Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Friday, June 15, 2007

Should the Twins Keep Torii? Can They?

It's time to sit down and have a heart-to-heart about Torii Hunter. It's amazing to me looking back now that there was ever a movement to not pick up Torii's option last fall. Yes, $12 million seemed like a lot of money at the time -- but within weeks it was clear that the Twins had actually managed to secure a bargain, and Torii has done nothing but prove himself this year, with a .312 batting average, 14 HR, 54 RBI's, and the kind of defensive play that will earn him another Gold Glove when the season is over.

In a perfect world, the Twins would sign Hunter to a 3- or 4-year deal for about $12 million per, he'd continue to perform, and everybody would be happy. This is most certainly not a perfect world. Torii is apt to get significant attention on the Free Agent market this off-season (Yes, Ichiro and Andruw Jones are both free agents -- but Jones is hitting .213 this year, and hasn't hit above .263 since 2003, although he always hits a lot of homers). There's also the fact that the Twins are trying to find a way to sign Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan -- and some guy named Johan Santana -- to long term deals. Is there room at the inn for Torii next season? And should the Twins take the plunge and re-sign him if they can?

Last November, when I thought about this question, the answer was an obvious "no." Torii was getting older and more expensive, and the Twins had Denard Span coming up through the system. Surely, he'd be ready to slot into Center at the start of 2008. The Twins would need to fill Hunter's production numbers from somewhere, but they could do that with a free agent 3B or DH. Frankly, I looked at the money savings that would come with Hunter's departure and thought "no brainer." Now, that decision looks hasty and foolish -- especially with Denard Span struggling mightily at Rochester.

I ask you this question: where would the Twins be this year without Hunter's offensive production? Third, Left, DH, and Short have been black holes offensively all year. Without Hunter, you could add Center -- and that would mean more than half the lineup was doing nothing. I hate to say this, but the necessity of having his production in the lineup is not going to disappear next year. The Twins have no offensive prospects who are anywhere near stepping in and putting up Hunter-like numbers. They have no ability to lure a free agent with his kind of numbers, either -- at least not without spending as much or more than they would spend on Hunter himself. How about a trade, you say? Well -- to get somebody back with Hunter-like production numbers, the Twins would end up having to part with a package that would probably need to include a top tier starter prospect (Slowey or Garza, for instance) as well as a mid-tier starting prospect and at least one more piece. Sorry folks -- that's not going to happen. In other words, offensively, it seems to me that it's Hunter or nothing.

The Twins also cannot afford to dawdle on this. Case in point -- the Washington Nationals of last season, who refused to part with Alfonso Soriano and wound up getting nothing but draft picks for him. That's far too paltry a return on a player the caliber of Soriano -- or Hunter -- and the Twins cannot afford the possibility of letting Hunter go to Free Agency. That means a decision will need to be made on what to do with him in the next 6 weeks or so. Needless to say, a trade would end the Twins hopes of competing for a post-season berth this season.

In my opinion, then, the Twins need to do everything in their power to re-sign Torii Hunter. For how long and how much, you ask? I don't think the Twins would go over 4 years, and I don't think they'd want to go over 3. A three year deal would keep Hunter a Twin through 2010 -- which means he's be around for the first year of the new ballpark, which is something he very much wants to be involved with. His desire to play in that facility, and his desire to stay in Minnesota (which I believe is pretty high) may very well be the key to getting something done. I think there's a chance that he'd take somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million per year for 3 years, on average. I have no evidence for this -- it's idle speculation. I suspect he could get a better deal than that if he were to test the market.

But let's assume for the remainder of this discussion that Hunter would take a 3-year, $15 million/year deal. Could the Twins afford him? It would be awfully tough -- but there's perhaps an outside shot. Here's what would need to happen.

First off, if you look at the core players who are under contract for next season, you'll see the following:

Players Under Contract

1.) Jesse Crain: 2007 (.5 M) / 2008 (1.05 M)
2.) Joe Nathan: 2007 (5.25 M) / 2008 (6 M) *team option*
3.) Johan Santana: 2007 (12 M) / 2008 (13.25 M)
4.) Joe Mauer: 2007 (3.75 M) / 2008 (6.25 M)
5.) Nick Punto: 2007 (1.8 M) / 2008 (2.4 M)

There are more players under contract, but the rest of them stay at the same salary for next season, so there's no reason to mention them here. Looking at these numbers, the Twins will have to fork over an additional $5.65 M next season for these five players. But that's not the end of the increases:

Arbitration Eligibles
* 2008 figures are only estimates*

1.) Matt Guerrier: 2007 (.4075 M) / 2008 (1.5 M)
2.) Juan Rincon: 2007 (2 M) / 2008 (3 M)
3.) Carlos Silva: 2007 (4.075 M) / 2008 (6 M)
4.) Justin Morneau: 20o7 (4.5 M) / 2008 (6.5 M)
5.) Michael Cuddyer: 2007 (3.575 M) / 2008 (5.5 M)
6.) Lew Ford: 2007 (.985 M) / 2008 (1.5 M)
7.) Jason Kubel: 2007 (.3875 M) / 2008 (2.5 M)
8.) Jason Tyner: 2007 (.4 M) / 2008 (1 M)

Luis Rodriguez may also be eligible for arbitration as a Super-Two player at the end of the year -- he'll be on the border-line, I believe. Of course, his salary figure would be quite small anyway, so the Twins wouldn't need to worry too much, I don't think. Nevertheless, with these 8 players, if they got the raises that I think they will, the Twins would need to find an additional $11.17 M in the couch cushions to keep these players around as well. Added to the contract raises, that's an additional $16.82 M. And this is just looking one year into the future . . .

Where would that money come from? Well, the Twins will get some back due to free agent departures (remember, this is all preliminary to a discussion of Torii):

Free Agent Departures
1.) Ramon Ortiz: 3.1 M
2.) Sidney Ponson: 1 M
3.) Luis Castillo: 5.75 M
4.) Jeff Cirillo: 1.5 M
5.) Rondell White: 2.5 M

That saves the Twins $13.85 M right there, leaving a shortfall of $2.97 M to make up before Torii Hunter is even taken into consideration. Of course, if Hunter leaves, then it's relatively easy to take care of the above salaries, maybe add a moderately good player, and maybe even to sign someone (Santana?) long-term. But this isn't about Santana -- right now, we're talking about Torii. How do we make it happen?

First, Torii's making $12 million this year, and I'm predicting a $15 million salary for 2008 if he's re-signed. That $3 million needs to be added to the impending shortfall, giving us a need for $5.97 M. It also should give you a pretty solid idea of what I'm suggesting.

I'm predicting that Carlos Silva would get $6 million in arbitration after this season. It just so happens that that is almost exactly the amount of the shortfall the Twins would need to make up and pay for another year of Torii next year. More would need to be done -- the Twins would need to increase salary a bit to make some other free agent additions and to patch holes here and there -- but removing Silva from the rotation (leaving, presumably, a rotation of Santana, Liriano, Bonser, Slowey, and Garza or Perkins for 2008) would work wonders for the budget next season.

Look again at that projected 2008 rotation -- the Twins hopefully would be able to afford parting ways with Carlos. Indeed, there's probably no better time to make a move like this than at the trade deadline this year. Contenders will be looking for reliable starters -- and Carlos is making a solid case for himself as just that this season. The Twins should pull the trigger and make this move when July rolls around. It would hurt the teams ability to compete this year -- yes, Carlos has been that good -- but the alternative is significantly worse over the long-term.

The bottom line here is that the Twins simply cannot afford to lose Torii Hunter. They need to find a way to make the economics work to keep him around for another couple of years while they try to develop a replacement. Denard Span is just not ready for prime time, and will not be until, I would guess, 2009 at the very earliest.

As for the ramifications beyond 2008 -- my advice to the Twins is not to worry about it right now. The Twins cannot win in 2008 without Torii Hunter's offense -- at least, barring some kind of paradigm shift that I don't see coming. Get him under contract, get Johan under contract, and worry about the ramifications next summer. For now, there's simply no other choice.

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  • At Sat Jun 16, 08:10:00 AM , Blogger Twins Territory said...

    As a side note, here are the players I think we should keep and let go next season. (These are just the arbitration people)


    Let Go:
    Rincon (Trade this year?)
    Rodriguez (?)

    I would possibly keep Tyner based just on how much he would get. However, I'm hoping Rincon will be used to get someone this season. I think Silva should go just becuase we have so many pitchers. Finally, I'd rather give someone like Jones a roster spot rather than Ford.

  • At Tue Jul 10, 05:39:00 PM , Blogger neckrolls said...

    I christened my blog yesterday with a similar argument. I agree with you and Twins Territory - if the Twins drop the right free agent/arbitration eligible players, they should be able to sign Torii and still keep next year's payroll more or less the same as 2007. Which, in my mind, saves them $8M to add to the 2009 payroll, taking it up near $90M. Chicago and (it appears) Seattle are making deals with their star free agents before the break - why not the Twins?


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