Long-term deals must benefit both sides
Large group of arbitration-eligible players looms after '09
MINNEAPOLIS -- By signing Jason Kubel to a multi-year deal last week, the Twins eliminated one potential arbitration case for next offseason.But that's a small number considering that the Twins could have as many as 10 arbitration-eligible players following the '09 season: Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, Jesse Crain, Carlos Gomez, Matt Guerrier, Brendan Harris, Francisco Liriano, Pat Neshek, Glen Perkins and Delmon Young. With so many potential arbitration cases on the horizon, have the Twins considered trying to lock up any of the players to multi-year deals before the '09 season starts? Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said that despite the high number of soon-to-be arbitration-eligible players, the team is approaching the situation like it does every year -- on a player-by-player basis. "Just because you are looking at a potential of 10 arbitration guys, it doesn't mean that you want to say, 'OK, let's get four of them wrapped up now so that we have a more manageable number,'" Antony said. "With the economy the way it is and the fact that you want to maintain some roster flexibility, you have to really think about each deal individually and whether it makes sense." The Indians were the first team to popularize the strategy of locking up young players before they were able to reach their arbitration-eligible years, as they did with players like Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore. Several teams have since followed suit. The move to sign a player early can be risky for a team, but the player also takes less money to have the security rather than going on a year-to-year contract. For the Twins, who already have $54.35 million on the books for 2010, that reduced price tag could be beneficial. The Twins are not unfamiliar with signing players who have three or fewer years of service time to long-term deals. They inked Mauer to a four-year, $33 million contract back in February 2007 in what would have been his first year of arbitration. But Antony said the Twins have to weigh a lot of factors in considering which players might be right for those types of deals. "It's a hard thing to decide," Antony said. "You can't really go into specifics because each player is different -- especially when you are talking about pitchers and position players. Like when you look at the Morneau deal last year (six years, $80 million), six years is a long time. But factoring in that he plays first base, the relative belief that he should stay healthy during the course of that contract and that we felt there was still upside, it was a contract that made sense." One player who the Twins might be willing to approach now about a multi-year deal is Baker. Like other players who the Twins have signed to longer deals, Baker has shown consistency and durability. The right-hander has gone 20-13 with a 3.81 ERA in 316 innings over the past two seasons and at the age of 27, he's set to get his first Opening Day start on April 6 when the Twins host the Mariners. "I have definitely entertained the idea of it." Baker said recently of a possible multi-year deal. "I like this place. I like playing here. I like the coaching staff and obviously we have a great clubhouse. It's kind of up to them, but I definitely have thought about it." Antony said that signing pitchers to long-term deals takes a little more consideration, considering their susceptibility to injury. He pointed to the three-year, $3.25 million deal that the Twins gave to Crain before the 2007 season as one such example. At the time, Crain was a year away from being arbitration-eligible. He had emerged as one of the Twins' primary setup men, so the club felt it was a smart move to buy out two of Crain's arbitration-eligible years. But, in May 2007, shortly after signing the deal, Crain injured his shoulder and underwent surgery that caused him to miss the rest of the season. "Sometimes players leave dollars on the table of potential earnings to take that security and, in a case like Jesse's, that worked out for him," Antony said. "Otherwise, he would have been going into his arbitration years having missed a full season, just like Neshek will be doing this next year. " Risk is involved on both sides when it comes to multi-year deals and for the Twins, they'll have plenty to consider with their long list of players who will soon be eligible for arbitration. But based on their recent history of deals, it wouldn't be surprising to see at least one player from that group signed to a multi-year contract. "Historically, we've done deals with players as they get to two, three and four years of service time," Antony said. "And I think that's something we'll continue to do."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.