For years we've watched the Twins be a small market team with a low payroll. That changed when Target Field opened and the cumulative salaries pushed $113 million and $100 million in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Still, we watched fan favorites in Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel leave for greener pastures years after seeing Johan Santana and Torii Hunter depart, which angered fans as we were promised that the new ballpark would allow the team to keep its own players.
Not only have fans been annoyed with stars leaving Minnesota and finding/keeping success years later, but the Twins have still mostly refused to spend significant dollars on free agents. That did change a bit last season with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, but still their respective contracts (4 years, $49 million and 3 years, $24 million) ended up usurping Josh Willingham's 3-year, $21 million for largest free agent contract in Twins history. By my count, 11 players ended up receiving more money than Nolasco last year, showing that the contract itself was not all that large by MLB standards.
Jesse just wrote yesterday about the possibility that the payroll will not increase significantly in 2015 and it may even drop a bit. As you might expect, some people are going to be upset with that announcement. After all, we were told that Target Field would allow the Twins to compete with the big spenders in free agency and also help retain their own stars.
Out of frustration, many will demand that the Twins sign one of the big three starting pitchers this offseason, whether that's Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, or James Shields. However, these same fans almost always ignore one elephant in the room, an ironic fact that seems rather interesting once I point it out.
Think of two players that received the most vitriol from fans this past season. The first one is pretty easy to name, that's Joe Mauer. The second one is only minutely more difficult to identify, I don't think I'd receive much argument that it was Ricky Nolasco. Next, which two players have the largest contracts on the Twins roster right now? Joe Mauer and Ricky Nolasco.
So, just to make sure I've got this straight, Twins rubes demand that the team spends gobs of money to attract top tier free agents while ignoring that their most hated Twins are the two that received the most gobs of money on the current team. You can't have it both ways, rubes.
Now, this is not to say that a top free agent would automatically cease to produce after arriving in Minnesota. However, we can't also assume that a Max Scherzer is guaranteed to keep up the same level of production. Just imagine if Scherzer did sign here and stopped pitching like an ace. Then us fans complain once again that the Twins need to spend on a top free agent while lamenting the hypothetical Scherzer contract, just like we are currently with Mauer and Nolasco.
Just to illustrate my point, remember that I said that 11 players received more money than Ricky Nolasco last offseason. Here's the list of players with their contracts and just a quick analysis of their respective contracts, using an awful/poor/decent/good/excellent scale.
Carlos Beltran, Yankees (3 years, $45 million): Awful
Robinson Cano, Mariners (10 years, $240 million): Good now, awful at the end
Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers (7 years, $130 million): Poor
Jose Abreu, White Sox (6 years, $68 million): Excellent
Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees (7 years, $153 million): Decent
Curtis Granderson, Mets (4 years, $60 million): Poor
Ubaldo Jimenez, Orioles (4 years, $50 million): Awful
Brian McCann, Yankees (5 years, $85 million): Poor/Decent
Hunter Pence, Giants (5 years, $90 million): Good
Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals (4 years, $53 million): Good
Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees (7 years, $155 million): Good
Looking at this list, roughly half of the players are not living up to expectations. Enticing a pricey free agent doesn't always guarantee success, just as we've seen with Nolasco this past season. So, the next time one of your buddies or coworkers argues that the Twins won't win until they sign that ace pitcher, follow up by asking for their opinion of fellow high-priced players Joe Mauer and/or Ricky Nolasco. What happens next won't likely shock you.