But, in taking a closer look, you will find that Terry Ryan and the Twins committed quite a bit of money during this offseason. There was the activation of Torii Hunter's $12 million option as well as Carlos Silva's $4.3 million option, the re-signing of Rondell White at $2.75 million, Joe Mauer's four-year $33 million dollar deal, the signing of Ramon Ortiz at $3 million, Justin Morneau's $4 million raise, plus all the various raises for other arbitration-eligible players. Put it all together, and that eats up the salary space that was cleared up by the departures of Brad Radke and Shannon Stewart and then some.
So while Ryan did not make a big splash in the free agent market this offseason and was quiet in the trade department, he did make some moves to hold together the core group that won the division last season, while adding a few role players to fill some holes around those players.
How did the Twins do on the moves they did make over the offseason? Let's take a look one-by-one and see how they grade out (in no particular order).
Torii Hunter's option activated for $12 million.
As usual, Hunter frustrated fans last season with his streaky and inconsistent play, stumbling out of the gates with a .189/.240/.378 line in April and flying across the finish line with a .314/.328/.576 line (including nine home runs) in September. Also as usual, Hunter's overall results were pretty good. His .278 average was the third-highest of his career, he drove in 98 runs (four off his career high) and he broke the 30-HR barrier for the first time. $12 million is a big chunk of the Twins' payroll, but when you take into account the Zito-esque mega-deal that Vernon Wells signed with the Blue Jays in the offseason, it doesn't seem all that unreasonable. Hunter's defensive prowess is on the decline, but he's still an upper-echelon defender at his position. Being that this is a just a one-year commitment, it can't really hurt the Twins too much no matter what happens.
Rondell White re-signed for $2.75 million.
This is a fairly low-risk investment. If White hits like he did down the stretch last year (.321/.354/.538 after the All-Star break) it's a great deal. If he hits like he did for the first half of the season, it's not so great, but still not all that horrible since it's only a one-year deal. The reality is that White will probably hit somewhere between the two extremes of last year, and considering the types of deals being handed out on the free agent market over the past few months, getting that kind of production for under $3 million is not bad at all. With Cuddyer having emerged as the big right-handed bat in the middle of the order, there will be less pressure on White to produce this year.
Carlos Silva's option activated for $4.325 million.
The Twins had little choice but to activate Silva's option, with Radke and Francisco Liriano gone for the 2007 season and few realistic options available via free agency or trade to buoy the rotation. Silva was nothing short of abysmal in '06, but there is reason to hope he can rebound toward his 2005 form this year. It's hard to be complimentary of rewarding a 5.94 ERA with over $4 million, but the Twins could have done worse. For an example, see below.
Ramon Ortiz signed out of free agency for $3.1 million.
I don't care how ridiculous the market for starting pitching was this offseason, there is simply no scenario in which Ortiz is worth over $3 million. At least there is some hope for Silva because he's relatively young and had success as recently as two seasons ago. Ortiz is 33 and has posted an ERA below 5 just once over the past four seasons. He has poor control, he is extremely hittable, and if you like collecting baseballs, I suggest you get some tickets for the Home Run Porch on days Ortiz is pitching. This is just a waste of money.
Sidney Ponson signed out of free agency to minor-league deal for $1 million.
Ponson is just one of a handful of players the Twins signed to minor-league deals during the offseason, but I'll discuss his signing since I think he stands the best chance of any of them to make the team out of spring training. First of all, it's hard to be critical of this deal at all, because he is not guaranteed a roster spot and his contract is only worth a million bucks. Like Ortiz, Ponson has struggled for the past several seasons, but unlike Ortiz, some of those issues can probably be attributed to off-the-field problems. If Ponson can get his head on straight, there's a chance he can move back toward his 2002-03 form, when he was an above-average pitcher. Not a good chance, but a chance. If he doesn't pan out, the Twins really aren't hurt too much.
Justin Morneau signed for $4.5 million.
I know a lot of people would have liked to see the Twins lock up Morneau with a multi-year extension, but I think that this was the best move for now. Before they invest too much money in Morneau, they need to see if he can repeat the kind of production he had last year, and they also need to see what happens with their prospects at first base this year. For now, the Twins agreed to a one-year agreement with the arbitration-eligible Morneau at the halfway point between the club's offer of $4 million and his request of $5 million. I'd say $4.5 million is a very reasonable price for one of the top first basemen in the American League.
Joe Mauer extended for four years, $33 million.
Mauer is one of the Twins' most valuable assets, and they acted accordingly by getting him signed through the 2010 season. It's a safe bet that Mauer will continue to hit and play defense at an exceptional level, and his injury concerns have effectively faded away after two seasons of near-perfect health. Mauer is a quality player and seems like a quality person. It's worth noting, however, that the Twins didn't get a hometown discount here. As Ryan put it, this was a fair-market deal.
Nick Punto extended for two years, $4.2 million.
Some people were disgusted when the Twins offered Punto arbitration last season. As SBG put it on January 23 of last year:
If only Marty McFly could bring that DeLorean out and we could go back and non-tender Punto. Why the Twins offered this guy arbitration is beyond me. Perhaps they were listening to those who think he’s cute. He SUCKS. He’s replacement level, if that. It’s a joke that this penny pinching club (or any club) is giving this guy one red cent.Punto ended up signing for just under $700,000 last year, and it wound up being a pretty good deal. Will he be a good value at his new salary of $1.8 million this year (and $2.4 million next year)? I would venture to say, probably. Many people (I'm not one of them) will tell you that Punto is incapable of repeating his numbers from last year, but even if his offense declines he is a fairly valuable player because he can play outstanding defense at several positions and he runs the bases well. Punto's numbers last year compared favorably to the Angels' Chone Figgins, and both players are about the same age and possess the same type of defensive versatility. Figgins made $2.2 million last year and he'll make $3.5 million this year. If that's what speedy utility-types are going for, I'd say the Twins did just fine with Punto.
Juan Rincon signed for $2 million.
Rincon crumbled down the stretch last year, giving up 31 hits and posting a 4.98 ERA over 21 2/3 innings between August and September. For the season, Rincon posted an excellent 2.91 ERA overall but saw his strikeout rate drop considerably from the previous couple years and he posted his highest WHIP (1.35) since becoming a full-time reliever. There may well be reason for concern with Rincon, but it's still hard to complain about paying $2 million to a setup man who has posted an ERA below 3 in each of the last three seasons, particularly with the kind of money teams have been throwing at relievers over the past couple years.
Lew Ford signed for $985,000.
Ford wanted $1.3 million, the team offered $800,000. The mid-point agreement will pay him just a bit under a million dollars this season. Ford went from sub par offensively in 2005 to incompetent in 2006, but he's still a skilled base-runner who can play all three outfield positions quite well, and that's worth something. I would argue that there is little reason to keep Ford around with Jason Tyner in the organization, but oh well.
Michael Cuddyer signs for $3.575 million.
After a breakout year, Cuddyer was the last of the Twins' arbitration-eligible players to reach an agreement. It seemed that the case might be headed for a hearing, with the two sides pretty far apart (Twins at $3 million, Cuddyer and his agent at $4.25 million). Fortunately, the two sides were able to come to a middle ground yesterday afternoon. $3.575 million is just a little below the halfway mark between the two figures, but if Cuddyer reaches 650 plate appearances a $50K bonus will kick in that would bring him up to that mid-point. As much as I poke fun at SBG on the Punto subject, he can easily come right back at me on Cuddyer. I'll admit, I had given up on Cuddy prior to last year, but he proved me wrong by turning into an offensive force given regular time in right field, racking up extra-base hits and delivering numerous clutch hits. Cuddyer will be a crucially important member of the Twins' 2007 offense nestled between Mauer and Morneau in the lineup, and getting him at just over $3.5 million seems like a solid bargain.
In summary, the Twins' offseason consisted of reaching mid-point agreements with several arbitration-eligible players, signing a couple lousy starting pitchers out of free agency, exercising expensive options on a couple players from last year's team, signing numerous players to minor-league deals, and locking up one of their most valuable assets through the end of the decade.
For the most part, the moves are all pretty low-risk and smart, so while the Twins did little to improve their roster from last year, they did a pretty good job of holding it together at a reasonable cost. The rotation is obviously going to be the biggest concern, so much will depend on the ability of one or two of the young guys to step in and perform. If that happens, the Twins will have a chance in this brutal AL Central, regardless of their winter of discontent.