A Few Thoughts
1.) If I had time, I'd write a fairly long piece on the Joe Nathan extension. As it is, let me just say that I agree with this signing. Now, before some of you SABR-minded folks come after me for failing to recognize that closers don't deserve the money they're paid, etc. etc. etc., let me say that I agree that this is probably true. Nonetheless, Nathan is a very good pitcher, he does the job effectively, and there's no reason to think that he'll suddenly become ineffective during the life of his contract. This move allows the Twins to save a bit of face with the fans who think that letting Torii walk and trading Santana were the wrong decisions (they weren't, of course, but the majority of the fan base doesn't pay enough attention to realize that).
More importantly, the Twins could actually afford this extension, and this is a very important point. The Twins have Mauer, Morneau, and Cuddyer locked up each for at least the next three seasons. Meanwhile, the next wave of guys the Twins will need to re-sign (Delmon Young, Francisco Liriano, et al) won't be eligible for free agency for at least that long either. Add to that the fact that the Twins don't seem to be a big destination for free agents, and it became apparent that the money might as well be spent to give Nathan a contract more in the market-value range. Are closers overpaid? Yes. But sometimes you can afford to overpay, and all things considered this is one of those times.
Now, one of the things that makes no sense to me is the complaint from some fans that, if the Twins could afford to sign Nathan to this deal, they could have afforded to sign Santana. Simply put, that makes no sense whatsoever. Santana just got nearly $140 million, while Nathan got just over $40 million. That's slightly less than a $100 million difference. Do I really need to belabor the point? We're talking a whole different ballpark here, friends. I suppose the Twins could have decided not to extend Nathan, Morneau, or Cuddyer in order to sign Santana -- but that might not have been enough, because Morneau and Cuddyer would, of course, have continued to get arbitration raises for a few years. So now, to afford Santana, we were maybe talking about trading one of those two. This is all speculation, but I hope it puts to rest the notion that the money should have been used to extend Johan -- you can't cover $140 million with $40 million, last I checked.
So, the bottom line is that I'm perfectly satisfied with this signing. Sometimes you have to look beyond the bottom line, and considering all of the circumstances involved here, I don't think this was a bad decision.
2.) Carlos Gomez won the CF job, and while I think that was the right decision, I do feel bad for Denard Span. Hopefully, Gomez is fantastic -- but if he's not, I hope the Twins give Span a chance to show what he can do at the big league level. If nothing else, Span establishing himself as at least a moderately capable big leaguer would be good for the Twins because it would raise his trade value. We'll see what happens.
3.) I can't really argue with the decision to keep Matt Tolbert over Brian Buscher. How disappointing has the play of guys fighting for infield jobs been this spring, though? Obviously, that category excludes Mike Lamb, Adam Everett, and Justin Morneau -- but look at how bad Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, Buscher, and Tommy Watkins were (amongst others). Did anybody really want to make the team? I'm guessing Tolbert will get a shot to play a little at 2B, SS, and 3B -- we'll see if he sticks. If so, he's next year's Nick Punto (in terms of versatility, hopefully not in terms of batting average).
4.) Obviously, Nick Blackburn and Brian Bass are left in camp fighting for what might be just one roster spot (the 12th pitcher spot). I stand by what I said on Sunday -- I think Bass has the last spot in the bullpen sown up, and I expected Blackburn to be kept around in case either Scott Baker or Francisco Liriano starts the season on the DL or on a rehab assignment, respectively. It's sounding more and more likely that Blackburn will make the team one way or another -- and there's even a possibility that Philip Humber could find himself in a Twins uniform getting a start if both Liriano and Baker are shelved early on. I'm going to continue arguing the point that Baker and Liriano will actually make the team -- but I seem to be a minority at this point. Ah well -- if I'm wrong, I'm wrong!
5.) Congrats to the Red Sox for winning game 1 of the regular season. I have to say, though, that I hate everything about these season openers in Japan, down to the advertising on the helmets. You want to play exhibitions in Asia? Fine. Regular season games, though, should be played in a team's home ballpark, and the audience here shouldn't have to get up between 3 AM and 6 AM (depending on location in the US) to watch the first game of the season. I don't know -- call me provincial if you want, but I don't like it and I probably never will.