One Person’s Trash Is Another Person’s…Well…Trash

Yesterday, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs posted this as a topic of conversation. If you want a summary, Cameron jokingly suggested that every MLB team except for the Yankees and Phillies (just because they’re in the World Series) should meet together with one bad contract in hand. The Blue Jays bring Vernon Wells’ contract, the Giants bring Barry Zito’s, etc. and in White Elephant style, each team takes home a contract from the table in the hopes that they can trade a horrible contract for one that isn’t so bad. Now Cameron didn’t seriously suggest this should happen, he just thought of it and thought it would be amusing to consider. At first thought, I had no complaints. But then, as I read the comments on his post, I realized something: The Twins don’t really have any bad contracts.

Now you can certainly argue against this, but there isn’t much to draw from. One commenter suggested:

Man that would not be a fun day to be a Twins fan. The thought of swapping Michael Cuddyer for Alfonso Soriano or Jose Guillen sickens me.

Also, “Now that i think about it… I wonder if the Twins would even put Cuddyer up? The only other real option is Nathan. And he did have a bad ALDS this year….

But my issues with this comment are:

1. Cuddyer just had his 2nd career year* (first being ’06) and provided a positive wins above replacement level of 2.0 or higher for the 3rd time in 4 years. He might be overpaid in 2011 (team option worth $10.5 million while he’s 32 years old but comes with a $1 million buyout), but that will be the final year of his contract and shouldn’t be too much of an issue for the Twins.

* Correction, ’06 was better than ’09 according to WAR.

2. This commenter made the mistake of partially basing his argument for Nathan by his performance in the ALDS. However, Nathan was slightly overpaid as a reliever this year (made $11.25 million but was valued at $8.5 million by FanGraphs) and likely will be for the rest of his contract, but most closers are overpaid anyways.

Thus, my first point is that if the Twins were to compete in this Bad Contract White Elephant, they’d more than likely walk away with a player that would hurt the team more than the guy that they gave up. As the commenter above said, the potential of swapping Cuddyer for Soriano or Guillen is sickening, and some commenters on Cameron’s post argued how it would be unfair for a team to bring a small 1 year, $5 million contract and walk away with Gary Matthews Jr. But that is the risk with White Elephant…you can actually bring a half-decent gift to the table, but leave with absolute garbage that no one wanted in the first place.

But my second point is a testament to why the Twins would probably not come out on the good end of this contract swap. The Twins do not have bad contracts to get rid of because obviously, they haven’t signed ANYONE to a bad contract lately. Granted, they’ve made some bad signings, no doubt (Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, Livan Hernandez, Mike Lamb, Luis Ayala, etc.) but none of them can really be called a “bad contract.” All of these contracts have been of the 1 year or 2 year variety, and all have been a couple million dollars or less per year, sans Hernandez. With a payroll that’s constantly around $70 million or less, combined with the cheapness of the Pohlads and the smarts of the front office, the Twins have been unable to sign any top-tier free agents…AND avoid bad contracts! Because of this, they’ve been able to sign Scott Baker, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau, and hopefully Joe Mauer to contract extensions.

Unfortunately, with the opening of Target Field, there’s a possibility that this will change. I really don’t expect the Twins payroll to go past $100 million, but they will be adding to the team’s salary. Sure, there will be a free agent or two that actually contributes, but there will also be a chance that the Twins make a mistake and sign someone either way over market value (unlikely), the player’s performance experiences a regression, which creates the bad contract (possible), or the player is hurt for a significant portion of the contract (also possible). So, even if you’ve blamed the Pohlads for preventing the Twins from acquiring top-level talent to put on the field, remember that they’ve also avoided carrying contracts that have further restricted their ability from improving the team.

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2 Responses to “One Person’s Trash Is Another Person’s…Well…Trash”

  1. Josh Says:

    I love this idea as it magnifies how overrated and dangerous free agency can be. I’m guessing if you scanned each white elephant “gift,” you’d notice that most contracts were big free agency signings… Carlos Silva, Gary Matthews, Alfonso Soriano, Jose Guillen, Derek Lowe, etc.

    When most players enter free agency, they’ve generally already reached their peak seasons, which makes long-term contracts especially risky… not to mention they are entering a foreign clubhouse with a new manager. Add in the fact that the older you get, the more injury-prone you become and you’ve got yourself quite the game of Russian roulette. The more years you add to a deal, the more times you keep pulling that trigger.

    If anything, this proves how important it is to harvest your own talent, utilize reasonable salaries during arbitration years and then figure out ways to extend deals during the first year or two of free agency. The Twins are very good at this, really only missing on the Joe Mays contract.

    Then once you have your home-grown talent, you either find that rare free agent who combines both youth and premium ability (Mark Texeira) and sign them to a long-term deal where the risk is minimized because of the aforementioned qualifications, or you pursue veterans at contracts that will not become albatrosses in 3 or 4 years down the road.

    Perfect examples are the Twins WS teams of ’87 and ’91. With a home-grown core of Puckett, Hrbek, Gaetti, Knoblauch, Erickson, Viola, etc., they pursued short-term contracts for veterans that would not need to shoulder the entire load and become “the franchise.” Reardon, Gladden, Davis and Morris all played important roles, but had plenty of help surrounding them.

    It’s quite apparent that teams who pursue big free agents to become the core player of their team are generally going to fail.

  2. ostrov Says:

    Thank you,
    very interesting article

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