Let's give the Twins credit for one thing: When they talk about the lack of correlation between payroll and performance, they can use the 2013 season to prove their point. Only three of the teams with the 10 biggest payrolls made the postseason.
Meanwhile, there are four teams -- Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Oakland and Tampa Bay -- in the bottom 10. The Pirates won 15 more games than they did in 2012; Cleveland won 24 more.
But you can also use the 2013 season to make the argument that teams have the potential to improve dramatically from one season to the next -- from doormat to postseason participant. So the issue becomes how teams spend their money, which speaks to the fact that other front offices have spent the last few years making much more astute decisions than the Twins.
A story by Tyler Kepler in the New York Times speaks to this issue.
Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting told Kepner: “I think what we have demonstrated, and other people have demonstrated, is that with good decisions, you absolutely can compete in this league. That’s what gives us hope, that’s what drives us forward, that’s what’s going to keep our fans excited. We’re demonstrating it once again in the postseason.”
For the Pirates, it has meant aggressively making over their roster in the last two seasons. Younger players have stepped up and a number of veterans were added to the mix, including catcher Russell Martin and pitcher Francisco Liriano (who would have known?) before this season. The Pirates goosed their roster late in the season, adding outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck from the Mets and first baseman Justin Morneau from the Twins in trades.
Keep in mind that there has been a lot of trial and error for the Pirates over the years, with enough errors made that this season's postseason run marks the first time since 1992 that Pittsburgh even finished above .500. Nutting told Kepner: “We’ve had some trades and signings that have been imperfect, and you always will. We just need to minimize the mistakes and maximize the opportunities over and over and over again. It’s a whole series of small decisions.”
Tampa Bay has fielded winning teams with small payrolls for seven straight years, and made the playoffs in four of them. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” Rays outfielder Sam Fuld said in the Times article. “If you look at our lineup on any given night, you might go, ‘How is that a playoff team?’ But we make it work. You see Oakland doing the same thing.”
Even one of the big payroll teams in the postseason spent efficiently in remaking its roster and making the postseason. That would be Boston, which added seven free agents during the off-season for a total of $53.1 million. That was less than the salaries of the three players -- Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez -- that Boston sent to Los Angeles in a payroll-dump trade in August 2012. (Boston won 69 games in 2012 -- and 97 this season.)
In other words, despite some of the chatter elsewhere, teams can improve themselves dramatically through trades or by taking a deep dip into the free-agent market. To the Twins credit -- and some memories are understandably fading here -- the Twins have made solid late-season roster acquisitions when their teams were competitive. Most notably, those deals yielded Carl Pavano and Orlando Cabrera a few years back and, going deeper into team history, Shannon Stewart. (We're turning a blind eye to the Matt Capps trade here.)
The challenge for the Twins front office, however, is to reverse the many errors of their recent ways -- and get in position at the start of the season so there's something worthwhile to talk about later on. Dramatic improvement in a single year is possible. You can look it up.
And you can read the entire Times story here.