When it comes to the Minnesota Twins and money, I’m conflicted.
For proof, here is a transcript of a conversation I recently had with sources close to myself:
Left brain: Most of the biggest contracts in baseball history were busts, or disappointments. The biggest contract in Twins history — the $184 million Joe Mauer signed for — contributed to a near-decade team slump. The Twins should never weigh themselves down with that kind of contract again.
Right brain: Imagine what one great pitcher could do for a team that won 101 games without a true ace. Imagine facing the Yankees with someone like Gerrit Cole pitching Game 1, followed by Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi.
LB: That’s the thing about free-agent spending — it always sounds good at the time. Remember: The conventional wisdom surrounding Mauer was that the Twins couldn’t afford to not sign him. They would have looked cheap and shortsighted. Then they signed him, and looked foolish and shortsighted.
Last winter, the Phillies and Padres spent a combined $630 million on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado and missed the playoffs; Harper’s old team, the Nationals, made it to the World Series. Craig Kimbrel, the most accomplished closer on the market, signed midseason with the Cubs, who missed the playoffs.
The 11 biggest contracts in MLB history have combined to win one World Series while the player was under that contract — in 2009, when Alex Rodriguez won a ring with the Yankees.
The Los Angeles Dodgers outspend almost everyone and haven’t won a title since 1988. The Yankees have won one since 2000.
RB: All true. So is this: The four teams that made it to the League Championship Series this year ranked in the top eight in payroll. The Nationals made it to the World Series without Harper, in part, because they spent big on Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin in free agency. And Harper and Machado could still prove valuable if they can elevate their franchises in the future.
LB: One intriguing aspect of Twins thinking is that Terry Ryan and Derek Falvey have arrived at the same conclusion despite their different approaches. Ryan believed that large, long-term contracts were usually detrimental to an organization. Falvey’s research indicates that teams that spend too high a percentage of their payroll on one player rarely win big.
RB: But the Twins bid on Yu Darvish, so they are willing to spend a certain amount on the right player.
LB: Remember, Darvish signed a six-year deal worth $126 million, then posted ERAs of 4.95 and 3.98 the first two years. Even Kyle Gibson outperformed him the past two years at a fraction of the cost.
RB: You’re cherry-picking. Corbin got a six-year deal worth $140 million and helped the Nationals win the pennant.
LB: These cherries are easy to pick. Most big contracts backfire, either because the player performs at a lower level than he expects, gets injured, or is unable to bring a title.
RB: But you’ve got to try, and the Twins could win it all with the right addition. Why don’t the Pohlads just spend more?
LB: They’re businesspeople. They have invested heavily in growing the front office and analytics department, they pay their people well, they invest their own money in keeping Target Field among the best sports venues in the world, and they generally spend when their general manager asks them to. Their GMs know that if they spend the wrong amount on the wrong player, they’re putting their job on the line. Successful businesspeople don’t make a habit out of losing money or spending recklessly.
RB: As owners who received public funding for their ballpark and thus have had the value of their franchise increased, don’t they owe it to the public to do everything they can to win?
LB: Yes. The question is whether spending hundreds of millions on fragile assets is the best way to win.
RB: I’m sick of you sticking up for billionaires.
LB: I’m sick of your unwillingness to accept the way the real world works.
RB: Let’s go back to not talking to each other.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org