I find myself at something of a loss. It seems I've grown so accustomed to being disappointed with the frugal Twins and their aimless winters that when an offseason as exciting and well executed as this one comes along, I don't even know how to react. From trading for J.J. Hardy to re-upping Carl Pavano to signing Jim Thome and now adding Orlando Hudson, there's not one move I can take issue with. These were good, aggressive steps aimed at addressing legitimate needs.
I've written in the past about this organization's tendency to become complacent after successful seasons. Shortly after the 2009 campaign concluded, I drew a comparison between the '09 and '06 seasons, noting that the team's lack of foresight following that impressive but clearly unrepeatable 2006 season led to a disappointing finish in '07. It would have been no huge surprise to see the Twins take care of their internal business and sit back on their laurels this winter, given that they made the playoffs last year and will be getting a few key players back from injury in the upcoming season. Instead, they have aggressively sought to address areas of need while showing an uncharacteristic lack of hesitation to open the pocket book. While this is doubtlessly attributable in no small part to looser financial restrictions from the ownership thanks to the increased revenue that will come along with the new park, credit should also be given to the embattled general manager.
Bill Smith got off to a rough start in his capacity as Twins' GM. During his first offseason in the role, he traded Johan Santana, Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for extremely underwhelming returns. He dealt for Craig Monroe and spent way too much money to employ the outfielder as a marginal bench player. He also handed out ultimately regrettable free agent contracts to Livan Hernandez, Mike Lamb and Adam Everett. I think that in some circles Smith shoulders too much of the blame for the early blunders, as he walked into an awfully tough situation, but there's no question that poor judgment was exercised by the front office on numerous occasions during his early days as head honcho.
Lately, though, Smith has been on a hot streak. Since the middle of the 2009 season, Smith has displayed a level of aggressiveness that we rarely saw during the Terry Ryan era, and the results have been strong. Midseason trades for Orlando Cabrera, Ron Mahay, Jon Rauch and Pavano helped propel a middling club to an improbable playoff berth, and two of those players (Rauch and Pavano) figure to be key contributors once again this season.
Now, Smith has played this offseason to damn near perfection. He snatched up Hardy, who had been widely viewed as one of the hottest trade chits on the market this offseason, before any other team really had a chance to enter the bidding. He wisely offered arbitration to Pavano, locking up a solid but injury-prone pitcher on a somewhat spendy but still low-risk one-year commitment. And perhaps most impressive in light of this organization's historical ineptitude in free agency, he slow-played the market and jumped all over opportunities to acquire Thome and Hudson at bargain prices. Those signings have been hailed by analysts as two of the best by any team this winter.
It seemed there was a good chance that the Twins were essentially done spending when they signed Thome to his deal a couple weeks ago, but my sense is that they decided to push the budget a little more than planned when the Hudson opportunity emerged and made all the sense in the world. With the payroll now hovering around $95 million (a whopping $30 million increase over last year's Opening Day mark) I suspect the Twins are finished done adding salary at this point. And that's OK. The Joe Mauer contract situation still needs to be resolved -- and I think it will -- but at this point Smith has done plenty to shore up holes and satisfy this particular fan.
In the October article I linked above, I concluded with the following assessment: "Adding solid depth and filling lineup holes with adequate supporting players could go a long way toward protecting the Twins against the type of drop-off that struck that 2007 team." Smith's moves this winter have done just that, and as a result, this is shaping up to be one of the best offseasons in the history of the franchise. With a new stadium set to open and a roster that features several superstar core players amidst their primes, the timing could not be better.