Friday, January 25, 2008

Sign Fest

As the various legs of the Twins caravan converged on Minneapolis for this weekend's Twins Fest, I had to wonder if the front office would announce some transactions to coincide with the event. After all, the team has been in a holding pattern with Santana for over a month, and the natives are getting restless. Particularly since Mr. Smith so economically filled some of the lineup holes with former Astros, resulting in a budget surplus that would be nearly impossible to use up. This made the claims that the team couldn't afford to sign Santana to a long-term deal especially difficult to swallow. Why should anyone be enthusiastic about the upcoming season with the organization sending so many signals that it isn't serious about competing long term?

The announcement I anticipated arrived Friday afternoon, though in a form that was even better than I expected. The Twins signed two of their arbitration eligible regulars, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, to multi-year deals. The combined 9 years and $104 million goes a long way toward allaying fans' fears about the direction the team intends to take heading into the new stadium.

Cuddyer's deal pays him $5 million this year, $6.75 million in 2009 and $8.5 million in 2010, with a $2.75 million signing bonus. The team holds a $10.5 million club option for 2011 with a $1 million buyout. Looking around the league, that seems like a pretty fair value for a player of his level of production and experience.

Morneau gets the biggest deal in Twins history in terms of years and dollars: $7.4 million this year, $10.6 million in 2009 and $14 million in each of the final four years, plus a $6 million signing bonus. Though he has yet to put together a complete season of dominance, he's been such a terror when he's on that, should he manage to play up to his ability for all 6 months of the season, this deal could prove to be a bargain. And because his salary doesn't inflate over the last 4 years, his proportion of the payroll will diminish as revenues increase in the new stadium.

The detail of these contracts that I like the most is the signing bonuses. Mr. Smith found a way to entice reasonable long-term deals from two core players by using up $8.75 million of the present surplus. The Santana-included team payroll now stands at around $72 million. The bonuses also give me hope that Mr. Smith will attempt to use that tactic to help coax a long-term deal out of Santana as well.

After all, the dizzying sequence of potential Mets and Yankees packages illustrate the Mr. Smith is negotiating his butt off with those teams. The fact that today's announcement follows a 1-year deal that Morneau signed last week shows that the Twins were willing to keep talking to Justin (and they weren't afraid to commit to him for 6 years). But the Twins haven't made any effort yet to negotiate with Santana. Each side made their opening offers, and that's been that.

The success they Twins have had in their talks with Morneau and Cuddyer over the last week should inspire them to come back to the table with Santana. If their first choice is to retain him, as they still attest, then they need to put in more of an effort to accomplish that goal than they have so far.

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