The Minnesota Twins have made a habit out of coming back from the dead to walk down the AL Central leaders and force their way into the playoffs over the past handful of seasons. It’s the kind of habit that makes Tigers fans wish that all that contraction talk had come to fruition over a decade ago.
After getting swept at home by the White Sox over the weekend, Minnesota is looking up at a ten game deficit in the division, and at two clubs standing between them and the first-place Detroit Tigers. As much as you never truly feel comfortable declaring the Twins to be dead (it’s sorta like the final scene of a Friday the 13th film), it would be near impossible for Minnesota to make a comeback like the one facing them today.
The Twins were always the underdog. The team had a notoriously miserly owner and their ballpark didn’t generate much revenue. As a result, Minnesota was frequently winning despite having one of the game’s lowest payrolls. All of that changed with the opening of Target Field. The Pohlad family began opening their checkbook just in time for the opening of the new ballpark. In 2009, the last year they played at the Metrodome, the Twins ranked 24th in baseball with a payroll just south of $68 million. They were the lowest spending team in the Central division.
The opening of the new ballpark coincided with a new way of doing business, as evidenced by the gaudy eight year, $184 million contract the club handed to catcher Joe Mauer. On Opening Day of 2010, the Twins had set a new franchise record by spending over $97 million on player salaries. That number jumped again to over $113 million this season, and if you’re assuming that the Twins will have to curb their lavish spending habits next year, John Bonnes of Twins Geek says not so fast. Bonnes, a prominent voice in the Twins blogosphere, is speculating that the payroll could go up significantly again next year, projecting the Twins to wind up at roughly $125 million in salaries. In other words, enjoy the demise of the Twins while you can, Tigers fans; it won’t last long.
The Twins will have some holes to fill, with decisions to be made on Delmon Young, Matt Capps, Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Michael Cuddyer. Bonnes, however, thinks that even after a handful of these guys are brought back, Minnesota could wind up with an extra $20-30 million to spend before hitting their budgetary wall.
Minnesota has been hit hard by injuries this season, and were hit hard by losses in their bullpen via free agency during the last off-season. But the extra cash in the budget for next year will certainly help in adding a veteran arm or three to shore up the relief pitching, and might even be enough to land a legitimate ace to their staff.
There has been speculation that the White Sox might decide to dismantle their aging roster after the season, so you have to figure their $127 million payroll would go down. Cleveland and Kansas City aren’t ready to spend with the big boys just yet, so it could very well be that the Twins wind up with a payroll that matches or even surpasses that of the Tigers (as it did this year when Detroit opened the year at $106 million) and ranks as the highest in the division.
The Twins may be dead in 2011, but keep watching the screen as it fades to black. You’ll see a hand rise from the water. The Twins will again be a force to be reckoned with next season. And from now on, rival clubs won’t simply have to worry about their scrappy play and their ability to erase bad starts and overcome key injuries; they’ll have to worry about competing in the off-season as well.