Low offers may drive away Twins' Hunter, Santana
Posted: Monday September 10, 2007 12:05PM; Updated: Monday September 10, 2007 11:47PM
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The once-contending Twins are out of the playoff picture now. But there could be some much bigger hits coming. A failure to recognize the value of their star players in today's market may wind up driving them away, one by one.
Center fielder Torii Hunter, who always seemed like he loved being a Twin and would do almost anything to remain with the club, is now promising to enjoy his free agency, six months after franchise pitcher Johan Santana halted his own contract talks. Both calls by the players followed extreme lowball offers from the only team they've known.
One person familiar with Hunter's talks said the reports suggesting the Twins made a three-year, $45 million offer were closer to the mark than the original report that the offer was for four years and $56 million. The person said there was definitely no four-year offer.
Either way, the Twins' chances of keeping their longtime star are diminishing. Perhaps Hunter loves Minneapolis and/or St. Paul so much that he can't bear to play elsewhere. But Hunter, who publicly said, "I'm going to make them wait just like they made me wait,'' after hearing nothing for months before receiving that offer on the cusp of free agency, probably could expect to double that $45 million on the open market, according to competing executives.
Hunter's remark shows how upset he is, just as Santana's strong comments when the still-contending Twins played sellers at the trade deadline demonstrated his unhappiness. And know that these are two of the better people among baseball's elite set. They have a long history of being trouble-free, good teammates and loyal to the core (although it looks like their loyalty is being used against them here).
While Hunter, 32, is only promising to make the team wait, no one should blame him if he goes. The Twins let Hunter take all the risk by making him play out nearly his entire walk year, then insulted him with an offer for about a 50 percent hometown discount. The Twins' actions should inspire Hunter to wonder whether they really want him.
Except for one thing: The Twins' offer to the Great Santana was so off-the-charts low so as not to be believed. So at least Hunter's in good company.
As Sports Illustrated reported earlier this year, the Twins' spring bid on the 28-year-old Santana, the majors' best pitcher over the past few years, was for two years guaranteed for about $18 million a year. And if that isn't bad enough, they requested a club option for a third year, which obviously is only to be the benefit of the team.
The Twins have done a superb job of forming this nucleus through astute scouting and player procurement. They have also done a superb job of playing the pauper. How else to explain how team owner Carl Pohlad wangled nearly $400 million out of Hennepin County taxpayers to foot the bill for the new stadium, which is to be completed for 2010? Pohlad, ranked by Forbes as the 107th richest man in America with an estimated $2.6 billion, has seen the value of his team rise by an estimated six times since buying the Twins for $44 million in 1984.
The Twins have enjoyed some surprising successes for a mid-market team in Pohlad's tenure, having won four division titles in this decade alone and two World Series (1987 and '91). However, they are ultimately handicapped by their owner's fixation on the bottom line. Pohlad for years also been baseball's tightest multibillionaire (also perhaps its only multibillionaire). And recent comments by his son Jim Pohlad, along with these oh-so-short negotiations, indicate the miser doesn't fall far from the tree. Jim Pohlad talked recently to Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse about how vital it is not to go over 50 percent of club revenues for player payroll. OK, we get it. Money is the billionaires' objective.
The Pohlads' fixation on dollars surely caused the Twins to behave like sellers at the deadline. That's when they traded starting second baseman Luis Castillo for two Mets minor leaguers, inspiring Santana to go off, saying, "I'm not surprised. That's exactly how they are. That's why they're never going to go beyond where we've gone .... It doesn't make sense for me to be there, you know?''
An executive with a competing team said the Twins need to prioritize the pieces of their nucleus, lest they lose them all. However, that could turn into a Catch-22: one move could preclude the next. If they let Hunter go, they'd have to wonder how that would be perceived by the stars who remain.