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Ryan, Santana give Twins hope

Low-budget team thrives by making the right moves

MINNEAPOLIS — This week Terry Ryan won his second Sporting News executive of the year award, and Johan Santana won his second Cy Young Award.

These events are as interrelated as turkey and tryptophan.

Ryan didn’t win either of his awards by outbidding the Yankees and Red Sox for free agents. He won because of his ability to find more growth stocks than Warren Buffett.

Santana, acquired in a trade with the Florida Marlins during the Rule V draft in 1999, became the ultimate blue chip, the Dell of raw pitchers.

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"They paid us to take him," Ryan said of the deal that gave the Twins Santana and $50,000 for a pitcher named Jared Camp.

"That was a pretty good deal for us."

While the Twins are winning awards this week based on the pursuit of bargains, the Red Sox were reminding us that they operate in a different financial universe.

Boston, which won 10 fewer games than the Twins last year despite spending $50 million more on payroll, bid $51.1 million on Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.

"That’s almost as much as our payroll," marveled Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.

Different world for Twins

The Red Sox are spending $51.1 million for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka, or $51,150,000 more than the Twins spent to acquire Santana.

The smart speculation is that the Sox will spend another $9 million to $10 million a year to sign Matsuzaka for three to five years.

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The Twins? Their entire payroll, despite the approval of a new stadium and the presence of an aging billionaire owner, might not reach $70 million — far less than the Sox will spend, in total, to sign Matsuzaka.

This is the definition of an unlevel playing field, but, miraculously, it does not ensure that the Red Sox will win more games next year than the Twins.

How can our low-revenue, medium-market, barbed-wire-for-purse-strings franchise compete with the behemoths?

Because of people like Ryan and Santana, and the Twins’ other award contenders: AL manager of the year runner-up Ron Gardenhire and MVP candidate Justin Morneau, a third-round draft pick in 1999.

While the Red Sox exceed their credit limit, the Twins will beat the bushes, even those that look like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.

Look where Ryan found Santana — in the dollar CD bin, right behind Loverboy, Freddy Fender and Grand Funk Railroad.

So while Blue Jays executive Paul Godfrey felt comfortable complaining about the Red Sox, Ryan merely shrugged.

"That’s a ridiculous sum to pay out for the right to bargain," Godfrey told the Toronto Star. "To me, it makes zero sense. This distorts the economics of the game. It can distort the competitive balance."

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Ryan’s reaction? "This won’t be difficult for me to cope with, because we’ve never committed ourselves to operating through free agency," he said. "There’s nothing new here."

The acquisition of Santana helped propel the Twins back into contention after their late-1990s lethargy. To remind you of how much recycling Ryan has to sort through to find his Santanas and Lirianos, here’s a list of some of the other players he acquired in the winter of 1999, along with Johan:

Marcus Jensen. Sean Bergman. Scott Randall. Hector Carrasco. Bobby Ayala. Mike Kusiewicz. Jason Maxwell. Robin Jennings. Midre Cummings. And Butch Huskey, once described as baseball’s only no-tools player.

Again this winter, the Twins’ forays into the free agent market will remind you of a pensioner’s Monday morning foraging at Wal-Mart.

We could complain about the inequities in baseball’s payroll structure, or beg Pohlad to unleash the hibernating moths from his moss-encrusted vaults, but we might as well deal with reality.

While the Red Sox and Yankees spend like K-Fed with Britney’s credit card, the Twins will keep looking in the dollar bin, leafing through the Vanilla Ice and Chumbawamba, in search of the next Santana.

Jim Souhan is a Star Tribune sports writer. His column is distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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