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In the mid-1980s, MLB teams colluded to keep player contracts — both in terms of length and dollars — from getting out of control. And while we’d stop short of using the c-word to describe the last two offseasons, there are some stunningly similar situations playing out before our very eyes.
Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel are both sitting at home twiddling their thumbs as teams now wait for the MLB draft — early next month — to pass so they can be signed without draft pick compensation being required. Future Hall of Famer Tim Raines was in the midst of his prime when he had to miss the first month of the season in 1987 because the deadline to re-sign with his original club had passed.
Fast-forward back to 2019, and the Minnesota Twins are the class of the American League Central and among the best teams in either league — just one year after a disappointing 78-84 finish led to a managerial firing and quite a bit of roster turnover.
For the second year in a row, the Twins moved slowly — or maybe deliberately is the better word — in the free-agent market, grabbing players at peak value to add to an existing roster of exciting, but unproven youngsters.
For the first year in a row, it’s actually working.
The Twins come into Wednesday’s series finale with the Los Angeles Angels with the potential for a sweep and with a record of 32-16. For those — such as myself — who aren’t mathematically inclined, that’s twice as many wins as losses. It’s the first time the Twins have been 16 games above .500 since the end of the 2010 season — the inaugural year of Target Field.
That feels like so long ago, doesn’t it?
There’s plenty of credit to go around and no shortage of worthwhile recipients for it. That includes guys like Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco and Mitch Garver from within, but also pretty much every player the Twins brought in from the outside.
C.J. Cron is mashing home runs you could hang laundry on. Jonathan Schoop has more than replaced Brian Dozier. Marwin Gonzalez has gotten red-hot in the month of May and looks like he’s willing to play just about anywhere to keep this thing going. Nelson Cruz was mashing until a wrist injury shelved him. On the pitching side, both Martin Perez and Blake Parker have been better than advertised.
That’s kind of a lot of players to add in one offseason, isn’t it? It’s almost like the Twins had a bunch of payroll room clear up and…nah. We won’t go there, but it isn’t only because Joe Mauer came off the books that the Twins were able to make these moves.
The Twins were able to add all these players because the free-agent market is broken — and they were one of the few teams willing to glue the pieces back together.
Let’s look at each player individually:
For the second year in a row, the Tampa Bay Rays made the baffling decision to move on from a productive player whose salary should not have been cost-prohibitive. After 2017, that player was Corey Dickerson, who went on to hit .300/.330/.474 for the Pittsburgh Pirates while making a tidy $5.95 million.
Even if the Rays want to cry poverty, that’s hardly a kingly sum for a player who still had two years of club control and was coming off one of the best seasons of his career. Also, it’s not like the Pirates are the gold standard for taking someone else’s overpaid veterans — they might even be the NL’s answer for the Rays in that respect.