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More Than Meets the Eye II: Twins Sign Denard Span

One week ago we were discussing Nick Blakburn's new long-term contract and not just whether or not it was a good deal for the Twins, but how it affected their financial concerns in coming years in regards to one player:  Joe Mauer.  The Span signing lends more credence to this theory.

There are going to be certain circles which will question a long-term contract to a player who would be under team control for the next five seasons, and in a lot of circumstances I'd be part of those circles.  But not in this case.  As far as I'm concerned, this is just another pit stop along the path to extending Joe Mauer.

Sure, it's reading between the lines.  It also makes a lot of sense.

When a team is preparing to hand something in the area of 20% of its payroll to one player, the most responsible thing that team can do is to get its payroll in order.  By achieving payroll certainty through the arbitration years of two players who the organization clearly views as cornerstones, the Minnesota Twins are, very subtley, trading risks.  On the one hand there's taking on the financial risk of multi-year contracts for players who could have been paid on a year-to-year basis.  And on the other hand there's the reduction of risk by mitigating payroll uncertainty.

Of course it doesn't hurt that both the Blackburn and the Span contracts are fair deals.  Particularly in Span's case, if he can average the kind of value he produced in 2009 then the Twins will be getting an incredible bargain.

In Span's rookie season he was worth 2.6 wins above replacement in just 93 games.  Last summer he established himself as more than a partial-season fluke and was 3.9 wins above replacement.  Going forward CHONE predicts he'll be worth just 3.3 WAR this season, but there isn't much doubt that, if he's healthy, Span could certainly match 2009's value over the next few seasons.  So, like we did with Blackburn, understanding that each win above replacement is worth around$3.5 million in this market, how does Span's contract stack up?

Split 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015*
Age 26 27 28 29 30 31
Contract $750 K $1 MM $3 MM $4.75 MM $6.5 MM $9 MM
Value vs Free Agency --- --- 40% 60% 80% 100%
Expected $$ at 2.5 WAR --- --- $3.5 MM $5.25 MM $7 MM $8.75 MM
Expected $$ at 4.0 WAR --- --- $5.6 MM $8.4 MM $11.2 MM $14 MM

* = Option Year

In arbitration, the standard scale of compensation versus full value (or market value for a free agent) is 40-60-80, so that's where those numbers come from.  They're just a guide.  Therefore, if Span is a 2.5-win player in 2012, 40% of his value would be $3.5 million.  That's how you read the chart.

Basically, the Twins will be getting their money's worth on this contract if Span plays like a 2-win player as he enters his arbitration years.  Only by the time that Span reaches his option year, six years from ow, will the Twins be likely to pay somethig resembling his market value.  Indeed, if Span can maintain his level of production from 2009, the Twins could save nearly $16 million dollars from 2012 to 2015.

On its own merits, this is a good deal for both sides.  Span not only has financial security earlier than he probably planned, but he's been shown exactly what the front office thinks of his abilities and has been shown that the organization believes he can be a building block for the next half decade (plus).  Meanwhile, the Twins have locked up their star center fielder, have done it at reasonable expense and have attained a clearer view of their payroll in coming years.

The lynchpin to all of this, of course, is the Mauer contract.  And it's coming.