Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Bringing Back Bradke

It has been widely publicized that the Twins’ number one priority this offseason is resigning free agent Brad Radke. Radke, whose 4-year, $36 million expired after the season, is definitely a key to the Twins’ success next year. While his 11-8 win-loss record may not show it, he was one of the top starting pitchers in the American League this year. His 3.48 ERA that was fourth best in the AL, and his 219 2/3 innings pitched were fifth best in the league.

It’s obvious that the Twins can’t afford to pay him top market value. With the 2005 payroll certain to remain static at $54 million, an annual salary of $9 million for the next three years (which is probably market value) is a lot to ask of a small market team. This is especially true considering that Radke already 32 years old. While there have been some notable exceptions to this recently (Jamie Moyer comes to mind), control pitchers generally begin to lose some effectiveness as they age. Radke is probably past what is commonly defined as a player’s “prime”. That certainly doesn’t mean he washed up—far from it. I don’t think Brad will be sporting a top-5 ERA next year, but I do think he can find a happy medium between his 2003 season (4.49 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) and 2004. I wish the Twins had room to give Radke the 3-year, $27 million deal he probably deserves, but I honestly don’t know if they do. I’m sure Terry Ryan would much rather prefer a 2-year deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $14-16 million.

Is Radke willing to accept a slight hometown discount to remain with the only organization he has ever known, the one who he helped lead from the depths of obscurity and futility? The prevailing opinion on that matter has been “yes”, but I’m not so sure. Here are some of the teams that are rumored to be interested in Brad’s services:

Baltimore: Peter Angelos and the Orioles will be spending again this winter (they signed Miguel Tejada, Raphael Palmario, and Javy Lopez last winter), perhaps even more so now that they have to compete for fans with the D.C. Filibusters. They definitely don’t have enough pitching, and if they target Radke (instead of Carl Pavano, Milton, and Matt Morris) they will likely offer him a nice fat contract. Outlook: Baltimore seems like a viable choice for Brad, but I have to think his motivations would have to be almost entirely financial in nature for him to go to such a poorly-run organization.

Boston: The Red Sox are one of the teams that I worry about the most. They’re successful (in case the media has made that clear enough), laid back (again, the media), and most importantly, filthy rich. Plus, they’re likely to lose two of their better starting pitchers (Pedro and Lowe) so there will be a big gap to fill in that rotation. Can Radke resist the temptation to play for the World Champions next year? Outlook: I’d have to say that as it stands now, Boston is the most likely non-Minnesota home for Radke next year. However, I think that Carl Pavano seems like a more reasonable choice for Theo Epstein. Hopefully the Twins can sign Brad soon, before Boston has a chance to target him.

Cleveland: Indians GM Mark Shapiro will allegedly have some cash to spend this winter, and recent articles suggest that he has identified Radke as a possibility. Shapiro needs to keep on dreaming. I can’t envision any circumstances in which Radke would go to Cleveland, unless they made him an absolutely outrageous offer (which they don’t seem to have the finances to do). Outlook: It’s nice that the Indians think they’re going to stock up and make a run on the Twins next year, but I don’t think they’re going to attract any top-tier free agent pitchers, Radke included.

New York: The Yankees are always a possibility when it comes to free agents, and this situation is no different. As much as you might hate them, it’s pretty hard to turn down an extra $5 or $6 million. However, I think Radke knows better in this case. He’s been quoted as saying that he’s not a New York “kind of player”, which is good to hear. At least someone seems willing to acknowledge that the struggles of Jeff Weaver and Javier Vazquez are not flukes. Outlook: While it is still possible that the Yankees land Radke, I would be shocked if they did. I don’t know how well Brad’s low-key demeanor would go over in the Bronx Zoo.

Tampa Bay: There were rumors earlier this year that the hometown Deviled Hams were interested in signing Radke, but those whisperings have been nearly non-existent of late. It seems the Rays have realized (correctly) that they aren’t going to steal any free agents away from the Red Sox or Yankees, let alone the Twins. That being said, Brad would probably like down in southern Florida. There’s no pressure, the weather is nice, he’s near his friends and family, and he can fish whenever he’s not pitching. But still, I don’t know if the Rays are willing to spend the extra money it will take to lure Brad back home. Outlook: Not a chance.

Minnesota: Despite all my ramblings on the contrary, the most likely scenario still has Radke staying in Minnesota. The Twins want him back, Radke has expressed his desire to stay, and there are no hard feelings between the two parties (as opposed to last winter’s Eddie/LaTroy debacle). The only sticking point I can see is money. If Brad decides he wants one last big payday, he’ll probably have to look elsewhere (which would suck for the Twins). However, I don’t think Brad is that type of guy. I’m thinking the Twins give him a near-market value 3-year, 20-24 million dollar deal, probably before Thanksgiving.

I'm want to point out that resigning Radke just isn’t the forgone conclusion that many fans think it will be. If the Twins and Radke can’t get anything done during their window of exclusive negotiations (before Dec. 7), the odds that he’ll be gone are much higher. If the Twins were to lose Radke’s and his 220 innings, they could be in a world of trouble next year.