Is It Too Early To Look At 2012?

(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.)

Will Jason Kubel be back in 2012?

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):

PLAYER Salary (mil)
C Mauer 23
1B Morneau 15
IF Nishioka 3
3B Valencia 0.5 pre-arbitration
IF Casilla 1.5* 2nd year arbitration
OF Span 3
OF Young 7* 3rd year arbitration
SP Baker 6.5
SP Blackburn 4.75
SP Liriano 7* 3rd year arbitration
SP Pavano 8.5
SP Duensing 0.5 pre-arbitration
Nathan 2 Buy-out of option
*estimates

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.

- JC

6 thoughts on “Is It Too Early To Look At 2012?

  1. It is definitely going to be an offseason full of changes for the Twins. There are going to be a lot of new faces next season and maybe that is a good thing…

  2. “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.” So will I.

    Ron Gardenhire has frequently talked about players being in their “comfort zone.” I think for some of them and most probably for the team as a whole, that philosophy has now gone beyond “comfort zone” into complacency. Part of the reason I would have liked them to trade Kubel or Cuddyer (although I have no faith in Bill Smith in the trade arena) was to show the rest of the team that being a popular, long-term player is not a guarantee that they won’t be moved or that they will be offered arbitration or that they won’t be sent down to the minors (when possible).

    To me this organization has become stagnant. Very little change in the front office, very little change in the coaching staff, not much change in the player personnnel. Continuity is a good thing and served the team well in the 2000′s but that continuity has to include enough change to prevent complacency.

  3. I’m mentally ready to start thinking about 2012. This has been a season of Murphy’s Law for the Twins, with literally almost every significant move backfiring, and with a pretty incredible string of serious injuries.
    I’m ready to entertain the thought of moving players such as Pavano and Young, and definitely not offering arbitration to Capps. Nathan, though effective as of late, is also a question mark for 2012. Bottom line – there is a lot of money to be freed up. I’m also concerned with the Nishioka situation: as baffled as he looks on offense, and sometimes on defense, he really should be playing at AAA, especially if the Twins determine that they are out of contention.

  4. The option on Nathan is really an interesting issue that I’m sure will generate a lot of debate. It’s a $12.5 million option, but it has a $2 million buy-out. Essentially, that means the net cost to the Twins to exercise the option and keep him around for another year is “just” $10.5 million because the other 2 mil is going to get paid either way.

    That still may be too much… but if the alternative is to trust Bill Smith not to make a stupid trade (like sending Denard Span somewhere for a “proven closer”) in the offseason, I might lean toward keeping Nathan for another season.

  5. Smith’s interest in getting a “proven closer” like Storen might indicate that he’s already planning to decline Nathan’s option, or at least considering it.

    I’d like to see a big shake-up with the pitching rotation. Baker is the only one whose job should be safe. Maybe you’d hold onto Pavano for some veteran stability, and Liriano because there’s a fair chance that he bounces back with a strong year at an affordable cost. But I’d probably put Duensing back in the bullpen and look for Blackburn’s replacement, if it were up to me.

    Hopefully, Span stays with the team. As it seems that Smith is determined to keep Cuddyer, the most expensive of his pending free agents, can the club afford to bring back both Cuddyer and Kubel? How about if they give up on Young? I wouldn’t mind a 2012 OF of Revere-Span-Cuddyer, with Kubel subbing at the corners and otherwise filling the DH spot. But then, is there flexibility to make any changes in the infield? I think Casilla earned one more season with the team, but otherwise… maybe we’ll just have to hope that Valencia and Nishioka simply play better next year, and of course that Morneau finally bounces back.

  6. Capps has to go. Delmon has to go. Nathan has to go. Nishi has to go to AAA. Implode the entire bullpen. Sooner or later the “Mauer Contract” will come home to roost. You just cant devote 20% of your total salary to a guy who is set to hit 2 HR’s this season and drive in 40 RBI. I see similar numbers for Mauer next year. Then you have the 1B man with headaches. Personally I think for all practical purposes his career is over.