Derek Falvey has been given free rein by team owner Jim Pohlad to reshape the Twins in whatever manner he likes. But he's not quite starting from scratch.
Falvey, the team's new chief baseball officer, inherits contracts and trade commitments that oblige the Twins to spend more than $60 million on a half-dozen players in each of the next two seasons — or more than half of the team's total payroll (plus another $4 million they must send to the Angels next season to help pay ex-Twin Ricky Nolasco's salary).
That sort of prescribed spending level on long-term contracts is normal in the major leagues, of course, the price of attracting or keeping veteran players. And the Twins owe less than most teams, and only a fraction of the pending costs for the game's spendiest teams like the Dodgers, Red Sox and Tigers.
But if the Twins roster for the next two seasons isn't entirely the product of Falvey and new General Manager Thad Levine's work, the 2019 Twins will certainly be their team. Joe Mauer's eight-year, $184 million contract expires after the 2018 season, as does Ervin Santana's four-year, $54 million deal. In fact, only Phil Hughes (at $13.2 million, the final season of his three-year, $42 million extension) and Byung Ho Park ($3 million, the final season of his four-year, $12 million contract) are guaranteed for the 2019 season, leaving it up to the Twins' new brain trust to decide how to spend the rest of the team's cash.
And how much money will be at their disposal? Falvey was blunt last week about that topic: He doesn't care.
"Payroll plays a role in a team's success, but the way we viewed it in Cleveland — I learned from the likes of [former team president] Mark Shapiro and [Shapiro's successor] Chris Antonetti — is that every team has challenges. It's our job to put forth a vision and a direction for this team to operate within the environment we're in," Falvey said. "So for me, any time we're focused on payroll is time wasted. That's not time focused on areas we can be developing the team."
Beyond the money imbedded in long-term contracts, the Twins could face more spending this season anyway, due to the presence of a half-dozen players eligible for arbitration, a process that normally bestows sizable raises on most players. Kyle Gibson, for example, despite a frustratingly inconsistent season, could receive a salary four or five times that of his near-minimum pay last season, simply the going rate for a pitcher who made 25 starts.
The Twins have operated with a player budget of between $97 million and $113 million in five of their seasons since moving to Target Field in 2010, and former GM Terry Ryan frequently asserted that Pohlad had never turned down a request for increased spending when the need arose. That spending level normally ranks between somewhat below the midpoint of major league teams, usually between 15th and 20th or so. Last season, it cost the Twins about $105 million to field their Opening Day roster, the 18th-highest level in the majors.
Don't expect that to change, at least not right away.
"My understanding is that what Terry indicated in the past has not changed," Levine said. Referring to Pohlad's spending philosophy, Levine said, "It's less of a hard-and-fast [maximum] figure, and more of, 'Here are some guidelines — if [an exception] makes a meaning long-term impact on our chance of winning, I'm listening.' "
Levine also pointed out that the past three American League champions — Kansas City in 2014 and 2015 and Cleveland this season — inhabit the same payroll neighborhood as the Twins. In fact, the Twins outspent the Indians by more than $15 million in 2016.
"We'll never look at it as an excuse," Levine said. "I don't get any sense that we're going to be restricted from any financial standpoint, but we understand the marketplace."
Pohlad has authorized a much bigger payroll in one area, however. Levine said the owner is convinced by his new employees that additional brainpower in the team's analytics department, in examining medical issues and expanding usage of baseball's new metrics being measured on the field, is worth a far greater investment than the Twins have made in the past.
"What you're spending at the major league level tells only part of the story. … There are opportunities to make significant investments in the infrastructure which can bear some significant competitive advantages," Levine said. "The overall investment in your organization, your operations, may be a better indicator of the teams that are winning today."