Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Twins' Off-Season Dominated by Patience

The Twins have not been overly-active in the 2010 off-season thus far. The team made a big splash early on when it traded Carlos Gomez to the Milwaukee Brewers for J.J. Hardy, addressing a hole in the middle infield. At the winter meetings, the Twins offered arbitration to starting pitcher Carl Pavano and designated Boof Bonser for assignment before trading him to Boston for a minor leaguer. They signed relief pitcher Clay Condrey, who spent the past few seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies and released fellow reliever Bobby Keppel, who decided to sign in Japan.

None of those deals qualifies as a show-stopper, although the Gomez-Hardy swap should be considered a mid-major deal. However, General Manager Billy Smith has decided to take a cautious approach to this off-season, angering some observers. However, given the presence of a trade and free agent market in flux, the Twins' approach is not necessarily a bad one.

The Twins definitely have some holes to be addressed, including:
  • Extension for Joe Mauer
  • Second Base
  • Third Base
  • Starting Rotation
Shortstop would have been included on that list, but the situation was addressed with the acquisition of Hardy. The Twins have four starters set for their rotation (Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn, and Pavano) with the fifth coming either from an acquisition or likely Francisco Liriano or Brian Duensing. Nick Punto seemingly fits into the mix to start at whatever position the Twins do not fill between second and third.

There are plenty of options available out there. Felipe Lopez, (.310/.383/.427; 38 doubles, 9 HR, 57 RBI; career UZR/150 of 2.6 at second base) late of the Milwaukee Brewers, and Orlando Hudson, (.283/.357/.414; 35 doubles, 9 HR, 62 RBI in 2009; four Gold Gloves; career UZR/150 of 2.6 at second base) formerly of the LA Dodgers, would each give the Twins far more production at second base than they've had since Chuck Knoblauch was traded to the Yankees before the 1998 season. Lopez also has some experience at third base, and has managed a UZR/150 of 6.0. However, the Twins have apparently had no interaction with representatives for either Lopez or Hudson, leaving the holes un-addressed. With potential free agent options like Adrian Beltre (to Boston for one-year, $10M), Chone Figgins (to Seattle for 4 years, $36M), and Placido Polanco (to Philadelphia for 3 years, $18M, plus option) off the market, the Twins' options are more limited. Perhaps they'll go the Joe Crede route again in 2010? That's a possibility, and not a horrible one (assuming Lopez and Hudson rebuff the Twins' advances) if he's healthy, but it likely won't be until spring training begins.

The same goes for the fifth starter. The team has apparently expressed more interest in Jarrod Washburn, and offered the lefty a one-year, $5M deal that was rejected by Washburn. Bringing Washburn in would come at a considerable risk to the Twins. First, he's 36 and had knee troubles at the end of last season. Secondly, and most importantly, he was awful down the stretch after being acquired by Detroit at the trade deadline. Although he posted a sub-3.00 ERA with the Mariners, Washburn was 1-3 with a 7.33 ERA for the Tigers. Signing him to a one-year deal, for any amount of money, would be a waste, given that the Twins have in-house candidates to fill the fifth starter role, including Duensing, Liriano, and Jeff Manship). Besides, any money allocated to Washburn would be far better spent toward Lopez or Hudson.

The big issue is the Mauer extension. The Cardinals' signing of Matt Holliday last week (7 years; $120M) and the Mets with Jason Bay (4 years, $66) further proves how much Mauer could fetch on the open market. The Holliday signing, which is completely misguided due to the length of the deal, ups the market for players of far better ability like Mauer and Albert Pujols. It's quite clear that Mauer (and Pujols) could definitely fetch $30M annually in the free agent market. 

The Twins need to extend Mauer before the season starts or they will become more likely to lose him on the open market. Some Twins' fans and bloggers (as Twins' blogger Jack Steal effectively analyzes here) lament that no progress has been made on the extension front. However, keep in mind that the Twins announced the extensions for Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau just before TwinsFest in 2008 (actually, on 1-25-08). The Christmas deadline expressed by local scribes like the often-misguided Charley Walters was a myth, and Twins' followers should put little stock into the fact that the calendar has turned to 2010 and Mauer has not yet been extended. National writers like ESPN's Buster Olney continue to insist that Mauer will re-sign in Minnesota, even if it means less money, and I believe that to be true. 

The 2010 market began with allegations of collusion by luminaries like Scott Boras and has been quieted somewhat by the signings of Bay and Holliday. However, the balance of the market continues to be slow and less money is exchanging hands. Many predicted this to be a late market and that continues to be the case. Remember, Hudson did not sign his one-year deal with the Dodgers until February 21, 2009 in another late market.

I would expect a Mauer extension to be announced just before spring training starts in mid-February, upon which time the Twins will likely announce that they've signed either Hudson or Lopez.

Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?


  1. Brian,

    Why can't the Twins spend money on both Washburn and Hudson/Lopez. The Pohlad family has enough but they refuse to spend on any quality free agents. Last time I checked there was no salary cap in baseball. You would think one of the richest families in America would take advantage of that situation.

  2. Jack - Thanks for the comment. I agree on the resources the Pohlad family has to spend, but throwing money away on Washburn is just plain silly. Why would the team pay any money at all to a guy who is coming off an injury and is not an upgrade over any internal candidate for the fifth starter spot? My gut is that the Twins are hoping to wait out Hudson/Lopez and see how the market develops. Lopez is a Boras client, which complicates matters somewhat. However, they signed another Boras client, Joe Crede, to a contract last year which made sense because they waited for the insanity to clear. Stay tuned....

    Also, just because a family has the means to spend money doesn't mean they should toss it away frivolously. There is no obligation to waste money. Besides, the Twins already have $62M committed for 2010 without anything from the several arbitration-eligible players or any free agent signings. Plus, there's the Mauer situation to address. You've just provided me with fodder for a future post!