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The Twins Payroll Crunch

Last week, Adam did some impressive work examining the various factors at play in determining the Twins payroll budget for next season. This is an extremely important discussion to have right now: in a couple weeks there will be no more baseball, and all we'll have between now and spring training is the hot stove league.

I've been thinking a lot about the Twins 2011 roster lately, as I'm sure many reading this have as well. We know the many choices facing the Twins: Jason Kubel's option; the pending free agency of Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, Carl Pavano, and half of our bullpen; and the decision of whether to offer arbitration to the ten eligible players on our roster. In a vacuum, many of these decisions are easy. When put in the context of the team's current commitments and expected 2011 payroll, it becomes an incredibly complicated puzzle.

Let me put it this way: this off-season, we are going to let several very talented players walk away from the team. Some of them will ink fairly reasonable deals with other teams, and many fans will complain about the team's failure to re-sign them, or criticize the team for letting key players leave despite the new, publicly-financed stadium. The hard truth, however, is the Twins are facing a serious payroll crunch: we have several players set to receive significant raises through arbitration, the Joe Mauer contract is just kicking in, and Joe Nathan and Michael Cuddyer (who combined for 0.4 WAR last season) will earn, in total, $22 million.

Now let me put it this way: it's very possible the Twins will enter 2011 with a roster that, on paper, looks slightly worse than the one that got swept by the Yankees earlier this month. And yet our payroll will top $115 million.

Here's a team I put together on paper, using a combination of actual 2011 salaries and guesses on arbitration/free agency costs. For pre-arb players, I just put in a placeholder figure of $500,000 (marked as ‘min'), for simplicity's sake. Please note: this isn't a suggested/predicted roster, just an example for our discussion.

C: Mauer ($23), Morales or Butera (min)

1B: Morneau ($15)

2B: Casilla ($900,000), Tolbert (min)

SS : Hardy ($7), Plouffe or cheap back-up (min)

3B: Valencia (min)

LF: Young ($6)

CF: Span ($1)

RF: Cuddyer ($10.5)

DH: Thome ($5), Kubel ($5.25)

---You'll note what this line-up represents: bringing back Kubel and Thome, losing Hudson, and failing to add any offense on the bench.

Rotation: Liriano ($4), Baker ($5), Duensing (min), Blackburn ($3), Slowey ($1.5)

---Under this scenario, we let Pavano walk and rely on our in-house options to fill the rotation.

Bullpen: Nathan ($11.5), Capps ($7), Crain ($5), Mijares ($600,000), Perkins ($700,000), and two slots filled by league minimum guys in the organization.

---This scenario would bring back Capps and Crain, letting Rauch, Guerrier, and Fuentes walk.

So here we have a team largely similar to the 2010 Twins, only without Pavano in the front end of the rotation, without Hudson's bat and glove at second, and more question marks in the bullpen. Additionally, we fail to improve our bench or the outfield defense, two of our biggest problems in 2010. Total cost (using my squishy numbers and California math): roughly $116 million.

Think the Twins payroll will be significantly higher than $116 million come opening day? Color me skeptical.

Now, I realize I'm not exactly breaking any new ground here: Jesse presented a nice overview of the Twins payroll situation several weeks ago, and we've been referencing the many of these issues in numerous articles since the season ended. Really, my goal here was just to set out a fairly plausible scenario that highlights the difficult choices facing the front office. If, for arguments sake, we use this (roughly estimated) $116 million team as a baseline, we can better see the impact of each of choices facing Bill Smith:

  • Do you bring back both Kubel and Thome? Bringing back just one will probably save you about $5 million, which could be used to find a right-handed bench bat, or to keep Rauch or Guerrier. Of course, having both on the roster proved especially valuable this past season when Cuddyer was pressed into first base duty.
  • Do you resign Pavano? Well, on Fangraphs, they estimated Pavano would fetch a two or three-year deal at $8 to $10 million a year. Signing Pavstache could mean letting Hardy walk, dropping both Thome and Kubel, or bumping payroll above the $116 level. Or is there room in the budget for someone like Colorado's Jorge De La Rosa, who just announced he'll test free agency this off-season?
  • Between Capps, Crain, Rauch, and Guerrier, who comes back? Keeping two will probably cost $10-13 million in 2011. Keeping just one will save $5-7 million, but will mean relying heavily on Nathan bouncing back from a very serious injury, and leaving us very thin on the back-end. But think about how that $5 or $7 million might be used to help bolster the rotation...

These are just some of the questions we're going to be wrestling with and debating for the next several months. But it's important to remember that, as we debate them, they each fit into this larger puzzle. While I'm sure this is a fact that everyone here will easily recognize, I know there will be some of our friends - such as those in the Star Tribune comment section - that may not recognize the complexities facing the front office this off-season. We simply cannot expect to find a package of Hardy-Hudson-Thome sitting under our tree this year. Unless we see payroll jump into the $120-130 range, virtually any addition to this team will come at the cost of another player either let go or traded away.