Friday, July 23, 2010

Forget About Dan Haren, Twins Fans

The Common Man has been writing a lot about his Twins lately, and he hopes you’ll indulge him one last time this week. This morning, Nick Nelson, of the excellent Nick’s Twins Blog, was tossing around the suggestion that the Twins should offer to include Kyle Gibson to the Diamondbacks to try and get Dan Haren. It would be a bold move, for certain, and would probably give the Twins the edge needed to secure a playoff spot this year.

But trading for Haren has longer term ramifications for the team. While Haren’s contract, which calls for $12.75 million over the next two years, plus a $15.5 million team option (with a $3 mill buyout) for 2013), is perfectly reasonable given his ability and performance, Haren’s contract would create a significant problem for a mid-market club like the Twins.

Twins fans would like to think that the club’s coffers are bottomless, now that they’ve got a new cash cow of a stadium. And indeed, the Twins are poised to have their most profitable year in team history, given the attendance at the new park, the attendant increase in food prices, and the additional merch sales associated with the popularity of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, the stadium, Delmon Young, Carl Pavano, Orlando Hudson, JJ Hardy, Denard Span, and Jim Thome. But the Twins anticipated this rise in revenue and adjusted the team’s payroll accordingly, from $65 million to $97.5 million. Again, the Twins increased payroll by roughly 50% in 2010. The Common Man doesn’t know what the upper limit of the Twins payroll is going forward, but he imagines that the team is getting close.

Which is a problem because, according to the essential Cot’s Contracts, the Twins are already on the hook for $72 million next year to eight players (Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, Nathan, Baker, Harris, Blackburn, and Span), and that doesn’t even include the hefty arbitration raises that will be due to Delmon Young, Francisco Liriano, and Kevin Slowey. Nor does it include the $5.5 million team option on Jason Kubel the Twins are sure to pick up. Plus, the Twins will have to decide whether to exercise Nick Punto’s $4 million option next year and whether to re-up Orlando Hudson or pursue another 2B. Carl Pavano is a free agent after this year, and the Twins will have to decide whether to offer him arbitration (that would net him at least $10 million if he accepts). Plus, the club will have to reconfigure its bullpen, with Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, and Matt Guerrier all eligible for free agency. Adding Danny Haren to the club would up their commitment to at least $85 million, and that would only cover 9 players.

Call The Common Man crazy, but here’s a best guess at how the Twins payroll and roster would shape up for the club next year if the status quo holds:

(click to embiggen)

A couple of notes: The Twins probably can’t afford to pick up Punto’s $5 million option next year, especially if they want to commit to a real 2B. Punto might be persuaded to come back for less money, however. All the arbitration estimates are only TCM’s best estimate. He doesn’t really know, but assumes that he’s on the low side for each of Hardy, Young, Liriano, and Slowey. TCM doesn’t think the Twins can commit to a payroll that would stretch much beyond the $110 million here, meaning they’d be fairly well locked into this roster all offseason while other teams in the division are improving. No matter what, it’s going to be especially hard to compete in the AL Central next year. Looking at the above list, the only scenario that would make sense for the Twins would be to turn around and trade Haren again in the offseason, a la Cliff Lee, for prospects. But there’s no real guarantee the team will be able to get significant value for him, and GM Bill Smith has shown himself to be a mediocre trader at best.

But that necessarily raises the question of how much the Twins should be willing to part with to acquire Haren. Gibson is a potential stud, a legitimate #2 starter, with potential to be a 1.5. Before the season, KLaw wrote “The knock on him in the draft was the lack of a real knockout pitch, and he may never have one, but he's fairly polished, with above-average command and control, and should move quickly if the arm issue is behind him.” Kevin Goldstein gave him four stars. And this year, Gibson has impressed the Twins with his dominant performance at Fort Myers (1.87 ERA, 3.33 K/BB, 8.3 K/9 in 7 starts) and solid work at AA New Britain as a 22 year old (4.31 ERA, 7.0 K/9, 2.75 K/BB). Plus, he’s given up just five homers in 114 total innings across the two levels, showing impressive sink on his fastball. It is not a stretch to suggest that Gibson could be up and helping the Twins in the second half of 2011.

It simply does not make sense to send away a pitcher with Gibson’s future, who will be under team control for 6 years, making the league minimum for three, for someone making $12.75 million and who can’t stay here for more than a few months. Better for the Twins to focus on upgrading the Blackburn/Duensing spot in the rotation with Ted Lilly, Fausto Carmona, or Ben Sheets (who will presumably come much cheaper). Yes, flags fly forever, but the Twins have a good shot at the division without Haren, and probably a better shot in 2011 too.

Update: And with Dan Haren's no trade clause specifically excluding the Twins, it seems like acquiring Haren is an even worse idea than when TCM started writing this post.

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