Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ready to play the real game?

With the Major League Baseball season nearly a third of the way complete, many of the Minnesota Twins faithful have already written off this season. I guess that isn't a complete shocker since the Twins are on a pace to become only the second team in MLB history to have a payroll in the triple-digit millions (in this case, $112.7M) while losing 100 games (The 2008 Seattle Mariners being the first to do so).

What will be interesting to me is how will the Twins conduct business this off-season. With the likes of Michael Cuddyer, Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano likely departing via free agency, that's approximately $24 million of salary off the books (including Nathan's $2 million buyout for 2012). In addition, Jim Thome (who turns 41 later this year) will likely retire and Kevin Slowey will for sure not be around in 2012, as the Twins have expressed an interest in trading him this season. That's another $6 million potentially being freed up.

So with possibly $30 million at their disposal prior to 2012, how will the Twins approach investing that money? Naturally they will look to take care of their own, by locking up some arbitration eligible players, plus free agent Jason Kubel. While I have no insights whatsoever into the organization's thoughts on Kubel, locking him up long term would make the most sense since he's only 29 and has been the Twins most productive offensive player this season. And with Cuddyer likely gone after this year, the Twins will need an everyday right fielder. In addition, Kubel has proven to be more durable after spending all or most of the 2005 & 2006 seasons recovering from a knee injury. From 2008 thru 2010, Kubel has averaged 143 games played with 23 home runs and 91 RBIs. Granted he's played a significant number of those games as the designated hitter, he has proven to be a fairly good right fielder when given the opportunity to play there.

Since 2001, when the Twins became relevant again, they have used a formula which they believe in wholeheartedly. That is, carefully scout quality ball players, draft and develop them within the organization and see them through as productive major leaguers. And now that the Twins are no longer a glorified farm system for the markets in Los Angeles and New York, they are actually able to lock up their home grown All Stars (i.e. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau) long term. After all, in their appeal for a new stadium, the Twins told us that the only way to remain competitive was to have a venue which would produce more revenue.

Now that the Minnesota Twins have sold 3 million tickets for the second consecutive season (with the seventh highest ticket prices in baseball no less), there will be a tremendous amount of scrutiny on whether or not they're willing to take the next step. That entails going out on the free agent market and signing a player who could help them immediately. Now when I talk about going out on the open market, I'm not suggesting the Twins pursue someone like an Albert Pujols, who is going to command $25-$30 million per season over 8-10 years. But certainly they have the resources to sign an impact player for 3-4 years and approximately $10-$15 million per season (NY Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, age 28, comes to mind).

While I'm ripe for a surprise, I still have a bad feeling the Twins organization will try to feed us the perpetual "Twins Way" propaganda philosophy. That is, they'll tell us fans they're choosing to use the available financial resources to bolster a depleted farm system with top notch prospects (Translation: we'll be competitive again within 2-3 seasons; be patient).

If that's the message we're given after a 100+ loss season, I think we can safely say the Target Field honeymoon will cease after just two years.


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