Monday, September 17, 2007

The Filthy Rich Twins?

Gloom and doom seems to rule the airwaves and print media surrounding this team, especially when it comes to the upcoming offseason. But one fairly significant fact surrounding this team has been overlooked, and it could make all the difference for new General Manager Bill Smith.

The Twins have a LOT of money to spend this offseason:
  • Add up all the Twins likely salaries, including arbitration award increases, and it adds up to about $50 million. (For details, see the 2008 GM Cheat Sheet part one and two)
  • The Twins payroll this year was about $73 million heading into the season, and about $70 million after losing Luis Castillo, Jeff Cirillo and Ramon Ortiz. That’s about $10 million more than they spent in 2006.
You don’t have to be a sabremetrician to see that leaves at least $20 million for the Twins to spend this offseason, and up to $30 million if they increase their payroll again (which a great many other MLB teams seem to be doing, even without new ballparks on the way).

Now, that money doesn’t include money the Twins might need to pony up if they want to re-sign Torii Hunter, but the sticking point on Hunter has never been the amount of money he would be paid next year. The question is whether the Twins want to guarantee him an enormous chunk of ching when he’s turning 37 in 2012 (which other teams will undoubtedly do).

But even if they don’t re-sign Hunter, that still leaves an enormous amount of money for this franchise, more than they had in any single year that Terry Ryan oversaw the franchise. The erroneous criticism of Ryan was that he didn’t like to spend money on free agents. Whether he liked to or not, there’s certainly no evidence he ever had any to spend.

(Personally, I can hardly wait to see the media reaction if Smith does make a big free agent splash. Will columnists speculate that Jim Pohlad is more willing to spend than his father? Will radio hosts suggest that Smith is better at persuading the Pohlads to spend than Ryan was? Will radio callers wonder if Ryan was the obstacle to spending money all along?)

So are there any particularly good fits on the free agent market for the Twins? Strangely, the easiest hole to fill might be the one left by Hunter:

Center Field – If the Twins don’t re-sign Hunter, they can take comfort that there are a fair number of replacements. Brave Andruw Jones is the biggest name, but he’s had a terrible year. Odds are, he would be willing to sign a one-year deal to increase his value again. Padre Mike Cameron is on the down slope of his career, but would be a capable and more affordable option. Phillie Aaron Rowand has a combination of defense, offense and youth that is going to earn him a bigger contract than anyone expects. In fact, he might be as desirable in the market as Hunter. Finally, Indian Kenny Lofton would be a nice short-term solution to replace Hunter in the field and Luis Castillo at the top of the order.

Third Base – The position that Twins fans mention the most (and the one that has hurt the Twins this year the most) will also be the hardest to fill this offseason. The big name is Yankee Alex Rodriguez, but the Twins aren’t going to be getting him, no matter how much money they have. Red Sox Mike Lowell is more likely, but he’s 33 and will be looking for a long-term deal, ala Hunter. Beyond those two, the only real improvement over someone like Brian Buscher would be Mike Lamb, but can he hit left-handers?

Designated Hitter/Left Field – If you’re dreaming of adding a big bat, you would think this would be the best place to start. Umm, maybe not. The Reds have a $13M option on 28-year-old Adam Dunn that I’m guessing they’ll pick up, but if not, he’ll be at the top of the list. (I also wouldn’t rule out a trade between the Twins and Reds for him). Beyond Dunn, you have to start checking expiration dates, because some of these guys are likely starting to curdle: Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and Bobby Abreu.

As one looks at the names available, it’s a little ironic (and depressing) that the free agent market is so thin at exactly the time that the Twins have money to spend. But it shouldn’t be overlooked that the Twins do, indeed have money to spend. Fans recognize that this is a critical offseason for this franchise. We should start expecting it to be a rewarding one, too.

7 comments:

SoCaltTwinsfan said...

The Twins have a lot of money to spend, are loathe to sign free agents (other than re-up their own) and are loaded with pitching prospects in a year in which Carlos Silva will be one of the top, if not the top, starting pitcher free agents. Sounds like a good market for a trade or two.

David Wintheiser said...

Just as significant as who they might get in the off-season from other clubs is who the Twins might lock up from among their own potential free agents within the next couple of years. Leaving Torii out of it for the moment leaves these guys:

Johan Santana - The prevailing sentiment is that Johan is probably gone after 2008, but if the Twins do decide to lock him up, it'll likely cost about half of whatever they've got to spend this offseason. If the 2008 season starts without Johan under a new contract, hope that Liriano has a complete recovery from his Tommy John surgery...

Michael Cuddyer - He's going to get a raise via arbitration in 2008 if the Twins don't sign him to a contract, and he'll be a free agent after 2009. Cuddyer's 2007 doesn't look great compared to his breakout 2006 season, but a .280 hitter with some pop and solid right-field defense isn't exactly cheap in the market (see Jermaine Dye, Cliff Floyd, Shawn Green).

Justin Morneau - Again, his 2007 doesn't look as impressive as his 2006 break-out year, but it could be argued that he's already more coveted than Cuddyer and his power will turn up the volume on any contract he's offered. Consider as well that Morneau has already been quoted wondering if he'll end up staying if and when other Twins leave.

Joe Nathan - You may not choose to believe that closer stats are all that meaningful (I certainly don't), but even a saves nay-sayer has to admit that Nathan has been among the most consistently good closers in baseball since his arrival in Minnesota. If the Twins don't lock him up, some playoff-caliber club with bullpen woes will certainly offer him a big payday to solve their problems. (*cough*Cleveland*cough*)

If the Twins decided to lock up all four of these guys in the 2007 off-season, they could easily spend an extra $20 million or more without adding a single new body. If they don't lock up these guys and instead pursue new talent, then there's a legitimate question as to whether or not the Twins are simply opening new holes to close existing ones, a la the Little Dutch Boy.

It'll certainly be an interesting off-season, that's for sure.

DrJubal said...

As far as 3B goes, the Rockies have both Garrett Atkins and hot prospect Ian Stewart.

It's gonna be tough for them to both get playing time next year, and I imagine one of them (most likely Atkins) would be available in a month or so here.

John said...

David,

All of those players, with their guaranteed salaries or likely arbitration raises are already included in the $50 million figure. If they're signed to extensions or lon-term deals, it shouldn't affect the money available this year.

David Wintheiser said...

John,

Hmmm...you're right.

I'll shut up now.

Kyle Eliason said...

Damn it, John, when are you going to start listing Kosuke Fukudome among free agent center fielders?

Kyle Eliason said...

Also... Dunn:

Poor Contact + Poor Speed + Great Eye + Great Power = Not a Twin