Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Turning the Tables

Flash back two years, to the winter following the 2007 season.

Just one year removed from capturing the AL pennant, the Detroit Tigers were boldly making their move. During the winter meetings, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal with the Marlins that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Motown in return for a gaudy package of prospects highlighted by Cameron Maybin and Adam Miller. The move came just shortly after Dombrowski had acquired Edgar Renteria from the Braves for a pair of quality pitching prospects.

The Tigers were moving cheap, promising players for established commodities, and were showing little concern with the financial repercussions. A busy offseason for Dombrowski ballooned his team's payroll from $95 million in 2007 to $138 million 2008, positioning them as the highest-spending club in baseball outside of the Yankees.

Meanwhile, the Twins' 07/08 offseason consisted of trading away the league's best pitcher and letting one of their core hitters and clubhouse anchors walk. In both instances, the players were deemed too expensive for the Twins to retain on their limited budget. Despite a few second-tier free agent signings, the Twins saw their budget shrink from $71 million in '07 to $56 million in '08, dropping them into the bottom third of all MLB teams in terms of payroll.

Flash back to present. The Tigers, who fell just a game short of the playoffs this season, are amidst an epic firesale. They shipped off one of their core offensive players in Curtis Granderson and a key starter in Edwin Jackson, fresh off a breakout year. They were forced to let key contributor Placido Polanco walk and weren't even able to offer theType A free agent arbitration and collect valuable draft picks because they couldn't afford the risk of having to pay him several million dollars in 2010 should he accept. There are rumors that the Tigers still aren't done shedding salary, with names like Cabrera and Justin Verlander continuing to spring up in trade speculation.

The nation's economic downturn has hit Detroit hard, and its formerly free-spending baseball club is feeling the effects.

Things look significantly brighter here in Minnesota.

The Twins have ramped up spending recently at an unprecedented level. I wrote last week about how the organization has displayed a dramatic increase in willingness to open the wallet over the past year, whether on the international market (Miguel Angel Sano), in the draft (Kyle Gibson), on players acquired via trade mid-season (Jon Rauch/Orlando Cabrera/Carl Pavano/etc.) or offseason moves (J.J. Hardy/Pavano). In its most recent display of fiscal freedom, the Twins elected to tender contracts to all of their arbitration-eligible players. That includes Jesse Crain, who is in his final year of arbitration and could make close to $3 million after earning $1.7 million this past season. The Twins would have had every excuse to non-tender Crain, given that he's coming off a rather unexceptional year and spending several million dollars on someone who figures to be -- at best -- the third or fourth right-handed option out of the bullpen is a luxury that in the past they've shied away from. Yet, Crain possesses solid upside for next year considering his strong finish this season (2.20 ERA in August/September) and his being almost two years removed from shoulder surgery. That he's seemingly being brought back bodes well.

The Twins' payroll is already approaching $100 million, a notion that seemed borderline absurd on Opening Day this season when that figure sat at $65 million. Even with the big increase in spending that we've already seen, the Twins still claim to have interest in signing another infielder. They also still have yet to work out a new contract for Joe Mauer, which many (including myself) believe they will do before spring training opens next year.

So, the Twins are taking on salary, spending big on international talent, going over-slot to sign draft picks, and likely are on the verge of doling out one of the biggest contracts in league history to retain their star player? All while the rest of the division is pawning off expensive stars and selling out the present for the future in order to cut costs? Is this some sort of parallel universe?

Longtime fans from around these parts can be excused for reacting with some confusion, but what we're seeing are the benefits associated with the move to a new park. I'd posit that these drastic increases may also be attributable in part to a less frugal philosophy held by ownership now that power has shifted from Carl Pohlad -- who passed away early this year -- to his sons.

Whatever the combination of causes, this new situation is a sweet one for Twins fans, and one we've never really experienced before. The Twins still fall far short of the truly big-market clubs, but they're now beginning to resemble a team that can hold its own when it comes to acquiring and retaining talent. This might not put an enormous dent in the disadvantage the Twins feel when trying to measure up to the Yankees and Red Sox of the world, but it puts them in excellent position in an AL Central division where at least three teams are pretty clearly in rebuilding mode.

Right before our eyes, we're seeing the transformation of a franchise. Long known as the division's "Little Engine That Could," the Twins are beginning to emerge as financial heavyweights in the AL Central. As the holidays approach, now seems as apt a time as any for fans to appreciate this unfamiliar feeling.

38 comments:

lookatthosetwins said...

Yes, what's great is that we're adding payroll but still putting an emphasis on drafting, signing, and developing players. We aren't trading our future away for the chance to pay Miguel Cabrera what he would have gotten in free agency.

We look pretty much set for the next 2 years, with just a couple holes to plug. After that, we'll probably be losing a few guys, but we should actually have the talent to maintain a winning team without going into full rebuilding mode.

Assuming Mauer signs longterm, we'll have some great core pieces in Mauer, Span, Slowey, Baker, Blackburn, and the system to replace the guys who end up leaving (Nathan? Morneau? Cuddyer?). The 2000s were a pretty great decade for the Twins, but I see the 2010s being even better.

John said...

The problem is that a $100 million payroll still doesn't leave much room for error. You have to wonder whether a team like the Twins should really allocate $20 million a year to the bullpen (though presumably 2010 will turn out to be a high-water mark in this respect). I hope keeping Crain around doesn't prevent them from signing a third baseman.

It's easier to compete with the Yanks, Red Sox, Angels, etc. with a $100M payroll than with a $65M one, but nonetheless the Twins will still need to get more bang for their buck.

David said...

What's amazing about the Rauch/Pavano/Cabrera acquisitions last year is that they minor league losses were, I'd say, more than offset by the increase in talent via the draft (Gibson) and international signing (Sano). The Twins made moves to get better now and fortified the minor league ranks. That might be a function of how weak their minor leagues used to be, but either way, it's rare that a team pulls of that kind of transformation mid-season. Bravo Bill Smith.

JK said...

Assuming arbitration pays 60% of market value on average over 3 years, the Twins farm system needs to produce around 5 WAR per year to maintain a 90 win team.

15 WAR x .5M for Pre-Arb = 7.5M
15 WAR x 4.5M x 60% for Arb = 40.5
12 WAR x 4.5M = 54M

This assumes that the Twins pay market rates for post-Arb players and free agents. This seems right as Cuddyer, Morneau and Nathan all have market value contracts.

This is why I get nervous about suggestions for trading players like Revere or Valencia. They may not end up being stars, but the Twins need to consistently produce major league contributors from the minors. 5WAR is a star or 2 above average players or 3 slightly below average players.

Dan said...

You can spend all the money in the world, but if you don't spend it right, it's useless. Blowing 7-9 million on Pavano, terrible. Blowing 4 million on Punto, terrible. Nathan at 11 and a quarter on a team that has no chance of a World Series title, terrible. Picking up an option of a very mediocre Cuddyer, at a ridiculous 10.5 million, ridiculous. Funny you compare the spending spree to the Tigers. The same result has a 60-40 chance of happening.

Steve-No said...

What unfortunate timing. It's too bad that now that the Twins ownership is willing to spend money, Terry Ryan no longer has the final say on roster decisions.

Unless Carl's kids just really want to spend money and don't care about results, I wouldn't expect the increased spending to last too long.

If I owned a basball team that was consistently winning its division with a $50-65 million payroll and I nearly doubled payroll spending but the result was the same in the playoffs, what incentive would I have to maintain that level of spending.

lookatthosetwins said...

Steve-No,

We were winning divisions because we had young, cost controlled players that overperformed. Don't you remember 1992-2001? You can win at a 65mil payroll, but not longterm. With this added payroll, we could be more like the Cardinals, and compete year in and year out, instead going through years of losing seasons to get there. The incentive of spending is not having to go through a decade where the team sucks and no one comes to the games.

lookatthosetwins said...

Dan, this is much different. We aren't tied down to paying players well past their prime. Cuddyer, Nathan, Punto, and Pavano will all be off the books in the next few years.

Also, calling a bunch of market value contracts "terrible" and "ridiculous" is, well, ridiculous. I wasn't too happy with the Cuddyer option being picked up, and we probably shouldn't be spending 12 million per on a closer, but what is the problem really? We made it to the playoffs last year, have a better team last year, and, as I said above, are not tied down longterm to anyone.

The only thing that could put us in the same boat as the tigers is signing Mauer longterm, and I don't think anyone will be complaining (including me) when we do that.

Jesse said...

"I'd posit that these drastic increases may also be attributable in part to a less frugal philosophy held by ownership now that power has shifted from Carl Pohlad -- who passed away early this year -- to his sons."

Not to nitpick but Jim Pohlad has been in charge of the Twins since April 2007 (SRC: http://www.startribune.com/sports/11710871.html?elr=KArksUUUoDEy3LGDiO7aiU) and I would point out that in his first full offseason he immediately replaced a baseball guy (Terry Ryan) with an Accountant (Bill Smith) and cut payroll by over %20 ($71.5 Million in 2007 to $57 million).

I would alsop recommend that everyone look at forbes (http://www.forbes.com/lists/2009/33/baseball-values-09_Minnesota-Twins_330400.html) and look at how much operating income the Twins had from 2000-2006 under Terry Ryan/Carl Pohlad ($12 Million Total/7 Years) and what the Twins did from 2007-2009 under Jim Pohlad/Bill Smith ($66 Million/3 Years).

Ryan S. said...

It is nice to have extra money to spend, now we could theoretically keep Johan Santana is this environment, and should be able to hold onto Joe Mauer (but i'm not holding my breath till I see him sign a 8 year deal, I still get nightmares about Mauer in pinstripes).
However, this extra money doesn't do any good if you don't spend it wisely. Look at the Tigers, and spending an absurdly large amount on Dontrelle Willis, who is about as far from a productive pitcher there is.
So, I think that this article should come with the caveat, that its nice to spend extra money, but that extra money has to be spent just as carefully as before.

Nick N. said...

It is nice to have extra money to spend, now we could theoretically keep Johan Santana is this environment, and should be able to hold onto Joe Mauer (but i'm not holding my breath till I see him sign a 8 year deal, I still get nightmares about Mauer in pinstripes).
However, this extra money doesn't do any good if you don't spend it wisely. Look at the Tigers, and spending an absurdly large amount on Dontrelle Willis, who is about as far from a productive pitcher there is.
So, I think that this article should come with the caveat, that its nice to spend extra money, but that extra money has to be spent just as carefully as before.


Right, the nice thing is that the Twins don't really have a history of getting themselves into ugly contracts. You can point to the Joe Mays extension and Mike Lamb signing as contracts that hurt the team to some degree, but neither of them were crippling. This is a team that actively shies away from adding extra years onto a deal if they feel that a player will become a costly burden by the end (this was evident in their unwillingness to give an extra year to Casey Blake last winter, and in their reported offers to Santana and Hunter).

If the Twins continue to run a relatively low-risk operation while making sure to keep in-house talent locked up and occasionally making calculated splashes on the free agent market, the extra payroll should enable them to achieve far greater long-term results.

Dan said...

Simply put Nick, you're wrong. You don't win titles in any league without taking some risk. Twins style of little to no risk means they aren't going to win a title in a very long time.

Steve-No said...

lookatthosetwins -

Yes. Having money available to spend is great for a baseball team. My gripe is that now that the team has money to spend, the wrong guy is in place. Imagine what Terry Ryan would be able to accomplish with that money.

In order for a team to succeed, the right decision-maker must be in charge. Money alone does nothing. Look at the Brewers, Mets, Cubs, Tigers, Mariners, etc.

The Mariners are probably the best example. Despite spending $98 million last season, the Mariners were mediocre. Expect the same from the Twins.

Daniel said...

wow - i guess some people are just never going to be happy. thats a shame.

Dan said...

happy with what? a team that's barely good enough to win the worst division in baseball? make astute personnel decisions, field a team that can actually win a title, then I can be happy. not this group of overpaid mediocrity.

Anonymous said...

So if Cuddyer is 'very mediocre'......
then i guess Morneau is slightly above average, mauer is just good, kubel is also mediocre, and everyone else sucks.

yep, could be tough times ahead.

Dan said...

Cuddyer is the epitome of mediocrity. Morneau is elite. Mauer is somewhere in the middle. Kubel is somewhere in the middle too. You can single out players all you want, but it is a team game, and the 25 man roster of the Twins is very very mediocre.

Daniel said...

Dan-

actually being in the weak central is something I am happy about - it gives us the best chance to get to the playoffs.

In terms of what mediocrity is and what players are worth, that is your opinion, not a universal truth. In terms of throwing around salaries, I personally think all MLB salaries are ridiculous.

my earlier point wasn't really directed at you, its just that the twins appear to be doing something different and getting surrounding talent capable of winning and hopeufully holding on to a very solid group of players which no matter what is only going to last so long.
Do I think the twins are going to win the title in the next two years, no. but CAN the twins win the title in the next two years, yes,it is possible, which is much more than most teams outside of NY, BOS, PHI or LA can say.

Peter said...

Dan man: Morneau is elite and Mauer is somewhere in the middle? Wow, you better keep on watching the Vikings.

Dan said...

why would I watch the Vikings, or football at all? how boring.

Anonymous said...

yeah i know the twins should probably just flip mauer for a couple of 'somewhere in the middle prospects', that way we get two for one.

cuddyer should also just be let go, he's just wasting roster space at this time.

Dan said...

Cuddyer is fine this year, however, the option for next season shouldn't have been picked up until after this season, and really, it shouldn't have been picked up at all unless they had a deal in the works to dump him.

Anonymous said...

the way cuddyers contract was structured the twins had to make a decision on him this year for the year 2011. had they not picked it up, he would automatically have become a free agent after the season.

look i know Cuddyer is not a superstar, he won't play in the all-star game, and he likely won't post near the same numbers this year, but his contract for a projection of of a .275 avg. 80-90 RBI's, and 20-25 HR's I would say is not bad.

there are a lot of players making more and producing much less then Cuddyer. I don't think he will be around after 2011, so I don't think he is holding anything up in terms of the twins being mediocre.

Dan said...

It's irresponsible to guarantee 11 million, or whatever it was, to easily replaced part. Hell, Church and Nady are FAs, either could be gotten for very little and would do what Cuddyer does. Young should be in right, not left, so dumping Cuddyer before this season starts for starting pitching, Lowe or Vazquez are available, should be done for the benefit of this franchise.

Anonymous said...

Dan -

i think you took Nicks blog about taking risks out of context. I could be wrong, but what I think was being conveyed is that the Twins don't take players in their prime or past thier prime and lock them up into incredibly long deals at millions per year such as other teams and then it ends screwing them over, unless its the Yankees of course.
However, I think the authors along with most fans do support and want the Twins to take 'risks'. A good example would have been Harden, who could have been had - a reasonable one to two year risk without strapping them into the future.

Thats my two cents

Anonymous said...

"It's irresponsible to guarantee 11 million, or whatever it was, to easily replaced part. Hell, Church and Nady are FAs, either could be gotten for very little and would do what Cuddyer does. Young should be in right, not left, so dumping Cuddyer before this season starts for starting pitching, Lowe or Vazquez are available, should be done for the benefit of this franchise."

Dan-
thats actually a good point because you propose some solutions, but again with the definition of mediocrity you may have, Lowe and Vazquez are making Cuddyer like money and I would not call them much above the mediocrity that is our rotation already, so that in turn would come full circle with the twins wasting money on mediocrity. Nady has been hurt, and Church was DFA'd for a reason. They are not replacing Cuddyers numbers.

Dan said...

While I agree that Lowe has had his share of mediocrity, I don't agree that Vazquez is. The guy is one of the absolute best K guys in baseball over the past decade. If Anderson could get Javier to keep the ball down, and I don't see why that would be all that tough for Anderson considering the great job he does, and Vazquez limits his homeruns allowed, like he did last year, he'd be a tremendous asset to the Twins.

Anonymous said...

which is why the Braves have given no indication they would trade Vazquez in the first place, so its a moot point.

Lowe is available, but who wants to spend 15 mil a year for his contract? Maybee the yankees.

Steve-No said...

I just want to come back to something I said earlier:

As I hoped, the Red Sox did not offer arbitration to Rocco Baldelli. I know this is too high a level of talent evaluation to expect out of Bill Smith, but This is a guy he has to pick up.

Maybe he fits best in center instead of left, but once Baldelli is on the roster, Delmon Young should be traded immediately for whatever the Twins can get ($11 million is a lot for Cuddy, but with Young, he can't catch the ball and he can't hit the ball. Why is he playing baseball). Hell, if you have to trade him like John Odom and get 10 bats in return, fine. Just get him out of here.

Nick N. said...

Maybe he fits best in center instead of left, but once Baldelli is on the roster, Delmon Young should be traded immediately for whatever the Twins can get

Um, who's your back-up plan, given that Baldelli is an enormous injury risk and hasn't played in 100 games since 2004? Jason Pridie? I like Baldelli as a fourth outfielder, but he can't be relied on as a starter at this point.

twinsfan said...

What is it with people named Dan that over-inflate Morneau's worth while vastly underestimating Mauer's?

Dan said...

other way around. Morneau makes the team go while catcher boy does his best to lose games with shotty defense, bad game calling, and only getting hits when it doesn't matter.

Steve-No said...

Sure. Pride, Kubel, whomever. Anything's better than DY stumbling around out there.

I'd say it's a warning sign when yuor left fielder watches the ball go past him, then turns and runs after the ball as it rattles around in the corner.

Is there anything to like about Delmon Young?

Nick N. said...

Is there anything to like about Delmon Young?

Cool tattoos.

writerjoel said...

Okay Okay.

Some guys the Twins overspend on. Some they don't take a committment too,

You win many, you lose more.

Cuddyer, Kubel...both solid players bringing something to the table. Look for Kubel to switch to the OF more in the next couple seasons and Cuddy to actually become the DH and abck-up at first (the Twins need that).

Look for Revere to push out Young and move Span to left. Then Hicks, Morles, Benson come up to push aside Kubel/Cuddyer.

The Twins in 2012, looking for the vet DH.

If the young prospects prosper, then the Twins don't have to offer big contracts to Blackburn, Slowey, even a resigning of Baker. They have a pipeline to keep rotating in a new arm every year for the next five years, sending one of the current five on the way for more talent.

Nathan is still tradable. The big decision is to keep Guerrier beyond 2010 (too expensive) or is he closer matieral. Almost think Crain has more closer upside than Matty. If Nathan couldn't open 2010 as a Twin, who would you choose to close games from the current crop (considering Neshek is still unknwn).

j-blo said...

Polonco would have gotten 6-8 million in arb which I think is harder to afford than the "several million" you quote it as. If it were 3-4 million, the Tigers could have afforded it.

Nick N. said...

Polonco would have gotten 6-8 million in arb which I think is harder to afford than the "several million" you quote it as. If it were 3-4 million, the Tigers could have afforded it.

6-8 million is the exact same amount Pavano figures to receive, and yet the Twins had no problem offering him arbitration despite the fact he was only a Type B. This only further speaks to my point that the Twins are in a much better place than the Tigers financially right now.

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