Phil Miller covered three seasons of Twins baseball, but that was at a different ballpark for a different newspaper. Now Miller returns to the baseball beat after joining the Star Tribune as the Gopher football writer in 2010, and he won't miss the dingy dome for a minute. In addition to the Twins and Gophers, Miller covered the Utah Jazz and the NBA for six years at The Salt Lake Tribune.
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.
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.
Two Twins front office notes to pass along: The team did indeed decline permission for the Orioles to speak to VP of Player Personnel, Mike Radcliff, about Baltimore's vacant GM job, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Also, the Twins hope to soon finalize an agreement with former assistant GM Wayne Krivsky that would bring him back to the organization, likely as a special assistant to GM Bill Smith.
Krivsky, 57, left the Twins to become the Reds general manager after the 2005 season. After getting fired by the Reds in 2008, he went on to become a special assistant for the Orioles and Mets.
Krivsky would focus primarily on pro scouting for the Twins, but the team's current inner circle -- which includes Smith, Radcliff, assistant GM Rob Antony and former GM Terry Ryan -- would welcome Krivsky's input as a former major league GM.
Beyond the potential Krivsky hire, and perhaps adding a few new area scouts, the Twins aren't planning any shake-ups. Radcliff's title will not change, but it's clear the organization considers him a vital cog moving forward.
I'll have more on what all this means in tonight's first editions.
Tom Brunansky, a key member of the Twins 1987 World Series championship team, has been hired to be the hitting coach at Class AAA Rochester.
The news was first reported, via Twitter, by Jim Mandelaro of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
Brunansky, 51, drew rave reviews this year as the hitting coach at Class AA New Britain. The Twins are still searching for a new manager for Rochester after firing Tom Nieto and hitting coach Floyd Rayford in September.
Mike Radcliff, the Twins vice president of player personnel, has been named a 2011 Scout of the Year winner, along with Bob Engle of the Mariners, and Mel Didier of the Blue Jays. These awards were created 28 years ago to honor scouts for their behind-the-scenes contributions to the game.
Radcliff started with the Major League Scouting Bureau in 1982 and has been with the Twins since 1987.
If I had a nickel for every time Twins GM Bill Smith has given his standard response, "We'll let you know," to one of our questions, I'd be rich. It wouldn't be Joe Mauer money, but I'd be rolling in coins.
The point is, Smith usually plays things close to the vest. He measures his words about the team's offseason plans because he doesn't want to compromise the organization's leverage, or he doesn't want players to read something about their job security that they wouldn't hear first from the team, etc.
But Smith also knows his audience. On Tuesday night, he and team president Dave St. Peter held a conference call with the team's season ticket holders. Coming off a 63-99 season, this group didn't want to hear a bunch of excuses and generalities about the offseason plans. The fourth-year GM was refreshingly candid.
On a tight deadline, I tried giving readers the highlights with this story last night. I'll be hosting a live chat today at noon, so stop by with your comments and questions about the Twins offseason. But first, here are some important leftovers from a rare version of Bill Smith Unplugged:
From his introduction:
"We turned the page the day after the season. We’ve started looking ahead. We’ve got big meetings going on in Fort Myers next week. We’re going through our organization player-by-player. We’ll start to look at free agents, we’ll start to look at trade possibilities, we’ll start to look at who is going to be healthy, and try to get this ship righted."
Regarding Danny Valencia:
"Valencia took a step backwards from last year. Call it a sophomore slump or whatever; he did take a little bit of a step backwards, but he was healthy and durable and played everyday over there. We’ve gotta give him a little more help from the shortstop position so that his range doesn’t get overly exposed over there."
Regarding the team's health. (The Twins used the DL 27 times.) Smith again said that most of the injuries were collision injuries, but added:
"We are working with that. I had about a three-hour meeting with our trainers last Friday. I’ve got another meeting scheduled with our internal medicine doctors [today]. We’re going to meet with our orthopedic doctors after our organizational meetings in about two weeks. We’ll be talking to our minor-league trainers. We are reviewing and going through all of our medical practices to see if there is something we can do better, and we are committed to that.
"We’ve got a lot of good programs in place, and we’ve got a lot of good people in place. This year was kind of the perfect storm of injuries, and we need to make sure that we don’t have this happen again."
Regarding Tsuyoshi Nishioka:
"We need to give him a mulligan on this year. The injury in the first week of the season was devastating to him with all the changes and adjustments he had to go through in his first season over here."
Later, a caller told Smith and St. Peter point-blank that putting Nishioka on the big league roster was a mistake.
"I appreciate your comments on Nishioka," Smith said. "It was certainly a disappointing year, and we expect better things from him next year. We expect him to come back in 100 percent condition. And hopefully we can avoid something like that broken leg in the first week and give this guy a chance. He’s not going to be given anything, but he’s going to have the opportunity to compete for all the at-bats and innings he can get.”
A caller talked about Joe Mauer's potential as a first baseman.
"That’s kind of a Plan B," Smith said. "We have to have a Plan B, but Morneau has turned himself into a very, very good first baseman. It doesn’t do us any good if he can’t play, and you’re right, he’s missed a lot of time the last two years because of concussions, and he had a back injury the year before, so it’s something we’re trying to evaluate, if he would be better off in a DH spot. And if that’s the case, Mauer could go play first base.
"We’ve gotta find ways to keep their bats in our lineup more often. And ideally, Joe’s a catcher, and Justin’s at first base -- that’s perfect. But if it doesn’t work, then we’ve gotta have that Plan B that keeps them in the lineup."
Regarding Chris Parmelee:
"We’re hoping Justin Morneau’s going to be our first baseman next year, that we’re going to get him back and playing on a regular basis. If that doesn’t happen, we’re going to be looking for a first baseman, and if Chris Parmelee comes to spring training and can perform at the same level that he performed up here in the big leagues -- he hit .350 for the month -- he’s going to have a chance to make our club and play a lot."
Regarding Joe Nathan:
"We have a club option, that we’re going to have to make a decision on by end of the World Series. If we pick it up, then Joe is here for 2012, if we don’t pick it up, then Joe will be free agent. And even if we don’t pick up the option, we have interest in keeping Joe. He’s been a tremendous get for us when we got him from the Giants in that trade."
On potentially re-signing Jim Thome:
"Jim was a great contributor here for two years, and we were lucky to see him get that 600th home run. I would never say never, but I think at this point, we need some players that are a little more versatile. Jim’s 41 years old now. If he wants to play, he’ll have a job somewhere because he’s still a threat and he’s a great leader, but when you only have four guys on the bench, it ties up that manager tremendously. Jim’s either the DH or just a pinch-hitter; you’re going to have to pinch run for him if he gets a hit."
Last but not least, here are Smith's thoughts on correcting the fundamental lapses:
"It’s not that we’re not teaching it. It’s that somehow we’re not having the success that we’ve had over time. So what we have to be is less tolerant of those mistakes. We talked about in the minor leagues, if somebody throws to the wrong base, you might have to take him out of the game after that inning. When a guy doesn’t run out a ball, or when a guy doesn’t do something. In the old days, you’d take a guy out of the game. And that’s part of the learning process. I think we all share your thought that our defense was substandard this year."
Update: By popular demand from today's live chat, here's what Smith had to say about improving Ben Revere's arm:
"We’ve been working on that for years. He does a lot of the pitcher’s long-toss drills. ... I believe he had a football injury, a shoulder injury back in high school, and he just doesn’t throw well. And no matter what we do, I don’t believe we have any hope that he’s going to be an average thrower.
"We want him to get rid of the ball quickly. We want him to hit the cutoff man. All those little things can help a player be successful and contribute to a team’s success. You look at Juan Pierre in Chicago -- he’s played a long time and he doesn’t throw much better than Revere. Johnny Damon has had a tremendous career. He doesn’t throw that much better than Revere."
Twins president Dave St. Peter and general manager Bill Smith took questions from their season ticket holders in a conference call tonight and there were several interesting answers.
Smith said he expects the big league coaching staff to return and that it's unlikely the Twins will try to re-sign Jim Thome. St. Peter said the dimensions at Target Field will not change heading into 2012.
Smith said even if the Twins don't pick up Joe Nathan's club option for 2012, they're interested in keeping him.
Asked about some of the fundamental lapses, Smith said it might be time for the team's minor-league managers to start pulling players from games if they throw to the wrong base or don't run out a ground ball.
Asked about the top offseason priority, Smith said it's tough to pick one because there's a long list.
"We need a [starting pitcher]," Smith said. "We’re looking for that starting pitcher because we might have a starting pitcher or two that we want to put in the bullpen.
"We need to upgrade the bullpen, there’s no question. We’re looking for that backup catcher that can provide a little bit more offense. We’ve gotta figure out shortstop, and that may involve going out and getting another shortstop. We’ve got [Alexi] Casilla, we’ve got [Trevor] Plouffe, we’ve got [Tsuyoshi] Nishioka, we’ve gotta find somebody that can be a stable, starting everyday shortstop."
My favorite part came when a caller named Ann from Eagan asked, "I want to invest in a new jersey? Would it be safe to buy a Michael Cuddyer jersey?"
Smith said, "It will always be safe to buy a Michael Cuddyer jersey because whether he is with the Twins or any other club, Michael Cuddyer’s one of the great representatives, certainly, in my 30 years in baseball and my 26 years with the Twins. He’s one of my favorite players that I’ve ever been around, so a Michael Cuddyer jersey for me is always going to have value.
"We hope to re-sign him. We’ve had some talks, but again, he’s a free agent, and players earn that right, and he has that right to listen to us and listen to the other 29 clubs. And again, our hope is that Michael Cuddyer finishes his career in the Twins organization."
I'll have more on this for tonight's first editions.
Twins CEO Jim Pohlad sat down with the team's beat writers at Target Field today for a wide-ranging Q&A session. He said the team promised catcher Joe Mauer and his agent, Ron Shapiro, that they wouldn't discuss their negotiations.
Speaking in general terms, Pohlad did say that the Twins remain opposed to giving players deferred compensation. This is something that could come up in Mauer's extension talks, since both sides are trying to find ways to pay Mauer's salary and still build a winner around him.
If Mauer were to make $25 million per year, for example, the Twins could pay him $20 million and defer $5 million down the road with interest. But the Twins have not delved into deferred compensation for at least a decade and have no plans on changing their philosophy.
"There’s a ton of real-life examples of that kind of thinking," Pohlad said. "It’s either going to be somebody else’s problem, or we’ll worry about that later. And eventually you’ve got to worry about it. And at that point, when you’ve got to worry about it, it affects your current operation. So it’s really not a good thing. You’ve got to pay the money no matter what, you might as well do it while a player's playing for you."
For now, the longest Twins contract is Justin Morneau's six-year, $80 million deal, but Pohlad is not opposed to signing a player for a longer term.
"I don’t think that six is a magic number in any situation," Pohlad said. "Each deal is different. It’s always a function of term and dollars per year, but total value is what drives it. We do not have a term policy."
Last month, at TwinsFest, a fan asked Pohlad during a radio interview, "When are you going to tell [GM] Bill Smith to sign Mauer?"
"We all tell him that," Pohlad said Monday. "We’re all driven from that because we want Joe Mauer as a part of the Minnesota Twins."
The Twins' projected Opening Day payroll is at $96 million, up from $65 million last season. Asked if the new payroll level was sustainable with the team moving into Target Field, Pohlad said, "It’s all a function of our revenue. We try to keep [the payroll] within 50 percent of our revenue range. So model-wise, it would indicate that it’s sustainable.
"We’re not going to spend the money just to spend the money, though. It wouldn’t hurt if it dropped below [this level], in my opinion, occasionally, but we’re going to try to put the best team on the field at the most prudent financial way, and I think we accomplished that this year. I think we’re getting, on paper at least, our money’s worth."
We'll have more from Pohlad's interview in tonight's first editions.
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