Friday, February 2, 2007
Morneau, Punto, Ford agree with Twins
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins crossed four contracts
off their winter to-do list Friday. They still, however, have
millions of more dollars to dole out before spring training.
AL MVP Justin Morneau agreed to a $4.5 million, one-year
contract with the Twins, who also settled their salary arbitration
cases with third baseman Nick Punto, reliever Juan Rincon and
outfielder Lew Ford.
Punto agreed to a $4.2 million, two-year contract, Rincon
received a $2 million, one-year deal and Ford reached a $985,000,
But two important players remain scheduled for hearings this
month: AL batting champion Joe Mauer and right fielder and cleanup
hitter Michael Cuddyer. Mauer asked for $4.5 million and was
offered $3.3 million. Cuddyer asked for $4.25 million and was
offered $3 million.
Once contracts are finalized for the handful of players without
enough service time to be arbitration-eligible, the payroll will
most likely push past $70 million. That's up from the $63.8 million
figure the Twins started last season with.
General manager Terry Ryan realized there would be an increase,
but he indicated Friday the payroll will be higher than he
"I think it's apparent that with these arbitration things and
the way the market has gone, it's going to jump," said Ryan, who
could also pursue contract extensions with Cy Young Award winner
Johan Santana and All-Star closer Joe Nathan to prevent losing them
to free agency after the 2008 season.
Morneau and Mauer can't be free agents until after the 2009
season, but long-term deals with them -- as well as Cuddyer -- are
also possibilities. That was explored with Morneau, but ultimately
"We gave it a good amount of a go at it," Ryan said, adding:
"It just didn't come together on a finality that both sides were
willing to sign off on."
Morneau, a 25-year-old first baseman, hit .321 last year with 34
homers and 130 RBIs and won the MVP award by 14 points over New
York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Morneau's agreement was at the
midpoint between the $5 million he had asked for and the $4 million
the team offered to the player who hit more homers than any Twin in
a season since 1987.
Rincon went 3-1 with a 2.91 ERA in 74 1-3 innings as Minnesota's
primary setup man to closer Joe Nathan. Rincon, who has appeared in
at least 75 games in each of the last three seasons, also settled
at the midpoint after asking for $2.4 million and receiving an
offer of $1.6 million from the team.
Punto, who hit .290 with 47 RBIs and 17 steals for the AL
Central champions in his first year as a full-time starter, will
get $1.8 million this season and $2.4 million in 2008. He had asked
for $2.1 million and had been offered $1.6 million.
Ford was a backup last year who hit .226 with 18 RBIs in 234
at-bats. In addition to his base salary, he could earn $65,000 in
performance bonuses: $15,000 for 300 plate appearances, and $25,000
each for 400 and 450 plate appearances. Ford had asked for $1.3
million and had been offered $800,000.