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Twins Only Minnesota Team Clinging To “Small Market” Claim

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Before last season the Minnesota Wild signed both of the biggest names on the free agent market, forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to identical 13 year, $98 million deals before the shortened 2012-13 NHL season.

According to CapGeek.com, the Wild had the third-highest payroll in the NHL last season (apprx $70.1 million). Heading in to the 2013-14 season, Minnesota ranks 17th but has essentially spent the same amount of money as the season previous and are only $1.2 million under the cap.

After a season in which the Wild made the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the Wild overhauled their roster and continued to shell out money to attract, and maintain, talent.

The Wild have also been aggressive in the trade market, swapping fan favorite Cal Clutterbuck to the New York Islanders in exchange for promising young goal scorer Nino Niederreiter and trading underachieving forward Devin Setoguchi to the Winnipeg Jets for draft picks.

At last year’s trade deadline the Wild traded two of their top prospects, Johan Larsson and goalie Matt Hackett, to the Buffalo Sabres for veteran forward Jason Pominville. Minnesota then signed Pominville to a five year contract worth $28 million.

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The Minnesota Vikings surprised most fans with a playoff run in 2012, thanks in large part to the exploits of running back Adrian Peterson. But GM Rick Spielman also had a major hand in the team’s success.

In the 2012 draft, Spielman traded down to select tackle Matt Kalil then traded back into the first round to take safety Harrison Smith. Both players proved to be critical to the team’s success during the unlikely playoff run.

Spielman worked more magic in 2013 as he again was aggressive in moving up in the draft, this time trading his No. 52, No. 83, No. 102, and No. 229 pick to acquire the Patriots 29th overall pick and select wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.

With the Vikes struggling early in the 2013 season, Spielman went out and signed quarterback Josh Freeman. This is significant because it seems to be a case of the GM admitting he made a mistake in drafting Christian Ponder in 2011. Instead of stubbornly trying to save face and stay with the status quo, Spielman is getting creative to try and bring fans a winner.

The Minnesota Vikings currently have the second-highest payroll in the NFL according to TheGuardian.com at $122.1 million.

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Even the Timberwolves have been showing signs that they are fed up with mediocrity this season, firing their GM David Kahn and bringing in a number of free agents to bolster the lineup.

Before bringing in the new players, new GM Flip Saunders made sure to re-sign center Nikola Pekovic (5 yr/$60 million) and forward Chase Budinger (3 yr/$15 million). The only significant player to not re-sign from last year’s 31 win team was Andrei Kirilenko, who turned down $10 million from the Wolves to mysteriously sign with Brooklyn for $3 million.

Minnesota signed free agent swingman Kevin Martin to a four year, $28 million contract before the 2013-14 season, along with forward Corey Brewer (3 years, $15 million) to bolster their starting lineup.

Those contracts, combined with the four year, $60 million extension given to Kevin Love before the 2012-13 season, give the Wolves the 11th-highest payroll in the NBA at approximately $69 million according to HoopsHype.com.

Joe Mauer and the Minnesota Twins
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That brings us to our poor, “small market” Cinderellas, the Twins.

Minnesota entered the 2013 season with a payroll of just $71 million, or less than one third of the payroll of the Dodgers ($228.5 million) and Yankees ($238.8 million). That places the Twins 25th in all of Major League Baseball.

Adding in the dumping of Justin Morneau (Pirates) and Jamey Carroll (Royals), the Twins payroll in ’13 ended up around approximately $63 million, or 27th/30 teams.

Minnesota suffered through 90-loss seasons in 2011 and 2012, but made no significant changes to upgrade the team. Instead, the Twins cut nearly $40 million in payroll from their first season at Target Field and traded away two everyday outfielders despite having no real backup plan.

The Twins demanded a new stadium to help them remain competitive in what they have deemed a small market, and the taxpayers gave it to them. In return, the Twins let Michael Cuddyer (2013 NL batting champion with Colorado), Jason Kubel (2012 NL OF assist leader in Arizona), Francisco Liriano (Cy Young candidate in Pittsburgh), Justin Morneau (Starting 1st baseman for playoff Pirates), JJ Hardy (AL All Star for Orioles in 2011) all walk among many others.

After losing 96 games for a third straight season, EVERYONE was brought back for 2014 by ownership.

Manager Ron Gardenhire has won zero American League pennants since taking over for Tom Kelly in 2002. He is just 6-21 in the playoffs, including his current 12 game losing streak. His teams have not been competitive since 2010. He was rewarded with a two-year deal.

Meanwhile in Cincinnati Dusty Baker was fired after three consecutive 90+ WIN seasons.

Pitching coach Rick Anderson, a failure in nearly every aspect of his job, was inexplicably retained as well. The Twins finished second-to-last in ERA as a team this season at 4.55 and dead last in strikeouts with only 985.

Batting coach Tom Brunansky, in his first year as hitting coach, could not keep the Twins from striking out at a near-record rate. The Twins, who once prided themselves on patience at the plate and getting on base, struck out an embarrassing 1,430 times–a team record and third most ALL TIME in MLB. He was given a new contract as well.

The Twins organization, and some fans, have been consistent with the “It isn’t Gardy’s fault, he didn’t have the talent” refrain. If that’s the case, then GM Terry Ryan should be fired.

Ryan’s undying loyalty to a failing coaching staff and pitiful, profit-mongering ownership has been a joke from day one. Ryan has yet to make any trade of real consequence since taking the job, and his lack of foresight in keeping veterans until they walk for no compensation is laughable.

Making matters worse is sheer arrogance of Terry Ryan and team President Dave St. Peter. The pair constantly talk down to Twins fans and insist that they are not rebuilding. Ryan’s quote about Josh Willingham’s 3 yr/$21 million contract (the biggest in team history, twist your mind around that) being “substantial” is disgusting and dishonest.

Another faction of fans likes to remind us that “Bill Smith made this mess, not Terry Ryan.”

This is wrong on a number of fronts. First of all, Ryan left Smith holding the bag when the going got tough before the 2008 season. Johan Santana and Torii Hunter were both due for new contracts, and the Pohlad family was not willing to pay market value for either of them.

Ryan, citing exhaustion, left Smith to try and trade Santana and re-sign Hunter. Of course, the Twins got next to nothing in exchange for Santana and sent a classic Twins low-ball offer to Hunter (3 yr/$45 million) before watching him sign with LA for 5 yr/$95 million.

Second, Ryan was always an adviser to Smith while the latter was acting General Manager. If Smith’s moves were so terrible, why didn’t Ryan advise him otherwise? I have to assume TR had some clout as an adviser.

The simple fact of the matter is that as long as the fans keep packing Target Field, nothing is going to change.

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