June 8, 2009

No, Reusse, it's not too early...

Some may have seen the rant-filled column by Patrick Reusse's in the Sunday Minneapolis Star-Tribune sports section. I obviously did, and I really haven't stopped thinking about it since I read it. Back in 2006, Reusse claimed that Johan Santana would not re-sign with the Twins because of the deal Barry Zito was rewarded by the San Francisco Giants. Although he was right about the outcome, to say that fans today are getting too worked up, too early over the thought of Joe Mauer leaving is kind of absurd and to a point, hypocritical.

Santana was traded just over a year after Reusse wrote that column. In other words, just over two full years after Santana would have been a free agent. Now, just a year-and-a-half before Mauer is set to become a free agent, Reusse is singing a different tune regarding the chances of signing yet another beloved superstar.

Obviously every player's situation is different. Santana's will to stay with the Twins may not have been as strong as many had thought (or hoped). But the fact of the matter is that if the Twins tried to sign Santana to an extension prior to the 2007 season, before the rift with the front office started, we may already have a Opening Day starter for 2010 penciled in. But the Twins front office waited, and they waited too long and they eventually had to trade Santana. But just imagine if the Twins tried to re-sign Santana before Zito inked that deal, could the reported 4-year $80 million extension been enough? Probably not. But it probably wouldn't have taken the Twins the $136.5 million to sign him that it took the Mets a year later. Unfortunately, we'll never know for sure.

Twins fans had clamored for the Twins to re-sign Santana to an extension before Zito inked his deal. Instead, the Twins sat back and let the cards play out. That meant the Twins dealing Santana just a year later.

Mauer, like Santana, is a special breed. He's 26-years-old and is having an MVP-like season, despite playing in only 34 games this season. He also plays a premium position that is hard to fill, yes, even harder to fill than as a staff ace. Catching is the most demanding position in baseball and when someone 'special' comes around, teams will be chomping at the bit to get their hands on him. Just look at Mike Piazza, at the elderly age (for Major League catchers) of 37, he still inked an $8.5 million deal with the Oakland Athletics. That should give people some thought as to how much teams will pay for a catcher. So with teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets soon-to-be looking for even a serviceable catcher, there's no wonder why Twins fans are frightened by the thought of Mauer getting close to free agency.

I do believe the Twins will re-sign Mauer. No, not just because he's a hometown hero, but because the Twins won't let yet another big-name player leave via free agency, at least not this soon after the loss of Santana and Torii Hunter. Everyone brings up Kirby Puckett and his deal, which at the time was a big thing, but the Twins have let quite a few players leave since due to salary demands.

But even though I do believe he'll re-sign, is it really that wrong to start getting worried about it now? After all, it essentially took one pitcher, one bad move by the front office and a little too much time to really make Santana a 'goner'. Victor Martinez is due for a contract, and although he may not be a long-term fit at catcher, could he drive up the price? I doubt he'll inflate the asking price to the point of Zito, but with the season he's having, you'll never know.

I guess I just love this nugget:
Five weeks after Mauer's return to the lineup, the mantra has changed: The Twins messed up by not signing Mauer to a long-term contract last winter, with two years left on his deal from February 2007. They will never get a deal done with him now and it's inevitable that Mauer will be with the Yankees or the Red Sox in 2011.

This angst over Mauer's future with the Twins is premature by six months, minimum.
I wonder if the Twins would go back prior to the 2007 season, with two years left on Santana's contract, and re-sign him to a long-term contract then. It probably would have ensured that Santana would be in a Twins uniform today, anchoring down a struggled rotation. But instead, Twins fans are wrong for getting too worried over Mauer, when we're actually past that point in his contract. And lets say the Twins do wait six months, that's right about the time they realized that it would be damn-near impossible to re-sign Santana and were (in a way) forced to trade him. In other words, they over played their cards and waited too long. But why even let it get to that point?

But I guess Reusse is right. After all, he doesn't use "make-believe stats" like other "people with baseball observations that are neither bright nor original."