Hartman: Twins, Tigers differ on free-agent policies

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 2, 2013 - 12:46 AM

Minnesota likes to build through its farm system, but Detroit is willing to throw big money at players it wants.

The Detroit Tigers have won 16 of their past 20 games against the Twins at Target Field, including Monday’s 4-2 Opening Day victory.

Starter Justin Verlander has won eight in a row over the Twins after his five-inning, three-hit, seven-strikeout performance.

The big reason why the Tigers have dominated the Twins the past two years is the teams’ policies in signing free agents. The Twins’ plan is to develop players in the farm system, with the hope that within a couple of years, many of their talented young prospects will develop and become good enough to make the Twins a pennant winner.

So while their payroll had topped $100 million for a few years, that philosophy is why the Twins’ current payroll is $81 million, and 46 percent of that payroll goes to Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, who make a combined $37 million. No one else on the team makes more than $7 million this season.

That means the $89.1 million the Tigers are paying for their five top players — Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Verlander, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter — exceeds the entire Twins payroll for their 25-man roster.

Three of those players have been signed in the past two years. Fielder, who signed with Detroit last season, will earn $23 million this year. Martinez, who was signed in 2011, will earn $13 million; and Hunter, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason, will earn $12 million. Then you have Cabrera, who is being paid $21 million, and Verlander, who will be paid $20.1 million this year and just signed an extension that will pay him $180 million over the next seven seasons.

Tigers President Dave Dombrowski said that when it came to signing free agents for this season, Hunter — the former Twins great who went 2-for-5 Monday — was No. 1 on his list.

“[Hunter] had a very good spring for us all the way around, adjusted to the atmosphere, swung the bat well, played well in the outfield and really brings some leadership qualities to our organization also,” Dombrowski said. “He is good for our ballpark, being a guy that can really go get the ball in the outfield. We needed to improve our outfield defense, and he still plays as good a right field as there is in the game. For him he’s a guy that hits the gaps, too, when he swings the bat. We think he’s a real good fit for our ballpark.”

The Tigers won the American League pennant last season without Martinez, who hurt his left knee working out in January 2012.

“Martinez means a lot because for us he’s an RBI bat that hits in the middle of the lineup,” Dombrowski said. “He gives us that 3-4-5 combo with Cabrera and Fielder, that extra guy, a switch hitter that drives in runs. For us he gives us another potent bat, which we think makes us a better offensive club.”

Asked how he believes the Twins will do this year, Dombrowski said: “They have a good hitting offensive club. You can see that they swing the bats. They’re in a situation where the pitching will make the difference in how they finish this year, because you know that they’re going to score some runs with the guys that they throw into their lineup.”

Dombrowski looks for a good race in the division.

“It’s a situation where Kansas City is much improved,” he said. “Cleveland is the same way, the White Sox had a good season last year. I think it’s going to be a very competitive division.”

Saunders declined job

The report by ESPN’s Andy Katz that former NBA coach Flip Saunders had turned down the Gophers men’s basketball job has been verified by people who are close to Saunders, even though he won’t talk about it right now.

The word is that a contract had been drawn up, but Saunders believed the job wasn’t a real fit for him and he decided not to accept the offer.

There is no doubt Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague and associate AD Mike Ellis have their own ideas on how the basketball program should be run, and candidates have turned the job down because Teague and Ellis want the same control of the program they had at VCU.

Some of the basketball people I have talked to have said some candidates don’t want to follow Tubby Smith. What they are essentially saying is that if Smith couldn’t win big here, how could somebody else replace him and be successful?

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