Monday, January 14, 2008

Charge of Betrayal

The Twins caravan started yesterday, meaning that players, announcers and some members of the front office will be making their way across the state. They'll play a promotional video, participate in some silly activities, and answer fan's questions. And, of course, hope that nobody in that community can do math.

Because the math this year is damning for the Twins. The math says that this year, the year after the Twins gained a ballpark on the public's dime, they're going to cut payroll. The only question is, how much?

Here's the numbers, with reasonable estimates of those players who will be entering arbitration:

Major league baseball's revenues have increased around 9% in the last year, and the Twins spent a little over $70 million last year. Which means that the Twins could have been expected to increase their payroll to around $80 million - if they were a team that wasn't due a huge boost in revenue.

But of course, that's exactly what they are due. On top of the increases that every other team is expecting, the Twins can expect a $30 million boost, by their own estimates, fueled by the new ballpark. So you tell me what a reasonable payroll level would be? $85 million? $90 million?

But like a gloriously bad infomercial, just wait, there's more. Because the estimate above contains Johan Santana's salary, and most Twins fans would conclude that the likelihood of him being on the payroll on Opening Day is slim. Which means the payroll would be closer to $53 million.

That's about $30 million less than it should be. That's more than A-Rod will make this year. And it's $18 million less than it was last year. Which is more than Torii Hunter will be making in Anaheim.

Think they'll just put that money towards some long-term deal? Wrong. That's not the way business works. It's not like it's going to go into some trust account to be used in case of an emergency. That money is for THIS year. And even if it rolls over to next year, it certainly isn't rolling over to 2010, which is when the real budget crunch hits. And it certainly isn't going to extend the number of years offered to Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer. That money needs to be there in 2011 and 2012.

This may not be the result of outright greed - personally I think it's more the result of the risk adverse nature of the organization - but it's certainly going to be perceived as such. And, frankly, as one of the bigger defenders of the frugal nature of some of their signings, they deserve any and all criticism they get, regardless of the cause. Maybe they were painfully conservative, afraid to offer big money to a free agent until they had moved Santana. Or maybe they were just unsuccessful in wooing a free agent that we don't know about. Either way, it doesn't reinforce a sense of confidence in managment. Or competence of management.

Or maybe the popular perception is right, and their owner is a greedy sucking pig. Certainly, the math seems to suggest as much. Hopefully the participants of the caravan (and Twins Fest) may soon find out that arithmatic is still alive and strong in Minnesota's eduational system.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

An Early Spring Invitation

Twins sign RHP-Zach Day to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
Twins sign LHP-Randy Keisler to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

You gotta love being a Twins blogger.

For most teams, being a blogger is a grind in the offseason. Sure, they might have some big free agent signings that we don't get to enjoy, but mostly they need to wait until spring training to warm up those mental muscles.

Not us. We've already had one enormous trade completed. And we've lost a giant part of our recent history. Of course, Santana trade talk has kept us all busy. And now, just when things look a little staid, the Twins give us this unexpected present - a pair of signings that seem designed to launch us into spring training mode.

They are literally begging me to write an article that could as easily be published at the end of March as in the middle of January. Because these signings are a fantastic example of a strength and weakness that this organization has displayed repeatedly for the last half dozen years. And the signing indicates that we'll likely see them again.

The signing of Zach Day is the scary one, but the problem with signing Day isn't Day's play, per se. (Or his pay. In fact, you may say their way to pay Day is OK. Hmmm, I might like having Day on this team more than I thought.) No, the problem is that Day is another in the line of pitchers like Ramon Ortiz or Rick Helling. He could be perceived as a veteran by a coaching staff whose salivation glands activate when the words "veteran pitching" are uttered. It's very likely that Day ends up pitching way more innings than he should in this organization. I would estimate the number of rants about this topic in various blogs at the end of March to be 97.5.

In reality, Day is a pitcher who hasn't thrown even 100 innings in the major leagues since 2004. He's also only thrown 372.2 innings in his major league career. As you've likely already heard, he's coming back from rotator cuff surgery, which is damn hard surgery to ever come back from. And even at his "peak", he was only striking out half as many batters as he pitched innings. Which wouldn't be terrible if he didn't walk almost as many.

So let's recap - he was never particularly good, and the last time he was used regularly was four years ago. And he's trying to recapture that "magic" after a surgery that has ended more than one career. Oh, and given the coaching staff's predisposition towards protecting their young, there's a better than 50% chance he'll be on the starting staff on Opening Day. Really, the only good news is that his presence will likely goad Bat Girl to come out of retirement for some Dr. Seuss rhymes.

Well, that's not the only good news, because the Twins also signed Randy Keisler. Again, this isn't so much about Keisler as it is how he will be used. Keisler is also a veteran (31 years old), but really hasn't done much starting since he bounced in and out of the back end of the Yankees rotation back in 2001. And yes, I know saying s0meone bounced in and out of the back end of anything probably isn't especially flattering.

But this really is good news, because Keisler looks like a piece that could fit nicely into the Twins bullpen, and the Twins are genrally objective and logical about their bullpen. Keisler is left-handed, and his strikeout rate approaches the league average and sometimes exceeds it. In his major league career he's also struggled with control, but that hasn't been much of a problem recently in mostly full seasons in AAA.

The Twins bullpen looks pretty full right now, but there are all kinds of questions surrounding various participants, from Pat Neshek's late season fatigue to Dennys Reyes' control to Juan Rincon's health. Keisler slots in as another left-handed option with Carmen Cali, only he appears usable against right-handers and in long stints. Plus, he simultaneously provides insurance for Glen Perkins, who is basically providing insurance for Francisco Liriano.

All of which might make you believe that Keisler is a better player than Day. He's not, or at least it's not obvious that he is. But he still represents a better signing, because this organization holds their relievers especially accountable while doing almost exactly the opposite with their veteran starting pitchers.

It's a nice reminder. And it's nice that they provided it in mid-January, so we can remember who we'll again be rooting for, and grumbling about, in March.