This is probably more of a philosophical topic. I don't want it just to be about the Twins, although I'll inevitably use examples from this year's team and this year's circumstances, because it could be a conversation about a larger issue. Teams always balance the needs of this year with the needs of the future, negotiating the shallow waters between personnel, finances, prospects, and the market. When to not make a move can be just as integral to the success of a franchise as when to make one.
A good place to start this conversation is with free agents. We're not talking about role players or aging veterans here, we're talking about free agents to use of a significant amount of resources. The easiest example for us to use might be Edwin Jackson.
Jackson went into the winter as one of the better starting pitchers available on the free agent market. Where other big ticket hurlers like Mark Buehrle (four years, $58 million) and C.J. Wilson(five years, $77.5 million) signed massive contracts, Jackson's potential suitors never ponied up the years or the dollars (or both) that he was hoping for. No doubt some of that may have had to do with Scott Boras, but the market was in play as well as the impression that the teams with money may have had of Jackson.
The Twins allegedly had interest, but let's get this out of the way: Jackson was never really in the cards. Minnesota viewed Michael Cuddyer as Project A, and Josh Willingham was the backup option. They valued the bat over the arm, in this case probably because the arm would be overpaid. His traditional numbers stood out more than his peripherals, which was a red flag. When the Twins were committed to paying that kind of money for one of those two players, there wasn't room in the budget for Jackson.
He did end up signing a one-year contract worth $10,000,000 with the Washington Nationals. It makes sense for them because he bolsters an already strong rotation; he makes a good team better. A one-year deal with the Twins would have made zero sense, because he wouldn't have been enough to change the fortunes of the club. Spending $10,000,000 to put an additional two or three wins on the board in a season where .500 was going to be optimistic isn't a good use of resources.
We could argue about how the Twins could have made Jackson a multi-year offer worth less per year, because having a good pitcher next year and the year after will help this team more than a good pitcher in 2012, but then we start playing the "what if" game. We don't know if he would have accepted such an offer. We don't know what it would have taken. All we do know is that he accepted a one-year offer worth $10,000,000. That's what we have to work with.
We could also talk about the moves the Twins made instead, but that's another topic for another day because the point is this: there are certain times where spending big money on a free agent doesn't make sense...even if, hypothetically, the money is there.
This entire concept came to mind a few weeks ago, before the season even started - the philosophy behind what you can and can't do with a team that just is not structured to compete in the here and now.
The ideal counter-example is Dan Haren. On July 25, 2010, the Diamondbacks shipped him to the Angels for Joe Saunders and scrap. At the time of the trade, the Angels were 52-49 but had been outscored on the season. They weren't going to get a Wild Card bid. And while the deficit to the Rangerswas only seven games, it may as well have been 27. That addition stabilized the Halo rotation for that summer, but more importantly it set them up with a very, very good piece for their future.
In the same way, if the Twins want to improve for today they also need to be sure it improves them in the years to come. If Jackson had signed for three years and $27, we could talk about how he would have been a good pitcher to build a rotation around for 2013 and 2014, but that isn't our reality.
How do you see this? What are some other examples of where improving for today doesn't make sense? Or am I completely off the wagon on this?