Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thoughts About Upcoming Contract Decisions

          As I sit at home watching the World Series, I can only think of what kind of season the Twins could have had this year. In no way did I expect the Twins to make a playoff run or anything, but to end up losing 99 games, the 2nd most losses in a single season since arriving in 1961, was just shocking. Most people were predicting the Twins to contend for another AL Central title this year, but quickly realized this wasn’t going to be their year.
          Everything from very poor pitching to ongoing injuries, the Twins were behind the eight ball from the very beginning. Having a payroll over $100 million doesn’t necessarily mean that you will do well that season, as that was clearly evident with the Twins. For the first time in franchise history, they passed the $100 million payroll mark as they had a payroll of $113 million. Many people thought that since they had a high payroll, that they would do well and make a playoff run.
          But if you look at the breakdown of the team payroll, you have to realize that 52% of the $113 million were the contracts of Joe Mauer ($23 million), Justin Morneau ($15 million), Joe Nathan ($11.25 million) and Michael Cuddyer ($10.5 million). The only healthy player out of that group of four this year was Cuddyer. Mauer and Morneau have been dealing with injuries for the last several years and Nathan was entering his first full season since Tommy John Surgery, so they weren’t sure how he would respond.
          Either way, that is a lot of money to have tied up with four players. With Mauer entering the first year of his 8 year, $184 million contract this past year, the Twins were very limited to their off-season moves prior to the season and will likely be in the same situation this off-season. However, the Twins have a few things going for them. They were able to get rid of Delmon Young, who made $5.37 million this year and expecting to make more and more as gets closer to free agency. The Twins also have a few impending free agents in Matt Capps, Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer, plus the $12.5 million club option on Joe Nathan.
          I fully expect that Capps and Kubel will not be members of the 2012 Minnesota Twins, so that will free up $12.4 million to use towards possible free agent moves. Also, the tough decision whether or not to re-sign Cuddyer will be the biggest decision for General Manager Bill Smith. There are rumors that the Twins had an offer on the table for the last few weeks, which is a $16 million, two-year offer. I could see the Twins giving Cuddyer a two-year, $18 million deal with a possible third year team option. Not only is Cuddyer a clubhouse leader, but he has also been one of very few regular Twins to remain healthy the last few seasons.
          Then there is the case of Joe Nathan. He has a team option for $12.5 million that is all but sure to be voided by the Twins, which will cost them just $2 million to void. After the option is void, I expect the Twins to quickly give him a new deal to return as the full-time Twins closer. Heading into the 2011 season he was assigned as the set-up man to Capps, but that didn’t last very long. Capps was very inconsistent and was given multiple chances by manager Ron Gardenhire, but was later swapped with Nathan. Nathan eventually settled into the role and proved that he was meant to be the closer from day one. Look for Glen Perkins to be the new set-up man, assuming Bill Smith pleases the fans and lets Capps become a free agent this winter.
          With a few key players become free agents this winter, Bill Smith will have to put his thinking cap on and get that check book ready if he wants to sign some players that can fill those holes and allow the Twins to return to contending for the division title.