30 Teams in 30 Days: Minnesota Twins Roundtable

Twins

Our guest bloggers is Matt Seybold from The Sporting Hippeaux and Bill Parker from the Daily Something.

Question 1 – Can they sign Joe Mauer to an extension?
Aaron: The Twins can absolutely sign Mauer. But, I’m in the camp that believes if it doesn’t happen before the start of the 2010 regular season, then all bets are off. As it stands, it looks like the Twins are scripting this for an extension to be announced at the end of Spring Training and just before the Twins christen their new ballpark for the regular season opener. A Hollywood ending — in Minnesota, of all places.

Matt: I’m not convinced the contract gets done before the start of the season, although I appreciate that would make for some very good publicity, but I think it does get done sooner or later. It is probably the right thing for the organization, because Mauer is a player – like Pujols, Bonds, etc. – who people will pay to see, even when his team is struggling, and who is an icon in the community. That said, I’m not sure it is the best thing for the team’s long-term performance. Will the new ballpark generate enough revenue for the Twins to increase payroll by 30-40%? That upgrade will be necessary if they are planning on paying one player $20-$25 Million every season. Will they also attempt to re-sign Morneau? The Twins could become cash-strapped relatively quickly. It also worries me that both of their marquee players have had at least moderate injury issues already, in their mid-twenties. Don’t get me wrong, I think Joe Mauer is a spectacular talent, but I’m worried about the potential of a Griffey, Mo Vaughn, or Eric Chavez scenario down the road, where not only is Minnesota hamstrung by the contract, but Mauer isn’t even on the field consistently.

Bill: They’re over a barrel. They absolutely must sign Mauer. They have no choice in the matter; heading into the inaugural season at Target Field without having locked up the most popular and most talented player in team history would be absolutely disastrous.

But I’m starting to doubt whether they can. It’s not the money; they’re coming out of the worst ballpark and ballpark lease in MLB and into a beautiful new park built just for them. Ticket prices, concession prices, attendance, and everything else that might possibly bring the team income will be way up, and they know it. They’ve already increased their payroll almost 50% over 2009, and I have no doubt they’re still going to be absolutely swimming in cash. The problem, rather, is that there’s a second party that has to agree to that contract. If Mauer doesn’t want to stay in Minnesota, there’s not a single thing they can do.

It’s been assumed by most everybody that he does want to stay, and I was assuming the same thing. He grew up in St. Paul, of course, and he’s become the sort of mythic hero figure in the Twin Cities that he could never be anywhere else, and the team and market seem to be a perfect fit for his personality. But New York has a lot to offer that he can’t get anywhere else, too.

I don’t agree that it’s likely that the Twins are intentionally timing the announcement for the start of the new season; I think it was in the Twins’ best interest to have this done and announced months ago. I think they’ve legitimately been unable to get a deal done despite the team’s best efforts, and I’m starting to think they never will get that deal done. I hope to God I’m wrong — speaking both as a Twins fan and as a fan of the game — but it’s well past time to start worrying whether he wants to stay at all.

Daniels: In one of the recent issues of Sports Illustrated, there was an article on Mauer and the Twins. The article suggested that the Twins have already offered something along the lines of 10 years, $200M. If that isn’t getting it done, what are we thinking is the Twins’ Plan B? And, in the realistic case, is it worth it for a team to lock up 1/4th to 1/5th of their payroll over the next decade to lock up a player at a position notorious for killing productivity over 30? And, if Mauer’s agent is turning that offer down, what in the world does he think the Red Sox, Yankees, or Mets are putting on the table next year? The non-DH league can’t possibly offer that much to a catcher and Victor Martinez is really a pretty good consolation prize.

Bill: I think the Yankees would hand him $27-30mm a year without blinking an eye. Part of the reason they had a subdued (by Yankee standards) 2010 offseason.

Matt: I love Joe Mauer, but nobody, and I mean nobody is going to give him a $275-$300 Million contract. Pujols might get that kind of money, but even that’s doubtful.

Daniels’ right. If the Twins have 10 yr./$200 Mil. on the table, there’s not too much higher they can go. Durability being the main point of contention. My guess is that Mauer’s agent knows $250 Mil. isn’t realistic, but is bartering for various perks, etc. and perhaps thinks he can get another $15-$20 Mil., which he very well might be able to.

Daniels: The Yankees have to re-sign Derek Jeter and Mo Rivera next year, plus Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes reach arbitration, plus escalating contracts on some other players like Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson, plus they will almost certainly sign one of the marquee available starters. While I’m not saying they can’t afford to also sign Mauer if they want to, I don’t really believe they’re going to go to a quarter-billion dollar, which would be over $300M with luxury tax payments, payroll.

Bill: Nobody said he’d get 275-300 million. He certainly doesn’t have to in order to get a better deal. 7/ or 8/200 is a lot more valuable than 10/200, if you think you’ll still have value left in years 8-10.

And Jeter and Mo, at ages 37 and 41, aren’t going to cost the Yanks any MORE money than they are under their current deals. They might get the same yearly amount under some misguided sense of loyalty, but more likely they’re getting decent sized pay cuts.

Matt: Okay, let me re-phrase, even the Yankees aren’t going to give out the highest annual salary in the history of baseball (or even the second or third highest) to a catcher with a documented history of back and knee ailments.

Bill: They gave Alex Rodriguez a $27.5 million AAV contract that will be paying him through age 41…it doesn’t seem all that far-fetched to me to think they’ll pay $27-30 for the prime years of one of the three or four best players in baseball. And I have no doubt at all that they’d be willing to beat 10/$200. I just hope we never have to find out…

Chad: I too hope we never find out. I don’t see this as a matter of “can” or “can’t”, they HAVE to re-sign him. The public outcry for not doing so would be disastrous to the team on possibly a Florida Marlins level. For years and years and years Twins fans like myself have asked why we can’t keep this player or that player. And I’m not talking the Torii Hunters and Johan Santana’s of the world, I’m talking the Jacque Jones, Christian Guzman, Corey Koskie, Doug Meink…however you spell his name. And when ever those concerns came up, it was always said “We can’t afford to pay them because were a mid-to-small market and don’t have the ballpark for it.” We’re still the same market size, but the ballpark is in place to ridiculously boost the profit margin for the team. And Minnesota fans are smart enough to realize this. They know they have a chance to keep a true superstar in the state for a long time and the fans will not settle for losing him.

Daniels: A-Rod is arguably the best player in baseball and will likely be breaking every single record that every important Yankee holds through the life of this contract. He will be a money-printing machine as he starts getting close to Ruth’s and Aaron’s and, yes, Bonds’ records. He’s got an outside shot of passing Pete Rose for the hits record. Mauer is a great player, but he doesn’t remotely justify $30M/year and, honestly, the days of George throwing unjustified or unnecessary money at players is over.

Question 2 – Which Francisco Liriano will we see this year?
Bill: I expect something close to the 2008 version; plenty of strikeouts, ERA around or a little below 4.00. His velocity is back up a bit and his slider is looking very sharp, and his underlying numbers suggested he wasn’t nearly as bad as his ERA looked last season anyway. I don’t think the otherworldly beast of 2006 is ever coming back, but I expect him to be a solid #2-3ish starter (whenever healthy) for the next several years.

Matt: Like many, I was heartened by Liriano’s Winter League performance, but we should keep in mind that it was a very small sample size (18 IP) and that 45-year-old Orlando Hernandez also dominated the VWL.

I agree with Bill. It is reasonable to hope for a step in the right direction, towards being a slightly better than league average pitcher. However, Liriano may never be the second-coming of Dwight Gooden, as it once looked like he would become. Those who saw him pitch in ’06 should consider themselves blessed.

Chad: How quickly things change. Back in 06 I remember being thrilled that we had Santana, Liriano, and a young up and comer named Garza to front our rotation. 3 Pitchers with Ace written all over them. Two trades and an arm injury later we have a stumbling Liriano left from the group. I agree with what everyone else said, he’s never going to be that great pitcher again, but the Twins need him to be at least better than average this year.

Daniels: It’s tough to say which Liriano we’ll see this year. I’m willing to bet whomever it is will be the real Francisco Liriano. Between injuries and the drama with his agent vs. the team to bring him back up, maybe he can just settle in to a routine and be the pitcher they expect him to be.

Question 3 – Is Delmon Young a bust? Should the Twins regret trading for him?
Matt: I’m never prepared to declare a 24-year-old hitter a “bust.” I think there is no doubt that Young was rushed to the major leagues and may not turn out to be the #1 player of the ’03 draft, which included Nick Markakis, Chad Billingsley, Adam Jones, and Carlos Quentin, among others. However, Young made strides at the plate in ’09 (9 HR, 825 OPS in the second half) and this could finally be his breakout season.

He’s going to have to turn into quite a stud in order to make him worth Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. I don’t think there was any way the Twins could predict, based on Bartlett’s progress through their system, that he would be a .320 hitter in the major leagues one day. Bartlett still has to prove that wasn’t a total mirage, but to this point the Rays definitely look like they fleeced Minnesota on this one.

Bill: Yes, he’s a bust, and there is absolutely no doubt the Twins should regret trading for him. As nice as his second half ’09 was, he needed it just to get back to the same unacceptable level of production at which he’s been stuck for the last three years (and his plate discipline has, unbelievably, gotten even worse). But they can’t give up on him, in part because they gave up so much to get him. I think he might turn into an average or slightly better starting outfielder some day (he could be a downright good hitter, but his defense is almost hopeless, which is how he usually looks out there). He’ll never justify the #1 pick or the trade of Bartlett and Garza, but they’ve got to hope he might someday be something.

Daniels: I won’t go so far as to say Young’s a “bust”. His certainly had a bad season as major league players go, but at 23 it’s safe to assume that he’s still developing. We also really have no idea yet how he will adapt to the Twins’ new park. I will say, in retrospect, it seems like the Twins gave up an awful lot for him.

Question 4 – Where will the Twins finish in the standings?
Bill: First, by a margin of at least four games.

Russ: Assuming no Joe Nathan, 2nd at best.

Chad: With Joe Nathan healthy, 1st, no Joe Nathan, 3rd.

Matt: I’m not convinced that Joe Nathan makes or breaks their season. Obviously, he is one of the league’s best closers, but most evidence suggests that closers are not the rarest of commodities. I would not be surprised in the least if Jon Rauch or Matt Guerrier steps in and is at least decent in the role, costing the Twins no more that a couple wins (of course, one or two wins may be all that separates the division).

This loss is not as costly for the Twins as it would be for say, the Reds or the Brewers, because they have a handful of potentially dominant relievers in addition to Nathan. Rauch, Guerrier, and Mijares were all very, very good last year and will hopefully be ready to take on larger roles. Pat Neshek is returning. Clay Condrey’s coming off a pair of very good seasons in Philadelphia. Jesse Crain had a rough season in ’09, but has been a dependable middle innings guy for most of his career. I think Gardenhire will once again put together a very solid bullpen and will find somebody who can handle the shutdown role in the 9th. That said, I had the Twins finishing second prior to Nathan’s injury and I still think they are a second-place team, slightly back of the White Sox.

Daniels: 2nd place. I think I called this division for the Tigers. I’ll stick with that, especially with Nathan seemingly out.

Bonus: From the New York Mets Roundtable – Joe Nathan Discussion
Ron: By the way, and speaking of health, I see that Joe Nathan might be out for the year (according to initial reports) with a torn ligament in his elbow. What do you suppose that does to pre-spring training predictions about the Twins?

Jeff: If Nathan’s injury is season-ending, it’s devastating news for the Twins. They rely on him so heavily as they play in so many close games. His loss really shakes up the whole bullpen, throwing guys into positions and situations they are unfamiliar with. It could be a catastrophe, in my opinion.

Russ: I don’t see how he will recover without surgery. I have heard “significant tear” from more than one source.

Chad: Yeah, i don’t know why they’re trying the same route they tried with Neshek. My only idea is that with Neshek they still had control over him, w as with Nathan by the time his two year recovery was done, his contract would be up.

Nathan being out is a worst case scenario for the Twins. In my opinion it is a minimum 10 game swing. From blown saves to coming in with the score tied it will cost them a tleast 10, probably more and will easy send them from the top of the division to the middle of the pack.

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