Let us remember the date: Sunday, March 21, 2010. That was when Joe Mauer's contract became finalized. And it was the final nail in the coffin for what had already become pretty apparent this offseason: the Minnesota Twins should not be considered a "small-market" team.
Others, though, have smartly latched onto the money quote from Twins president Dave St. Peter, who sums it up best: "I think [Target Field] definitely puts us in the revenue area closer to St. Louis or Seattle. ... Minneapolis-St. Paul was always mischaracterized as a small market, but really we were a mid-size market that was underperforming."
Indeed. Minneapolis-St. Paul has never been a small market. The Twins have been cast as such partly because of their own payroll decisions, which in the past have been partly or mostly driven, depending on your viewpoint, by flagging revenues from one of baseball's worst venues. When Torii Hunter left via free agency and Johan Santana forced a trade -- even though both players were offered fair deals here, with Torii taking a dream contract with the Angels instead that few could blame him for, and Santana chasing the bright lights -- it added fuel to that fire. Poor small-market team. Can't keep its star players. The Twins were plucky, scrappy, eternally young and always bargain-hunting. Again, that was partly by choice and partly by necessity. But they were wholly, always, a mid-market team underperforming, as St. Peter said. They -- and any other pro sports franchise in town -- are the very definition of mid-market when considering rankings of U.S. media markets, which always seem to put us somewhere between 13th and 15th.
With Target Field in play, and a philosophical shift that followed, the Twins' spending has caught up to their market size. Last year's opening day payroll of roughly $65 million put them 24th. While we don't have figures for all teams for 2010 yet -- correct us if that's out there already, but we can't find it anywhere and it usually arrives around opening day -- we can at least note this: the Twins' payroll this season is said to be $97 million. That's not only a $32 million jump, it's a bump that would have put them roughly 11th in payroll in 2009. It's $3 million less than the Dodgers spent in 2009. It should put them at least in the middle of 2010, once those numbers come out.
There is talk of the payroll going higher, by necessity, in future years. The Twins will never spend as much as the Yankees. But this is not a small-market team, folks. It's a mid-market team that, frankly, is finally spending like one -- and maybe even spending a little more.