Thursday, January 24, 2008

Friday Replies

The last two posts I wrote generated a lot of good comments. I'd encourage you to go and read them, because I, frankly think that the readers that I'm honored to host are some of the sharper cookies in Twins Territory. I've already replied to some at each of these posts, but I rarely can keep up with them day to day.

So tonight I rechecked my story about the Twins Payroll Shortfall, and started writing an enormous reply to some good points. And then I thought, what the hell am I doing. Nobody is going to read this reply. It's from four days ago. Even the people who raised the point aren't going to back and read them.

So, of coures, I kept writing. But instead of posting them there, I'm going to post them for my Friday morning entry. That way they'll be read, and instead of dissecting the latest rankings of Twins minor leaguers, I can spend some time with The Voice of Reason. Because while I like you sharp cookies, I'm not sleeping with you tonight.

Jimcrikket suggested that it's not Opening Day yet and they couldn't spend that money because they needed the payroll flexibility.

JC, let's assume they did sign Santana to the widely rumore $140 million, 7 year deal, starting at $17M and increasing $1M per year after. What's more, let's assume they sign Cuddyer to deals that give them a million or so more each than they otherwise might have got, just as a gesture of good will.

We're still talking about a grand increase of $7 million, or a level that is less than their payroll of last year.

Now, if they don't sign Santana, they might need to sign Corey Patterson or Kenny Lofton, but even then, we're still not reaching the $78 million that the Twins talked about at the end of last season, and certainly not the level that would reflect MLB's overall growth and the impact of the new stadium.

Shannono suggests that there's no use spending the money if there's nothing to spend it on.

Shannon, I agree, but there was plenty to spend the money on. What's more, there was plenty to spend the money on at precisely the position that the Twins are now sweating the most, center field.

If they're worried about long term contracts, why not go after Andruw Jones, who signed for two years? If they're looking to stay young, how about Aaron Rowand, the 30-year-old defensive CF who is getting $60 million over the next five years? Or if they wanted to get a little crazy, there was Kosuke Fukudome whose last name was MADE to play in the new ballpark.

Or, there was Torii Hunter, and the Twins could've structured a contract for him like Rowand received. They could have paid Hunter five years and $80 million (12/13/14/15/16), part of which was a $10 million signing bonus from that leftover money this year. The team would actually be paying Hunter less in payroll dollars over the last two years than they did this year.

The bottom line is there is almost always a good way to spend that money.

JHaraldson cynically suggests that Pohlad wanted money back for the land overruns.

JH, that's the kind of cynical view I usually don't espouse. But I'm flabbergasted, and frankly, that's as good an explanation as any. It sure would be nice if someone would ask the Twins point blank about this. Hell, I'll write the question...

Q: Last year, Opening Day payroll was about $73 million, and by the end of the year the Twins talked about increasing it to $78 million or so. Instead, the current Opening Day payroll will be about $63 million and if Santana is traded, it will fall to almost $50 million.

As a resident of Hennepin County, I'd like to ask - what happened?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Finding the Right Lock

There's been plenty of talk about "locking up" Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer to a long term contract. The fans thinkg the Twins need to lock them up. The media thinks the Twins need to lock them up. Even the Twins seemingly think they need to lock them up.

But what if they don't want to be locked up?

Put yourself in their shoes. Morneau has already received a $5 million payday, so he's set for life in any case. Plus, he's guaranteed another $7.5 million, whether he goes blind tomorrow or not. That's $12.5 million.

If he continues to play at the same level for the next couple of years, he'll get $10 million in 2009 and $12 million (at least) in 2010. And this isn't really negotiable, because either the Twins willl agree to pay him that or the arbitrator will force the Twins to pay him that. We're at $34 million. About the only way he doesn't get that $34 million is if he has a career-ending injury this year. And then he still has that $12 million to fall back on.

And then things get REALLY good. Because he's going to be a former MVP, and a left-handed slugger that is just 29 years old. Given the escalation of salaries, he could very well be looking at a 7-year, $100-$130 million contract at that point. And that might be low.

So here's my question - just what the hell do you offer him? What exactly are you bringing to the table?

You're going to need to pay, and pay well, to buy out those first couple years of free agency, because there's a big difference between hitting the market when you're 29 and when you're 30+ years old. And don't think that guaranteed money you're dishing out is going to be buying much in the way of a break on the yearly salaries. Your return is delaying free agency - nothing more and nothing less. And there had better be enough back-end guaranteed money to make it worth Morneau's time to delay free agency.

I'll go with:
$8M for 2008
$10M for 2009
$12M for 2010
$14M for 2011
$15M for 2012
$16M team options for 2013 with a fairly big buyout - say $3M

That gives him a five year deal for $62 million, with a possible additional year that would bring the value to $75 million. It also allows him to test the free agent market while he's still 31 or 32 years old, so he can secure another long-term deal.

A $60 million payday seems like it could get him and his agent's attention, and even keep them from tasting that delicious early free agency. But on the other hand, I wouldn't blame them if it didn't interest them, and if they wanted to keep the status quo. After all, which of us likes to be locked up?

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Arbitration Agreements

First, let’s start with kudos to the Strib. I’ve been meaning to praise them for quite a while now for their thorough Twins coverage this offseason, but I keep phoning it in, so I hasn’t happened yet. Fortunately, they continue to set a high bar, and give me another opportunity.

It wasn’t too long ago that the arbitration agreements and filings that happened in the last week wouldn’t have gained more than a couple of inches or space. Now it generates a story on Friday (Kubel), another story on Saturday (Morneau & Rincon), along with a nice little graphic showing just how things are going with each player.

And for the record, the Twins have done very well. Almost every agreement has come in under the estimates made just last week. And wrapping them up presuably gives the Twins more time to work this whole Santana thing out. Particulary astute was getting some of these agreements in place before official numbers were filed, which limits the win/lose mentality that agents can fall into once both sides numbers are published.

The only thing we haven’t seen from the Strib is just how all the pieces of this fit together, and frankly, I’m baffled by this. Where the hell are the stories about payroll falling $10 to $20 million in the same year that major league baseball revenue increase 10% AND the team breaks ground on a new stadium? How is nobody noticing this? Are Magatu and I taking crazy pills?

For the record, given the recent signings, and the awards so far, here’s where things sit:

The final total up there is a little over $63 million. That's $10 million less than the Twins started the season with last year, and if they lose Santana, the payroll drops to $50 million. That is conservatively $30 million less than the payroll should be this year. Which would certainly have been enough to sign someone like Andruw Jones to patrol center field for the next couple of years. Which sounds a hell of a lot better than plugging Michael Cuddyer there.

The good news is that this should give the Twins some additional flexibility for trading han Santana. There are teams out there that are worried about taking on Santana's salary, but now the Twins might be able to take on some serious salary in return. If the Mariners can't afford Santana this year, would they change their mind if the Twins took back Richie Sexson as part of the deal?

It's not something that has been publicly discussed, but I wonder if it might not make some sense. And I presume the Twins are having some creative discussions along those lines. Or at least I hope they are, because they certainly can afford to.