After decades of being considered a small-to-mid-market team, the Twins now find themselves in the upper third of baseball's spenders as they prepare to retool their roster for the 2011 season. But one big change for the Twins is that they will now have to start sharing their revenue with cash-strapped teams rather than being the recipients as they were during their tenure at the Metrodome.
The Twins have stuck with their policy of not disclosing what their exact payroll will be for the next season. But even if they don't add any new players to the mix or sign any of their 10 potential free agents for 2011, their payroll is expected to be right around that $100 million mark.
So just how different could the ballclub look in 2011?
"You never know what the team's going to look like," said Michael Cuddyer. "Obviously, people that are in this clubhouse and the name tags you see, some of them won't be here and there will be different ones. That's the nature of the business. That's the nature of this sport."
The Twins have prided themselves on developing a solid young core, but as everyone knows, that kind of core does not stay inexpensive for long. Many players are set for pay increases, the largest of which belongs to catcher Joe Mauer, who will enter the first season of his eight-year, $184 million extension. The contract pays Mauer $23 million annually. In 2010, the catcher made $12.5 million.
Now the challenge for general manager Bill Smith and the rest of the Twins' front office is to build a championship team around Mauer while paying him that type of salary.
But Mauer is far from the only player who will see a pay raise next year. The Twins' starting rotation, which two years ago was one of the cheapest in all of baseball, now is getting older as well. Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn are both signed to multi-year deals that will pay them a combined $8 million in 2011 -- $4.25 million more than this past season. Francisco Liriano is entering his second year of arbitration, having just been named American League Comeback Player of the Year in 2010, and Delmon Young is also in that same position following a breakout season of his own. So both players are likely to see big jumps in salary.
With the possibility that all 11 free agents could depart, Minnesota's roster could be going through some significant changes heading into 2011. Although the Twins were able to go outside the organization to make additions last winter and this season, the club could now be looking within its system once again to find some solutions in order to keep down costs. Of course, how they structure the roster depends on just how much the Twins might be willing to increase their payroll.
Perhaps the biggest question Smith and the rest of the front office will be facing this winter is figuring out how to change the Twins' fortunes in the postseason. Despite clinching their sixth AL Central title in the past nine years on Sept. 21 -- a full 12 days before the end of the regular season -- the Twins found their results in October to be the same. The club was swept in the first round of the playoffs for a third consecutive time and like last winter, Smith seems determined to change that.
"Every one of us is disappointed in what happens in the postseason," Smith said. "Every player, the manager, the coaching staff, the front office, we're all disappointed in the way this season ended.
"But this is a good ballclub and we have high quality people and this team can win. We're excited about some of the things that we accomplished this year and disappointed that we didn't accomplish a few more. I think now we'll all turn our focus to the opening of Spring Training and looking ahead to 2011."
Jim Thome, DH; Orlando Hudson, 2B; Carl Pavano, RHP; Jesse Crain, RHP; Matt Guerrier, RHP; Brian Fuentes, LHP; Jon Rauch, RHP; Randy Flores, LHP; Ron Mahay, LHP; Clay Condrey, RHP
Eligible for arbitration:
Francisco Liriano, LHP; Delmon Young, OF; J.J. Hardy, SS; Matt Capps, RHP; Alexi Casilla, INF; Kevin Slowey, RHP; Pat Neshek, RHP; Glen Perkins, LHP
Jason Kubel, OF, $5.25 million; Nick Punto, INF, $5 million.
Hardy, Slowey, Neshek, Perkins
A position-by-position look at where the 2010 roster stands going into 2011. The arrows represent how the player's 2010 season compared to 2009.
Joe Mauer: Slow start didn't prevent typically strong season
Drew Butera: Solid defensive backup for Mauer
Jose Morales: Relegated to a third-catcher role
Mauer was bothered by various ailments throughout the year and those, along with the transition to Target Field, resulted in a slow offensive start to the season for the catcher. But the perennial All-Star recovered with a stellar second half to get his numbers back to normal for the season. Butera proved himself to be a solid backup defensively behind the plate, although the Twins certainly would like to see a little more from his bat. Morales could fill a bench role if a third catcher is necessary.
Justin Morneau: Stellar year halted by a concussion
Morneau was on pace for the best season of his career -- leading the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage -- before it was brought to an early end when he suffered a concussion on July 7 during a slide into second base at Toronto. The accidental knee that Morneau took to his head didn't seem to be much at the time, but it kept him out for the rest of the season. Doctors have said they are confident Morneau will be 100 percent by Spring Training, but only time will tell.
Orlando Hudson: Filled the No. 2 spot in lineup, but not expected back
Alexi Casilla: Could be given another opportunity at an everyday role
Trevor Plouffe: A natural shortstop, but team is looking for him to get reps at second
This is a position that will be up for grabs heading into the 2011 season. Hudson was an adequate fill-in at second base despite some injuries, but it appears he'll be moving on to a new organization for a third straight year. Casilla could get an opportunity at second base or perhaps shortstop if there is an opening there. Plouffe was considering going to winter ball to get some work at second base, so he could perhaps be a candidate for either middle infield position.
J.J. Hardy: Wrist injury slowed offensive production, but solid defensively
Nick Punto: Injuries hampered him at the end of the season
When the Twins traded for Hardy last November, the expectation was they'd be getting a solid defensive glove and an offensive upgrade at the position. But a wrist injury limited Hardy to just 101 games and with him up for arbitration again, it's possible that the Twins could non-tender the shortstop rather than give Hardy, who made $5.1 million this season, a pay raise. There is no certain solution at the spot. The Twins will likely decline Punto's $5 million option, making him a free agent. But Casilla and Plouffe could factor in as options at shortstop as well if Hardy is not brought back.
Danny Valencia: The position appears to be his after a stellar rookie campaign
Matt Tolbert: Fits the super utility role
Brendan Harris: Lost his job in the Majors due to slow start offensively
The Twins have not had a consistent third baseman since Corey Koskie left after the 2004 season, but it appears they have found a fit at third in Valencia. What was supposed to be a short callup for the rookie back in June never ended, as he remained with the team for the rest of the season and secured the hot corner. Tolbert made the ALDS roster as a utility infielder and could fill that role once again in 2011. Harris is under contract for 2011 at $1.75 million and could be back with the club despite finishing the 2010 season in the Minors.
Michael Cuddyer: Versatile player will return to his most comfortable position
Denard Span: His numbers weren't quite as strong in 2010, but still a quality leadoff man
Delmon Young: Coming off a breakout season and a solid start could warrant All-Star consideration
Jason Repko: A defensive gem in the outfield and fills fourth-outfielder role well
The story in 2010 was the emergence of Young, who finally showed why the Twins traded for him prior to the 2008 season. Young cemented his status as one of the talented young players in the game and, at 25, he still has plenty of time to grow as a player. The Twins' outfield defense wasn't as strong this season, with the loss of Carlos Gomez, and Cuddyer shifting to the infield for over half the year. But the Twins still like the group they have, and their depth, which includes young prospects in the system such as September callup Ben Revere.
Jason Kubel: Postseason struggles shouldn't affect his spot as everyday DH
Jim Thome: The 40-year-old will likely be back for another year, but will it be in Minnesota?
Kubel spent the majority of the season in the outfield when Michael Cuddyer had to shift back to an infield role. But he should be back in the DH spot for the 2011 season, as the Twins are expected to pick up his $5.25 million option. The big question mark is whether the Twins can re-sign Thome. The veteran slugger has not decided his future, but he indicated that he'd like to return for his 21st Major League season, and he enjoyed his time in Minnesota.
Francisco Liriano: Comeback season spells promise for future as team ace
Carl Pavano: Stellar year means he'll likely explore the market
Scott Baker: Elbow troubles slowed down the Twins' Opening Day starter
Brian Duensing: Secured his spot in the 2011 rotation
Nick Blackburn: Stint in the Minors got him back on track
Kevin Slowey: Set a career high in wins but was slowed by injury
Glen Perkins: Spent time in Majors as reliever, but is still viewed as a starter
The Twins will certainly have a solid young core returning from what was a successful rotation in 2010, but perhaps the biggest question is whether they'll be able to retain Pavano. The veteran pitcher, who turns 35 in January, could likely receive multi-year offers on the free-agent market. So the Twins might not be able to outbid other teams for him unless they move another starter. Another issue is the health of Baker's elbow after he needed two cortisone shots to battle tendinitis this season. Duensing was a bright spot once again after being moved into a starting role, and he'll get his first opportunity at a full season in the rotation. The Twins also have some options coming up in their system, such as their first-round picks the last two years, right-handers Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers.
Joe Nathan: Missed entire year due to Tommy John surgery
Matt Capps: Trade Deadline acquisition was solid fit for Twins in the closer role
Brian Fuentes: Provided left-handed depth late in the season, but wants to return to closing role
Matt Guerrier: Once again was a consistent force in the late innings
Jesse Crain: The Twins' best reliever from mid-June to end of season
Jon Rauch: Filled closer role in first half in Nathan's absence before returning to setup role
Jose Mijares: Possess solid stuff for a lefty, but needs to be more consistent
Clay Condrey: Didn't throw a pitch after signing free-agent deal with Twins
Pat Neshek: Velocity wasn't there in his first season back from Tommy John
The Twins featured their deepest bullpen in years at the end of the 2010 season. But it's a group that could see the biggest change, with four of the seven members of the ALDS bullpen set to be free agents. The club will have to decide which ones to bring back while not overspending on their relief corps. It appears unlikely that Rauch or Fuentes will return, while Crain and Guerrier are bigger question marks. Nathan is expected to be ready by the start of Spring Training, but he'll be just a year removed from Tommy John surgery and there are always questions with a player coming off surgery. Capps could give them a backup option at closer after saving a career-high 42 games between Washington and Minnesota, but he's also due for a pay raise through arbitration.