Despite an extremely quiet offseason for the Twins, there is still a chance that they could make one semi-large move before the start of the 2009 season. This past week, the Twins made the first move in months, and added their first new major league player of the offseason in Luis Ayala, a righthanded relief pitcher. With Ayala, the Twins helped to shore up one of their weaknesses, which was the bullpen. However, there is still a hole at third base, and there is really only one free agent left that could fill that void – Joe Crede. Question is: should the Twins take the chance on him?
There are numerous reasons the Twins should take a chance on Crede. First off, he is only 30 years old. Despite having back injury problems the last two seasons, Crede is still young enough that he could bounce back and still be a productive hitter. He was hobbled by a bad back during the ’07 season, but the surgery to fix it failed. He had a similar procedure after the back shut him down in ’08, and he has recently claimed that he is fully healthy. The Twins were willing to sign Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake earlier in the offseason, who was 35 and not getting any better. A healthy, 30-year-old Joe Crede is a much better option than a 35-year-old Blake.
Second, Crede would only be a one-year deal. While Crede certainly could be deserving of a multi-year contract, this offseason is one in which owners simply aren’t committing much to players (unless you are the Yankees). Crede himself is only looking for a one-year deal, so that he can go out, prove himself, and try to cash in next offseason. A player that is willing to sign a one-year deal means that he has something to prove, and usually works well two-fold for the team. First, they aren’t guaranteeing much money to the player, and second, the player feels the need to try and make his case for a big contract.
Third, Crede is relatively reasonably priced, for between five and seven million dollars. Crede made $5.1 million as an All-Star last year with the White Sox (despite an injury shortened season). He is looking for a deal with a base salary upwards of seven million dollars, with incentives that would pay him like an elite third baseman ($11-12 million in total contract value). Those who say that committing seven million dollars to Crede would be a mistake should look at what the Twins were willing to commit to Mike Lamb last season. The Twins signed Lamb, an unproven veteran, to a two-year, $6.6 million deal. He was subsequently cut, and the Twins were on the hook for all of that money, despite Lamb playing in only 81 games for the club. Crede, if he doesn’t pan out, would cost the Twins about the same as they lost with Lamb last year. The difference, however, is that Crede offers much more potential to the Twins than Lamb ever could have.
Even for the Twins, seven million dollars wouldn’t be a huge commitment this year. The Twins are currently at $60.15 million, $14 million less than two years ago with Torii Hunter and Johan Santana. At $67 million, the Twins would be done with their offseason, still below budget, and seven million dollars less than what they were willing to spend two seasons ago.
Fourth, Crede, when healthy, is actually among the top third basemen in the league. Despite playing in only 97 games last season, Crede hit 17 home runs. That total, from a clearly injured Crede, would have been good enough for third on the Twins, seven homers in front of current third place power man Delmon Young. In his last healthy season for the White Sox, Crede hit .283 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI, primarily as their six or seven hitter. If Crede were to hit for a similar average with similar power for the Twins, his RBI total would increase, mainly because he would hit directly behind Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
There are some good arguments for standing pat, although they aren’t as numerous. First, there is the fact that we have two capable third basemen in Brendan Harris and Brian Buscher. The righty/lefty combo would be able to platoon and thus matchups wouldn’t be an issue. As a nearly full time player last season, Harris hit .265 with seven homers. Buscher hit .294 with four homers in 70 games. The two combined would be a respectable duo at third base, and a cheap option at that, since both are making less than $500,000
Second, Crede isn’t guaranteed to be 100 percent. Crede has had back issues the last two seasons despite having corrective surgery, so there is reason to believe that the same injury could hobble him this season. His back limited him to 144 games the last two years, and the Twins would be risking a lot in hoping that he doesn’t miss any time this season. They are especially worried that the Dome’s FieldTurf would be a catalyst to his injury.
Third, his agent is Scott Boras. Boras is a scary agent, doing anything and everything to get a top contract for his guys. Boras has stated that Crede is fully healthy despite reports of him being 75-85 percent, and that Crede would be ready to play in 10-14 days. He also stated that Crede wouldn’t be affected by what surface he plays on, a direct nod to the Twins that their turf isn’t an issue. Boras could be telling the truth, or he could be just trying to convince the Twins to sign a player that he knows is still rehabbing.
What should they do?
The Twins would be best off taking a chance on Crede. He is high risk, but he offers much greater potential than the Twins current platoon. The Twins have some flexibility with payroll, and a Crede signing would do a lot to get fans excited about the team with less than two months to the start of the season, especially after their extraordinarily quiet offseason to this point.
Crede, if healthy, would be a middle of the lineup righthanded power hitter, the exact kind that the Twins have been in search of for a few seasons now. It is obvious that Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young aren’t capable of being that guy after their recent failures, but Crede has the potential to hit 25-30 homers. He would provide good protection for Morneau and Mauer, and with Kubel hitting behind Crede, the middle of the Twins lineup would be quite scary.
Crede obviously would need to first show the Twins that he is fully healthy before they offer him a contract, but that is what pre-contract physicals are for. San Francisco has already offered a deal to Crede, so the Twins have to act fast if they want to take a chance on him. Weighing the positives and negatives, a Crede signing only makes sense.