I recently saw an intriguing headline ...
Young Twins face big decisions this offseason
But you know, I checked out the story, and it seems to me that while the Twins may have a lot of big decisions to make, most of those big decisions are also easy decisions, if they're based on logic rather than sentiment. The Conventional Wisdom seems to be that the Twins will be excellent again next year, if only Carl "Pay No Attention to Those Billions Behind the Curtain" Pohlad will spend the money to keep their young players together.
Instead, I would argue that 1) some of the young players aren't really so young, and 2) if the Twins are going to excel in 2003, it's because they've dumped some of their young players in favor of their really young players.
At first base, the Twins have Doug Mientkiewicz and he's still pretty cheap. True, Mientkiewicz is eligible for arbitration, but he made just $285,000 this season. So while he's certainly going to get a big raise, he'll still be making relative peanuts for an everyday first baseman. So they should just pay him, right?
I'm not so sure. Mientkiewicz is 28 years old. His .403 career slugging percentage is terrible for an everyday first baseman. He's probably going to enjoy another good season or two, but why spend good money waiting for it? Yes, I know he's an excellent fielder ... and if he played second base, you could justify paying him a few million dollars per season to slug .403. But he doesn't, so you can't.
At second base and shortstop, Luis Rivas and Cristian Guzman will both be back in 2003, which is good because the Twins don't have their replacements in the wings. On the other hand, Rivas and Guzman are both pretty lousy hitters, so if GM Terry Ryan really wants to get bold ...
At third base, the Twins have Corey Koskie. He struggled in the postseason, but if you're going to have a wart, that's the best one to have. Koskie isn't heading to Cooperstown someday, but he did post an 815 OPS this season and ranks as one of the league's best third basemen.
In the outfield, it's assumed that the Twins need to lock up Torii Hunter with a long-term contract. But do they? Granted, Hunter's a fine player. But Jacque Jones could shift to center field and the Twins wouldn't lose a lot defensively, and they've got plenty of guys who could then replace Jones in left field.
See, the Twins are loaded with outfielders. They've got so many outfielders, they don't have room for them all. In addition to Hunter and Jones, the Twins also have Bobby Kielty, Dustan Mohr, Michael Cuddyer and Michael Restovich.
You know how the story's supposed to go. Plucky franchise puts together a solid team, consisting mostly of home-grown players, despite limited budget. Team wins 94 games. Team gets torn apart because of budget woes, and soon sinks back to whence it came. And so Bud Selig was right. Our plucky little franchise was nothing but an aberration.
The players certainly buy into this paradigm. As Pierzynski recently said, "We have to keep this team together. If we do that, hopefully we can make it two steps further next year. Hopefully, Mr. Pohlad will step up to the plate and get it done."
And if Pohlad doesn't "step up to the plate"? Right, the Twins plummet right down to third place (or even fourth, if Tigers owner Mike Illitch ever "steps up to the plate").
But it doesn't have to work that way. What if a franchise put together a solid roster, consisting mostly of home-grown players, and then continued to develop good players, who replaced the first group of home-grown players as they became more expensive?
The Minnesota Twins have continued to develop good players, and now it's just a matter of having the courage to give them jobs. If I were running the Twins and my owner didn't approve a significant payroll increase, I would let Mientkiewicz go, and replace him with Justin Morneau. I would let Hunter go, and replace him with Jones. And I would trade Rick Reed, and replace him with Johan Santana.
Would this new, younger team be as good as the 2002 Twins? I think it would be. Brad Radke and Eric Milton and Joe Mays are all likely to pitch better in 2003 than they did in 2002. Rivas and Guzman should both improve some with age. Koskie and Pierzynski should both hold steady. The bullpen won't be as good next year, but that shouldn't be a big problem if the starters are better.