Free Agent Spending Brings Mixed Results for the Twins
Twins fans have long decried the Pohlad family and their reticence to invest heavily in bringing big name free agents to Minnesota. The team’s brass, of course, has always functioned as a convenient scapegoat for a divisionally dominant team in the early 2000s that failed to replicate its regular season success in the post-season. The trade of Johan Santana to the Mets in February of 2008 perfectly crystalized the Twins status as the quintessential mid-market team. They drafted smart, coached well and nurtured talent, but never bought their success.
The Twins move to Target Field in 2010 was punctuated by an all-time high in optimism surrounding the team. A new stadium promised new revenue and with it, less excuses for the Twins not to spend more liberally in the free-agent market. Joe Mauer was signed to a long term extension; the team had won the AL Central in 2009 despite being swept by the Yankees in the ALDS, yet ultimately and ironically, the Twins move signified the beginning of the end of a run of great dominance and the final chapter of a team whose core comprised of players like Mauer, Morneau, and Cuddyer who either struggled with injuries or departed for pastures new, or both.
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On the back of 4 straight 90 plus loss seasons, the teams current position just 1.5 games out of the final AL Wild Card spot has to be more than even the most optimistic Twins fan could have hoped for. In an attempt to bring life to a continually struggling rotation and with few of their most promising pitching prospects near the big league level, the Twins finally turned to free agency. In the past two off-seasons, the Twins have added Ricky Nolasco and Ervin Santana to bring consistent quality innings to their beleaguered rotation. Their combined impact has been the exact opposite.
Nolasco signed for 4 years and $49 million before the 2014 season. With a career 4.50 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, Nolasco has been brutal since his move to Minnesota. In 2014 he managed 27 starts but struggled to a 5.38 ERA and 1.51 WHIP with opposing hitters managing a .316 average against him, a premium the Twins paid $12 million for. In 2015 Nolasco has been even worse when on the mound, which has been infrequently. Opposing teams have managed a .324 average against Nolasco in 2015, in just 32.2 innings, good for a 5.51 ERA and 1.65 WHIP.
Ervin Santana became the most expensive free agent in acquisition in team history, signing a 4 year $54 million deal prior to the 2015 for which the Twins forfeited their second round draft pick. Santana was suspended for 80 games prior to the beginning of the season after testing positive for stanozolol, in the process ruling him out of contention to pitch in the post-season the Twins are ironically in contention for. Since his return Santana has struggled, through 8 starts, he has a 5.88 ERA, this with an opposing hitter BaBIP of just .275. Santana has given up 21 earned runs in his last 20 innings….Nick Blackburn eat your heart out.
Even with Santana’s suspension saving the Twins approximately $6.5 million in salary they would have otherwise paid him, Ervin and Nolasco have constituted an enormous financial commitment for the Twins. Minnesota has paid a combined (approximately) $27.4 million to date for a combined 239.1 inning of work. In that time, the two have combined for an ERA of 5.52, a WHIP of 1.58 and a .304 batting average against. Be careful what you wish for Twins fans, free agent spending isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.