Yep, indeed this is another payroll article. Just so you're aware, it was between this or another manager article, unless you wanted to see me write about the World Series. That would have ended with a #narrative in every paragraph, and nobody wants to see hashtags in a serious article. If you don't want to read about the Twins and money for the umpteenth time, well, I'm telling you now to either read a different Twinkie Town article or close your browser.
Last week, I talked about the payroll and how it's rather hypocritical that a certain segment of Twins fans want to see the team spend on a top tier free agent while also lambasting Joe Mauer and Ricky Nolasco for not living up to their own large contracts. Some of that frustration is justified (Nolasco trying to pitch through a sore elbow) and some of it is not (getting mad because Mauer didn't hit for more power with a switch to 1st base).
The highest the payroll had ever been for the Twins was in 2011. The team had just moved into Target Field, they won the AL Central and made it into the playoffs only to be trounced once again by the New York Yankees. All of that was done with a payroll of $97 million, which was $32 million higher than what was on the 2009 books.
2011 brought in a club record $113 million payroll, but the Twins were ravaged by injuries and underperformance as the squad ended the year with 99 losses. Fans have been frustrated as the payroll has been slashed as the team has remained terrible, and team president Dave St. Peter didn't help much by saying the payroll wouldn't go down significantly for 2015.
Here's the thing. One of the worst things you can do as a franchise is be terrible with a huge payroll. I don't think that an extra $20 million spent each year for the past couple seasons would have turned the Twins into a playoff contender. That's because they've been severely lacking in pitching and defense, two facets of the game that would not be turned around by just one or two players.
Being terrible with a huge payroll means that you're either losing with veterans (the Cubs for the last half-decade) or your team was stricken with injuries (the 2014 Rangers). Teams like the Rangers can rebound if the injury bug disappears the next season, whereas the Cubs have remained at the bottom of the NL Central because they made plenty of poor decisions from which they're still overcoming.
The Twins have fallen in between those two teams where injuries in 2011 made the team look like the 2014 Rangers. However, watching veterans like Carl Pavano and Matt Capps deteriorate along with poor trades of Wilson Ramos and J.J. Hardy made the team seem reminiscent of the Cubs.
Just a little step above losing with veterans is losing with the youngsters, a la the Houston Astros. Their "scorch the earth and rebuild" plan has been controversial, but the Astros front office believes that they will be competitive in the near future. If you're losing with veterans, it likely means your veterans aren't very good. Meanwhile, you'd be more willing to go through the growing pains of the rookies and sophomores, especially if they're top prospects because they're supposed to be carrying your team in the future. By giving game action to the younger players, your payroll is likely to be less simply because those same players are pre-arbitration or currently going through arbitration, instead of collecting $10+ million a year from multi-year contracts.
But what happens when your young guns start to figure it out and your team starts winning? Well, those pre-arb and arb guys become extension candidates and your payroll naturally starts to increase without even spending on free agents. Well, unless you're the Rays and you trade away your veterans for prospects while signing your Evan Longorias to insane team-friendly contracts less than a week into their major league careers.
Bringing this back to the Twins, they used to be losing with a large payroll. They've been cutting their spending to the chagrin of fans, but once this team starts getting good again, that payroll will start increasing. It won't have to be from signing Max Scherzer or Jon Lester, but rather from handing out arbitration money and extensions to the likes of Brian Dozier and Kyle Gibson. Of course, some free agents will be brought in as well, but their contributions will mean much more when the team is competitive rather than when they're just hoping to avoid 90 losses.
What I'm saying is probably not what you want to hear, but I think that's what the Pohlads are attempting to accomplish. Why spend extra money on a product that would still be terrible? While saving $20 million this year doesn't necessarily mean an extra $20 million will be spent in the future, I'm sure they would rather use that money to push the team closer to a playoff spot, not just to a slightly higher level of mediocrity.