The Twins Are Still Two Steps Away From Contending

Photo Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

On Dec. 5, 2018, the St. Louis Cardinals traded three prospects and a pick for Paul Goldschmidt, a six-time All-Star first baseman with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Goldschmidt was in the last year of his contract, meaning he could have left St. Louis in free agency after the trade. However, the Cardinals were confident he’d sign with them after spending a year with their organization.

The Matt Holliday model worked out. Goldschmidt signed a five-year, $130 million extension and was the NL MVP last year. His numbers have dipped slightly in his four years with St. Louis (.291/.376/.516), and he made his first All-Star team with them last season. But the Cardinals, a mid-market team (No. 24 in the US), landed the star player they wanted because they believe in their system.

It’s what allows them to compete for championships in a sport dominated by big-market teams.

The Minnesota Twins took their first step in replicating the Cardinals’ blueprint for success when they signed Carlos Correa to an unorthodox three-year, $105 million contract last year. It included opt-outs after each year, which Correa exercised in the offseason before nearly signing with the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets.

We’ve all seen it before; a big star leaving flyover country for a coastal city. But the Twins were opportunistic and pounced when San Francisco and the Mets blanched at Correa’s medical records. Despite their mixed results with players with an adverse medical history, especially pitchers, they offered Correa a creative six-year, $200 million contract that keeps him in Minnesota through his age-34 season.

“Last year, when I came in, I felt welcomed right from the get-go. I felt like I was part of a family,” Correa said at his introductory press conference. “My heart was here, and I’m glad we got this done.”

Correa’s connection with Minnesota kept the Twins in the mix, even though he initially received bigger offers. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were comfortable offering him a contract that could reach $270 million with team options because they spent a year with him last season. But they still have work to do. Minnesota has its best shortstop since Cristian Guzmán, but it still needs to borrow from the Cardinals’ organizational blueprint.

They have to start developing pitching and make sure Royce Lewis and Brooks Lee become stars. Correa alone won’t turn the Twins into contenders. Minnesota will need talent around him, like Lewis and Lee, while he occupies shortstop. Then, the Twins need a contingency plan for when Correa moves to third base, which is likely to happen before his contract expires. Lewis and Lee are Minnesota’s succession plan at short, and they can fill in around Correa in the outfield until then.

The Twins learned this the hard way with Joe Mauer. They had a core around him when they signed their homegrown superstar to an eight-year, $184 million contract in 2010. However, they didn’t have enough pitching to win in the playoffs. Minnesota won 94 games in 2010 but suffered a familiar fate in October.

The New York Yankees swept them in three games.

Minnesota’s starting staff that year? Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey. It was functional but hardly intimidating. By then, Johan Santana, Matt Garza, and Kyle Lohse were pitching for other teams; things may have been different if they had kept them in-house. Furthermore, the Twins traded Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps because they were desperate for a closer. Gone was a succession plan for Mauer, who only played 82 games in 2011 and suffered his career-altering concussion in 2013. In came Capps, who was out of the league after the 2012 season.

Teams overpay for pitching in trades and free agency. Most pitchers, even great ones, break down before their mega-contracts end; sellers at the deadline know how to hold up a team in need of a high-leverage reliever. The Cardinals win because they develop stars and always have young pitching. It allows them to compete with big-market teams that have infinite payrolls and can lure superstars to their city.

Signing Correa is a massive deal for the Twins. It’s become overshadowed because the Giants and Mets swooped in first, but Correa ultimately signed with Minnesota, filling an important hole at shortstop. It’s the first step towards being more like the Cardinals. Still, it will all be for naught if they don’t have enough stars around him. They need pitching to win in the playoffs and hitters who can protect him in the lineup. Fortunately, there are multiple prospects in the high minors who can help. Whether they do or not will determine whether signing Correa was successful.

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Photo Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

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