For years, the Twins were an organization that succeeded in spite of their financial resources. They turned to player development to give them a chance to compete with larger payroll teams, and got so good at it that they ended up winning the division in five of the last eight years. Even as their best players got too expensive to retain, the Twins had a strong enough pipeline of talent to keep themselves competitive.
Now, with a new stadium ready to pump money into the organization, we get to see what the Twins can do with a real payroll. They added nearly $30 million in salary for 2010, bumping their expenditures on the current team from $65 million to $95 million, and this doesn’t even include the $184 million extension that they handed to Joe Mauer. The Twins are now a player development machine with money, and that’s a scary proposition for the rest of the AL Central.
The Twins are already the class of this division, even just looking at 2010. They’ve developed enough quality to surround Mauer with homegrown talent, then made some nifty off-season pickups, bringing in Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy, and Jim Thome. While their rotation may lack a big name ace, it’s strong at all five spots. Joe Nathan’s injury is a blow, but relievers are one of the easiest things in baseball to find, and the Twins have some good arms in the bullpen already. In my estimation, the Twins are bigger favorites to win their division this year than any other team in baseball.
There’s no reason to expect a collapse any time soon, either. Essentially the entire core is under 30 years old, and with Mauer locked up for essentially the rest of his career, the team won’t be suffering any major talent losses going forward. They aren’t one of baseball’s farm teams anymore – the Twins can finally keep the players they want to retain, and given the strength of their player development system, they will have a significant amount of young talent to keep around.
The Twins already proved that they can win on a shoestring budget. Based on early returns, they’re not going to frivolously throw away the new found access to cash, and so now Minnesota is a real force to be reckoned with. The rest of the AL Central is playing catch-up, and the Twins have a significant head start.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.