Tuesday, December 21, 2004

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.

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