Morneau Trade Pits Head Versus Heart
I expected my heart to focus on Morneau's glorious history with the Twins. If Morneau never plays again for the them (and I'm fairly sure he won't in the near future), he'll still rank fifth all-time in RBI, fourth all-time in slugging percentage and third all-time in home runs, as well as being one of just five Twins to have won an American League Most Valuable Player award. Despite having his career impacted by a concussion problem that cost him at least a year-and-a-half of his prime, he's a sure-fire inductee to the Twins Hall of Fame.
But in Major League Baseball, a player is more than just his performance on the field. He is also attached to a contract and that contract affects how desirable that player is. In Morneau's case, he was attached to a contract that paid him $14M this year, or approximately $2.3M per month, which is an amount that far exceeded his production for most of the year. And that contract became at least as important as his performance for the last couple of months.
For instance, two weeks ago Justin Morneau passed through waivers without being claimed by any team. Waivers is process by which a player is offered to each team, and if any team wants him, they can "claim" him. If they claimed Morneau, they risked the Twins just giving them Morneau and his contract, without any compensation. But nobody claimed Morneau. The risk of being stuck with Morneau's contract outweighed the value they expected to gain on the field, even for those teams chasing an postseason spot.
In that light, my head is telling me that yesterday's trade is a victory for the Twins. They took a player who two weeks ago was passed over by the Pirates and turned him into an outfielder who is roughly equivalent to Clete Thomas and a somewhat promising right-handed reliever. This is a better return than Twins fans could have expected if Pittsburgh was also going to be responsible for that contract.
"...if Pittsburgh was also going to be responsible for that contract." That's the part my heart is having trouble getting past.
I'm not someone who rants about the Pohlad's billions and wonder why it isn't spent on my baseball team. I believe in budgets. I believe that a fiscally responsible business is admirable, and in fact necessary for it to truly be healthy long-term.
But payroll was cut by $20 million this year. And this week they traded away Jamey Carroll for cash. And now the Twins traded away Morneau for a couple of fairly fungible prospects - which allows them to pocket another $2.6M. And my heart can't help but wonder if the Twins were more willing to eat that money - money which they certainly had in their budget already - what they could have received in return.
The Pirates have some very tempting pitchers in their farm system, even if you overlook the top three names that would have been untouchable for any organization. And it's not like the money wasn't important to the Pirates. They admitted as much:
The Pirates are covering the $2.265 million remaining on the contract, to "Bob Nutting's credit," [Pirates GM Neil] Huntington said.
"He allowed us to go significantly over budget," the GM said of the club's chairman. "We appreciate Bob for the financial flexibility to do something like this."
If it was important to the Pirates, it must have been at least as important to the Twins. But why? They can't spend more on the amateur draft or international signings. They're both capped. They haven't bought any big name international free agents. They had trouble buying free agents last offseason. They even admitted they had budgeted tens of millions of dollars that they didn't spend.
As a fan, it feels like the money is more important than the product. It feels like my favorite team's GM is more proud of the cash he saves ownership than the team he puts on the field. And it feels like trading away Justin Morneau was more about saving a few million dollars than trying to build for the future.
So while my heart misses Morneau and what he did, what is really troubling it is the future. Are Terry Ryan's priorities in the right place? Is he ever going to be able to use the revenues that Target Field has provided. Does he fully understand the limits he faces when trying to spend money to build the farm system?
That's the battle that my heart is waging right now with my head. Despite my head's best efforts, my heart is winning.