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Josh Willingham rounded the bases after hitting a home run in the fourth inning.

Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

Reusse: Money trail leads to Twins' wise intentions

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE
  • Star Tribune
  • April 10, 2012 - 5:55 AM

The Twins brought in four players between ages 31 and 38 for this season: starter Jason Marquis, catcher Ryan Doumit, left fielder Josh Willingham and shortstop Jamey Carroll.

The Twins also re-signed Matt Capps to serve as closer, and added journeymen Jeff Gray, Jared Burton and Matt Maloney to the bullpen. Those are four pitchers between ages 28 and 30.

The media and the local sporting public looked at these changes and many seemed to get the idea the Twins were attempting to put together a roster "built to win now.''

That's what I've heard quite a bit, anyway, and the ballclub is more than happy to have that accepted as a theory. The Twins huffed and puffed their way to what's described as 23,000 "season-ticket equivalents'' for the third season in Target Field, and part of the sales pitch was that the 63-99 record in 2011 was an aberration.

If Twins management believed that, it would have gone for deals such as this: outfielder Michael Cuddyer (three years, $31.5 million), OF/DH Jason Kubel (two years, $16 million), closer Joe Nathan (two years, $14.75 million) and, perhaps, starter Edwin Jackson (one year, $11 million).

That would have been a commitment of $73.25 million for four players, with three guaranteed more than one year.

The Twins went instead with these deals: Willingham (three years, $21 million), Doumit (one year, $3 million), Capps (one year, $4.75 million), Marquis (one year, $3 million) and Carroll (two years, $6.5 million).

That is a commitment of $38.25 million for five players, with two guaranteed more than one year.

The 2012 Twins would win more games with that first foursome of free agents.

Would they win an extra $35 million (in contract commitments) worth of games? Would they win the 25 more games needed to contend for one of the five playoff spots in the rugged American League?

The answer to that is an emphatic "no,'' and it should be the response from General Manager Terry Ryan, from the owners and from objective civilians.

The Pohlads didn't order a reduction in payroll from $113 million because the owners felt it was a ridiculously high number.

The Pohlads ordered the reduction to $100 million because they felt $113 million was a ridiculously high number to pay for a team that lost 99 games.

The Pohlads were miffed, and who could blame them, but the payroll reduction wasn't a tough sale for Ryan. This is a wise baseball man, and he understood the Twins' first task was a return to respectability, before the goal could become loftier.

Willingham is here as a cheaper alternative to Cuddyer -- a righthanded-hitting outfielder who brings more power and inferior defense.

Carroll, Doumit, Marquis and Capps are here in the hope that a few veterans will offer more professional product than did the youthful collection that in 2011 went 19-50 from July 18 through Sept. 28.

Without these vets, what would this club look like?

Joe Benson would be in the outfield, not Willingham. Brian Dozier would be at shortstop, not Carroll. And if the Twins wanted a backup catcher who could hit, it would be Chris Herrmann.

As for a fifth starter or closer, without Marquis (soon to join the rotation) and Capps (soon to get a chance to close), throw a dart.

In most sports, teams that are non-contenders are advised to go young, but in baseball that often can be counter-productive.

Benson likely would have less of a big-league career, if he were here flailing away before he gains a grasp of the strike zone. Herrmann is catching in Class AA, on his way to Minnesota next season.

Liam Hendriks already was being hurried to be a big-league starter, before being done in by food poisoning in Baltimore.

As for Dozier ... well, he should be here already, and if second baseman Alexi Casilla doesn't show more in this chance (No. 6) to establish himself, that could happen reasonably soon.

Baseball is the toughest of American games to master. There's nothing to be gained by going younger with players who are likely to be overmatched.

That's why the veterans are here -- in the Twins' hope for some form of respectability, and not in the distorted belief that this is a team "built to win now.''

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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