If there's one thing I hate doing as a Twins fan, it's admitting when the White Sox have completely, unequivocally crushed my team. That is what's happening this offseason, and it's been painful to watch it unfold. Chicago's brazen aggressiveness only serves to magnify the lack of activity from a Twins' front office that seems content to watch divisional rivals power up while they power down.
The Sox don't like admitting when they've been crushed by the Twins either, obviously. That's surely what sparked this winter of wheeling and dealing. They went 5-13 against the Twins last season, and were effectively eliminated from contention after being swept at home in a humbling mid-September series.
Whatever the White Sox tried last year, the Twins had an answer. By the end of the season, Ozzie Guillen was basically bowing down to Ron Gardenhire and his magical cast of baseball demigods, who were so great they couldn't manage a single victory in the playoffs.
Chicago GM Kenny Williams is not one to take such blows to his pride lightly. So he set out this offseason to construct a team that would fare much better against the customary AL Central champs.
First, there was the blockbuster signing of Adam Dunn, one of the game's premier power hitters. Less than a week later, the Sox re-signed free agent first baseman Paul Konerko, another elite power hitter coming off a 39-homer year. They also re-upped their catcher, A.J. Pierzynski.
In the bullpen, the Sox bid farewell to Bobby Jenks (apparently due to personality conflicts) but in his place they've signed power righty Jesse Crain away from the Twins. This past weekend, they inked left-handed reliever Will Ohman, who last year posted a 3.21 ERA while holding lefty hitters to a .636 OPS with the Marlins.
Ohman joins a White Sox bullpen that already included dominating portsiders Matt Thornton and Chris Sale, both of whom are closer candidates. With three lefty-stifling southpaws potentially populating his bullpen, Guillen will be in position to start playing match-ups against the Twins' overwhelmingly left-handed lineup as early as the sixth inning.
It would be nice if the Twins had acquired some sort of legitimate right-handed bat to offset that advantage, but they've done no such thing. In fact, the team hasn't really made any positive strides this winter. Through signings and trades, they've added a number of minor-league players (including Tsuyoshi Nishioka, essentially the equivalent of a minor-leaguer), which bolsters organizational depth but does little to combat Chicago's bold roster renovations.
The Twins' salary shedding moves have been far more prevalent. They dealt away their starting shortstop for minor-leaguers because they didn't want to pay him. They've watched their starting second baseman and two of their most valuable relievers from last year, Matt Guerrier and Crain, sign elsewhere because they were too expensive. Little interest has been shown in retaining two other free agent relievers, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes.
The only action from the Twins this offseason that has clearly reflected any kind of determination to defend their spot at the top of the division is a move that hasn't even been made yet: the apparently impending Carl Pavano signing.
While one can argue that this move was an absolute necessity, it's a risky investment clearly aimed at trying to maintain the status quo rather than meaningfully advancing the team's chances at a deep postseason run.
Some will argue that the front office's financially conservative approach to this offseason is the unavoidable result of a payroll that has already swelled up due to a big raise for Joe Mauer and several overly bloated salaries for players under contract (Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Matt Capps, etc.). I'd counter by pointing out that, for one thing, the Twins have nobody to blame for bloated salaries but themselves. Furthermore, payroll isn't really that high, when you think about it.
During their free agent shopping spree, the White Sox have watched their payroll climb to around $120 million, Meanwhile, the Twins are still trying to haggle Pavano's price down so they can stay in the $115 million range. This team is playing in a brand new stadium that sells out every night and their ownership holds no less cash than Jerry Reinsdorf -- is there really any reason at this point that they should be so much less willing to spend?
The point has made been, and will be made again, that there are several weeks left in the offseason and the Twins often wait until February to strike free agent deals, when the market tends to settle down. That's all well and good, but I don't find it acceptable that they've watched so many players that could help the team sign elsewhere while waiting to hunt the bargain bin at the end of the offseason, all because they're handcuffed by their own questionable past decisions. Minnesota taxpayers funded their new stadium and filled it up every night last year; they have the right to expect more than business as usual.