Monday, June 26, 2006

Talking Extensions: Then & Now

In early June 2003, the Twins were cruising along the top of the AL Central, with the Royals and White Sox at a comfortable distance behind, thanks in no small part to a lock-tight bullpen led by Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins. Everyday Eddie was headed for his second straight All-Star Game, and many people thought that Hawkins deserved to represent the league's setup men in the Mid-Summer Classic that season.

Each man being in the final year of his contract, they both took the opportunity to let it be known via the local media that their agents would very much like to discuss contract extensions with the Twins GM. When Terry Ryan flatly replied that nothing would be negotiated until after the season, the two ace relievers took it a bit hard. They felt a mite insulted.

Shortly thereafter, the team took a nosedive that almost spoiled the season, and you may remember that the press blamed Eddie & LaTroy for spoiling the perfect balance of brotherhood in the clubhouse. They were Bad Guys. Selfish. It was, more or less, their fault that the Twins fell in the tank and nearly drowned, until Shannon Stewart arrived to show the hitters how to work the count, told Gardy to leave Johan Santana in the rotation if he knew what was good for him, and restored harmony to the clubhouse just in time to lead the team to another division title.

That is, and forever shall be, the Official Story of the 2003 Season.

Now in the 2006 season, after a rough and terribly depressing couple months to start, the Twins are riding a hot streak and inspiring some hopes amongst the faithful for another second half surge to claim a postseason berth. No great thanks to a certain Centerfielder hitting .264/.340/.421 on the season and whose bat has been generally missing in action while the young bucks have carried the fight of late. Torii Hunter is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, however, with only a $12 million option for 2007 remaining, so he's used the occasion of his team's hot streak to openly talk about being traded to a team like the Red Sox, or else entertain offers from the Twins for a fat extension of another 5-6 years.

Hunter told Jim Souhan in the Strib:

If the Twins aren't looking to sign him to a long-term deal that will ensure he'll play in the new Twins ballpark set to open in 2010, he isn't interested in signing a contract extension.

"It's got to make sense," he said, in his most detailed comments on his status. "If I'm here to play in that new stadium for two years, yes, I would do it. But if I'm not, if I'm just here until the stadium, no, that's stupid.

"I already don't like the Dome, so I'm not going to get used. It's got to be a long-term deal. For me to be here it's got to be five or six years."

So does Souhan call out Torii on his timing or motives? Is Torii a Bad Guy for thinking only about himself when his team, the team he's supposed to be leading as one of its veterans of senior rank, is playing so well and yet still has more than half the season to play?

Well, what do you think?

Go read his column for yourself, or check out the SBG blog for a rundown of some choice quotes.

I love it when Souhan praises Hunter for his engaging personality and accessibility, as well as the way he plays all-out in the field, and then in the next sentence writes, "He's the guy who took it upon himself to take a swing at Justin Morneau last year, even if he did end up hitting Nick Punto," like it's just one more of his most admirable qualities.

Of course he also boosts the idea that the Twins may have to sign Hunter for another 5 years or else "face the perception that they just received approval of a new stadium and yet are too cheap to keep their best players." Oh, the guilt. That's just low, like a sucker-punch that ends up hitting Nick Punto. Anything but that, Jimmy.

Look, Torii Hunter will turn 36 in July of the 2011 season. He's admitting now that he has chronic pain in his back, hamstrings, and ankle, and keep in mind that he would have three and a half more seasons running on the dome turf he hates before the new park opens. Even at this moment, he is no longer one of the team's very "best players." Just think of what kind of shape he might be in, or what he could possibly still mean to the team, in another few years.

I was in the Northwest when the Mariners traded Randy Johnson even while their new ballpark was under construction, then I witnessed the club trade Ken Griffey, Jr. in the winter after Safeco Field opened, and then lose Alex Rodriguez to a division rival one year later. There were hard feelings, questions about the direction of the franchise, and accusations that the front office lacked the commitment to winning and keeping its best players. That was a loss of three genuine superstars, future Hall of Famers at the top of their game, and the club didn't have a farm system ready to supply replacements. Yet the club survived, even thrived with a new set of stars and popular favorites on the roster.

The M's drew more than 40-thousand per game in each of the three seasons after A-Rod left, and still drew a gate ranked in the Top 4 of AL clubs in 2004-5, despite last place finishes. Even now, while the team is below .500 for the 3rd season in a row, the attendance in Seattle rates 6th in the AL, slightly lagging behind Texas, and averages a few-thousand more per game than the Twins are drawing.

Losing Torii Hunter will not drive away the fans. People will come out and tune in to the games so long as there is something to hold their interest, and a winning team led by Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano, Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau will do the trick nicely. The decision on whether to keep Torii Hunter should be based on nothing but his expected value on the field over the life of his next contract.

How much is he going to help the Twins win over the next five years, relative to how much money it will take to keep him?

In a period when the club will also have to settle new deals to lock up Santana, Liriano, Mauer, Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel, would it be wise to be committed to Hunter at market rates until he's 36 years old?


At 6/26/2006 10:57 AM, Anonymous Jim H. said...

Trade Torii now, before the contract extension talk gets rancorous. Let him bitch from Boston (you think they'd part with Kapler?)or Texas (Senor De Rosa?).

Excellent analysis, Mr. Wig.

At 6/26/2006 4:41 PM, Anonymous dlarso01 said...

A: no.

At 6/27/2006 8:43 PM, Anonymous bob2 said...

He's just feeling a little left out now that his name is never mentioned as one of the team's stars. Also, he feels bad that his teammates aren't following his lead of not listening to a batting coach who can't teach him anything because he was never a big leaguer like Torii. He just needs a little attention.

At 6/30/2006 5:37 PM, Blogger John said...

So Torii wants five years? Good luck with that.

If this talk about an extension is geared towards getting a deal he won't get on the free agent market, then Torii and his agent had better think again. Or maybe not. After all, this is the franchise that gave him a long term deal when they clearly didn't need to for way more than his market value would have been otherwise. I sure hope that was Krivsky's fault.

I'm dying to do an analysis on the Twins payroll situation for next year and beyond. I'm shocked I haven't seen one yet. FW, have you seen that anywhere?

- Twins Geek

At 7/03/2006 5:32 AM, Blogger frightwig said...

No, I haven't seen an analysis, except in general terms by me in my discussion with spycake at the SBG blog, but I might get to it. Terry Ryan really should have an incredible amount of flexibility to retool the roster next winter, if he plays his cards right.


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