The Twins have a beast of a minor league system, possibly the best in baseball. It’s headed by two potential monsters in center fielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano, followed by righthanders Alex Meyer and Kohl Stewart, and backed up by a solid supply of kids up and down the system, all over the field and particularly heavy on the mound.
There’s an outside chance that Buxton, Sano, and Meyer could all arrive in Minnesota sometime in 2014. But realistically, that franchise’s window is at least two years from opening. It’s a club coming off seasons of 99, 96, and 96 losses, twice the most in the American League and once out-awfuled by only the Astros, and even with this week’s signings of righthanders Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, an over/under of 90 Twins losses in 2014 would probably draw fairly even play.
To convince a free agent in November to take himself off the market, you typically have to overpay.
That’s triply true when you’re a non-contender like the Twins.
Minnesota is reportedly committing $49 million over four years to Nolasco, who will be 31 next week, and $24 million over three years to Hughes, who isn’t very good at pitching. That’s $73 million in obligated cash for a club whose payroll in 2013 was around $76 million.
It’s the latest example of the shifting contract landscape, as free agent classes get annually thinner at the same time as franchises lock in exponentially more lucrative TV deals. It stands to reason that heavier competition for fewer arguably reliable veteran players would result in contracts that look crazier — but which, as always, won’t look so crazy in most cases, if we just give it a couple years.
One upshot of all this is that contracts that clubs entered into a year or two or more ago, even if they seemed like significant step-outs back then, tend to look like team-friendly deals now, assuming all other things (performance, health) are no worse than roughly equal.
And one baseball synonym for “team-friendly” is “tradeable.”
Who do you want: Nolasco at 4/49, Jason Vargas at 4/32, Hughes at 3/24, or Derek Holland at three years and $24.3 million — with club ability to control the 27-year-old at four years and $34.8 million or five years and $45.3 million?
Assuming Matt Harrison is healthy, you have him at 4/49 for the remainder of his year-old deal (or 5/60.25 if Texas picks up a 2018 option). Would you trade the 28-year-old Harrison today for a 31-year-old Nolasco? Of course not.
Yu Darvish: Locked up for 4/41 at this point (or 3/30 if he earns a player option via Cy Young finishes).
Let’s see what Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, and Bronson Arroyo get — but then again, even including Darvish in any affordability examination is sorta silly.
Some have suggested that Elvis Andrus’s contract extension, which commits Texas to $124.475 million over the next nine years ($13.8 million AAV) — or $139.475 over 10 seasons if the Rangers pick up a 2023 option — unless Andrus opts out after another five years and $66.475 or six years and $81.475, is a bad deal.
Who would you rather pay: the 25-year-old Andrus between $13 and $14 million a year for the prime of his career — or more than $13 million a year, for the next four seasons, to 31-year-old Jhonny Peralta?
If Nelson Cruz gets the four years and $75 million he reportedly seeks ($18.75 million AAV), how’s Adrian Beltre’s three years and $51 million ($17 million AAV) — which will be two years and $35 million ($17.5 million AAV) if he fails to reach 1200 plate appearances in 2014-2015 or 600 plate appearances in 2015 — looking now?
Beltre is 34.
Cruz is 33.
Cruz at 4/75 (or something close to it), or Alex Rios at the club’s choice of one year at $14 million or two years at $27 million?
Regardless of where you fall on Cruz vs. Rios as baseball players, you’re talking about a shorter commitment for Rios, and substantially less per year, assuming Cruz gets something close to what he’s asking for.
If Joakim Soria’s arm comes back in the second year after Tommy John surgery like they often do, is he worth the $6 million the Rangers will owe him in 2014 if they don’t pick up his 2015 option, or the two years and $12.5 million if they do?
Before you suggest he’ll need to be closing games to make the contract a good value, recognize that set-up men Joe Smith and Javier Lopez each just got three years guaranteed, for $15.75 million and $13 million, respectively.
Ian Kinsler’s contract was arguably as untradeable as any on the Rangers, until Texas moved it for Prince Fielder’s arguably unmovable deal.
All these other affordable contracts — plus the $15 million AAV saved the next few seasons at second base — presumably made assuming the Fielder contract palatable.
Especially with the $30 million subsidy from Detroit, which effectively makes the Texas commitment $19.7 million annually for the remaining seven years on Fielder’s deal.
Fielder is 29. Hypothetical: You can trade the seven years left on his contract, right now, for the six years at $11.3 million annually that the White Sox have guaranteed Jose Dariel Abreu. Wouldja?
You read all the time about the Rangers’ flexibility, from their depth at key positions to the waves of prospects in the pipeline to ownership’s demonstrated willingness to step out on payroll when key opportunities present themselves.
But there’s flexibility too created by locking up key pieces before they need to be locked up, and in spite of the fact that Texas regularly posts a top-third payroll, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find much of anything approaching albatross salary on this roster. Given the way this winter’s free agent market has developed — not unexpectedly — you might take a look at the Texas roster and ask yourself how many attractive trade pieces this club has, and not only in terms of its robust farm system.