(NOTE: The silver lining to the Twins struggles of late is that Joe Nathan still hasn’t broken the team career record for saves and that means you still have time to enter our contest for a chance to win a set of 1991 Twins WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP DVDs! Click HERE to enter!)
There’s still some baseball to play over the next two months and we can still fantasize about the Twins making another late season surge in the standings similar to what we saw in June. But with no help being brought in at the non-waiver trade deadline, hopes are fading.
If this team somehow pulls off a miracle and works its way back in to the AL Central race, I’ll have no trouble focusing 100% of my interest on the current season. But as things stand, I can’t help but take a little peek at 2012.
A lot was made this year about the Twins’ payroll growing to a record $113.2 million. With their shiny new ballpark and a guaranteed 3+ million fans filling those seats this season, GM Bill Smith had pockets deeper than ever before to work with in constructing a roster. He made some peculiar (and ultimately questionable) choices, but nobody could argue that the Twins were being “cheap”.
The Twins are, and will likely continue to be, among the more fiscally conservative teams in Major League Baseball. MLB clubs are not supposed to incur debt in excess of 10 times their annual revenues. That doesn’t seem like it would be a difficult standard to meet, does it? Well, apparently nine teams currently think it is. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Twins are nowhere to be found on that list. (That’s a good thing, by the way.)
What will the Twins’ roster and payroll look like in 2012? I find that to be a very interesting question. Matt Capps, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Jim Thome will be free agents and, despite his return to effectiveness, it’s still likely that the Twins will opt out of Joe Nathan’s $12.5 million option, making him a free agent, as well. How many, if any, of those players will be brought back?
Let’s look at their existing 2012 contractual obligations (from Cot’s Baseball Contracts):
|IF Casilla||1.5*||2nd year arbitration|
|OF Young||7*||3rd year arbitration|
|SP Liriano||7*||3rd year arbitration|
|Nathan||2||Buy-out of option|
That’s around $82 million being spent on less than half of your ultimate 25-man roster. Your entire starting rotation is accounted for (though let’s be honest, it could stand to be improved) and all but one of your eight defensive positions.
Of course, there’s no assurance all of these players will return in 2012. Bill Smith might have been unsure whether to be a buyer or seller in July, but if the Twins fall back in the standings this month, there’s a very good chance he’ll listen to offers for just about anyone who clears waivers (at least those not named Mauer) and anyone not traded in August could still find himself on the trade block during the next offseason. Also, would Casilla, Young and Liriano all be offered arbitration? I don’t think so.
It also would surprise nobody if the Twins made an attempt to keep some of their free agents. Kubel, Cuddyer and Nathan are having solid seasons. Would any of them accept a little less money to stay in Minnesota? We kind of assume Jim Thome may be ready to hang up the spikes if he reaches the 600 HR mark this season, but if he decides to play another year, would the Twins invite him back?
And then there’s the curious case of Denard Span. Despite being a productive CF and leadoff hitter, the Twins were obviously open to trading him at the end of July. If they were open to offers then, you have to figure they would be similarly open during the offseason.
I won’t be disappointed if the Twins bring back some of the current familiar faces fans have grown to know and love, but I will be disappointed if they bring back all or most of them. This team’s performance in 2011 has been less than expected and it hasn’t all been due to injuries. As Howard Sinker pointed out in this post over at Section 219, some of these guys failed to live up to past levels of performance.
The point is, the Twins are going to have an enormous amount of flexibility between now and the start of Spring Training, 2012. If they decide their revenues are likely to drop off in 2012, you could see an awful lot of these guys who have been doing the Rochester Shuffle this season playing significant roles in 2012 (not to mention a few that we’ve yet to get a look at in a Twins uniform). On the other hand, if the organization is confident that they can sustain a payroll close to what this season’s is (and with a waiting list of fans who want season ticket packages, there’s no reason to think they shouldn’t be confident), they should be able to afford to be significant players in the free agent market and if they are serious about regaining a place at the top of the AL Central Division, they’ll need to upgrade several positions.
It should make for interesting discussions.