I'm going to attempt to demonstrate to Joe C. and other doubters that the Twins can pay Santana $20+ million a year and field a competitive team while staying within their current payroll projections and business model. Yesterday I laid out how that might look in 2008, but next year isn't the problem. Terry Ryan did such a good job setting up the contracts for '08, the team could have given Hunter $15 million and Silva $10 million and still come in right around the budget. It's 2009 and 2010 that are going to be a bit tricky.
Let's lay out the best-case scenario for the team I put together yesterday (exchanging Tyner for some other league-minimum bench player, probably Buscher or Jones at this point). Everyone performs at the top of their game - Santana racks up another 20 wins, Morneau clobbers 40+ homers, Mauer challenges for another batting title, Cuddyer gets back to 25 homers 100 RBIs, Kubel and Slowey pick up where they left off last season, etc. The team wins 90+ games, and remains in the division race until the last week of the season. Attendance tops 2.5 million, about a 10% increase. MLB as a whole has another record year in terms of revenue. The Twins' overall revenue goes up about 10%, and the 2009 payroll is set for $86 million.
Our liabilities, according to the contracts I proposed yesterday, would look like this (in millions):
Monroe, Giles, Punto, Redmond, and Reyes become free agents, and the remaining 20 guys are already topping the projected budget - and the six highest-paid guys are making $71.5 million, almost 83% of the payroll!
Meanwhile, over in Rochester, Span, Bonser, Duensing, and Buscher are ready to assume regular major-league duty. So, we trade Silva for 2-3 excellent prospects, and bring up Duensing and Bonser, one the 5th starter, one for the bullpen. That's a net savings of about $9 million, leaving the payroll at $77 million for 20 spots. Buscher and Harris can split time at third. Span becomes the 5th outfielder. Tolbert becomes the bench infielder. Still $8 million left to fill 2nd base and the last bench spot, and we haven't had to trade Santana, Nathan or Cuddyer. Let's bring back Giles for another year at $7.5 million, and call up a serf to fill out the final bench spot. The top six guys are still making over 80% of the total, but with so much pre-arbitration talent on the team, we were still able to return all 9 field starters, 4 starting pitchers, and 5 members of the bullpen. We also added a couple of good prospects to the system.
Now, because we've kept the team together and stayed reasonably competitive within the division, the new stadium sells out in 2010, setting a new attendance record of over 3.2 million. Don't think that's realistic? Even the Brewers drew 2.8 million in the first year of Miller Park, and they were horrible (68-94). With Santana, Mauer, and Morneau on the roster, as well as budding stars Matt Kemp, Delmon Young, and Fransisco Liriano, enthusiasm for the team will never be higher. And now, the team gets to sell luxury boxes on top of all the ticket sales. If they keep with their formula of using 51% or so of total revenues for payroll, the budget should easily approach $100 million. I'll be conservative and say $96 million. If that's the limit, what are we up against contract-wise? Lots of guys are suddenly arbitration-eligible:
21 guys, and we're way over-budget. The top six guys are making 70% of the payroll - the high end of the range, and with so many mid-level players on the team, too much to handle. Some folks will have to go.
Span is ready to take over CF, Kemp moves to left, Cuddyer can be traded for a 2nd or 3rd-year 2B or SS with major upside, netting us $8 million in savings down to about $97 million. Close to the budgeted payroll, but still a few slots to fill. Now we trade Nathan (2009 would likely be his last really good year anyway) for a couple of good prospects, netting a savings of $11 million. Neshek becomes the closer, and there's plenty of room to fill out the last few spots.
Even if I'm off a fair amount in my salary estimates for the arbitration players, there's still plenty of flexibility here. If the payroll is starting to get pinched in between 2008 and 2009, trade Nathan then. Trade Cuddyer at the deadline if the team is struggling. Discard players who aren't living up to their potential. But I hope you can see how paying Santana $21 million a year doesn't preclude us from putting a competitive team on the field. Just as importantly, it shows the fans that the team isn't giving up on 2008 and 2009 just because the new revenue isn't coming in yet. That should result in steady momentum for fan interest and attendance leading up to the opening of the new stadium. Then the Twins will finally be capable of doing what I've always wanted - compete cleverly as a small market, but keep the truly special players in Minnesota for their whole careers.