In their last season in the Metrodome, back in 2009, the Twins spent roughly $73 million on their entire roster. Heading into the 2016 season, the Twins already have that much money committed to seven players (and are on the hook for an additional $148 million to that group beyond next season).
But their finances are about to benefit from a longtime baseball truism: Young talent is cheap talent. As the likes of Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton take on greater roles in the Twins’ hoped-for success, they will earn only a fraction of the salaries that go to veterans, at least for a while. So while their top five salaried players in 2015 arguably underachieved to varying degrees, the Twins balanced that with the massive bargain that Sano, who hit 18 home runs while earning MLB’s minimum wage, represents.
The Twins will pay more to the game’s middle class — players with between three and six years of experience — next year, however, because those players have the option of having their salaries set by an arbitrator. That dynamic explains how Trevor Plouffe’s paycheck grew nearly five times bigger in 2014 and then doubled again last year, and he figures to be in line for another huge increase in 2016. Kevin Jepsen might well double his 2015 wage of $3 million, now that he has added closing to his résumé, and Eduardo Escobar’s pay could roughly quadruple after going from a utility player to the Twins’ starting shortstop.
The Twins could choose to offer long-term contracts to some of those players in order to fix their costs and perhaps limit future raises, as they did with Brian Dozier and Glen Perkins. But multiyear contracts come with relatively large risks, of injury or a declining level of play, as the Twins well know.
And the biggest decisions facing General Manager Terry Ryan and owner Jim Pohlad involve their five free agents, who earned about $22 million last season. Torii Hunter could opt for retirement, or he could choose to return for another season; in the latter case, after hitting 22 home runs, he is likely to seek a raise over the $10.5 million he made last year. Lefthanded reliever Neal Cotts pitched reasonably well, albeit in only 13 innings for the Twins, after being acquired in a waiver deal in mid-August. Did the Twins see enough to pay the 35-year-old $3 million or more for a full season?
Blaine Boyer was a bargain at just $750,000 this season, turning in a 2.49 ERA and appearing in 68 games, but his price will go up if the Twins want him back. Mike Pelfrey looked like a bargain, too, even at $5.5 million, when his ERA stood at 2.23 after 11 starts, but his rough second half makes it unlikely, as Pelfrey himself admitted, that he will return. And Brian Duensing is the third-longest tenured player on the Twins, behind only Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins. Now a free agent, it remains to be seen if the Twins cut ties or if the lefthander has other suitors.