Pittsburgh columnist: "The Mauer contract is lunacy"

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In the past 24 hours I’ve seen a lot of people note the risk involved in signing a catcher to a big contract as he’s coming off what could very well be the best year he ever has, but I hadn’t seen anyone say that the contract was a bad idea. At least until I read Ron Cook’s column in today’s Post-Gazette today anyway:

Somebody asked me Monday if I could imagine the Pirates ever stepping
up and giving a star player a $23 million-a-year contract, as one of
the other so-called small-market teams — the Minnesota Twins — just
did with All-Star catcher Joe Mauer. My answer shocked me.

“I sure as heck hope not.”

That from a guy who has spent the past 20 years screaming at the
Pirates for not spending more on their product and getting exactly what
they deserve — the demise of a three-time division-winning club, then
17 consecutive seasons of losing with no end to that streak in sight. Sorry. The Mauer contract is lunacy.

Cook’s major complaint is that by signing Mauer to this deal the Twins will never be able to afford a decent supporting cast for him. He then compares the deal to the Pirates giving Jason Kendall $60 million back in 2000, citing that as the blow from which “the Pirates never recovered.”

Which is simply wrong. No, the Kendall deal wasn’t good for the Pirates, but to suggest that the team would have been fine but for that contract is simply ridiculous. There were many, many reasons the Pirates went down the toilet, not the least of which included (a) a decade’s worth of terrible drafts; (b) contracts that worked out worse than Kendall’s did (remember Derek Bell? Pat Mears? Raul Mondesi? Kevin Young?); and (c) trades that would get rejected in most fantasy leagues (Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton for Jose Hernandez and Bobby Hill; Jason Schmidt for Armando Rios and change).

I think that taking a risk on Joe Mauer is much smarter than taking a risk on Jason Kendall in 2001, but even if they’re identically bad ideas, a team can of limited means can survive such a thing as long as they don’t do multiple other silly things like the 1993-present Pirates.  At the risk of criminal understatement, the Twins front office is savvier than the Pirates’ masters have been lo these many years.

No one will be thrilled if Joe Mauer turns into post-2001 Jason Kendall tomorrow, but the Twins will survive such a thing better than the Pirates have survived their serial missteps.

Report: Ben Zobrist’s price tag is currently four years, $60 million

Ben Zobrist
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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Ben Zobrist will turn 35 years old early next summer, but that doesn’t seem to be putting too much of a dent in his free agent value.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, the “sense among interested teams” is that Zobrist’s price is currently hovering around four years, $60 million and it “may go higher.”

There was a report from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal on Sunday stating that the Mets have made Zobrist their “No. 1” offseason target, and over a dozen other clubs have linked to him since the World Series ended. That’s the kind of attention you command when you can both hit — Zobrist posted an .809 OPS (120 OPS+) in 2015 — and also cover a range of positions defensively.

He makes sense for just about any club looking to contend in the coming seasons.

Wilin Rosario elects to become free agent

Wilin Rosario
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi
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Wilin Rosario was designated for assignment by the Rockies late last month. Now, according to Thomas Harding of MLB.com, the 26-year-old former National League Rookie of the Year vote-getter has elected to become a free agent.

Rosario is a bad defensive catcher and wasn’t much better when the Rockies tried him at first base, but he should draw some interest from American League teams looking for a bench bat and part-time DH.

Rosario slugged 28 home runs for the Rockies in 2012 and he’s averaged 26 home runs for every 162 games over the course of his five-year major league career.

He boasts a .319/.356/.604 career batting line against left-handed pitching.

Orioles acquire Mark Trumbo from Mariners for Steve Clevenger

Mark Trumbo
AP Photo/Joe Nicholson

As first reported by Bob Dutton of the Tacoma Tribune and now confirmed by CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Mariners have traded first baseman and corner outfielder Mark Trumbo to the Orioles in exchange for catcher and first baseman Steve Clevenger. There is also a second player headed to Baltimore in the deal.

This feels like an admission from the O’s that they’re not going to be able to re-sign Chris Davis, who is said to be looking for more than $150 million in free agency.

Clevenger was out of options and the Orioles have both Matt Wieters and Caleb Joseph coming back at the catcher position. Wieters was due to become a free agent but accepted a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from Baltimore last month.

Trumbo has always been a low-OBP guy and he rates as a poor defender everywhere he has played, but the 29-year-old has averaged 31 homers and 96 RBI for every 162 games in his six-year major league career. Camden Yards is a much better place than Safeco Field for him to show that power.

Cardinals finished runner-up to Red Sox in David Price sweepstakes

David Price
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

These kind of after-the-ink-has-dried reports have to be taken with a grain of salt for a variety of reasons, but they’re fantastic conversation-starters …

Bob Nightengale of USA Today says the Cardinals “finished runner-up” to the Red Sox in the bidding for free agent left-hander David Price, who signed with Boston on Monday for a record seven years and $217 million.

There were reports early on that the Red Sox were going to have to overpay on Price because he wanted to either stay in Toronto or make the move to the more pitcher-friendly National League. And maybe they did go significantly above and beyond the next-best offer to land him.

But the report from Nightengale serves as an indication that the Cardinals are ready and willing to spend big money ahead of next week’s Winter Meetings in Nashville. Does that chunk of change now get directed toward Jason Heyward? Or might the Cardinals pounce one of the falling dominos in this still-loaded starting pitching market? What about both?

St. Louis lost Lance Lynn to Tommy John surgery last month and both Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha carry some injury concerns into 2016. There’s money to spend there with a new billion-dollar local television deal about ready to kick in.