Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Sweet Spot

Yummm.... Guaranteed money…..

Something for you to keep in mind when you finally get that baseball GM job that you know you would be perfect for: there is a sweet spot for signing ballplayers to a long-term deal. It is the offseason when they are one year away from arbitration.

At that point you should know whether a long term deal is a good idea. And at that point they are still a year away from a lifetime of security. Anything can happen during that season – they can blow out a knee, or a shoulder, or face a prolonged slump, or watch their control vanish. Ballplayers are naturally risk takers – they almost need to be to choose that line of work – but a guaranteed deal provides them a lifetime of financial security a year early.

The Twins have six players who are currently in that sweet spot. And that sweet spot is even sweeter now, because recent history tells us that the Twins don’t like to come into Twins Fest empty-handed. And Twins Fest starts two weeks from today.

While fans and talking heads like to spout cliched opinions about long-term deals, the reality is the devil is in the details. There are amounts at which a long-term deal makes sense, and there are amounts at which it doesn’t. That's because the team already has a four-year contract with these players, whether we choose to call it that or not.

We'll delve into that and look at the various players in the sweet spot. And since we’re a blog, and thus journalistically irresponsible, let’s also speculate on what each deal might look like. We’ll even rank them from most likely to least likely, starting with:

Francisco Liriano
You can argue whether Liriano or Scott Baker should be the top long-term target on the roster. Either way, these two players are better fits for a long-term deal than the Twins have had for several years. They’re both relatively proven, they’re both a year away from big money, and they’re both high-ceiling players.

The only issue that might scare the Twins about Liriano – his health – is exactly the reason a long-term deal is probably so attractive to him. And after just missing arbitration last year, he’s faced with one more year of a team-dictated salary before a giant raise. So now’s the time, for both him and the Twins.

Here, very roughly, is what Liriano and the Twins can expect his salary to be over the next four years if he remains healthy and goes through the arbitration process:

2009 – $0.5M
2010 - $3.5M
2011 - $7.0M
2012 - $11.5M
2013 – free agent
Total - $22.5 million through 2012

Repeat after me: The Twins essentially already have a contract with Liriano. It is for four years and (roughly) $22.5 million. That's going to be the case for all these guys, and it’s the best kind of contract because they can renew it yearly, meaning there is almost no risk to them whatsoever. For them to guarantee all of that money ahead of time, they to need to get something substantial in return.

In this case, that something had better include at least one year of free agency. But the question for both sides is how long will they want to commit? If the Twins trust him to stay healthy, the longer the better. But if he comes down with an elbow injury next June, just how long do the Twins want to be on the hook?

Ideally, their offer would be for something like 3 years and $10M guaranteed, with team options for 2012 and 2013 at $11M and $13M respectively. Throw some guaranteed money buyouts ($1.5M?) for those last two years and Liriano is guaranteed $13M, even if he breaks down on March 15th. Given his arm issues, I would think he (and his agent) would have a hard time walking away from that.

Scott Baker
There was plenty of talk last season about Liriano and his service time, but the guy on the roster who was closest to arbitration but missed was Baker. He started the year with 1 year and 128 days of service time, and I’m pretty sure he was on the 25 man roster or DL for the whole year, so he finished with about 2 years and 128 days. “Super 2” arbitration usually kicks in somewhere between 2 years and 130 to 140 days. I wonder just how close he was?

Baker’s salary over the next four years closely mirrors Liriano’s. He isn’t the injury risk (in my mind) that Liriano is, so a lower per year salary with a longer deal makes more sense. Four years, $18 million, and a team option on the fifth year ($12M?) with a $2 million buyout seems fair. Congratulations Scott, your ship has come in.

Glen Perkins
It seems kind of early to sign Perkins to a long-term deal, but his service clock begs to differ. Perkins already has over two years of service time, so he’ll become expensive at this time next year, too, and this is the prime time to sign him long-term. His future isn’t as projectable, but I’d feel comfortable that he would be worth whatever he is paid through his second year of arbitration.

That Liriano profile above works for Baker, too, but it wouldn’t make as much sense to offer him as many years or as much guaranteed money. Three years and $8 million plus some buyout options seems fine, provided the Twins have some reasonable team options on 2012 and 2013.

Delmon Young
Ugh. Young represents exactly the kind of talent that a team would like to lock up with a long-term deal, and exactly the kind of attitude that makes that impossible. Given that the manager has resorted to offseason threats about benching him, I think it’s safe to say that we aren’t going to see Young receive a long-term deal this offseason.

Hopefully, he’ll make the Twins regret that decision somewhat this year. One thing that is overlooked in Young’s performance last year is that he didn’t have a ton of incentive to put up huge numbers. He’s still going to be paid whatever the Twins decide. Why not work on that inside-out swing in preparation for a salary drive this year, when he’s playing for that arbitration award?

Frankly, Young might be the kind of guy that you never give a long-term contract to. Better to stick with the existing “four-year deal” the Twins have with all of these players and have him play for pay.

Brandon Harris
Harris started the year as the everyday second baseman and ended the year as the short end of the platoon at third base. And with Ty Wigginton still available (and Cleveland no longer in the market for him), Harris might not even have that role come Opening Day. Either way, considering the Twins have spent the better part of the offseason looking for a right-handed third baseman, it doesn’t look like they consider Harris worth a long-term investment.

Carlos Gomez
It’s hard to believe that a player who is this raw has almost two years of service time. But if Gomez stays on the Twins major league roster for the entire year, he will almost surely qualify as a “Super 2” for arbitration at this time next year.

Hmmm. If only the Twins could figure out a way to keep him in Rochester for the first month of the season…

I’ll say what I’ve been saying for the last two months – don’t believe the bluster about him starting in center field on Opening Day. With five outfielders and four spots, you tell me who the odd man out will be. Gomez is the player who struggles the most offensively (and it’s not particularly close). Gomez is the player who could most benefit by spending some time in Rochester. And it will save the Twins several million dollars if Gomez isn't on the major league roster for 20 games.

Take your time. Don't rush into a decision.

That’s why Gomez is at the bottom of the list. You don’t sign a guy to a long-term contract if you expect him to start the season in Rochester. And despite what the manager is saying, barring an injury, he’ll be starting the season in Rochester. It just makes too much sense.

But hopefully not for long. He could have a very bright future, and I'm looking forward to watching im for years, as are most fans. Hopefully we'll see him back on this list next year, much closer to the top, and nearer the sweet spot. Yummmm…….


This year I'm trying to be very active in Facebook (which I've largely ignored before now) because it provides a nice easy way to keep in touch with my brother who lives in Australia. Part of that includes setting up a Twins Geek blog network on Facebook. If you're a Facebook user, I'd love to have you sign up as part of the network. I'm hoping to put some smaller posts on the wall there to make it worth your while. Just visit the site and click on "Join Blog Network". I'm looking forward to getting to know you all better.


neckrolls said...

Oh, please let it be true that Gomez will start the year in AAA...

J. Lichty said...

No way Gardy lets Gomez start in AAA (yes I know it is technically Bill Smith's decision).

ECS said...

A lot of fans would be disappointed if Go-Go started the season in Rochester. Granted, if Span's playing center, there won't be a drop in team performance- but Go-Go became an immediate fan favorite, and I'll bet his lines at TwinsFest will be huge. The Twins can't ignore that.

Curveball said...

Gomez starting at Rochester would be GREAT! Create a tad more discipline. Give the Twins that one extra season of ownership. Granted, he might surface like Liriano and have some resentment about being played. Which, speaking of Francisco, I do wonder if his agent/him would just as soon play the arbitration game and look for free-agent glory. It's a chance to take. The Twins are victorious only if some of these young arms in the system come into play as hoped.