The Joe Mauer deal has changed Major League Baseball as we know it, at least for the time being. The Twins have become the first "Moneyball" team since the Rockies sprung for $141.5 million for Todd Helton in 2002 to back up the Brinks truck for a single player. The obvious question is....will the Twins be able to develop or acquire the talent around him to be competitive for the life of the contract? As with most situations in life, there are precedents here. One is a success story and one is a cautionary tale.
Let's start with the bad news.....the now infamous A-Rod deal w/ the Texas Rangers. At more than $25 million a year, or about 25% of player payroll going to a single player, owner Tom Hicks was duped by A-Rod's agent, Scott Boras, into overspending for a superstar in what Bud Selig classified as a "small market". That "small market" is, in reality, the 5th largest media market in the country, but Hicks and Selig can't be burdened with details. Coupled with a weak farm system and saddled with the inability to acquire the talent necessary to build around their franchise player, Hicks eventually cashed in his chips and made the rich Yankees richer. As an average fan, I remember wondering why Boras didn't just eliminate the middle man and have him playing in New York or Boston three years earlier. The Rangers are only now beginning to dig out from the A-Rod hole with stronger homegrown talent.
The Rockies just signed Helton to a 2-year extension through the 2013 season, and the team has successfully built around him over the past few years, culminating in that unbelievable World Series run of 2007. They've developed one of the best farm systems in baseball over the past decade, and they've kept payroll manageable in spite of Helton's hefty salary and acquired players to fill holes as needed. They also have seem to have a pretty bright foreseeable future. The difference is a stronger top-to-bottom organization, from the farm system to the front office to the big league player roster.
So which way will the Twins' movie end @ the expiration of Mauer's megadeal? Recent history seems to point more to the Rockies than the A-Rod era Rangers. The Twins have done a masterful job developing talent that has defied Bud Selig's big market mentality for the past decade. They have also locked up their core of young stars early, wisely avoiding huge arbitration deals. Ron Gardenhire is one of the best field managers in the game. The Target Center will be open for business this season, so fans should flock to a state of the art facility, especially now that their hometown hero will be playing there for years. I won't guarantee a World Series, but for now they are in pretty good shape to make a run.
Or the whole thing tanks and he ends up in pinstripes in exchange for some mid-level minor leaguers three years from now........ :-)