Over a two week stretch earlier this month, the Twins signed three players to extensions, headlined by Joe Mauer‘s eight-year deal. Mauer becomes the face of the franchise and the backstop until he can’t do it anymore — he will likely never play for another organization. Even if he doesn’t hit for all the power he did last season going forward, Mauer is talented enough to grind out five win seasons in his sleep. The team also bought out the arbitration years, and gave themselves a cheap option for the first year of free agency, for Nick Blackburn and Denard Span. This is the rare case where I believe Blackburn (the pitcher) is a surer bet than Span (the hitter), but neither deal is ill advised.
More importantly, paired with previous extensions given to Justin Morneau and Scott Baker, these deals mean the Twins payroll is going up with this move into a new stadium. These five players alone are on the hook for about $55 million in 2013, a number that just about represented Minnesota’s payroll in 2003 and 2008. When factoring in the money they’ll owe to Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins and others, the Twins payroll is set to see new highs in this decade. Given the skills this organization has concerning player evaluation, a competitive budget could mean big things going forward.
The current regime of Minnesota homegrown players has been such a treat to watch, as this season they will likely lead the Twins to their ninth winning season in 10 years. But they are getting older, and given the aforementioned extensions, many of them will be playing ball elsewhere in a couple years. Mike Cuddyer and Jason Kubel will be gone after 2011, and they would probably have to give the team a discount to stay with their original organization. Not far behind them is a group that includes the newly acquired J.J. Hardy, Delmon Young and Joe Nathan. It’s certainly one step forward as far as the budget to retain talent goes, but keeping the sheer quantity of players this organization produces would be impossible.
The good news is that Mike Radcliff is still the scouting director in Minnesota, and as a result, you can bet the Twins have players in their system and will have more coming. If there is someone better in the business, I don’t know about him. And to consistently succeed with such a simple M.O. should almost be frustrating to his peers: draft athletes early, power in the middle, and pitchers with command in between. There’s variations of that in each draft, but this is the premise the Twins are routinely constructed around.
With the early drafted athletes, they have Aaron Hicks and Ben Revere. Hicks is probably a year from his breakout (Fort Myers is utter hell for young hitters), but he is one of the handful of players in the minor leagues I could envision being a #1 overall prospect. Revere is more of a B-prospect for me, and seems a weird fit in an organization that really likes Span. On an extreme side of that predicament is Wilson Ramos, a really solid young catcher that will be stuck as a back-up unless he gets traded away.
The athletes go on to include foreign players that show the reaches this scouting department is ready to go. Max Kepler was given the largest bonus ever for a European player (800K), and while very raw, has a ton of potential. Miguel Sano is the best player the team has ever signed on the international market, and scouts couldn’t be higher. Then there’s Angel Morales, a product of the draft, but a symbol of Radcliff’s fondness for Puerto Rican players.
When the team does veer away from the command-control pitchers, they go after projection. The hope is that 2009 first-rounder Kyle Gibson has both, because his body certainly has room to fill out, but he also has great command of his fastball on his best days. His health will determine how fast he moves, but Gibson was a risk that could really pay off for the Twins. The team also really likes David Bromberg, who also features an intimidating frame but a command-specialist arsenal. He moves up to Double-A this season, and could take over the Twins fifth starter spot as early as mid-2011.
There’s depth, but we don’t have to go into every player today. Just know that the Twins have a scouting philosophy that is tried and true, and a budget on the rise. After all the recent extensions, the next person Bill Smith should be contacting for a new contract is Mike Radcliff, who might just be the man responsible for all the success this organization has had in the last decade.