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We popped over to Target Field this afternoon for Ricky Nolasco's introductory news conference with the Twins. According to the official press release, he has a four-year contract at $12 million per season every year from 2014-17 and a club option with the potential to vest in 2018.
*It sounded like Nolasco really enjoyed pitching for the Dodgers in the pennant race last season, when he was 8-3 with a 3.52 ERA. He has a lot of family in California and that was a major boost for him, he said. That will obviously not be the case in Minnesota, where he had never been before pitching for the Marlins at Target Field last year. He was here in April, when it was brutally cold. In fact, he pitched in a double-header that was part of a makeup for a snow/cold postponement.
*Twins GM Terry Ryan did not think the contract was a departure from the Twins' philosophy, even though it more than doubled the previous largest free agent deal given out. Ryan pointed out that Joe Mauer's contract isn't exactly chump change. He also said that if the team was still in the Metrodome, this deal likely wouldn't have happened. That said, Ryan made it clear that free agency isn't his preferred method of team-building.
*Ryan also made it sound like the team cast a very wide net in free agency. They liked everything about Nolasco and clearly he was an early target, but he wasn't by any means the only target. It's unclear when the team's deal with Phil Hughes (3 years, $24 million reportedly) will be announced.
*Nolasco was flattered by how much the Twins wanted him. It was also revealed that he has an affinity for muscle cars. Hopefully he'll clock in faster on the radar gun with his pitches than his driving.
If the Twins are going to add a big-name veteran catcher to their mix now that Joe Mauer is switching to first base, it reportedly won't be old friend/foe A.J. Pierzynski. His name had been mentioned -- and progress had reportedly been made in bringing him in -- but ESPN is reporting he will sign with the Red Sox:
The Boston Red Sox have come to terms with free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski, according to a baseball source, which ends Jarrod Saltalamacchia's tenure with the Red Sox. The deal, which is most likely for one year, the source said, is pending a physical.
In a way, it's not a huge surprise. As much as we liked the idea of bringing back Pierzynski on the Twins, it was hard for us to imagine him going somewhere that is still in rebuilding mode (even after the addition of starting pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes).
That said, this now puts Saltalamacchia on the market ... so you never know if that's the next fit.
Also today, reports were that Joe Nathan, the former Twins closer, has reached agreement on a two-year deal with the Detroit Tigers. Here's a report from cbssports.com.
Last year, it was the Yankees, Giants, Cardinals and Tigers left standing. All of them were in the top 9.
But there were four teams who made it into the postseason this year with payrolls ranked No. 20 or lower -- all below $80 million, the approximate amount of the Twins' payroll this season.
Last year, five teams ranked 16th or lower in payroll made it.
So how much does payroll matter?
Well, those small sample sizes seem to suggest what is probably a greater truth: you can compete, win 90 games and make it to the postseason -- particularly with the extra wild card added -- by spending wisely and thriftily, but once you wind up going head to head against big spenders in the playoffs, your odds shrink because their margin for error grows.
The perfect example has come in ALDS Game 5s in consecutive seasons between the Tigers and A's. Justin Verlander, making $20 million in each of 2012 and 2013 and as much as $28 million in future seasons, shut down Oakland both times. The A's -- 29th in payroll last year and 27th this year -- have good pitching, but they can't afford to keep someone as dominant as Verlander. The Tigers, No. 5 in payroll each of the last two seasons, can. As a result, they have a better chance of moving on in a winner-takes-all series finale.
This is all a windup for a brief discussion of the Twins. Again, they spent about $80 million this past season. Logic says they might bump that up a little next season as they try to return to relevance. Could they make a surprising run to the postseason in 2014? Well, consider Cleveland.
The Indians lost 94 games in 2012, the third time in four seasons they had dropped at least 90 games.
But this year, starting pitchers Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez outperformed previous seasons and reclamation project Scott Kazmir was a major addition to the rotation. The offense didn’t do anything crazy, but pickups like Nick Swisher and Ryan Raburn took an offense that was 13th in runs scored in the AL in 2012 to 5th in 2013.
It added up to a 24-victory leap and a playoff berth, even though the Indians had a payroll of around $80 million, just like the Twins did this season.
The Twins will have money to spend in the offseason. They have more holes than Cleveland did, but some of fixing this team is a matter of how smart they are in spending it – and whether it can make them relevant or at least adequate in 2014.
But is being like Cleveland -- which made it to the postseason but was bounced right away in the one-game Wild Card playoff -- the end-game ceiling for a mid-to-low payroll team? That was generally the routine even during the Twins' glory days under Ron Gardenhire.
Well, 12 of the last 18 World Series winners have had payrolls in the top 10 of baseball, and it will be 13 of 19 after this year unless the Cardinals win. And 17 of the past 18 winners have had payrolls at least in the top half of baseball.
In a market where we pine for the good old days of the Glen Mason-coached Gophers and Flip Saunders-coached Timberwolves that we once lamented, being in the postseason beats the alternative. But if the Twins do ever get back there -- even as soon as 2014, to the surprise of many -- don't fool yourself. Payroll matters a little during the regular season. It matters a lot in the playoffs.
Some highlights from today's media day over at Target Center:
Nikola Pekovic: "I just hope everyone stays healthy. That's what we need." Amen.
Kevin Love had many variations on the same theme, which was, to paraphrase: nobody wants to talk about last year, and this is another year. He couldn't not have been more clear about that. Thank you for the Twitter suggestions to ask him about knuckle pushups, but we're pretty sure that would have resulted in a direct punch to our face -- and therefore possibly another hand injury for Love.
Head coach Rick Adelman said it took him a while to make a final decision on coming back this season, but he said it was looking that way for most of the summer. If the season started today, he isn't sure who his starting small forward would be. The rest, naturally: Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Love and Pekovic.
*Derrick Williams looks noticeably slimmer, down to 235 pounds after playing at about 250 last season. He played bigger last year while trying to defend power forwards; this year, with Chase Budinger potentially out for a while with a knee problem, he could be in the mix for minutes at small forward.
*Quote of the day from Alexey Shved, when asked about his weight and body: "The weight is the same, but I make more muscles."
*Ricky Rubio appears to be wearing his hair a little differently, which is always a subject for discussion. Also, he opened up his presser with, "Hi everyone." Think about that as you look at his picture since it was snapped at around that time.
Note: We're changing up the format a little. Us? Change? Yes! Jon will be providing a short commentary every weekend, followed by his favorite link and a list of recommended viewing. Please do enjoy. Jon?
I first went to Safeco Field in Seattle in 2006. At the time, I had been to very few major-league parks; I'd been to the Metrodome, of course, and the old Kingdome in Seattle (which was, if this is possible, even worse than the Metrodome), and I had been to Miller Park in Milwaukee, which feels like an indoor stadium even if the roof is wide open. It's no surprise, then, that I was totally blown away by Safeco. You can see the game from the concourse! There are a ton of food options from non-concessionaire sources! The stadium's entirely built for baseball!
In the seven years since, Target Field has opened, and I've been to another few parks, all with that same purpose-built feeling. I suppose it's natural, then, that when I went back to Safeco for the first time in seven years, it felt -- there's no other word for it -- middle-aged.
Safeco is still in possession of perhaps the best retractable roof in the majors; the roof was closed last night, but the game still felt outdoors, the exact opposite of the always-inside feeling in Milwaukee. The park also went through a remodel last offseason, moving the fences in, adding an enormous video board in right field, and opening up a closed-off left-field area. It is still a very, very nice place to watch a baseball game, and as a testament, the long-terrible M's drew 23,000 people last night - only two of whom were wearing paper bags on their heads.
Still, though, apart from local seafood chain Ivar's and a local burger place in left field, the food options felt very Metrodome-y (not surprising, as Seattle's concessions are provided by Centerplate, the same vendor used at the Dome.) Porter's BBQ, provider of an unbelievable BBQ hot link pulled pork sandwich, has apparently been replaced by a generic Centerplate version, to my vast disappointment. The newness, at least for me, has worn off, and the park has settled down into "nice" -- not wonderful, not exceptional, not rave-worthy, just nice.
On the one hand, it was disappointing not to be blown away, like I was in 2006. On the other, Target Field would be lucky to being doing so well 14 years after it first opened. Perhaps I'll have to wait another decade or so to really judge last night's trip to Safeco.
Link of the Week: I enjoyed everything about the zany Sabres-Leafs preseason brawl. Sean McIndoe broke the whole thing down at Grantland, and for good measure, imagined what the ensuing NHL disciplinary hearing must have been like.
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