Thursday, January 4, 2007
Good morning and welcome to Thursday! Well, the Twins were able to announce a couple of signings yesterday. Exciting, huh? I will get to that, but I do need to write a lead-in paragraph, right? I thought it would be fun to discuss five topics, each related to the Twins. I would really appreciate your comments and thoughts on any or all of the topics. I think that there are some fun topics and interesting, thought-provoking topics. So, leave some comments and then check back throughout the day to see what others are saying. Of course, you can always e-mail me too.
Let's get started:
Discussion #1 - Sidney Ponson
Yesterday, the Twins announced the signing of veteran right-hander Sidney Ponson to a minor league contract. He will come to spring training with a chance to make the Twins roster. If he does, he will make $1 million with the chance to make another $2 million in incentives. On the surface, it doesn't look like a bad deal at all. It is just a minor league contract. If he comes to training camp and is out of shape or simply does not perform, he likely will be released and the Twins will just pay him for his time and call it good. If he does make the team, he will only make from $1-3 million. Finally, it is just a one year deal, so if it is a bust, it is just a one year bust. Also, there is a history. He has shown an ability to be decent, although unspectacular in the big leagues before. The concerns for him include an ability to control his weight and a general concern about a lack of effort of care.
Does this all sound familiar, Twins fans? These are the types of things we were saying to try to justify the Tony Batista signing last year at this time.
Ponson went 14-6 with a 3.77 ERA before the trade deadline in 2003 for the Baltimore Orioles. He was then traded to the San Francisco Giants where he went 3-6 with a better 3.71 ERA down the stretch. He combined to pitch 216 innings and turned it into a big contract, returning to the Orioles the following year. It was at that point where he returned to pitching like Sidney Ponson. In 2004, he threw 215.2 innings, but he went 11-15 with a 5.30 ERA. In 2005, he made just 23 starts and went 7-11 with a 6.22 ERA. The O's let him go. Last year, the Cardinals were nice and gave him a chance. He made the rotation out of spring training. In 13 starts (And one relief appearance), he went 4-4 with a 5.24 ERA before he was released. The Yankees had plenty of pitching problems in 2006, so they signed Ponson and gave him a shot. He made five appearances (3 starts) and went 0-1 with a 10.47 ERA.
So, that is a pretty picture of hope, right? But Ponson is now 30 years old. You almost have to figure that this could be his last chance. Maybe he has been working really hard all off-season. Maybe he will come to camp in great shape and finally put together a great season that many have hoped he could. Maybe! I understand the Twins wanting a veteran starter to allow them to be more careful and cautious with the likes of Matt Garza, Glen Perkins, Kevin Slowey and other young starters. It is just a one year deal, so they aren't committed long term in any way. It probably isn't as bad of a signing as I am thinking. However, I would probably be much more willing to give a little one year, guaranteed money to Tony Armas, a guy who still has an upside and the only concern has been injury. Overall, I guess I would have to call the Ponson signing, like the Tony Batista signings a year ago, a low risk, low reward deal.
What do you think of the Ponson signing? Do you think he will, should, or can make the opening day starting staff? Who do you think will be the Starting Five on opening day? Who will be the Starting Five on July 1st?
Discussion #2 - RyanBall?
When Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball a few years ago, a lot of people really mistook what the book was about. Many believed that it was about On-Base Percentage and drafting college players and other such things. In reality, that was BeaneBall. That was what Billy Beane was doing at that time (probably 2001-2004?). However, the real idea of Moneyball is that small markets can compete, but they have to be able to find players with specific skill sets, and those skill sets need to be undervalued by the rest of the league. At that time, On-Base Percentage was not looked at in the same way it is looked at now. GMs did not pay for OBP. Now they do. The A's have had to find a new undervalued skill, and I think that has become defense. This system has been very successful for the Oakland A's for the last six, seven years.
The Twins have also been very successful for the last five or six year with similar economic means. I think it is fair to say that, in some cases, Terry Ryan views things differently than does Billy Beane and yet both have won. So this discussion question is simply "What is RyanBall?" What has been the theory in the mind of Terry Ryan that has caused the Twins to be successful?
Here are a couple of thoughts just to get the discussion started. I do believe that Ryan sees the value in On-Base percentage, but he also seems to recognize that some hitters are still good without being real selective. I think a huge thing with Terry Ryan is that old theory of "pitching and defense" wins. He has found and developed starters that throw a lot of strikes. He has found and/or developed a strong bullpen of pitchers with dominant stuff. I think that they have wisely allocated any revenue sharing moneys very well. Although we have seen only a minimal increase in the team's payroll over the last four years or so, I have to guess that the team has used its shared dollars in player development and in being able to sign their draft picks. In recent years, the Twins have had a lot of draft picks and they have been able to sign almost all of their top picks. In 2004, the team took four high school pitchers (Waldrop, Rainville, Swarzak, Morlan) and one college pitcher (Perkins) in the top three rounds of the draft. In 2005, they took two college pitchers (Garza, Slowey) in the first two rounds. Ryan likes having plenty of depth at positions throughout the system. He never wants to be left in a position of desperation.
There is a start. Please feel free to agree or disagree with my thoughts, but also add other thoughts or philosophies that you think characterize Terry Ryan's decisions.
Discussion #3 - Breakout Players in 2007 - Major Leagues
ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney penned a terrific article on Justin Morneau saying that a change in his lifestyle really helped him to a huge season, a breakout season, an MVP season. That leads me to ask, which player with the Twins will have a big breakout season in 2007? One of the young pitchers? Will Jason Bartlett take a big step forward? Maybe one of the trio of Mauer, Cuddyer and Morneau will come back with an even stronger 2007 season? What do you think?
Me? I think that Mauer and Morneau will add even more power to their games but I think that Jason Bartlett will be even stronger offensively in 2007.
Discussion #4 - Breakout Players in 2007 - Minor Leagues
Last year, Matt Garza and Alexi Casilla both had incredible minor league campaigns that started at Ft. Myers and ended with the Twins. Kevin Slowey continued a trend of college pitchers taken by the Twins in the 2nd round of the draft advancing from Ft. Myers to Rochester (Jesse Crain and Scott Baker each had done in in prior seasons). So, which Twins minor leaguers or minor leaguers do you think will break out with big seasons in 2007? They don't have to advance two or three levels. Maybe it is just a guy who dominates one level the whole year and really makes a name for himself.
I really think that Anthony Swarzak will take a step forward in his prospect status. I think he will spend the entire season at New Britain. I think that Alexander Smit has figured things out and will have a breakout 2007 season! I can see him starting at Ft. Myers and ending up at New Britain. I think that Trevor Plouffe will reclaim status as a prospect, but I also think that Paul Kelly will be terrific.
Anyone else? Make a couple of predictions and we can check back throughout the season.
Discussion #5 - Long-Term Deals/Extensions
OK, we say all of the time that the Twins need to start thinking about some long-term deals with several of their players. Michael Cuddyer is in the second year of arbitration while Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are both in their first years. Johan Santana still has two years left on his contract, but with the price of pitching so high this year, it may not be bad to start thinking about extending his deal. Either that, or as suggested elsewhere, should they consider trading him so as not to lose him for nothing? Joe Nathan is signed for this year, but the Twins also have an option for 2008.
So, the final discussion question is, what would your offers be to these players? Would you offer multi-year deals to all of them? How many years? How many dollars? Do you think that they would accept?
Here are my thoughts:
Johan Santana - He is signed for 2007 and 2008. They must keep him through 2010, in my opinion. I would love it if they would sign him for three more years at about $51 million ($16 million in 2009, $17 million in 2010 and $18 million in 2011). Santana would not accept that deal now, I don't think. The reason that he should is in case he is injured, he is guaranteed more money. The reason that he shouldn't is because if he can stay healthy for two more years, he could possibly get an eight year, $200 million contract from someone. Signing him now to huge money would be a risk because of injuries to pitchers, but Santana has been very healthy in his career.
Joe Mauer - He has three years yet before he can become a free agent. I like signing such guys to four year deals, if they've earned that confidence, just to provide some cost certainty. I think that is a positive for a small market. It allows the team to know where they are for a few years down the road. There are risks. Injury. Lack of production. But I think that Mauer has moved past those concerns. I think we realize that he is already the top offensive catcher in baseball and right there with the best defensively as well. Mauer is also a special case because of his St. Paul background. It is vital that he be around with the new stadium and beyond. So, I would offer Mauer a contract for five years. That is a long time for a catcher, but remember that he is still so young and will still be in his prime when he becomes a free agent. I would offer him $3.5 million for 2007, $5 million for 2008, $7 million for 2009, $9 million for 2010 and $10 million for 2011. That makes for a five year, $34.5 million deal. I would include incentives based on plate appearances. Obviously there would be incentives for All-Star appearances, batting titles, maybe on-base titles, Gold Gloves and MVP awards. I would want to include a couple of vesting option years at maybe $12 million for 2012 and $13 million for 2013. In all, that would be a seven year, $59.5 deal with a lot of incentives. I keep reading that he will get a deal that will average $10 million a season over four or five years. Because the Twins do not have to offer him a long-term deal and likely in arbitration would only owe him $4-5 million, I don't see how it would average $10 million a season.
Justin Morneau - The reigning AL MVP is also a first-year arbitration eligible guy. The MVP will certainly look good on a resume. So will the HR and RBI, but also the .300+ batting average. He plays a solid defense as well, although that is secondary. Morneau is another guy that I would like to see get a five year contract, but I also believe that he comes with a little more risk than Mauer. Health-wise, I'm not worried about him, but I would also say that he really only dominated the game the last four months of this season after a bad year and a half or so. So, I would offer him five years, but I would guess that the Twins would like to go four years with him. My offer would be to offer him $3.5 million for 2007, $5 million for 2008, $7 million for 2009, and $9 million for 2010. Yes, that is the same as the Mauer deal to that point. I would include many of the same incentives. Honestly, I would probably just offer them both the exact same deal and try to keep them around, together for a long time.
Michael Cuddyer - Cuddyer went to arbitration a year ago and got $1 million. That was for doing some, but not a lot in his previous years. Now, Cuddyer has had a 100 Run/100 RBI season as a team's cleanup hitter. He could make some money. Personally, I have been a Cuddyer backer for a long time. I would want to offer him a four year deal to keep him around for the new stadium. I want to see Mauer/Cuddyer/Morneau in the middle of the Twins lineup for years. That said, he should not cost as much as the other two. So, I would offer him a four year deal. I would pay him $4 million for 2007, $5.5 million for 2008, $7 million for 2009 and $8.5 million for 2010. I'd add a team option for 2011 at $10 million with a $1 million buyout. That makes for a four year, $26 million deal.
Joe Nathan - To me, he has been as good a closer as anyone in baseball the last three years. I know that the Twins have a great bullpen and Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain and Pat Neshek could all be solid big league closers. However, Nathan is still young. He will make "just" $5.25 million in 2007, and the Twins option on him for 2008 is at $6 million. What I would do is pick up that option for 2008 right now and add another option year for 2009 at $7 million.
So, what do you think? My proposals tie up a lot of money for the Twins organization over the next four or five years. However, the Twins should have some added revenue in 2010 with the new stadium. These are very important pieces to the puzzle. I have said several times that I think that a team can have a salary cap, but with the new stadium (and increased revenues) coming, certain elite, star-level players need to be kept and need to be on the 2010 roster so that the team can win and keep the fans coming. Don't forget that over the next few years, more players will reach their arbitration years including Francisco Liriano and Jason Kubel and more pitchers. We don't know what the market will be in two, three or four years. We know that the economic state of baseball is very good right now, so I would guess it would not decrease any time soon.
So, it's your turn... what do you think? What would you do?
Well, that is it for today. This got a lot longer than I anticipated, but that is alright! Thank you again for stopping by the site. Please feel free to e-mail me or leave some Comments below.
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