Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dissecting the Bill Smith era: Payroll

Joe Mauer and Bill Smith play let's-make-a-deal
in 2010. Mauer's $23 million salary represents
23 percent of the Twins projected 2012 payroll.
Bill Smith inherited the Twins general manager's job after the 2007 season, when the team was still confined to the Metrodome and the payroll cramped accordingly.

The move to Target Field for the 2010 season loosened the purse strings. Last season the payroll blossomed to an estimated $115 -- more than $40 million higher than Terry Ryan ever had to work with in his first go-around.

Ryan threw out on Monday a $100 million figure for the 2012 payroll. It always figured to be somewhat lower in 2012 than in 2011, since the Twins had made it known almost immediately after signing Carl Pavano that the Pohlad brothers had to sign off on busting the budget to bring him back. But if the payroll was within budget before Pavano signed for $8 million and over budget after, it seems the targeted budget was around $110 million, not $100 million.

To be sure, team president Dave St. Peter told the Star Tribune that he and Ryan had not discussed the payroll budget, and the $100 million figure may be a target, not a hard ceiling. We'll see how the winter plays out.

Anyway: There are, on the current 40-man roster, seven players with guaranteed contracts for next season (and for five of them, at least one additional season). They total some $63.25 million in 2012 salary, and they were all signed to their contracts during the Smith regime. In order of their 2012 salaries, as listed on Baseball Reference:

  • Joe Mauer, $23 million (through 2018)
  • Justin Morneau, $15 million (through 2013)
  • Pavano, $8 million (through 2012)
  • Scott Baker, $6.5 million (through 2012/team option for 2013)
  • Nick Blackburn, $4.75 million (through 2013/team option for 2014)
  • Tsuyoshi Nishioka, $3 million (through 2013/team option for 2014)
  • Denard Span, $3 million (through 2014/team option for 2015)

There are also three arbitration-eligible players -- Glen Perkins, Alexi Casilla and Jose Mijares -- who figure to combine for $3.9 million in 2012. (I'm not including Kevin Slowey, because I would expect the Twins to decline to offer him a contract if he's still on the roster when that deadline arrives.) That pushes the payroll over $67 million for 10 players -- and there are sizable question marks, mostly health related, about almost all of them.

OK, that's 10 spots on the 25-man roster. If the other 15 spots all go to guys making the major league minimum ($450,000), that's another $7 million or so, making a rough total of $74 million -- leaving some $26 million for Ryan to play with this winter. (The Star Tribune's Joe Christensen has been using a figure of $82 million to bring everybody under contract back, but that figure includes Slowey and a number of arbitration-eligible players the Twins stripped from the 40-man roster last month.)

Looking at the list of contracts, the one that strikes me most as a clear mistake is Blackburn. As a low-strikeout pitcher, he was and remains a bad bet to be worth a long-term commitment.

The Mauer deal was always a major risk, but it was a risk that had to be taken when it was taken. Jim Pohlad  told the Pioneer Press after the Smith firing that he would approve the contract again. Nobody imagined when Morneau signed his deal before the 2008 season that he'd have three straight injury-shortened seasons, much less a chronic concussion problem. The Nishioka signing looks like a bust now, but it was logical enough at the time.

If the Twins are cramped for payroll space, it's because Mauer and Morneau combine for 38 percent of the projected payroll. Given the importance of both players, I don't blame Smith for those deals. Blackburn was a mistake, Nishioka may be a mistake. I was never thrilled with the Pavano deal, but (so far) the Twins have gotten a return on the investment.

If they were the "dumbest" contracts Smith issued, he did a far better job in that department than a number of other GMs.


  1. Nishioka signing looked logical at the time?

    14M for that talent.

    Other than the man with the final say, Bill Smith, whom?

    Because the Twins stated goal going into 2011 was to get faster in the infield?

    Letting Hardy walk over money and then posting $9M to snag Nishioka ....

    Well, technically it was salary dump trade that sent Hardy to the Orioles...7.5M was too much for the Twins.

    Handing Casilla a starters job in the MI for 2011 when he had never had an extending run of steady play that lasted over 4 weeks his entire career.

    Going into 2011 with a MI of Casilla & Nishioka was a huge gamble.

    Nishioka led the PCL in errors in addition to his Gold Glove honors.

    This is not about Hardy belting HRs in Balt. That did not make the Twins 2011 MI plan go bust. This is about going into 2011 with a bad MI plan and hoping it works out.

    Hardy's quotes about his early BP in Balt. when they asked him why he was content slapping the ball over the 2nd baseman spot speaks volumes about why he was not going to do well if he stayed with the Twins brain trust. The Orioles told him to swing like a man, as he was comfortable doing, and the results followed.

    Nothing gets your bosses attention quicker than blowing money and Smith wasted $14M on Nishioka. Spectacularly flushed it right down the toilet.

  2. dumb contract #1 may have been one of Smith's first signings:

    Punto 3-years and 12.5M in a buyers market. Could have gotten him for half that given the market that winter. UI's Ojeda and Izturis went for 1M and 1.5M.

    Smith proved he could not see the landscape in front of him right out of the gate. Gave starters money early in the winter to player the rest of MLB viewed as a utility infielder, which he should have been paid like.

    Next up, Mike Lamb was so misjudged by Smith they had to cut ties soon thereafter. 3-years for a platoon 3B who proved to be a bad fit in Gardy's clubhouse.