For the longest time, the Twins have put together rosters while being a small market team. This has often meant minute acquisitions, many that didn't pan out. Just in the past half-decade though, we've seen the Twins start to open their wallets for free agents, signing Josh Willingham, Ricky Nolasco, and then Ervin Santana to the largest free agent contracts in team history.
Granted, this completely ignores the extensions they had handed out to Torii Hunter, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, and Joe Mauer over the past decade that were as large or even larger than those free agent contracts. Because of the refusal to sign players (or supposed disinterest from available players in coming to Minnesota) the team was often accused of being cheap.
We've seen other teams with similar mindsets year after year. The Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, Kansas City Royals, and more small market teams go year to year without dishing out a ton of cash. Granted, the A's did sign Billy Butler to a 3-year, $30 million and the Royals went out to get Alex Rios, but they're still pretty small contracts compared to the biggest ones thrown around every offseason.
Still, I was a bit surprised when the final big free agent signed recently in James Shields and this tweet popped up in my timeline.
Shields would shatter Padres' record for free-agent commitment (Benoit, 2 yrs, $15.5M). Greg Maddux did get 1 yr, $10M with a player option.
— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) February 8, 2015
In case you hadn't heard, Shields signed a 4-year, $75 million contract with a club option for a 5th year at $16 million, so yeah, they blew that Joaquin Benoit deal out of the water here. It sounds pretty familiar with the Twins, where they went from basically nothing to Willingham's 3/21 to Nolasco's 4/49 to Santana's 4/55.
While San Diego is a bit of a small market, I was still shocked to see that they've never really spent on free agents. After all, living/playing in southern California in summer in one of the most beautiful ballparks in the majors sounds like a win all around, and yet they confined themselves to low payrolls and mediocre clubs.
I understand that some fans see the Padres' wheeling and dealing this winter and wonder why the Twins haven't done the same, and it's because the circumstances are a little different. The Twins have a rebuilding plan in place and look primed to strike next season. Meanwhile, the Padres' fan base had become apathetic towards the team as they regularly were in the middle to bottom-half of the NL West. Their offseason acquisitions of Shields, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Will Middlebrooks, Matt Kemp, and Derek Norris (among others) were made not only to re-energize the Padres faithful, but also as an exclamation mark to signal the reign of new GM A.J. Preller.
So... can we still argue that free agents simply don't want to come to Minnesota? While I don't think that argument can be entirely proven false, I still think that narrative can be weakened when San Diego also had struggled with bringing in high-profile free agents, whether or not by choice. Certainly the Padres have Petco Park for half of the equation as offense is completely sucked dry there, but I'd think some pitchers would also appreciate calling a pitcher's park home for half of their starts every year.
Whatever it is, I was just curious to see that the Twins had actually signed a larger free agent contract than an atypical small market team. Now if only they'll make that ace splash next offseason.