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Twins Off-Season Question #2: How Much Money Do We Have to Spend?

In case you missed it:

#1:  What Do We Have?

I think the easy answer to this question is:  it depends.  We definitely know there's a little bit of money available, but it's always just a little bit more complicated than that, isn't it?  There've already been a number of estimates made, and the good news is that all of them have the Twins coming in somewhere between $52 and $61 million, with only a couple of spots to fill:

Star Tribune:  26 players, $61 million
MLB Trade Rumors:  24 players, $57 million
Twinkie Town:  20 players, $56.7 million
Twins Geek:  22 players, $52.35 million

Over the last ten years as the Twins have pumped more money into their players on the field, they've still managed to remain one of baseball's most efficient clubs in terms of dollars per win.  From 1999 through 2008, opening day payroll has never been higher than 18th in the league, and it sat between 18th and 20th from 2003 through 2007.  In 2008, when the organization basically decided to pick a direction and run with it right or wrong, payroll fell back to just over $62 million on opening day.

Minnesota, and indeed--any team in baseball, will never go into the off-season with a public hard line on how much money they'll spend.  For obvious reasons, it's just not a good idea.  So we extrapolate; from recent history, from the market, from looking what what we did a couple of weeks ago and understanding what the team already has, and from what the expectations are for the near future.

Recent History:  Over the last six seasons the Twins have an average opening day salary of approximately $62 million, but that's not exactly the best way of looking at it.  From '99 through '03 the Twins more than tripled their payroll, maxing out at about $63.5 million in 2003 (the last year guys like Rick Reed, Joe Mays, Eric Milton, LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado were with the team and pulling down significant dollars) before dropping $12 million off the top for '04.  But after shedding some weight, from '04 through '07 Minnesota raised payroll 5%, 13% and 13% again...before, again, shedding some weight.  It's a cycle a team like Minnesota is bound to go through every three to five years.

Market:  Teams like Boston and New York (both of them) have, on the record, stated that they want to be a bit more frugal when it comes to dishing out dollars on free agents, but it's all relative.  This year's free agent market, just like all the others, will be dictated by what the wealthier teams do with the best...but the Twins never play into this market too much.  They know what they're looking for, know what they're willing to pay, and while they can be lured into a few poor decisions with bargain-bin veterans, they aren't committing themselves to devastating multi-year contracts.  So the good news is that the market won't kill this team, not in the present or in the future; the bad news, if you see it that way, is that this isn't a team that will make a big splash in free agency.

What We Already Have:  Good and young starters, some good cornerstones for an offense, and a great closer.  There's depth in pitching and the outfield, in the majors and the minors.  This means money could/should be focused on the left side of the infield, the bullpen (even more important with the loss of Pat Neshek for 2009), as well as players currently under team control (this doesn't mean under contract).

The Future:  This team won 88 games, and was good enough that 162 contests wasn't sufficient to decide the regular season.  With the new stadium opening in 2010, next is all that stands between then and now...and because the organization will want a very competetive squad on the field in '10, you know they'll want to be ramping things up in '09.  (Where prudent, of course.)

While the only thing that's guaranteed is that the Twins won't spend less money on their opening day payroll than they did last season, there is no guarantee that that number will grow for opening day 2009.  But making an educated guess, I have to believe the Twins can add another ten to fifteen million to what they're already committed to, bringing team salary into the lower $70's.  In fact, if we're being bold, we could go so far as to think Minnesota could open the year with an $80 million dollar payroll.  But that's if we're bold, and it's a long shot.

Reality is that, if the organization feels like it's money well spent, opening day payroll could be around $70 million.  It's realistic and doesn't expect too much, even if the biggest bumps come from money on fresh contracts to players under team control.  That would mean the team could add somewhere between $9 and $15 million, depending on which figures are most accurate.

Now that we have a fairly realistic picture of how much money the Twins could spend, here's my question for you:  will they?