Monday, February 04, 2008

Could We Have Kept Santana?

Could we have kept him?

I know the general consensus is that the Twins couldn’t have kept Johan Santana, but what is that consensus based on? Raw numbers? Um, compared to what? Total revenues that the team doesn’t publish? Anticipated payroll? If so, I haven’t seen it. History? Only nominally, since before this offseason, the Twins hadn’t lost a truly big name to free agency since Jack Morris.

No, the general consensus is based mostly on spin. Spin that Pohlad is cheap. Spin that the Twins are ultra-conservative when it comes to long-term deals. Spin that this is Minnesota, and we just don’t hang onto the superstars for very long. And in this case, the spin was right.

But could we have kept him?

At first glance, the contract Santana signed with the Mets isn’t too terribly different from the one the Twins offered. It was reported that the Twins offered a five-year, $100 million contract on top of the $13 million contract they already had with Santana for 2008. Let’s break that down and see what it looks like:

Year Twins Mets Difference
2008 $13M $19M $6M
2009 $18M $20M $2M
2010 $19M $21M $2M
2011 $20M $22.5M $2.5M
2012 $21M $24 $3M
2013 $22M $25.5M $3.5M
2014 $0 $5.5M* $5.5M*

*The Mets have a $5.5M buy-out option of a $25M team option for 2014. It will automatically vest based on innings or awards Santana wins.

Let’s throw out all kinds of caveats. First, the breakdown of the Twins offer is just a best guess – it was likely broken down differently - but the totals mesh. Second, my details on Santana’s contract comes from Cot’s Basball Contracts site, which I find to be an invaluable resource, but not necessarily an infallible resource. And finally, the innings or awards that are necessary to automatically vest the 2014 year of the contract haven’t been reported (as far as I know). If they’re ridiculously easy, that last year should read $25.5M instead of just the buyout clause. But usually, one just uses the buy-out option money, since that’s the only money that is truly guaranteed.

You probably saw a bunch of numbers and skipped over it, right? If so, just take a second and look at that last column. If those numbers in the Difference column are added up, the total is $24.5M. That’s a prohibitively large number, and the kind that drives premier free agents into the arms of the Mets, Yankees, etc.

But should it? I gotta tell you, individually they make a Twins Geek squirm. For instance, the biggest number in that difference column is the $6M total for next year, but that was absolutely in reach. Not to beat a dead horse, but the Twins are still under payroll. They could’ve paid that and still have been under their anticipated payroll budget for next year. (And that even includes the signing bonuses that the Twins gave Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau as part of their long-term deals).

Then we get to the five middle years of the deal. One can probably argue that the Twins can find better ways to spend $20M or $25M than to put it towards one pitcher. But I think you can also argue that if the difference between having the best pitcher on the planet and not having him is $2M to $3.5M, then maybe they’re best off stretching just a bit. Especially when that marginal money has historically been used to sign a veteran player for a secondary role, like Jeff Cirillo or Craig Monroe or Ramon Ortiz. Would they really be missed?

And, finally, we get to the option year. Would the Twins have been so opposed to a team-owned option year? Hell no. Obviously, they would want to make sure that the incentives for automatically vesting would virtually ensure that Santana was still one of the top pitchers in the majors. But beyond that, there is no risk there, and the only real cost is the $5.5 million buyout.

And, unfortunately, it gets worse. Because it turns out that contract defers about $5M of each years’s salary for later payments, which means the real value of each year comes down a couple of million dollars.

The biggest remaining questions are about Santana himself. Did he want to stay? Did he want to shine in a bigger market? Would he have accepted a similar offer from the Twins? And if you think he would, then why didn’t he accept a slightly smaller offer? We can’t answer those questions, and I’m not sure that the Twins or Santana’s agent or even Santana could.

But it doesn’t look like the numbers should have been the unrelenting roadblock. It might be that a lower revenue team like the Twins just doesn’t have any business risking that much on a single player. So it’s not something I can condemn the Twins for.

But yes, it looks like we could have kept him.

Sorry, I didn’t post yesterday. I was out of town, at a cabin in the middle of Wisconsin, wrapping up a weekend with the guys. The cabin is luxurious, but essentially “off the grid”, with no cell phone or internet access.

The guys, on the other hand, are generally not luxurious, and rarely off the grid. They’re also all about my age, and some of them are very old friends, and some of them are newer friends. The weekend is traditionally spent recalling our shared memories, comparing notes and busting each others chops. (Oh, and taking money from Jimbo in the Sunday Super Bowl Pool. That’s definitely become a tradition.)

It comes with a high price since we each leave our families to participate, but it is undoubtedly worth it. The stories about each other and abuse thrown at each other reaffirm and reconnect bonds that time, distance and life weaken. And this year, an inordinate amount of time was spend reflecting on the last year, and candidly evaluating our own and each other’s victories and struggles. That's the kind of feedback that is invaluable, made more so because it is not always comfortable.

It is not unusual for friends that you have in college or early in you adult career to be friends for the rest of your life. But it's also not unusual for them to fade away. That is a real loss because time adds a dimension to a relationship that cannot be replaced, and that was reaffirmed this weekend. Thank you to everyone who joined me this weekend, and everyone from their families who made it possible. I'm already looking forward to next year.


Anonymous said...

Maybe we could of afforded him, but what you leave out of the equation is the possiblity that Johan did not want to pitch for Minnesota anymore. As a publicity move, he wouldn't come out and say it, but maybe now the contact is signed sealed delivered, he'll say something.

If that report is true about the 5/100 , I think thats a pretty good offer by the Twins, and if Johan wanted to stay we would of taken that offer

I'm not a great baseball mind, nor to cliam to be, but after a couple days of reflecting, I think Johan just did not want to be a Twin anymore.

Bryce said...

Yeah- and if we could have afforded him that wouldn't make it a smart move to give a pitcher a seven year contract.

Anonymous said...

Bryce brings a good point - another missing element of the equation is the percent of the overall payroll Santana would represent. For a hypothetically $120+mm Mets 2008 payroll, Santana would represent a sixth of the team's overall investment in players. For a hypothetically $80mm Twins 2008 budget, Santana's checks amount to a quarter of payroll. Not a huge price to pay for the best pitcher in baseball, but there's no way the Twins could contend if Santana gets injured. We could've easily afforded Santana - just as long as we were guaranteed a consistently high level of performance. A larger budget team like the Mets is capable of diversifying its risk, letting them more easily absorb a catastrophic injury to a key player. Now, the Twins payroll isn't mandated to be as low as it is - the new stadium will help, as would a looser Pohlad pocketbook. However, given the parameters Smith is playing with, a six-year, one quarter of payroll deal for a pitcher isn't great team or business management.


Anonymous said...

Let it go, Geek. Santana is gone. Time to move on.

Anonymous said...

i admire smith for making this move. he set the contract limit at 5 years. santana wanted more so a deal wasn't going to work out. there is a reason he set the length at 5 years and didn't want to go over that. at some point you have to stick to your guns.

Ryan said...

Plain and simple, I don't think Johan wanted to be here either. The Twins made a good faith effort to sign him and legitimately wanted to, but he didn't want to be here anymore.

Anonymous said...

I vividly remember the Geek second-guessing the Twins when they signed Santana to his previous 4 year, $40 mil contract, arguing at that time that it was an enormous portion of overall payroll to allocate to a starting pitcher. Granted, at that point Santana was a less-proven commodity than he is now, but his "stuff" hasn't changed and he was only 24 then with plenty of innings and pitches left in that left arm. Now he's approaching 30, has had some elbow issues, ended the 2007 season unimpressively, led the AL in HR's surrendered, and criticized management during the season (maybe it was warranted, but still)... and the Geek thinks the Twins should have broken the bank for him? Really? I don't quite get it. Yes, Santana has been a GREAT pitcher for the last 5 years, likely the best pitcher in Twins' history, but tomorrow offers no guarantees, and the recent past shows some things that might cause some concern about Santana's ability to sustain his greatness. Hey, I would have loved to have seen him stay, and I'm not doing cartwheels over the deal with the Mets, but let's see how things play out a bit.

Anonymous said...

Zambrano signed a shorter deal. Apparently Johan wasn't willing to do that. Makes me think that Santana pushed the Twins to trade him. It might be fallout from the Castillo trade and Hunter's departure.

Yes, in theory we could have kept him. But we don't know what "rules" the Twins were forced into playing by.

sploorp said...

I think it's a little unfair to compare what the Twins offered Santana to stay and what the Mets finally wound up signing him for.

First off, whatever Minnesota offered Santana, no matter how many years or how much money, would have probably been passed on and used to up the Mets offer.

Even the first 4 year 80 million dollar offer would have still made Santana the highest paid pitcher in baseball. Clemens made a little more in 2006, but that was a desperate Yankees team and it was only for one year.

Things Smith has said in passing leads me to believe that the Twins were negotiating with Santana through out the winter - trying to find some sort of middle ground that both sides could live with. I don't know specifics other then a 5th year was added.

These deals weren't chicken feed, they were both damn good deals. In the entire history of baseball, only one pitcher ever got a larger total contract and that was Zito. Is there one person in all of baseball that thinks the Zito deal was a smart move? Is there anybody that thinks it was a good deal? No way! It was a stupid move and the Giants are going to regret it every year for the entire duration and then some.

The offers Minnesota made were fair deals that would require tremendous sacrifice and carried great risk. The Red Sox and the Yankees are two of the richest teams in the majors and they weren't willing to take that risk.

Although the Mets decided to go ahead and take that risk, a lot of what made them do it was their complete and total collapse at the end of last season. If they even so much as played .500 baseball for the last two weeks of last season, they would have won the division and probably also had home field advantage as well. I would have to wonder if they would even be in this thing if things didn't end quite so bad for them last year.

If two of the richest teams in baseball were unwilling to take on Santana's contract, how can anybody think it would be a good move for the Twins?

sploorp said...

One last thought...

The Mets also were giving up four of their ten best prospects. They kept there best overall prospect and their best pitching prospect - we got the cream of what was left.

That could really come back to haunt them.