Raise your hand if, prior to this season, you associated great power hitting with the Minnesota Twins? The Twins were once famously dubbed “The Little Piranhas” but the 2019 Minnesota team was extremely far removed from those slap hitting, dome-ball playing, scrappy clubs. Those teams stood little to no chance vs. the mighty New York Yankees. The games felt like David vs. Goliath, as evidenced by the seven game playoff winning streak the Bronx Bombers held over the Twins in the last decade (swept 3-0 in ‘09, swept 3-0 in ‘10, lost WC game in ‘17). It is time for the Pohlads to start spending some of their money to field a winner.
As far as batting lineups go, this year’s Twins-Yankees series resembled Goliath vs. Goliath. The Twins finally possessed a lineup capable of going toe-to-toe with the Bronx Bombers. Their mistake, neglecting to address glaring weaknesses within their starting pitching staff, proved to be their undoing.
The Pohlads and Twins front office did spend money, bringing in the veteran bats of C.J. Cron, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and Marwin González. It cost them $38.3 million and brought in 103 home runs, based off of last year’s production. They needed to support their young core and improve upon a dismal 166 home runs hit in 2018. The results of these moves worked out better than even the most optimistic fan could have hoped; a major-league-record-setting home run performance! The Twins’ players, led by Eddie Rosario, named home runs “bombas” and their loyal fans, in turn, nicknamed the 2019 Twins the “Bomba Squad”.
As for the league records they set, try 307 bombas, obliterating the previous record of 267. In addition to this, the Bomba Squad boasted five players with 30 or more home runs. “Juiced” ball or not, that’s quite an impressive performance and one in stark contrast to the Twins teams of old. This offensive explosion propelled the Twins to beat up on a bad Central division and win 101 games, the second most in franchise history. Despite actively investing in their lineup, the Twins’ owners all but ignored their pitching staff. The strength of the Minnesota lineup won them the lion’s share of their games.
The Twins consistently take the cheap option when it comes to starting pitching. Often choosing to take chances on semi-washed veterans or guys returning from injuries, hoping to patch together a rotation. Take this year’s rotation as a perfect example; Jake Odorizzi ($9.5 MM) and Martín Pérez ($3.5 MM) two cheap vets who struggled elsewhere. Kyle Gibson ($8.125 MM) is a longtime hopeful, who is more suspect than prospect. Michael Pineda ($8 MM) was an injury-return hopeful. Jose Berrios ($625K), the staff “ace” who, like Fransisco Liriano and Johan Santana, will likely be traded away before the Pohlads have to pay him. All-together that’s roughly $30 million invested in an entire starting pitching staff.
The “From Bad to Worse”
For comparison purposes, the Houston Astros’ big 3 of Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, and Gerrit Cole commanded 76 million dollars. Spending more money on pitching doesn’t necessarily equate to wins. It does send a message to your players and fan-base that you are trying to win a World Series, which is something I am increasingly convinced the Pohlads are not interested in doing. They are only interested in making money, and everyone else involved with the Twins deserves better. If the 101 wins aren’t reason enough to shell out for pitching, then three consecutive losses to New York in the playoffs should cement the argument.
The Pohlads routinely spend less than 50% of their previous year’s profits on player salaries. The Twins raked in $269 million in 2018 , yet they spent just $124 million on players in 2019. The Twins received $118 million via the league-wide local revenue sharing, nearly covering their entire payroll! Add in the estimated $91 million in national revenues, and the result is pure frustration directed towards the Pohlad’s self-imposed salary cap.
Pitching wins in October. The Pohlads knew they couldn’t win playoff games with this year’s starting staff, and yet they stood pat. Twins fans had to be sick watching Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez flirt with no-hitters in the NLCS. Then Strasburg followed that by striking out 12 in seven innings of one-run ball. Not to be outdone by their National League counterparts, Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka have risen to the occasion. Tanaka hurled a one-hitter over 6 innings in a game one ALCS win. Cole has won 19 straight decisions. The Twins didn’t see those type of performances from their starting staff vs. league bottom-feeders like the Tigers or Royals as they relied on a patchwork pitching staff and hoped the offense would bail them out.
Spending big money in free agency is not the only way to greatly improve your starting pitching. You can make trades at, or before the deadline, particularly when your team is having a historic first half. This year, the asking prices for Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard may have been obscene, but Marcus Stroman was traded to the Mets for two pitching prospects. Ask any baseball fan to choose between Marcus Stroman or, no disrespect intended, Randy Dobnak taking the hill for game two in Yankee Stadium and the choice is clear.
That’s neglecting to mention the vote of confidence a move like that portrays to your team from ownership. Taking on a star pitcher, even for half a year, is worth losing a couple of prospects. Just to have a guy like Stroman on the mound, instead of a rookie whose claim to fame is his 4.8 star Uber driver rating (again no disrespect towards Dobnak), gives your team so much more of a chance to win in the playoffs. It should be noted that bolstering your rotation at the trade deadline and making a push for a ring is much cheaper and safer than potentially giving a guy like Gerrit Cole $300 million over 7 years.
Enough with the 20/20 hindsight, though, it is time to look forward to next year. The Twins have four starting pitcher spots to fill and at least $70 million to invest. The lineup is in place. The rookie manager Rocco Baldelli meshed incredibly well with top Twins brass Derek Falvey and Thad Levine. You hit 307 home runs last year and have the perfect mix of young talent, veteran leaders, and homegrown stars. It is time to bring in the very best pitchers that are willing to play for Minnesota, regardless of the price.
The Pohlads are better off selling the team than trying to pass off another cheapskate rotation on their fans. The wool has been lifted from the eyes of the Twins’ fans. The casual fan may enjoy having a top-5 team in baseball to watch on a nightly basis. Hardcore fans, who realized the potential of their team only to have ownership refuse to spend money on the last few needed pieces, will not be so easily sated.
An ESPN article in July, 2018, highlighted the Twins “worst record in baseball” (621-757) since Target Field opened in 2010. This past season, somehow, ended in a more disappointing fashion than all of those losing years. It was devastating to see the potential of a record setting offense get swept away by their old nemesis, the Yankees. For the Pohlads, it is not time to be cheap, it is not time to make more money from the Twin Cities metropolitan area; now is the moment to invest heavily in pitching. It is time to swing for the proverbial fences, something their lineup literally did better than any team in MLB history last year. It is time to bring in power-pitching to match this explosive offense and try to win a World Series.
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