Jason Stark wrote last week on ESPN.com that the success the Minnesota Twins have enjoyed over the past five years may quickly be coming to an end. Historically, the Twins have had one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. Now, several of their stars are coming to the end of their rookie contracts and are due a large raise. The group includes catcher and 2006 batting champion Joe Mauer, first baseman and 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau, closer Joe Nathan, and 2 time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana.
Santana signed a 4 year, $40 million contract in the winter of 2004. Stark questions weather or not the Twins will be able to afford him once his current contract expires. He points to this offseason's extravagant spending which resulted in an $11 million per season contract for Gil Meche (11-8, 4.49 ERA last season). This free agent class was very pitching poor and the few good ones were snapped up early which lead to teams like the Royals overpaying for mediocrity. Terry Ryan is the best general manager in all of baseball, as evidenced by his refusal to get into bidding wars for free agents and willingness to trade a star player for minor league prospects and draft choices rather than lose him with no compensation, and I'm sure will do everything he can to keep Santana in a Twins uniform. The Twins and Santana have already begun contract discussions, a good sign. Their early work may help the Twins sign Santana to a new contract before his price is driven up on the open market.
The Twins have also been in contract talks with Morneau, who is signed through the 2010 season and the opening of the new ballpark. Both Morneau and the Twins would like to lock into a long term deal but will not discuss a contract until next offseason. The Twins next target will be closer Joe Nathan, who came over in the A.J. Pierzynski trade, along with Francisco Lariano. Finally, Mauer just this winter inked a 4 year, $33 million contract this winter and he will also be in a Twins uniform for the opening of the new park (Morneau was offered a similar deal but feels he is worth more).
Overall, the Twins' future is not as bleak as Stark paints it. They are aware that their stars will be eligible to leave soon and are proactively addressing the situation with early contract talks. Should any of these guys walk, it will not be a total loss. Terry Ryan will not trade them for prospects and draft choices before they walk as free agents. In addition, thanks to Ryan's shrewd moves in years past, the minor leagues are stocked. Fans here are already clamoring for Matt Garza (feature in this week's Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview) and Glenn Perkins. Have no fear Twins fans, the team is going to be fine.
But get on down to the Dome to watch these guys soon (just in case)!!!