By Joe Christensen
Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris aren’t headed for extinction if the Twins sign Joe Crede. They’re a big reason Crede is worth a gamble.
If you’re going to sign a player coming off a back injury, you’d better have alternatives. In fact, a key to keeping Crede’s back healthy will be giving him regular time off, especially on FieldTurf.
Buscher would still get starts at third, and he’d be a lefthanded option off the bench. Harris would still get starts at third, shortstop, and maybe even second base.
Question: What if Nick Punto or Alexi Casilla goes into a huge slump? It’s happened to both of them before, and Harris gives the Twins some insurance. He could jump in at shortstop, with Punto or Casilla at second base.
The case against signing Crede
The planets have really aligned for the Twins with Crede. They are under budget, they have the market cornered, and they have a chance to sign a 2008 All-Star third baseman to a one-year deal.
To play devil’s advocate, you have to wonder why the White Sox aren’t making more of a push for Crede. They love the guy, they aren’t sold on Josh Fields at third, and Cuban prospect Dayan Viciedo is probably a year away.
For the Twins, another reasonable argument against signing Crede is they would be giving up much of the 2009 payroll flexibility they currently enjoy. By not being maxed out now, the theory goes, they’ll have funds available if someone expensive becomes available. Adrian Beltre is a good example, but he has the Twins on his no-trade list.
The Twins could work something out with Beltre and the Mariners, of course, but having seen how much trouble the Twins have pulling in-season deals, I wouldn’t hold my breath. I think it’s smarter to gamble on Crede now than to assume a better option will come available before July 31.
So now it comes down to a question of whether they can take Scott Boras’ word about Crede’s health. Here are three examples of where that’s worked out for teams in the past:
In 2004, he played just 52 games with the White Sox while suffering from a left knee injury. It was a bizarre case, as Ordonez had a bone marrow edema and was treated by a doctor in Austria. Most teams ignored him that offseason, but Tigers owner Mike Illitch trusted Boras and took a chance.
Ordonez signed a five-year, $75 million contract that includes vesting options for 2010 and 2011. The Tigers also had the right to void the contract if Ordonez spent 25 or more days on the DL because of his pre-existing left knee injury.
Ordonez played just 82 games in 2005, but it wasn’t the knee, it was a sports hernia. The Tigers have been rewarded for their faith. Ordonez’s season averages over the past three years are .326 with 24 home runs and 115 RBI.
Entering 2003, Pudge had missed an average of 59 games over his previous three seasons with Texas. He had been diagnosed with a herniated disk in his back.
Instead of signing Pudge to a long-term deal, Boras got him a one-year, $10 million deal with the Marlins. He also agreed to defer $7 million of that deal without interest over the next three years.
So the tight-fisted Marlins had a future Hall of Fame catcher on their payroll for $3 million. He led them to a World Series title before signing a four-year, $40 million deal with Detroit the next offseason. (Pudge made the All-Star team in the first three years of that deal with Detroit.)
In 2004, Millwood made just two starts after Aug. 5 because of a right elbow injury. Again, it was a tough situation heading into free agency.
It was time to get creative. Cleveland and Boras found a way to minimize its risk. Millwood signed a one-year, $7 million deal, but only $3 million of that was guaranteed. If Millwood had spent 21 days on the DL with an elbow or shoulder injury, he would begin losing 1/183 of his $4 million signing bonus (or $21,858) for every additional day he spent on the DL.
Millwood not only stayed healthy, he logged 192 innings and led the American League with a 2.86 ERA before signing his current five-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers.
That last deal might not look very good for the Rangers right now, but Boras isn’t asking the Twins to take a five-year gamble on Crede. The risk would be for one year. A year when they’re otherwise under budget. That’s it.