It’s not hard to listen to comments from Terry Ryan and Dave St. Peter in two different venues — a recent conference call with season ticket holders, and again in interviews with the Star Tribune’s Phil Miller — and reach this conclusion: 2015 will be more of the same from the Twins, by design.
Or, in perhaps more flattering terms: the Twins are going to hope that 2015 is the kind of year they had hoped 2014 would be, and they are a year behind schedule in their rebuild because of injuries to key minor league players and the underperformance of players on the major league club.
How else would one react to quotes from Ryan such as these?
“I don’t want to punt on 2015, but it’s still going to be a struggle.”
“Sometimes you make decisions that ultimately are going to benefit you down the line that don’t look exactly like what you want right now.”
The Twins have decided they aren’t going to budge much on payroll from 2014 to 2015, meaning it again will be around $85 million and that almost all of it is already tied up in existing players. We don’t necessarily think this is a bad idea, but let’s be clear: this is a choice, and an artificial spending cap. If the Twins wanted to spend more, they certainly could (remember, 2014 was the start of a major bump in national TV revenue for all MLB clubs).
Ryan is right when he says spending foolishly could set the club back even further (at least if they guessed wrong on big-ticket, long-term deals). He is also right when he notes that teams can be competitive with payrolls comparable to what the Twins project to have next season.
But what it adds up to is a season of hoping, not realistically expecting, that things will not devolve into a fifth consecutive 90-loss season. There were good signs last season, particularly with young hitters and Phil Hughes, but without the influx of more established players via free agency, Minnesota will be banking on two guys who will make up between 40-45 percent of the payroll combined (Joe Mauer and Ricky Nolasco) to live up to their contracts and for other young players to make meaningful contributions (while the ones who made strides this year avoid a step back, which is easier said than done).
Before Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and others essentially lost the 2014 season, we imagine the Twins’ blueprint was something like this: ride improved pitching and young hitting to a .500 record in 2014, get onto the fringe of contention in 2015 and then really make a run in 2016 and beyond. Now we have to imagine .500 is the goal next year, and we can clearly see the Twins don’t intend to try to spend their way to a few more victories.
It’s not right or wrong, but it is the choice they have made.