The Twins' increased budget in the upcoming 2010 season has been a popular topic of conversation in many circles, and this blog has been no exception. But, as reports leak out that appealing free agents such as Orlando Hudson are seeking multi-year deals, it is pertinent to look ahead at how the team's payroll will shape up in 2011.
Travis Aune of the blog Travis Talks had a nice post earlier in the week examining this very subject. Travis lists out projected salary commitments for the 2011 season, and while he had to employ some guesswork (Joe Mauer's salary, various arbitration figures), his estimates seem reasonable. Even accounting for the subtracted salaries of Nick Punto, Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and Carl Pavano, who will be free agents, Travis arrives at an estimated total of $91 in commitments to 18 players. Depending on how high you believe the club's overall payroll will go next year (and Travis' estimate of $100 million seems fair), this doesn't leave a whole lot of money to fill the remaining spots on the 25-man roster.
This is most likely the reason the Twins have shied away from aggressively pursuing players like Hudson and Adrian Beltre, who clearly fit a need but are hesitant to settle for a one-year deal. The fact that the Twins were apparently willing to offer $5 million to Jarrod Washburn for this year suggests that Bill Smith is still willing to spend a bit more on the 2010 roster but is wary of the increase in commitments the following year.
If the Twins want to have a bit of financial flexibility to address holes in 2011 with something other than cheap rookies, they may need to dump salary in order to clear out some space. And as we look at the team's current contracts, there are two very obvious candidates for such a move: Michael Cuddyer and Joe Nathan, who will both be in the final guaranteed year of their lucrative contracts.
Cuddyer, whose '11 option was activated just after the conclusion of this past season, is scheduled to make $10.5M next year. And Nathan, who will be entering the final guaranteed year in his deal (though his does possess a $12.5M club option for 2012 with a $2 million buyout), will make $11.25M. Clearing either of those commitments from the books would create a significant amount of space to address other areas.
So now we have to ask ourselves: if it came down to it, which guy would we rather see go? I like both Cuddyer and Nathan and would prefer to have them both on the team, but if we're being realistic about finances there's no question that dealing one of them would be a logical move, particularly if they perform well this year and maintain solid trade value.
There are a number of considerations to weigh as we contemplate this decision. Which player is more valuable to the team, both on the field and off it? Which can be more easily replaced? Which will bring back more in a trade?
There really aren't any easy answers to these questions and opinions are sure to differ. As far as value, the Win Probability Added (WPA) metric suggests that Nathan has been worth an average of about 3.6 wins per season to the Twins over the past three years, whereas Cuddyer rings in at an average of 0.48 wins per season -- which was his exact figure last year. I'll note that I think WPA tends to exaggerate the value of closers, but that's a substantial gap nevertheless. Meanwhile, Wins Above Replacement pegs Nathan as having been worth 6.2 total wins over the last three years; Cuddyer 4.3. It's also worth noting that Nathan has shown a far greater ability to stay healthy.
It's difficult to quantify Cuddyer's value to the lineup overall as a threatening right-handed power hitter who can slot between Mauer and Justin Morneau, but at the same time it's difficult to quantify Nathan's value as a steady and dominant high-leverage reliever in a bullpen that has experienced its fair share of turnover and turmoil over the years.
Who's more replaceable? That question is even tougher than the last. The Twins have shown great aptitude with taking quality relievers and turning them into all-star closers over the years -- with Nathan and Eddie Guardado serving as prime examples -- but no one currently on the team looks like anything close to a slam-drunk replacement. Meanwhile, it isn't easy to find prime-aged right-handed hitters who can belt 30 homers on the cheap, although -- despite my pal Twins Geek's allusions to the contrary -- players of Cuddyer's ilk (weak defensive corner outfielders who can hit for power) are generally available at a reasonable cost. Marlon Byrd and Jack Cust are but two examples who have signed on the cheap already this offseason.
As far as trade value is concerned, that's really too sticky a topic for me to even dive into right now. Considering their price tags, only contending teams are likely to show interest in players like Nathan and Cuddyer, so the value of these two players on the trade market will likely be dictated by how many contending teams have needs at the positions they play. And again, much depends on how both players perform this year.
Cuddyer and Nathan were both key contributors to the Twins' past two AL Central title runs and are both well-liked core players. Yet, letting one of the two go after this season (or perhaps even during it, depending on the circumstances) is is an option that should at least be sitting in the back of our minds. Because even with the payroll boost that has come along with the new stadium, the Twins are headed for a tight budget in 2011 and could be in trouble if more holes emerge than the ones they've currently got.