Monday, July 02, 2007

What's Next for Torii (and the Twins)?

It’s easy to talk about his leadership, production and intangibles, but both his and the Twins future can be found in the dollars and cents of his next contract.

ITCS (It’s the Contract, Stupid)
In 2001, they surprised the league, and staked the Twins to first place at the All-Star break. Minky, Luis, Guzy and the Canadian – the Infield of Nations. Matty, Jacque and Torii – the Soul Patrol. Add AJ and Papi and you had a core lineup that was young, talented and here to stay.

Six years later there’s only one left. For some, that longevity is reason enough to believe the Twins will re-sign Torii Hunter. For others he’s “the face of the franchise.” Or maybe it’s his defense. Or his offense. Or his leadership.

They’re all good enough reasons, but look at that list of players above, and tell me which trait the rest of them lacked. Dougie was the face of the franchise and a gold glover. Koskie was the team leader. Ortiz certainly provided offense. And Lawton had as much longevity as anyone would require.

Hunter provides some of all of the above, but he’s also still around for a much more practical reason – his contract. In April of 2002, Hunter hit nine home runs, pacing the 26-year-old to a year in which he hit .289 with 29 home runs, and a On-base Plus Slugging percentage (OPS) of 858. That led to a new long-term contract, a deal which ultimately paid him $44 million over five years. More than any other reason, that contract is what kept him in Minnesota.

And so, if you’re trying to figure out what happens next, that’s where you start. Not with a discussion of intangibles, or fond memories, or even with an appeal to Carl’s philanthropy. But with dollars and cents.

The Cost of Torii
Torii’s previous contract will have one thing in common with his next one – really good timing. Hunter’s last deal was signed immediately after what looked to be his career year. That is, until we get to 2007. Whether it is because he has made an adjustment or is smelling the money, Hunter is on pace to obliterate every offensive number he’s ever put up. More importantly, he’s on pace to outperform several centerfielders who have recently had enormous paydays. Let’s compare Hunter’s projected stats (as of press time) to the years some other centerfielders had just before they signed big contracts:

It is almost spooky how close Hunter’s projected totals are to Vernon Wells contract push last year. With Hunter being four years older, he won’t be able to receive a seven-year deal, but five years seems very achievable. And so does $15-16 million dollars per year. If the Twins don’t want to pay him that, recent history shows that somebody else certainly will.

Could there be a ‘hometown discount’? Sure, but that raises its own issue. If Hunter accepts a deal for $70 million over 5 years, or about $14 million per year, he’ll be doing so because he wants to stay in Minnesota. Which means he’s going to want assurances that he won’t be traded, in the form of a no-trade clause. That’s something the Twins have been hesitant to include in most deals. There are compromise positions (such as a trade ‘kicker’ that elevates Hunter’s salary if he’s traded) but that’s yet one more obstacle to overcome before a deal can be made.

And, maybe more importantly, the hometown discount will likely only save the Twins a couple of million dollars per year. That’s not likely to make much of a difference for a low-revenue club like the Twins. The real question is whether they can afford to commit that much money to one player.

What the Twins Can Afford
So we know that Hunter is going to have enough money to purchase his own small country. But will he be with the Twins? And if not, where does that leave our favorite team? The answers can be found in the Twins payroll level.

The Twins are spending in the neighborhood of $70 million this year, about a $10 million raise over what they spent last year. The Twins haven’t announced their salary level for next year, but it’s reasonable to assume that they would bump the payroll another $10 million in anticipation of the new ballpark. If so, the payroll would be $80 million.

Adding up guaranteed and estimated salaries of the projected roster, the Twins payroll should be around $58 million next year without Hunter’s salary. That leaves about $22 million, which should be enough to sign Hunter and add another couple of lower cost players to the roster.

And if the Twins, for whatever reason, can’t sign Hunter, things aren’t all that bleak. They still have $22 million to spend. That should be enough to sign a decent replacement, at least for the short term. And possibly add some other high impact players, too.

Fast Forward
So Hunter will be well taken care of, and so will the Twins. Does that bode well for a long-term union?

Unfortunately, after next year, the payroll picture gets cloudier and a lot bleaker. For instance, even assuming another $10 million bump, the Twins likely can’t afford Hunter AND Johan Santana and Joe Nathan, who will be free agents after next year. The payroll picture gets even fuzzier the year after that, when Michael Cuddyer could become a free agent.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Twins will be able to sign any of those players whether they sign Hunter or not. In fact, you could make a case that signing Hunter might help sign those players.

Or his money might also push some of them off the roster. Which brings us back to where we started – the impact of a contract. Hunter’s new deal, which will likely be with the Twins, could very well have the same effect as his old contract - keeping him on the roster while others move on.


Diggity Dino said...

Re: No-trade clause. I don't think the no-trade clause would have any influence on the contract from either side. According to Cots Contracts, Hunter will end the year with just over 8 years of service time. If the Twins were to sign him to a long-term contract, they wouldn't likely trade him in the first year and a half. After that, he has an automatic NTC as a 10-5 guy. So if for some reason that were to be a sticking point, I don't know why Ryan wouldn't agree to it, on the probability that he wouldn't have been traded before the automatic clause kicked in anyway.

John said...

Great point diggity.

Jack Ungerleider said...

I think this point has been made in the past during these discussions but I'll make it again here because I think it is relevant to the discussion.

One thing that may impact Torii's considerations are what we might call the "Puckett/Jones Effect". Kirby was in a similar situation at a similar point in his career and passed on the Red Sox (among others) to stay in Minnesota and complete his career here, in the same place it started. You mentioned all the people who were part of the "core" when Torii signed his current contract. None was probably closer to Torii than Jacques Jones. What happened when Jacques left Minnesota? What happened to most of the rest of those guys? Ortiz is the exception. So knowing that maybe the classic ballplayer superstition will kick in and he'll want to stay around to avoid a sudden end to his career. :-)

Joshua said...

Time for Pohlad to open up the checkbook and spend what it takes to keep this team together. Time to cut and forget about the losses and remember about the new stadium on the horizon.

Kyle Eliason said...

I'd pass on Hunter. He's 31 and in the middle of a career season... there is no worse time to resign someone. Stock brokers don't make money buying stocks at their highest point.

The really important thing to remember that the talk radio, homer crowd never brings up is that it's NEVER the yearly salary that does teams in. It's ALWAYS the length of the contract.

Watch the Cubs and Angels. Soriano and Matthews are earning their money right now. Fast forward to three or four years and those clubs aren't going to be able to give either of those two players away once their performance declines and salaries stay the same.

How long of a deal is it going to take to keep Hunter? 4 years? 5 years? Anyone remember the last time a 35 or 36 year-old center fielder was worth $14-16 million in a single season?

Dodgers fans already regret Juan Pierre. He's costing the team millions and blocking both Kemp and Loney from full time gigs.

How the Twins financial outlook changes once their new stadium opens is irrelevant because come 2011-2012 they'll be able to get a better return on investment elsewhere.

If the Twins can sign Hunter to a contract of three years or less, give him whatever he wants, but good luck with that. Baseball players and their agents aren't stupid. With guarenteed contracts they know that contract length is the key as well.