Monday, October 26, 2009

Very Comfortable

Last week, John Bonnes sat down with Twins general manager Bill Smith for an interview about the upcoming offseason. The interview, which serves as an addendum for the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook (if you've already purchased a copy, you'll be receiving the interview transcript in full, and of course you'll also get the entire interview included if you buy a copy from this point forward), covered a variety of topics, but today I'm going to focus on a particular portion of the conversation that lasted only a few seconds but may have provided one of the most compelling takeaways.

The Twins have a number of issues to tackle this offseason, but one pretty clearly rises above all others, and that's sorting out the Joe Mauer situation. The likely AL MVP and franchise cornerstone has just one year remaining on his current deal, and could become unaffordable to the Twins if he's able to venture into free agency next winter. I wrote a lengthy essay covering this topic for the Handbook, and ultimately concluded -- as I'm sure most fans have -- that working out a contract extension with Mauer during this offseason is absolutely imperative and should rank as Smith's No. 1 priority.

It was a topic that needed to be broached in the TwinsCentric interview, but Smith has been extremely tight-lipped when the matter of Mauer's contract has come up over the past few months. Seemingly realizing this, Bonnes was very cautious in approaching the subject during the interview, opening his line of questioning by saying, "I'm not sure how much I really want to get into this, but I want to ask a little bit about the Mauer extension." Smith quickly interjected, stating that Bonnes "may want to get into it deeply, but I'm not going to."

And so, John rerouted. "Well, let me ask one question that's not really about the contract," he said. "If an extension doesn't get done by spring training, do you feel comfortable going into next year with Mauer as a walk-away free agent?"

"Well, he's a player signed through 2010," Smith retorted.

Bonnes pressed on. "But for instance, Santana was a player signed for the next year as well..."

Finally, Smith relented and answered the question. "If we think Joe Mauer wants to stay here long-term, yes, we feel very comfortable going into next year."

It could be that Smith responded in this manner only to avoid backing himself into any sort of corner. Still, "very comfortable"? I wrote extensively in my essay for the Handbook about the perils of entering next season without a new contract for Mauer. His impending free agency would serve as an extremely unwelcome distraction as the team tries to build positive public sentiment in Target Field's inaugural season. And, of course, if Mauer makes it to the end of the year without an extension, the New Yorks and Bostons of the world will be able to jump into the bidding, which could put the Twins in a highly precarious position.

So, if indeed the Twins feel that Mauer wants to stay here long-term, it's hard to imagine that they'd actually be comfortable entering next season without a new deal in place. Which brings us to the other question raised by Smith's comment: what if the Twins don't get the sense that Mauer wants to stay?

Being a rather timid St. Paul native with countless ties to this area, it seems highly unlikely that Mauer would be opposed to forging a long-term deal with the Twins. But I suppose it is possible that he has his sights set on the huge money and increased national exposure that would come along with a move to a larger market. Or perhaps he doesn't feel that the Twins will ever be willing to take the steps needed to win a championship. It was a combination of those factors that seemingly fueled Johan Santana's desire to move elsewhere.

If the Twins get the sense that Mauer would like to test the free agent market, one has to believe Smith would not be "very comfortable" at all entering the 2010 season saddled with the risk of losing his star catcher at the end of the year for only a pair of draft picks, and the general manager essentially admitted that fact by including that big old "if" in his answer.

14 comments:

Jesse said...

I call BS. If the Twins don't have Mauer signed by next season it is a statement that he either does not want to be here or that he wanted to be here and the Twins want too big of a discount in dollars and years.

CA said...

I wonder if Smith's "very comfortable" comment is a result of perceived leverage in current or future negotiations with Mauer and his representatives. I also find it hard to believe that the team would be nonchalant about going into next season without an extension for Mauer. However, if Smith publicly stated how important it was to get a deal done, he'd effectively be giving additional negotiation leverage to Mauer AND potentially be setting the team up for an even greater public relations failure if they don't manage to resign him after publicly stating it was a big priority.

Basically, I don't necessarily believe the "very comfortable" part of Smith's answer, but I think it was smart of him to say that, at least from the team's standpoint.

Nick N. said...

CA, right on. That's basically what I was getting at when I noted that Smith may have just been trying to avoid backing himself into a corner.

@dohman said...

CA seems to have summed it up pretty well... Bill's going with the company line on this one.

It sure would be refreshing to hear a "Nope, I won't be comfortable til we get Joe wrapped up, and the sooner the better" quote out of him though. I don't think a quote like that would hurt him one bit with negotiations or the fans.

I think the Twins will have to give Mauer at least $20+ for 8 to get him.

Jesse said...

Here are the options he had for this question:

1. No Comment
Pros
- No impact on negotiations.

Cons
- Fans dislike the answer.

2. "Very comfortable"
Pros
- Lets agent know he doesn't feel he MUST make a deal which may reduce agent/player leverage.

Cons
- Everyone knows he is lying.
- Agent may feel if Smith does not feel Mauer is a priority then he might as well wait for the 2010 offseason.

3. "Very UNcomfortable"
Pros:
- Its the truth,
- It lets people kmow the importance he is tying to these negotiations.

Cons:
- May give agent/mauer leverage in negotiation.

I think of the 3 answers possible the lie he told was the least useful one. The one pro for it is it may result in a smaller contract but I don't think Joe or his agent is going to settle for less just because Smith threw a bogus line out to the media. In short, tell the truth or don't say anything at all.

Jeff P said...

I can almost guarantee the Twins will sign Mauer through the off season. Being a St. Paul native and always dreaming of playing for the Twins is something he loves and it isn't all about the money for him. He is someone who loves the game for what it is and be prepared to see the Twins make a new record contract offer!

Anonymous said...

...and that move worked out really well for Santana...

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