Building a baseball team is a delicate process. If a team is too aggressive in its approach, it will have a one- or two-year window to win a World Series. If a team isn't aggressive enough, it will toil in mediocrity (or worse) and rarely give hope to its fanbase.
Fans of the Minnesota Twins want to see the aggressive approach at the moment, as they've been screaming for general manager Terry Ryan to do something this offseason to solve one of Major League Baseball's worst pitching rotations.
So far, the Twins haven't done much of anything on the free-agent market. Instead, they've opted to make trades to improve their farm system more than building something at the major league level.
The approach is the correct one to take with the current state of the Twins. Here's why the Twins should stay away from the free-agent market.
Anibal Sanchez has never thrown for 200 innings in a season, but that didn't stop Detroit from giving him a five-year, $80 million contract.
Since last July, Twins fans were begging the team to go make a splash in free agency. With Zack Greinke the top pitcher on the open market, the hope was that the Twins would dip into their Target Field revenue stream and get the ace the team has been missing since Johan Santana was traded.
As Twins fans impatiently waited, the numbers started coming out on some of the lesser free agents on the market.
First, Joe Blanton and his mid-four earned run average signed a two-year, $15 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels. Then, Grienke signed a six-year, $168 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Even in the Twins' division, the Detroit Tigers paid Anibal Sanchez $80 million over five years because he pitched out of his mind down the stretch in 2012.
These deals have helped set the market ludicrously high, which is why the Twins are paying Nick Blackburn-clone Kevin Correia $10 million over two years and Tommy John surgery recovery project Mike Pelfrey $4 million.
The Twins need pitching. But with the money that's being thrown around in these contracts, it's just not worth it.
Middle infield is just one of many holes the Twins need to address this offseason.
The Twins have so many holes around the diamond that it would make a chunk of Swiss cheese blush.
Teams should go after impact free agents when they're close to contending for a championship. To build a team entirely out of free agents wouldn't make much sense for the Twins right now because they have so many areas that they need to improve.
Outside of starting pitching, the infield situation is a complete mess. Trevor Plouffe is not a fit defensively at third base. Brian Dozier is having early struggles at shortstop. Jamey Carroll is an an older version of Nick Punto at second base, and a concussion-prone Justin Morneau is at first base.
All the money in the world can't solve the Twins' problems right now, so it makes sense to get younger players (via trade) who can help down the road.
Outside of a few big names, this year's free-agent class doesn't have much to offer, even if the Twins wanted to go all in.
Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton, and Anibal Sanchez had hype surrounding their decisions equal to the "Panda Watch." But with their decisions already made, the baseball community is not holding its breath to hear where Carl Pavano, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Shaun Marcum are going to land.
The Twins may be better served by waiting to see what the 2014 free-agent class would bring. As of now, top pitchers such as Matt Garza and Tim Lincecum could be available, and the Twins may be in a better position to fill a hole around established talent.
The last time the Twins had problems with their organizational depth, the team realized that plugging Otis Nixon and Butch Huskey into the lineup was not working.
With that, general manager Terry Ryan decided to use younger position players everywhere in an attempt to have them learn at the major league level. After a 69-93 record in 2000, the Twins came close to winning the AL Central in 2001 (85-77) and rattled off six division championships over the next decade.
Throwing players out to make mistakes now may not make the most entertaining or fundamentally sound baseball at Target Field next summer, but it may help establish a foundation for the next era of Twins success.
During the Twins' decade of success in the 2000s, the division was practically theirs for the taking. That is no longer the case.
Even the Chicago White Sox showed that they can exceed expectations after a second-place finish, and the Cleveland Indians have improved with the acquisition of phenom pitcher Trevor Bauer and the potential acquisition of Nick Swisher.
That leaves the Twins miles behind in the rear-view mirror and more likely to shy away from throwing money at this free-agent class.
The Twins don't have a lot of trade bait, but the trades they have pulled off this offseason show that dealing the players they do have may turn things around more quickly than free agents would have.
By trading Denard Span and Ben Revere, the Twins have acquired three players (Vance Worley, Trevor May, and Alex Meyer) who could fill out their rotation for several years.
A similar circumstance could happen with first baseman Justin Morneau if Chris Parmelee can't make the transition to right field.
While that could be an extremely unpopular move in the eyes of Twins fans, Morneau could draw a decent prospect if he's hitting well and provide dividends for the future.
Sometimes the best way to build a better future is getting rid of the past, and the Twins would do that by making more trades.
Would it be fun for the Twins to offer a gigantic contract to Nick Swisher? Sure. However, there's a good chance that Swisher wouldn't be as good as some of the players the Twins are developing in their farm system.
The Twins farm system has been regarded as ridiculously weak over the past couple of seasons. But with recent moves, ESPN 1500's Phil Mackey brought up this point on Twitter after the Revere trade:
#MNTwins' top-100-caliber (or close to it) prospects: Sano, Buxton, Gibson, Hicks, Arcia, Rosario, May, Meyers, Berrios. That's nine. NINE.— Phil Mackey (@PMac21) December 10, 2012
Basically, there is talent in the Twins' farm system that could provide a renaissance sooner than people think. Even if the Twins are forced to play Trevor Plouffe at third base again, he could merely be a stopgap for the top prospect in the organization, Miguel Sano.
If these prospects can pan out, it will be worth the wait.
It's always assumed that forking out boatloads of cash can quickly fill holes and lead a team to the World Series. That's how the New York Yankees have won so many championships...right?
Maybe not. While the top 10 teams in Opening Day payroll did make up half of Major League Baseball's playoff field in 2012, five of the top 10 teams couldn't find their way into October.
A younger (and cheaper) team can always hold more enthusiasm for the game and defeat their highly paid counterparts. That happened in Oakland last year when the Athletics stunned the Texas Rangers by winning the American League West.
While fans want some of the revenue to be spent on free-agent talent, it may not always be the best solution.
There's a difference between playing fantasy baseball and real baseball.
In fantasy baseball, it would be great to have Josh Hamilton playing with Zack Greinke and Michael Bourn. You might even win your league and the shiny trophy that goes with it.
However, the Twins don't have many fits in this free-agent market. The Twins need an ace, but many of them are out of their price range or are pushing the age of 30.
With the Twins wanting to get younger, it may not be smart to give out mega-deals to keep up with their neighbors.
In most cases with this and many other free-agent classes, it's a matter of where the player wants to go. For example, last season Prince Fielder wanted to go to Detroit even though it may not have been a match. The Tigers made that work and won the American League pennant.
For the Twins, it's unfortunately the case that most free agents don't wants to play for them.
In the fans' mind, the Twins have two of the best players in the American League in Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, one of the best ballparks in the country and a franchise that's won two World Series championships.
But in the free agents' mind, the Twins have two injury-plagued stars (one of which could be past his prime), a ballpark that has seen the home team struggle to score runs and a franchise that's lost more than 90 games in each of the past two seasons, with their last championship coming 21 years ago.
It takes two to dance, and the Twins are diving into free agency without a partner in sight.