Tuesday, December 11, 2007

If I Were Bill Smith...

The past few days, I've laid out a lot of options for how the Twins could proceed over the next few years. I want to see the team strike the right balance between on-field success (winning) and off-field success (making money). While winning consistently is a good way to sell tickets, it's no guarantee of sellouts, as the Twins and A's showed throughout the first half of the decade. If you don't sell out, eventually you have to dump your star players. It seems to me that dumping your star players is the reason you don't sell out. It's the combination of wins and stars that gives you the attendance records and the payroll increases every year.

For that reason, I would have offered Hunter 5 years. I think he'll still be a contributor at 37, and he would have continued to be appreciated by the fans as the face of the franchise, they would have taken pride in his remaining a Twin. I wouldn't have offered him $18 million/year, of course (good luck with that, Angels). $10-12 million in the last two years of the deal would have been OK, though. His performance on the field wouldn't have been worth it, but his value to the franchise would have made up for it.

Minnesota sports fans have seen Randy Moss and Kevin Garnett leave in recent years in underwhelming trades. This year, the Vikes had trouble selling out some early season games (hopefully they're over that hump now), and the T-Wolves' attendance is in decline. Not only weren't they winning, but who are the players? Who are we cheering for? To lose Santana now for anything less than All-Star caliber players would surely send the Twins' steadily growing attendance the other way.

With that in mind, here's where the Twins stand as of tonight (salaries in millions):

CF - Tyner (about $1)
3B - Harris (about $0.4)
C - Mauer ($6.25)
LF - Cuddyer (about $6)
1B - Morneau (about $7)
RF - Young (about $0.4)
DH - Kubel (about $1)
2B - Punto ($2.4)
SS - Casilla (about $0.4)

C - Redmond ($0.95)
C - Morales (about $0.4)
OF - Monroe ($3.82)
3B - Buscher (about $0.4)

1P - Santana ($13.25)
2P - Baker (about $0.4)
3P - Liriano (about $0.4)
4P - Slowey (about $0.4)
5P - Bonser (about $0.4)

CL - Nathan ($6)
RP - Neshek (about $0.4)
RP - Guerrier (about $1)
RP - Reyes ($1)
RP - Crain ($1.05)
RP - Perkins (about $0.4)

The total, with one spot left to fill, is about $56 million, well short of last year's $71 million, let alone the $78 million or so they can afford. The contract deadline for arbitration eligibles is tomorrow, so let's get spending!

Free Agents

I like Marcus Giles for his defense and power at second base. Coming off two down years, he should be willing to take a 1-year deal for something around $5 million. Even his awful 2007 was better than Punto's. Sign him and send Punto to the bench, where his glove and base-running can make a difference late in games.

Let's go ahead and sign Carlos Silva to that 4-year, $40 million contract. He's only had one bad year, otherwise he's been totally solid. We'll plan on trading him later in 2008, of course, whenever it's most advantageous. But meanwhile, we'll get an innings-eater who, with a little run support, could have easliy been a 16-18 game winner last year. Boof can test out his conditioning in Rochester.

If the bells have finally stopped ringing, bring Koskie to camp. Not much to lose, huge potential upside if he returns to form, in terms of production, defense, and PR.

I have a lot of strategic reasons for liking Kemp. He should be similar to Cuddyer defensively and power-wise, but hit 30-50 points higher. I see him as a band-aid in CF until Span or Pridie is ready. After that, he's an option to send to LF when we're ready to move Cuddyer. I'm not sure Nick Blackburn's stock will ever be higher - the Dodgers might be enticed to make this trade one-to-one. Of course, if they'd take Boof and somebody else, I'd be OK with that, too. Tyner moves to the bench, where his glove, pesky bat, and base-running can make a difference late in games.

Give Santana a 5-year, $105 million extension with a $7 million signing bonus. That will get his 2008 salary over $20 million, making him the highest-paid starting pitcher in the league, and the second-highest paid player overall (at the moment), a number befitting his stature. I bet he'd take it.

Give Morneau 4 years, $45 million, with a $15 million option for a fifth year. He's ready to start hitting 40 homers a year in 2008.

Give Cuddyer 3 years, $23 million, with a $10 million option for a fourth year. We'll likely trade him at some point in the life of this contract.

Give Kubel 4 years, $18 million, with a $10 million option for a fifth year. He's ready to blow up - we should lock him up while he's relatively cheap.

Give Guerrier 2 years, $2 million.

Give Nathan a 3-year, $36 million extension. We'll likely be trading him at some point in 2008 as well.

Giles, Silva, and Santana's signing bonus get us up to $78 million - the fans can be secure that we won't be outspent by KC, and that Pohlad's not pocketing any more money. Can we compete? Here's the revised roster, with the production I'd expect from each player (BA, OPS, HR for position players, ERA, WHIP for pitchers):

CF - Kemp (.320, .850, 20)
3B - Harris (.280, .750, 12)
C - Mauer (.320, .850, 12)
LF - Cuddyer (.280, .825, 20)
1B - Morneau (.300, .900, 40)
RF - Young (.300, .800, 16)
DH - Kubel (.290, .825, 20)
2B - Giles (.265, .750, 12)
SS - Casilla (.270, .700, 3)

C - Redmond (.300, .700, 1)
C - Morales (.280, .750, 5)
OF - Tyner (.280, .675, 1!)
OF - Monroe (.270, .800, 10)
IF - Punto (.250, .640, 1)

1P - Santana (3.00, 1.00)
2P - Silva (4.20, 1.30)
3P - Liriano (3.50, 1.10)
4P - Baker (4.20, 1.20)
5P - Slowey (4.25, 1.25)

CL - Nathan (2.00, 1.00)
RP - Neshek (2.00, 1.00)
RP - Guerrier (3.00, 1.20)
RP - Reyes (3.50, 1.50)
RP - Crain (4.00, 1.30)
RP - Perkins (3.50, 1.20)

The guys in this bunch who really played to their potential in 2007 were Silva, Nathan, Neshek, Guerrier, Perkins (when he was around), Kemp, Redmond, Tyner, Kubel in the second half, and maybe Harris (not a lot of data on him yet). In most cases I expect their numbers to be about the same or slightly lower. Monroe's numbers are based on his appearances against lefties, the only pitchers he'll be facing in 2008. Everyone else has it in them to improve upon last year, and I've tried to come up with numbers around their career average, or between 2006 and 2007.

Not too bad - get a lead after 6 or 7 and things should go well. This lineup should produce a lot more runs than the 2007 team, while the pitchers are capable of putting up a team ERA as good or slightly better. Span, Pridie, Buscher, Tolbert, and Bonser are all waiting at AAA when someone goes down. Hunter is the only player of any importance to the fans who isn't back, and he and Rondell White have been replaced by two of the most promising young hitters in the Majors. Keep those season ticket sales coming! If we can't keep up with Cleveland and Detroit by the end of July, we can deal Silva and/or Nathan, even Cuddyer, for some major returns, since the receiving teams will be getting high-value players under long-term contracts - no rent-a-players from us! A lot depends on whether guys can bounce back from their troubles of 2007, but hopefully, they'll all be motivated to do so. They should be able to get us back over .500, at least.

Next: How these moves can start the Twins on the road to success through 2010.

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