1. Did the Twins make the right move in the Ricky Nolasco and Fernando Abad trades?
Kras: I believe that anything the Twins could do to help Nolasco get out of town is a good move. I don’t think Ricky ever really wanted to be here and he might be much happier back in the Cali weather. In the trade the Twins also sent Alex Meyer, a promising talent who has a hard time sustaining any reliability. The Twins received LHP Hector Santiago and RHP prospect Alan Busenitz. In the case of Fernando Abad, he was a promising reliever that could have been a help to the Twins had they been able to win some games earlier this year. However, if your not going anywhere then try to build on the future, which is what they did when they acquired RHP Pat Light. Light is a hard throwing pitcher that has Alex Meyer-like control issues at times. I am overall fairly pleased with what the Twins have done in building for the future with these trades. Hopefully one or more of the pitching acquisitions pan out. Assuming Hector Santiago doesn’t take a huge step backward yet this year, he will figure into the rotation next season but it will be interesting to see who the Twins will look to outside of that.
Nate Leer: Kras is spot-on that these were the right moves to help the Twins move on from a bad contract and get some future assets. I think getting Santiago with another year of team control was a great move. It gives the Twins a solid rotation piece for next year with a chance to see if he can improve his control and be part of the long-term plan.
2. What do you make of Max Kepler and his recent hot hitting streak?
Kras: Although it is nice to see one the young Twins’ talents have some success, they really would be better off not having the resent surge of wins and instead losing these games. That said, it has been fun watching Kepler swat the ball around and, as of late, out of the park. His 3 home run night against the Cleveland Indians was just the pinnacle of the evening that included a 4-5 night from Joe Mauer and a solid night from many others in the line-up. As nice as the Kepler story is he is still a young kid and some of the success he is seeing now might change once pitchers start to figure him out. I think they are already starting to figure out that he can turn on and hit the middle-in fastball. Kepler has shown signs, with the bat and in the field, that he is a solid player. Now we just need to see it going forward and see it sustained. Much like the pitching the Twins seem to have plenty of potential, but potential doesn’t win games and it will be interesting to see what a new GM will do with this cast of players.
3. Are there any areas of concern for the Vikings defense?
Kras: I think that the Vikings will have one of the better defenses in the league again this year. I believe that they will only get better both up front on the D-line and on the back end. I think drafting McKenzie Alexander is a nice building block to go with Trea Waynes and Xavier Rhodes going forward. I also think that up front they will be solid with Joseph, Floyd, Hunter and Griffen. I think their area of concern will be with the linebackers. I think health will be a major key for this group. If they can stay healthy they will be as good as every other group on this defense. Barr will be an absolute player if he is healthy and can put some of the nagging injuries behind him. Along with that I would like to see Eric Kendricks have another solid season. My only concern with him is that he is not that big of a backer (6″0″ 232 lbs.) I want to see him withstand another year of the NFL grind. I am doubtful that the Vikings will want to roll through the season with Chad Greenway playing more than a handful of situational plays each game. Hopefully Chad can bring some much needed insight into the position that will be likely taken over by a younger talent than himself. Audie Cole, Emmanuel Lamur and/or Kentrell Brothers are all possible options to take over. One thing is for sure, regardless of who is on the field, Zimmer will have them ready to play.
Nate Leer: One other area of concern to me is the safety spot. While the Vikes depth at CB should allow them to piece together a quality group, there is no one that seems like a quality safety opposite Harrison Smith. Andrew Sendejo needs to take a major step in coverage, Michael Griffin needs to find the fountain of youth or one of a couple young players needs to emerge to make the spot a strength. There is no guarantee that any of these things will happen and that could really hurt the D in the passing league that the NFL has become.
1. Where does Ichiro rank among the great hitters?
Kras: Personally I think that Pete Rose is and was the best but Ichiro makes an interesting case to be near the top. Ichiro has not been much of a contributor this year outside of his chase for 3000 but that aside it is pretty incredible considering he had a career in baseball long before he ever came over to the United States and began a long and successful MLB career. Ichiro racked up 1,278 hits in Japan before ever stepping foot in the MLB. Although incredibly impressive I do factor in that not all of his career hits have come in the MLB where the best pitching talent is.
2. What does the re-signing of Russell Westbrook mean for the Thunder?
Kras: It means that the Thunder still have a chance! And that Russell Westbrook will likely put up MVP numbers all year long. The fact that the Thunder were able to get this done with Russ is huge for them. With the moves they made on draft day, the Thunder have an underrated team heading into this coming season. I believe that the Durant-free Thunder will be a fun team to watch. Russ will be the man in OKC and I think they will be a team to watch again in the West. Last year Russ averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds, all numbers that figure to see an uptick this coming season and he could be the fantasy player to own this year.
Nate Leer: I do not trust Westbrook to be enough of a team player to make this team a real contender. I think it is more likely they compete with teams like New Orleans, Houston and, yes, even Minnesota for the back end of the play-offs. Westbrook may attempt to prove he is the best player in the league, but that actually makes the team worse. I see him as more of a James Harden-type stat grabber than a true put-the-team-on-his-back type of leader. He is a better player than Harden but is he really efficient enough and smart enough to trust his teammates when it matters? Durant was (usually) able to create offense by himself when needed but without anyone that talented, there will be stretches of games where Westbrook just can’t get his team the needed buckets to stay with the better teams in the league. That said, I think there is a strong argument to be made for Westbrook being the #1 fantasy player this year. THAT is where he matters most to me!
3. Are the Cleveland Indians in trouble after losing 5 of the last 7 games?
Kras: I don’t think it is over for the Indians but they have struggled as of late. In those 5 loses, 3 of them have been to the Twins and 2 to the Yankees. The Indians have gone out and added some pieces to help the back end of the rotation but their rotation has been giving up runs at a high rate. The Indians best pitcher this year has been Danny Salazar and he has been having elbow problems off and on now that started around ,and prevented him from pitching in, the All-Star game. I think the Indians will be fine going forward and that this weak stretch is just a terrible week that they would like to forget and move forward from. The Danny Salazar elbow issue will be a situation to monitor the rest of the way however.
Nate Leer: I have not been a big believer in the Indians. However, if the SPs can hold it together, they do have a top-flight manager and getting Michael Brantley back could really boost the offense. They do still seem to be the best team in the AL Central but relying on the likes of Trevor Bauer to pitch well in a play-off series sounds like a strategy for a quick exit.