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Ah, The Time-Honored Payroll Argument Again

We're all talking about it again. Here's my spin on a Twins fan's favorite topic.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

If you've been on Twitter and follow any number of Twins writers/bloggers/fans over the past couple days, you've probably seen the classic Twins payroll argument get drudged up once again. The Twins are sitting pat, the Tigers are off signing Justin Upton, the Twins are too cheap to even sign lefthanded reliever Antonio Bastardo, on and on and on.

All this cynicism has reappeared thanks to an article by Jack Moore that states that the Twins and Major League Baseball have conned all of us into thinking the Twin Cities is a small market. However, the truth is that Minneapolis and St. Paul is roughly the same size as Detroit yet Moore's Twitter followers overwhelmingly polled that Detroit is not a small market city. Plus, as I just mentioned seconds ago, those Detroit Tigers went off and lured in Justin Upton to roam its outfield.

Let's go through years of payroll whining in a couple sentences. The Twins don't spend as much as large-market teams, yet they easily could if they wanted. They spend too much money on losers like Ricky Nolasco, and oh, don't get us started on that hometown "favorite" Joe Mauer who's too busy sucking the organization's wallet dry to let them even consider a worthwhile free agent. Plus those greedy Pohlads only care about profits rather than winning baseball games.

If I seemed snarky in that last paragraph, well, congratulations on your excellence in identifying tone in text. Although I do feel the Twins could spend more money and bring in better players through free agency, about two years after Target Field opened I resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't going to happen. At least, not to the extent we would prefer. Since I made that discovery, I've just quit arguing that the Twins should be spending more because what's the point?

On multiple occasions, I have heard that Terry Ryan has the ability to ask the Pohlads for more money to spend but has declined. One of those times, there was the mere caveat that he had to justify how it would help the team win (which really should be done on any transaction). After considering that information, I'm inclined to believe that it's not just the ownership but the front office as well that has had a hand in keeping the payroll right around the $100 million mark over the past five-to-six years.

Another reason I haven't been so quick to judge the Twins' spending is because there's a similar team in the majors that has had a completely opposite result. The Oakland Athletics get tossed around all the time thanks to Moneyball and how they were able to succeed with a small payroll, but I'm not going to spend any more time thinking about Billy Beane. Rather, I'm looking at the St. Louis Cardinals.

I will admit at first that the Cardinals have routinely outspent the Twins on payroll every single year since Target Field opened with the exception of 2011. However, it should be pointed out that the Cards and Twins were already going in opposite directions. The Twins, spiraling out of control with their consecutive 90-loss streak, had little reason to bail water from its Titanic. On the other hand, the Cardinals were fighting for playoff spots every single year.

Year Twins Payroll Cardinals Payroll Twins Record Cardinals Record
2015 $108,262,500 $122,066,500 83-79 100-62
2014 $85,465,000 $111,250,000 70-92 90-72
2013 $82,010,000 $116,790,787 66-96 97-65
2012 $100,435,000 $111,858,500 66-96 88-74
2011 $113,237,000 $109.048,000 63-99 90-72
2010 $97,659,167 $94,220,500 94-68 86-76

Besides, if payroll simply correlated with wins, then all you payroll conspiracy theorists should have an excuse at the ready for why the 2011 Twins were so terrible despite having a franchise-record $111 million on the Opening Day books.

Simply put, the Cardinals have been so good because of more than just adding money to the team. The Cardinals have sustained their success for so long thanks to an incredible success in the draft and with international signings. Let's take a gander at their roster from this past season.

Player Acquired
Carlos Martinez International signing
Matt Carpenter Drafted 13th round
Jaime Garcia Drafted 22nd round
Trevor Rosenthal Drafted 21st round
Kevin Siegrist Drafted 41st (!) round
Matt Adams Drafted 23rd round

Perhaps just as impressive has been their luck in the lower rounds.

Player Acquired
Kolten Wong Drafted 1st round
Yadier Molina Drafted 4th round
Stephen Piscotty Drafted 1st round
Jon Jay Drafted 2nd round
Lance Lynn Drafted 1st round
Michael Wacha Drafted 1st round

That right there is a combined 12 key players for the Cardinals over the past several years and every single one was originally drafted or signed by the Cardinal organization. It's true, this is a model that would be extremely difficult to replicate (getting a Kevin Siegrist would have been like A.J. Achter turning into Glen Perkins) but that's how the Cardinals have been able to succeed despite being in the same payroll bracket as the Twins. They did well in the draft, then started supplementing their core with free agent signings and pivotal trades.

Things are certainly looking up for the Twins, though I still feel they're a year away from the playoffs. In spite of last season, a big key was that the Twins were very good with runners on base and that's not a repeatable skill. Additionally, the pitching staff is still questionable, mainly because of the front office's desire to pack it full of middling starters which has now forced out Trevor May, Tyler Duffey, and for the time being Jose Berrios. However, a full year of experience for those that young group, along with Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton would lay the foundation for a sustainable era of dominance in the near future. It's at that point in which I feel the Twins could finally start looking for win-now trades and signings, rather than right now when the team is still arguably a questionable playoff contender.

In summary, yes, I feel the Twins could spend more on their payroll. No, it's not going to happen. At least, not immediately. It's frustrating that we have to be patient, but I still believe boosting the payroll will be more worthwhile once the organization is ready to be a playoff regular rather than just a playoff hopeful.