Financial Crisis Re-Lived: The Minnesota Twins 2011

by on March 8th, 2015
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Target Field is a $500,000 home.
The Minnesota Twins are a single, low-income family.
The allure of living in a gorgeous ballpark and performing there for years to come overlooking downtown Minneapolis trended this normally small market franchise into a hungry shopper at a grocery store. Man have they spent to feed their voracious appetite.
Looking at baseball’s top payrolls this year, Minnesota comes in at $112.7 million, ninth of 30 teams. That puts them above teams such as Detroit, Texas, Arizona and St. Louis, and more than $70 million ahead of MLB’s most recently consistent overachiever, Tampa Bay. The team’s pecuniosity has translated to on-the-field play less reliable than a room full of politicians and less efficient than a 56K Internet connection; in sum, the Twins are the third worst team in baseball.
Only the New York Yankees, who are on the verge of clinching the top spot in the American League, and the historically woeful Chicago Cubs have spent more for each victory than the at-odds Twins; New York has dropped $2 million per “W,” the Cubs $1.76 million and the Twins $1.72 million.*
By comparison, Arizona has nickel and dimed its way to 85 victories to this point — and a playoff berth in the near future — on a $53.6 million payroll. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays have spent a mere $456,000 for its success this season.
The Twins have battled injuries all season long, you might say. They were unlucky from the start.
They also have failed to live within their means and are suffering the consequences.
The 2008 Yankees stopped spending as much. What happened? Those Bronx Boys Bombed by missing the playoffs.
The Twins this year, and in recent years — really, since Bill Smith took over as GM — have spent more and more money.
Some of it is understandable; they built a new stadium, which sells out on a nightly basis so there is more money coming in. Most of those expenses, however, are not kosher.
Trading away catcher Wilson Ramos, one of their lone blue chips, for the utterly average Matt Capps and his $7 million pay-grade for the 2011 season last summer was reprehensible. The transaction came during a time when Jon Rauch wasn’t the answer and Joe Nathan was recovering from surgery.
The move proved careless on the part of the front office.
Firstly, Capps and a reliever named Matt Guerrier the Twins already had on their roster at the time had numbers as identical as Minnesota’s nomenclature. So what Capps had more experience closing games than Guerrier. Based on who the Twins have pitched in those situations before (think Eddie Guardado), just about anyone with a couple pitches and decent control can accumulate saves.
Secondly, the move was ill-advisable for its timing. Just like with the Johan Santana trade, everyone at the time KNEW the Twins had Joe Mauer and were trying to lock him up for life. That didn’t mean management had to sell short. Bluff and act like Joe Mauer is walking. Say he is considering moving to right field. Be creative. But don’t play into the rest of the league’s hands.
There have been other moments more recently.
Target Field has spurred the single, low-income Twins to go out and imitate the large markets by buying a brand-new Range Rover — luxury look and incessant mechanical deficiencies — by paying to negotiate with, then signing Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Not only has history shown that very few Asians make the transition to the Big Leagues, didn’t anyone consider the language barrier problems of having a Japanese-speaking shortshop paired with a Spanish-speaking second baseman in Alexi Casilla? After all, the middle infield is arguably the second most important pairing of players on the diamond other than pitcher and catcher.
Then of course there’s Joe Mauer. I don’t discredit the team for re-signing its franchise catcher, though injuries have made his 2011 campaign pathetic. His 18 extra-base hits is comparable to a bottom-of-the-order hitter, not a franchise centerpiece. When $23 million per annum is shelled out for one player, you’re going to have to accept the talent around him can only be so good so long (assuming the Twins’ spending plateaus).
A number of times this season the Twins broadcasting crew would conjecture, “if the players ahead of Mauer could get on-base, then his singles would drive runners in.”
Well if Mauer wasn’t paid so much to hit just singles (this season, at least) and money wasn’t spent on absent-minded shortstops from overseas, maybe the Twins would have some viable No. 1 and 2 hitters. Another thing, Joe Mauer has hit one home run at Target Field in two seasons of playing there.
Teammates and he say the dimensions don’t cater to his opposite-field approach.
Then why didn’t the designers of the ballpark cater to the player management figured would be playing out his career there?
So dumb.
It all amounts to the Twins acting on moves and spending for the wrong reasons.
The battalion of inexperienced arms in their bullpen in front of Nathan and Capps could have used some help this season. The same can be said of their starting rotation, which lacks a true No. 1 or 2, for that matter.
For small market teams it’s about moving tradeable pieces with an exception or two for potential talent and investing in sound, fundamental baseball based on chemistry, defense and starting pitching. Hopefully the Twins don’t decide to refinance in 2012 and instead settle on more reasonable means. Otherwise this season’s 87 losses and counting might not be rock bottom.

*Figures are based upon 2011 revenue multiplied by the percentage of the season already complete divided by wins.

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