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