>What the Playoffs Mean

>This morning, Aaron Gleeman rebutted Jim Souhan’s contention that the Twins would be better off not making the playoffs, noting that “Getting into the playoffs thanks only to an awful division and being a thoroughly mediocre team with tons of flaws and late-season injuries to key players aren’t things that necessarily keep teams from having success in the postseason because having success in the postseason is an unpredictable mix of skill and luck played out over the course of at most 19 games.” Technically, of course, Gleeman’s right. With enough luck, pluck, and gumption, even the 82 win St. Louis Cardinals managed to win the World Series in 2004. If the Twins get hot, they have a realistic chance of winning the tournament (especially if they play their best team in the field, which they are currently not doing by leaving Carlos Gomez and Brendan Harris on the bench). It is a smaller chance than the Yankees, Red Sox, or Cardinals have, but it’s still a possibility.

Gleeman doesn’t mention, and Souhan probably has never thought about, the most important reason why Twins fans should care about the team making the postseason…money. In Baseball Between the Numbers (2006), Nate Silver argues that “a team receives a long-term benefit to its regular season attendance as a result of reaching the postseason. In addition, making the playoffs brings the bonus of getting to play some number of additional home games in front of a packed house at higher-than-normal ticket prices.” Likewise, playoff appearances have additional benefits, including richer local media contracts, higher regular-season attendance the following year, more concessions sold, etc. In all, Silver calculated that a playoff appearance is worth approximately $25 million.

This extra $25 million or so will help a team to loosen otherwise tight budgetary restrictions, especially if that team plays in a smaller market. The Twins must maximize revenue streams and minimize expenses (as much as is practical) to afford the level of talent necessary for the team to compete again and again for a playoff spot. It is a cycle of success that can, at least in part, fund and sustain itself as long as a team continues to produce talent from the farm system, and does not significantly waste resources (ahem, Livan Hernandez, Luis Ayala, ahem). Teams can use their ability to get to the postseason in one year as a springboard to get to it the next.

The Twins have one glaring problem looming on the horizon, even as they get ready to enter a new stadium and reap the benefits associated with being able to charge higher prices: Joe Mauer’s impending free agency (after 2010) and the additional dollars the team is going to have to shell out as its cores get older and more expensive. It is essential, for the team to feel reasonably confident it can get to the playoffs and share in that cash bonanza at least every other season, particularly if it is going to shell out $20-25 million a year for Mauer’s services over the first part of the Twenty-Teens.

Fig. 1: Your new god.

The Common Man believes that the Twins will sign Mauer to a long-term extension regardless; however, for the team to maintain its core and to build upon that core, it will have to have that additional playoff money. Scott Baker, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, and Joe Nathan are all about to get more expensive (or continue to be expensive). Nick Punto is going to continue to eat money for doing little. And eventually, the team is going to have to think about whether to lock up Kevin Slowey, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel to longer-term deals. The Twins need to make the postseason again soon just to be able to subsequently make the postseason again. The possibility Gleeman discusses of a deep run into the tournament would be icing on an otherwise very lucrative cake.