Twins trying to close the winning and talent gap

CHICAGO -- When Twins General Manager Bill Smith reflects on his team's three-and-out postseason, he doesn't think about all the money the Yankees spent on free agents last offseason.

CHICAGO -- When Twins General Manager Bill Smith reflects on his team's three-and-out postseason, he doesn't think about all the money the Yankees spent on free agents last offseason.

He thinks about missed chances. The Twins held a lead after the midpoint of each game.

"We have to find ways to close the gap," Smith said Tuesday, on Day 2 of baseball's GM meetings.

To many non-Yankee fans, the tickertape floating through Manhattan last week was another sign the sky is falling. After missing the playoffs last year, the Yankees spent $423.5 million on C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, seemingly buying their 27th World Series title.

But to the GMs assembled in Chicago this week, that parade simply nudged them to do better.


Former Twins GM Andy MacPhail, now overseeing a rebuilding effort in Baltimore, has a simple message for Orioles fans who say his team can't overcome the American League East behemoths in New York and Boston.

"Tampa did it," MacPhail said, referring to the Rays' 2008 AL pennant.

Of course, Rays GM Andrew Friedman saw his team fall to third place this year, 19 games behind New York and 11 games behind Boston.

"Would I like to see things change in the system? Sure I would," Friedman said. "I'd like to level the playing field even more. I do think there's some parity in the game. The difference is, it's harder for lower-revenue clubs to sustain a long run of success."

After losing the 2008 World Series to the Phillies, the Rays looked even more dangerous in spring training. By midseason, Friedman was trading away franchise cornerstone Scott Kazmir, while the Red Sox were acquiring Victor Martinez and Billy Wagner, helping secure the wild card.

The Rays could only dream of reloading like that mid-stream.

"Even if we could get over the financial hurdle of doing that," Friedman said, "the young players it would also take to complete a trade is something that makes it impossible for us to sustain success."

Friedman has expressed his ideas to the commissioner's office, but he knows his job is improving the Rays. The Yankees and Red Sox don't just have resources, Friedman said: "They're extremely well-run, which is a lethal combination."


To compete, other GMs know they need to execute a long-term plan, almost flawlessly.

"The impact it has on us is there are no Band-Aids," MacPhail said. "You're going to have to be a very solid baseball team to advance. So thinking you're going to sign a free agent or two, and that's going to magically propel you to the postseason, that's not likely in our division. So we have to build something that is meaningful."

It doesn't just affect the AL East, but the entire league. White Sox GM Kenny Williams remembers last fall, when he told Yankees GM Brian Cashman how much he liked Sabathia.

"He said, 'You're not getting him. I'm getting him,'" Williams said.

The Yankees were in a perfect situation. They had several big contracts -- Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu and Carl Pavano -- come off the books. They correctly predicted that this year's free-agent class -- headlined by John Lackey and Matt Holliday -- wouldn't be as enticing, so they made bold moves and won their first World Series title since 2000.

Between Yankees parades, the list of teams that reached the World Series includes the Diamondbacks, Angels, Giants, Marlins, Red Sox, Cardinals, Astros, White Sox, Tigers, Rockies, Phillies and Rays. So it can happen.

"We've got to the playoffs five times this decade," Smith said. "And now we need to keep pressing to get to the next two steps."

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