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Souhan wants to trade Mauer? He’s not COMPLETELY crazy.

Jim Souhan is renowned in these parts for making coherent arguments about baseball, cutting metaphors about life and food, and truly understanding the ins and outs of this game called baseball. He’s at it again today, wondering if the Twins should trade Joe Mauer.

A trade could yield a closer to replace Joe Nathan and would protect the franchise in the future from having one player on their roster consuming 20 to 25 percent of their payroll, a formula that rarely works in baseball.

This is mind-bogglingly dumb, of course, and Rob Neyer is quick to tell us why:

You know what’s an even better idea: Not targeting a reliever when trading your single most valuable commodity. Trading for a reliever would be a terribly short-sighted move, designed to net an extra two or three wins in one season (granted, two or three wins might make a difference this season). Trading Mauer, if it simply must be done, should be designed to net the Twins twice that, at the very least.

The disposition of this situation will go a long way toward determining the future of this franchise. Signing Mauer would be good. Trading Mauer for a scad of talented young players could be good. Trading Mauer for a reliever might set the franchise back five years.

But let’s assume that Bill Smith is smarter than Souhan, and wasn’t planning on trading the best player in baseball for a relief pitcher. Can we reasonably assume, though, that he’s smart enough to get more than two draft picks’ worth of value in a trade?

Don’t forget about the Garza/Bartlett for Young trade, which has looked pretty bad so far. Perhaps the better comparison, though, is the Santana trade,* which has also looked awful.

* It’s kind of remarkable, actually, that the Twins had the best pitcher in the league and were essentially forced to trade him — and then, just two years later, they have the best player in the league and may well be forced to trade him too.

I wouldn’t be too confident in Smith’s ability to land any mega-prospects in return for Mauer; the same problem that cropped up in the Santana negotations could crop up here too: namely, teams will be unwilling to give up much in a trade* because they also want to spend a huge sum on a long-term contract for Mauer.

* Is it just me or does this scenario only seem to happen to the Twins? When other teams are trying to unload a star in a rent-a-player type deal, they actually get prospects in return as opposed to having to thank a richer team for giving their best player some money and taking him off their hands for nothing.

Obviously, the best thing for the Twins would be to sign him to a team-friendly contract … but that’s unlikely. Given Smith’s trade-making ability, it’d probably be best to just wait out this season and take the draft picks. But what if they did sign him?

If the Twins signed Mauer to a deal worth $25 million a year — which might be what it takes — what might they have to pay to keep Morneau, who was considered the more valuable player until last season?

Okay, first of all, “considered more valuable by whom?” Morneau only beat Mauer for the 2006 MVP because writers like Souhan don’t understand that the only reason Morneau’s RBI totals were so lofty was because Mauer was always on base in front of him. I don’t need to go over this argument again, I hope, but the point is this: Mauer is more valuable than Morneau, and everybody knows it.

Secondly, Morneau is already under contract through 2013. He’ll be 33 years old the next time he’s on the market. It’s really not worth thinking about right now, since it’s a few years away, but have you seen what’s happened to the market for sluggardly sluggers who are past their prime? Let me give you a hint: Morneau probably won’t be signing a Mauer-sized deal when he’s 33 years old in 2014.

Plus, everyone’s making a bunch of noise about Mauer’s $25M salary taking up too large a percentage of the team’s payroll. But the Twins have been contending for a decade with payrolls of $60M — is it unrealistic to think that they could raise the payroll to $90M or so (which they’ve already done), pay Mauer his huge salary, and continue to contend?* It’s not the ideal model, probably, but the Twins have shown that they can build a 25-man roster for $60M and contend; wouldn’t you expect them to be able to build a 24-man roster for $60M, add the best player in the game, and still be able to contend?

* I’m using the word “contend” here, because I think it’s accurate. If the Twins have such a huge chunk of their payroll tied up in Mauer, and he’s healthy, I believe they’ll be a contender in basically every year of Mauer’s contract. But if he gets hurt or becomes ineffective, this all goes out the window. The Twins are basically screwed — and that’s a gigantic risk for a team that simply can’t afford to make big mistakes.

It’s a tough decision, another one for Bill Smith, who’s had plenty of these franchise-altering decisions to make in his brief tenure at the top of the Twins. On the one hand, do you take the biggest PR hit any team could possibly suffer, while simultaneously taking a huge step back for the current season (when you’re moving into a new taxpayer-funded stadium, no less), by trading your homegrown superstar? Or, on the other, do you sign him to a deal you can’t afford, for more years than you’re comfortable with, and risk having to explain to those same fans 8 years from now that the payroll is basically sunk because we’re paying $25M for an injured 3B/1B who doesn’t hit home runs? Or do you go for broke now, let him go to free agency at the end of the year, and move on without him, letting the payroll peak in 2010 and dwindle afterwards once The Hope Named Mauer has left the state?

It’s easy for us, as fans. We’re going to be fans either way, and the only thing that’s really at risk is our enjoyment during September and October — that’s not a lot at risk. For Smith, it’s his reputation, his career, his life that hinges on this decision, and on others like it. It’s not an easy choice, or an obvious choice.

But he kind of has to get it right.

2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. FunBobby March 11th, 2010 3:09 pm

    Remember when the Rangers traded Texiera to Atlanta and got like a million top prospects in return. For half a seaons of Tex! I only bring that up because, yes, you are right it seems to only happen to the Twins.

  2. Paul March 12th, 2010 4:54 pm

    Atlanta got him for a year and a half.

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