Randball: Twins know their financial limits, opening the door for trades

Twins fans get frustrated their favorite team doesn’t spend more money on players, particularly since MLB does not have a salary cap. The argument can be made that the Twins — who ranked No. 22 in Opening Day payroll last season, per CBSSports.com — should be more in the middle of the pack since they’re a midmarket team.

That said, the economic reality is the Twins operate as a business and take in far less revenue than bigger-spending peers. They can compete for free agents, but they have to know their limits.

Yu Darvish was a prime example. The Cubs (eighth in payroll last season) gave him a six-year deal when the Twins reportedly were only offering five. If Darvish, 31, fizzles out toward the end of that deal, it won’t make or break the Cubs. The Twins have far less margin for error.

The Twins’ best avenue for pursuing pitching this offseason is via a trade. It’s never fun to part with prospects or even established young players, but here the Twins — stocked with young talent — can operate from a position of strength compared to many others. That will seldom be the case in free agency.

They already made one trade Saturday for Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi. And they seem to have the pieces to swing another trade for someone such as Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer — a younger, lower-cost version of Darvish.

The Twins, in fact, have five of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects in their system. Only five other organizations have more than that.

When you’re rich in young talent and not so rich in pure dollars, making a trade instead of a big-money signing only makes sense.

Michael Rand is the senior digital writer for Star Tribune sports and keeper of the RandBall blog at startribune.com/RandBall.

The Twins might not have the money other teams have to spend for quality starting pitching, but that doesn’t mean they can’t acquire some via trade.

They made such a move Saturday to get Jake Odorizzi from the Rays. The Twins are getting a cost-controlled pitcher, which is what they were looking for, but there’s no mistaking Odorizzi for another starter on the Rays, Chris Archer. The Twins are hoping they’re buying low on Odorizzi because he had an off year.

Odorizzi had an ERA of 4.14, but his fielding-independent pitching mark was 5.43. FIP calculates how many runs a pitcher allows regardless of the quality of defense behind a pitcher, which means the Odorizzi was likely the beneficiary of good luck or decent defense when he pitched. The proof is also in his batting average against balls in play, which was .227, a number that is well below .300, where most pitchers finish. That means he could be due for some regression next season. Also troubling was that Odorizzi walked 3.83 hitters per nine innings last season, which was up from 2.59 in 2016.

The Twins are hoping Odorizzi can regain the form he had in 2015, when his FIP was 3.61, he walked just 2.44 hitters per nine innings while having a BABIP that was a more normal .271. Odorizzi is a cog in the rotation, but the Twins should still be on the lookout for better pitching, especially if there’s a chance to acquire Archer, who won’t make more than $11 million in each of the next four seasons. Archer, who has a 3.37 FIP over the past four seasons, can remake the franchise.

That kind of starting pitching doesn’t come for much cheaper.


Chris Hine is the lead writer for North Score, the Star Tribune’s new sports analytics beat. Find his stories at startribune.com/northscore.