How Much Can The Twins Spend On A Catcher?
The Twins opened this year with a $105 million payroll, which is roughly the same as 2015. It's tough to gauge whether the figure might rise or fall next year, but the best guess is that they'll stay in that general vicinity.
The Pohlad ownership group has always maintained that spending is fluid, and they vigorously denied giving Terry Ryan hard caps during his tenure as general manager. Still, Ryan's payrolls typically fell in the lower half of the league, and he was never one to make major waves in free agency.
Falvey comes from an organization that operated with the same mid-market mindset. Cleveland's payrolls have ranked in the bottom third of the league every year since 2009.
When asked about the subject last week, the new Chief Baseball Officer struck a familiar tone:
It wouldn't be characteristic for Falvey to come in and immediately request funding for a splashy high-profile signing, nor would it be characteristic for Twins ownership to approve it. The biggest names on the market are nothing but pipe dreams. Given the club's current standing, they probably should be.
"Payroll plays a role in a team's success, but the way we viewed it in Cleveland — I learned from the likes of [former team president] Mark Shapiro and [Shapiro's successor] Chris Antonetti — is that every team has challenges. It's our job to put forth a vision and a direction for this team to operate within the environment we're in," Falvey said. "So for me, any time we're focused on payroll is time wasted. That's not time focused on areas we can be developing the team."
Castro always seemed like a more plausible target, and the Twins have moved on him quickly. Unfortunately, so too have other teams. With free agency less than a week old, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports that the 29-year-old already has offers from at least three American League teams.
In the Twins Daily 2017 Offseason Handbook, we estimated that Castro would end up receiving a contract in the area of three years and $21 million. The low-end projection seemed warranted. After all, we are talking about a guy who has never played more than 126 games in a season, and has a .660 OPS over the past three years.
However, as things evolve that number is looking low. With top free agent catchers Wilson Ramos and Matt Weiters carrying major question marks, the highest tier didn't separate itself. Castro also gets a boost from his favorable ratings in terms of advanced defensive analytics like pitch-framing.
In courting the former first-round draft pick, the Twins have some disadvantages – most notably the fact that they were baseball's worst team this year. But money talks. How loudly will it speak in this case?
Pulled from our extensive payroll analysis in the Offseason Handbook, here's a look at the team's present payroll commitments for 2017:
As you can see, even if they keep all of their arbitration eligible players, the Twins are about $7 million short of where they started this year. And there are many ways that $98.5 million figure can drop pretty quickly.
For instance, the Twins could non-tender Trevor Plouffe ($9M) and put their faith in Miguel Sano at third base. They could trade Brian Dozier and his $6 million, while getting back at least one young pitcher capable of replacing Hector Santiago, whose $8 million could be dropped.
If the front office makes it a priority to add a difference-maker, then finding money for Castro – even at something like $10 million per year – shouldn't be difficult. In fact, depending on what they do at a few other positions, the Twins could create enough flexibility to outbid the competition for a Ramos or Wieters and still come up short of their 2016 payroll mark.
Keep in mind that nearly all of Minnesota's long-term commitments are soon to expire. The only current players whose contracts run beyond 2018 are Phil Hughes and Byung Ho Park. As Phil Miller notes, this allows the new regime to choose whom it wants to build around with little restriction.
In that context, their decision at the catcher position should prove telling, from a variety of perspectives. This much is clear: if Falvey and Levine want to aim high, there isn't a lot standing in their way.
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