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Twins manager Ron Gardenhire and players Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, left to right, answered questions from fans during a live TV broadcast Saturday night from Target Field.

Marlin Levison, Startribune staff photo

Fans get to quiz Mauer, Morneau

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN
  • Star Tribune
  • January 28, 2012 - 11:36 PM

How can the Twins cut their payroll after two years of mostly sellout crowds at Target Field? Can they win the AL Central this year, or are they rebuilding for 2013 and beyond?

And considering the team's recent playoff struggles, is the front office concerned about Manager Ron Gardenhire and his staff?

Those were among the questions Twins CEO Jim Pohlad, President Dave St. Peter and General Manager Terry Ryan faced from a hand-picked audience Saturday on live television from Target Field.

Fox Sports North and the Twins staged a town hall forum, inviting select season-ticket holders and sponsors to come with questions. Producers coached the audience to clap before and after the commercials, and several fans arrived in the Champion's Club lounge wearing Twins jerseys, but the questions weren't all softballs.

A fan named Todd, from Stillwater, thanked Joe Mauer for signing his long-term deal -- and for remaining a positive role model -- then asked if the St. Paul native had something to prove to Minnesota fans this year.

Justin Morneau was asked to rate his health on a scale of one to 10. He didn't give a number but said, "I feel like I'm miles ahead of where I was at this point last year."

Gardenhire, Mauer and Morneau answered questions for the first hour, with Pohlad, St. Peter and Ryan serving on the second panel. Ryan again said this year's Opening Day payroll will be about $100 million, which is down from a franchise record $113 million last year.

"I never thought I'd see the day where a $100 million payroll was not enough,'' St. Peter said. ''But ultimately, we think we can win with this club. The fans have been great. The more support we get, the more flexibility we can give Terry -- at the trade deadline, etc. -- to try to improve this team. It's not so much where you start. Sometimes it's where you end."

The 2011 payroll "was an aberration," Pohlad said, noting that players such as Michael Cuddyer, Joe Nathan and Jason Kubel were in the last year of contracts that have come off the books. Payroll has averaged $81 million the past five years.

"I totally disagree with the characterization that we're cutting payroll," Pohlad said.

Coming off a 99-loss season, Ryan insisted: "This is not a rebuilding year. We're going to try to compete [for a division title]. Obviously, on paper, Detroit should be favored. They lost [Victor] Martinez, but they signed [Prince] Fielder. I think they're back to even."

And despite past playoff struggles, Pohlad, St. Peter and Ryan all voiced support for Gardenhire and his staff.

"I have a high level of confidence in that manager and in those coaches," St. Peter said. "In baseball, frankly, getting to the postseason is still a greater challenge than any of the other sports, and we've had chances. We haven't gotten it done, but I wouldn't pin that on the manager and the coaches as much as an organization and as a team."

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