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Rand: Best free-agency path? Go the Twins way

  • February 12, 2014 - 12:39 AM

NFL free agency begins in almost exactly a month, and we will not pretend to tell you exactly which players or even which positions the Vikings should be targeting. Let’s leave that to the football experts.

If you want to talk perceptions, though … that’s where the advice flows freely here. Knowing they have several areas of need and as much as $25 million in cap room, according to overthecap.com, the Vikings should target a couple of key players and pounce early to make some impact signings.

Even if they are a year or two away from contending, this makes a statement to a fan base that tends to be impatient and gets the organization off the hook for other big-time moves.

How do we know this? Well, let’s call it the Minnesota Twins model.

You might have the perception right now that the Twins spent big this offseason because they made moves pretty early in free agency to sign pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to contracts worth $20 million per year combined.

To be sure, both deals addressed a need and were big by Twins’ standards, since the largest previous contract doled out to an outside free agent was the three-year, $21 million Josh Willingham contract.

But after that initial splash, the Twins have been pretty quiet. They re-signed Mike Pelfrey. They signed Kurt Suzuki. They brought in old friends (Jason Kubel, Jason Bartlett and Matt Guerrier) to compete for roster spots.

If they are done making moves — and it’s not a bad guess to say they are done making major moves, anyway — their payroll will be about the same in 2014 as it was in 2013 (in the $83 million range).

So the payroll could very well stay the same while the Twins — like all teams — reap the financial benefit of MLB’s new national TV contract kicking in. Every team is reportedly getting an extra $25 million per year from the new deal, and while it wouldn’t be wise to pour all that fresh cash into free agency, it is more TV money than the Twins had a year ago.

But the Twins aren’t dumb. They know 2014 isn’t the year they realistically have a chance to start contending again. That comes in 2015 at the earliest, when prospects like Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton could be permanent fixtures in the middle of a needy lineup.

They knew, however, that they couldn’t just do nothing. So they paid for a couple of upgrades early and let the narrative of spending carry through the offseason. The Vikings should take notes.

MICHAEL RAND

© 2014 Star Tribune