Ask Terry Ryan what his payroll limitation is for next year and he'll tell you that he doesn't view payroll as a limitation. It's his way of sidestepping an important question, possibly at the behest of an ownership that has notoriously shied away from big spending.
Ryan can downplay the importance of allotted budget and the significance of $85 million versus $100 million all he wants, but there's no escaping the fact that his level of financial flexibility will be a key determinant in the extent to which he's able to address the roster's various deficiencies, particularly in the short term. Because when you have to scour external avenues for players as the Twins clearly must, money talks, and more money means better, more reliable players. That's especially true when you're trying to lure said players to a potentially undesirable destination, such as a flyover territory club with nearly 200 losses over the past two seasons.
The above seems obvious, but Ryan would apparently have us believe that it's a minor factor in his offseason planning. He would point, I'm sure, to the numerous teams with sub-$90 million payrolls that have found their way into the playoffs. He would likely point to successful teams that he himself assembled for much less than that.
But these are different times. Competitiveness in the AL Central is kicking up a notch with the Tigers throwing cash around and the Royals looking more serious about contending. Meanwhile, the struggling Twins don't have a wealth of MLB-ready minor leaguers to step in and help turn things around on the cheap. They're currently caught in a transitional period where quality contributors of the past -- guys like Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano and Nick Blackburn -- have either moved on or ceased to be effective, and there's no "next wave" internally poised to take over the reigns. Not next year, not the year after. This farm system is bereft of high-end arms, and even if you assume a best-case scenario with the likes of Kyle Gibson and Liam Hendriks, they're still a couple pieces short of respectability in the rotation.
If the Twins want to improve their decimated pitching corps to the point where it has a chance to be even a mid-tier unit any time in the near future, they'll have to hit the open market with authority, and early indications suggest that it might take a sizable chunk of change to to do so. The old bargain bin route would be the essential equivalent to a white flag. Ryan talks often about exploring all avenues, but even with savvy scouting and great luck, you're not going to find more than a couple impact players through minor-league deals, waiver pickups and the Rule 5 draft. The front office needs to think bigger, and I'm sure they're aware of that, regardless of any posturing to the contrary.
There's just no way around it: to upend this two-year stretch of misery, Ryan will need to spend. He'll need to spend wisely, of course, but he will absolutely need to spend. The freedom he's given to do so should serve as a simple, clear indicator of the ownership's desire to right the ship in short order.