Options, Options Everywhere
Torii Hunter - $12 million option/$2 million buyout
I've made my position on the Torii Hunter option pretty clear in recent months, but I'm going to take another stab at laying out the case for picking up Torii Hunter's option for the 2007 season.
First, let's look at the costs associated with keeping Torii or getting rid of him. Torii is making $10.75 million this year. That means that the Twins would save $8.75 million in payroll (relative to what they spent THIS year), and $10 million considering the alternative option of picking him up. That's a lot of money; certainly nothing to sneeze at. The guys at Right Handed Heat seem uniformly to agree that it's so much money, the Twins shouldn't even be thinking twice about this deal. I disagree.
For $1.25 million more than they spent this year, the Twins could keep Hunter. Let me remind you that Hunter just put up one of his best offensive seasons, despite missing time due to injury. Hunter is one of three legitimate power threats in the Twins lineup, having hit 31 Homeruns this year. He drove in 98 runs. He had a respectable batting average of .278. In other words, he was a huge part of the Twins offensive machine in the last half of the season, especially over the last two months.
How about his defense? We all know what Hunter has been capable of in the past. He'll probably win another Gold Glove this year on reputation alone. But, he clearly lost a step for a substantial portion of the season, and while he was recovering some of his speed towards the end of the year, he was not able to cover nearly as much ground as he could in his prime. There are two ways to look at this: 1.) Hunter will never again be the player he was, as age and injuries have degraded his defense far enough to ensure that he will never again be a Gold Glove caliber outfielder, or 2.) Hunter was slowed by injuries, but was recovering by the end of the year and should be close to full-speed by the time the 2007 season begins. I happen to believe the second option is closer to the truth; Torii's got some life left in those legs.
So, in my opinion, Hunter is an offensive leader on the team, THE defensive leader on the team who is capable of being a Golf Glove caliber outfielder again next season, and is also the charismatic heart and soul of the team. This is not a player that you part with lightly. Nevertheless, $10 million is a lot of money to give up (I don't care how much money Torii gets paid, I just care how much the Twins would lose the ability to spend). So how to decide what to do?
I think you have to look at the alternatives available to the Twins if they lose Hunter. Here's the breakdown:
The Twins have Jason Tyner, Lew Ford, Josh Rabe, and Jason Kubel on the active roster. Clearly, neither Rabe or Kubel is a Centerfielder. Tyner and Ford are interesting options, I suppose. Consider, however, that Ford hit .226 this season, and Tyner hit .312 but drove in just 18 runs in 62 games. In other words, Ford is absolutely NOT an everyday player, and if Tyner is he certainly is not a run producer. Starting Tyner in center would necessitate finding a player who could produce like Torii for another position.
At the minor league level, the Twins hopes for the future have been pinned on Denard Span, who spent the last season with AA New Britain. He had decent numbers, hitting .285 and stealing 24 bases. But Span is another speed guy who will hit at the top of the order, NOT a run producer; he had 45 RBI's in 134 games. He has never played above AA ball. He's not ready to play at the big league level yet.
And really, that's it. Clearly there is no good internal option to replace Torii. Where else could the Twins go?
There are a fair number of guys who are probably going to be available in the off-season as free agents. Mike Cameron (if his '07 option isn't picked up), Jim Edmonds ('07 option), Carl Everett ('07 option), Steve Finley ('07 option), Kenny Lofton, Gary Matthews Jr., Juan Pierre, Bernie Williams.
Now, that's close to an exhaustive list of the guys available on the free agent market who could even THINK about playing Center Field, and I included guys like Edmonds and Everett who clearly aren't legitimate options, and Bernie Williams, who will either retire or return to the Yankees. Lofton and Pierre wouldn't be terrible options, but both are leadoff types, not run producers. And Gary Matthews just had a very nice season, but even if he were available he's going to get a big raise, to the $6-7 million dollar range I'd guess, and is the only name player really available at the position as a free agent. In other words, there are no viable options available to the team via free agency.
The Red Sox let Johnny Damon go last year and made the move to get Coco Crisp from the Indians. Why couldn't the Twins do the same thing?
Well, nothing explicitly says they can't. However, the Indians were willing to part with Crisp because they had Sizemore and had nowhere to use Crisp. Unfortunately, looking through the league, I don't see any viable situations where a team is going to be looking to unload a quality Center Fielder, and certainly not a guy who is capable of putting up the numbers that Torii can put up. Unless the Twins were to find a way to make a blockbuster type deal for an Andruw Jones type player (who would actually cost more money and be a free agent at the end of '07, just like Torii), then a trade is not a method that will enable the Twins to find a replacement for Torii.
People look at this situation and think to themselves that Torii isn't worth $12 million a year. You know what? I agree. There's no way that I would give Torii a 3 or 4 year deal worth $12 million per. However, sometimes you have to overpay in order to avoid regression. The Twins have a good enough team to be able to seriously make a run at the World Series next year, so long as they don't regress. Offense, not pitching, is likely to be the problem. I see no way that the Twins could replace Torii Hunter's offense, defense, or leadership on the team. The Twins need to either sign him to a long-term deal (for significantly LESS than $12 million/year), or pick up this option and re-evaluate next year. I vote for the latter.
The Twins should Pick up the Option.
Carlos Silva - $4 million option/$100,000 buyout
I said that the decisions on neither option were easy, but this one sure seems like an easy decision. Silva was terrible for most of the season. The Twins have a glut of young pitchers ready to go. Why, oh why, would the Twins exercise this option?
The answer has to do with who else is leaving the rotation this off-season, and who might be able to go next year. Brad Radke is almost certainly retiring, and the Twins should make that decision easier for Radke by letting him know through back-channels that they won't be re-signing him anyway (unless he wants to work for about $2 million next year). Ignoring Silva, that means the rotation next season would probably look something like this:
1.) Johan Santana
2.) Boof Bonser
3.) Francisco Liriano
4.) Matt Garza
5.) Glen Perkins/Scott Baker/Matt Guerrier
I'm not opposed to that rotation. It's filled with youth, and with Dave Gassner and Kevin Slowey both making charges, there's more youth behind it to back things up. However, what if Liriano isn't ready at the start of the season? All of a sudden that rotation looks very promising, but also very fragile.
The easy answer is that the Twins should use the money they would save by declining the option on Silva and by not having to pay Radke and Shannon Stewart next year to go out and get another, better starter. Sadly, starting pitching is at such a premium that anybody worth anything is going to make substantially more than $4 million per. That means whoever the Twins could pick up on the market would probably be no more reliable than Silva. It comes down to the idea of "go with the devil you know." I'd like to have at least one more veteran in the lineup, and I'll put my faith in Rick Anderson's ability to get Silva back on track in the off-season and spring training.
This is an agonizingly close call, and unlike the Torii Hunter situation, I have absolutely no idea what the Twins will do. My gut tells me that the right decision is to exercise the option and keep Silva around, however.
The Twins should Pick up the Option.