Friday, January 22, 2010

Twins Avoid Arbitration in 2010

The Minnesota Twins signed eight players earlier in the week, meaning they will not have any arbitration cases to try in the winter of 2010.

Infielder Brendan Harris got a two-year deal for $3.2M, while seven others inked one-year deals, namely:
  • Pitcher Carl Pavano ($7M)
  • Infielder J.J. Hardy ($5.1M)
  • Pitcher Matt Guerrier ($3.15M)
  • Outfielder Delmon Young ($2.6M)
  • Pitcher Jesse Crain ($2M)
  • Pitcher Francisco Liriano ($1.6M)
  • Pitcher Pat Neshek ($625k)
In the Joe Christensen piece, he reports that the Twins sent arbitration figures to each of the players listed above early Tuesday and each signed that day, avoiding arbitration altogether. Joe C. also correctly notes that no MLB team had as many potential arbitration cases than the Twins.

Each of these eight deals seems reasonable on the surface. Pavano's a bit of a question mark, given his injury-riddled past, but he did throw nearly 200 innings last season and appears to be in good health. He signed a one-year deal worth $1.5M (plus incentives) with Cleveland last winter, so this year's deal represents quite a raise. Harris also received a significant raise from $466k to $1.45M in the first year of his two-year deal. Hardy's deal is a modest raise from the $4.65M he made last season. Guerrier doubled his salary over the $1.475M he pulled in during 2009, as did Young ($1.152M to $2.6M). Crain received a slight raise from the $1.7M he made last season on the final year of a three-year deal signed in 2007, and even seemed a potential non-tender candidate before the Twins offered him arbitration earlier this off-season. Liriano and Neshek are coming off injuries so their raises are muted. (HT to Cot's Baseball Contracts)

Of the arbitration eight listed above, five will remain under Twins' control after this season, with Pavano, Guerrier, and Crain facing free agency. The only other pending free agent after the 2010 season is some catcher named Joe Mauer, who is reported to be pretty good.

So, with the eight arbitration-eligible players inked to deals, the Twins now have $86.7M committed to salary for the 2010 season. This does not include three players assured of being on the roster next season who are under "indentured servitude" and are yet to be signed, namely Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Denard Span. Each made approximately $440k last season, and one would expect a similar offering to be made - adjusted for inflation - for 2010. Others in that group who figure to be in the mix include Glen Perkins, Alexi Casilla, and Matt Tolbert. Factor in guys like Luke Hughes, Danny Valencia, Jose Morales, and Drew Butera who may be in the mix to go north with the Twins this spring, and the payroll figures to go up a few million.

Considering the gaggle of players mentioned above, the Twins will look to have an opening day payroll around $90M. The highest the team has ever ventured before was the $71M collection it fielded in the 2007 season. Being up around the $90M mark puts the Twins in new territory and makes it seem less likely they will be a player in the free agent game the rest of the way.

That's not to say they don't still have holes in their lineup. Second and/or third base must (repeat, must) be addressed, unless they are comfortable with Valencia or Hughes at third. If they pursue Felipe Lopez or Orlando Hudson, that figure will up even further into uncharted territory. Hudson signed late last winter and made $3M on a one-year deal. Lopez is a Scott Boras client and made $3.5M last season. Each is seeking a multiple-year deal and is still sitting out there in a market which appears to be a late one again this season, but to expect either to sign for less than $5M annually is unlikely.

Personally, I believe the Twins should consider signing either player. Each represent significant upgrades over the status quo and each has significant drawbacks. Lopez is a Boras client (although the Twins did sign another Boras client, Joe Crede, last winter), while Hudson has Type A free agent status, meaning the Twins put their first round draft pick at risk when signing him. Still, signing either Hudson or Lopez to a two or three-year deal for around $5-6M annually seems definitely reasonable.

Keep in mind that the Twins' payroll approaching $90M has significant implications on the impending Mauer free agent situation. The Twins are undoubtedly working on an extension with Mauer as we write, and must be willing to pay him at least $20M annually. Keep that in mind when looking at the payroll and looking to address lineup holes via established free agents. Yes, they are moving into a new ballpark in 2010 which will open up new revenue streams, but the Twins aren't exactly going to be printing money immediately.

Stay tuned for what promises to be an interesting final few weeks of winter.

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