While the average Twins fan can't understand why the team is cutting its payroll from some $113 million in 2011 to about $100 million this year, even though they drew more than 3 million people to Target Field last season, owner Jim Pohlad
said the cuts were planned before this year.
"I think that 2011, it wasn't so much that we cut the payroll, it was just that 2011 was just an unusual contract year with some of the players in the last year of their contracts," Pohlad said. "I think that's what inflated that. We always knew that was going to be a kind of aberration year.
"It's going to ramp back up again in the future as contracts mature."
Pohlad said it was hard to lose three long-time Twins to free agency with Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan all leaving this offseason.
"It's tough because they're great players and they're great guys and they're great Twins," Pohlad said. "But hopefully we can develop three more great Twins."
Under the Pohlads, the Twins have tried to budget 50 percent of the revenue to payroll, and Jim Pohlad said that is where they are at now.
At the same time, there is a chance that the payroll might go up because the Pohlad family has a record of never turning down the team's general manager when it comes to acquiring the right player, if the right player is available.
And General Manager Terry Ryan has said there are still several free agents available, and he might add somebody before spring training.
The problem is the average fan can't understand why the team failed to bring back Cuddyer, Kubel and Nathan when the team is drawing standing room-only crowds in the new ballpark.
And after losing 99 games last year, if the Twins don't turn their record around, the attendance is going to go down.
On another subject, Pohlad was asked for his reaction to the Tigers signing free-agent slugger Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million contract.
"It's a free country," Pohlad said. "They can do whatever they think is best for them."
He added: "We did that [signed a big contract] with Joe Mauer. We're happy with that. I can't say that we would never do that in the future, but you never know."
The Pohlad family spent millions of dollars of their own money making Target Field a better place for the fans. Pohlad was asked if there were any plans to improve Target Field in the future?
"I don't think there's anything really huge in 2012," Pohlad said. "But we hope to get the All-Star Game in 2014, and I think we'll build with improvements towards that, if we get it."
Pavano will improve
Twins righthander Carl Pavano, whom manager Ron Gardenhire has pegged as the Opening Day starter for the second year in a row, had a challenging season last year, but the 36-year-old said, "Sometimes you have to take a couple steps back before you move on and go forward.
"I think last year was just a transition, and a lot of the guys that were on the team were young guys. You take your lickings when you're a young man in this game, and you take your lickings when you're older in this game. It's the nature of the beast. I think the adversity and the pressure when you first come up to the big leagues is tough to handle. It exposes you a little bit until you get through all of that. I think that's what happened to our team a little bit."
Pavano went 9-13 in 2011, a season that saw great stretches and awful stretches in equal measure. In 10 of his 33 starts he gave up five earned runs or more, but he also had 14 games where he gave up two earned runs or fewer.
Pavano went through an especially rough patch in late July when, over the course of three starts, he allowed 20 earned runs in 15 innings, moving his ERA from 4.08 to 4.90. But he finished the season on a strong note, posting a 2.85 ERA in September, when he struck out 22 and walked only four in 41 innings. He pitched a five-hit shutout in the season-ending 1-0 victory over Kansas City, enabling the Twins to avoid 100 losses.
Pavano is convinced he will return to his 2010 form, when he was 17-11 with a 3.75 ERA. And he was glad to hear that Gardenhire has faith in him.
"I'm pretty excited that he has enough trust in me to give me the ball to lead off our season again. It's pretty cool," Pavano said. "It means that the trust that my manager is putting in me to lead our staff the first start of the year is pretty exciting.
"I felt pretty good [last year]. Overall, I think I had some stretches where I was really inconsistent, and it hurt the bulk of my stats and it hurt the team. I'm looking to put some of those things behind me and make some good adjustments and have a better year, team-wise and personally. Physically I'm good -- I'm ready to go."
• Timberwolves President David Kahn was in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday to watch former Wolves player and executive Fred Hoiberg coach Iowa State to a 72-64 victory over No. 5 Kansas. Former Gopher Royce White had 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists for the Cyclones, all team highs. He scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half.
• Twins President Dave St. Peter said he has been talking to Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi about staging a hockey game at Target Field between the Gophers and one of their main rivals.
• The hottest-selling item at TwinsFest is a Jack Morris autographed ball with the words 1991, Game 7 and the score 1-0. It was being sold for $91 and the supply of some 1,000 was almost sold out Saturday.
• ESPN.com Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett listed Gophers quarterback MarQueis Gray as one of the five offensive players to watch in 2012, saying that he is trying to identify “breakout players here — guys who had good seasons in 2011 but could be primed for greatness in ’12.”
• Gabe Guertler, a Gophers hockey recruit from Plantation, Fla., entered Saturday with five goals and 10 assists in 35 games for Fargo of the United States Hockey League. … Two other Gophers recruits were among the top high school scorers in the state. Lakeville South’s Justin Kloos had 26 goals and 31 assists in 17 games. Minnetonka’s Vinni Lettieri had 20 goals and 30 assists in 19 games.
• The verdict for the Jimmy Williams-University of Minnesota lawsuit appears set to be heard by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Williams was awarded $1 million in damages after a jury ruled he had been hired by Tubby Smith as an assistant, only to have the hiring rejected. The school lost on appeal and said in November it would go to the Supreme Court.