In 2011, the Minnesota Twins had a larger payroll than the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That's completely true, and there isn't a sliver of misdirection or hyperbole in that sentence. The '11 Twins had the ninth-largest payroll in baseball ($113 million), besting the Dodgers ($104 million), Cardinals ($105 million), and Tigers ($106 million). So they've spent to win before. If you're looking for a 14-word sentence to explain how much baseball can change in 700 days, that'll do quite well.
They're spending again, committing to Ricky Nolasco and to Phil Hughes. They're also interested in bringing A.J. Pierzynski back, which seems like a prophecy at the back of a human-skin-covered book someone found in a cave somewhere, but I'm not one to judge.
This brings up two questions, which is about two more than I thought I'd have about the Twins this offseason. They've been tremendously entertaining in an offseason I thought they would mostly sit out. Those two questions:
1. Are the Twins abandoning Operation Strikeouts Are Fascist?
In which a stray quote from Bull Durham represents everything the Twins have been about for the last few years. Take a look at this:
That's the Twins' rotation last year, and it's amazing. It's extremely hard to build a rotation like that in 2013. It's so hard to do, a team would need to make an active attempt to achieve it. And that's how we got the meme of the Twins being actively anti-strikeout. They signed Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey within two weeks of each other last offseason. And in this offseason, they're looking at Mike Pelfrey again. So, no, they're not abandoning Operation Strikeouts Are Fascist.
But maybe that was a bad name for the operation. Let's instead try Operation You Get What You Pay For. The Twins weren't interested in spending $52 million on Edwin Jackson, or $18 million on Brandon McCarthy, for that matter. What's left on the rack are pitchers with low strikeout rates. Name brands, mind you. But names who were unappealing to the new-age front offices. The Twins pounced.
There's another thing left on the rack: pitchers with substantial and sustained injury histories. And while we were all guffawing about the Twins signing Pelfrey and Correia, they also signed Rich Harden, who was as saber-friendly as any of the low-priced options on the market. This indicated less of a desire to play Moneyball with BABIP and strikeout rates, and more of a desire to find cheap pitching wherever it existed.
It didn't work. The alternative became to spend for pitchers who could actually miss bats, both at the league average (Hughes) and above it (Nolasco). They committed almost as much to those two as they did to Justin Morneau's big extension, you know, and that deal was easy to finger as one of the reasons the Twins were playing around with Pelfreys to begin with. The Twins decided to spend.
So we're not saying goodbye to Operation Strikeouts Are Fascist. We're looking at a team that's realizing it's hard to buy pitching on the open market for cheap, but one that's still in need of pitching on the open market.
2. Is this really a good time for the Twins to go all-in on 2014?
As in, are the Twins that much better off with Nolasco and Hughes? Can they come back from a 66-96 record with the help of some starting pitchers who have never been consistently good at preventing runs?
Before you answer, consider that by spending money in the free-agent market, the Twins are willing to throw away future dollars for present production. There's no way the Twins really think they're getting full value from a $12 million Nolasco in 2017. They're accepting that as a cost of getting Nolasco in 2014, when he's likeliest to produce.
It's hard to look at the 2013 Twins and think they were a Nolasco and Hughes away from turning it all around. But, you know, I'll give it a go. Let's put on some optimism shades and see if there's a way this spending spree can work out.
Good gravy, no.
In an offseason with one- to two-year options like Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, Bartolo Colon, Ryan Vogelsong, Josh Johnson, Dan Haren, Shaun Marcum, Scott Baker, Tim Hudson, Scott Kazmir, Jason Hammel, Gavin Floyd, Paul Maholm, and Scott Feldman, the Twins pounced on three- and four-year options, taking similar risks as they would have with those other players up there, but they committed chunks of future payroll to do it.
It honestly would have made more sense for the Angels or Phillies to get Nolasco and Hughes for those prices. I can squint and see a contender much, much easier with those teams than I could with the current Twins. The Twins could have spent the same money on an entire rotation of buy-low options. Instead, they got a buy-low and a buy-high for long-term deals, and the buy-high pitcher wasn't even trusted that much by his last team.
The Twins decided they were going to take a bold risk or two in the offseason. They took bolder risks than they needed to. I appreciate the idea, if not the execution. Because the execution was kind of goofy for a 96-loss team.