As we kick off the eighth installment of this series, here are links to the previous team payroll projections:
Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Angels
New York Yankees
Chicago White Sox
Boston Red Sox
If you have questions about financial information made available to the public and the assumptions used in this series, please refer to the Phillies piece linked above.
Today, we examine a club in one of baseball’s worst divisions that is nonetheless seemingly far from contention: the Minnesota Twins.
Despite rumored relocation and contraction in the 1990s and early 2000s, Twins ownership has been impressively stable. Banker Carl Pohlad purchased the team in 1984, passing it to his children upon his death in 2009. Pohlad’s son, Jim, succeeded his father as Chairman of the ballclub and the public face of the franchise. With the sparkling Target Field opening in 2010, it appears as though the team is married to the Pohlads and the Twin Cities for the foreseeable future.
The front office is headed by general manager Thad Levine, hired from the Texas Rangers following the 2016 season to resuscitate the Minnesota franchise after over a decade as assistant general manager in Texas. The front office also brought in Derek Falvey as chief baseball officer contemporaneously with Levine. With two years on the job and despite a surprise run to the American League Wild Card Game in 2017, Levine and Falvey have primarily focused on clearing the financial books to rebuild the roster in their image moving forward.
Before hitting the numbers, please recall that we use data from Cot’s Baseball Contracts, we’ll use average annual value (“AAV”) on historical deals but actual cash for 2019 and beyond, and deferrals will be reflected where appropriate. And, of course, the value of examining historical payrolls is twofold: they show us either what type of payroll a team’s market can support or how significantly a given ownership group is willing to spend. In the most useful cases, they show us both. We’ll focus on a 15-year span for the Twins, covering 2005-18 for historical data as a means to understanding year 15: 2019. We’ll also use Opening Day payrolls as those better approximate expected spending by ownership.
The Twins spent a franchise record on payroll in 2018 and it wasn’t particularly close to the previous high water mark in 2011.
Spending under Carl Pohlad was consistently among the lowest in the league. When his children took over and the club moved into Target Field, spending immediately increased in a meaningful way prior to a mini-rebuild in 2013-14. The days of Minnesota spending alongside the likes of Oakland and Tampa Bay appear to be a thing of the past.
While the Twins have never come particularly close to the luxury tax threshold, the team has made some major endeavors into the international amateur marketplace…and not just in Latin America. The franchise’s marquee amateur signing was that of Miguel Sano, whose $3.15 million bonus in 2009 set a record for a foreign amateur at the time. The franchise’s wide vision also led them to give outfielder Max Kepler an $800,000 bonus out of Germany in the same 2009 class. That said, the Twins weren’t one of the clubs that blew past the league-imposed soft spending limits for international amateurs or North American draftees.
Not included above: a $12.85 million posting fee to negotiate with Korean first baseman Byung-ho Park prior to the 2016 season. More on Park below.
This is quite possibly the funniest chart of any team in the series: the Twins have $0 guaranteed on their books beyond 2019.
This chart would have included $3 million in 2019 and $500,000 in 2020 for Park, but the Korean first baseman elected to forgo his guaranteed salaries in exchange for an outright release that permitted him to return to the Nexen Heroes for the 2018 season.
With Park out of the picture and buyouts paid to Santana and Morrison, the Twins find themselves only with the contract-year commitments to Reed, Castro, and Pineda as well as the final payment due to San Diego for Hughes.
Reed came to Minnesota as a closing candidate in his late-20s, but imploded in his debut season with the team, showing velocity decreases of nearly 1.5 miles per hour on both his fastball and his slider, a big drop in strikeout rate, a huge uptick in homer rate, and an upper arm injury. The Twins can take solace in the facts that Reed has long succeeded in Major League bullpens and that his injury was apparently to his biceps instead of his elbow or shoulder.
Castro has enjoyed a nice career with a slightly below-average bat complementing elite framing, but a meniscus injury wiped out most of his 2018. With Mitch Garver and Willians Astudillo providing more interesting options as the club continues to rebuild, it’s possible that Castro could find it tough to come by plate appearances in 2019.
Pineda was paid in 2018 to rehabilitate following Tommy John surgery in the hopes that he would prove to be a bargain in 2019. In late August, 13 months removed from his operation, Pineda suffered a torn meniscus, derailing a September Twins debut. He figures to be ready for Spring Training.
While the guarantees are rather ho-hum, there is plenty of organizational intrigue to be found in the arbitration-eligible ranks. Here are their arbitration projections (salary projections by MLBTR and Matt Swartz):
Odorizzi and Gibson both enjoyed strong 2018s on the heels of disappointing 2017 campaigns. Should either or both succeed again in early 2019, Minnesota will likely find themselves with a difficult decision to make: extend or trade. While the team should plausibly be able to fill one 2020 rotation spot between Triple-A southpaws Stephen Gonsalves and Lewis Thorpe, they will need significant depth behind Jose Berrios to contend in what could be a wide-open American League Central.
Cron was a shrewd pickup from the cost-shaving Rays and figures to replace icon Joe Mauer’s production at first base for a small fraction of the financial cost. Rosario offers a similar power-first, minus-defense profile, albeit from left field. Kepler offers a solid mix of power and defense, but his on-base skills have limited his overall effectiveness to date. Improved on-base ability would propel Kepler to be a plus regular.
Speaking of plus regulars, as recently as this time last year, the Twins surely thought that they had two of them on their hands in the forms of Sano and Buxton. Despite missing 94 games between 2016-17, Sano blasted 53 Major League homers over those two years at 23 and 24. Buxton, just 22 and 23 in 2016-17, had seemingly established himself as a below-average offensive performer with loud tools who was nevertheless an impact player on the strength of elite speed and defense in center field. Then both players imploded in 2018, combining to post -0.4 WAR while Buxton spent more time at Triple-A than in the Majors (due in part, controversially, to service time concerns). Moving forward, the team will need big rebounds from both young stars.
Rogers sizzled in 2018, pitching well versus right-handed batters and positively stifling lefties to the tune of a 1.39 FIP. He figures to be an important bullpen piece in his age-28 season this year.
It seems as though it has been many years since May, a former top-100 prospect, shined in the Minnesota rotation. Alas, it was just 2015 that May pitched to a 3.25 FIP over 114 2/3 innings, emerging as a potential key piece for the Twins. Then, the injury bug derailed his career in a significant way, first via a stress fracture in his back and then with Tommy John surgery. Finally returning to Major League action on July 31, 2018, May threw 25 1/3 splendid innings while striking out nearly 13 batters per nine innings. A healthy May will be an asset at the back of the Twins’ bullpen.
Finally, Grossman and Adrianza appear to be non-tender candidates.
What Does Team Leadership Have to Say?
In projecting the 2019 payroll as the 2018 season wrapped up, Pohlad acknowledged that the club possessed significant payroll flexibility but countered that “I don’t know if you can ever go out in the offseason and sign a face-of-the-franchise player,” following up with an acknowledgment that “everyone knows my aversion to long commitments. Most often, they do not turn out to be successful, in terms of getting your return on them.” Levine seemed to admit that the Twins don’t expect big-time free agents to target Minnesota as a possible landing spot, commenting that while the team planned to pursue important free agents, “whether or not they’d actually want to come here would be yet to be determined.” Falvey seemingly drove the point home, arguing that “we know that free agency can be a risky place to spend a lot of time.”
While the front office is seemingly willing to take on salary to improve, it doesn’t look like paying top-of-the-market prices for premium talent is going to be a big part of team building in the Twin Cities this winter.
Are the Twins a Player for Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?
Given the comments from Pohlad, Levine, and Falvey, and considering the Twins’ market, it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Minnesota is a finalist for either player. Still, if management was being coy or considers one of them an exception, the Twins do currently have the payroll space to accommodate a huge salary. A monster contract has the potential to hamstring the franchise in the future, however, making them an extreme long shot for Harper or Machado.
What Will the 2019 Payroll Be?
Unlike the Red Sox in the previous piece, the luxury tax will not be a factor for the Twins.
After seeing his club finish at 78-84 in 2018 and examining the roster in place, it’s tough to imagine Pohlad sinking a significant payroll increase into this team. However, such an increase isn’t required to make a couple of big additions given the dearth of committed payroll at this juncture in the offseason.
Assuming that Grossman and Adrianza are non-tendered — far from a sure thing — the Twins would enter the offseason with just $76.9 million committed to the roster, approximately 41.5 percent of which will expire at the end of the season in the form of payments for Reed, Castro, Pineda, Hughes, Santana, and Morrison ($31.95 million).
Put bluntly, while ownership and management sometimes wax poetic to the media regarding the state of their franchise, the Twins genuinely have a ton of payroll flexibility both now and into the future.
While I doubt that Levine will get north of $130 million with which to work, I could see Pohlad authorizing a payroll that is nearly on par with the one he authorized in 2018.
Projected 2019 Payroll: $125 million
Projected 2019 Payroll Space: $48.1 million
Buxton missed a lot of time hurt in the minors. Could it be catching up to him now? Or is he just streaky?
Seems like both to me
Other than a couple months in 2017, he’s never looked at home hitting at the MLB level. A lot of his AVG and OBP is driven by weak grounders he turns into singles with astonishing speed to first base.
His fractured big toe probably had a lot to do with his inability to hit fastballs at the MLB level, but it’s tough to gauge whether or not his pitch recognition and hit tool are going to play at the MLB level long term.
He has yet to show that he can hit major league pitching.
Not sure I’ve seen a player so consistently overmatched.
Daniel Murphy, Adam Jones, Tyler Clippard, and Garret Richards.
I’d sign up for that…assuming Jones plays a corner.
About 5 years ago, I would agree that the Twins would bump up payroll to 125 million, but I dont see any circumstance in which they would increase it by no more than 20 million. In theory, they may have 48 million to spend, but that will remain to be seen.
If Oakland can’t bring back Jed Lowrie, MN would be a great fit. Other than him (and maybe Eovaldi), I really doubt any “big-ish” FA would want to come to MN, especially with all the questions surrounding the team at the moment.
I think any big name free agent will go where the biggest contract leads them. Just like when Greinke signed with Arizona. If a team is willing to spend huge in free agency, they’re not just doing it for the sake of being mediocre. The contract itself is a commitment to competing for a championship.
That said, Pohlad has made it pretty clear he’s risk averse to longer contracts. If the Twins are going to make any splashes with big name players, it seems more likely to be done with the well stocked farm system assets the ownership doesn’t seem to really care much about.
The Twins have so many SS prospects – many of which they talk about moving to 2B – that I can’t keep track of them all.
Cannot see them laying out the money for a veterans salary only to block a youngster @ 2B. They have to see if they have anything, then add a veteran if not.
The Twins have good depth at SS prospects, no doubt, but nobody ready to play the position before the end of 2019 at the earliest, including Polanco.
Considering Gordon’s stock is plummeting right now, Lewis is booting balls left and right and Javier and Severino aren’t arriving before 2022-2023, the Twins shouldn’t be worried about blocking anybody for at least a year or two.
The new FO is going to have to learn how to compete without high payrolls. Twins have been in the top half of payrolls twice in the last 20 years – 2010 and 2011. They’ve constantly been in the bottom third.
If Levine is going to succeed, he’s going to have to make some shrewd trades and find some nice things in the dumbsters he’ll be left to dive in.
Falvey only had about $25-35 million more to spend in Cleveland. That’s quite a bit, but Cleveland got to where it is without signing a lot big name long term contracts. Same for Levine coming from the Rangers.
twins will be in on everybody but end up scraping the bottom of the barrel for a middle infielder, one rotation arm and bullpen help. Only anywhere near “splashy” move they’d make is for maybe Nelson Cruz.
Twins have been in a hidden rebuild for 2 years – since the new front office took control. Similar to the one the Blue Jays started when Shapiro went over there a year or two earlier. Slowly get rid of the high veterans contracts and start developing players in the minors.
The Twins have a bunch of average players; with the exception of Jose Berrios and to some degree Eddie Rosario. They need a lot – particularly pitching.
The speculated notion that the Twins (or White Sox) just need to make a move or two and they can win the AL Central is far fetched. Last year they finished @ 78-84 playing 19 games each against division foes – where 3 of the 4 were stripped down and in total rebuild mode. The Indians would have to lose Lindor, Rameriz, and at least 2 starting pitchers to major injuries for the Twins to have a chance of catching them in 2019.
The Twins will try to roll out a respectable team in 2019, hoping that Buxton and Sano magically become a fraction of the players they were trumpeted to be. Then there’s the pitching…..
Baseball inflation at 5% per year: the spending level of 2011 for 2019 would have to be about 167 Million. Anything less is an actual cut in spend adjusted for inflation. Take into account that that bright shine Tax Payer funded stadium was built specifically to raise revenues so the team could keep its stars and build a winning team ( which has not happened as promise to the State legislature) and we see the real picture instead of this hyped version. Pohlad has ripped off the Public and will continue to do so by pocketing revenue promised to the public to build the team.
$167 million, so you expected them to have the 8th highest payroll in baseball, ahead of the Yankees last year? Come on, it’s to retire the narrative old man.
Apparently you never went to the hearings at the State Capitol where the money was promised for players, I did. The money was promised and hasn’t been delivered. They call that fraud if a commoner does it.
But the state of Minnesota didn’t provide any funding for Target Field. Hennepin County did. And it’s debt is serviced via a sales tax.
I think you might be thinking of the Vikings here…
They need permission from the state to proceed and the county footed the bill.. Public money to subsidize a billionaire .. and they Have not delivered on the promise: the money was for team building not profit building. But it has been for profit building.. and the joke about jobs creation was just that, in fact the management team hired out of state workers to work the games because they got them cheaper.
We are constantly in the lower 3rd for attendance, seems like common sense that we would also be in the lower 3rd for payroll.
The Twins are the worst team in MLB from 2011+ in terms of wins, but they manage attendance which has a median average of 19 over that span (above bottom 3rd). There are teams who’ve spent more, had a lot more success, and who would kill to have the Twins’ attendance.
2011 was the 2nd year of a new stadium and followed back to back division titles.
Not counting the first couple years in the new stadium, our attendance is horrible. No team “would kill” to have our attendance. In 2016 Fangraphs estimated that we had the 21st ranked TV contract.
2017 21st Winning season
2015 20th Winning season
how can we expect to have a top 10 payroll in this capacity? Expect us to always be in this range of payroll compared to the league. This about where our market ranks.
cherry picking the attendance doesn’t change the fact that when the twins put a winning product on the field the attendance booms. They were gifted a cash machine in Target field and now the money goes to the profit margin rather than the players they were to keep and the new players they were to get to build winning teams.
The Twin Cities is a larger media market than that according to Nielsen, but we have so much competition for entertainment dollars…
Correct: The twins market is much greater than the twins cities, It includes all the Dakotas and up state minnesota and part of iowa
I am not a fan of either the Twins or Harper and Machado specifically, but how great would it be for the competitive balance of the league if one of them signed with Minnesota and the other signed in Kansas City or Pittsburgh or Milwaukee. Won’t happen, but it’s fun to dream.
They should take on a couple of bad contracts and stock up of prospects.
I wouldn’t be too surprised to see the Twins completely ignore free agency this year. Oh, okay, maybe the owners will buy someone for about $5mm just so that they can claim they got someone. Before that, they will “be in” on several bigger names (meaning, they will call them once and offer about 2/3rds of what those players are asking).
The only real hope that I see this year is that they are able to make a couple of decent trades. They won’t want to give up their prospects to make these deals, but they dislike spending money on players even more than that, so that’s their most likely path. They’ve been looking at 2020 for a couple of years now (rebuilding slowly and discretely).
Unless they spend at least as much money on salary as they did last year, I won’t be buying any merchandise nor attending a game. I’ll watch a few on the TV, listen to a few on the radio, read some boxscores online. I’d like to support the team and do more but ownership rarely gives me any reason to do so.
Ideally, this is a good time to try to get some extensions in place on players like Rosario and Gibson. Hard to stomach paying Odorizzi more than Gibson, so I expect a possible trade of one of them.
Actually, Greinke is a realistic option for the Twins to upgrade their pitching staff. He has only 3 years left on his contract, so he is not a “long term mega-contract.” And if the Dbacks pick up a chunk of it, Greinke’s contract is very affordable.
Minnesota could for example get Greinke for $21M per year for 3 years, plus pay $12.5M in deferred money in both 2025 and 2026, and the Dbacks would pay the rest. Plus the Dbacks could take an expensive contract off the Twins payroll. The trade would be Greinke, plus $$$ for C Castro and pitchers Gonsalves and Romero.
That trade is laughable at best, why would the Twins want to pay over 20 million AND trade 2 of their best pitching prospects.
Making the deferred payments kind of makes this a long term contract. The Twins also don’t currently have an expensive contract for the Diamondbacks to take.
Personally I think Grienke’s best years are behind him. Not only would we be taking his 35-37 year old seasons, we probably aren’t a serious contender until the tail end of Grienke’s contract.
Could see Gonsalves being dealt, but definitely not Romero; just too much potential to just pass up on for an aging soft tosser.
Don’t speak in generalities. Greinke is an Ace who is neither showing signs of aging nor becoming ineffective because he doesn’t throw with high velocity. Think of Hall of Famer Greg Maddux who never had high velocity but relied on location and a high pitching IQ. Greinke does the same. An effective veteran Ace is worth at least 2 top prospects. There isn’t another Ace better than Greinke on the market, whether via free agency or trade. Corbin is the only possibility and he is commanding a huge, long contract, which the Twins don’t want to give out. Greinke is the Twins best shot to get deep in the playoffs.
AZ has made it pretty clear they don’t intend on eating Greinke’s contract so he’s not going to bring anything of value back if the Diamondbacks can even move him. If he was on the open market right now, his existing contract would be an overpay of $30-40M.
Aside from that, Greinke shouldn’t be counted on to be an ace at this point. His peripherals don’t look good, his FIP has been mediocre 2 of the past 3 years and he’s 35 with a 15 team no trade list probably including the Twins.
Corbin is projected by Trade Rumors to get 6 years 129M (21.5M per year) Grienke is getting 104.5M for 3 years. Corbin would be Grienke’s current age at the end of a 6 year deal.
I would much rather have Corbin.
According to MLB trade rumors top 50 FA predictions we could have a combination of these affordable FA:
SP Charlie Morton – 12 AAV
SP Gio Gonzalez – 12 AAV
RP Jeurys Familia – 11 AAV
RP Zack Britton – 11 AAV
UTL Marwin Gonzales – 9 AAV
2B D.J. Lemahieu – 9 AAV
3B Mike Moustakas – 8 AAV
RP Kelvin Herrera – 8 AAV
What is nice about these FA is that they come relatively cheap and look to get between 1-4yr deals. If the Twins happen to tank, these players can be used as trade chips to bolster their farm system. I do not believe the Twins should be trading any players this off-season.
If the FO can give me Lowrie and Allen I’ll be satisfied, but anything less will be a major disappointment.
I mean, if there’s an offseason to go crazy on bargain shopping, it’s this one, so take advantage of it if your not gonna be in on the big name FA.