October 15, 2007

An early look at the 2008 season...Part 1

The 2007 season for the Twins was one to forget. Even with the devastating injury that prevented young southpaw Francisco Liriano from throwing at all, we still had very high hopes. The team brought in free agents Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson and Jeff Cirillo to try and help give our young team a "veteran presence", but that backfired. None of those three finished the season with the Twins, and none of them made a real impact on our team. 2008 is going to be a big year for our club. We are moving closer to opening the stadium in 2010 and we really want to put a competitive team out on the field to help build fan base prior to opening the stadium. Doing this is going to be a tricky task. We have a number of players who are either free agents, or are looking to sign extensions including Torii Hunter and pitchers Joe Nathan and Johan Santana.

Here is a look at the projected salaries and payroll of the team:

Starting Lineup

Pos. Player Type
Salary (Approx.)
C Joe Mauer C $6,250,000
1B Justin Morneau A $8,000,000
2B Nick Punto C $2,400,000

SS Jason Bartlett S $460,000
LF Jason Kubel A $1,800,000

RF Michael Cuddyer A $6,500,000


Pos. Player Type Salary (Approx.)
C Mike Redmond C $950,000
2B Alexi Casilla S $460,000
3B Brian Buscher S $460,000
OF Jason Tyner A $1,250,000

Starting Rotation

Pos. Player Type Salary (Approx.)
S1 Johan Santana C $13,250,000
S2 Matt Garza S $460,000
S3 Scott Baker S $460,000
S4 Francisco Liriano S $460,000
S5 Kevin Slowey S $460,000


Player Type Salary (Approx.)
CL Joe Nathan C $6,000,000
SU Matt Guerrier A $2,400,000
SU Pat Neshek S $460,000
LO Dennys Reyes C $1,000,000
MR Juan Rincon A $2,000,000
MR Jesse Crain C $1,050,000
LR Boof Bonser S $460,000

2008 Total: Contracts

2008 Total: Arbitration

2008 Total: Serf

2008 Totals:

Key: (for the abbreviations that may cause trouble)
S - Serf
C - Contract
A - Arbitration

Alright, as you can see the Twins are about $20 Million-$25 under the "projected" '08 payroll of $77,000,000-$80,000,000. So $20-25 Million to spend on 3 different holes should be more than enough...right?

Well in order to think about that, you also need to think about 2009 (I know, it's crazy to think 2 years in advance). What is going to happen? Joe Nathan and Johan Santana will be free agents. Joe Mauer's salary will be about $4 Million more than it is in '08. And that's not including Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau among others will be in arbitration with Jason Bartlett, Francisco Liriano, and possibly even Scott Baker joining them. It's insane to think about, but I really am having a hard time with our payroll right now.

When you take a quick glance, yeah, we should be able to afford Torii Hunter and still have enough for another impact bat or two. But then you have to start thinking about the other players I mentioned and if we sign Hunter, who do we leave behind? I think it's very unlikely to expect the Twins to be able to afford all of those players while signing them long-term.

But can it be done? Definitely. But we'll likely need a bigger boost in payroll over the next few seasons in order to accommodate the increase in salaries.

So what should we do? Well before I say anything, I don't want anyone to think I am a "Torii Hater" or that I don't like Torii, because honestly he's one of my favorite players. But I really think that giving a 32-year old center fielder who has a history of injuries is a big mistake. I know Torii has a few more years left in him, and I'm not looking at 2 or even 3 years from now. I'm looking at years 4-6 (or 4-5) when the contract is ending. Is he still going to be able to play center field? Is he going to be healthy enough to play out his contract? At what level will he still be able to compete? We have to look into all of these aspects (and probably more) when you deal with a player like Torii Hunter.

The other aspect is, well what if we do resign Torii Hunter? What does that mean for guys like Joe Nathan and Johan Santana who are free agents in '09? Do we resign Torii and not one of them? How do you choose which one not to sign? You can make an argument that Torii Hunter and Johan Santana are more "significant" to the teams success than Nathan, but when you look at that, Nathan is still very "significant" and he'll likely demand anywhere between $5-10 Million less than Hunter or Santana per season. And also too, do we let them walk after next season? Or do we look to trade them?

Since Morneau and Cuddyer are also looking at receiving new deals, where do they rank in priority even with them still not eligable for free agency until 2010? Because every year that we wait to resign them, the more their price tag will increase.

Back to the trading though. If we trade Johan Santana, we can likely expect a baseball version of the Hershel Walker-Vikings deal. We should expect to fill at least 1 of those holes (right now), while receiving another top prospect or two (who could fill a hole or two in a couple years). And if we trade Joe Nathan, we can expect the same thing, just to a lesser extent.

So hypothetically, what is a fair deal for Johan Santana? Joe Nathan?

Well for Santana, I think that the Dodgers have a fair offer of outfielder Matt Kemp and pitcher Clayton Kershaw, but I think that we should demand third baseman Andy LaRoche instead of Kershaw and also we should get at least one more (B-type) prospect as well. Why this deal? Because this deal would clear A LOT of cap space and it would give us 2-3 every day players (if the additional player(s) are position players) while giving them a pitcher that only plays every 5 games. But, the downfall of this deal is that we are giving up (somewhat) arguably the most dominating pitcher of this decade and we're receiving a few unproven players.

If that deal wasn't suitable. I think another potential deal that could help this team is to make a deal with the enemy, the New York Yankees. Who could we expect to receive? Well I think any deal needs to be centered, not around "uber prospects" Phillip Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, but around 24 (soon-to-be 25) year-old second baseman Robinson Cano. Cano has played exceptionally well since he came up with the Yankees in 2005. His numbers have improved (for the most part) from year to year and I expect that to continue as he's a very good all-around hitter. He, along with outfielders Jose Tabata and Melky Cabrera could make this deal very appealing to the Twins. Tabata will be 20-years-old next season and could start in either AA or AAA. He has great speed and a great bat which could allow him to hit anywhere from lead-off to the heart of the batting lineup. Cabrera is also very young, just 23-years-old and in his 2nd full major league season, he continued to impress with his good defense and sufficient bat. He adds good speed and could step in right now to take over center field for Torii Hunter (if we don't resign him). I believe that Tabata shows more potential as a run producer, but Cabrera can also improve in that area. This deal would give the Twins 2 everyday players for 2007 and another for either 2009 or 2010. But, we don't really want to make the Yankees stronger, do we?

As for Nathan, I think the Yankees could also be interested in him as well. They may lose Mariano Rivera to free agency, which means that they'd be force to rely on young Joba Chamberlain to close for 2008 (if they filled it from within), but if they wanted to go after a (believed to be) available closer, then Nathan is the best there is. I'm not doubting Chamberlain's ability to close at the major league level, but I think that Nathan is already a proven closer and I think they'd be better off trading for a proven closer right now, especially if they lose a few other pitchers to free agency. They mine-as-well try to keep him available for the rotation which could need repair work.

Anyway, I think the Yankees, Orioles, Cubs, Indians, Rangers, Tigers and possibly the Brewers could all actively be perusing a closer. I'm not going to get into specific deals, but I think a good mix of young everyday players would be a fitting deal with any of these teams.

So what are my thoughts on what the Twins should do?

Check back in my next post to see...