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Twins wary of being big spenders in current Minnesota climate

By Jim Souhan, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — Sports fans savor anger. They twirl it around in a long-stemmed glass, searching for adjectives.

Today, vocal Twins fans find their anger to be piquant. Robust, even.

They believe the franchise should be spending much more money. As rivals have invested a combined $454 million on two players, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, the Twins have countered with Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit.

To put it in Hollywood terms, the Angels and Tigers signed Brad Pitt. The Twins countered with Jonah Hill.

Why wouldn’t Twins fans think this way? The team is owned by a wealthy family. The team stunk last year. The team plays in a publicly-funded ballpark. So when the Detroit Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a $214 million contract, fans began e-mail and Twitter campaigns designed to expose the Pohlad family as greedy barons intent on stealing summer.

There are a few speed bumps to this line of thinking:

1. The Twins never said a new ballpark would enable them to sign massive free-agent contracts. At the most, the brain trust vowed to attempt to re-sign their own players they considered worth keeping.

2. The Twins’ payroll is about $100 million, which would rank as the second-largest payroll in franchise history.

3. The Twins’ best seasons have not reflected size of payroll. They spent $115 million on players last year and won 63 games. They spent about $100 million in 2010 and won 94. Perhaps their most talented team in recent history, the 2006 squad, required a payroll of about $64 million and won 96.

4. While spending $200 million a year all but guarantees a playoff spot, as the Yankees have proved, spending $200 million does not guarantee a title. Since 2000, the Yankees have won just one — fewer than the Cardinals and as many as the Marlins.

5. Signing exorbitant free-agent contracts energizes fan bases during the winter but rarely works out in the long run. The Twins have signed two ground-breaking contracts in franchise history, Kirby Puckett to a five-year, $30 million contract in 1993, and Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million deal that was a record for a catcher before the 2010 season. Puckett played on three losing teams before blindness ended his career. Mauer’s contract is threatening to become one of the most franchise-damaging deals in sports history.

6. Last year the top two payroll teams, the Yankees and Phillies, made the postseason. So did the teams with the 10th-, 11th-, 13th-, 17th-, 25th- and 29th-ranked payrolls. The team with the 11th-largest payroll beat the team with the 13th-largest in the World Series.

“The payroll, in our opinion, is not the issue,” said team president Dave St. Peter.  “It’s about maximizing the performance of the guys we have assembled on our roster. It’s tough to get to where you want to be when you have $37 million of your payroll that wasn’t able to get on the field last year.

“I can assure you that the better we do at driving the revenues here, the chances of our payroll going up are pretty good.”

Most teams outspending the Twins make much more money on their local broadcast rights. The Angels’ signing of Pujols appears tied to a massive new TV deal that both funded and justified such a huge contract.

St. Peter didn’t say this, but the Twins have to feel wary of huge contracts given Mauer’s physical and statistical collapse last season in the second year of an eight-year deal.

“You’re right about a lot of the biggest contracts in baseball history not working out well,” St. Peter said. “That’s been the history.”

Yet as someone who has helped turn the Twins’ brand into a regional beacon, St. Peter is almost gratified by fans’ anger.

“I think what you’re seeing is that the fan base now is much more invested and probably more passionate today about our franchise than they were even in our championship years,” he said. “As an organization, you can’t have it just one way. You have to accept the good with the bad. I’ll take the angst and anger over the apathy we dealt with 12 or 13 years ago, believe me.”

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