FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Twins might be forced to cut ties Thursday with one of the better bargains they have uncovered lately. Maybe that’s symbolic — because the Twins believe that money isn’t their biggest problem anymore.
Scott Diamond, a Rule 5 draft pickup who unexpectedly won 12 games in 2012, was placed on waivers, a major league source said Wednesday, a step that will either free the Twins to send the lefthander to Class AAA Rochester or find Diamond a new organization. Any of the other 29 teams can claim Diamond, the runner-up in a spring-long battle for the final spot in the Twins rotation.
That job instead will go to 2009 first-round draft pick Kyle Gibson, who outpitched Diamond this spring. But really, the 27-year-old Canadian’s roster spot was a victim of the Twins’ free-agent spending spree last winter, when Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey signed long-term contracts worth a total of $84 million.
By coincidence, $84 million is also just about the Twins’ Opening Day payroll, with the final roster to be set over the next few days. According to the Associated Press, that’s the seventh-lowest payroll among the 30 major league teams, and barely a third of the Dodgers’ projected $235 million in salaries.
And while the Twins are unlikely to climb into baseball’s top 10 big spenders anytime soon, they went into the offseason planning to spend more than they are, according to Rob Antony.
“If we had been able to get a few other players we tried to get, it would have been higher,” the assistant general manager said Wednesday of the Twins’ 2014 payroll. “We were trying to give money away.”
The Twins “spent a lot of time” trying to persuade other free agents, not just pitchers, to come to Minnesota, Antony said, “but we didn’t have nearly as much luck with position players. … They went elsewhere. We tried to address and improve our offense, but it didn’t work.”
Antony did not reveal who the Twins pursued, but emphasized that their failure to sign free-agent hitters beyond Jason Kubel, Jason Bartlett and Kurt Suzuki — a trio acquired for a total of $5.75 million — leaves the team with plenty of “flexibility” in case an opportunity comes up. Payroll won’t be a consideration for the right player, he said.
The $84 million total is only about $2 million more than they spent last season, but it’s nearly $30 million less than Twins players earned in 2011, coming off an American League Central Division title the year before. While the payroll has declined, revenues have increased; new national television contracts with ESPN, Fox and Turner, worth $12.4 billion over the next eight years, kick in this year. The Twins’ annual share has roughly doubled to more than $50 million, instead of the $25 million they received in 2013.
It should be clear Thursday whether Diamond will be paid by the Twins this year, or by someone else. The lefthander went 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA for the Twins in 2012, after he was selected in the Rule 5 draft from the Atlanta Braves organization in December 2010. Acquiring Diamond cost the Twins only $50,000, and he earned just over the minimum salary during his two seasons in Minnesota. But he stumbled to a 6-13 season with a 5.43 ERA last year, and was inconsistent this spring, posting a 5.29 ERA in 17 innings.
With Diamond out of options, the Twins must either keep him in the majors or expose him to waivers as they reduce their roster to the 25-man maximum by Sunday. The Twins also must cut three position players by then, and decisions on players such as Bartlett, Chris Parmelee, Chris Colabello and Dan Rohlfing could come Thursday.