My swan song: What to do for 2010?

This will be my last front-page story for TwinkieTown. I'll still comment and post the occasional fanpost. But I'm stepping away from regular duties and into the title of editor at large.

I'm just too busy to do the kind of job for Jesse and company that I would like to do. I have a high-profile job as editor in chief of ibm.com and I'm publishing a book about writing for the Web. Both jobs will soon require me to publish more with blogs, articles and conference presentations. So I thought this was as good a time as any to step away so that I can devote the energy I have put into this blog on those core parts of my job.

Now that I got that out of the way, let's get down to business. For some reason, beat writers, columnists and bloggers feel the need to look at next year almost before finishing the season. Though I still want to savor the miraculous comeback of this team culminating in the greatest regular season game in Metrodome history, I understand this need. It's especially compelling considering that the Twins are leaving the Dome for greener pastures and can expect a sizable revenue increase in the new venue. Everybody wants to talk about it, so lets talk about it.

Question 1:  How much can we expect the Twins to spend in 2010?

As John Bonnes shows, the Twins payroll has held pretty steady around a mean of $60 million since 2003. That payroll is a function of the revenue that they got in the Metrodome, which featured the worst lease in major league baseball. That lease gives them only 25 percent of concession revenues and nothing for suites or parking. Oddly enough, the Vikings get the lion's share of suite and concession revenue, and the Star Tribune gets almost all of the parking revenue because they own the lots. Even with this situation, the Twins get something like $160 million in revenue, including TV, radio and Internet broadcasting revenue.

Those crappy aspects of the lease will be changing in 2010, as the Twins will get all suite and concession revenue, and much of the parking revenue. Even if the Twins' attendance is steady in the new stadium at 2.2 million, they can expect at least an additional $20 million in revenue. But the Twins can expect more like 3 million in attendance in their honeymoon year at Target Field. The Twins estimate that they will get an additional $40 million in revenue in 2010. So plan on about $200 million in revenue for 2010, as a rough estimate.

The Twins operate on a budget based on about 50 percent of revenues going to the baseball department, including player salaries. In 2009, the Twins spent the most they had ever spent on international signings (more than $7 million) and a lot more than typical on draft bonuses (around $5 million). Add that to a $65 million budget for major league salaries and about $5 million for minor league operations, and the baseball department came in at $82 million. With 2.2 million in attendance (plus a couple of extra gates), they probably pulled in around $165 million.So their spending was right on track.

Let's say the Twins devote half of the estimated $40 million in new revenue they get in 2010 to the baseball department. That means $20 million more for salaries and signing bonuses. Most of that will likely go to salaries because the Twins will not get additional draft picks from free agents and they are unlikely to spend as lavishly internationally. Prospects like Miguel Angel Sano and Max Kepler only come around every few years. So let's say the Twins will devote all of the $20 million to player salaries, plus about $3 million from the $12 million they spent to sign new talent in 2009. That's $23 million they can spend in salaries over and above what they spent in 2009. Add that to the $65 million they spent in 2009, and the 2010 salaries should be around $88 million.

Question 2: What is committed for 2010?

Rather than recreate the wheel, here we can rely on Bonnes' article again. According to the Twins Geek, the Twins are on the hook for $75 mil in salaries in 2010, making a few assumptions. Namely:

  • Glen Perkins will be a former Twin, either in Rochester or working for another organization.
  • Boof Bonser will make the team and earn an estimated $1 million as an arbitration-eligible player.
  • Both Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez will earn around $1 million in arbitration as well. That last assumption is a bit suspect, as I expect the Twins to try to trade one or the other. But let's say the guy they get for him will cost the same.
  • Brendan Harris will be brought back for around $1 million. Meh. They're not likely to nontender him. But if they enhance their infield the way we all hope, they won't have room for him.
  • Jesse Crain will not get market rates in arbitration. Market rates for good set-up guys are in the John Rauch arena--$2.7 million. The Geek has Crain's estimated arbitration salary at $1.75 million. Considering his time in AAA and injuries, I'd say that's reasonable.
  • Matt Guerrier will get market rates in arbitration, after arguably his best season in his second year of arbitration.
  • Besides guaranteed contracts for Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Nick Punto (!) and others, every other player on the roster will make the minimum salary.

So, assuming Bonnes is on the money with his $75 million estimate, the Twins will be able to add $13 million for a few key acquisitions.

Question 3: How should the Twins spend the extra cash?

Finally, the fun part. Everybody loves to spend other people's money, right? How will the Twins spend the $13 million in extra money for 2010? Note that this is a one-time windfall, because the Twins 2011 salaries look a lot closer to their estimated budgets, when you add raises for Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer. If the Twins restructure Joe Mauer's contract for 2010 to reduce thier burdens in future years, the $13 million temporary slush fund for 2010 evaporates rather quickly. But let's not go there. Let's hope they sign Mauer to an extension that keeps his $12.5 million 2010 salary in tact.

  • Starting pitcher: The Twins can plan on Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Brian (Don't call me Kevin) Duensing as the top four starters. Let's assume they send Francisco Liriano to the bullpen. They will need to sign a starter. Let's also assume they don't blow the whole wad on John Lackey, but spend, say, $6 million, who can they afford? Answer: Carl Pavano.
  • Shortstop: My hope is they look for an acquisition here. If they acquired, say JJ Hardy, they would spend $1 million or so to pay him in his first year of arbitration. They could pay that with the money they save in nontendering Harris. If they do sign someone like Orlando Cabrera, plan on a $4 million salary. Other free agents of interest include Jack Wilson, Marco Scutaro, Miguel Tejada, and Adam Everett. Wilson isn't much better than Cabrera. Scutaro is a Type A free agent. Tejada is a possibility for third base, but not short. And we've been there, done that with Everett. Though I favor an acquisition of Hardy, I would bet everything I've ever made writing for this blog that the Twins bring Cabrera back, consuming most of their remaining windfall in the process.
  • Second Base: This is where the hope for an acquisition that eases the salary burden at short comes in. There are a lot of good second basemen headed for free agency, including Freddy Sanchez, Orlando Hudson, Placido Polanco and Akinori Iwamura (assuming the Rays decline their club option), Mark DeRosa, and Jamey Carroll. Trouble is, Sanchez, Hudson and Polanco are Type A free agents. So that leaves Iwamura, DeRosa and Carroll, all of those guys can be had for less than $4 mil. My guess? The Twins sign Iwamura for an incentive-laden contract with a $3 mil base. The alternative is Nick Punto as your starter on opening day 2010. Double or nothing we see Cabrera and Punto in the middle infield to start the year.
  • Third Base: The Twins could choose to sign a third baseman instead, though, the way Matt Tolbert played in September and October, I would not be surprised if they pencil him in there until Danny Valencia is ready. They also could tender Harris a contract as insurance. But if they choose to sign a third baseman, Adam Kennedy, Iwamura and DeRosa would be inexpensive options.

Bottom line, Twins fans can expect the Twins to use their temporary windfall to keep the team that got them to the playoffs together for at least another year. If they do sign an outside free agent, it will likely be one of the guys left without a deal in February. The short list includes Tejada, Carroll, DeRosa, Kennedy and Iwamura. My bet is on Iwamura. But don't count on him playing everyday until May. It takes 12 months for an ACL tear to fully heal.

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