It seems the Twins are preparing for a light spending year, as Phil Miller of the Star Tribune writes, in spite of an apparent opportunity to challenge in the game’s weakest overall division. That seems to have led to some less-than-compelling efforts at selling the approach to fans.
“The best moves are made not when you’re trying to open the window to contend, but when the window is wide open,” GM Thad Levine says. “We’re very eagerly waiting for this window to be opened, and when it is, we plan on striking.”
Meanwhile, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey cited a desire to “invest appropriately for the right years” and to “make sure we are getting the best years” when it comes to paying for talent.
To be frank, these statements are a bit befuddling. The logic is circular, to the extent it’s discernible at all. How is it, exactly, that one knows when the window has been opened, to borrow Levine’s passively-framed metaphor? Not just past performance, of course; after all, Falvey decries free agency, which “historically, is sometimes more focused on the past.” Instead, he says, “I want to pay for what’s coming in the future.” So, do the Twins foresee success?“You need to invest in the group that you have,” he says, “and I feel really good about ours.” Despite that assessment, here we are, evidently waiting for that window to be opened.
Somewhat ironically, there’s a risk here for the Twins that, by the time the window is opened (whatever it is that entails), it’ll slam back shut rather quickly. For one thing, as Falvey himself explained, low-budget teams oversee “a lot of variation … in terms of performance” since they are reliant upon less-proven talent year after year. So, perhaps, a one-year performance boost can’t even necessarily be relied upon (as the Twins well know from recent experience) in deciding when to push the pedal down. How, then, do you know when to get aggressive?
For another, the Twins’ would-be “core” group isn’t all that fresh-faced. Virtually all of the club’s key players are already in arbitration or will qualify for it next fall. Four of the team’s five starters will be free agents at season’s end. Even if there are some promising developments from still-controllable players, it could become awfully expensive to build around them before they themselves reach top-end arb salaries and then free agency.
The Minnesota front office duo found itself on more comfortable ground when emphasizing the more affirmative aspects of the plan. It seems there’s quite a premium being place on flexibility. That aspect of the explanation makes greater intuitive sense. Levine suggests that the club’s “unusual abundance of variance and volatility” — a characterization with which I’d generally agree — leaves some real upside on the table. If things break right, he says, the club has the assets needed “to make adjustments to this team pretty quickly.”
The plan, then, seems to be for the organization to see whether Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler, and others will force the issue — with pending free agent bounceback candidates like Jonathan Schoop, Michael Pineda, Jake Odorizzi, Martin Perez, Blake Parker, and Addison Reed also representing major wild cards. Is things shake out, and the Indians stumble, then a deadline buy is always possible. If not, the Twins can trade the short-term pieces that are performing and look ahead to a future in which the organization has literally no salaries on the books.
That all makes sense enough, but it’s still surely rather frustrating for some fans. As Miller notes, the club is presently on track to carry a payroll that would stay below $100MM. That would seem to leave a fair bit of coin on the table when compared to recent spending levels — and leave the team short of maximizing its immediate opportunity (even account for possible mid-season swaps). Levine says the Twins want to strike when the moment is right; Falvey says they need to invest in the future. There’s an argument to be made that paying or trading for some relatively youthful, quality contributors now would be the perfect way to bet on the team’s talent without jeopardizing the future.