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