MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins have been spending their way out of that small-budget image, mirroring the imminent increase in revenue from their new ballpark with a big spike in player salary commitments.
Lead owner Jim Pohlad said it’s a sustainable development.
So even if the Twins sign Joe Mauer to a mammoth contract extension, they’re not afraid it would cost too much to keep a contending-calibre core of players around the American League MVP.
“I think Target Field puts us in better position to make sure that we have a competitive team from year to year,” Pohlad said Monday.
“Names will come and names will go, but overall the objective is always to have the best team on the field.”
The Pohlad family has consistently followed a model of keeping the annual player payroll pegged to 50 per cent of team revenue, though in rebuilding years it’s fallen well below that.
At the Metrodome, there wasn’t as much money coming in. This year, though, the payroll will rise by roughly US$30 million to a team record above $95 million.
“All new ballparks have their peaks, and I’m sure the initial years will be very good to the Twins,” Pohlad said. “Then it’ll be up to us to sustain it after that, but the ballpark itself I think can sustain it for a long time.”
In a question-and-answer session with reporters in a conference room overlooking a snow-covered Target Field, Pohlad dismissed the notion that the team has been trying to disprove a tightfisted reputation.
“We’re not trying to show people,” he said. “We’re trying to do what we said we’re going to do.”
Pohlad declined to discuss specifics about negotiations with Mauer on a new deal, citing a pledge to the catcher and his agent to keep the details private.
He said he’s “absolutely not active at all” in the process, but reiterated the team’s desire to keep the homegrown star around for good.
Pohlad said the Twins aren’t interested in the possibility of deferred compensation as a way to make a rich long-term contract like Mauer’s work.
“They make you feel real good at the time, and then later on you wish you hadn’t done that,” Pohlad said.
He also indicated an openness to signing Mauer for nine or 10 years, if that’s what it would take. The six-year contract signed two years ago by first baseman Justin Morneau of New Westminster, B.C., is the current Twins record.
“I don’t think six is a magic number,” Pohlad said, adding: “Total value is what drives it. We do not have a term policy.”
Since last August, the Twins have added multimillion-dollar players in Orlando Hudson, Jim Thome, J.J. Hardy, Carl Pavano and Jon Rauch. Fans, though, should not expect a spree like that every year.
“We’re not going to spend the money just to spend the money,” Pohlad said, adding: “We’re going to try to put the best team on the field in the most prudent financial way, and I think we accomplished that this year.”
Asked about general manager Bill Smith’s praise last year for the ownership’s approval of the late-season acquisitions, Pohlad quipped: “I think it was time for his review.”
Pohlad also reiterated the family’s philosophy of trusting the front office to take care of the roster and not meddling or micromanaging in the day-to-day operations of the organization. The family has a small empire of business interests, and the Twins take up between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of Pohlad’s time.
They’re fired up about this year’s team, though, as they always are.
“We may be characterized as a relatively disengaged ownership group, but we do care about winning and losing,” Pohlad said. “There may be one or two down years, but even during those years we’re going to care and we’re going to want to do better. I’ve said this a million times and my brothers are the same. We’re fans.”