Adam Rubin had an interesting article on the Mets’ payroll situation and the bad contracts they might like to get off the books by swapping them. He did a thorough job analyzing the bad contracts from every team in the league, though I think he might have missed the Twins’ worst contracts. That’s a pretty easy thing to do though, because compared to other teams with a similar payroll, the Twins don’t really have a lot of bad contracts on the books. Bill Smith has actually done a pretty good job managing payroll, so even his worst signings are actually pretty close to market value. A more detailed look at these contracts, after the jump.
Joe Nathan, 4 years, $47 million: Spending nearly a quarter on payroll for a relief pitcher looked like a bad move when this contract was signed, even if that relief pitcher was one of the best in baseball. Now that Twitchy is recovering from Tommy John surgery, it looks even worse. Nathan is owed $11.25 million this season, plus a $12.5 million option for 2012 (or a $2 million buyout), and since it’s unlikely he will be fully recovered by 2012, the Twins will probably have to eat the rest of his salary. This is probably the contract the front office would most like to get off the books.
Michael Cuddyer 3 years, $24 million: It’s not the money or the length that is so terrible; they’re both pretty reasonable for a right fielder with average power. What makes this such a bad contract is the stipulation that his 2011 option had to be picked up within days after the 2009 World Series. It is not a good idea to hand any player such an option, and it makes even less sense for a player whose production has been as spotty as Cuddyer’s. Cuddyer has been willing to play whatever position the team has asked him (though he hasn’t played them well), and this contract will be off the books after next season, so it isn’t exactly going to kill the team. The Mets will be paying Carlos Beltran $18.5 million for nearly the same level of production; they would probably take Cuddyer’s contract in a heartbeat.
Justin Morneau, 6 years, $80 million: This deal really only looks bad if Morneau ends up like Corey Koskie. Otherwise, he’s getting paid $14 million a year for the next three years, which is a bargain given his current production. He’s struggled to stay healthy for an entire season since signing the contract, but he’s also been felled by a couple of freak injuries. It’s hard to fault the front office for failing to predict that Morneau would miss half of two seasons with a fractured spine and a concussion. It is easy to fault the front office inking a thoroughly average first baseman (at that time) to an $80 million deal in the first place, though.
Joe Mauer, 8 years, $184 million: Paying Joe Mauer $23 million a season isn’t such a bad idea right now; that’s actually about what he’s worth and the Twins aren’t exactly cash-strapped. Paying a 35 year-old Joe Mauer $23 million a season to DH might be a killer, though. Catchers don’t generally age well, so the Twins are probably going to regret this contract in about four years. Still, the deal probably won’t be the worst contract in baseball history (that will likely be Alex Rodriguez’s current contract), and it is pretty defensible when put into context. Mauer is the face of the franchise, and with the inflow of cash from their new stadium, there was no way they would be able to let him walk.
Nick Blackburn, 4 years, $14 million: Another deal that looked pretty ill-advised when it was signed, given Blackbeard’s mediocre ground-ball rate and tendency to pitch to extreme contact. It’s no surprise that Blackburn blew up in the first year of his deal, posting an ugly 5.42 ERA and earning a demotion to the minors. Still, this contract isn’t exactly an albatross, since the Twins aren’t operating with a small-market payroll anymore and the most Blackburn will make in one season is $8 million, in the final year of his contract (an option, otherwise the most he will make is $5.5 million).
Denard Span, 5 years, $16.5 million: I hesitate to consider this a bad contract, even though Span had a pretty disappointing season by his standards. He batted .264/.331/.348/.679 and wasn’t all that impressive in center field, though he was still worth 0.0 rWAR and 2.9 fWAR. If he produces at this level for the rest of his contract, he will still be worth what he is paid. Span’s minor league numbers weren’t particularly impressive, though, so there is a chance he might not even maintain this level of production.
Scott Baker, 4 years, $15.25 million: Scott Baker is a much better pitcher than most casual fans tend to think, posting a career 4.32 ERA, 3.37 K/BB ratio, 4.24 xFIP, 4.04 FIP, 4.20 tERA, 14.2 fWAR and 11.4 rWAR, so it isn’t his production that makes this contract questionable. The real problem with Baker has been his health. He was sidelined with a shoulder problem for the first few weeks of the season last season, and he missed four starts with elbow tendinitis this year. He also recently had arthroscopic surgery to clean out his elbow, though he’s expected to be ready by spring training. This isn’t a bad contract by any means, but it does illustrate the risks involved in locking up young pitchers into long-term deals.
Brendan Harris, 2 years, $3.2 million: Ordinarily, I wouldn’t include such a paltry deal on a list of bad contracts, no matter how poorly the player performed, but this signing made no sense whatsoever from the start. Brendan Harris was a prime candidate to be non-tendered last season, batting just .251/.309/.360/.669 in his two seasons in Minnesota and showing all the range of a mailbox post on defense. The Twins already had a good, if overpaid, utility player in Nick Punto, and several cheaper, similarly below-average infielders in Alexi Casilla and Matt Tolbert. Even before they agreed to terms with Orlando Hudson, there was no reason to keep Harris around. Harris, to absolutely nobody’s surprise, was terrible this season and was designated for assignment in late June.