Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Extensions

The Twins have several players eligible for arbitration this year, and the time is nearing for the organization to decide on a course of action to take with each of these players. Generally, the way arbitration works is that each player and his agent will come up with a reasonable figure for a 2008 salary, and the team will come up with a different number they find reasonable. At this point, the Twins have three basic options: negotiate to a mid-point figure and sign the player to a one-year deal, take the case before an arbitrator who will decide which figure is more fair, or come to terms on a multi-year contract.

The Twins had six arbitration-eligible players last year, and they reached mid-point one-year agreements with four of them while locking up Nick Punto and Joe Mauer to multi-year deals. This year the Twins will have to make decisions on five arbitration-eligible players. Teams and players usually prefer to avoid going in front of the arbitrator, as the process can damage the relationship between the sides, so we'll rule out that possibility and today I'll look at each of the Twins' arbitration-eligible players on a case-by-case basis to analyze which players merit a multi-year contract (Deal), and which ones would be better served with only a one-year commitment (No Deal).

1. Justin Morneau - 1B
Many were frustrated that the Twins didn't lock up Morneau a year ago following his MVP 2006 campaign, as the team instead settled on a $4.5 million one-year deal to avoid arbitration. Even though Morneau's numbers declined in 2007, his salary is still likely to nearly double here in his second year of arbitration.

Morneau is the Twins' best slugger, and the departure of Torii Hunter makes Morneau's role on this team all the more vital. Locking him up long-term should be a high priority, and fortunately the Twins have the money to make it happen, particularly with Johan Santana's salary likely coming off the books by next year at the latest.

The Twins should do the same thing with Morneau that they did with Mauer last year, locking their young star up with a four-year contract that will buy out his first year of free agency. I'm thinking something along the lines of four years/$50 million would do the trick.

VERDICT: DEAL

2. Michael Cuddyer - RF
After a breakout campaign in 2006 that saw him post an .866 OPS (more than 100 points higher than his previous career high), Cuddyer regressed in 2007, hitting for a solid average and on-base percentage but posting a slugging percentage nearly 70 points lower than his '06 figure while hitting just 16 home runs in 144 games. Overall, Cuddyer was not a bad hitter, but the Twins need him to be a legitimate power threat, and he's been unable to do that over the course of his career with the exception of that 2006 season.

The upcoming season should be a big one for Cuddyer. Hunter is gone, and it's unclear what kind of jump Delmon Young will be able to make, leaving a strong possibility that the Twins will be relying on Cuddyer as their big right-handed stick in the lineup. If he can't produce more power than he did last year, the offense could potentially be in some trouble.

I personally believe that Cuddyer is a pretty mediocre right fielder, and losing him to free agency ultimately would not be the worst thing in the world. The Twins have a pair of good young corner outfielders in Young and Jason Kubel, both of whom will probably be better hitters than Cuddyer in the long run. If Cuddy has a big season and proves that he truly is the type of hitter he was in 2006, then perhaps the Twins can revisit the idea of an extension at a later time; for the time being, another one-year deal is probably wisest.

VERDICT: NO DEAL

3. Jason Kubel - LF
Due to unfortunate circumstances, the Twins haven't gotten much production from Kubel during his cheap serfdom years. Kubel's service clock ran while he missed the entire 2005 season with a knee injury, and continued to run for the following two seasons while he struggled to find his form. However, in the second half last year, Kubel showed the type of promise many fans have been waiting for by hitting .303/.379/.511. My feeling is that Kubel's second half in '07 is a preview of things to come.

I view Kubel as the type of hitter who can ultimately be an anchor in this lineup, be it in left field, right field, or at designated hitter. Since he has yet to piece together a great full season, his price tag will not be overly high. I think the Twins would be wise to sign him to a long-term deal that will buy out his remaining arbitration years and perhaps take him a year or two into free agency. In the end, he could wind up being a great value.

VERDICT: DEAL

4. Matt Guerrier - RP
Guerrier went from solid long reliever to premier setup man last year, posting a 2.35 ERA while frequently pitching in high-pressure situations out of the back of the Twins' bullpen. With the escalating market for relief pitching, the conventional wisdom states that the Twins would be wise to lock him up as quickly as they can. However, seeing as how this is Guerrier's first year of arbitration eligibility, and seeing as how his 2007 season came out of the blue to a large degree, I think the Twins would be wise to stick with a one-year commitment for the time being to see what they've really got in Guerrier. If he proves to be the reliable reliever he appeared to be last year, then next year the Twins should lock him up and solidify his spot as an important member of their 'pen.

VERDICT: NO DEAL

5. Juan Rincon - RP
Rincon has seen his numbers decline for three straight seasons now, culminating in a brutal 2007 campaign that saw the formerly dominant setup man post a 5.13 ERA and 1.56 WHIP. Given his unstable performances, there's really no need to try and lock up Rincon beyond this year; in fact, considering that his price tag will likely be around $3 million, I wouldn't be surprised if the Twins seriously gave serious consideration to non-tendering him back in December. It would be great if Rincon could recapture his magic in 2008 and return to being a key member of this bullpen, but given his recent trends, it is somewhat difficult to see that taking place.

VERDICT: NO DEAL

13 comments:

Jon Marthaler said...

Sir - could you please detail your reasoning for calling Cuddyer a "mediocre right fielder?" I'd like to hear your argument about why you believe he's mediocre.

Nick N. said...

Sure.

Last year Cuddyer hit .276/.356/.433, while the average AL right fielder hit .288/.359/.465. Cuddyer's 16 home runs ranked eighth in the AL last year, and his 81 RBI ranked sixth. In a 14-team league, those types of rankings are the very definition of mediocre. In fact, I think one can argue that last year Cuddyer was sub par, considering that his OPS was 35 points below the league average for his position, but I'm trying to look at the whole picture. Defensively, Cuddyer has an elite arm but below average range, so overall I'd say he's a solid but not great defender.

The fact is that RF is a very strong offensive position, and even in 2006 when Cuddyer had success, he still didn't rank among the league's elite right fielders. He's a fine hitter, but in the context of his position, he's just no great shakes.

Jon Marthaler said...

Do you think there's any value in trying to extend Cuddyer now, thus getting him cheaper than you would if he had a 2006-like 2008? (In other words: buy low.)

The problem, of course, is that if 2006 proves to be an aberration, you're on the hook for a below-average guy... I suppose it all depends on how optimistic you are about Cuddyer's future.

ubelmann said...

Can we go back in time and attempt to trade Cuddyer for Lastings Milledge? That's what I vote for. I know Church is a bit better than Cuddyer, but I'm sure we could convince Omar Minaya otherwise! Cuddyer's a 100-RBI guy! And flames come off the ball when he throws it!

I basically agree with your positions on all five players, though. I don't think Guerrier's performance in 2007 was that far out of line from his past performance, so much as I think his ERA was out of line. He did have a bit higher strikeout rate and a bit lower walk rate, but small sample size, etc., and mostly he was luckier than he'd been in the past. He's good to have around, we just shouldn't be expecting sub-2.50-ERAs from him ever again.

Nick N. said...

The problem, of course, is that if 2006 proves to be an aberration, you're on the hook for a below-average guy... I suppose it all depends on how optimistic you are about Cuddyer's future.

Right, this is entirely the problem. Some feel that Cuddyer showed his true form in 2006 and that last year his power was sapped by a hand injury. Personally, I feel like '06 was something of an abberation, because his numbers throughout his career have pretty consistently been similar to the ones he posted last year (2006 was the only time during his six-season career that he posted a SLG better than .440).

I've heard some people suggest that the Twins offer something like a 3yr/$20M deal for Cuddyer, which seems palatable if he'd take it. I guess my preference, though, would be to have Kubel and Young starting in the corner OF spots, while bringing in a more traditional slugging DH (Mike Sweeney?) to power the middle of the lineup.

Jon Marthaler said...

Given the fact that Kubel's knees are falling off his body, though, do you really want to install him in left field for that many games per season? It seems like it'd almost be better to hold onto the Cuddyer-Young-Kubel rotation for the corner OF spots and DH (and occasional 1B relief). You can get all three in the lineup most days, and you don't have to kill Kubel's legs.

SethSpeaks said...

You had me... til Mike Sweeney...
You had me... til Mike Sweeney...

SethSpeaks said...

Cuddyer... even at league Average in RF offensively, your point that RF is a strong offensive position. If he'll sign the 3 year, $20-$25 million deal, I think Twins fans should be happy.

Nick N. said...

You had me... til Mike Sweeney...
You had me... til Mike Sweeney...


Haha, OK there's a reason I put a question mark behind his name. He's 34 now and hasn't been a great hitter for the past couple years, but if he could find a way to get healthy and back to form, he'd be the type of guy I'd want. In any case, it's really not that difficult to find a big slugger that can post an .850 OPS at a reasonable cost, as long as you're not concerned about defensive ability.

Nick N. said...

I basically agree with your positions on all five players, though. I don't think Guerrier's performance in 2007 was that far out of line from his past performance, so much as I think his ERA was out of line.

It's worth noting though, that he was far less hittable than he had been in the past. He had always allowed at least a hit per inning in the past (even in the minor leagues for the most part), but last year he held opponents to a .220 BA. That could have a lot to do with small sample size and luck, as you say, which is why I recommend another one-year commitment to see if his improvement is for real.

Lee Henschel said...

Personally, I like Kubel at DH and Cuddyer in RF. His arm makes him more valuable as a RF than the average. If either Pridie shows he's got great range in CF, or the Twins pick up another very good CF, Cuddyer's slightly shorter range won't be much of an issue.

I think last year's downturn for Cuddyer was twofold: the injury, and decline in the entire team's BA. When you've got guys like White, Jones, Punto, Rodriguez, Casilla, Ford and Buscher all hitting in more than 30 games last year and all batting below .250, you're going to have problems. (The vast majority of those players won't be in Twins uniforms this spring.) Pitchers then pitch around the Cuddyers and Morneaus of the world.

The Twins also had a big hole in DH - which I believe they have addressed this offseason. Jeff Cirillo played in 50 games last year, mostly as DH or PH. He hit .261 with 2 homers. That doesn't strike much fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers.

With new acquisitions Young, Monroe, Lamb, Harris and even Everett, we will be a better team. Of those only Everett failed to hit double-digits in HRs, and Everett and Monroe failed to hit .250.

Yes, we traded away Bartlett and lost Hunter. But Young, Harris and Lamb should more than make up for the loss. And I believe Pridie is ready for the big show in CF. He batted .318 with 10 HRs for AAA Durham in 2007 (63 games, 245 AB).

Sign Santana, Morneau and Nathan to LT contracts, and let's get to spring training!

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