Entering the trade deadline period, Minnesota needed to address pitching in both the starting rotation and the bullpen. They also found themselves in the market for catching help, although that was more by circumstance rather than a reflection of their own decisions. No matter what way you look at it, the 26-man roster needed something like four or five additions to truly be considered supplemented. How does that reflect what took place this winter?
Every team in baseball has a large amount of opportunity to spend money. While some organizations are better off than others due to desirability or revenues, no front office bill will ever scratch the surface of what an ownership group can truly afford. On that end, I was told by a front office source during this season that the desire to hit $150 million from a payroll perspective is something that will not likely be touched. That could change as economic standards adjust, but in the foreseeable future, Minnesota will not reach that threshold for an Opening Day roster.
Per Spotrac, Minnesota’s current payroll sits at $138 million for the season, or roughly $10 million below what is seen as a non-starting amount. In getting there, they paid handsomely for Carlos Correa ($35.1 million) and brought in Gary Sanchez to replace Mitch Garver. Sonny Gray commands $10.6 million and was acquired for a prospect that the Twins handed a $2.5 million bonus just a year prior. Up against where ownership has given the front office somewhat of a line, that meant value plays had to pan out.
The front office gambled on a bullpen largely reflective of their own development. Even without considering the Taylor Rogers trade, that meant big innings would be needed from Jhoan Duran (who was not seen as a lock going into Spring Training), Tyler Duffey, and Caleb Thielbar. The only addition to the relief corps was Joe Smith, a 38-year-old veteran with no velocity making just $2.5 million.
On the starting front, behind Gray, it was all bargain bin additions. Dylan Bundy was a bounce-back candidate at $4 million, and Chris Archer was inked to an incentive-laden deal that starts at just $2.75 million. In and of themselves, neither pitcher has been the issue, while both have provided plenty of issues for Rocco Baldelli as a whole.
Smartly, the skipper has tried to avoid having any of his back-three pitchers in the rotation see a lineup for the third time. Archer and Bundy have both been bludgeoned as games have gone on, and that’s made for significant bullpen workloads. On the flip side, a taxed relief unit that has largely underperformed has given a constant chicken-or-the-egg situation to navigate through. This all goes back to the situation Minnesota now finds itself in, and if the plan originally dictated by ownership, was worth it.
The front office has to play within the parameters of the budget given to them. That’s always going to present a value proposition scenario in which you attempt to acquire the most amount of return for the least amount of money. Bundy and Archer are a perfect representation of that; so too is Joe Smith. The significant surplus was applied to Correa, but then it was deemed that the well had been tapped.
Say the Twins’ front office could’ve been given another $10 million during the winter, does that change the level of starting arms they target looking to take work off the plate of the bullpen? Could they have added another reliever or two and passed on Smith being the only reinforcement? Adding at the deadline is a tricky scenario in that you’re likely bringing on more money anyways, and vying with multiple suitors all attempting to acquire the same available talent.
I certainly don’t think there’s an argument to be made that the Twins front office failed to plan this year. They didn’t want the slew of injuries, but no one does. If they failed to plan, it was in that the constraints presented by ownership, and maybe not pushed back on by the front office, left them a couple of pieces short to start, and even more when the season drew on.
There’s probably never an amount that represents enough spending in the eyes of fans, and that’s really not a fair place to operate a budget from. Considering the actual acquisitions, however, squeezing value from all but the big one clearly didn’t provide enough of an opportunity to withstand the rigors of a long season.