This offseason we’re going to see a sharp dividing line between those owners who want to spend and want to win and those owners who want to milk the franchise for all they can. I should remind you that “profit maximization” dictates spending on free agents only when the value of a marginal win is extraordinarily high, usually when that player pushes you over the playoff threshold (though maybe also when you’re going to be negotiating a new local TV contract). The Twins recent/current spending spree does not appear to push them past or even near that playoff threshold, so perhaps we can safely assume that ownership up there isn’t motivated by profit maximization…
At any rate, it’s highly relevant for Tigers fans in that the AL Central is becoming less and less of a pushover every day – with apparently a fair amount of credit due to the new CBA and the increasing central fund revenues. The Twins, at any rate, weren’t one of the “small market” laggards in the division. Minneapolis is a medium-sized market, with a fair amount of cash sloshing around (relative to Detroit, for example). Their park is fairly new. The Cleveland Indians are stuck in a situation where winning a lot of games won’t really lead to a lot of revenue, hence the tight budget, but that isn’t and hasn’t been the case for Minnesota – they’ve just been going through a “typical” rebuilding phase after the team flat-out fell apart in 2011.
The Twins have recently signed mid-tier free agent starters Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to augment their rotation for the next few years and while these guys aren’t aces they should be big upgrades over what Minnesota was getting from the bottom of their rotation last year. The Minnesota rotation, as a unit, put up a league worst 5.26 ERA last year. The struck out only 4.9 batters per 9 innings, the next worst rotation still struck out more than 6 per 9. They also put up the highest BABIP in the majors and threw the fewest innings in the majors. I think it’s fair to guess that these two displace negative 1 WAR from last year’s roster. Steamer projects 2.6 wins from Nolasco and only 1.1 from Hughes – since he’s projected to make only 17 starts – despite a slightly lower ERA projection for Hughes (go figure). I think Hughes will do pretty well for Minnesota – and would have like to see Detroit pursue him if the team had had any need whatsoever for a starting pitcher. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher that really did not belong in New York, in all non-long ball aspects of his game he looks like a pretty solid starter. If we go with Steamer rates but a full season from Hughes he’s good for 2.2 and the two guys make the Twins almost 6 wins better than they were last year.
6 extra wins only makes the Twins a 72 win team and while I don’t think they’re done with the free agent signings I don’t think they have any real blockbuster offers out there. These are “low value” marginal wins rather than “high value” marginal wins, but they’re spending anyway. The end result is still that we’re going to see a Twins team that comes closer to .500 next year and makes it harder for teams in the AL Central to get a Wild Card spot. Twins fans will suffer a little less, but 75 wins doesn’t really thrill fans (or fan-owners) that much more than 66. These deals are more about putting a foundation in place for 2015 and 2016 than about 2014 (unless things break Minnesota’s way to an amazing degree) – both deals extend at least through 2016 and both starters are relatively young (by the standards of free agency). The Twins minor league system is one of the best in the bigs right now and it may not take all that long for that to start paying dividends. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano may arrive next year (currently #1 and #3 on MLB.com’s top-100 list) as could Alex Meyer (#31 and Eddie Rosario (#62). Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia and Kyle Gibson already have – and in 2014 they might actually be good (we’ll see).