The TwinsGeek iPhone started buzzing this afternoon as Twins Territory digested LaVelle E Neal's report that the Twins have cut off negotiations with Casey Blake. That sounds like reason enough for a mid weekend update....
As usual, the sticking point wasn't money per year, but the length of the guaranteed deal. The common wisdom about the Twins is that they are too damn cheap to pay free agents, but if you look at who they lost and why, it becomes apparent that the sticking point is almost always about the length of the deal, not the money. Pick your favorite ex-Twins - Santana, Hunter, Koskie, Guardado - nearly every player the Twins lost because they wouldn't guarantee money several years down the road, not because they weren't in the ballpark for the upcoming year.
The exception that proves the rule is David Ortiz. Good lord, the further we get away from that move, the more tragic it appears to be. And I'm not being critical of the Twins when I say that, any more than I'm critical of someone who is blindsided by a speeding bus at an intersection. I didn't see it coming either. That doesn't make it less tragic.
Anyway, it's the length of the deal, not the amount of the deal, that dictates signing Mike Lamb and Adam Everett and Tony Batista and Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson and....
Holy cow. I can't go on listing these guys. I think I could name twenty of them. This started as such an upbeat entry. Instead I've stumbled into Big Papi memories and a litany of guys who are working their way out of the league. Let's get back to the main point....
It's defendable to not guarantee a 35-year-old Casey Blake that you're going to pay him $7-8 million three years from now. But let's hope that after taking that rather bold stand that the Twins don't chicken out in a month or two. If they're willing to walk away from Blake over that 2011 paycheck to stick with the Brian Buscher/Brandon Harris platoon, please don't cave in with a Ty Wigginton trade or a free agent contract for Morgan Ensberg in January.
The financial critics of the Twins can rightly claim that it doesn't really matter whether the Twins don't sign these guys because they don't want to spend the money or because they don't want to guarantee a long term deal. Either way, they don't get them.
It's a valid criticism because this looks to be the second year in a row where the Twins will leave tens of millions of dollars of projected payroll on the table (or more accurately, in Carl's pockets). With a farm system that produces major-league ready talent and a hard-wired resentment towards long-term deals, this club is having a lot of money finding a way to spend it's money.
It's easy to say they can always find a way to spend that money, but try doing some analysis on how you would spend $20 million if it couldn't be on MLB players. The Twins will rarely spend much in the draft because they draft low and don't want to undermine the draft slot system that was created to protect them. Long term deals don't require money up front like NFL contracts do, and all it really saves is a million or two down the road. International players and complexes aren't something you throw an extra $10 millon at in one year - you set a budget that provides a long-term commitment to its development. And it's not like you can roll all the money over to the next year - Uncle Sam takes his chunk at the end of the year, whether you spend it or not.
The Twins might need to start getting a little more creative with their contracts. Instead of offering Blake a 3-year $22 million deal, how about a 2-year $18 million deal? Or even a 1-year, $13 million deal? Or a series of one-year deals for $11 million with player options that vests if he has 500 at-bats? Yeah, it's crazy money to spend on Casey Blake. But it's even crazier to spend it on nothing.
A New Name
Neal was nice enough to throw out a new name for us - Jason Donald, the shortstop prospect of the Philadelphia Phillies. He's right-handed and did fairly well in AA (.307/.391/.458) as a 23-year-old. That's not young for that level, but those are nice enough numbers, and Neal points out that he had a very nice stint in the Arizona Fall League too. I'm sure the Twins would love to have him in their organization.
But he also doesn't profile as someone the Twins would assume is ready for a starting major league job this spring. So even if they do trade for him, they're going to need to figure out something for this year, and that something will likely smell a lot like Juan Castro/Adam Everett. Oh, and is it likely that the Phillies will be willing to part with him for a back-end starter? Nope.
Apparently Rafael Furcal just walked away from a 4-year $35-40 million offer from the Athletics, and that leaves him with.....well, nobody's sure that leaves him with anything. Like Blake, the market for him seems much leaner than anyone really anticipated two months ago. Is he worth taking a look at?
Well, he doesn't address the Twins greatest need, the power right-handed bat. But he's a disciplined switch-hitter and leadoff guy who would be an asset at the top of the order. His career OBP is .352, and he's good for 25-30 stolen bases per year, providing he stays healthy. He wasn't last year, missing most of the season with back surgery, and that's pretty clearly scared some suitors off.
But at just 31 years old, he's the kind of guy the Twins could give a four-year deal to and feel confident the latter years won't be wasted. And it's not like the Twins have some high-impact middle infielders that he would block. And it's not like the Twins don't have the money.
Hmm....Span, Furcal, Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Kubel, Young, Buscher/Harris, Casilla. I'd be OK with that.
Yeah, Furcal is worth considering and talking to. He has plenty of upside compared to somone like Blake, and despite a longer deal it looks less risky. He makes sense for the Twins, if they choose to try and shock the world.