The Minnesota Twins are currently dealing with a huge problem as they may face up to six potential arbitration cases, more than any other team. What makes the situation even worse is the fact that three of them are the 3-4-5 hitters in their lineup. Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer, and Justin Morneau all are arbitration eligible this season and to make matters worse, they are all far apart on the dollar amounts.
I wrote (and complained) about the continued increase in salaries around Major League Baseball on Wednesday (click here to read) and how due to contracts such as Barry Zito’s, small market teams like the Minnesota Twins are going to find it virtually impossible to re-sign free agents even if they end up having to match their outrageous arbitration requests. For the Twins, they had to expect it from these three after all of them had career years in 2006.
Bottom line is that the Twins need to hurry up and settle these cases and then lock in at least Mauer and Morneau long term so this doesn’t become an issue again for a while. Then the next set of problems comes after the 2008 season as both Johan Santana and closer Joe Nathan both have contracts that expire. The Twins have their backs against the wall. Its not often a small market team has the contracts of the batting champion, the MVP, a multi-time Cy Young winner, and the best closer in baseball all due within a few years of each other. It just doesn’t seem fair.
The Twins do have a chance to gain up to $25 million in cap space after this season if they choose to part ways with center fielder Torii Hunter, second baseman Luis Castillo, starting pitcher Carlos Silva, outfielder Rondell White, and their new infielder Jeff Cirillo. While it obviously would cost some money to fill those positions, I think the Twins can get away with it for fairly inexpensive.
As much as I love Hunter, he’s going to end up becoming too expensive to keep. The problem is that he will be the most difficult of the names I listed above to replace. The Twins may go cheap and just try to have Jason Tyner play in center as he proved last year he can be an energizing player to have in the lineup. Luis Castillo will most likely not be with the Twins after this season. With super prospect Alexi Casilla waiting in the wings, he would have most likely been the starting second baseman in 2008 regardless of Castillo’s contract expiring. Carlos Silva won’t be difficult to replace as he has been as inconsistent as you can be as a starting pitcher. You could throw any young pitcher out there (which the Twins have plenty of) and he could do just as well if not better. Rondell White hasn’t been much of a factor and we don’t know what Jeff Cirillo will bring. So there is plenty of room for the Twins to cut some of the non-factor players in order to sign some of their studs to more money.
While the salaries of players continues to sky rocket, small market teams like the Twins, Florida Marlins, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays will have to do what they can to hang on to their superstars as long as they can before departing. That’s why you see these teams have the deepest and richest farm systems in all of baseball.
After all, it’s the only chance they have of surviving.