The thought is pervasive, and incorrect. It is the manifestation of what certain comedians call “Truthiness’’ — that which feels right but can be disproved by anyone with Google and a brain, or either.
Here’s the most popular sporting thought in the Twin Cities:
The Twins don’t spend enough money.
The Twins spend too much money.
If they had spent less over the past two winters, they’d probably be leading the wild-card race.
The Twins’ four highest-earning players this year are Joe Mauer, Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco.
Who are the Twins’ most disappointing players? Nolasco, Santana and Mauer, and perhaps Hughes.
Hughes pitched well last year, when he was working under an affordable one-year deal. Now that he’s signed to a lucrative long-term contract, he is struggling and injured. That’s often how free agency works.
Knock $60 million off the Twins’ payroll this season, and they would be a better team.
Free agency is to baseball what fast food is to nutrition — a quick fix likely to leave you with gastrointestinal discomfort.
If you are foolish enough to believe the Twins need to spend more money, you should at least urge them to spend it where it matters: Scouting, player development, keeping worthwhile players in the fold, and international signings.
Miguel Sano already is the Twins’ best player. The Twins signed him for $3.15 million. He might turn out to be one of the best bargains in franchise history, and proof that free-agent money is far better spent on young free agents who will remain under team control for at least six big-league seasons.
In fact, the Twins should have become more aggressive with their international spending much earlier: They thought they had the great Miguel Cabrera signed when he was a teenager in Venezuela. The Marlins came in late and signed him for $1.8 million.
The Twins lost Cabrera for about what they’re paying Shane Robinson this year.
Free agency works in baseball just often enough to provide the illusion that it works frequently. In reality, the team that wins the winter spending spree usually ranks as a disappointment all summer. That’s why the Red Sox, Tigers, Phillies and Padres stink, and the Mariners fired Jack Zduriencik, and the best teams in baseball are mostly young, homegrown and unburdened by bad contracts.
The Twins are contending because of players who are relative bargains.
Torii Hunter signed a one-year deal for $10.5 million. He has produced power and leadership. Trevor Plouffe is making $4.8 million, Brian Dozier $5 million.
The Twins are paying Mauer $23 million. They are paying these players about $23 million combined: Plouffe, Dozier, All-Star closer Glen Perkins, Kyle Gibson, Trevor May, Eddie Rosario, Sano, Byron Buxton, Tyler Duffey, Aaron Hicks, Casey Fien and Tommy Milone.
Spending money can be important, and the Twins should be expected to pursue the best Latin American talent, to scout emerging baseball markets, to equip their players to compete, and to keep any star player who wants to stay from venturing into free agency.
Nolasco and Santana have been embarrassing. Hughes’ health and decline are concerning. Mauer is producing a career-low on-base percentage and on-base-plus-slugging percentage while playing the least stressful position on the field. He has three full seasons remaining on his contract.
Nolasco, Hughes and Santana have a combined ERA of 5.02, and all have missed time with either injuries or suspensions. The rest of the staff has compiled an ERA of 3.74.
What’s funny is that during the 2000s, when Twins General Manager Terry Ryan was considered one of the game’s best executives, he shunned free agency. During his second tenure he has proven his point.
Nolasco and Santana have been disasters. Hughes has four years left on his contract.
The Twins are contending because of their farm system, international scouting and inspired leadership. They are one of baseball’s latest cautionary tales when it comes to spending money on long-term contracts for open-market free agents.