Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Others Who Weren't So Lucky

Monday night, news broke that the Twins had retained all of their arbitration eligible players, including both Luis Rivas and Jacque Jones. These two moves will be questioned up until spring training and even into next season. Jones is an outfielder coming off an off-year and is now eating up 5 million of the Twins payroll. Rivas has actually regressed the past couple of seasons and is only marginally better then his competition in the infield (despite a much earning a much higher salary than every one of them). Add those two to the payroll and it now appears the Twins are, at best, several million over budget for next year with no room left to sign any other free agents. With the Twins off-season moves all but done they will now turn their attention to signing franchise player Johan Santana. Not only were things happening at 34 Kirby Puckett Place, but there were also several other intriguing players non-tendered Monday. A quick walk through those transactions:

The White Sox allow Scott Shoeneweis to become a free agent.

As of yesterday it appeared the Sox had also cut bait on Ben Davis, who was a part of last summer's Freddy Garcia trade. However even though the team did non-tender Davis on Monday, they re-signed him as a free agent today. Shoeneweis is coming off a year in which he had a 5.59 ERA in 20 games, 19 started. It was not a very good year for him but previously he had been a valuable pitcher. Shoeneweis pitched much better in 2003 as a reliever with both the Angels and White Sox. He wants to start but if used in the bullpen he will be a great pick up for another team. Leave it to the White Sox to not have utilized him properly.

The Angels sign Orlando Cabrera and non-tender David Eckstein.

Eckstein was the catalyst when the Angels won the World Series in 2002 and Cabrera was a major part of the Red Sox championship in 2004. Cabrera is hands down the better player but it’s worth noting what Eckstein has done. He is the antithesis of the usual professional athlete. With limited athletic ability was actually a major part of the Angels' success. He will add chemistry to any team he is on and might have been a good option for the Twins. He is probably better suited to play 2nd with his arm but people have been doubting him for years and he has continued to prove them wrong.

Houston non-tenders Wade Miller.

Miller is now one of the most attractive pitchers on the free agent market. He is a top of the rotation guy and a former All-Star. It is a bit surprising that Houston did not decide to hold on to him. He was injured for parts of last year but when healthy, he pitched pretty well behind the other big three (Oswalt, Clemens, and Pettitte) in Houston’s rotation. This is probably a sign that they are saving their resources to bring back Carlos Beltran.

Former Twins Kevin Frederick and Dustan Mohr both were non-tendered Monday.

What is your favorite Kevin Frederick memory? I must admit I barely have any Kevin Frederick memories, let alone a favorite one. With an ERA over 6 this past season he probably deserved to be released. Dustan Mohr on the other hand had a decent season for the Giants batting .274 with a .394 OBP. He is a great 4th outfielder but may be able to find a starting spot somewhere. If he leaves the Giants, they will have will have nothing to show for Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser, and Franscico Loriano, whom they traded to the Twins last winter (A.J. was cut loose last week).

It is important to remember that by being non-tendered, a player becomes a free agent and is no longer eligible for arbitration. They are still able to re-sign with their old team but they must now compete with everyone else. Jacque Jones would have been one of the biggest names in this group had he not been offered a contract. Usually the Twins are not forced to make such controversial decisions in this process but it is a reality all teams across baseball must face.

Note - Joe Randa signed with Cincinnati yesterday, officially ending any speculation that he would play third base for the Twins next year; when the Twins chose to bring back Jones and Rivas Monday they pretty much shut the door on this possibility. This is rather disappointing because Randa would have been the solid veteran Ron Gardenhire likes and he would have allowed the team to move Michael Cuddyer to second. That infield would have been much stronger both defensively and offensively but Terry Ryan chose to play it safe with his outfield and maintain the status quo. In the past he has made such questionable decisions and they have worked out so we will all have to sit back and see how it goes.

-John Betzler

Subtraction by Retention?

First off, I want to apologize profusely for our extended absence here at Twins Chatter. I was absolutely crushed by finals here; I have written three(!) 10-page papers in the past week and am currently running on nothing but Mountain Dew (yeah, it’s not pretty). But despite our week in exile, we decided that yesterday’s monumental events could not go uncommented-upon here at TC.

As you’ve probably read in about a million places by now, Terry Ryan and the Twins did the unexpected yesterday by retaining all seven of the team’s arbitration eligible players: Jacque Jones, Luis Rivas, Matthew LeCroy, Johan Santana, Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, and J.C. Romero. Jones, Rivas, and LeCroy were all signed to one-year contracts while arbitration was tendered to the rest.

However, the biggest surprise of them all was the fact that Jacque Jones will remain a Twin for at least one more year. Contrary to sources such as ESPN’s Peter Gammons, who speculated that Jones would definitely be gone before last night’s deadline, TR gave Jones $5 million for one year (about $1 million less than he would have received in arbitration). No doubt this move will be the source of much debate among the Twins community for the rest of the winter, probably even more so because we won’t have any other moves to discuss: this is it. The Twins will not make another free agent signing this winter, and what you see right now (the 25-man roster) is probably the same one that will attempt to defend the AL Central crown in April.

But was this the right move? Should TR have kept Jones or instead pursued a minor free agent or two (such as Joe Randa)? I’m not condemning this signing (as some others undoubtedly will) but I’m still a little lukewarm. Jones is what he is, and he’s not going to get much better. He’ll hit .260-.280 on average, hit about 20 homers, and drive in 70-85 runs every year. He’ll strike out a ton but also play solid defense in the outfield. Is that kind of production worth $5 million? In today’s inflated dollars, probably yes. Someone would have given Jones $4-$6 million a year for two years had the Twins non-tendered him. But is he worth almost 1/10th of the Twins’ payroll, especially when they have three solid outfielders (Hunter, Stewart, Ford) already? Probably not.

I definitely don’t mind having Jacque Jones around. He’s a solid player who has a knack for coming through in the clutch. But in retaining Jones, the Twins have pretty much consigned themselves to an infield of Michael Cuddyer, Juan Castro/Jason Bartlett, Luis Rivas, and Justin Morneau in ’05. That’s a far cry (both offensively and defensively) from both the “League of Nations” infield or even last year’s Koskie/Guzy/Cuddyer/Morneau infield. Terry Ryan had to make a decision: either take a chance with a free agent to improve the overall play of the infield, or go with the sure (albeit limited) thing and maintain the status quo. Ryan chose the safe route, which consigns Lew Ford to the DH role once again. I don’t think that TR could have wooed a free agent with Jones’ offensive numbers, but I’m a risk-taker: I would have rather seen him roll the dice with a new acquisition or two. The status quo has only gotten us two first-round playoff exits the past two years, and no matter what Torii Hunter thinks, I think it’s time to try a new strategy.

But what’s done is done. Jacque is coming back next year at a decent (although not great) price, which will keep Torii happy for another year and will give Twins fans at least some sense of continuity. And who knows? Maybe JJ will reward the team’s fate with that breakout season we’ve been expecting for years.

We usually don't pester you with non-related Twins links, but this one is simply too cool to pass up: for a limited time at www.keyhole.com you can try out their GPS satellite picture map software for free! Zoom in on your house, the Metrodome, the Great Wall of China, Fenway Park--anywhere you want. It is truly one of the most amazing software programs I've ever seen, and if you have some time to waste, I highly encourage you to check it out.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Gone But Not Forgotten

Well folks, even though we might not want to admit it to ourselves, it’s time to face reality: Corey Koskie will not don a Minnesota Twins uniform next season. It is all but a certainty that he will sign a three-year, $17 million dollar contract with the Toronto Blue Jays today, finally ending his six-year tenure with the Twins after weeks of speculation.

I correctly predicted this outcome last week, but rest assured, I derive no joy whatsoever from that fact. Corey Koskie was the quintessential Minnesota Twin: a hardworking, hard-nosed ballplayer who truly earned every ounce of respect he received. A 26th round draft choice in 1994, Koskie became one of the better third basemen in the league and was a key cog in the Twins’ turnaround in 2001-2002. It would have been great to keep him on board for a few more years (at least) but alas, it was not to be.

Odds are you’re feeling a tad bitter right now, especially given the perception that Terry Ryan and the Twins did not seem to pull out all the stops to retain Koskie. I know we’ve been doing this a lot lately (first with Dougie, and then with Guzy) but I think we should first remember all the great things that Corey Koskie did for this organization before we start in with the negatives (believe me, there will be plenty of time for that). Koskie was one of the team’s lone offensive bright spots in ’99 and ’00, hitting over .300 both years. He had a spectacular ’01 season, hitting 26 homers and driving in 103 runs (even stealing 27 bases!). He played Gold Glove-caliber defense for a number of years; no one could handle the Astroturf’s lightning-fast hops better than Canada’s favorite son. And who could forget that oh-so-memorable season-saving homerun last August in Cleveland. It doesn’t get any more clutch than that.

We’ll have much more to say about Koskie's imminent departure tomorrow (and what the implications might be for the Twins’ post-League of Nations infield), but for now, enjoy a few choice photos of everybody’s favorite Canadian folk hero/lumberjack.

No one ever accuses Corey Koskie of not going all-out.

8/15/04: The swing that saved a season.

One of the most accomplished pranskters in baseball, Koskie's unique
sense of humor will be sorely missed in the Twins' clubhouse next year.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

No Trade or No Deal?

Every Twins fan breathed a tremendous sigh of relief last night at about 11:10 p.m. when it was revealed that Brad Radke had signed a two-year, $18 million contract with the team. John did an excellent job analyzing that deal yesterday, and it has been widely acknowledged both inside and outside the organization that it was a very good (and necessary) move. Terry Ryan and the Twins were subject to the whims of a surging market for player (especially pitcher) salaries, just as they were in 2000 when Radke got his monster four-year, $36 million deal. $9 million isn’t chump change by any stretch of the imagination, but Ryan and the Twins did what had to be done and I commend them for that.

However, the circumstances surrounding the Twins’ other key free agent (Corey Koskie) are markedly different. Unlike Radke, Koskie is not a “must” sign. Yes, he is a very good player, and yes, most people (including Corey himself, I believe) would like to see him continue his tenure with the organization. Koskie is a class act both on and off the field, plus he is also the only Twins player who lives year round in the state (an extreme rarity in this day and age). But when you look at the nitty-gritty, it will be far easier for a small market club such as the Twins to adequately replace Koskie’s .251/25/71 line at third base line than it would have been for them to find another starter even close to Radke’s caliber.

The Twins were unable to come to an agreement with Koskie before last night’s deadline, but instead of parting ways indefinitely, they pulled a fast one and offered him arbitration at the last minute. This was a rather unexpected move, as it seemed unlikely that the Twins would risk paying Koskie $5.5-$6 million in 2005 (his likely arbitration figure) when they were unwilling to offer him more than $8.25 million for two years.

"I don't know what to think right now," Koskie was quoted as saying in today’s Star Tribune. "I was under the assumption that there was not going to be arbitration offered, but it was offered.”

The fallout from last night’s events doesn’t end there. LaVelle E. Neal III is also reporting that Koskie will re-sign with the Twins for two years at $9-10 million, but only if a no-trade clause is included. He reportedly has a three-year $16 million contract offer on the table from Toronto (most likely), far more than the Twins have offered. Koskie says he will only turn it down if he gets that no-trade clause.

My Thoughts:
Things are not looking good for the Twins right now in terms of retaining Koskie; it seems last night’s feelings of optimism were premature. Will the Twins be willing to give Koskie $5 million a year AND a no-trade clause? Quite frankly, no, I don’t think they are.

No-trade clauses are generally a bad idea in baseball. Look at all recent cases of teams being saddled with overpaid/veteran/soon-to-be free agent players because of no-trade clauses: Randy Johnson, Sammy Sosa, Carlos Delgado, Mike Piazza, Steve Finely (although he did waive it this summer for the Dodgers), among many others. The Boston Red Sox as an organization do not even consider giving no-trade clauses, and this conviction may cost them Jason Varitek. Radke’s previous contract was the last time the Twins gave out such a clause, and I believe it is also the only time (Knoblauch, Puckett, and Hunter also didn’t get them).

Even though $5 million a year for Koskie sounds reasonable and would not cripple the team even if he doesn’t fulfill expectations over the next two seasons, I’m still very wary about giving a somewhat marginal (i.e. non-superstar) player so much control over his own fate. A lot can happen in two years. Suppose (heaven forbid) the Twins flop in 2005 or 2006 but Koskie fully realizes his potential and stands poised to receive a big raise in 2007 from the Red Sox, Yankees, or some other large market team. His now-bargain salary makes him an attractive stretch run pickup for a contender, but the Twins are unable to flip him for younger players because of his no-trade clause, perhaps stunting the rebuilding process. This might sound like an unlikely scenario right now, but it is definitely a possibility. If you had told me after the 2000 season that the Twins would be the dominant divisional power in the league a mere four years later, I would have probably scoffed at you; yet here the Twins are, once again poised to capture the AL Central crown in 2005. In life, there are only three certainties: death, taxes, and the Yankees making the playoffs. Change is an inevitability in baseball, and good general managers plan ahead and prepare themselves for every possible situation. Giving out no-trade clauses willy-nilly severely handicaps one’s ability to adapt to prevailing circumstances.

Those are my personal thoughts on the situation, but only one man’s opinion really matters in this situation, and that man is Terry Ryan. As I said above, it just doesn’t seem likely that TR will go that extra distance and give Koskie the extra dough and the no-trade clause. I appreciate Koskie and all he’s done for this team just as much as the next guy, but I don’t think caving in to his demands is the right move for this organization right now. Trader Terry might disagree with me and Koskie could very well prove me wrong in the unlikely event he re-signs, but I don’t think it is meant to be.

Ryan Maus

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Late Night Relief

Baseball is a sport that has several big days throughout the year. The day pitchers and catchers report, Opening Day, the All-Star game, the July 31st trading deadline, and the World Series to name a few. Another big day that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle but it becoming more and more important is the day teams decide whether or not to offer their free agents arbitration. In case you've been living underneath a rock for the past few weeks, you probably already knew that day was yesterday.

Tuesday's events (or non-events) held more implications for Twins fans this year than almost any other in recent memory. With the rise in salaries awarded in arbitration and the increasing value of draft picks received as compensation for lost players, the potential risks and rewards of "arbitration-offering day" continue to rise. For a small market team like the Twins one decision can be the difference between staying competitive for the next 5 years and returning to the Dark Years of the mid-90’s. That is what makes the Twins signing of Brad Radke and their offer of arbitration to Corey Koskie last night so important.

Radke, a cornerstone of the rotation, received a 2-year deal for 18 million dollars. Considering the interest that he was drawing and the quality of other pitchers on the market this has to be considered a very fair deal for both sides. The length of the contract is also perfect; if Radke declines in the next 2 years the Twins will not be on the hook for a large sun of money (ala Joe Mays). If in 2 years Radke continues to be the same pitcher, the Twins will be in no worse place then they are now. By signing Radke to such a deal they avoided the gamble of going to arbitration and crippling next year’s payroll with a salary in excess of 10 million per year. Had Radke not signed last night, the team may have been forced to let him go without arbitration and today we’d be saying our goodbyes to the team’s ace of the last decade.

This signing is more than just economics. It defines the direction of this team. Without Radke, the rotation would have been Johan Santana and four other guys: hardly the staff to strike fear into the hearts of the American League. Both Cleveland and Detroit continue to improve within the division and the loss of Radke would have done a lot to bring the Twins back to the pack.

The first time the Twins signed Radke marked the beginning of the organization’s turnaround. Radke is the steadying force. He is more then just a horse that eats innings; he gives the team an edge. He has been remarkably consistent and more importantly, he has pitched his best in the biggest games. With Radke, the team has an Option B for ace of the staff. Every 2 out of 5 games the team can expect to win. Despite Radke’s win-loss record he was easily one of the top 5-10 pitchers in the game last year. Keeping Radke’s leadership is a major coup for Terry Ryan and the Twins.

The other big news of last night is that Corey Koskie was offered arbitration. This appears to be a no-lose situation for the Twins. First of all, they get more time to decide whether or not to bring him back with a multi-year deal. But if does accept arbitration, anything he is awarded will be manageable (in the area of $5.5 mil.) and if another team signs him, the team will receive that all-important compensation pick. Certainly, it would be nice to have Koskie back in the lineup next year if the price is right. Terry Tiffee performed well in his brief stint with the team but is yet unproven. Koskie produces when healthy and is a leader both on and off the field.

The only question with Corey, as always, is whether or not he will stay healthy. Troy Glaus seems likely to sign with Arizona making Koskie a more attractive free agent on the third base market. As a result it is unlikely the Twins will have to go to arbitration with Koskie and the team will never complain about receiving extra draft picks.

The team also offered arbitration to Henry Blanco last night. Many people may have forgotten about Blanco when the Twins signed Mike Redmond to replace him two weeks ago. It turns out he might be a Type B free agent, meaning that by offering him arbitration the Twins will also receive a draft pick for him. Since Blanco signed with the Cubs yesterday (2 yrs, $2.7 million) the team would be assured of two things: they will receive that pick and Blanco will not be back in a Twins uniform next season. The Twins not only replaced Blanco with a better player, they don’t have to overpay him like the Cubs did and they would receive a high draft pick in the process. Blanco has done so much for this organization this winter and he deserves a Christmas card for all his gifts. Thank you Henry Blanco for turning down that "measly" $900,000 option. It was a gift that keeps on giving.

Make no mistake; yesterday was the biggest day of the winter for the Twins. Finally, many of the questions surrounding the team for the last month have been answered. The rotation has been solidified and while the book is still out on Corey Koskie, the team has given itself the option of bringing him back. The Twins they are going into next season with its nucleus intact, which is all you can hope for as a small market club. They can now focus their attention on going out and signing a lower level free agent or two to solidify the roster. They are also free to begin talking with Cy Santana about a multi-year deal. Christmas has come early and Twins fans are getting everything they wanted.

Side Note: If you want another reason the Twins did a great job in signing Radke for two years at $18 million, Jaret Wright received the same 3-year, 22.5 million deal that Kris Benson received from the Mets from the Yankees yesterday. Wright had a great season last year but before that he was a pitcher with a bad arm who couldn’t get anybody out. Does anybody else remember a pitcher with one good year and a bad arm? His name is Joe Mays. Benson is a pitcher that the Twins wanted at last year’s deadline but were unwilling to pay the high price to get him. Maybe that was because he was also a pitcher with an unproven record and an ERA over 5 at the time. In any case, compared to these two, Radke probably could have received $10, $11 or even $12 million on the market.

John Betzler

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Steroids: A Debate

I know many of you have come to rely on Twins Chatter as your (Twins-related) beacon of light amid the darkness of winter. However, absolutely nothing new has been reported since early last week, so I don't exactly have much to go on here. Instead, I've decided to reprint an article that I ran in the St. Olaf newspaper in late October (I'm the sports editor). We touched upon the steroid topic because Ken Caminiti had recently passed away, so it doesn't discuss the recent relevations concerning Giambi and Bonds. Still, I think you'll find that some interesting points were raised.

The first section was written by my co-editor (and fellow student) Matt Stortz, while my contribution is the second section. Had I known about Bonds and Giambi I may have taken a less controversial position, but like I said, I think my ideas have merit.

If any Twins news breaks before tomorrow (the deadline to offer players arbitration is Tuesday), be sure to make Twins Chatter your first stop.

Steriods: Showcase talent, not drugs

By Matt Stortz

The international athletic community was shocked to discover an inordinate number of Olympic athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs. I write shocked because the coaches, athletes and medical staff involved have long known about the doping problem. The amount of athletes doping this year wasnt inordinate; there was merely an inordinate amount of discovery.

There is also speculation that 1996 National League MVP Ken Caminiti's recent death was expedited by steroid use.

In addition to banned substances, a number of currently legal but disputed drugs have made their way to the sports scene. Among them, Ephedrine and Creatin are the best known. Not only do athletes consuming of these drugs violate the fair play expectation inherent in sports, but they put the athletes in grave danger. Among the strongest reasons performance-enhancers should be banned:

1. Athletes who rely on performance enhancing drugs are less impressive than those who depend on their own natural ability and hard work. I would rather watch a gifted drug-free cyclist compete for the Tour de France title than one who has synthetically increased his athletic ability.

2. Even legal supplements can be dangerous. Products containing Ephedrine and similar drugs are often used by athletes to increase their stamina. These supplements increase the athlete's heart rate, moving oxygen-filled blood through the body more quickly. The problem: there is no method, other than exercise, which safely allows athletes to increase their heart rates.

3. Chemically enhancing performance is disrespectful to great players of the past. To use baseball as an example, players who down Creatin in order to crack 70 homeruns a year or smoke a 100 mph fastball have an unfair advantage over Satchel Paige, Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Josh Gibson, Jackie Robinson and Lou Gehrig.

4. If you lose, you lose. I hate losing more than anyone, but no one wins every game. Michael Jordan lost nearly 300 games in his career, and missed 30 game winning shots. The possibility that an athlete's natural talent may not propel them to victory in the upper-echelons of athletic competition shouldnt be feared; that's just how life works.

What supplements are okay for athletes to take? Any supplements that supply benefits available from food should always be available. A football player needs protein after he lifts; to get that protein, he could drink a protein shake, or eat a chicken. We can spare the chicken and the athlete by permitting the healthy, all-natural protein drink.

Sports cannot be fair and athletes will not be safe unless all unnatural performance-enhancing substances are banned, frequent random testing is performed to monitor its consumption as well as drugs that mask illegal chemicals and meaningful sanctions are imposed against players, companies, coaches and doctors who promote their use.

Steroids: Wrong, But Understandable

By Ryan Maus

Matt, I have to agree with many of the points that you bring up. There is absolutely no doubt that unnatural performance enhancing substances are detrimental to the health of those who use them. Caminiti, who admitted to using steroids throughout his career, recently passed away. BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative), a San Francisco-based nutritional supplement lab that is under investigation by the federal government, has been linked to Giants superstar Barry Bonds.

Why then, if there is so much evidence outlining the perils of steroid use, are so many professional athletes associated with them? The answer to that question lies within the spirit of American capitalism.

Consider the following hypothetical situation. You are a minor league baseball player who has played three seasons at the triple-A level. While your skills seem to have hit their ceiling, you see dozens of younger players pass you by on their way to fame and (most importantly) fortune in the major leagues. While you are struggling along at $3,000 a month, the minimum major league salary is $50,000 monthly. Playing major league baseball is your lifes dream; it's the reason you didn't go to college, the reason you've spent the last seven years of your life riding busses around the country for little pay.

Then, an opportunity presents itself. This is something that can give you an extra advantage, something that will finally allow you to fulfill your dreams (and make excellent money in the process). You know there are health risks involved, but you decide it is worth the risk. Designer steroids are almost undetectable, they say. You'll never get caught. Would you pass on this one chance to fulfill your dream?

Steroids will not magically transform a marginal athlete into a major leaguer. When combined with intense training, however, they can give an give a highly-skilled athlete the extra strength needed to reach the next level.

Caminiti, who is the only major professional athlete ever to publicly admit to steroid use, is the perfect example. Prior to his 1996 MVP season, Caminiti was a solid-but-unspectacular third baseman, averaging about 20 home runs and 80 RBI a season. In 1996, he suddenly hit 40 home runs, drove in 130 baserunners, and hit .326, which was 50 points above his career average. Steroids cant make the player, but they can take that player to a previously unreachable level of performance.

Please be aware that I am not condoning the use of steroids or any other performance-enhancing drugs. I firmly believe they are wrong and immoral in every possible sense. What I am saying is that I can empathize somewhat with those athletes who do use them. In today's sporting landscape, where competition is incredibly fierce, athletes are looking for every possible advantage they can gain on their opponents. If steroid use was the only way you could make the big leagues, secure that college scholarship, or secure that $20 million contract, could you resist?

Left, Caminiti takes out his 'roid rage on his lumber. Right, you can see the difference in physique between Bonds circa 1989 and Bonds today. Sure he didn't "know" he was taking drugs...

Thursday, December 02, 2004

They Can't be Serious... Can They?

It all started way back when Dustan Mohr was traded.

One by one they have had their chances and each watched it disappear. Michael Cuddyer was supposed to be the savior; now he is slated to start at second. Mike Ryan had one great September, but we now know it was a fluke. Michael Restovich doesn't look like he's good enough to play in the majors and has now endured a setback (falling on some ice a couple of days ago).

Jason Kubel was the best of them all, hailed as the next great outfielder in the game. All it took was one fateful day in the fall league to derail that dream.

The only light in the darkness has been the play of Lew Ford, playing well beyond anybody’s expectations. We here at Twins Chatter hitched a ride on his star back in April and neither one of us has looked back ever since.

Slowly the Twins have watched their organizational outfield depth dwindle to almost nothing over the course of two years. They were supposed to be the next wave of players who finally forced enigmatic Jacque Jones out of town. Now, following numerous promises that 2004 was Jacque’s last in a Twins uniform, his return is becoming more than a mere fantasy.

For some reason the Twins have a fascination with speaking out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to Jones. Since last winter, it has been apparent it would be in the team’s best interests to let him go. His production has diminished and he never became the player many envisioned back when he was jumping over catchers' heads as a rookie. At the same time, the team has refrained from openly admitting just that and the local papers continue to drop different scenarios involving Jones’ return. These scenarios imply the team is willing to work to keep Jones, as though he’s a real asset to the team.

The latest update in the Jones saga, according to La Velle E. Neal: if the Twins are unable to sign Corey Koskie they may then use that money to keep Jones. The Twins have until December 7 negotiate with Koskie, who they have decided not to offer arbitration. Koskie is right behind Troy Glause and Adrian Beltre in the free agent third base market. The team has offered him 2 years at $8 million, which seems awfully low compared to the $2 million they just paid Juan Castro.

Jones is expected to make $6 million in arbitration. He is the younger player but a third baseman of Koskie’s caliber, bad back and all, is more valuable then a light hitting right fielder who does not hit lefties.

There are other free agents out there who might be better options than bringing back Jones, including Joe Randa, Placido Polanco, and Tony Batista at third base. There are also many outfielders on the market that are a better value then Jones. Sometimes it appears the Twins fall in love with their own players and are too concerned about chemistry. This is the same team that was attacked by LaTroy Hawkins for its lack of loyalty after it provided him with multiple opportunities. Jacque Jones will not have the same turnaround as Hawkins and it would be a mistake to bring back Jones at such a price tag.

Everyone is familiar with the fact that Jones struggles against lefties. Last year, however, he actually had a higher on base percentage against lefthanders at .328 compared to .310 against righties. Yet neither number is something to be proud of. Jones also has no power against lefties with 2 homeruns in 155 at-bats last year another 2 in 145 at-bats the year before. Overall Jones’ numbers last year look like this; 555 at-bats, .254 BA, .315 OBP, 24 HR, 80 RBI, and 117 K’s. Those numbers do not warrant 6 million dollars plus; yet for some reason the the rumors persist. Why?

It is a possibility that the team is merely talking up Jones’ trade value. The team is going to have a hard time trading him either way. Teams know what they are getting by now. If he is traded, the likely outcome is that the team acquiring him will try to negotiate a better deal with him. If they are unable to come to terms, they will non-tender him rather then risk arbitration themselves. This happened last year with the Cubs and Michael Barrett. The reasoning for such a move is obvious: a team that likes Jones would have time to exclusively try to sign him before exposing him to the rest of the league. It is hard to imagine the Twins receiving much of value in any such deal but it is also Terry Ryan’s specialty acquiring low-level prospects that other teams undervalue.

It is a little odd how many chances Jones has been given. Every time the team has a valid replacement lined up, something goes wrong and Jones is given a reprieve. This wasn’t supposed to be an issue a couple of months ago, but then Jason Kubel lost next season to his knee injury. As it stands right now, the Twins have three healthy outfielders in Ford, Shannon Stewart and Hunter, plus last year’s opening day DH, Matty LeCroy. These players are enough to say good-bye to Jacque Jones. It’s time for the Twins to get creative and look elsewhere. Their priorities remain Brad Radke and Corey Koskie. If that means increasing their offers to each, so be it. No amount of outfielders going down is enough stop the team from finally escaping Jacque’s hold. My worst nightmare is waking up one morning to discover the team has decided to keep Jones, signing him to a 3-year, $6 million per year deal.

Good thing Jim Bowden is in Washington. :)

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

So You Have the Dollars… Now How About Some Sense?

The calendar rolls over to December today, and as it is every winter, baseball information is at a premium. Fortunately for me, John is an extremely kind and generous person and allows me to use his ESPN Insider subscription (as long as I pay for the occasional month). I’m not super keen on paying for material that used to be free, but what can I do? I love the stuff.

Anyway, this all leads into the topic for today’s post. I read ESPN’s “Rumor Mill” section all the time, not because it’s particularly accurate (there are plenty of wild goose chases in there), but because it let’s me see what’s going on in the trenches of major league baseball. This winter, I must say that I’m rather disappointed with the way the battle is progressing.

The owners-players conflict in baseball is one that has existed for a very long time, and fans are usually pretty split as to where their allegiances lie. Some favor the players, saying that they should “take whatever they can get” from the owners. Some people think players are grossly overpaid and believe we should go back to the days of perpetual serfdom. Then there are those who think the whole system stinks and wash their hands of the whole greed-infested mess.

Personally, I am a cross between all three of those opinions. There is no doubt that baseball owners gypped the players out of their fair share for more than 80 years, but I also believe that the salary figures being handed out circa 2000-2001 (peaking with that insane $250 million Alex Rodriguez) were far too extreme. It was a welcome breath of fresh air when salaries began to spiral downward in 2002; last winter, we truly saw the return of sanity to the marketplace (or perhaps the return of collusion if you’re Scott Boras).

Things definitely have not gotten off on the right foot in 2004. It started innocently enough: the Giants screwed up and gave 37 year-old Omar Vizquel a three-year, $12.25 million deal. Yeah, that’s way too much, and yeah, Vizquel’s not the player he used to be, but he’s still a veteran who’s going to be a leader and play solid defense. But then things got even weirder: the former genius (and now infamous) Jim Bowden goes and gives a .266 career hitter whose weakness include (but are not limited to) breaking pitches and job security, a four-year, 16.8 million (!) dollar contract. For good measure, he decides to give a washed-up Vinny Castilla $6.2 million for two years. Those are two stupid moves, but someone could theoretically see an eensy tinsy-tiny bit of logic there in that Bowden wants to drum up ticket sales for next year. Not sure how many people are going to show up just because an unmotivated Guzy is manning shortstop (although that bionic sound is pretty cool) but that’s just me.

Lately, things have been getting really crazy. A mediocre Kris Benson for three years at $22.5 million? A running-on-fumes Troy Percival for $6 million a year? (Although keep in mind this is the Tigers we’re talking about.) Damian Miller got $8.5 million over three years from the Brewers. Yesterday, Armando Benitez signed a three-year deal for $21 million, and while he is one of the better closers in the game, that is not a bargain by any stretch of the imagination.

The potential deals, those just on the horizon, are even more mind-boggling. We’ve all heard about Carlos Beltran and how Lucifer—err, I mean Boras—wants a 10-year deal for $200 million. Now he’ll never get that contract in a million years (at least the owners have learned something from the A-Rod fiasco) but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yanks eventually give in and hand Beltran a deal in the $90 to $100 million range for five or six years. Boras initially demanded $55 million contract for a 33-year old catcher (Jason Varitek) and while the sides will probably agree on a $36 million deal in the next few days (Boras is being a complete idiot and demanding a no-trade clause also, which is stalling the negotiations). Carl Pavano will get $9 or $10 million a year after having only one really good season.

Here’s the real kicker: It was released yesterday that the Mets are prepared to give an aging Pedro Martinez $38 million over three years, possibly increasing that to $50 million over four years, which is absolutely asinine.

Remember “trickle-down economics”, that theory that you learned about in Econ 101? It seems to be taking effect right here in Minnesota. First off, Juan Castro gets two years and doesn’t have to take a pay cut from his $1 million salary in ’04 despite hitting .244 last year. Now it appears that Brad Radke won’t be taking much of a pay cut from his $10 million salary ($9 million a year sounds likely for his next contract) and there is no doubt that he could easily get a raise from the Yankees or Red Sox if he really wanted one.

So what’s going on, major league owners? Didn’t you learn ANYTHING during the last labor negotiations? Ever hear of a little thing called “fiscal responsibility”? Heck, I’d even settle for collusion if it will keep prices within reason! Hopefully the signings we’ve seen so far are nothing but an aberration, but that is looking less and less likely every day. Teams were just starting to emerge from the depths of the terrible contracts they doled out during the Boom Years, but now it seems like they’re beginning the deadly cycle anew. The last thing baseball needs is a repeat of the 2002 labor woes.

Owners, listen up! So what if you have the dollars to spend on these guys! Try using some common sense instead!