Wednesday, February 06, 2008


One of the things that I’ve become increasingly aware of in the past year is the influence of paradigms. A paradigm is window that we all have, but may not recognize. It is a deep-seeded belief that affects how we view the world.

Here’s an example that I have heard. Imagine you are sitting on a subway car when a father and his four children get on. It takes the kids about 45 seconds before they start misbehaving, getting on each other nerves, wrestling, and disturbing other passengers. Meanwhile, the father sits passively, almost detached.

Ok, so put yourself in that subway car. You probably feel a little annoyed. As it continues, you wonder if you should say something. Maybe you scold the children, or shoot a dirty glance at the father?

Well, it turns out that someone does ask the father if he could do something. The father reacts almost as if he’s awakening out of a dream. He apologizes, saying they all just came from the hospital. His wife had just lost a fight with cancer. He had been lost in thought. He speculates aloud that the kids probably don’t know exactly what to do with the feelings they’re experiencing.

OK, now put yourself in that subway car again. Still feel annoyed? Still planning on scolding the kids? What look are you giving the dad now?

Here’s the thing: the actual reality inside that subway car hasn’t changed. You still have a detached father, four misbehaving kids, and a crowded subway car. Only the background story changed. Before you were stuck in a moral drama about the decline of parenting in society. Now, you’re in the middle of a tragedy. And so your reality, both how you view this and how you react to that car, is totally different.

You see this all the time in journalism, whether it be blogging or the corporate media. For example, reactions to the drafting of Ben Revere by the Twins in the first round of the 2007 draft were all over the chart. Pretty much the sum total of what we knew about the guy was that he was fast and some draft experts had projected him to go in the 3rd or 4th round. And so we fit that into our paradigm and got differing vastly differing opinions.

Those that thought that the Twins weren’t spending enough money criticized the pick, convinced that Revere was chosen that high because the Twins wouldn’t need to pay him much. And, indeed, Revere signed for less guaranteed money than any first rounder since 1997. Plus, the Twins made moves later, such as releasing Jeff Cirillo and trading Ramon Ortiz and Luis Castillo, that suggest that finances really were a concern for the draft last year.

However, those that find the Twins were adept at finding diamonds in the rough praised the Twins for recognizing Revere’s skill and grabbing him early rather than risk him being gone by the 92nd pick. And in Revere’s first season, he had a monster introduction to the rookie leagues including hitting .325 with 10 triples (in just 191 at-bats). In fact Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the Twins #1 prospect, and the only five star prospect in the Twins system.

But on the other hand, there were also people who were frustrated with the Twins lack of power, and they criticized the pick because it smelled like another overhyped piranha. And, sure enough, Revere hit exactly zero home runs those 191 at-bats, and Baseball America warned that his ceiling will be limited unless he develops some power.

So which one do you pick? Well, all three sound pretty valid, but again, the reality of Ben Revere hasn’t really changed. Whichever one you pick doesn’t tell you that much about Revere, or even about the Twins. Mostly it tells us about you, and particularly what you believe about the Twins.

Hmm. It appears these windows work both ways.

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.