i would take crede at 75% over anybody else on the team.
Oh boy. On a team that features legitimate stars like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan, that's pretty ridiculous. Now, I bring up this comment not just to point out one loony anonymous opinion out there on the Web, but rather to point out what seems to be a common misperception among Twins fans. While the comment quoted above may be rather extreme, I've definitely picked up on a theme of misguided exuberance regarding this acquisition. I think this is largely the result of exasperation that has built up within the fan base over a long winter of overactivity, and also a tendency for fans to focus on Crede's perceived upside (like what he did to the Twins last year, and what he did overall in 2006) while overlooking his considerable flaws.
Now, contrary to popular belief, I don't hate Crede. And I certainly don't hate this move. I see the Twins' signing of Crede to a one-year deal for $2.5 million guaranteed, with $4.5 million in incentives based on plate appearances, as one that potentially carries very little downside for the Twins and gives them a reasonably good chance of getting improved play out of the third base position this season. My main concern when it came to signing Crede was that the Twins would hand him a large guaranteed contract, and then feel obligated to trotting him out there repeatedly even if he were ineffective in order to get their money's worth. Let's face it, stubborn loyalty to veteran players has been a Ron Gardenhire trademark in the past. Yet, the beauty of a contract in which well over half the money is tied up in playing time incentives is that not only are the Twins free of a large monetary commitment that would tie them to Crede, they actually have legitimate incentive not to continue trotting him out there if he's ineffective. That $3-4 million Crede can earn by working his way toward 525 plate appearances may not mean much to you and I, but I'd bet it matters to the Twins' front office and ownership. Let's not forget that this organization willingly took a big PR hit in 2007 by trading Luis Castillo for marginal prospects at midseason solely to get a couple million off the books.
Crede's negatives have been discussed exhaustively in this space: he's a major injury risk, he generally has not been a great hitter over the course of his career, his power numbers have been propped up by a hitter-friendly ballpark, etc. Moreover, it seems that members of the team have a rather skewed view of Crede's ability. For instance, says Michael Cuddyer: "Crede has killed us over the past couple years." Says Gardenhire: "He can put the ball in the seats as he’s done plenty of times against us. Those guys kind of make good impressions on you when they keep hitting balls in the seats against you." This whole "he's been good against us so he must be great" mentality is one I remember picking up on after last year's acquisition of Craig Monroe. It's worth noting, though, that while Crede has generally clobbered the Twins when the two teams have faced off in Chicago, he has posted just a .219/.242/.355 line over 49 career games in the Metrodome.
Now, none of that dooms Crede, and there's no denying that -- if healthy -- he can be a solid player. It is important to keep in mind that that is a big IF, and that there is a sizable difference between "solid" and "great." Crede is coming off two back surgeries and has missed 180 games over the past two seasons, and by his own admission he's still not quite 100 percent (that story seems to have changed since he was a free agent looking to get signed, oddly enough). Crede's biggest strength is his defense, and if his back continues to give him problems and limits his flexibility, his fielding could conceivably take a hit. It's encouraging, though, that he still rated quite well defensively last year with the White Sox in spite of the fact that he was probably playing through some back problems.
Still, I must stress that Crede's upside is not as high as many seem to believe, and his likelihood of reaching that upside isn't particularly great. Fans who are expecting Crede to repeat his 2006 performance this year are begging to be disappointed, because that season was as much of an outlier as Cuddyer's 2006 season. If he's healthy enough to stay on the field, Crede should be able to provide strong defense from the hot corner while popping a few big home runs, but he is also likely to make a lot of outs.
Crede has a lot invested in this season. Not only will he need to stay on the field to activate the incentives in his contract, he's also out to prove to teams around the league that he's healthy so that he can seek a larger contract next winter. These circumstances may play for or against the Twins. That motivation may push Crede to work extra hard and put up big numbers while going out of his way to avoid injury. It might also push him to play through injuries while posting poor numbers as he did in 2007. One of the best things about the Crede signing is that the Twins still have a solid backup option in place between Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris, but that benefit only works if Gardenhire is willing to fall back on it when the time is right.
This offseason has been a dreadfully slow one for the Twins, and many Twins fans -- including myself -- have grown exasperated with Bill Smith for missing the boat on some great opportunities. Yet, the GM deserves a lot of credit for his handling of the Crede situation. Rather than give in to absurd initial demands, Smith gauged the limited market for Crede and played the waiting game until finally the third baseman's demands came down to a reasonable level. If Crede truly believes he is going to be fully healthy and productive all year, he can now prove it on the field and earn his money. If he's not, the team has the ability to fall back on the Harris/Buscher option while only losing a couple million dollars. Whether they take advantage of that opportunity will fall on the manager.