In the American League Central, payrolls are prim and proper and owners are skinflint-types reminiscent of the good old days. That's where the Twins are the champions, tops among the tightwads, first-class frugals.
So where do they get off paying Johan Santana $40 million bucks?
Even the Central, it seems, has a limit on how low it can go, and when you have a talent like the Twins have in Cy Young-winner Santana, that limit is pushed. Minnesota general manager Terry Ryan, who keeps making the most of his limited resources, talked owner Carl Pohlad into giving four more years to Santana. If those years are anything like '04, the Twins have made a sweetheart of a deal.
Santana alone may be the reason the Twins are again favored in this division. He was so unbelievably good last season that his eye-rubbing stats deserve their own paragraph.
He was 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA. He struck out 265 batters in 228 innings. He had more strikeouts per nine innings, fewer hits allowed and fewer hits-plus-walks allowed than anyone in the league. He was 13-0 with a 1.21 ERA after the All-Star break. He gave up just 14 earned runs in 15 second-half starts. Opponents hit .192 off him, .154 after the break. In his past four losses, the Twins scored all of five runs for him. And this paragraph could be a lot longer.
It's tough to pin a team's success on one player, and the Twins are certainly more than Santana. They have a Gold Glover in center fielder Torii Hunter and a lights-out closer in Joe Nathan. Brad Radke is the co-ace on the staff, a quiet, unassuming sort who also got a lucrative deal (two years, $18 million) from Minnesota this offseason.
The sudden largesse is probably needed for the Twins to stay atop the division. The Indians are in the fourth year of a five-year rebuilding program and just missed the .500 mark last season after an exciting summer. The White Sox revamped a team that won 83 games in '04. They could challenge again. The Tigers are comers and they, too, broke open the checkbook, most notably with a $75 million deal to get former White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez. Only the struggling Royals seem out of chances in this division.
The Twins have won three straight Central titles on the cheap, but they've been bumped out of the playoffs in the first round the last two years and have yet to make it to the World Series as Central champs.
We'll see where spending a little more money gets them this year.
Click below for the rest of John Donovan's AL Central preview.