Into the Off Day…

So, it’s been a while. I’m under a fair amount of stress right now, so let’s use some soothing bullet points to put me at ease…

  • Let me tell you, finishing off a law school career is pretty hard work. I only have about 40 more pages to write before next Monday (May 3rd) so that I can graduate, so I can almost guarantee that this will be the final post of a decent length until then. I’m working on three papers: one is a really simple and easy reflection memo on my internship in DC Superior Court; the second involves suggestions on how to implement the Omnibus DC Voting Bill for the 2010 elections; and the third is the beast, a 20-page paper on standing requirements, which are what must be met before one can sue. Overall, not too bad (considering I ended up writing a somewhat controversial 68-pager on the teaching of evolution over creationism in schools last year), but the time frame will make it very difficult. Wish me luck! If I succeed, I’ll graduate. If not, well, I’ll hope for an extension!
  • Friday’s game was an interesting one for me. I had missed the two prior days’ games due to work and going to the Nationals games. Both, by the way were terrible to watch. Livan Hernandez was pretty impressive Thursday, but still pulled off the loss against Cy Jimenez. He was exactly the guy he was in 2008, which still makes me cringe, but I’m happy he’s still finding success. However, Friday’s game got nasty on Twitter. When David DeJesus (I think) hit a home run that just barely went over the fence (as was apparent on replay but not on first viewing), Michael Cuddyer did not seem to hustle at all to return the ball to the infield. The problem? The ump called the ball in play, which led to DeJesus getting an inside-the-park home run as Cuddyer meandered back to the ball, which was resting at the base of the fence. Now, I know Cuddyer likely saw the ball go over his head, and the ump’s call would have been overturned on instant replay, but the slow walk Cuddyer took incensed many of those on Twitter that day. Our reward for being critical of Cuddyer for (apparently) not hustling (as is the Minnesota Twins way, of course)? This Tweet, by a respected and widely-followed Twins blogger (name removed because I have not spoken with him directly):

    This Tweet was quickly followed up by:

    Really?

    Now, as everyone who reads my writing or tweets knows, I am all about the snark and the sarcasm, but there is a line that stops short of accusing someone of “not being a fan” or “not being a true fan.” The first tweet crossed that line, and the second Tweet was just a reminder. As of now, I find myself an “alleged” Twins fan in the eyes of at least one (for those not familiar with the legal term of art “alleged,” it means roughly “something that has been declared true, but that certainly hasn’t been proven.”) influential blogger. Frankly, it pissed me off, and I sure hope it pissed off others. I really have one sports rule, and that rule is to NEVER accuse someone of not being a fan. Here’s where I shout out to my fellow blogger Fanatic Jack, who tends to have a negative outlook on the team, and frequently gets accused of all sorts of nasty things because of it. Jack, we rarely agree, but I know you are a true fan, and I urge everyone else to read his work at Fanatic Jack Talks Twins, as he does have a lot of good analysis to go along with is (often merited) pessimism.

  • So, that dour note behind us, it appears that Joe Mauer hasn’t shaved in a while, which is leading to a resurgent case of Joe Mauer’s Beard! I unfortunately don’t have a very good capture of it, but here is what I got. It is still a long way from the luscious specimen that we had at the beginning of ST, but it’s a start. Now if only Denard Span would follow Joe’s lead and grow back HIS Man-Beard. I promise he’ll stop it with the suckage as soon as he does.
  • The Twins have now won six straight series without managing to sweep a single one. Color me unconcerned. So long as the Twins are winning 2/3+ of their games, I won’t start to fret. Eventually, the Twins will discover their missing clutchiness and they’ll start scoring about three more runs per game than they are now.
  • I want to marry the Twins offense, but A) my wife would not approve, and B) it’s not legal to marry groups of sports players in Virginia (or Minnesota). So, I guess I’ll just have to deal with pining from a distance.
  • Topper Anton was nice enough to offer me a place in his “Twins Bloggers: Get to Know ‘Em” series, and commences to say nice things about me that I really don’t deserve, as I recently discovered that I have a horrible pottymouth while watching baseball: at the Thursday Nats game, there was a whole family, including little kids sitting right in front of me. The Nats are a horrible team, and I really don’t love them that much, but I found myself biting my lip far too much. Sorry, Mom! :S Anyway, go check out my Get-to-Know-‘Em if you want to know more about me (or if you are looking for good blackmail fodder).
  • Because of the back-up of games, I’ll give a Stud/Dud for today’s game only.
  • The Stud: Justin Morneau. Justin absolutely destroyed a pitch in the second inning for a two-run homer, and he has really been flashing the leather recently at second base. Mark Texeira he is not, but he’s still impressive.
  • The Dud: clearly, today’s dud was Kevin Slowey. This is not to say that he pitched poorly (which he did: he couldn’t locate around the corners of the plate, and when that goes, so goes Slowey’s whole game), but the main reason is that he couldn’t make it far into the Sixth Inning on the day after every pitcher but Alex Burnett was used. It turned out not to matter, as Ron Mahay and Burny (starting to like that kid a lot) easily cleaned up the final 2 2/3 innings, but it was something the Twins really needed that Slowey failed to provide.
  • Courtesy Wikipedia (click to visit page). The Hip Flexors.

    Nick Punto‘s groin is apparently just fine (which is more info than I needed to know today), but because he is still experiencing pain in that oh-so-sensitive area, the docs are looking into a possible hip flexor injury. If you didn’t know, and I didn’t, the hip flexors are any of about ten moving parts that make your hip joint work properly. I put the Wikipedia diagram on the right (credit goes to Wiki user Beth Ohara). Click on the image to go to the Wikipedia page for more info. If, as LaVelle seemed to fear in his tweet, hip flexor surgery is required, Punto could be done for the year, as Royals utility player Josh “Booger” Fields (nickname bestowed by WhiteSoxBlog) decided to do today. Ironically, as I tweeted earlier, if Punto has surgery and misses the rest of the season, the odds of him being with the Twins next year go up significantly: the hip injury will reduce his defensive value, which means all his value. The Twins were going to decline his $5 million option for next year (or so I certainly hope), and this makes it much more likely he’d accept a cheap “make-g00d” deal back with the Twins as a utility infielder. Luke Hughes got his roster spot, and I would really like to see him get a couple starts.

  • In other injury news, Clay Condrey had a setback, and there is no timetable for when he resumes throwing.
  • Tomorrow is an off day. Hallelujah.
  • Tuesday, the Twins will pitch the rearmed F-Bomb against Justin Verlander. In terms of my hopes for the Twins, I certainly hope Francisco Liriano is as good as he’s been. In the interest of my fantasy team, however, I want Verlander to strike out 10 Twins through five innings and leave a game tied 0-0, so the Twins can come back and destroy the Tiger bullpen. Life is much more complicated when my fantasy players face the Twins.

I feel better after all those bullets. Cheers!

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The New Beginning

Okay, fine, so it isn’t really the beginning of the season, but it is the beginning of what I consider to be the most important era to be introduced this season: the era of outdoor baseball. Today’s game was glorious to behold, even though I did miss chunks of it (3 CT is a really stupid time to start a game. What were they thinking?!) to pick up my wife from work and also missed the entire pre-show, the game was glorious, and was a really fitting introduction to what is almost universally regarded as one of the best five ball-parks in the American League, if not MLB. I’m just saying – it is going to be a bit chillier at night, but the players are big boys and they can handle going out and playing a cold game for several thousand dollars (for the cheapest ones, of course). Think about your broader fanbase, people! It’s estimated that March Madness costs employers 1.8 billion dollars – this game probably cost MN employers at least a million. Priorities.

Of course, out here on the East Coast I had to watch the game on ESPN. Don’t get me wrong, I occasionally prefer to watch the game on the tee-vee rather than on the computer via my somewhat balky internet connection (and it isn’t the awesome kind of balky, like Carl Pavano in the first inning, where he got away with a likely balk because his move was so good), but man, ESPN is just a fresh, new kind of hell. As I posted in a comment on Topper’s blog earlier, if I had to take a choice between Skip Caray (he of the fisted balls and the “line drive, base hit, caught for the out!” call during game 163) and the ESPN people, man, I’d probably grab a pencil and puncture my eardrums so I wouldn’t have to deal with the misery. So, that was the first problem.

And, in reality, it was a problem I was willing to accept today, mostly because neither Jon Miller nor Joe Morgan was on the broadcast (thank God) and because they spent a LOT of time pointing out the really cool things about Target Field. I can’t wait until the next chance I have to make a trip to MN to get to the new park – unfortunately, won’t be until August at the earliest. Dumb Bar exam.

Anyway, the Twins started out with a pretty impressive victory over the Red Sox, who right now are only barely behind the Yankees on the official Call to the ‘Pen scale of evilness.™ However, the fact that they really seemed to go out of their way to make sure that the Twins won mends a lot of bridges to me, and has resulted in a slight reduction in the Attributed Evilness score factor, though their other ratings are still high. Marco Scutaro, in the first inning, managed to get caught stealing before Pavano delivered home. Big Papi continued to hit like a wee little papoose. John Lester went to a three-ball count with more people than you can shake a stick at (seriously, you try shaking a stick at 13 people. Can’t be done – your arm gets tired).

So, your heros and zeroes:

  • Hero of the Day: Carl Pavano – I have never had a great deal of faith in Pavano, but in order to demonstrate my faith before the opener, I picked him up for a spot start for my fantasy team. Of course, he was brilliant. I think I must have, to a certain extent, internalized the Yankees’ complaints about Pavano. Either way, he was brilliant today: 1 ER on 4 hits and 1BB, with 4K. I’ll take that any day! WPA: .231
  • Runners up: Jon Rauch – continuing to remind us that the closer role is constructed to be more important than it actually is: Rauch makes me far more nervous than Nathan ever did, and I’m just waiting for him to have an implosion. But for now, I won’t complain about 5-for-5 in save opportunities. Jason Kubel and Denard Span – The Dude abided in a major way, getting the first home run in a regular season Target Field game, while Span did the same for bases on balls, stolen bases, and runs scored.
  • ZERO of the Day: I just can’t do it. If I had to pick somone , it would be Mountie, but I’m not going to. It was just to amazing a day and I can imagine it was a truly wonderful experience for all those that were there!

Tomorrow is the first off day of the young season, and I hope to put up something that looks like a post tomorrow evening. For now the hat standings:

Twins Record: 6-2

  • Blue TC logo: 0-2 (both of these were cases where I couldn’t find the one I had meant to wear. Sigh)
  • “M” logo: 3-0
  • Red TC logo: 2-0
  • Champs hat: 1-0

Game 2: Neck Tat makes his Closer Debut

(This is the first in what I hope will become a daily or near-daily series that gives a brief roundup of the heroes and zeros of the prior night’s game, with reference to the WPA graphs at Fangraphs.com. Comments on this feature? Email me at eric.donald.olson@gmail.com or message/follow me on twitter at @calltothepen)

Wow, what a game. (Game Graph Here)

Yes, I know that it wasn’t actually that amazing or anything, but I am still overly excited to have a win going forward. Maybe we return the  Los Angeles, California Angels of Anaheim’s favor from 2008, when they came into the Metrodome and took three of four in the season-opening series. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last night, the Angels set a Guinness World record for the largest gathering of people wearing blankets with sleeves. In order to accomplish this, they gave everyone that came an angels-themed Snuggie (note: they weren’t allowed to call them snuggies on the air, because Snuggies are made only by SnuggieCorp (or whatever it’s called),  so these were more like Slankets or something, since they were off-brand. But I digress). Dick Bremer had his first curmudgeon-y moment of the year when he complained for about five minutes about Bert wearing the Angels-supplied and -themed snuggie, whilst refusing to do so on his own. It was a very surreal moment. It will go down, in my mind, as one of the most surreal moments in baseball I have witnessed, as well as one of the single dumbest PR stunts ever.

Last night saw a strong effort from many players. The Heroes:

  • Nick Blackburn had the highest WPA (win probability added) at .149, with a strong, but very Blackburn-esque performance: 6.2 innings, 8 hits, 4 BB, 3 ER, 4 K. The down note for Jolly Roger was that he set a new career high (or low) for walks, including the first two batters in the game. However, he bounced back and had a strong performance.
  • Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were the clear heroes on offense. Mauer, with a WPA of .109, hit a 2-run home run in the first inning, while Justin Morneau hit a solo home run in the third, singled, and walked, resulting in a WPA of .85.
  • Denard Span got the gorilla/rally monkey off his back by getting his first hit and first walk.
  • HERO OF THE DAY: Jon Rauch made the punditry’s job much easier when he easily obtained his first Twins save, striking out two in a perfect inning. Could any decent reliever have done the same? Sure. But he’s the hero because now we don’t have to spend today arguing about whether he is the right choice (he’s not, but that’s a story for another day), as we would if he had blown his first attempt.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all fun and games for the Twins. The night’s Zeros:

  • Delmon Young managed to drive in a run on a Sacrifice fly and single, but he still managed to raise my ire by absolutely air-mailing a throw over third baseman Nick Punto by a good five feet (it would have been the correct height had Nick Punto been standing on Chris Cates‘ shoulders). Thanks, Delmon, for reminding me why you lost the “D” in your name last year, and why I generally refer to you as ‘elmon.
  • JJ Hardy had his first Home Run as a Twin, a solo shot, but he also ended up grounding into two double plays en route to earning a WPA of -.085, which basically negates Morneau’s contribution.
  • Orlando Hudson compiled a -.101 WPA for the game, after going 0-fer, while scoring a run after reaching on an error and leaving 4 on-base. Step it up, O-Dawg.
  • ZERO OF THE DAY: Second Base Umpire Adrian Johnson, who blew such an obvious call on a pickoff attempt on Michael Cuddyer by Angels catcher Jeff Mathis that it caused a Twitsplosion before the replay was even shown. So, Cuddyer was way off second base on a ball in the dirt, Mathis recovered and gunned it to Second Baseman Howie Kendrick. The throw clearly beat Cuddyer to the bag, but the tag was not applied for a good half a second, which allowed Cuddyer to get both feet and his right knee on the bag before the tag was applied. It was an ugly call, and neither Cuddyer nor Ron Gardenhire argued it nearly enough, in my humble opinion.

Tonight’s Game: Twins, 1-1 (PP: Carl Pavano, 0-0, 0.00) at Angels, 1-1 (Ervin Santana, 0-0, 0.00). First Pitch: 9:05 CST.

Tonight’s selected Twins hat? Navy Blue, with “M” logo. Last night’s debut for the AL Central Division Champs 2009 hat was a success, so we’ll see if the selected opening day hat can make a comeback after missing it’s first start.

Important Game #3: Looking up from the Valley

Here’s a little refresher on the series, before I begin:

Basically, the premise of the series is that certain games have an effect that is far greater than their mere impact on the win-loss column. These games are mentally and physically definitive of a season, and before the new season begins, by looking back and remembering and feeling the emotions of last season one more time, we can understand what happened, what went wrong, and most importantly, what went right. So, climb aboard the side-burn express, and keep your hands, arms, feet, heads, and all other extremities inside the vehicles at all times as we embark on one final excursion through the highs and lows of last season.

September 6: After a Crippling Loss to the Indians, the Twins find themselves 7 games down with 28 games to play.

Courtesy of MLB.com.

Two of the last four years, the Twins did not make the playoffs. In 2007, well, the team just wasn’t ever that good. Joe Mauer spent half the season dealing with varying injuries, and from day one the pitching situation, well, sucked. When your team starts the season with Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson, you don’t really have a right to expect much. In 2008, I came to the conclusion that Jim Thome is evil when he homered for the only run in game 163 (for which I have not forgiven him). However, that was also the Twins’ fault for very nearly getting swept by the ROYALS the last weekend of the season to have to play game 163. In the other two of the last four years, the Twins have had to come back from spectacular deficits, only to win the division on the last possible day (Thanks, Royals, for 2006). The rub of both of those two seasons, is that at some point both teams found themselves in the valley, looking up, Twins fans cursing the Tigers and wondering if the Wild, Timberwolves, or Vikings would be any good (maybe, no, and it’s a crapshoot, respectively). However, both times, the Twins managed to come back. However, unlike 2006, we had little reason to expect it this time around.

Partial Division standings as of Sept. 6, 2009. Ugly, right? The Twins: down 7 with 28 to play. Captured from MLB.com.

The Twins had just finished losing two of three to the lowly Indians, who had just finished trading everyone with value, and had just wrapped up a 14-14 August. In a sense, that’s all I personally expected from the Twins at that point: a mediocre, maybe 50-50 record the rest of the way. In fact, that’s exactly what the Twins were: a mediocre, 50-50 team (see inset image). Given the White Sox’s recent hot streak, I more expected them to catch the Twins than for the Twins to catch Detroit. Of course, the White Sox ended up spluttering to a 79-83 record after contesting for first place for most of the summer.

I chose this game for a very specific reason, despite the fact that it came just a couple days after another similar loss: it embodied one of two problems that the Twins had all season long. The first problem, the one not present in this game was that when the offense was firing on all cylinders, the pitching wasn’t running at all (see, for example, the entire home Los Angeles Angels series in late July/early August). The ERA of the starting staff last season (yes, I know ERA is flawed, and no, I don’t care) was, I believe, 26th in the majors. The bullpen was very good most of the season, although there was a Crainwreck for most of the first half of the season and the Twins insisted on keeping a mediocre-at-best long reliever on staff all season.

Brendan Harris doing an apt impression of the whole offense's decision avoid the ball with their bats. Courtesy MLB.com.

The other kind of game, and the one that was so confounding, given the excessive number of runs the Twins scored last year, are the games where the pitchers did their jobs, but the offense took a day off. These games, generally weren’t against good pitchers (those I could understand), but against such luminaries as David Huff, he of the 5.61 ERA last season. Nothing against Huff, of course, I’m sure he was doing his best to keep the Twins under wraps. Of course, it helps when the lineup that produced 5.01 runs per game last year on average managed to score 1 run on THREE hits. There were also four walks, but that’s hardly the point. The Twins offense coughed this one up.

Courtesy MLB.com

And it was a shame they did so. Nick Blackburn pitched a Nick Blackburn kind of game. He gave up a handful of hits (7) and a handful of runs (3), while generally keeping the Indians’ bats in check for his 6 2/3 innings of work. However, a pitcher like Nick will not win many games without a strong offensive presence to back him up, and Blackbeard’s buccaneers simply couldn’t get anything going at all. The one run came on a single by Denard Span, who drove in Nick Punto, who had doubled in the previous plate appearance. However, the game itself was a disappointment, as the season itself felt, at least after Important Game #3. However, there were still many better days to come, including the upcoming Important Game #2.

Important Game #4: Joe Mauer Returns with a Bang

Here’s a little refresher on the series, before I begin:

Basically, the premise of the series is that certain games have an effect that is far greater than their mere impact on the win-loss column. These games are mentally and physically definitive of a season, and before the new season begins, by looking back and remembering and feeling the emotions of last season one more time, we can understand what happened, what went wrong, and most importantly, what went right. So, climb aboard the side-burn express, and keep your hands, arms, feet, heads, and all other extremities inside the vehicles at all times as we embark on one final excursion through the highs and lows of last season.

May 1: Joe Mauer returns from a back injury to power the Twins to victory.

He's ba-ack. Courtesy MLB.com.

When the Twins broke camp in 2009, they did so without their best player. Joe Mauer, who had been hurting for most of the off-season, had only just found an anti-inflammatory that solved the pain he felt most of the time. The Twins instead broke with Mike Redmond and Jose Morales, and for some unfathomable reason started Redmond over Morales most of the month, as Redmond wore down. However, it did lead to the (probably temporary) rise of Jose Morales. If we didn’t have Wilson Ramos in the high minors, we’d be talking a lot more about how good Jose Morales is. He’s no world-beater, but he hits for average when he gets to start. I wonder what he could net in a trade? Maybe a B prospect? Hmmm…

Okay, digression over.

So, everyone knows the story of this game. Joe, having recovered from inflammation in his sacroiliac joint, came up and blasted a massive home run. If you were at all like me, you were watching the game and stood up and cheered like he had just launched a home run in Game Seven of the world series. After my neighbors below pounded on the ceiling, my wife looked at me like I was crazy, and my dog ran barking out of the room, I realized that I may have overreacted. In hindsight, though, I think that was exactly the correct way to respond. Joe’s return to the lineup not only won that specific game, as he did go 2-3 with a walk, while scoring three runs, but it also galvanized the Twins, and began the slow, yet steady, march to the post-season.

It was also the beginning of one of the most amazing seasons any of us will have the opportunity to see play out before us. Joe was truly amazing last season – he ended with the highest batting average by a catcher in the American League, ever. He also is the first Triple-Slash Crown winner (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage). He was elected to his first MVP, almost unanimously, which he would have been if not for one idiotic writer who should lose his right to vote on all future awards.

It's the Joe-point we'll be sadly missing this year. Courtesy MLB.com.

I mean, there was a lot of good to this game in addition to Joe’s return. First, the Twins destroyed Sidney Ponson, who I still hold a grudge against from the disastrous ’07 season. Kevin Slowey was nothing special, but the relief corps stepped up in a big way. Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan both pitched perfect innings, and Matt Guerrier threw two perfect innings. This, to me, is the biggest argument that he should not be the designated closer this year, but that’s neither here nor there.

The real takeaway from Important Game #4 was Joe Mauer’s return. You can talk about or analyze everything else about the game and probably get something more meaningful than a 5-7 victory for the Twins, but the only really important thing was Joe’s return. It was perhaps the most important day of the season for that reason, although the game itself wasn’t all that important.

Ramos v. Butera: I have the Answer!

IT DOESN’T MATTER!

Whoever wins the backup catcher job until Jose Morales comes back, either Wilson Ramos or Drew Butera, will be in the majors for a max of two months, if we are really looking on the gloomiest possible side.

During that time, Joe Mauer will be the starting catcher probably 8-9 days of 10. Figuring on 3 at-bats per start, that means that whoever backs up Joe will get, well, 49-55 at bats per start. Lets add in another 20 at-bats to be really charitable, to include pinch-hitting. That gives us, say, 72 at-bats. Sound good?

This is an image. Amazing how simple they get.

Let’s also assume, just for the sake of argument, that Ramos would be worth the same amount per at-bat as Joe Mauer (which is a ridiculous assumption, but I’m being generous). Joe is projected to be 7.3 WAR this year by CHONE, in about 595 at-bats. So, let’s play those numbers a bit. By doing a simple comparison, Ramos’ bat would be worth .88 WAR in those 72 at-bats. Let’s round it up, again, being charitable and including defense, to 1 WAR. To be clear, this is making the assumption that Ramos will be a better catcher/hitter than JOE FRICKING MAUER. (For the record, CHONE puts Ramos at .6 WAR in 370 PAs. Where are they getting this number of PAs? No way the backup catcher appearance gets 250 at-bats all season.)

Chuck Norris doesn't even care.

So, lets assume the opposite for Butera, and assume that he’ll be worth the same as the WORST catcher in the league. Rod Barajas was the worst catcher that got 400 PAs last season (415), racking up a .6 WAR. So, lets do the math, and we get .1 WAR for Butera. Again, with Butera’s defensive skill, we’ll round it up a bit, to .2 WAR, the same adjustment I made for Ramos. (In fairness, CHONE has Butera at -.5 over 272 at-bats, God knowing how he’ll get those 272 at-bats. But when I scale it down to 72 at-bats, it works out to just about -.1. So, still, really close to where I got).

So, being as charitable as I think I can be, the difference is .8 wins. If the Twins end up having their season decided by .8 wins for 1/3 of a season of a backup catcher that is not Jose Morales, who, in fairness projects to be worth .9 WAR by CHONE this season in 353 PAs (where the hell are they getting these PA numbers?).

So, to recap. Joe = 7.3 WAR. Based on two months of backup, Ramos would be worth 1.0 WAR (which I think is more than generous). Over the same period, Butera would be worth .1 WAR by my metric (which is admittedly crude, and I’m sure people will jump all over me for it), but -1 WAR by CHONE. So let’s take CHONE’s number.

Assuming Wilson Ramos is a better hitter than Joe Mauer during his limited at-bats, he would be worth 1.1 WAR over Butera. If, with all the changes the Twins have made this season, that’s what the division comes down to, the Twins will have had much, much bigger problems.

Others have put together takes on this, including Seth, who puts forth a highly unlikely scenario that would make it worth it to bring Ramos up. Taylor urges that Ramos be brought up. A great message-board discussion of the issue can be found here. TwinsTerritory has a poll up.

My vote, as everyone can probably tell by now, is that it simply doesn’t matter, so we should bring up Butera, because it would be better not to hurt Ramos’ development in the majors when his presence wouldn’t make that enormous of a difference anyway.

EDIT: Okay, so I figured out that the PA numbers from CHONE are based on minor-league at-bats. Which just seems to reinforce my point…

A Contrarian View of the Mauer Contract

Since Joe Mauer signed his massive, unprecedentedly large contract with the Twins last weekend, Twins fans and Twins bloggers have seemingly forgotten (or at least blocked out) complaints we have had for the last few months. The national media has gotten into the act as well, and suddenly Mauer represents the great hope that a middle-market team could compete with the Yankees and an example of parity in the Major Leagues.

The whitewashing of this contract needs to stop, right now.

The fact that Joe Mauer signed the fourth-largest contract of all time and the largest contract not offered by the Yankees or a crazy person is not a reason to call him a good guy. Is it nice he decided to stay in Minnesota? Of course. Is it great that he’s always been more receptive to fans than the average player? Sure. Is it nice that he teared up in his press conference? Of COURSE. But none of those things indicate that he signed the contract because he is a good guy or that signing the contract makes him a good guy.

Let’s remember for a minute the sheer size of this contract. Joe will be making $23 million dollars a year. For eight years. To play BASEBALL. Now, I’m in my last year of law school. If the legal market recovers, I can look forward to making a nice salary if I go to work for a law firm (which I’m not going to do, but hang with me for the time being). Let’s round it up to $200,000, which is near the upper limit of what lawyers Joe’s age would make. Even at that nearly absurd salary level, it would take 115 years to make Joe’s salary.For someone who makes a more normal salary, say, $35,000, congratulations, Joe will earn more in 2011 than you would earn in 657 years. So let’s ditch the meme about how Joe is a good guy for taking less than he could have in free agency.

I also doubt that he’d have gotten that much, except from the Twins. People have been throwing around numbers like $30 million or so for months. But that money would not be over 8 years, it might be for six. The most I could possibly see Joe getting in free agency over eight years would be $25 million from the Yankees or the Twins. Let’s be honest, the Twins would be forced to join the bidding war if Joe hit free agency. The Red Sox wouldn’t have joined. They have Victor Martinez, who by all reports is enjoying his time in Boston, and wouldn’t have cost them more than $10 million per year for three or (maybe) four years plus an option. The Dodgers have shown no interest in spending big money this season, and with the impending ugly divorce of the team’s owners, it seems like there would not be the money in the Dodgers’ future to be a player in the Mauer scenario. The Angels have Mike Napoli, and plenty of options that don’t cost $25 million.

So that leaves the Twins, who have no choice but to bid on Mauer, for reasons I’ll explain in a bit, and the Yankees, who are newly on a budget under the Steinbrenner son and Brian Not-as-much-Cashman. Would they have gone to $25 million for eight years? I don’t know, maybe. Their rivalry with the Red Sox wouldn’t have been pushing them, so they would have had considerably less motivation to go there. So let’s assume Mauer could have gotten $25 million, a fact of which I am not at all assured. That means he would have made $16 million more over the course of the contract. Which leads to a meta-question: when your $23 million annual salary would let you buy nearly anything you could ever want, does adding $2 million or so a year really make a difference?

So did Mauer end up signing for a discount, for functionally less than he would have gotten in New York? No, probably not: his cost of living, oh-so-important in economics, would be nearly double in or around NYC.

So, please, for the love of God, let’s stop pretending that Joe’s signing of the fourth-largest contract in history demonstrates that he’s a nice guy or that he is doing a nice favor for Minnesota.

In  fact, he might have done exactly the opposite. Everyone remembers that famous, insane contract offered to Alex Rodriguez by Texas, right? Texas, which at the time had a payroll of just over $47 million, offered A-Rod a contract of $252 million over 10 years. The media went off it’s collective nut about how suddenly the playing field was even due to the huge, unprecedented contract being offered by a middle-market team. But the contract crippled the Rangers. They lasted exactly two years with a payroll over $100 million, and then had to start cutting players and were forced to trade A-Rod to the Yankees, and had to keep paying a portion of his salary just to get rid of him. The Rangers so overpaid A-Rod that they couldn’t surround him with decent players, and were bad teams those years.

That was 2001, and the economics of baseball have changed since then. Contracts have gotten larger, revenues have gone up. Last year the Twins’ payroll was $65.3 million or so, not including the partial seasons of Pavano and O-Cab. This year, it is already at $105 million. Next year, with Mauer’s salary added in and assuming all else remains constant (assuming no one gets a raise in arbitration, for example), payroll will be at $116.5 million. Sure, a couple contracts may or may not come off the books (namely Pavano), but raises for other players will probably eat up that money and more. This will be in the second season at Target field, after the novelty of the new stadium has worn off and the joy over Mauer’s contract will have dimmed.

So, the question I ask you: who leaves the Twins so they can afford Mauer? Is it Justin Morneau? Jason Kubel? Scott Baker? Joe Nathan will almost certainly go after 2011. Possibly all of the above? The Twins cannot and should not assume that revenues will rise that much. They WILL be forced to make pay cuts. In a sense that might be good, because there’s a lot of good minor league talent almost ready. However, there is NOTHING that assures me in all that I have researched that Mauer’s contract won’t cripple the team’s ability to get good free agents, which they didn’t do in the first place. In 2012 or 2013, I would expect the Twins to be around $100 million or slightly below, which means that the payroll will be $23 for Mauer and $77 for everyone else. Does that sound like a winning team to you?

At the same time, I can’t fault the Twins’ front office too much for making the offer. The fans and the bloggers and the national media and the rest of baseball, eager to stop the flow of the best talent to NY, basically mandated that they had to get the contract done. They knew that the season and the new stadium would be tarnished without a Mauer contract. They knew that Fanatic Jack‘s shouts of “cheap, cheap, cheap” would ring from far more mouths than they did this off-season. They knew that Minnesota’s anger at the team would be palpable and unavoidable. So they made an offer, and offer Joe accepted.

Joe Mauer is a professional who made a savvy business decision that maximized his own value. That doesn’t make him a good or a bad guy. What will make him a good guy is if he continues to be a class act to fans, a good guy in the locker room, and the continued epitome of “Minnesota nice.” It sure doesn’t make him a bad guy, because the Twins made the offer to Mauer and had the power to go a different direction.

There are two things I know five days after the contract: One, the Twins are soaking up all the risk and were quite possibly stupid for offering such a large contract even though there is no real way to predict revenues past 2011; and Two, Joe Mauer signed a contract for the most money he could get.

I repeat, that doesn’t make him a bad guy.

But lay off the stories praising him for signing the contract.