Let me begin by saying that I applaud the Twins decision to sign their All-Star and MVP catcher to an 8 year, $184 million contract. It's a feel good story for baseball without getting into the ridiculous salaries athletes are being offered these days. It's nice to see that occasionally, the Yankees and RedSox don't automatically sign whomever they want. That financial where withall allows those clubs to make mistakes in scouting and free agents other clubs can ill afford. Such finances can insure that a young star won't have to be traded in his arbitration year and signal the start of yet another rebuilding program.
But it does bring up an interesting question, one which I don't think has been asked yet. How was/is a contract of this size possible? The Minnesota Twins have always claimed to be a small market franchise and have always maintained that the only way for them to be competative is through farm system development and not big contracts. Their reasoning behind the fourth richest contract in major league history is twofold-the opening of their new ballpark, Target Field, and the local boy status of the face of the franchise. Joe Mauer is from St. Paul and still lives there, actively involved in community and local baseball related activities. It's difficult for fans to identify with any one player in this era of free agency and large contracts. It is rare for any player to spend more than a few years with any one team.
The first year of this contract will pay Mauer $23 million, roughly 25% of the Twins payroll. The Twins claim that as with the opening of any new ballpark, the corresponding increase in revenues will allow them to absorb any increased costs and to also increase their spending, especially the signing of their star players to long term contracts. This has historically been the case and as long as the team continues to contend, the first year increase in attendance will continue to generate the necessary financial windfall. With the continued build from within philosophy which the Twins have been so successful with over the years, and with the present weakness in the AL Central, (a cyclical occurance I will grant you), the Twins management may be rolling the dice with the odds in their favour.
Can the Twins continue to claim small market status in the aftermath of the Joe Mauer signing? Will this signing be an inspiration to other small market franchises and help stop the bleeding in Pittsburgh and Kansas City? Minnesota can still claim to be small market operation for whatever truth is ever in that claim by any team, just a little higher up on the small market ladder. Inspiration depends on the willingness of the owner to spend the necessary money to develop the farm system, ensuring a competative team season after season. Any development of a farm system depends on the hiring of good scouts and signing those draft picks, not always being respectful of the commissioners perfered ceiling, which are deemed important to the heatlh of any team.
Minnesota have always adhered to this baseball wisdom which I think has allowed them to occasionally, like any blind dog, not only find a bone, but keep it as well.