Thursday, April 01, 2010

Ramos and $23 Million

The most hotly debated roster spot in Twins camp was resolved yesterday when we found out that catcher Wilson Ramos will be sent to AAA-Rochester to start the season, which awards Drew Butera the role of backup catcher. It was a hot topic because the better player will not be on the Twins roster.

Ramos is only 22 years old, relatively strong defensively, and hit the cover off the ball this spring, showing the power that makes him a top prospect. Butera, who is four years older, showed he was strong defensively but hit the way you would expect a career .214 batting average minor leaguer might hit. And to be honest, he wasn’t even that good.

However, Ramos isn’t on the roster for two reasons. The more cynical reason is service time. When Ramos is on the 25-man roster he starts earning service time, and that tenure eventually raises his salary and leads to free agency. That’s hard to justify for a top player when he’s only playing a couple times per week. The second reason is playing time. As a top prospect, it would probably serve Ramos better to play full time in AA or AAA than only a couple of times per week in the majors.

On the other hand, you have the impact Ramos could have in the majors. He would probably get about six starts per month so long as Joe Mauer stays healthy. He would also give manager Ron Gardenhire a right-handed bench option with some power beyond Brendan Harris.
For me, at least, it’s an easy decision. Ramos has only 54 games at AA. He likely needs more time in the minors, no matter how well he hit this spring. The short-term pain is worth the long-term gain and he should be sent down.

(And just for clarity, it’s worth noting that this future star slugger currently has just 31 home runs in his entire four-year minor league career. His career OPS in the minors? 790. His career slugging percentage? .447. He’s been young for his competition, and he had a monster winter and monster spring, but let’s be a little careful about the expectations we heap on this kid just yet.)

All the Ramos hype and excitement took me someplace I didn’t want to go. But I’m helpless. I’m a Twins fan, I’m a geek, it’s kind of sad, really….

If the Twins have a catcher who is so close to being an impact player at the major league level (and who cost just $400,000 per year), should they have given such an expensive contract to Mauer? Because while it’s nice to talk about how the Twins aren’t a small market team or how this is such a good signing for baseball, the reality is that the Twins could have spent $23 million per year in a lot of ways.

Mauer’s contract doesn’t begin until next year, and we don’t know exactly how much free agents will cost then, but you can get a pretty good idea by looking at what was available this year.
You can start with the most highly sought (and paid) free agent on the market, Matt Holliday, who hit .313 with 24 HR and 109 RBI in 2009. He could replace Delmon Young in left field. Since Holliday only costs $17 million this year, the Twins could add a third baseman, like Placido Polanco ($6M). So you have Holliday, Polanco and Ramos in the lineup instead of Mauer, Delmon and Punto. Would you make that trade?

Or maybe you would like some insurance in case Ramos struggles. Well, you could bring in Ivan Rodriguez, who signed for $3 million per year, to mentor Ramos. Then you could bring in Jason Bay (.267, 36 HR, 119 RBI) for $15M to play left field, add Mark DeRosa to play third base ($6M). (That totals $24 million, but you can save a few million by getting rid of Young.) So Pudge, Bay, DeRosa and Ramos - or Mauer.

You want a closer instead? There weren’t any who signed for more than $7 million per year, so go ahead and sign three of them. Another starting pitcher? Other than John Lackey and Andy Pettitte, you could get any of them for $10 million apiece. Take two and grab Pudge to fill out the battery. Or mix and match. If you want to see all the salaries, check out ESPN’s free agent tracker.

Between this post, some of my KFAN appearances and my post a few weeks ago, I’m sure I’m going to be labeled as someone who hates Joe Mauer. Nothing could be further from the truth, as I remain convinced we’ll see him joust with the .400 barrier some August before this contract is over. I don’t even hate the contract. But I don’t love it, and I find the juxtaposition between the excitement about Ramos and the necessity to sign Mauer fascinating.

Remember back when supporting a new ballpark meant that you hated kids? Well, now you have your chance to love both. If you’re looking for some cool Target Field Collectibles and like supporting Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota, check out this commemorative baseball or this commemorative plaque. You can find more details about it here.

Speaking of Target Field, Dean Carlson provides a nice tribute to Shane Nackerud of Greet Machine. Back in the day, Shane was my go-to guy on all stadium news and we put together a fun board game in GameDay that illustrated the road the bill needed to take. He really was instrumental in publicly tracking legislators stands on the stadium.


David said...

I know you're not a Mauer hater. Nice job putting the pieces together on what we could have done with that 23 million otherwise. The cynic in me says that the Twins wouldn't hand out that kind of cash to outside FA's, but they did it for Mauer b/c 1) he's Mauer, and 2) he's "our guy."

Regarding Ramos, I think the answer is that people are just excited to see him play. He's tearing it up in ST, he's a hot prospect, so hey, why not have that kind of strength come off the bench? People don't seem to be considering long-term development of the player and long-term health of the organization.

Adam said...
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Adam said...

Excellent take on the Mauer contract situation. This is one of the first "devil's advocate" positions I have seen. You are able to say that you like the fact that Mauer was signed, and in the same breath can look at it from an unbiased perspective, analyzing what the Twins could have otherwise done with the money.

I personally like the Mauer signing, and although it is a lot of money, I belief that his presence on, and contributions to this team go way beyond just his role as a catcher. I really your perspective, and this post.

Anne Ursu said...


thrylos98 said...

Ramos and $23 Million in 2011 can still happen, if the Twins get rid of Nathan and Cuddyer (aging players) instead of Mauer... just saying... add to that the $4.5 M Punto is getting

Anonymous said...

Oh how I miss Batgirl!

Anonymous said...

These money-can-be-better-spent-elsewhere arguments are rendered moot by the fact that there is no salary cap. The reality is that the Pohlads can pay Justin Morneau 23 million a year too!

TT said...

There are a couple problems with this analysis:

1) The cost of Mauer's contract is a business decision, not a baseball decision. How much more revenue will the Twins generate over the life of the contract compared to a team with no Joe Mauer? Winning baseball games is really only one factor in that equation.

2) This is about defining the Twins corporate culture. They are going to spend the money to reward people in the organization, not people outside it. That sends a message to everyone all the way down to those international recruits. The Twins are place you can have a career.

3) Free agents are just that - free. Very few make their decisions solely on how much money is thrown at them. I doubt Thome, Hudson, Pavano or Condrey would all be with the Twins if Joe Mauer was not here. The Twins simply would not be as attractive a place to play. The Twins are never going to be the Yankees or Red Sox, capable of throwing money at players.

4) The Twins lost Johan Santana, in part, because he didn't really believe the Twins had a winning organization. You give up Mauer, how long will Morneau or any of the other Twins players stick around?

5) Take a look at Oakland. They have had some really good players, but I have no idea who plays for them now. With that whirlwind revolving door, I bet a lot of their own players don't see playing there as anything more than a stop in their tour. The A's seem to have reverted to Charles Finley's model as a farm team for the rest of the league. And their attendance and local support reflects that.

You warn against heaping expectations on Ramos and then suggest the Twins should have counted on him to replace last year's MVP and batting champion next spring. Not likely.

Anonymous said...

You can't just let your top players walk when they hit free agency year in and year out. The Twins do have some good prospects but I don't think a team can be in contention for more than a couple years with having good young players and letting them go after 4 years.

Risa said...

Joe Mauer is what you call a franchise player. The Twins now have a recognizable face that not only will help draw crowds locally (and sell a helluva a lot of jerseys), but also give the Twins some marquee value outside of the Upper Midwest.

You often hear about "bringing the best 25 players north" when managers talk in spring training.

But the best 25 must fill certain slots, too. The backup catcher...barring injury...might bat 150 times THE WHOLE SEASON while playing behind Mauer.

So, you cast role players. Drew Butera is the guy to have sitting on the bench, period. If Mauer is healthy, he'll play one game a week, at the most, or spell him in late innings when there is a lead.

The plus for Ramos to be at Rochester is that he can work with pitchers that he may be working with during his future with the Twins.

If you truly wanted Ramos in the majors, today, this year -- you would choose him over Jose Morales. Morales shows no punch, isn't the best defender. But hopefully the Twins can get some limited mileage out of him and HE CAN BE THE TRADEBAIT down the line. Yes, the service time is an issue and the Twins could basically keep Ramos in reserve for 3-4 years and then make him the catcher after that point and move Mauer to 1B/3B/DH as well a a guy who can catch. Think about how much stronger that may make the team.

The bigger issue is Alexi. Sure, the Twins worry about 2nd base in 2011 and Alexi is still an option. But talk about dismal. Like he was telling himself back-in-his-mind that it was totally win-win for him whatever he does...he stays with the Twins or hops to anotehr team. If he stays on a roster for x-amount of time, he becomes an arbitration guy. More money.Of course, he does have to show some production -- has anyne mentioned the name Luis Rivas to his face?

Perkins basically has to perform at AAA bigtime. Even if the Twins trade him and he doesn't throw a clean line with the new team, he'll be cut as right now I wouldn't want to go to arbitration with him. And most teams look at him as a guy that will be looking for a job and forced to sign for above the major league minimum in 2011 -- unless he totally dominates AAA and adequately shows some spunk as a major league starter again.

Casilla and Perkins -- are the Twins buying this additional season of both players and a looksee for 2011 at the expense of someone else that deserves a better looksee? Now that's a question!

SoCalTwinsfan said...

If Delmon doesn't show improvement this year, he can be replaced for minimum wage by Ben Revere. Revere will probably be as ready to play LF in the majors next year as Ramos would be to be a starting catcher. Or you could bring up your hitter who is most ready to hit in the majors and make Kubel your LF. Same goes for Punto/Harris at third with Danny Valencia after a full year at AAA. Then you've got money to go get a second baseman or re-sign Hudson.

Duensing will probably be ready to replace Pavano next year and Slama will be able to replace Rauch. And who knows, if Kyle Gibson follows the path of Matt Garza and Scott Baker, he could be up in the majors by midseason next year.

Anonymous said...

I like Joe Mauer.

FishingMN said...

I do think there's a decent chance that at some point in Mauer's career people will question the decision to give him 8 years guaranteed at that money. While I love him, from a baseball standpoint our goal should be more about winning the World Series than rewarding the home town hero (while I think some actually would prefer to see Mauer here even if it means we can't be competitive).

What you failed to mention about Ramos is that he's not really stuck behind our $23M investment. Like every player, Ramos is an asset to be used to help us win games. His value will in all likelihood be maximized by trading him for a player that won't be stuck behind Mauer. Hopefully he will turn into a top line pitcher or maybe a replacement for Cuddyer or Hudson that will be a part of a winning team for years in the future with Joe.

David said...

2) This is about defining the Twins corporate culture. They are going to spend the money to reward people in the organization, not people outside it. That sends a message to everyone all the way down to those international recruits. The Twins are place you can have a career.

I thought this was an excellent point. Just wanted to share.