For the past three weeks, Bill Smith and I have been involved in a bit of a staring contest. He bet me that I would write a blog entry before he made his next move. I can be stubborn, and I had my Facebook Word Twist addiction to occupy me, so the silence went on. When the news of Jason Kubel's contract extension broke last week, I figured I had him. But it was conditional on the results of a physical, a mere formality, yet no terms have been released for almost a week now.
So, like the Red Sox last winter, I give up. I cannot endure another day of waiting for you to do something, Bill! Enjoy your Mets package/Livan Hernandez February dregs.
Luckily, my favorite bloggers have kept busy ranking prospects and analyzing the rest of the division. And the Twins Geek provocatively suggested that signing Joe Mauer to an extension might be more trouble than it's worth. I have to comment on that piece.
It's very well written, with propulsive logic that leads to a 7-year, $119 million extension complete with no-trade and opt-out clauses. This because Mauer wouldn't settle for a 2-year, $28 million extension through 2012 (which would give him the highest ever salary for a catcher). To steal a bit of a phrase from our melodiously articulate new president, I reject as false the choice between 2 years and 7 years. I think the Twins should offer him 4 years.
A 4-year extension, combined with the 2 years remaining on his current contract, would total a 6-year package, the same duration as the more durable Justin Morneau received this time last year. While Mauer rates better than Morneau in many of the newer, more sophisticated metrics like VORP and WARP, Morneau's edge in the traditional stats like HR and RBI keeps him ahead of Mauer in the MVP voting. So, while Mauer's side could make a legitimate argument that he's a more valuable player than Morneau and therefore should get a bigger, longer contract, the Twins could counter-argue that Morneau is the more valuable and that Mauer's deal should be lesser. But let's not fight. Why don't we split the difference and give Mauer essentially the same deal?
The total value of Morneau's deal was 6-years, $80 million including a $6 million signing bonus. I would propose to pay Mauer the same salary as Morneau over the final three years of Morneau's deal: $14 million/year. Again, that makes Mauer the highest-paid catcher in history. After Morneau's gone, we don't need to worry about balancing things, so Mauer can get a raise to $16 million for 2014. That's $58 million added to the $23 million he still has left on his current deal, totaling $81 million for the 6 years. Throw in the same signing bonus and performance bonuses (for All-Star appearances, Gold Gloves and top-6 MVP finishes - all of which should be pretty routine if he's healthy) and the average annual value of that deal should exceed $14.5 million. Mauer's people can take pride in the fact that he will be the highest-paid Twin ever, while not making Morneau look like the Twins value him less.
There should probably be a no-trade clause, and the Twins shouldn't be shy about including it. The reason to offer this extension in the first place is because you want to ensure that Mauer is the face of the franchise for the next six years. He's Cal Ripken, or Tony Gwynn, or Kirbie Puckett. If the rest of the team falls apart around him, he's the cornerstone on which it is rebuilt.
But for that reason, there should not be an opt-out clause. The GMs who have agreed to those have been pretty foolish, and have found themselves suddenly without players who had been in their long-term plans. While it is conceivable that Russell Martin or Giovanni Soto might get a contract paying over $14 million/year at some point during the life of the deal, it's hard to imagine that they could exceed it by much, especially given the uncertainty in the economy and the difficulty all but the very top free agents have faced this offseason. Mauer shouldn't accept this offer just because he wants to be the Majors' highest-paid catcher. He should accept it because he wants security.
Look at how quickly earning power fell apart for some recently elite players who had the misfortune of suffering injuries. Eric Gagne was the best closer in the game a few years ago, but he'll make a fraction of what the K-Rods and Fuentes' and Woods' are getting when he finally signs. Rafael Furcal's back injury probably took at least a year and $30 million off the offers he got. Mauer has spent significant time on the DL in 2 of his 5 MLB seasons. He plays the most physically demanding position in the game. He must know that the chances of his missing a lot of playing time at some point in the future are pretty good. What if he breaks his wrist in a collision midway through 2010? Will he be able to pick up his hitting and throwing right where he left off? Will teams risk lots of guaranteed years and dollars on a guy who needs to rehab, who may never regain his form? For the Twins to set his mind at ease about those scenarios for the remainder of his prime years while paying him better than anyone else at his position should be worth some commitment on his part.
And Twins Geek's assertion that the Twins tend to rebuild every few years isn't really accurate. The turnover that occurred last season was the result of valued players getting better offers elsewhere. It wasn't that the Twins weren't making an effort to be competitive. And, thanks to strong player development and a relatively soft division, they managed to compete all the way to the last day of the season, even in a supposed rebuilding year. The inactivity this offseason says as much about management's confidence in the team it has as it does about their unwillingness to bring in risky/marginal/overpriced pieces. 1999 was rebuilding - the Twins haven't done anything close to that for 10 years now. With the new ballpark about to open, and the dynamics of the division unlikely to change a whole lot, they should have the ability to compete throughout the life of the contract. Mauer can be confident that he's part of a team that has a chance to win.
So yes, Twins Geek, I'm sure I want to sign Mauer to an extension. Not an outlandish, New York extension, but a sensible, Minnesota extension. Mauer should appreciate that.