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Recent Blogs


Organizational Misstep or Market Inefficiency? How The Minnesota Twins are Betting on Older Stars

Since the start of last offseason, the Minnesota Twins have acquired six players age 34 and older. Are the Twins missing out on younger players and having to settle for older ones? Or have they perhaps found a market inefficiency in acquiring aging stars?
Image courtesy of © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Over 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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27 Comments

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tony&rodney
Jan 19 2020 09:30 PM

The initial year of using a system to keep players fresh was quite encouraging. 

Ironically, the Twins were really banged up in September. The entire outfield was injured. Buxton was out, Rosario played on one leg, and Kepler had a bum wing.Polanco played through an injury and Cron was nearly incapacitated with his thumb hurt. Injuries happen. Let's hope for the best down the stretch this season.

    • mikelink45, JoshDungan1, wabene and 1 other like this
If anything, the ‘inefficiency’ is the incredibly horrible job of drafting and developing pitching that goes back several years now. Once enough bats arrived to produce a competitive club, this regime has been forced to get creative in putting a pitching staff together...especially given the financial parameters they are required to work with.
    • Vanimal46 likes this
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twinssporto
Jan 19 2020 09:38 PM

I'm adding a nap room to my office at work. Great idea!

 

 

    • Doug Y, Riverbrian, adjacent and 7 others like this
“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?“

They’re probably signing them because they’re good, and the overwhelming majority of their roster is a good deal under 30.
    • SwainZag, DocBauer and Richard Swerdlick like this
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twinstalker
Jan 20 2020 01:20 AM

It's probably not an inefficiency if you're spending $92 million for it.

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Doctor Gast
Jan 20 2020 05:54 AM

I agree older experience, leadership & values are invaluable. I believe we wouldn`t have accomplish close to what we did w/o Cruz. Puckett was great in creating a tradition of great center fielders by his mentoring. Good investing isn`t always chasing after a commodity that everyone else is after. But seeing the value of what isn`t

    • Richard Swerdlick likes this

 


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?
 

 

When the demand for young goes up so does the supply of old.  

    • JoshDungan1, D.C Twins and MMMordabito like this

I like the way the new regime will put an injured player on the injured list right away and bring up a replacement player. It used to drive me crazy when they'd have an injured player sitting on the bench, wouldn't put in on the IR list, but then Gardy would complain about being shorthanded.A head shaker...

    • mikelink45, wabene and Battle ur tail off like this

As you mention, it appears the Twins are adding all these old guys.Yet, looking at the likely starting 9 hitters on opening day, seven are young and/or just entering their prime. 

 

The starting rotation is another story, or is it?Just may have two young guns firing off the mound to start the season.Once there, they may not want to give their jobs back to the older guys when ready.

    • wabene likes this
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MMMordabito
Jan 20 2020 10:14 AM

The Nationals did it. Worked.

    • h2oface likes this
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Matthew Taylor
Jan 20 2020 10:20 AM

 

“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?“

They’re probably signing them because they’re good, and the overwhelming majority of their roster is a good deal under 30.

 

On the Twins current roster -- 8 players have been acquired via free agency. 5 of those 8 were 34 years or older. 7 of those 8 players were age 32 or older.

 

The only current member of the Twins who was signed as a FA under the age of 32 is Michael Pineda.

 

The young crop of players have all been home grown talent.

 

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Matthew Taylor
Jan 20 2020 10:41 AM

 

The Nationals did it. Worked.

Good call - I definitely should have mentioned this in my piece. From all the quotes and things I've read, this strategy helped them big time.

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jorgenswest
Jan 20 2020 10:43 AM
Free agents are old. If they are high caliber you are either signing them old or giving them a contract well into their 30s.

Want a younger team less expensive team? Don’t sign free agents.

In my opinion the age issue is that baseball never figured out who was a player that knew how to play versus a player that was just that athletic in their young years and prime.What do I mean by this?Every player eventually reaches a point where they cannot get by on their individual athletic talent, but they can still learn to win.  

 

Pitchers are normally the biggest ones that run into this issue.Once they lose velocity they do not know how to actually pitch, ie mixing location, speeds, movement.Some learn how to do this an become a great junk ball pitcher late in their 30's and early 40's.Speed helps, but really keeping hitters off balance is key to pitching well.So if the pitchers they are bringing in at late age can do this, then go for it.

 

Hitters, I believe, is more about work off the field that keeps them being able to play.If they can stay in shape they can keep playing late into career.The biggest problem is some do not put in the work needed, or their body just cannot keep up if they are putting the work in.They did not forget how to hit, but they may lose some bat speed.I think to know if a player can play late into their 30's is what kind of work ethic do they have, and how did they get by early in career.It was mentioned long ago on this site, but Buxton is a guy that really should not be extended, unless he can show that he can hit without using his speed as main attribute.This is because he will lose that speed when he ages, everyone does, and since he gets by on that mostly I would expect big drop off. 

 

It is not about signing and going for young players, but it is seeing through the number and figure out who will make the adjustments as they get older.  

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Matthew Taylor
Jan 20 2020 11:14 AM

 

Free agents are old. If they are high caliber you are either signing them old or giving them a contract well into their 30s.

Want a younger team less expensive team? Don’t sign free agents.

25 free agents age 34+ have signed contracts this offseason. 20% of them have signed with the Minnesota Twins. 

    • h2oface likes this
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jorgenswest
Jan 20 2020 11:34 AM

25 free agents age 34+ have signed contracts this offseason. 20% of them have signed with the Minnesota Twins.


Have the Twins signed a proportionally greater number of free agents also?

Why 34? Why not 36 or 32? Would it look the same?
    • ashbury likes this

On the Twins current roster -- 8 players have been acquired via free agency. 5 of those 8 were 34 years or older. 7 of those 8 players were age 32 or older.

The only current member of the Twins who was signed as a FA under the age of 32 is Michael Pineda.

The young crop of players have all been home grown talent.


Sure, but the majority of the roster is quite young. They’ve signed a few guys to contract extensions—why not suggest that’s their M.O.?

I just don’t think there’s a meaningful trend here. If anything, these veteran signings tell us that they view free agency mainly as a way to supplement their homegrown core.
It’s not a deliberate action to sign older free agents as part of a greater strategy. It’s just that these are the only types of free agents they choose to be involved in because of cost.

A high-end player in his prime (Cole, Strasburg, and Rendon this year) is just never going to happen. But, once that star player crosses the age 30 threshold and accumulated a few injuries, the price may be in the wheelhouse of the Twins’ budget.

I don’t think it’s a great way of doing business. You’re going to get burned more often then not, probably, and the self fulfilling prophecy of “small market team” just keeps running a circular course, as we’ve seen here for decades.

I heard somewhere recently that the Astros made $60M just in the postseason in 2017. A couple of good postseason runs basically recoups the majority of any of these huge contracts. It’s when you go half-assed like the Twins historically have, when you can’t win a playoff series and corner yourself with financial constraints.
    • spycake likes this

 

If anything, the ‘inefficiency’ is the incredibly horrible job of drafting and developing pitching that goes back several years now. Once enough bats arrived to produce a competitive club, this regime has been forced to get creative in putting a pitching staff together...especially given the financial parameters they are required to work with.

This team has been absolutely horrendous at raising its own starting pitching.I challenge anyone to make a list of the three best starting pitchers we drafted and developed over the last 20 years.We are among the worst teams at doing this, possibly the worst.

The Twins have been signing ‘aging stars’ since before I was born, and probably after I’m dead. They can’t afford the price (FA or trade) to acquire them in their prime. So they get them on the back side of their career.

I think they are doing a fine fine job. Cruz was a marvelous oldster choice, and it ha been a series of single year contracts. Hill brings playoff experience. Donaldson will hopefully be the vet leader. Maybe didn't need both Clippard and Romo in the pen, but both showed signs of being viable relief arms. Both are on single year contracts and can be moved aside if younegr arms prevail.

 

You never ever know with prospects. The Twins MAY have a homegrown rotation come 2021, or probably in 2022 (depending on Berrios). They actually are set up to give multiple pitches a shot at major league starts to beging the season, then exile to the minors to learn to improve, and then back again. Last year the Twins five starters performed beautifully starting the majority of games. We got see see enough of Thorpe and Dobnak that they could be the short-term mix. Smeltzer, Poppen could still be swing arms or more. Graterol has the real stuff, just needs seasoning and time...but watch out 2021 with him.

 

Looking at the oldsters: Donaldson, Cruz, Romo, Clippard, Hill and even Bailey...are any of them preventing a youngertalent, today, at the moment, from getting playing time in the majors. Sadly the answer is "no." There are guys that could be worked into the picture, pushing some of them aside towards the end of the year (depending on the standings). And except for Donaldson, none are expected to contribute beyond this season. If they do, hopefully the Twins experience will see them come back.

 

I've got two thoughts on this.First, this 52-year old die-hard Twins fan wishes you all would stop referring to 34-year olds as "old guys"!!...lol.Second, there are 24 days until pitchers and catchers report!!

    • SQUIRREL, IndianaTwin and Battle ur tail off like this

 

It’s not a deliberate action to sign older free agents as part of a greater strategy. It’s just that these are the only types of free agents they choose to be involved in because of cost.

Yup. I said as much in a forum post recently, comparing the Twins landing Donaldson to the Brewers landing Cain. (Hopefully year 1 with Donaldson works out as well as year 1 with Cain!)

I don't think you can call it a misstep when every one of those signings was a 1 year deal outside of Donaldson.If they were giving multi-year deals to older vets wit would be a different discussion, but bringing in guys onyear deals are never a bad option IMO.

    • DocBauer and Battle ur tail off like this
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Battle ur tail off
Jan 21 2020 03:54 PM

Call them missteps when they sign the wrong players that are old. So far, the signing of Nelson Cruz last year was the best in baseball. He was fantastic. 

 

Donaldson is the other one. He was studly last year and likely is again for another few seasons. 

 

The rest of that list is low risk IMO. They aren't paying them much and they are on short term deals. Besides that, they are players that aren't what I would call "main" players they are counting on anyway. If they bomb out, DFA and move on. They are basically place holders with experience that may or may not work out.