Mauer deal a positive sign for Twins
Club has dramatically increased spending in past year
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Joe Mauer's agent, Ron Shapiro, received a text message on Sunday night from his son Mark, who is the general manager for the Cleveland Indians.The text read, "Congratulations, Dad. This is a great day for baseball." The message was, of course, in reference to the eight-year, $184 million contract extension that Shapiro had negotiated for Mauer with the catcher's hometown Twins. "Theoretically, he's in competition with the Twins in this division," Shapiro said of his son. "But what he was saying was, 'Isn't it great when home-grown players can remain a part of their community long term?' " That sentiment seemed to echo throughout baseball on Monday, as the buzz centered on the Twins' ability to sign Mauer to such a contract. It's the fourth-largest contract -- both in total value and annual salary ($23 million) -- in Major League history, and for many it represents a change that's been taking place in Minnesota over the past few months. With Mauer's deal, the Twins handed out a contract that typically only the Yankees and Red Sox have dispersed. Certainly, it's not the norm for a small-to-mid-market team such as Minnesota, where that kind of annual salary could likely make up at least 20 percent of the payroll. But rather than scale back this winter, knowing what it might take to sign Mauer, the Twins dramatically increased their spending as they prepare to open Target Field. They traded for shortstop J.J. Hardy while signing second baseman Orlando Hudson and slugger Jim Thome to one-year deals. And Mauer's contract is the third long-term deal that the Twins inked this spring, after Nick Blackburn's four-year, $14 million contract and Denard Span's five-year, $16.5 million contract. The club's projected payroll for 2010 is approximately $97 million, a steep increase from last year's Opening Day figure of $65 million. That number could push even higher in 2011, since by adding Mauer's new salary, the Twins have $70.5 million committed to just eight players.
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CEO Jim Pohlad said that payroll will rise in the coming years, citing the fact that there will be salary increases for current players. And the expectation has been that the club can maintain a payroll around the $100 million mark -- if not higher -- with the new ballpark's revenue stream."You can't know the revenue side for sure," Pohlad said. "We are pretty conservative in our revenue projections, and at least in 2010, in our advance sales, we've exceeded those projections." But while the club's revenue streams are increasing, the philosophy of developing home-grown talent remains. Team president Dave St. Peter said that the club is realistic about revenues and doesn't expect to reach the payroll echelon of, say, the Yankees or the Red Sox. "We've talked for a long time about the importance of the new ballpark, and certainly Target Field puts the Minnesota Twins in a great position to retain the talent that we work so hard to scout, draft and develop in the Minor Leagues," St. Peter said. "Joe and so many other current players on our roster fit into that mold. We're very happy being the Minnesota Twins." Minnesota has long been lauded for its ability to draft and develop players, but when the time came for the organization to retain its home-grown stars, it was, at times, unable to do so. Such was the case after the 2007 season, when Torii Hunter departed via free agency and the Twins traded ace Johan Santana, who had one year remaining on his contract, to the Mets.
But the new revenue stream from Target Field comes at the right time, as it allowed the Twins to offer such a deal to Mauer.Other teams have taken notice of the Mauer signing and applaud it. "It's something you like to see, and if you're going to spend that kind of money, that's the guy to spend it on," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "This guy is going to have a great career. He's from Minnesota. I wish they didn't sign him so he can go somewhere else and I don't have to face him 19 times. But it's a great for him and great for baseball. God bless his mom, and enjoy the money. If [he doesn't] know where to spend it, I'll send him my number." Others were happy to see Mauer remain in Minnesota rather than watch another superstar get involved in a bidding war between the Yankees and the Red Sox, even if it's for selfish reasons. "We really want to thank the Twins for signing him to a long-term deal and keeping him in that division," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, whose team plays in the American League East with New York and Boston. "We really appreciate that." Some have worried how Mauer's contract might affect the Twins' ability to put a competitive team on the field in the coming years. Mauer will make $23 million each year between 2011 and 2018, and there is no question that is a significant amount for a team that's not near the top of the league in payroll. The Twins acknowledge there could be some tough decisions in the years ahead, but they seem committed to finding a way to keep a competitive ballclub on the field and credit their successful Minor League system for allowing them to take on a contract such as Mauer's. "We're going to try to continue to make good baseball decisions, continue to build and continue to try to produce a winner," assistant GM Rob Antony said. "I think Joe believes we're going to do that, and obviously, he's going to take up a good chunk of the payroll. But we still believe that with what we have and what we have coming in the Minor Leagues that we'll be able continue to be successful. And we're going to always build on and try to develop from within."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.