I’m not really looking to be controversial. Then again, from what I’ve seen on the field this year, anything that would bring interest to the “Lack of Bomba” squad might be a worthwhile pursuit. I definitely feel like the hours I spend watching this team have not been an extremely valuable use of my time, and perhaps many of you reading this would say the same. It’s upon that common ground, that I seek consensus.
When I was a kid, way back in the 1970s, I followed the Twins on the radio every game, devotedly, even though nobody, including me, actually ever considered them to be a World Series contender. I remember though, even as a kid, thinking that when I spent two and a half to three hours on them (those were the days), that if they won, it was time well spent, and if they lost, it was a total waste of a few hours that surely could’ve been better utilized.
Even in my young adulthood, I sometimes arranged and re-arranged my schedule so that I could watch the Twins on TV. It was that enjoyable for me, but I’m no longer a child or even young, and I’m finding my love of the game isn’t quite cutting it any more. I need competitive baseball, not just baseball.
I have Netflix for God’s sake. Life is getting shorter for me. There are other things to do. Watching the Twins needs to provide some entertainment value. They don’t need to win every game, but seriously, I need to watch the first inning thinking that they MIGHT win, rather than thinking “how will they manage to lose this one?”
They are becoming a bit insufferable. Like all of us, I hope they will get back on track, even though I really don’t expect it this year. Trains going downhill are hard to stop, and this train is going downhill. As I write this, there are no reasons (other than pure hope) to believe that things will turn around before the trade deadline…and if things don’t turn around by then, the Twins are the poster franchise for a sports organization that will take that opportunity to shed some payroll.
So the reality for this team, is that they don’t have until the end of the season, they have until July 31st. When one starts doing the math to see what it would take to even get to five games above .500 by then….it’s pretty daunting math.
So, I expect trades and the shedding of payroll, and this year, I won’t blame them. Changes need to be made.
I return to what I believe is the greatest dilemma facing Twins management moving forward: Byron Buxton. He’s become a great player, I will not argue that point. He also plays in about half of the games the team plays, every year, without fail. I’m not blaming him for his injuries, in the same way I wouldn’t blame a pitcher for needing Tommy John surgery. It just is what it just is.
So, do we extend him? Do we trade him? I see so many uniquely unfortunate possibilities. If we extend him (at a potential MVP rate) we shall likely spend the next several years revisiting the “Mauer eats up a fifth of the team’s payroll” years by replacing the name Mauer with Buxton. I hated those years. I didn’t blame Mauer for them, by the way, it was simply a way for Twins management to justify keeping the payroll relatively low, by having it both ways. They used Mauer as their example of how “competitive” they wanted to be and how willing they’d be to sign big money players, and then they used his contract to explain why they couldn’t sign any more big-time players. I feel like if we extend Buxton, we’re looking at déjà vu all over again.
However, if we don’t sign him, or if we trade him this year….isn’t he almost certainly going to get healthy and provide MVP caliber years somewhere else? It’s a dilemma to be sure.
If management was willing to spend on several big-time players at the same time, I’d be fine with signing Buxton long-term at huge numbers (it’s not my money) but there’s absolutely zero evidence suggesting that’s the case. (Before I suffer the slings and arrows of those saying we signed Donaldson AND Cruz to eight figures per annum…I say…well…doesn’t this one-year exception kind of prove the rule)?
Cruz was himself an exception. His age and position as DH made a one-year deal possible. Big time free agents don’t sign one-year deals, so when Cruz does inevitably retire (and this year is surely aging him…I know it’s aging me), will the Twins sign another eight figure per annum free agent long-term? Perhaps, but history makes me wary of such a possibility. We have Donaldson now to provide us all with “proof” of how committed we are to signing big-time players. Unfortunately, our history of signing ONE big-time player per year (maybe two) suggests that if Buxton becomes that guy…then we won’t be signing other big-time guys…including pitchers.
But back to Buxton. Is he worth the highest contract on the team? Yes…when he’s healthy, but not if he plays half the games in every given season. We cannot hitch our wagon to a horse that we truly love but whom we simply cannot expect to defy history and play in 80% or more of our games. If insanity is to do the same thing over again, and expect different results, then it would be insanity to expect Buxton to play in most of our games.
Buxton seems to be a truly unique player upon whom the team is entirely dependent. If he plays, the Twins have a good chance to win, if he doesn’t, they are dreadful. It’s truly an amazing paradox: he’s so good, they can’t win without him, and yet, the reality of his career-long inability to stay on the field, means they really can’t afford to commit to him either.
If we could sign him and simply accept that he’d be out of the line-up for frequent stretches, but that our other big-time players would carry us during those times, we’d have to sign other big-time players (pitchers would be nice in my view). But, there’s zero evidence we’d do that. The evidence instead suggests that the Twins would sign Buxton and then “Mauer” him against us. Been there, done that. Don’t want to do it again.
So, in sum, if the Twins would drastically increase payroll, sign some big-time pitching, improve the bullpen (radically) then I’m all for signing Buxton. But…if, after signing Buxton, the plan would be to use that as evidence of commitment to signing big-time players, and then keep the payroll the same or slightly less each year….then, I’m against it.
We all know that the Twins operate as if there were a salary cap in baseball. Given that reality, signing one or two superstars and then saving money throughout the rest of the roster doesn’t seem to work. If money is the constraint, then the Twins need to focus entirely on the farm system, and player development and forget trying to appease us by occasionally signing a Josh Donaldson or a one-year contract for Nelson Cruz…and simply go all in with younger, cheaper players.
The Oakland A’s win (not championships) at a high level by steering entirely clear of superstar players that eat up large percentages of the payroll. Obviously, on the other side of the coin, are teams like the Dodgers and Yankees whose payroll is so large that even the high salaried players don’t come close to eating up 20% of the payroll. The Vikings in the NFL seem doomed to mediocrity because Cousins eats up so much payroll, which would be fine if he were a top five QB, but it’s not so great if he’s “merely” a top half QB.
Similarly, if the Twins are going to devote 20% of their payroll to a player, even one with Buxton-like talent, then they are dooming themselves to mediocrity long-term, unless he truly puts them over the top. Unfortunately, I think, the future will likely resemble the past and the Twins payroll is going to be in the middle or slightly below the middle of MLB teams, meaning that the Twins probably shouldn’t sign any given player at more than 10% of the payroll.
My point, and I think I have one, is simply this: We need a re-boot after this season. One way or the other: Increase that payroll, sign some big-time pitching, extend Buxton….let’s go. Or, if more realistically, that payroll isn’t increasing by much, then we can’t tie up too much of it on one or two players, particularly a player with an injury history like Buxton’s.
We now are living on hope. Hope that Larnoch, Garlick, Kiriloff, et al., provide long-term greatness (or at least goodness). I’m hopeful too, but it wasn’t very long ago, that we thought Polanco, Kepler, Sano et al., assured us of that long-term brilliance. It would appear that we were wrong. This time we may be right…or we may be crazy. One way or the other, I think a change of philosophy may be in order.