How to fix the Twins, Part 3: What can and should they do this winter?
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With MLB's free agency window now open for business, it's time to roll up our sleeves and discuss how to fix the Twins. Again. This three-part series will pinpoint the Twins' biggest problem, potential free agent and trade targets, and an examination of what the Twins are able to do financially.
In Part 3 below, we will detail what the Twins are capable of financially, what the potential free agent targets could earn, and what the Twins should do.
The Twins' 2014 payroll landscape currently looks like this:
These 25 players add up to just under $60 million in payroll.
The Twins have money to spend
During the second half of last season, owner Jim Pohlad, president Dave St. Peter and general manager Terry Ryan all stuck to the same story: The payroll dropped to $80 million because the front office chose to scale back spending. The front office has full permission, despite a drop in attendance, to spend at or near the level of 2012 when the payroll was $100 million.
If Pohlad is giving the green light to a payroll somewhere between $90 and $100 million, the Twins, in theory, could have $30-40 million to spend in average annual value.
What can the Twins get for $30-40 million?
Everything written from this point forward comes with a disclaimer:
* If the Twins elect to spend it.
We're also operating under the premise that the Twins need strikeout pitchers who aren't old.
Masahiro Tanaka, according to reports, will likely earn more than $10 million per year over at least four or five years. And that doesn't count a posting fee that could land somewhere between $50-75 million. The total price on Tanaka, therefore, would be $100-125 million over, say, five years, which equates to at least $20 million a year for whichever team wins the sweepstakes. Big revenue teams like the Dodgers, Yankees and Angels are all expected to be heavily involved here.
Ervin Santana reportedly wants $100 million, but that probably isn't going to happen. Realistic projections have Santana signing for $12-15 million per year over at least three seasons and possibly five.
Most projections have Matt Garza earning somewhere around $12 million per year on a multi-year deal.
Same with Ubaldo Jimenez, and maybe even Ricky Nolasco.
Scott Kazmir's injury history will limit what he can earn - maybe something in the two-year, $16 million range as MLB Trade Rumors predicts.
Phil Hughes is probably a one-year reclamation guy, maybe two years, but no more than $8-9 million a year.
If Pohlad, St. Peter and Ryan are telling the truth about where the Twins payroll could be, we have every reason to believe they have the financial resources to target at least two of the aforementioned pitchers. And that doesn't count potential trades.
The Twins are wary of locking into bad contracts
Pohlad indicated to me a couple months ago that his biggest hang-up with free agency is falling into bad contracts - specifically the length of a contract.
But the way the team is currently constructed, the Twins can actually afford to stretch on a free agent contract without it hindering long-term roster growth.
Mauer and Perkins are the only two players signed beyond 2014. Perkins will make $3.75 million in 2015. Mauer will make $23 million per year through 2018, and although many people view this as a bad contract, it has absolutely no negative impact on the team's ability to sign additional players.
Let's say the Twins have interest in Ervin Santana at $13 million per year, but they aren't too pumped about a possible fourth or fifth year when Santana would be in his mid-thirties (see: Torii Hunter six years ago). They'd have roughly $36 million tied up between an aging Mauer and Santana at the back end of that contract, thus limiting what they could do around Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, who would both be in line for big contracts around that point too.
With this in mind, the Twins could be in a situation where offering front-loaded contracts (more money up front) and fewer years is a better strategy.
What would Mackey do?
I'd probably dip into a few different pools:
First, I'd see how far I could go in the Tanaka bidding process. He appears to be the next Yu Darvish, and if there's an 80% chance of that happening, it's worth the investment.
Secondly, I'd probably look to secure Kazmir, who certainly wouldn't be an innings-eating horse, but he would bring a strikeout element that the Twins simply haven't had lately. Offer incentives for inning milestones.
I'd also strongly consider pulling Phil Hughes out of the reclamation bin while also having some serious conversations with the Cubs and Reds about Jeff Samardzija and Homer Bailey.
The least appealing option is overspending on mid-rotation guys like Santana, Jimenez and Nolasco. Those guys have been largely unreliable for the amount of money and years they're likely to earn, although Santana is probably a notch above the other two. Garza seems unlikely due to his history with the Twins.
So, realistically, the Twins have the resources - both financially and prospects - to sign Kazmir, trade for someone like Samardzija or Bailey, and make serious offers to the Santanas and Hugheses of the market.
The following rotation seems like a realistic proposition:
LHP Scott Kazmir
RHP Kyle Gibson
RHP Samuel Deduno
RHP Kevin Correia
And one of either Hughes, Samardzija or Bailey.
Swings and misses would certainly go up.
Landing Kazmir plus another would likely cost around $20 million combined for 2014, plus any prospects dealt if the Twins made a move for Samardzija or Bailey (perhaps Eddie Rosardio plus others). That would bring the payroll back to $80 million.
Still with plenty to spend.