To DH Or Not To DH? There’s NO Question

This is how my mind works at times.

I read a simple Tweet… in this case from Joe Posnanski… and the next thing I know, my mind is moving from point A to point B and all the way to about point R.

In the wake of the MLB AllStar Game Tuesday night, Posnanski posed the following question, via Twitter:

So wait because Venters got outs and Quentin made outs, David Ortiz won’t start in 4 World Series games? Still don’t understand.

Obviously, Joe isn’t fond of the practice of awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the representative of the league that wins the AllStar Game. Hardly a revolutionary viewpoint, I know.

But you know what? No matter what method MLB uses to determine home field advantage in the Fall Classic, the result will be the same… whether it’s David Ortiz or Travis Hafner or Jorge Posada or, better yet, Jim Thome… a critical member of the AL representative in the ultimate contest to determine the champion of Major League Baseball is likely to play a reduced role for his team.

If you read my posts here often, you have probably figured out I have limited respect for Bud Selig. The truth is, it’s not just Bud… it’s Bud and everyone else who determines baseball policy that just make me shake my head almost on a daily basis. These people have no clue how to address problems. They’re all about treating symptoms, not finding cures for underlying issues. If these guys had been in charge of polio research, you’d have the best iron lung in the world, but no polio vaccine (blatant “West Wing” ripoff quote).

The problem isn’t that the AllStar Game determines home field advantage in the World Series. The problem is that MLB continues to force two teams who play by significantly different rules to compete against one another to determine the championship.

It’s long past time to put an end to this nonsense. It’s time for Bud Selig to step up and tell the National League that they WILL adopt the Designated Hitter.We all know it’s going to happen eventually. Sure, there was a time when it might have been possible for baseball to turn back the hands of time and force the American League to drop the DH, but those days are long gone.

I know there’s a stubborn resistance to the DH by fans of National League teams. That dumfounds me a bit. It’s bad enough that they seem to enjoy watching pitchers flail helplessly with a bat, but don’t they realize their best hitters are almost all destined to end their careers in the American League? Is that really what they want?

Let’s say you’re a St. Louis Cardinal fan. You’ve got the biggest star in baseball playing first base for your team right now, but he’s coming up on free agency. He expects to get paid fair market value and rightfully so. But that market value is higher in the American League than it is in the National League and, unfortunately, your team plays in the NL.

Albert Pujols will be 32 years old when next season kicks off. An American League team can offer him an eight year contract and figure that, if it turns out that age catches up to him a bit and he can’t continue to play competent defense, he could spend the last few years of that contract DHing. The Cardinals don’t have that luxury.

Bud Selig

So, Cardinal fans, when Albert ends up turning his back on you because an AL team is able to offer a longer contract than St. Louis reasonably can or should, don’t blame Pujols. Don’t blame the team he signs with. Blame yourself for not wanting the DH to “taint” your NL game. Blame your owner and his friends who refuse to adopt the DH.

Or better yet, blame the guy I blame for everything that’s wrong with baseball.

Blame Bud Selig.

- JC

Being Rich and Stupid

Now that our Boys of Summer are actually on the fields in Fort Myers, there’s plenty of people down there writing about it. I’m not down there yet (25 days and counting before I’m there, though!), so I’ll write about other stuff today.

Albert Pujols

I know I already wrote a full post on the subject a while back, but now that Albert Pujols has reported to the Cardinals’ Spring Training without a contract in place and has reaffirmed that the negotiations won’t resume until November when he hits free agency, it’s hard not continue drawing parallels with the Joe Mauer situation a year ago.

I know some people say one difference is that Mauer certainly would have had both the Yankees and Red Sox bidding for him on an open market, but that those two teams would likely not be bidding up the price on Pujols, since they both will have All-Star first basemen already on board with multi-year contracts. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe for a moment that, should Pujols actually file for free agency, one, or more likely both, of those teams wouldn’t make a serious play for the best hitter in baseball.

Boston has a ton of money coming off the books after this season (none of it regarding players they should try too hard to keep) and everyone knows the Yankees don’t have a payroll limit. Anyone who thinks that these teams wouldn’t go after Pujols because they already have first basemen under contract apparently hasn’t heard that the American League has adopted this new-fangled thing called a Designated Hitter. David Ortiz’s contract with the Red Sox is up after 2011 and they’d happily let him go to make room for Pujols; and last I heard, the Yankees were looking for Jorge Posada to be their primary DH. Hmmmm… Posada or Pujols… I dunno… that’s a REAL tough choice.

Here’s another thing I don’t understand about the Pujols deal. Why the heck would Pujols’ agent let him do something so stupid as to set a purely artificial “deadline” for reaching an agreement, like the “opening of Spring Training”? In doing so, he’s yielded the high ground to the Cardinals, who get to say, “we are willing to talk whenever Albert wants to talk”. They come off looking like the only reasonable parties while Pujols let’s himself get cast as the greedy jerk who’s trying to blackmail his mid-market ballclub.

The whole “I don’t want it to be a distraction” thing is bull. Does he really think nobody is going to talk about the situation all year just because he’s said he won’t negotiate? When he won’t answer questions about it, reporters will just keep asking his team mates about it (no distraction there, right?). EVERY series with the Cubs is going to be accompanied by sidebar articles written about the likelihood Pujols could be calling Wrigley Field home next season and that will happen whether the two sides are still talking or not. So why not keep talking? By the way, yes, I thought the same thing when Mauer’s side set a deadline of the end of Spring Training for reaching a deal last year. It’s just stupid, to me.

Stupid Owners

Speaking of stupid… I’m not sure whether anyone still is under the misperception that the wealthiest people in the world all got that way because they are inherently smarter than the rest of us, but if so, I think we can now officially put that theory to rest.

Sure, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are examples of people who had brilliant ideas and earned bajillions of dollars by bringing those ideas to the marketplace. But for every Steve Jobs, there’s also a Fred Wilpon. Whenever I even think for a moment about questioning the way the Pohlad family runs the Twins organization, all I have to do to feel better is spend 10 minutes reading pretty much anything written about these owners:

Fred Wilpon – Mets: Just when we thought he couldn’t make ANY decision worse than hiring Steve Phillips and Omar Minaya as GMs, we find out he also find a way to not only get swindled by Bernie Madoff, but also manage to get sued by the other victims (each of them a rich and stupid person in his/her own right, most likely) of Madoff’s scheme… and he could lose his baseball team as a result. By the way… hey, Johan, how’s that decision to force a trade to the Mets looking right now?

Jamie and Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt – Dodgers: Note to all owners… never let your spouse help you run your baseball team… even if she’s actually better at it than you are (in fact, ESPECIALLY if she’s better at it than you are)… and if you’re dumb enough to do that, don’t compound your stupidity by trying to throw her out over something as trivial as a little infidelity. After all, in Los Angeles, isn’t that pretty much expected?

Arte Moreno – Angels: Face it, we knew he was stupid when he gave Torii Hunter a deal that was worth twice what anyone else was offering, but to trade with Toronto for the privilege of taking over their payments to Vernon Wells is an even dumber move. If only the Twins had known they could have given Torii an absurd long term contract and just kept him for one or two productive seasons and then dumped him on the Angels for the last few years!

UPDATE… Miggy: In the comment section, AW appropriately inquires how I could do a “Being Rich and Stupid” post and not mention Tigers’ All-Star Miguel Cabrera. As I responded in the comments, I felt it was a sad situation and was inclined to hold off jumping on him immediately… hoping he’d finally get the help he needs. Then I read thisand this (via Baseball Outsider’s links)… and now, I’m officially ready to say, “Wow are you stupid!” Not so much at Miggy (though clearly he has behaved stupidly), but for now, assigning the label to the Tigers organization. They’re going to pay this guy $106 million over the next five years and despite his past and current behaviors, the first words out of the mouths of their GM and Manager are to reassure the fans that they want their All-Star drunk in camp as soon as possible and that he won’t miss any playing time. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be more concerned with looking at how to make sure I’m not throwing money down a well for the next five years than whether he’s going to miss any time for the next few weeks. A little tough love might be in order here, but get the man some help, for cryin’ out loud.

A Couple of Non-stupid Links

I like Brian Wilson (the Giants’ closer, not the Beach Boy… well I like Beach Boys music, too, but that’s a bit off subject). Check out this Q&A with Wilson from Jon Wertheim at si.com. I think the Twins should trade for Wilson. After all, if you’re going to have two closers on your team, why not just go ahead and have three? And Wilson thinks a lot like I do… or at least a lot like I would like to think I would think if I were a Major League pitcher.

Joe Sheehan, also at si.com, might have had the best single line I read this week, in his article on the opt-out clause in Captain Cheeseburger’s contract with the Yankees: “Opt-out clauses are the most player-friendly part of baseball since groupies.” Hmmm… opt-out clauses and groupies… I really should have worked harder to develop a good sinking fastball when I was in high school. Ah well, probably too late to do anything about it now.

That’s it for today. Have a great weekend!

- JC

Deja vu all over again.

The St. Louis Cardinal organization is dealing with a situation this off-season that has a very familiar ring to it. Between reading stories about the Twins’ off-season moves (or lack thereof), you may have heard that the Cardinals have a certain superstar a year from reaching free agency that they are trying to negotiate a contract extension with before the 2011 season gets rolling.

Albert Pujols, at age 31 as of today (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ALBERT!), is a bit older than Joe Mauer, is certainly more of a power hitter than the Twins’ catcher, and playing first base is certainly not as difficult to do well as catching is, but make no mistake… Cardinal fans are every bit as concerned about the unthinkable possibility of Pujols leaving St. Louis as Twins fans were about Joe just one year ago.

While it’s true that Pujols is not a “home grown” player, the way Mauer is in the Twin Cities, Cardinal fans nonetheless consider him their own. He was drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 draft and has never played for another organization.

Can Cards afford Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols?

The Cardinal and Twin organizations are similar, as well. While the teams don’t publicly release revenue figures, they both fill their new stadiums for almost every home game and, you would think, would generate similar revenue streams. Accordingly, they spend about the same amounts on their Major League payrolls.

If you have trouble imagining how the Cardinals could possibly let Pujols walk away as a free agent, imagine for a moment if the Twins were only just now having to negotiate an extenson with Mauer… on top of the current year’s payroll levels.

The Cards still owe Matt Holliday $17 million a year through 2016 and they will be paying Kyle Lohse over $12 million for each of the next two seasons. Pitchers Jake Westbrook and Adam Wainwright will both be earning between $8-9 million in 2012, as well. And Pujols isn’t the only potential free agent the Cardinals have to deal with… Chris Carpenter will earn $15 million this season and it won’t be cheap to retain his services next year, either.

Last year, Mauer and the Twins knew that it was important to get a deal worked out before the season started so everyone concerned could avoid the distraction that an unresolved contract status would cause during the season. Likewise, Pujols and his agent have made it clear they are not interested in letting negotiations drag on in to the season.

The Cardinals face a difficult challenge. A player’s value is really determined by two primary factors… what other players of similar ability are making and how competitive the market for his services will be on the open market. In this case, however, Pujols really has no directly comparable players in terms of age and performance. Some have suggested he should be compared with Alex Rodriguez at the time A-Roid got his most recent contract extension with the Evil Empire. Others have pointed out that Pujols plays a much less “valuable” defensive position than Rodriguez.

On the other hand, many of the biggest spending teams in baseball are pretty well set at first base for the next few years. Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Howard aren’t likely to be going anywhere for a while. Would teams like the Mets, Cubs and Angels alone really drive Pujols’ price up to the $30 million range?

I ultimately expect the Cardinals to re-sign Pujols before Opening Day for something around $26-27 million per year for about 8-9 years. That’s about $10 million more per year than they’re paying Pujols now and you have to wonder whether it means they’ll be saying good-bye to Carpenter next year and possibly even mean trading away one of their other high-dollar starting pitchers. In other words, once they’ve satisfied Pujols, will they be able to continue assembling a competitive team around him?

Does that question sound familiar? It should.

Even with Jim Thome back in the fold and the anticipated return of Carl Pavano, the Twins have done very little to improve their team in 2011. I’m sure they feel the new middle infield of Alexi Casilla and Tsuyoshi Nishioka is an upgrade over JJ Hardy and Orlando Hudson, but that remains to be seen and isn’t guaranteed, by any means.

Why haven’t the Twins done more? You don’t have to look far to find out. This season is when Mauer’s new contract kicks in and he’ll be making about $10 million more in 2011 than he did last season and it’s not unfair to question whether the extra money going to Mauer is going to keep the Twins from being able to surround him with championship-level talent. See?… I told you the questions should sound familiar.

Some Twins fans have been critical of Mauer and/or the Twins for giving him the contract he signed a year ago. They seem to expect that the contract should guarantee MVP-level stat lines every year of the deal. That’s neither reasonable nor fair. While there’s no question that Mauer didn’t have the same kind of year last year that he had the season before, it’s not like Mauer sat the year out.

With the Pujols situation in mind, it’s interesting to ponder what the market would have been for Joe Mauer if the Twins had not been able to reach an agreement with him last March. It’s unlikely the Twins would have immediately traded Mauer during Spring Training so you have to figure the situation would have unfolded one of two possible ways:

What would Yankees have paid Joe?

First, the Twins might have traded Mauer at mid-season. But keep in mind, Mauer was dinged up and not playing particularly well going in to July (remember the bunting incident?). Would the Twins have been able to get anything approaching a good deal in return for Mauer? One would assume that Wilson Ramos would not have been traded to Washington if the Twins had been looking at losing Mauer, so would the Twins have still been competing for a Division title without Mauer? What would fan reaction have been… would the experience of a new stadium have been enough to keep fans filling Target Field, even when it became clear that it wasn’t enough to motivate the Twins to keep their home-town hero?

Maybe the Twins would have kept Mauer and made their run. Assuming the media distraction of having to answer the, “would you like to play here next season?” question in every city on every road trip wouldn’t have negatively affected the results on the field, maybe the Twins would have continued on toward their AL Central championship. Then what? Is there ANY team on the “big spender” list that you wouldn’t imagine making a strong play for Mauer on the open market? If the Steinbrenners are willing to give a set-up relief pitcher $12 million a year, what do you think they’d have thrown at a catcher in his prime with batting titles and an MVP award already on his resume?

Mauer’s “down year” in 2010 might have dropped his value to the Twins, but I doubt it would have mattered one bit to any other team bidding for his services.

Will Albert turn his back on Cards?

It’s fair to ask whether the Twins could have put $23 million to better use by adding high-quality players at two or even three other positions for the money that is going to Mauer. But given the situation with a new stadium and the revenue bump that comes with it, the organization literally had no choice but to make sure Joe Mauer stayed a Twin for the foreseeable future. Whether the Twins ultimately can afford to surround Joe with championship caliber team mates remains to be seen.

The Cardinals are faced with a similar situation. They risk a considerable fan backlash if they don’t offer whatever it takes to keep Pujols in Cardinal red. It will be interesting to see if they make the same decision the Twins did or whether they’re willing to say “no” to their superstar and let him walk away next year.

- JC

Friday Hot Dish

Way down south, where I’m living (in Iowa), it’s called a casserole. But as I recall from my younger years in Minnesota, up there it’s a hot dish. Either way, to me it’s still a bunch of stuff thrown together, cooked, and if you’re really good at it (or really lucky), it turns out tasty, satisfying and filling. So that’s the purpose of this post… throw a few things together and, since I’m not likely to be really good, I’ll hope to be lucky.

It didn’t take long for the Twins to completely disregard my suggested roster moves. In fact, not only did they NOT make the moves I recommended, even the one move that I said “we all know WILL happen this weekend” isn’t going to happen this weekend. JJ Hardy won’t be rejoining the Twins for their series against JJ’s former team, the Brewers, this weekend. I’m getting a bit more concerned about this slow-healing wrist. A couple of our readers added comments taking issue with my suggestion that it might be time for Brian Duensing to slide in to Kevin Slowey’s spot in the rotation. Whether my suggestions turn out to be as far off base as they’re already starting to look, only time will tell. Let’s see where things stand in 2-3 weeks.

By the way, given that Hardy isn’t ready yet, it makes perfect sense to have Trevor Plouffe join the team this weekend. Luke Hughes is on the DL and Matt Tolbert can’t return to the Bigs until 10 days after he was sent down, so Plouffe makes sense. Let’s just hope Gardy isn’t tempted to use him as a late-game defensive replacement in a close game. Trevor has eight errors already this year.

Joe Mauer... moving up TSN's "Best Player in Baseball" list.

The Sporting News polled 125 baseball “experts” (apparently my ballot was lost in the mail) to find out who they thought the best 50 players in baseball are. Guess what!? Joe Mauer isn’t #1! Yeah, that Pujols guy over in the National League (or as I call it, Class AAAA) got the nod for the second year in a row. But Joe’s on Albert’s heels at #2 after moving up 37 spots from last year’s poll. Seriously… these experts thought Joe was the 39th best player a year ago? I mean… I know he missed April with back issues so maybe the votes last year were influenced by what was then Mauer’s “current performance”, but 39th?

Doc not impressing the TSN 'experts'?

The Twins’ other representative in the top 50 is another head-scratcher. Justin Morneau is ranked 23rd by these experts. If current performance is important, how is Doc’s 2010 not being recognized? He’s off to arguably the best start of his career. And he’s DROPPED 9 spots from last year?

The panel, as described by TSN, “included 18 Hall of Famers, 12 Cy Young award winners, 8 MVPs, 15 rookies of the year, 3 batting champions, 3 home run champions, 9 Silver Slugger award winners, 18 Gold Glove winners, 6 ERA champions, 4 World Series MVPs, 2 relievers of the year, 7 managers of the year, 5 former executives, 6 media members and 9 team broadcasters.” Sounds like a bunch of old men, to me.

Apparently senility has set in among some of those old “experts”.

It wouldn’t be a JimCrikket link fest without something from Joe Posnanski, of course… so I’m going to link to two of Joe’s recent efforts. Don’t worry, they’re both short.

First, Poz (I don’t know if that’s really a nickname he uses, but if it isn’t it should be) looked at the Hanley Ramirez fiasco and posed the question “What if it had been Jeter?”  He’s also given us a peek inside the Sports Illustrated tent and, as someone who’s giving some thought to buying an iPad in the near future, I found his “Sports Illustrated for iPad” posting of some interest.

You may have noticed how I’ve avoided any mention of last night’s loss to the East Coast Bitch Sox in Boston. It was aggravating on so many levels, but I think the thing that stood out the most, right from the start of the game, was the absolute joke that particular umpiring crew has become. Since the Twins have a “history” with some of those guys (remember Brendan Harris not being allowed a time out and having a pitch zip by him while not even looking?), it was probably predictable. But rather than me ranting today, I’ll just send you over to k-bro’s place to see her scientific (I’m sure) diagram of the strike zone last night.

I guess I need to get a little real work done this morning, so that’s enough for now. Check back later… if I come across any other interesting ingredients for today’s hot dish, I’ll add them as the day rolls on. – JC

UPDATE 1: I did mean to include this post from Jim Manelaro concerning the Stephen Strasburg “event” in Rochester. Strasburg, the uber-phenom of the Washington Nationals who is being kept busy mowing down minor leaguers until the Nats can be sure he won’t qualify for “super 2″ arbitration status in a couple of years, pitched against the Red Wings Wednesday night.

He pitched well (although newly promoted Twin Trevor Plouffe did get one hit off him). As you’d expect, the Rochester stadium was overflowing (with a significant number of fans wearing Strasburg T-shirts sold at the stadium by the Red Wings!) and when Strasburg was finally relieved of duty, he was given a huge ovation as he left the field. However, he apparently did not acknowledge the ovation with the traditional “cap tip”, causing much of the ovation to turn to boos. This has apparently become a bit of a “thing” now. So my questions, working backwards a bit, are:

1- Why is it a big deal that Strasburg didn’t tip his cap to the opposing crowd?

2- Why would an opposing crowd be THAT enthusiastic in the first place toward an opposing pitcher?

3- What the heck were the Red Wings thinking when they printed up T-shirts and turned their entire crowd in to an 8,000-strong Syracuse/Strasburg love fest? (Yes, I know, money.)

4- I want to know what the Red Wing players… and for that matter the Twins organization… thinks of Rochester’s bizarre promotion of an opponent? (If I were a Red Wing player, I’d have been pissed!)

UPDATE 2: This one made me laugh and almost cheer a bit, as well. Seems the people who run the city of Los Angeles decided they should boycott the state of Arizona over the issue of their controversial immigration law. Now, this blog is not the place for me to express my feelings regarding the law itself, but I REALLY don’t like it when the people on either coast (who think they know everything and that the rest of us should do things the way the folks on the coasts tell us to) start throwing their weight around.

So THAT’S why I found this response from an Arizona Corporation Commission (an oddly named agency that oversees electrical power plants in Arizona) member to the Mayor of Los Angeles hilarious:

“If an economic boycott is truly what you desire, I will be happy to encourage Arizona utilities to renegotiate your power agreements so Los Angeles no longer receives power from Arizona-based generation.”

Seems Los Angeles gets about 25% of their electricity from power plants in Arizona. Oops.

Yeah, I know it’s unlikely they could actually withhold electricity from LA, but any time someone is willing to stand up and say “stick it, jerk!” to bullies, I love it. I also know this article has almost nothing to do with baseball… except let me say that if Bud Selig actually does change his mind (what mind?) and pull the 2011 AllStar game from Arizona over this issue, the good people of Arizona should tell Bud to “stick it”, too. Immigration is a serious issue and should be dealt with by serious people… and that leaves out Bud Selig (and the LA City Council, too).

Ramos, Mauer and Morneau… who’s gonna go?

Warning: This is another lengthy post from JC with the occasional use of numbers.

There have been a number of interesting things going on in the past few days and weeks that seemingly have nothing to do with one another and there’s been no shortage of media and blog attention to them individually. But I’m a “connect the dots” kind of person who tends to see patterns and conspiracies in just about any set of random events.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that I would look at the new contracts of Joe Mauer and Ryan Howard, along with the remarkable Major League debut of Wilson Ramos, and see threads that bind them together.

Just so we’re all coming at things from the same starting point, let’s review a few things. All of Twins Territory knows Joe Mauer begins making $23 million a year next year and has a no-trade contract through the following eight years.

Phillies 1B Ryan Howard signed a lucrative (some would say absurd) extension that will pay him $20 million a year in 2012 and 2013 and $25 million from 2014 through 2016. By comparison, a couple of years ago, Justin Morneau signed a deal with the Twins that pays $14 million a year through 2013.

The Twins have generally spent about 50% of their revenues on their Major League payroll. With 2010 estimates coming in around $200 million in revenues and just south of $100 million in payroll, they seem to be continuing along the 50% path. It’s tough to imagine those revenues increasing much (if at all) as the newness of Target Field begins to wear off, so it’s also tough to imagine their payroll being allowed to increase significantly, either. But this isn’t a post about the Twins’ payroll anyway… well maybe it’s a little bit about payroll.

It’s not so much that the Twins may not have room in their payroll to afford their current stars, as it is that they may not have room on the field for them.

How could this possibly be? What happened? Things have been humming along nicely so far this season with nothing but the occasional “Kubel or Young?” debate among Twins faithful.

In short, Wilson Ramos happened.

Not that Ramos has come out of nowhere. Ramos has been one of the Twins top 3 prospects as ranked by Baseball America (and pretty much anyone else who ranks such things) for the past couple of years. In fact, he was BA’s Winter Player of the Year this past off season. There’s no such thing as a “sure thing” where baseball prospects are concerned, but the last time the Twins had a catcher in their system this close to being a “sure thing”, his name was Mauer.

The Twins didn’t have a lot of leverage in their negotiations this spring with Mauer and his agent, but what little they did have was named Ramos. If Mauer were not a Twin Cities native and/or if he and his agent had insisted on A-Rod money, Wilson Ramos might already be the Twins’ regular catcher.

In other words, while nobody should make too much of the hot start to his Major League career, nobody should make too little of it, either.  He’s good.

Seth Stohs posed the question of what to do about Ramos and Mauer in his TwinsCentric blog at the Strib. He proposed that the Twins have four options, though at least one of them arguably is not an option at all. Joe Mauer isn’t going to be traded any time soon and Ramos is almost certainly headed back to Rochester when Mauer is healthy enough to play every day again.

But what about next year? How long do you keep a guy like Ramos “down on the farm” once he’s demonstrated to you (and everyone else in baseball) that he’s ready to contribute at a high level in the Bigs?

The answer is, “you don’t”. In 2011, absent injury, Wilson Ramos will be a starting Major League catcher… somewhere.

The easy solution, when you’re the GM of a team that sees itself as a World Series contender, is that you trade a valuable, yet blocked, talent like Ramos to a team who is building for the future and has an established Major League ballplayer who’s getting too expensive for a team in that situation to keep. You don’t trade Wilson Ramos for washed up 35 year-olds, for one-year rentals, or for another team’s “prospects”. You get someone you KNOW will add wins to your record immediately.

But what if you want to keep Ramos? Well, despite what some people (who likely never played the game) seem to think, you can’t simply give Ramos a different glove and turn him in to a Major League third baseman. Everyone reading this has watched Nick Punto and Brendan Harris charge slow rollers or leap to their left or right to snag a ball, then make some sort of acrobatic throw to 1B for an out. And by now, everyone has gotten a look at Wilson Ramos. Seriously… do you see this guy making those plays? To my eyes, Wilson Ramos is a catcher and a very good catcher. He hits well, for a catcher. He is not and never will be a 3B. You don’t waste time making him your DH either. He’s just too valuable a commodity as a catcher.

No, if you want Wilson Ramos on the field for the Twins in 2011, Joe’s gotta go… probably 90 feet up the line to either 3B or 1B. Unlike Ramos, it’s not hard to imagine Joe Mauer excelling at either corner infield spot, given enough work at the job. He could also probably perform well in a corner OF spot, but the Twins have a pretty solid supply of corner OFs both on the Major League level and in the minors.

People I respect continue to maintain that Danny Valencia will become the Twins’ answer at 3B by 2011. If not, a couple of years behind him, they have Miguel Sano coming up. Sano is the Dominican prospect that the Twins shelled out over $3 million for last winter. But try finding a legitimate offensive threat among the first basemen in the Twins organization, not named Morneau.

And what about Morneau?

Well, this is where payroll comes in. See… I told you this was a “little bit” about payroll.

As I mentioned, Doc is locked in at $14 million a year through 2013. That seemed like a lot of money a couple of years ago. But that was before someone in the Phillies organization went insane and gave Ryan Howard a deal that will pay him $25 million annually starting in 2014… coincidentally, the same year that Morneau’s next contract will start.

But Howard’s deal is just the beginning. Between now and the time Morneau’s agent will begin negotiating his next deal, fellow star 1Bs Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and some guy in St. Louis named Pujols will have new deals. All of those players are likely to exceed Howard’s contract and they’ll be setting new bars for Morneau and his agent to be aiming for.

As much as I would love to see the Twins’ M&M boys ride off in to the sunset of their careers together in Twins uniforms, I simply can’t envision a scenario where that happens.

So if I’m the Twins’ GM and I look in to my crystal ball and see no Justin Morneau being re-signed and nobody in my farm system looking like the “next Morneau”, what do I do?

I trade Justin Morneau before the 2011 season.

In the next year or so, the Cardinals, Padres and Brewers are going to be faced with negotiating new deals with  Pujols, Gonzalez and Fielder for anywhere between $25 and $30 million a year (or trading those players to another team who will meet their respective prices). The market for Morneau, who will still have three years at a comparatively modest $14 million per year remaining on his contract, will never be higher.

The Twins are almost certainly going to lose Morneau, either by trade before his final contract year, or to free agency following 2013. Postponing the inevitable makes sense if you have nobody to replace him of comparable abilities. But that’s not the case, if you move Joe Mauer to 1B.

The bottom line is this. This off season, the Twins will have two valuable trade chips in Ramos and Morneau.

If the Twins won’t trade Ramos, they need to create a spot for him in the everyday lineup and the only logical spot is at catcher. Moving Mauer to 1B allows them to put Justin on the market. Morneau would likely bring back pitching and infield talent to upgrade multiple roster spots immediately and in to the future.

Of course, trading Ramos instead could also bring immediate help at other positions and if the Twins are prepared to say unequivocally that Joe Mauer will be catching for the foreseeable future, then trading Ramos makes perfect sense.

But that means that a couple of years later, they’ll have neither Ramos nor Morneau and, considering the abuse any catcher takes over the course of a couple of seasons, it’s a fair bet that the Twins will be forced to move Mauer to a new position by then anyway.

If I’m the GM, I listen to offers for Wilson Ramos this summer and if, say, the Royals decide they don’t want to pay Zach Grienke the $13.5 million they’re going to owe him starting next season, I’ll deal Ramos and strengthen my team right now. But absent that kind of “knock me off my feet” offer, I’m holding on to Ramos this year and if everyone stays healthy, I’m going to look for a good deal in return for Morneau after this season… and buy Joe Mauer a new first base mitt.