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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Re-Tooling vs. Rebuilding: Is There a Difference?

Well, I'm back. Thanks to that damn storm Albert that ravaged my Connecticut town, I had no power for 4 days. Then, the wife and I packed it up and went to Key West, Florida, for some much needed relaxation (and electricity and hot water). Last night, I had a pleasant surprise when I turned my phone on after arriving back in Connecticut, namely, that the Twins did indeed make a front office move by "replacing" (MN nice term for firing) GM Bill Smith with Terry Ryan. Of course, for many fans and bloggers, this was good news. -- not that you personally like the idea of a man losing his job, but that the move represents a level of accountability within the Twins' executive ranks. Someone had to take the fall for 2011, and it was Bill Smith.

Equally as interesting as Smith's departure were Terry Ryan's comments concerning payroll, in which he indicated that payroll would be around $100 million for 2012. For those keeping track, this is approximately $15 million lower than the 2011 payroll. If this is indeed the case, it likely means that Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan (or at least 2 of those 3) will be playing elsewhere in 2012. It also means that the front office will be unlikely to sign a quality veteran starting pitcher, a marquis reliever, or talented middle infielders. Keeping in mind that about $38 million alone in payroll is devoted to the M & M boys, you can see that the $100 million figure will be easy to hit without actually doing anything to improve the 2011 team.

Does that mean we have again entered a rebuilding phase in Minnesota? I sure as hell hope not. The fans that packed Target Field for the first 2 years of its existence, and that will again in 2012 notwithstanding the horrendous preceding season, deserve better. Make no mistake: I do not believe that payroll should be decreased; rather, I think a modest increase is warranted. As Jim Crikket at Knuckleballs has noted, there has been neither a justification given nor an apparent compelling need to lower the Twins' payroll. It scares me considerably to think that the "lean years" could be coming back to the Twins after only 160 games played at Target Field.

It's one thing to rebuild an organization; it's another to re-tool for a brief and definite time period. Up until a few months ago, most of us thought that Kyle Gibson was going to be a starting pitcher in the Twins' 2012 rotation. That's no longer that case. Justin Morneau's athletic career is very much in doubt; for the 15th consecutive year, the Twins have no settled shortstop and second base; Michael Cuddyer is looking for a $52 million commitment during years in which he almost certainly will decline; Denard Span, once viewed as a relative bargain, is a question mark physically and possible trade piece; Joe Mauer may never catch more than 100 games in a season again, and the Twins don't have a reliable back-up catcher. If the 2012 Minnesota Twins are a paragraph, the sentences comprising that paragraph conclude with many more question marks than periods. And there are probably some frowny-faced emoticons in there, as well.

Does this mean the Twins shouldn't try to be competitive, to sign free agents, to improve the club in 2012? Absolutely not. Does it mean that perhaps some money that might normally be expended on expensive veteran free agents (like Michael Cuddyer or Joe Nathan) or other above-average players might be better allocated -- this year -- to things such as making sure you sign the second overall pick in the amateur draft? Perhaps. To me, it means that any deals that happen this off-season are going to be equally, if not more, about 2013 and 2014, as they are about 2012. It's a frustrating position to be in, as a Twins fan, and I'm sure as a player and a member of the front office. Re-tooling -- being competitive in 2012, with an eye on 2013 and 2014, I can live with; rebuilding -- cutting costs and perpetuating the stereotype that Pohlads are parsimonious when it comes to their ballclub, I cannot stomach.

I like that Terry Ryan is back in charge, but I'm unsettled by the payroll estimate he gave. If it's true, fans are in for a long winter. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt, which he deserves as a result of his track record. He produced more with less in the past, so I'm anxious to see what he can do this time around.