Ryan will have hands full with Twins payroll cut to $100M

Amid the team's change at GM was an announcement that payroll will be cut from its record mark of $115 million.

Michael Cuddyer

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune

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His club needs a starting shortstop. It might need a right fielder. The starting rotation needs to be upgraded and the bullpen needs to be fortified.

Terry Ryan's to-do list in his return to the general manager's chair is pretty long. And he will have to turn things around while spending less than his predecessor, Bill Smith, spent last season.

The Twins fired Smith on Monday and brought back Ryan, who was the GM from 1994 through 2007. During a news conference at Target Field, Ryan confirmed that the payroll is going down.

"I think it's going to be somewhere around $100 [million]," Ryan said.

The 2011 payroll wound up at just over $115 million, so the Twins are looking at a 2012 payroll roughly 13 percent less than it was last season.

"I don't believe in payroll being the ultimate factor in success by any stretch," Ryan said.

Joe Mauer, who is scheduled to earn $23 million each of the next seven seasons, figures to be taking up more than 20 percent of the club's 2012 payroll. There's a belief among many in the game that it's extremely hard to field a winning team with one player taking up that much of the payroll. Twins owner Jim Pohlad said he didn't believe in the unwritten rule.

"Maybe history has showed that," Pohlad said. "It is what it is. We have a player who is making a significant chunk of the payroll. That is a fact. We have to deal with that. We always have to keep the financial discipline."

Include Justin Morneau's $15 million salary for next year, and the Twins have $38 million tied up in two players.

Based on projections made by the Star Tribune in September, it could take $83 million to bring back everyone from last season who isn't a free agent. That's before they even try to re-sign outfielder Michael Cuddyer, outfielder Jason Kubel, closer Joe Nathan and/or reliever Matt Capps.

If they want to upgrade the roster through free agency, the Twins will have to move some players currently under contract. Even so, with a $100 million limit, it looks impossible for the Twins to be able to bring back both Cuddyer and Kubel. With Cuddyer being heavily courted by Philadelphia, the Twins might wind up focusing on keeping Kubel.

Ryan did say during his news conference that Smith and assistant GM Rob Antony have been in contact with agents of available players since the free-agent window opened last week.

"Whether the number is $95 [million] to 100 or 105 to 100, that payroll, in and or itself, is not going to be an impediment to us winning next year," Twins President Dave St. Peter said. "We're going to have to be creative. We're going to have to be bold and we have to make good, smart baseball decisions. We believe there's a path here to winning in 2012 and beyond."

It will be up to Ryan to put the Twins on the right path.

"Whatever it is," Ryan said of the team's 2012 payroll. "It's going to be a heck of a lot more than I ever had to work with."

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