One of the last posts I put up was commenting on the possible trades or free agent signings the Twins could try and make this winter. At the time, I felt like there just weren't many options. Now, it seems quite different. It feels impossible for the Twins to do anything now.
Just yesterday, the Astros signed Carlos Lee to a 6 year, $100 million contract. Here are the many ways that is pure insanity: Lee has never had a year with an OPS over .900, is a 30-year old coming off a career year of 37 HRs and 116 RBI, is not a particularly patient hitter (he had one good year with walks, drawing 75, but he also hit .264 that year), and is an awful outfielder. In the AL, there is of course the option to DH, but in the NL, they'll have to play him daily and watched him botch play after play on the giant Minute Maid Park wall.
So what does this mean for the Twins? Well, for one, the Lee signing isn't the most insane deal of the offseason. The Alfonso Soriano contract of 8 years, $136 million given by the Cubs is just as bad. Like Lee, Soriano probably already had his best year and isn't likely to age well. He's a speedy player with power, but he has little patience--already a problem with most of the Cubs hitters--and speed isn't an asset most hang onto later in their careers.
It gets worse. The Gary Matthews, Jr. deal? A 5 year, $50 million deal for a career utility player and 32-year old outfielder who had one good year? A 5 year, $44 million deal for Juan Pierre, a center fielder with an arm worse than Jason Tyner's and whose only real aspect, like Tyner's, is speed? (Not that I'm really comparing the two, but that kind of money for a one-dimensional player is beyond me)
All these deals add up to a major problem for the Twins. It doesn't just mean that they will have trouble signing any free agents they may want. It will affect trades they may potentially want to make and the extensions that they need to give to Joe Mauer, MVP Justin Morneau, and maybe Michael Cuddyer.
In all honesty, I never really expected the Twins to make a free agent splash anyway. Well, more specifically, I hoped that Terry Ryan would be smart enough to avoid doing so. The free agent market is very weak this offseason, as far as I can tell. Soriano, a great player but not an elite player, got the kind of deal that has been given only to Hall of Fame caliber players (well, minus Mike Hampton in 2000): Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, and Todd Helton (that may be up for debate to some, but a career .333/.430/.593 with 413 doubles is pretty impressive, even with the Coors factor) and the most recent 8-year deal was given to Scott Rolen, another Hall of Fame caliber player.
With that in mind, the price for even mediocre players has sky-rocketed. Jamie Walker, a 35-year-old lefty specialist who doesn't exactly eat innings, is getting paid nearly $4 million a year. Same with Mike Stanton, a 39-year old journeyman. That means it might take an awful lot to get even a guy like Jason Jennings on the trade market, one of the Twins' apparent targets.
If this trend continues, which it likely will, they should look inward. One of the few sensible deals of the offseason was the four year, $13.25 million extension the Rockies gave to Jeff Francis. Last season, Francis, the ninth-overall pick in the 2002 draft, went 13-11 with a 4.16 ERA and 1.29 WHIP and threw 199 innings. At Coors Field, that's certainly getting the job done, but even in the new market and the offensive era that baseball currently occupies, that is a smart deal. With a fifth-year option, the average yearly salary is just over $3.25 million a year for a guy with who can put up a solid ERA, eat innings, and doesn't walk too many. Those are valuable assets for that kind of money, even if 2006 was a bit of a fluke for Francis. (Jennings may have had more of a fluke year; Francis' HR rate went down, his GB/FB increased from 1.00 to 1.24.)
The Twins may want to do the same. Spending the money they have available this offseason to lock up Mauer, Mornuea, and Cuddyer, and possibly extend others like Johan Santana would be the smartest. They should probably still keep options open on a starting pitcher and a DH, but the focus should be on the kind of deals that will more likely pay off. Deals like that given to Soriano and Lee will probably hurt a club down the line or even next year, but extending young, talented players, while still a risk, is a much better investment for a small market team.
Considering all the ridiculous and idiotic dealing going on this offseason, I would be more than happy if the only thing the Twins did this offseason is make moves to keep the M & M Boys around for a long time. I doubt too many Twins fans could complain about that.