Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Finding the Right Lock

There's been plenty of talk about "locking up" Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer to a long term contract. The fans thinkg the Twins need to lock them up. The media thinks the Twins need to lock them up. Even the Twins seemingly think they need to lock them up.

But what if they don't want to be locked up?

Put yourself in their shoes. Morneau has already received a $5 million payday, so he's set for life in any case. Plus, he's guaranteed another $7.5 million, whether he goes blind tomorrow or not. That's $12.5 million.

If he continues to play at the same level for the next couple of years, he'll get $10 million in 2009 and $12 million (at least) in 2010. And this isn't really negotiable, because either the Twins willl agree to pay him that or the arbitrator will force the Twins to pay him that. We're at $34 million. About the only way he doesn't get that $34 million is if he has a career-ending injury this year. And then he still has that $12 million to fall back on.

And then things get REALLY good. Because he's going to be a former MVP, and a left-handed slugger that is just 29 years old. Given the escalation of salaries, he could very well be looking at a 7-year, $100-$130 million contract at that point. And that might be low.

So here's my question - just what the hell do you offer him? What exactly are you bringing to the table?

You're going to need to pay, and pay well, to buy out those first couple years of free agency, because there's a big difference between hitting the market when you're 29 and when you're 30+ years old. And don't think that guaranteed money you're dishing out is going to be buying much in the way of a break on the yearly salaries. Your return is delaying free agency - nothing more and nothing less. And there had better be enough back-end guaranteed money to make it worth Morneau's time to delay free agency.

I'll go with:
$8M for 2008
$10M for 2009
$12M for 2010
$14M for 2011
$15M for 2012
$16M team options for 2013 with a fairly big buyout - say $3M

That gives him a five year deal for $62 million, with a possible additional year that would bring the value to $75 million. It also allows him to test the free agent market while he's still 31 or 32 years old, so he can secure another long-term deal.

A $60 million payday seems like it could get him and his agent's attention, and even keep them from tasting that delicious early free agency. But on the other hand, I wouldn't blame them if it didn't interest them, and if they wanted to keep the status quo. After all, which of us likes to be locked up?


Kyle Eliason said...

Also, how about the Twins wanting to wait a year? A lot of folks are suffering fits of hysterics because the Twins may part company with both Santana and Hunter this season, and now demand we lock everyone up long term.

Morneau's WARP
23 - 2.0*
24 - 1.1
25 - 7.8
26 - 6.4

His 23 year-old season was a half year. His age 24 season was a (partially injury riddled) disaster. His age 25 season stole the MVP away from Jeter (you know it's a cold day in hell when Respectable Media is underrating Jeter), and his age 26 season, while it looks good on the whole, raises cause for concern:

23 - 16/1
24 - 10/0
25 - 51/20
26 - 35/22

Morneau is becoming a good defender at first, which he should be credited for, but his offense fell pretty far from the previous season. His .321 batting average at age 25 seems like it is going to be the high watermark and an abberation in his career.

I think he'll settle in somewhere between his age 25 and age 26 seasons offensively, but if I were the Twins, I'd love to get another year's worth of information before signing him longterm. What if his defense regresses while his offense stays at 2007 levels? How much do you want to pay a five-win player in that case?

As far as Cuddyer goes, why sign him longterm at all? Because the Twins lack any means of replacing him internally in the near future? (This is a valid reason, but I don't know how long into longterm I'd go.)

It looks like Cuddyer peaked in his age 27 season, which was the norm in pre-steroid era baseball. This is all pure speculation, but he seems like a clean guy to me and this makes sense.

Cuddyer's WARP
25 - 1.2
26 - 1.9
27 - 4.0
28 - 4.1

25 - 11/0
26 - 12/5
27 - 38/-2
28 - 28/9

Cuddyer is a lesser Morneau. He had his best offensive season to date in 2006 and had a significant drop in production at the plate in 2007 that was offset by defensive gains. I'm not sure if WARP and FRAR take Cuddyer's throwing arm into account, so he could be better than advertised.

But again, and especially in Cuddyer's case, waiting a year to see if 2006 was an abberation makes a heck of a lot of sense before signing Cuddyer longterm. If he slips again in 2008, I'd let him walk when his arbitration years elapse.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, eliason. My sentiments exactly. The Twins are taking the right approach: extend Morneau on their terms and on their schedule, not his.

I know this might sound like the clarion call of a Cassandra, but is anyone else troubled by baseball's ever-escalating salary structure? When $130 million for seven years isn't enough? How much is enough? And then, for how long is that enough?

Anonymous said...

Let this be a lesson to all of us why you want to lock them up while they are still in their "serfdom" status. The contract could have been had a lot cheaper when Morneau only had another guaranteed league minimum salary, no MVP, and no clue how much he'd be desired.

Anonymous said...

When $130 million for seven years isn't enough? How much is enough? And then, for how long is that enough?

As long as baseball teams generate more revenue to pay them, the talent that generates that revenue is going to be able to demand more money. The reality is that baseball is one of the only sports where the union has been strong enough to get the players anything close to their fair share of the money the sport generates. There is probably a lesson there for the rest of us worker-bees.

Let this be a lesson to all of us why you want to lock them up while they are still in their "serfdom" status.

Should they have signed Rivas and Kielty to big contracts before they had their break out years? Lew Ford? If you are going to apply that right now, should the Twins sign Kubel to a big contract this year? How about Delmon Young Baker? Bonser? Liriano?

The Twins will never be able to lock up every player. And they can't really afford to make too many mistakes where they lock up the wrong player. So guys like Cuddyer and Morneau are sometimes going to get to this point where they can demand big salaries. It doesn't do much good to look back and wish you had made a different decision.

David Wintheiser said...

One of the anonymi makes the proper point about salaries: player salaries keep going up because the money in the game keeps going up -- the increase in payroll that TG has talked about before actually applies to all teams (from the new TV deal), not just the Twins.

As for the question of 'the right lock', I think there's one point that's being ignored -- it's one thing to be tied to a team for 20% less than your 'real market value'; it's something else to be tied to a team that doesn't seem to want to win for 20% of your 'real market value'. Many players are willing to sign for less than their market price if they know they'll be contending for a playoff spot -- the problem is that the Twins, in engaging in the Santana sweepstakes, with suggestions that other high-ticket players might follow (Nathan, etc.) aren't currently sending a message that they're interested in competing, and a player wants to know that before tieing a large chunk of his most productive seasons to a team that doesn't plan to compete.

John said...

Lost to address here....

Here's the thing about those contracts being signed during serfdom - the Twins have generally been screwed by injuries. It is one of the most important factors for this franchise, and it's almost never mentioned, but they Twins have been incredibly unlucky with injuries during serfcome. I talked about this way back when....

Kyle, hate to be a luddite, but what is BRAR/FRAR?

The problem with "waiting a year" is that you have even less leverage, if that's possible. And that's especially true if Morneau has another 2006. Then there is absolutely no chance of getting him to sign a long term dea.

And David, I almost wrote a paragraph but left it out because it just didn't flow. (As if the rest of the story did.) Personally, I think the point about wanting to sign with a competetive team is generally overrated. When a fella gets a chance to sign for $60 million without having to step on a field again, odds are he can live with it another five years. And that's especially true in the same organization that he grew up in, where his friends, etc, are.

David Wintheiser said...


Fair enough, though my own perception is that there are more players willing to sign below-market contracts to play for 'competitors' these days than there were -- having your games in August and September mean something matters, too.

As for BRAR/FRAR, I think it's Batting Runs Above Replacement/Fielding Runs Above Replacement. My feelings about stats using the arbitrary definition of 'replacement' should be known enough that I don't need to derail this conversation explaining them.


Kyle Eliason said...

BRAR - Batting Runs Above Replacement
FRAR - Fielding Runs Above Replacement