There is a widespread assumption among Twins fans that the team will maintain its conservative approach this offseason and avoid making any big financial splashes. One could hardly be blamed for holding such a belief; that expectation has been engrained throughout the history of a franchise that has fostered a well deserved reputation for being extremely risk-averse.
But when you take a look at the landscape of the organization and the circumstances being faced this coming winter, it's pretty tough to make a case that the Twins will not take at least one or two significant plunges, unless you have completely lost faith in the desire of this front office to compete.
The key question is this: What makes this coming offseason different from the last one, in which the Twins took a very Twins-like approach, signing cheap low-upside veterans to plug gaping holes in the rotation while relying on internal reinforcements in a number of other areas?
The answer is, well, a lot of things.
For one, there is going to be much more money available. It's well established at this point that Terry Ryan came in far below that budget that was made available to him last offseason, perhaps by as much as $10-20 million. This year, the spending limit set by ownership would figure to rise, considering that that Ryan left plenty of money unspent this season and -- although the Twins probably won't see any rise in their own revenues with attendance dropping again -- they will be receiving a cash windfall as part of the league's new cable deal.
Plus, with Justin Morneau's $14 million, Nick Blackburn's $5.5 million and Mike Pelfrey's $4 million coming off the books, the Twins have very few notable payroll commitments going forward. In 2014, they will owe a combined $46 million to Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham, Kevin Correia, Glen Perkins, Ryan Doumit and Jared Burton. Beyond that, it's all league-minimum salaries and modest arbitration raises, none of which are likely to exceed one or two million tops.
That gives the club immense room to add payroll, even if they are just aiming to get back to this year's $82 million mark. Since their needs are relatively focused -- the bullpen is fairly set and the offense is already beginning to receive help from a robust pipeline of minor-league talent -- the Twins can fully direct any funds toward improving their shoddy rotation.
Of course, many of us were saying the same thing a year ago, when the starting pitching corps was in similarly dire straits with ample financial flexibility available. It is possible that Ryan and Co. will follow the same path, further frustrating those of us who have grown skeptical of the organization's willingness to do what's necessary to dig out of this deep hole. But I don't think so.
Three straight years of steady losing creates more urgency than two straight years. The fan base is growing more and more apathetic and season ticket sales are declining as the new-stadium grace period wears off. As I mentioned last week, the Twins don't have much of anything to tout from a pitching standpoint, given that essentially every guy they've trotted out this season has failed. Granted, the free agent market is far from a surefire method of drastically improving the rotation, even if you're willing to open the wallet, but as Parker pointed out last week there will be some intriguing names out there that could shake up the composition of this absurdly contact-heavy staff. Spending on a high-profile name would at least create some buzz and reassure fans that an earnest effort is being made.
The All-Star Game is coming to Minneapolis next year, leading some to believe that the Twins will keep their foot off the pedal, relying on this national attraction -- rather than improvement on the field -- to drive ticket sales and interest. I tend to think the opposite is true. This is an opportunity, and the club will seek to take advantage.
Don't forget that leading up to Target Field's inaugural season, the Twins could have stayed the course, having reached the playoffs in their final year at the Metrodome. Instead, they attacked the offseason as aggressively as ever before. In addition to signing Mauer to his historic contract extension, they paid to keep Carl Pavano, traded for J.J. Hardy, and signed Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome.
Obviously, it's a different situation when you're adding the final pieces to a proven contender. But if the Twins ever want to return to being a proven contender, they need to start taking some more purposeful steps than we've seen recently. That means acquiring established talent that can actually make an impact.
With so much money begging to be spent this offseason, they almost have no choice.