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Why The Pohlad Family Is Right

March 28, 2013

As owners of the Minnesota Twins the Pohlad family takes a lot of heat over not going out and actively pursuing free agent players and putting more money into the team payroll. Some of the arguments I read, like team owners have to spend money to be competitive in today’s game, make sense, and others, like the family is rich and can afford free agents, don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that the players who come with the higher price tags generally do help a team be more than just competitive and I would like nothing more than to see the Pohlad family dump tens of millions more into payroll and go out there and be competitive in free agent signings like the Yankees, Phillies, Angels and Red Sox, but I understand when they don’t. High-priced ballplayers come with no guarantees and do not automatically equal success on the baseball field. Personally, I’m not unhappy when out of 30 professional baseball teams, the Twins total payroll and average salary is right in the middle of the pack. Granted, those numbers might be skewed a bit by Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau’s salaries, but the reality is that in 2012, the Twins team payroll was 12th out of 30 teams and to me that points to ownership that is trying to field a competitive team which I believe is all one can ask for.

Evaluating talent is hit-or-miss, and putting a monetary value on players who are susceptible to failure for any number of reasons based on future/expected performance is a risky gamble at best and the Boston Red Sox proved that with Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka (Dice-K) pitched in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in Japan and by all accounts he was a superstar. A Rookie of the Year Award winner, he went on to lead the league in strikeouts, wins and ERA multiple times and in his eight years in the league he was a perennial Gold Glove winner and All Star. At the end of the 2006 season, Dice-K announced that he wanted to play major league baseball in the United States.

A quick aside to the posting system and in a very brief nutshell, the posting system is what allows a Japanese baseball player playing in the NPB to transfer to the US and play for Major League Baseball. The player’s home team “posts” him and then MLB teams bid for the rights to negotiate with the player for one month. If the negotiations are successful, then the NPB team receives the bid amount in compensation. If the month passes and the player and MLB aren’t able to come to contract terms, then the bid is voided and the player returns to his NPB team.

Dice-K entered the posting system at the end of the 2006 baseball season. The silent bids were submitted and the Boston Red Sox were the highest bidders with a bid of $51.1 million. That’s not $51.1 million to sign the guy to a multi-year contract, that’s $51.1 million just to talk to the man and negotiate with him. That’s right, $51.1 million just to talk to him. The negotiations were successful (did anyone think they wouldn’t be?) and Dice-K was signed to a six-year, $52 million contract. If you’re keeping score, that’s $103.1 (actually more with player incentives) for a pitcher. Dice-K helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 2007 and despite some arm problems, he had a good 2008. After that it was on and off the disabled list and sub-par seasons until the beginning of the 2011 season when it was announced that he would be having season-ending Tommy John surgery. He returned last year to another sub-par season and at the end of the season the Red Sox granted him free agency. During Dice-K’s six years with Boston he never won 20 games in a season, he never won a Cy Young award, he never won a league ERA title and he never led the league in strikeouts. He was at times wild and would give up a lot of walks and he had a high WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched). Is that a good return on a $103.1 million dollar investment?

Daisuke Matsuzaka is still playing in this country and he will be starting the 2013 season for the Cleveland Indians’ AAA minor league team.
So you’re the owner of the Minnesota Twins now and tell me if Dice-K was worth the money. Was it worth gambling $100+ million on a player for what amounted to two seasons of average play? Sure, his 15 wins helped the team win a World Series in 2007, but so did Josh Beckett’s 20-win season and Tim Wakefield’s 17-win season. Not to mention a respectable .279 team batting average, .362 on-base percentage and .444 slugging percentage which allowed the team to average over five runs per game.

You’re the owner and you’re running your business with the twin goals of fielding a competitive team and not losing money so would you gamble $103 million on one player? One pitcher? There’s no right or wrong answer, it’s just different baseball philosophies and my philosophy is that $100 million dollar players aren’t worth the risk and that’s why I don’t fault the Twins for not taking those types of risks and I respect them for continuing to take a reasonable approach to team ownership which involves developing talent in the farm system, making sensible trades and not pursuing free agent players who come with ridiculously high price tags. Is this philosophy the right way to run a baseball team? I can’t say for certain. For all I know my logic is flawed and I’m way off base here, but I know the Pohlad family kept the team from being sold and relocated to Tampa, brought us two World Series titles (how many do the Vikings, Timberwolves and Wild have?) and have given Twins fans an entertaining and competitive baseball team since 2001. Sure, Carl Pohlad was also willing to sell the team and see it leave the state and he was also willing to let the team be contracted and simply disappear from the world of baseball back in 2002 and there’s some grumbling about lying in order to receive public money for a new stadium, but that’s beside the point which is how to spend money to run a business and in that area I have a difficult time finding fault with the team’s owners.

Ask me about this in four months when the Twins are 15 games out of first and struggling to stay above .400 but I think my position will probably be the same.

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