One of the more popular anti-Pohlad arguments prior to the opening of Target Field was that the Twins didn't spend enough money on players. There was some merit to the argument in terms of fielding a competitive team, but in the Metrodome the Twins were also handcuffed in terms of revenue. The Vikings owned all of the suites and picked up parking revenue, and even concession revenue during Twins games didn't go entirely to the baseball team. Payroll will always be a function of revenue, and as much as Carl Pohlad needed to spend money it was also true that - relatively speaking - Minnesota just didn't have a lot to throw around.
Moving to Target Field was supposed to change that. Conservative projections said the club could expect $10 to $15 million in additional revenue; optimistic projections were sometimes north of three times that amount. To that point, when Forbes posted their 2015 MLB Team Values spreadsheet, the value of the Minnesota Twins organization had grown 48% in one year's time. Revenue was listed at $223 million. Operating income? $21.3 million. Business has been good.
Not all of that is down to the Twins themselves. As Forbes also noted, television cash flow is going off the scale in baseball at the moment. Every team in baseball saw their value go up by at least 20%. The stock market, real estate near ballparks, television inventory, profitability, and baseball's Advanced Media arm all have advanced (we'll use that word again) the incredibly prosperous sport into a new stratosphere.
All of that helps put Minnesota's numbers in context. Sure, the Twins are down for $223 million in revenue, but that's 23rd in the league. The $21.3 million mark for operating income is 15th.
But how has Target Field affected the product on the field? The proof is in the pudding. Here's a look at the Opening Day payroll for the Twins, looking both at the first six years in their new home and the last six years in the Metrodome. (All numbers courtesy of Cots Contracts at Baseball Prospectus.)
Minnesota's average Opening Day payroll is 60% higher than it was in the days of playing under the Teflon wonder. The organization's six highest Opening Day payrolls are all seasons in which the team played at Target Field. If we take the revenue noted by Forbes ($223 million) and compare that to this year's Opening Day payroll, then we see that the Pohlads are still using payroll as a function of revenue: 48.5% of the organization's revenue is being put into the on-field product. That's right in the league average wheelhouse.
The largest contracts in franchise history have been given out since 2010 as well. Pitcher or position player, free agent or extension, the Twins have set franchise record marks since the season Target Field opened.
|Mauer, Joe||2010, Mar||$184,000,000||8||$23,000,000||Extension|
|Santana, Ervin||2014, Dec||$55,000,000||4||$13,500,000||Free Agent|
|Nolasco, Ricky||2013, Nov||$49,000,000||4||$12,000,000||Free Agent|
|Hughes, Phil||2014, Dec||$58,000,000||5||$11,600,000||Extension|
|Hughes, Phil||2013, Dec||$24,000,000||3||$8,000,000||Free Agent|
|Willingham, Josh||2011, Dec||$21,000,000||3||$7,000,000||Free Agent|
Criticizing the Twins for not spending more money does seem unfounded at this point. There's a little bit of flexibility, in that the team could be spending a little more than 48.5% of their revenue on payroll, but that's ideal. There could also be an argument that the organization has more money to spend than Forbes is reporting, but that's a conversation for people with more information than I have at hand.
With great power comes great responsibility; with added revenue comes additional opportunities to spend big money on players. It's the nature of the business that the players taking on those contracts aren't always worth the money, and the Twins are no exception. No team is perfect in their record on big-money free agents or extensions. Having the financial freedom to make those mistakes is key. All we can hope is that the club makes decisions it believes to be responsible.