Home > MLB > Rebuilding Review: Better off as the A’s or the Twins in the long term?

Rebuilding Review: Better off as the A’s or the Twins in the long term?

Some two(ish) weeks ago, I was studying the payroll structures of a select number of American League clubs.

The current perception of the Minnesota Twins has changed drastically since the end of the 2010 season.  The Twins won the AL Central in 2010, and then were the favorites to repeat in 2011.  Instead, they ended up with the second overall draft pick.

The Oakland Athletics slashed payroll again in 2012, managing to find trading partners for both of their top two pitchers, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez.  The payroll freed up by those moves allowed them to make a play for 26 year old Cuban free agent Yoenis Cespedes.  The A’s still sit in a flexible payroll position for the future.  The Twins, meanwhile, have some payroll coming off the books after this season, but it is debatable whether they can sustain an 100 million payroll.  They may still need to slash.

And that leads to the million dollar question: which franchise is better off?  Obviously, if we stretch this out long enough, the Twins have all the advantages: a brand new ballpark, a better TV deal, a larger market, and would enjoy long term advantages over the Athletics.  But my focus is more on the shorter-term, long term.  The immediate future.  I want to examine the farm systems and the contract situations, as well as the ability to make a splash and take the step forward to the contention and decide whether the A’s or Twins are in better position.

The Twins are set for a bit of payroll relief in 2013, but the relief is not coming from the ranks of the unproductive players.  Carl Pavano’s contract is up, but the Twins are desperate for pitching help.  Scott Baker has a player option for $9.25 million.  That will be picked up if he’s healthy.  Francisco Lirano is a free agent.  Those are the three top pitchers in the Twins rotation.  That is where all but $3 million of the projected salary relief for the Twins is coming from.  That’s coming from Ryan Doumit’s one year deal.

If they opt for salary relief and rebuilding, the Twins rotation will be in dire straights and it’s not clear exactly how much free money they’ll have to go get more pitching.  The reality is that the Twins will probably pick up Baker’s option, and attempt to make a trade to acquire additional pitching, as well as bargain hunting for starting pitching (or really any pitching).  They might find a willing trading partner in the A’s.

The Athletics have the market cornered on young, cheap (mostly right handed) pitching.  Their minor league system is flooded with arms, and while they don’t know right now if they have a developmental ace in their pocket, I think the A’s are of the mindset that ace pitchers are overvalued by the market.  The model the A’s currently use is that they need to have strong defense up the middle and throughout the outfield, and then control pitchers with decent movement will be able to get ground balls, prevent homers, and get deep into the game.  Good defense, according to the A’s model has an exponential effect on run prevention efficiency.  Ace pitching merely gives you a shot to win once every five days.  In other words, it makes sense for the A’s to not pay for pitching when they can let other teams develop it and then acquire it, and then trade it off when it is established.

The A’s plan on offense is far less clear, and as defense becomes more properly valued, they’re going to need to spend some money in order to improve this group.  You can see the plan if you look closely enough: develop cornerstone players at premier defensive positions (Kurt Suzuki, Cliff Pennington, Jermile Weeks, Yoenis Cespedes), and then fill in the rest.  The problem is that, as a group, those players have been amongst the biggest underachievers for the A’s.  For the rest of the season, A’s GM Billy Beane must critically evaluate whether those players need more time to develop, or whether he must go and get better core players on offense.

The salary structure for Oakland leaves plenty of flexibility for 2013, but it’s not clear what kind of opportunities the A’s will have.  Brandon Inge, Brandon McCarthy, and Bartolo Colon are eligible for free agency.  They can replace all three of those players internally, and like the Twins won’t be killed in terms of arbitration raises.  But right now, the offense needs one or two more core players (perhaps at premium defensive positions) before they can handle 162 games of contention and that’s going to cost some money.

The Twins are pretty much stuck with this offensive lineup for another year.  There’s very little help ready in the minors for the Twins, though top prospect Miguel Sano is doing well in A ball.  But after finding Josh Willingham in free agency, and getting a majority of Justin Morneau’s power back, it’s hard to argue that their offense is broke.  The Twins’ defense is broken.  Any help they can get for Denard Span or Ryan Doumit at the deadline would be appreciated.

The 2012 Oakland A’s are probably a better team than the 2012 Minnesota Twins, because they do a much better job of preventing runs compared to the job the Twins do scoring runs.  The Twins’ run prevention is irreparably broken, maybe even more so than the A’s.  Furthermore, the A’s run prevention machine is more sustainable than the recent improvements made by the Twins offense, because the Twins are almost certainly going to have to sell some pieces of that offense for prospects.

And yet, beyond the 2013 season, I actually think the Twins are closer to meaningful contention than the A’s are.  It depends on a number of factors, like Joe Mauer’s ability to provide good innings at catcher, the Twins ability to develop any near-majors prospects they trade for, the development of bats like Trevor Plouffe and Ben Revere.  All of those things are risky propositions for the Twins.  But the A’s need to find some source of infield offense this year before they can go into 2013 planning to compete with the Rangers and Angels.

And look, even though the Twins found Josh Willingham at the very reasonable price of 3 years/$21 million, there’s no guarantee the A’s can find a similar bat at the same price.  After all, the Twins signed Willingham because the A’s opted not to match that price tag.

In the very short term, I like the A’s.  Maybe down the road, I think the A’s will be successful with this rebuilding.  But over the next two to three years, I think the Twins, even without a great amount of payroll flexibility, are the easier organization to return to prominence when compared to the Athletics.

And both should enjoy more success than the Mariners.

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