Friday, January 18, 2008

Twins Avoid Arbitration with Lefty Bats

Yesterday the Twins avoided arbitration with LF/DH Jason Kubel, agreeing to a one-year, $1.3 million contract. They followed that up with the signing today of 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau to a one-year, $7.4 million deal.

It's clear the Twins want to avoid last year's rather ugly situation where they couldn't come to agreements with their top three hitters prior to figures being submitted. While they successfully avoided arbitration with all three, the Twins spent a lot of energy on the tasks, and ultimately didn't make any headway on extending soon-to-be free agents Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, and Torii Hunter. That may have had more to do with former GM Terry Ryan's conservative approach to spending his boss' money, but it's pretty obvious that new GM Billy Smith does not want a few hundred thousand dollars to occupy his time and energy when he needs to spend it all on determing the constitution of his club for 2008 and beyond.

Right now, Santana is the priority, and it should be. It's been debated endlessly what the best option is with Santana, but Smith seems determined to treat the issue appropriately: as the deal that most likely will define his tenure with the Minnesota Twins. So he's not messing around with the fact that Morneau might only deserve $7 million.

Kubel's deal might seem light these days for an improving hitter with three years service time, but while the arbitration process usually favors undeserved money for mediocre play, in this case the arbitrators would be looking at a player whose first year of service time was spent on the DL. Kubel's nasty knee injury, incurred in the 2004 Arizona Fall League season, probably actually prevented the pure hitter from any decent production until the finals 3-4 months of the 2007 season. $1.3 million seems right for Kubel, but my opinion is that by the end of 2008, Smith will wish he had signed Kubel long-term. Stay tuned.

The feeling here is that Morneau's deal is just a prelude to a long-term deal that will be dealt with after Santana's situation is resolved. The Twins still have to reach an agreement with RF Michael Cuddyer, and we'll address this next week. Others Twins eligible for arbitration are relievers Matt Guerrier and Juan Rincon.

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