement-Level. So all things remaining constant, Castillo would be a nice upgrade over the motley patchwork covering the Twins' hole at 2nd base this past season. It's probably worth a couple extra wins right there, before we even think about his Gold Glove track record on defense. Terry Ryan didn't have to give up any prime prospects to seal the deal, either. So why do I feel underwhelmed?

First of all, he's a 30 year-old player with zero power, whose career similarity comparables are Jerry Remy, Joey Cora, Fernando Vina, Tony Womack, and Mickey Morandini. Through age 29, his 5 closest comparables are Dave Cash, Willie Randolph, Steve Sax, Woody English, and Delino DeShields. No doubt you've heard of many of those guys, seen 'em play. Some were even very good players in their primes, but their stories after age 29 generally are not pretty. A lot of below-average bats, a lot of guys who were done--or all but--within a few years.

Dave Cash hit .252/.291/.315 (71 OPS+) at age 30, and was retired after two more years.

Willie Randolph hit .276/.382/.356 (106 OPS+) at 30, and had a couple more good years for the Yankees before a lousy year at 33 led to some ups & downs as a veteran journeyman serving 4 other teams in the final 4 years of his career.

Steve Sax was none other than Randolph's replacement in New York; and after posting a 113 OPS+ for the Yanks at age 29, he hit .260/.316/.325 (80 OPS+) at age 30. He rebounded with a pretty good year at 31, but his numbers quickly fell off a sheer cliff after that.

Woody English hit .247/.394/.297 (87 OPS+) in 64 games at age 30, and retired within 2 years after that.

Delino DeShields hit .264/.339/.364 (81 OPS+) at age 30, rebounded with a 110 OPS+, but played only 2 more subpar years after that.

It's not an inspiring group of forebearers.

Secondly, I'm not convinced that Castillo will be all that more valuable than Michael Cuddyer if he were put at 2nd base next year. Cuddyer hit .263/.330/.422 (98 OPS+) this past season, but .275/.344/.450 after his atrocious April. He's turning 27 next March, commonly a peak age for players, so there's a good chance he will build on the progress he showed after stumbling to start last season. I thought he showed quick improvement when given a chance to play 2nd base late in the 2004 season, as well. If the club would plug him in at 2B for next year, it's still a solid upgrade over Rivas and the other guys they've been trying there, and then Ryan still has $5 million and two more pitching prospects to go find an upgrade in Rightfield.

Is it worth $5 million to this club to have Luis Castillo rather than Cuddyer at 2nd base, or a bat with some pop in Rightfield?

My head isn't emphatically nodding yes. I hope the GM sees there's still a lot of work to be done to improve an offense that was, you may have heard, the absolute worst in the league. We'll see, but I'm inclined to believe this is Terry Ryan's big move. I expect we'll probably see a bargain veteran signed to play 3rd base, and maybe the club could bring in a Frank Thomas if he could be had on the cheap. Meanwhile, I'd guess Stewart and Hunter will be back at their respective outfield spots, with Cuddyer, Lew Ford, and Jason Kubel rotating between the OF and DH. Write in Morneau, Castillo, Bartlett, Mauer, and Bargain Vet 3B (Bill Mueller?), and there you have your 2006 Minnesota Twins lineup.

Can you feel the magic?