Organizational Misstep or Market Inefficiency? How The Minnesota Twins are Betting on Older Stars
Image courtesy of © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportsOver the years major league baseball players have been getting significantly younger. According to an article posted in Forbes, from 2007-18 the average age of MLB players has dropped a full year (29.1 down to 28.1). Much of this has been driven by analytics and teams realizing that younger players, in general, contribute more to teams than older players. According to research done by FiveThirtyEight, in 2017, players age 32 and older accounted for 18.6% of plate appearances in the league, while only accounting for 12.9% of league-wide WAR, a percentage that has been consistently declining over the years.
With all of this analytical evidence showing that major league baseball is trending younger and teams are shying away from signing older players, why have the Minnesota Twins been pursuing aging stars over the past couple years? What value is there in acquiring these aging stars?
By investing in aging players, the Minnesota Twins have gained a tremendous amount of salary cap flexibility. Older players require fewer years on their deals and the Twins have seen this by inking one-year deals to Nelson Cruz (38), Sergio Romo (36), Tyler Clippard (34), Blake Parker (34), and Rich Hill (39) over the past two years.
Signing these short term deals has allowed the Twins to keep their future books open so that they can sign extensions to their own players as well as pounce on a long-term deal of their own in Josh Donaldson. While Donaldson represents a 34-year-old getting a longer contract, when compared to the seven year, $245 million contract that was issued to Anthony Rendon, you can again see the potential value in signing an older player.
The other value that comes from investing in older players is the experience and leadership that they bring to a ball club. This is something that cannot be quantified but is invaluable to an organization. Nelson Cruz represented this so much for the Minnesota Twins in 2019. In addition to being a mentor for fellow Dominican, Miguel Sanó, Cruz has leaned on his experience to share wisdom with the entire clubhouse. Kyle Gibson recounted a speech that Cruz made after Game 2 of the ALDS saying, “When a guy like that speaks, everybody listens and perks their ears up and takes it in, because he's been in a lot of different situations and maybe some situations that have a lot more pressure than this one.”
Similarly, with guys like Sergio Romo, and now Rich Hill and Josh Donaldson, the Twins are adding guys who have been around the block, will never be afraid of the moment, and can share their wisdom and experiences with the entire clubhouse.
In order to squeeze maximum production out of their players, the Twins organization has put a ton of money and resources into investing in health, rest and recovery. These measures certainly help older players, who present more of a health risk.
From a piece in the Star Tribune, Phil Miller notes that the Twins have done things like push back bus times to the stadium, frequently cancel batting practice and map out regular days off for players. Additionally, according to a Pioneer Press piece, a health initiative has been implemented up and down the Twins organization where sodas were replaced with organic juices and minor leaguers are now being fed healthy, catered meals.
Another thing that the Minnesota Twins organization has done to invest in keeping players healthy and prolonging the careers of their aging stars was implementing a nap room last year. The most famous user of this nap room has been 39-year-old, Nelson Cruz. In a quote to the Pioneer Press Cruz said regarding the nap room, “It keeps you more alert. Anything you can do to perform better, you do it. You’ll be able to react better, so definitely that’s a plus for a hitter”.
While relying on older players presents a definite risk, the Twins are doing all they can to mitigate that risk by investing in the resources that keep those older players fresh and healthy. Additionally, Rocco Baldelli has shown that he wants to provide players with frequent off days, will have players spend more time on the injured list than may be necessary and overall implementing a team culture where players can feel comfortable speaking up regarding any injury concerns they have. The old “Twins Way” of grinding through injuries has been pushed to the wayside, and rest and recovery has been brought to the forefront so that players can perform to the best of their abilities and their bodies will allow them to do just that.
What do you think about the Minnesota Twins recent investment in aging stars? Do you think this is an organizational misstep? Or have the Twins found a market inefficiency that they are now exploiting? Leave a comment below and start the conversation!
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