It's been a rough three years for Twins fans. Ever since going to the playoffs in the inaugural season of Target Field, three consecutive years of 90+ losses have calloused many, especially when the team refused to spend and were content with trotting out low-strikeout, high-contact replacement level pitchers.
Just a few months ago, GM Terry Ryan was baffling us when he said that $21 million was "huge" and that he didn't believe a team could build itself up into a contender by using the free agent market. Admittedly that second quote was probably taken out of context a bit, but it sure sounded like Ryan was attempting to explain that the team would not use free agency to dramatically improve the team, but rather to add role players to fill in the gaps once a foundation was in place.
However, that foundation hasn't been set yet, simply because those players have not been ready. Alex Meyer, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and Eddie Rosario look poised to become the future stars of the Minnesota Twins, but we've had to wait multiple years for them to develop and mature to the point where they could be successful in the major leagues (or in Meyer's case, simply for him to join the organization in the first place). They do look like they'll be ready to make their debuts this season, but they likely won't be enough to prevent yet another sub-.500 finish for the Twins next season.
While waiting for these players to help the club, the Twins depended on stopgap players and also false positives from their homegrown guys. Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey were brought in to shore up the rotation (only Correia succeeded), and they also looked to Scott Diamond and Trevor Plouffe to build on their success from prior seasons (they did not). This contributed to the disaster we saw last season.
But now, the Twins look like they're finally ready to build a contender. Even though all the pieces are not in place, they've finally decided to spend in free agency. In just a couple weeks, Terry Ryan has seemingly accepted that the cost of signing real talent is significantly more than the Twins have spent ever in their history, as evidenced by the Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes contracts costing more in dollars than the Josh Willingham contract. In addition, this also has signaled the start of the Twins building a foundation from outside the organization, rather than from the farm.
The 2014 Twins may not be as competitive as we hope, but the long term deals given to Nolasco and Hughes ensure - save for future trades - that they will be part of the next playoff contender in 2015. Assuming that most of the variables in play work out, such as Sano putting together a good debut, Kyle Gibson displaying what made him a top prospect, and more, the Twins would now be set up to add those very role players Terry Ryan hinted at, rather than attempting to fill huge holes with higher-priced free agents like they just did recently.
Perhaps it wouldn't have made a difference if the Twins had opened up their wallets next offseason rather than this year. But, I feel that the signings of Nolasco and Hughes are a symbol that this organization is on the cusp of being competitive again. Besides, what's to say that they wouldn't spend again on a solid free agent prior to the 2015 season, rather than accumulating a role player or two?
Assuming that the Twins still will make at least one impact move before spring training starts, I think this team would have a decent chance of surprising us with their competitiveness, just like in the early days of Hunter, Mientkiewicz, and Koskie. But even if it doesn't happen this year, their spending on Nolasco and Hughes shows us that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.