Saturday, January 23, 2010

What does Twins Arbitration Spending Say

Many Twins fans have been frustrated over the years by the team's unwillingness to invest in high-priced free agents. Since the mid-90's, when they gave multi-year contracts to favorite sons like Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Terry Steinbach, the Twins have not signed a free agent to a large multi-year contract (Mike Lamb doesn't count).

Many people have anticipated that the opening of the new stadium and increased revenue would finally make it possible for the Twins to add a premiere free agent. I think the recent decisions on arbitration, along with the investment in international signing bonuses, indicates that is not going to happen. Instead of going into the free agent market, it appears the Twins are going to use the extra revenue to extend the stay of their own veterans. In the past, several of the veterans, like Crain and Harris, would have been allowed to quietly leave. Now the Twins are willing to invest in keeping them around a couple more years. That may not be as dramatic as signing a celebrity player, but it will make the Twins a much better team in the long run. Especially with their increased commitment to prospect signing bonuses.

Joe Mauer is going to get a huge long term contract. That approach, keeping its good young players around longer, rather pulling in people from outside, looks like the direction the team is headed. No one else is going to get a Mauer-like contract, but the Twins are likely to give longer commitments to players who have proved themselves. That might not have meant signing Santana or Hunter when their contracts expired, but it might have meant adding a year of two to those contracts or extending their contracts for a couple years before they expired.

In the long run, the Twins are going to remain a team that puts together its core of players internally and by dealing for young players who have not fulfilled their potential. The free agent market is going to continue to be used to plug in players around that core, not add stars to it. That will disappoint some people, but we will get the benefits that come from focusing on building the team for the long run rather than making a big, immediate splash.


Jim H said...

Granny, very good post.

Recently, I read an article at Hardball Times that compared all the teams in baseball that were in the lower half of spending for 2009. Obviously the Twins come off looking good in any comparsion of that sort. What struck me though, was that the Twins were one of the few teams in that comparsion who were actually paying the big bucks to their most productive players.

That is really important when you have a limited payroll. Most teams end up paying big bucks to players who contribute little in a given year. Perhaps they sign an older free agent to a big long term contract and he isn't productive towards the end of it. Or sometimes they end up over paying for one of their own.

People complain when the Twins sign people like Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz or Castro. But these guys contribute more than most bloggers will give them credit for. Hernandez for example, had 11 quality starts in his 23 starts for the Twins. It is doubtful whether the Twins could of gotten that from their farm system. They would of had to pay considerably more to have had a good chance of getting better production from another free agent.

I think largely, the Twins do a good job building a team. You also have to be a little lucky. During the early 2000's the Indians got rid of all their older formerly productive players and tried to build a contender. They really did a pretty good job. They had Hafner, Martinez, and Sizemore as their core everyday players. They had some good role type players around them. They had pitchers like Sabathia, Lee, Westbrook and others as good to potentially very good starters. They made the post season once and are now blowing things up and starting over.

What I am saying is that the Twins organization has done a good job putting things together. Since I consider the post season something of a crap shoot anyway. I prefer that the Twins continue to do things the way they are. I don't particularly want them to load up on expensive free agents for that one shot.

Bryz said...

I was agreeing with Jim H. up until he mentioned that some of these poor signings for the Twins have still contributed. I feel that the key to the Twins has been that when they make a bad signing, the poor performance isn't coming from a guy with a long and/or expensive contract. Livan Hernandez was 1 year and about $5 million. Ramon Ortiz was a pretty cheap signing. Even Mike Lamb, who will (inexplicably, in my opinion) be hated for years to come by Twins fans, was only 2 years, $6 million. These contracts have not been like Barry Zito's with the Giants, where his performance could easily be matched by someone that's much cheaper. Large contracts, especially those given to players that don't perform well, reduce financial flexibility.

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure that all the arb eligible players they signed will be with the team on opening day. Most the contracts aren't guaranteed - maybe they're planning to shop some of their bullpen options since the free agent market seems weak for relievers and the Twins seem to have a lot invested in their bullpen right now with additional cheaper options available within their system.

writerjoel said...

Arbitration at least sets a cost to a player. It's tough to trade one sometimes when the "real" cost is till up-in-the-air.

The Twins have been lucky, signing the occasional fringe (over-the-hill) free agent, buying a bit mroe time for the so-called propsect.

But other teams have been quite successful - Braves and A's to name a couple - who maybe do 25-30% roster turnover during the off-season, not to mention rolling in a prospect or two.

The Twins could actually jettison a few more pieces than they do for other pieces (rather than let them walk -- but they do get some kudos for getting future parts, at times, for those mid-level free agent signees).

It's tough being a general manager, and the Twins are lucky that they haven't had to eat many contacts (Mays being a big exception) -- which is probably the one big plus of having mroe money to spend. It was sad they had to pay Mike Lamb to basically NOT play for anyone but the Mets minors last season. But, who knew.

I just wish tickets (baseball experience) was cheaper and player salaries would stop rising so much.

Anonymous said...

amen. writer joel; amen.

TT said...

"But other teams have been quite successful - Braves and A's to name a couple - who maybe do 25-30% roster turnover during the off-season, not to mention rolling in a prospect or two."

I think Oakland is more a caution against that approach than an example of success. It has had three straight losing seasons with zero improvement and one division championship in the last six years. Their success early in the decade was based on guys they developed like Giambi, Tejada, Chavez, Muldur, Hudson, Zito and Harden. They have done a lot of wheeling and dealing and come up empty.

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