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Twins stepping up to the plate with moves

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There has been a dramatic upheaval of philosophy this season for the Minnesota Twins -- and most of it for the good of team's fans.

The biggest change, obviously, is the chance to visit and watch the Twins in one of the best baseball parks in the U.S., instead of by far the worst sports venue in America -- otherwise known as the H.H.H. Metrodome.

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That alone has transformed the Twins into a larger attraction than they once were, when they were playing under the Teflon of the Dome.

No longer do fans have to be baseball enthusiasts to go watch a Twins game live. No longer does the team have to be in the thick of things to draw 2 million plus fans to the park.

Now, with the draw of the new Target Field, even the novel baseball fan will enjoy a day of sunshine, hot dogs, a cold beer and last, but not least, the game of baseball -- not necessarily in that order.

But the enjoyment of the fan isn't the only thing which Target Field has brought to a team which has been a divisional contender for the last six to seven years.

No, money has talked and finally -- after decades of penny-pinching -- the Twins are listening and spending.

There's no doubt building a great stadium has helped the Twins financially, thus having the ability to build a team which isn't only a divisional contender now, but an American League contender.

And with some crafty moves before the trading deadline, those expectations can be thrust to World Series contenders.

The myth that the Twins were a "small market" team has more than been dispelled.

With only two labels being floated around in Major League Baseball, that a team was either: A. Large Market, i.e. New York, Chicago or Boston...or B. Small market, i.e. Minnesota, Pittsburgh or Kansas City.

But the reality of it was the Twins were neither, they fall in the middle, as a mid-market team.

The Twin Cities media sports market is ranked No. 15 in the nation and is the 15th biggest metro area in the U.S.

The Twins now have the 11th largest team payroll in the 30-team league, with a payroll of $97,559,167.

San Francisco is 10th at $97,828,833 and the Los Angeles Dodgers have a payroll of $94,945,517.

Now, no doubt, the construction of Target Field and the revenue it's generating -- along with the projected season attendance number of 3 million -- is a big reason why the infamously-known stingy Twins were able to increase their payroll by over $25 million.

That increased payroll has propelled the Twins from being a divisional contender in a perennially weak division to one of the most talented teams in the American League.

The shift of attitude in adding talent from outside the organization this season can also be attributed to the pressure of winning, after years of laboring to get a new stadium.

The constant line of the Twins to get a stadium is they needed more revenue to contend in baseball -- meaning more money to pay their players -- and rightfully so.

The Twins this season were under the gun to produce results by proving they now can go out and pay for some talent.

And they have, with flying colors.

Twins' General Manager Bill Smith added such players as second baseman Orlando Hudson, Jim Thome and shored up a previously weak infield by trading for shortstop J.J. Hardy.

But the big move of the season was keeping their own.

Unlike previous years where they let such superstars as Torii Hunter and Johan Santana go, they were able to keep their star -- namely home-grown Joe Mauer.

But the fact is, the Twins were never a small-market team.

Even after building new stadiums, teams such as Pittsburgh, San Diego and Cleveland still flounder below the $62 million line -- one which the Twins were under not too long ago.

Population-wise, the Twin Cities' market has almost a million more people to draw from than markets such as Pittsburgh, Denver, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Kansas City.

Add in the fact the Twins draw from a four-state region such as Iowa, North and South Dakota -- that number does increase.

There are markets such as Kansas City and Pittsburgh which will struggle mightily reaching a $100 million payroll.

Obviously, the Twins will never touch the markets of New York or Boston, but with Target Field and the new-found attitude of the front office to build a contender, it makes Minnesota's baseball team that much more dangerous.

They have now added the function of supplementing talent and keeping their own stars to go along with developing players.

Before this season, the Twins had the ability to produce talent from their farm system, thus making them playoff contenders.

But the refusal to supplement their lineup with some free agent talent hindered them in the playoffs against powers such as the Yankees.

They also lost quality players like Santana, Carlos Silva, Hunter and Corey Koskie -- thus having to rely too heavily on young players needing breakout seasons on an annual basis.

The signing of Hudson solidified a pretty potent batting lineup, featuring power, speed and batting average.

The Twins now have the ability to go out and get that playoff hump buster, otherwise known as Cliff Lee.

That move alone -- along with a healthy infield of Hudson and Hardy -- will at least give the Twins a realistic chance of knocking off that immovable force known as the Yankees.

Although Smith will have to give away a valuable farm system piece to Seattle for Lee, with catcher Wilson Ramos and either a Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn or Scott Baker in the deal, the iron is hot now.

Strike it.

Yes, Lee maybe a three-month rental, but that notion would be erased if Target Field is hosting games in October.

Ramos is a stud-in-the-making, but he will always be behind Mauer for obvious reasons.

The "let's build for the future" mentality is over for the Twins.

The future is now, and gaining a Lee would prove the Twins are more than serious about making a run for their third World Series title.

Lee would be a perfect fit in the Minnesota rotation.

He throws strikes. His 76-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio proves that.

With the Twins boasting of the No. 1 defense in the majors with just 25 errors on the season, Lee can afford to throw strikes and let his mates behind him take care of business.

He can eat up innings to save that bullpen, with 86.2 innings pitched. Lee has allowed just three homers on the season and Target Field has proven to be a pitcher's park, thus far.

He can bring in a 2.39 ERA, which would easily be the best of the Twins' starters.

Lee's playoff experience is as solid as it comes, and the Twins could go into a playoff series with three pitchers who dominate batting lineups.

Imagine Lee, Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano as your top three starters come September?

Combined with a stout defense and strong offense, Minnesota can go toe-to-toe with New York.

The attitude and atmosphere has changed in Twins Territory, for the good of all fans involved.

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