Something tells me this year’s #6org will be slightly less controversial.
Current Talent – 84.09 (7th)
Future Talent – 85.00 (T-5th)
Baseball Operations – 84.09 (9th)
Financial Resources – 81.67 (9th)
Overall Rating – 83.50
The days of the Twins as a small market team are decidedly finished. Target Field has been a tremendous boon to the Twins finances, leading late mega-gazillionaire owner Carl Pohlad and current owner Jim Pohlad to finally allow Bill Smith, Terry Ryan and company to open up the checkbook a bit. And by “a bit,” I mean the Twins are now looking like a perennial $90 million payroll team, if not $100 million, a mark the team will hit for the first time this season. Although some of the financial gains from the stadium may cool off as the “new stadium smell” dies down, Target Field practically prints money compared to the Metrodome. That should allow the team the financial freedom to hold on to such homegrown mainstays as Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, whereas in the past the Twins would opt to trade such a player (see Santana, Johan, although he was a Rule V draft pick).
It is the ability to create such homegrown talents as the Mauers, and Morneaus that gives the Twins a leg up on other organizations. The 2011 Twins will feature five position players and three starting pitchers who they drafted themselves. Francisco Liriano counts as a victory for the player development staff as well, with a large majority of his development time spent in Minnesota’s system. This ability allowed the Twins to win with smaller budgets in the past decade and will continue to serve them as payroll expands.
The player development machine of the Twins can be accurately characterized as elite, but the Twins baseball operations department only ranks ninth in the league, barely in the top third. This is because Twins management has tended to throw away a good deal of their competitive advantage in player development when making deals at the Major League level. The Twins under Bill Smith have shown a propensity to latch onto a player and ignore opportunity costs. If a player is a “Twins guy,” he’s going to remain a Twin and likely for too much; if he doesn’t play Twins Baseball, you can bet he’s out the door soon.
This offseason, we discovered that J.J. Hardy was definitively not a Twins guy. Despite posting 2.4 WAR in under 400 plate appearances, the Twins decided that Hardy’s contributions – fantastic defense and solid power for the shortstop position – weren’t enough because they didn’t come with the speed they expect from up-the-middle players. With an impending arbitration award of $5-7 million impending (it turned out to be $5.85 million), Hardy projected to be a huge bargain in 2011. Instead, the Twins dumped that salary to the Orioles, receiving only two minor league relievers and will go with their guy Alexi Casilla at SS. Casilla is projected to be nearly a full win worse than Hardy with the bat this season by ZiPS and likely isn’t the same caliber defender either. Because of the organization’s fixation on “Twins baseball,” the team cost itself valuable wins in what should be a hotly contested division this season.
That’s not to say that Smith is a complete zero when it comes to operating at the Major League level. I would argue that the Twins lost on the handling of Michael Cuddyer’s option ($10.5 million to a 1.0 WAR type player), the Matt Garza–Delmon Young trade, the Wilson Ramos–Matt Capps trade, and the recent Scott Diamond–Billy Bullock deal. However, Smith has a decent amount of feathers in his cap as well: the Carl Pavano acquisition, the Jim Thome signing, the Orlando Hudson signing, the Jon Rauch acquisition, and the initial trade to acquire J.J. Hardy (for Carlos Gomez) included. Smith hasn’t been active in the long-term free agent market, so he receives an “incomplete” in that regard. Overall, he can cost his team wins at the MLB level, but he can also make some moves to improve a team. Unfortunately, the propensity to stick so hard to certain organizational traits or characteristics gives me (and others) worry and keeps the Twins out of the elite class of baseball ops groups.
This year, it appears that the Twins have the talent to compete in the AL Central, as usual. Mauer, Morneau, Liriano, and Nathan are a very good core, but there are questions as well. Specifically, questions in the middle infield (Can Alexi Casilla play short? How good is Tsuyoshi Nishioka?) and the rotation (Really, Nick Blackburn is in the rotation?) abound. Looking towards the future, much of the impact talent should remain, with the only major question mark being Francisco Liriano’s status given the trade rumors this winter. What talent does leave should be replenished by a healthy farm system. The Twins are in good shape. The only question is if Smith, Ryan and crew can make the right moves maintain that position. Most likely, though, as long as their player development system remains a well-oiled machine, Minnesota should continue to be a perennial playoff contender in the AL Central.
Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.