The Twins are usually not big players on the free agent market for a simple reason: they don’t have a lot of money to spend. The Metrodome was not much of a cash-generator, and for years the team dealt with below average revenue. When Target Field opened, the revenue started flowing in, but the Twins had a lot of payroll committed to veterans like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Joe Nathan, and Michael Cuddyer for the first two years.
This year, things are about to change. The Twins have quite a bit of money coming off the books, money they can use to attract free agents like Edwin Jackson, C.J. Wilson, or even (dare we dream) Jose Reyes. How much will they have to toss around? Well, let’s take a look.
According to Baseball Reference, the Twins are paying a total of $104.4 million to players currently on their 25 man roster. As Baseball Reference states, the salary data are not 100% accurate, since we can’t actually see the players’ contracts. But these figures are probably the most reliable ones available. The actual 2011 payroll was quite a bit higher, because these numbers don’t include the salaries paid to Jim Thome and Delmon Young before they departed. Also, the Twins have called up dozens of prospects to fill in for injured veterans over the course of the year. All of them make some portion of the $415,000 Major League minimum salary while they’re with the team. When all was said and done, the team payroll was probably about $115 million.
They don’t owe nearly as much for next year.
First, the Twins have a few players who are eligible for arbitration this year. MLB Trade Rumors came up with a helpful list of them a few weeks ago. If you’re not familiar with the process of arbitration, basically what happens is the player comes up with a dollar amount he thinks he should get paid, and the team comes up with a dollar amount they think they should pay the player (obviously a much smaller number). They have a hearing before a panel of judges who decide which total is more in line with MLB market rates. When a player has played for more than three years in the Major Leagues without signing a long term contract, the team has to offer him arbitration or let him go as a free agent. Jose Mijares, Matt Tolbert, Phil Dumatrait, Kevin Slowey, Jason Repko, Alexi Casilla, Glen Perkins, and Francisco Liriano are all eligible for arbitration this year.
It’s hard to imagine the Twins going through arbitration with Mijares, Tolbert, or Dumatrait, who are replacement level players that probably don’t figure into the Twins’ long term plans. Likewise, Repko probably is another candidate to be non-tendered (not offered arbitration). And Kevin Slowey has so thoroughly fallen from the organization’s good graces that he’ll either be traded or non-tendered. Cutting these players loose will free up $4.5 million from team payroll. But Casilla, Perkins, and Liriano will probably all get raises from the arbitration process. If we accept MLB Trade Rumors’ figures, the total increase for the three will be about $3 to $3.5 million. All together, the Twins will save about $1 to $1.5 million from the arbitration process.
Delmon Young, who made $5.38 million in 2011, is gone to Detroit. Jim Thome’s $3 million salary is also off the books. Michael Cuddyer ($10.5 million in 2011) and Jason Kubel ($5.25 million) are going to test the free agent market, meaning it’s likely they will end up elsewhere in 2012. Matt Capps ($7.15) seems destined to leave as well. Joe Nathan may or may not be back with the Twins, but if he does return, he’ll be making a lot less than the $11.25 million he pulled down this year. The Twins can either pay a $2 million buyout to cut him loose from his current contract, or excercise a $12 million option for 2012. The choice seems pretty easy there. Add up the departing free agents, and the Twins will cut about $42.5 million, minus Nathan’s buyout price, for a total savings of $40.5 million.
So far, the Twins have at least $42 million to play with. Unfortunately, some players will be getting raises from their current salaries next year, as agreed to in their contracts. Using Baseball Reference’s chart, you can see that Scott Baker gets a $1.5 million bump, Carl Pavano will earn an extra $.5 million, Nick Blackburn will eat up another $1.75 million, and Denard Span is due for a cool $2 million raise.
Subtract the $5.75 million in raises from the $40.5 million in savings, and the Twins will have somewhere in the neighborhood of $34.75 million left over. Jim Pohlad recently said that the team will cut payroll a little bit next year, but not a significant amount. So it makes sense to assume that the Twins will have around $30 million to play with.
$30 million is a lot of money. But is it enough to re-sign popular players like Cuddyer and Nathan, acquire a competent middle infielder, shore up the starting rotation, plug the gaping holes in the bullpen, and fill out the 25 man roster with a few players making the minimum salary? We’ll have to wait and see.