The Twins, Free Agency and Sticker Shock


Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

I recently started a new job, and because of this I have done some shopping lately. Every time I go shopping for clothes I am consistently reminded why I do it so infrequently, I can’t handle the sticker shock. Every time I look at a nice pair of pants for work, or even the belt that will be used to secure them, I can’t shake the feeling that I am spending more than I am getting in return, so I usually buy a couple of things to get me through, and call that good.

In regards to the Twins, I can’t help but feel that Terry Ryan and the front office in general, all too often look at acquiring players through free agency the same way I look at buying new clothes (Cough, Jason Bartlett, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, Ramon Ortiz, Sidney Ponson, this could be a really long list, etc.).

Depending upon what rhetoric you want to believe, the Twins could have $30-40 million to spend this offseason, so many have charged the organization with the task of going out to find a Top of the Rotation/Ace/ Strikeout Pitcher/ Insert your word that means Justin Verlander here. While it would be great if we could just buy Justin Verlander, that is not really the way it works. There are far fewer “true ace” starters in the league than many assume, and even fewer sure things when dealing in free agency, but this still shouldn’t be used as a case for inaction.

As previous posts have covered, there are arms to buy this offseason, but many postulate that the price tag on said arms may be too steep for the Twins’ front office to swing. Which leads one to the obvious question, why?

As Phil Miller of the StarTribune pointed out in a recent article, even after losing half their TV audience since 2010, revenue from the Twins’ TV contracts is set to balloon from $25 million, to more than $50 million next season. So even with reduced game attendance, we still won’t be near the bottom of the league in revenue any time soon (we were around the middle of the league last season).

The problems begin with the double talk that comes out of the spin-machine of the organization. These mixed messages tend to cut across generation lines when it comes to Twins’ fans. Many of us grew up in the era of the Metrodome. Of the “Minnesota Twins: Get to know’em,” and those were certainly good times. But they were also different times.

Back then it was still possible for a team with a small payroll to defy the odds. No one is saying that it is impossible, but there is a reason the Oakland Athletics didn’t win the World Series this year, and the A’s do a lot of things regarding developing starters along with platooning players, that the Twins have not done well in recent years.

No one is saying that you can’t be competitive with a smaller payroll, but it is whole lot harder.

The problem with the “Woe is me,” small market sound bite, is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy that no longer holds water in the era of Target Field. The game has changed, payrolls have increased across the league, even in the AL Central, and we aren’t just dealing with the evil Yankees anymore.

Thus, the Twins organization is at a crossroads, they can either dive headfirst into free agency and take a flier on several pitchers including Ervin Santana, or they can gripe like old men standing in front of a gas pump and infantile 25-year-olds standing in front of a pair of dress pants, about the way things used to be.

At this point, I am not really sure which way they will go. They say they have money to spend, but who knows what they are saving it for. The Twins need pitching (among other things), and necessity never made a good bargain. But really, we are talking about desperation here. The organization needs to be prepared for the very likely possibility that they will have to overpay to bring talent to a team coming off three-straight 90 loss seasons. Jim Pohlad has reiterated time and time again that the front office has the green light to spend, but he has also said that they are averse to lengthy and expensive deals.

When dealing with free agency this is a bit like saying that you enjoy swimming, but you dislike getting wet.

The Twins will have to be open to taking some risks that they have not previously taken before. They have boxed themselves into this corner by drafting and developing pitch-to-contact guys in the recent years.

We’ve witnessed the penalties for doing nothing in the recent years. The organization needs to make some moves, because in the end, success in baseball can be a fickle thing. Twins fans know this better than anyone, after seeing Justin Morneau‘s best years robbed by concussions. Today we learned that Joe Mauer has made the permanent move to first base, and not to be an alarmist, but currently both Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are hurt. The point is, things don’t always go according to plan, and the Twins can’t just wait for all the stars to align to start spending. They need to start making the inroads that will take them back to contention, and this begins with starting pitching.

The organization has stated they are ready to make a splash in free agency this offseason, but when you dive off the high dive, you can’t go halfway. Unfortunately, I fear the only thing Twins Territory will hear is the sickening sound of a belly flop, from an organization that talked a big game, but chickened out on the way down.

I hope I am wrong.