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Christensen: Twins sending mixed messages about team payroll

  • Blog Post by: Phil Miller
  • November 8, 2011 - 2:39 PM

Last week, in an interview with Patrick Reusse and Phil Mackey on 1500ESPN, Twins president Dave St. Peter said the team’s 2012 payroll “will end up at the end of the day being relatively comparable [to last season].”

Just so we’re all clear moving forward, the Twins official 25-man Opening Day payroll was $113 million. According to insiders, the team wound up spending closer to $118 million by season’s end, even with the money saved on the Delmon Young and Jim Thome trades. Keep in mind, players collect their salaries on the DL, and their replacements cost money. It adds up, even when the replacements are making the major league minimum ($414,000).

When interim GM Terry Ryan was asked about next year’s payroll on Monday, he said, “I think our payroll is going to be south of where we were last year.”

How far south?

“What was it last year?” Ryan said.

A reporter answered that it was $115 million, a common estimate.

“I don’t know if that’s accurate, but I think it’s going to be somewhere around $100 [million],” Ryan said.

Ryan downplayed the importance of payroll in determining a team’s success, and we all know he won four division titles with significantly less in his first tenure as GM.

St. Peter has a slightly different view

I caught up with St. Peter after the press conference and asked him about Ryan’s $100 million comment.

“Terry and I, frankly, have not had one discussion about our payroll for next year,” St. Peter said. “He’s been privy to it because nothing has changed from what we had been telling Bill [Smith]. ... I think it can be a fluid number. I’m hoping we can find a way to inch it forward."

"I think it’s also important what Terry said: Nobody here has ever viewed payroll as the end-all," St. Peter added. "Frankly, whether it’s $100 million, $95 million, $105 million, I think we can be successful next year. That’s certainly the belief that we have.”

The Twins are trying to draw a line. The Opening Day payroll jumped from $71 million in 2007 -- the final year of Ryan’s first GM tenure -- to $113 million last season. Obviously the jump was made easier because they appear to be printing money at Target Field, but that doesn’t mean they’ll continue to increase spending.

St. Peter told Reusse and Mackey that last season’s payroll was “frankly, north of where I wanted it to be, or where we thought it should be relative to our percentages of revenue. But we made a decision, obviously, to try to bring back [Carl] Pavano, bring back [Jim] Thome, and I don’t think anybody here regrets that. I think we thought they were the right decisions at the time.”

Big difference in revenue sharing

On the radio, St. Peter also gave a clear answer to a question many of us have had: How has the team’s revenue sharing picture changed since it left the Metrodome? St. Peter said the Twins were collecting about $20 million in revenue sharing money in their final years at the Dome. After a one-year grace period that teams get when they move into a new ballpark, the Twins paid $10 million into the revenue sharing pot this year.

That’s a $30 million swing, when comparing the Twins revenues in 2009 and 2011.

Bottom line

Ryan knows Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will combine to make $38 million next year (and again in 2013). It’s going to be tough to fill 23 other roster spots for $62 million. By our calculations, even if the Twins let all four of their free agents leave -- Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan and Matt Capps -- the Twins would still pay $83 million to return the rest of the club for next year.

* Here's how we got to that $83 million number. They've cut some of the players listed from this late-September chart, but the numbers won't change much.

Maybe Ryan has a few tricks up his sleeve -- such as trading away Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker or another medium-salaried player -- but the hunch here is the Opening Day payroll will land closer to $110 million. Every team sets a budget and then builds in flexibility so money can be spent if the right opportunity arises.

Maybe the Twins wanted to send a message: The gravy train is over. Yes, they’ve handed out some bloated contracts in recent years (to Mauer, Morneau, Baker, Nick Blackburn, Denard Span and Tsuyoshi Nishioka) but under Ryan, they intend to squeeze value out of every dollar spent.

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