Friday, January 21, 2011

Contract Week

A quiet offseason has suddenly become busy with Twins news. Part of that was prompted by Tuesday's arbitration deadline, without which they might well have continued to progress through the winter at their own leisurely pace. Finally spurred into action, they handed out a flurry of contracts. I was struck by the disparity in efficiency between some of those recent transactions. Here's what I mean:


Twins reached 1-year agreements with Alexi Casilla ($865K), Glen Perkins ($700K) and Matt Capps ($7.15M), avoiding arbitration. Jason Repko ($600K) and Pat Neshek ($625K) agreed to 1-year deals in December.

Casilla will presumably be the everyday SS and #9 hitter. I'll go into it more in a later post, but I think it's reasonable to expect him to provide league average production at that position. That's pretty good return for a salary that's only about double the minimum wage. Repko is useful only as a late-inning sub for someone who's already gotten on base; his salary is appropriate for his limited skills. Neshek was one of the top setup men in baseball before his injury. If he can regain his command and a little velocity, as Francisco Liriano was able to do, he could be a huge asset for the bullpen. If he can't, the Twins haven't wagered too much.

Those three guys aren't sure things to be productive, but Repko serves an important function on the bench, and the other two have pretty decent upside potential. For just over $2M, the Twins could get some nice value out of that trio.

But just about every year, they offer arbitration to someone I would have non-tendered. This year, it's Perkins. There is nothing I've seen in his last two seasons to suggest that he has any chance of contributing to this year's team. He's more hittable than Nick Blackburn, and doesn't even pitch as deeply into games as Kevin Slowey, so he's not going to beat anybody out for a rotation spot. He doesn't miss bats, he doesn't get ground balls, and he's no good at getting lefties out, so what good could he do in the bullpen? On top of that, he's injury-prone, there are questions about his make-up, and Gardy doesn't seem to like him very much. So why even offer him a contract? $700K isn't a ton of money to spend on a player, but it's a lot to spend on toilet paper.

As for Capps, I accepted a long time ago that he was going to get a contract and make about $7M through arbitration. Those facts have been incorporated into my expectations of the Twins' offseason all along. But after seeing reliever after reliever agree to 2 and 3-year deals with average annual values of $3.5-$5.5M, it was still a bit of a shock to look at the actual number today. My first thought was, "Wow, that's really steep." Then I went back to the projected payroll spreadsheet and reminded myself that it wasn't shocking - it's what everyone assumed would happen all along.

Most relievers have been overpriced this winter, especially when you factor in the additional years. Capps will cost the Twins less in guaranteed money than every departed member of their bullpen, with the exception of Jon Rauch, who had to settle for a 1-year deal. In that respect, the Twins came out ahead. And they have their 2nd closer, a guy who can step in if Joe Nathan struggles in his comeback from TJS.

But it's disheartening to see that, for about the same amount of money they're paying Capps and Perkins, they could have brought back Brian Fuentes - who also would have served as Nathan insurance - plus somebody else who has a better shot of producing than Perkins. Like Takashi Saito, or maybe Chad Qualls. It seems like a waste to see only one spot in an uncertain bullpen filled with the money that might have covered two.

Exchanged figures (Team/Player) with Kevin Slowey ($2.3M/$3.1M), Francisco Liriano ($3.6M/$5M) and Delmon Young ($4.65/$6.25).

With Slowey, the Twins should just go ahead and split the difference at $2.7M. After a couple of shaky seasons in a row, including a very frustrating 2010, I don't know why Slowey wouldn't accept that.

Liriano and Young should get multi-year deals with the Twins' submitted numbers as the 2011 salaries. For Liriano, Zach Greinke and Josh Johnson are the appropriate comps, each of whom signed 4-year deals following the first good season they produced after their respective troubles. Liriano's crappy luck last year is good luck for the Twins, since his 2010 doesn't look quite as nice statistically as Johnson's 2009 or Greinke's 2008. They might be able to get him for a little less than the $38-$39M those guys got, maybe more like $36-$37M. They each made $3.75M in the first year. Maybe Liriano's contract goes:

2011: $3.6M
2012: $7.4M
2013: $13M
2014: $13M

That would be the $37M version.

As for Young, I think Michael Cuddyer is a good comp. In the winter of 2008, Cuddyer filed at $6.2M and the Twins at $4.7M - just about exactly the split between Young and the Twins now. Cuddy wound up with a 3-year, $24M contract with an option for 2011. I don't know if I'd mess with the $2.75M signing bonus in Young's case, instead dividing it over the later years of the deal:

2011: $4.75M
2012: $7.75M
2013: $10.5M
2014: $12.5M or $1M buyout

Just make sure that, in Young's case, they don't have to exercise the option a year early.

Of course, the Twins could just wait and see whether Lirano's and Young's breakout 2010s were just flukes. But my guess is that the next few years with them won't come at as low a price in the future. I'll bet at least one of them has a new contract announced before Twinsfest.

Free Agents

Twins agreed to terms with Jim Thome on a 1-year, $3M contract and Carl Pavano on a 2-year, $16.5M contract.

While I have my reservations about bringing Jim Thome back, I have to give the Twins credit for getting him for so little guaranteed money, especially after the monster season he just had. If he totally flames out this year, the Twins won't have lost much.

The Pavano contract is amazing. As soon as Ted Lilly re-upped with the Dodgers for 3-years, $33M, I thought Pavano was gone for sure. Why shouldn't he get the same deal? Well, it was probably partly the recent, notorious injury history. That, coupled with Type A status that would have cost the signing team a draft pick, seems to have deflated Pavano's market. So the Twins were not only able to bring him back, but at a price tag just a little bit over what they paid him last season. That's the same thing Jake Westbrook is getting paid. What a bargain!

This move might free up one of the other starters for a possible trade. Other than Duensing, though, I feel like their stock is pretty low right now. It would be best to wait until at least the end of spring training, when Slowey and Blackburn can establish that they're healthy and able to get people out.

Or if they hold onto everybody, signing Pavano likely means that Duensing would get kicked back to the bullpen, where he's been very effective over the last two seasons. That would reduce the number of question marks in the 'pen by one. There are probably enough guys coming to spring training to adequately fill the remaining relief spots internally.

With Pavano coming back to the Twins, they lost their opportunity to get some draft pick compensation for him. (It's a stipulation of his new contract that the Twins won't offer him arbitration after 2012.) They'll end up with something like 3 of the top 50-60 picks this June. Which is nice, but it could have been so much more.

The Rays were in basically the same boat as the Twins, with the bulk of their bullpen heading into free agency. But they boldly offered arbitration to everybody, even though having several of those players accept it would have been much more difficult for them to absorb financially. All of their FAs turned it down, and the Rays have been rewarded with 11 picks out of the first 80 or so. If the Twins had done the same, they might have picked up 4 extra picks for losing Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes. I'm not sure Guerrier, as a Type A, would have turned down arbitration. But then again, Type A Grant Balfour did, and he landed on his feet. Rauch and Fuentes almost certainly would have tested the market. The Twins didn't really lose anything by being cautious, but they might have gained something had they had the same resolution the Rays did.

A few bargains, a few missed opportunities, and a few head-scratchers. It doesn't seem like many avid fans are too excited with the offseason so far. But I have no doubt that the Twins are following the plan they set for themselves at their organizational meetings. We may not be completely satisfied with the deals they've made, but I have a feeling they are.

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