Throughout the first year of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine at the helm of the Twins front office, we were quick to identify any hints to the strategy they would use to build a contender in Minnesota. Immediately after being hired, they snatched up Jason Castro and his pitch-framing abilities, but the improvements to the pitching staff were small and rather similar to what we would have seen from former general manager Terry Ryan. Then, they appeared to undergo an evaluation period where few players were removed from the roster until the first month of the 2017 season was completed. There were the two Jaime Garcia trades, plus the odd decisions to designate various relief prospects for assignment even though they were touted as being part of the future.
This offseason has given far more insight, namely that they are both very patient men that are willing to wait for the right deal. Signing Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed, Zach Duke, and Lance Lynn while acquiring Jake Odorizzi for very little vastly improved the pitching staff, while Logan Morrison will make the lineup even more formidable. All of these moves upgraded the roster and won’t have a disastrous effect on the future of the organization if they turn sour. While Falvey and Levine were slow out of the gates, they’ve started to pick up steam and it sure appears that they have been important additions for the team.
While reading FanGraphs over the weekend, there was an interesting line that stood out to me in an article summarizing the Twins’ signings after bringing in Lynn. The bolded part from author Craig Edwards’ writing is my emphasis.
The Twins’ bargain-shopping was not limited to free agency: the team also took on Jake Odorizzi and his $6.3 million salary in exchange for a prospect of little significance. Odorizzi went to the Twins not because of their willingness to provide Tampa Bay with considerable talent but because they were willing to pay his salary.
Let’s revisit the Garcia trades as well. When the Twins acquired Garcia from Atlanta, they were willing to take on all of his remaining salary (about $4.5 million). In doing so, they received Garcia, catcher Anthony Recker, and $100,000 (to cover Recker’s salary) while they only gave up rookie-ball pitcher Huascar Ynoa. Roughly a week later, the Twins then flipped Garcia to the Yankees, and once again the Twins offered to pay all of his salary. This offer netted them Triple-A pitcher Dietrich Enns and Double-A pitcher Zack Littell, two minor leaguers that were both better and closer to the major leagues than Ynoa, the original root from this trade tree.
Comparing that to the Odorizzi trade where the Twins took on his entire salary and only had to part with shortstop prospect Jermaine Palacios, considered by some to be a light return for the pitcher, it looks like Falvey and Levine have revealed another plan of attack. When possible, cover the acquired veteran player(s) salary in a trade to lessen the talent cost that leaves the organization, and cover it when shipping them out to maximize the talent that’s brought in. If the Braves had paid more of Garcia’s salary or the Rays with Odorizzi’s contract, the Twins would have been required to give up players that were considered better than Ynoa and Palacios. Meanwhile, the Yankees taking on Garcia’s salary would have led to the Twins receiving a lesser player(s) than what they got in Enns and Littell.
It’s interesting to me that the Twins have always been regarded as an organization that refused to shell out the big bucks for players, but Falvey and Levine have demonstrated in three separate trades that they’re willing to use cash in negotiations to make the best of each swap. It seems like a strategy that a big market team would employ, but here the Twins are taking advantage of the thriftiness of other teams to their benefit. I wonder if the front office will continue with the same strategy going forward, as I’m sure they can afford to spend an extra $5 million or so per season if it means holding on to their own talent and/or bringing in more talent to aid the club in the future. It’s a plan that I’ve never actually considered, but it’s one of the more brilliant yet subtle plans employed by a team.