Twins payroll increased 49 percent from $65 million in 2009 to $97 million in 2010 but team is on pace for just one more victory

Although a 10-4 victory and series win against the hapless Baltimore Orioles on Sunday – and continued hold onto second place in the American League Central Division – has quieted some of the harsh criticism the Minnesota Twins faced heading into the All-Star break, the team has still fallen markedly vis-à-vis their 29 rival clubs in one statistic this year.

The opening of (partially) taxpayer-funded Target Field in 2010 brought with it expectations that the team payroll would also increase from 2009, when the Twins had just the 24th highest payroll in baseball.

It did.

But while the increase in team salary for Minnesota’s opening day roster from 2009 to 2010 was the second largest in baseball, the Twins have struggled to find an easier path to winning ball games.

A Smart Politics analysis of team payroll and records through Sunday afternoon’s MLB games finds that the Minnesota Twins have dropped sixteen slots from the third most ‘efficient’ club in baseball to #19 – the biggest such slide in the league.

To the Twins’ credit, they increased their roster payroll 49.2 percent from $65.3 million in 2009 to $97.6 million in 2010, second only to the Florida Marlins in percentage terms (+51.1 percent) and second only to the Boston Red Sox in absolute terms ($41 million).

The problem, however, is that the team is currently on pace to win only one more game in 2010 (88) than in 2009 (87).

Although if the Twins are questioning some of their off-season player personnel decisions, they are not alone – as all the other teams who topped the league in salary increases in 2010 are faring even worse:

· The Florida Marlins (51.1 percent payroll increase) are projected to win five fewer games in 2010 (82) than in 2009 (87).
· The Boston Red Sox (33.7 percent increase) are on pace to win three fewer games (from 95 to 92).
· The Philadelphia Phillies (25.6 percent increase) are on pace to win six fewer games (from 93 to 87).
· The Baltimore Orioles (21.6 percent increase) are on pace to win 12 fewer games (from 64 to 52).
· The St. Louis Cardinals (20.5 percent increase) are on pace to win one fewer game (from 91 to 90).

Overall, the Twins’ payroll jumped from the 24th highest in baseball last year to #11 in 2010 – just ahead of two of the most storied franchises in the league with the Los Angeles Dodgers at #12 and St. Louis Cardinals at #13.

Still, many analysts would say the Twins’ $32 million increase in team salary, while not paying big dividends thus far in 2010 with just one more projected victory, was nonetheless an important first step for the ball club to shed its ‘little engine that couldn’t’ tagline that has stuck in recent years in light of its early playoff exits.

First, the Twins (temporarily) satisfied the public call for the franchise to invest more money in the team and increase its player payroll after taxpayers spent hundreds of millions of dollars to help build the team’s beautiful new ballpark.

To have done otherwise, and to have continued to fail to win playoff series, would have engendered ill will from fans in the Gopher State.

Secondly, it is also generally true that while spending the most money in baseball does not ensure a successful season, there is a correlation between big team payrolls and winning ball clubs.

For example, in 2009, nine of the Top 11 team salaries in baseball were franchises that notched winning records by season’s end.

By contrast, just four of the Bottom 12 team salaries in baseball were ball clubs that had winning records (though one of which was the Twins).

Thus far in 2010, the Top 13 team salaries are franchises on pace to win an average of 89 victories, with an average salary of $123.8 million.

Meanwhile, the Bottom 13 teams in the league in player salaries are ball clubs on pace to win 14 fewer games at just 74 victories, with an average salary of only $59.9 million.

However, the problem with this formula for success, as the Twins and Florida Marlins proved for years, is that there are exceptions to the rule.

The San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers currently lead the NL West and AL West divisions, with the 2nd ($37.8 million) and 4th ($55.3 million) lowest payrolls in baseball this year.

The Oakland A’s ($51.7 million) and Florida Marlins ($55.6 million) are also on pace for winning seasons this year despite having the third and fifth lowest payrolls in the league respectively.

But for the Twins, the money is already spent with a payroll flirting with $100 million, and what it translates into is this: winning just got a lot more expensive in Minneapolis.

In 2009, the Twins spent just $750,566 per victory on team salary. In 2010, the Twins are on pace to spend $1.1 million per victory.

In other words, the Twins are on pace to spend $353,877 more per victory this year than 2009 – which is the fourth largest increase in baseball behind Baltimore ($524,712), Boston ($493,889), and Philadelphia ($415,869).

On the other side of the spectrum is the New York Mets, a team that slashed its bloated payroll by almost $17 million in 2010 and is on pace for 13 more victories – and spending $541,497 less per win.

So what is the lesson learned so far as the Twins play their 100th game of the season Monday evening?

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has hinted about a lack of effort in 2010, but the stats tell a different tale.

It’s not defense – the team has the fewest errors (34) of all 30 clubs in the league.

It’s also not the offense. Despite hitting into a league-leading 109 double plays, the Twins have still managed to score more runs than 23 other teams in baseball, ranked #7.

That leaves pitching, which has been fairly average: the team’s ERA is 16th in the league, although, thanks to the stellar defense, the Twins have given up the 11th fewest runs.

And for every player that is viewed to be having a down year (Nick Blackburn, Denard Span), there are others who have risen above expectations (e.g. Carl Pavano, Delmon Young).

Of course, the team can point to key injuries such as losing closer Joe Nathan for the year, MVP candidate first-baseman Justin Morneau missing 18 games this year and counting, and off-season acquisition J.J. Hardy missing more than 40 games at shortstop in May and June.

But perhaps it is something else. Something less definable.

Now that the Twins are spending money like one of the big boys, perhaps Lady Luck has decided to take up residence elsewhere – deciding to move from Minneapolis to a southern climate to find a new underdog.

Odds are you’ll find her in San Diego or Texas.

Dollars Spent on Players’ Salary Per Victory Among Major League Baseball Franchises, 2010

2010 Payroll
Per Win
San Diego Padres
Texas Rangers
Pittsburgh Pirates
Oakland Athletics
Florida Marlins
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays
Cincinnati Reds
Washington Nationals
Atlanta Braves
Cleveland Indians
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals
St. Louis Cardinals
Milwaukee Brewers
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox
Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros
Detroit Tigers
Seattle Mariners
Baltimore Orioles
New York Mets
Philadelphia Phillies
Boston Red Sox
Chicago Cubs
New York Yankees

* Projected wins by end of the season through afternoon games of Sunday, July 25, 2010. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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  1. Miss Mitten on July 26, 2010 at 12:17 am

    And this is what makes baseball such a fun game to watch! With all of the stats and number crunching, odds for this to happen and that to happen, you just never know who is going to win and when.

    I find it interesting that you didn’t so much as utter Joe Mauer’s name in this piece! That’s the funniest thing about this current Twins team; he’s been leaned upon so heavily as the “Face of the Minnesota Twins,” yet he seems to be flying way under the radar so far this year. Delmon Young of all people is the new hero – someone who I myself would’ve never imagined rooting for. Without him, the Twins would be in big, big trouble.

    My theory is that the Twins will need some time to grow into their new big-boy britches with the fancy stadium and legitimate budget. That old “Piranha” small ball mindset just doesn’t fly anymore! Even with all of their troubles this season, I’m not counting them out just yet. I only hope to hell we don’t have to endure another game 163 this year… Sadly, with the division race as tight as it’s been, it just may happen. Again.

  2. Michael on July 26, 2010 at 7:18 am

    The Minnesota Twins players deserve the salary increase. It should have been given earlier but better late than never.

  3. Lucas on July 26, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Yes, but is the franchise (i.e. the owners) making more money? I would argue that new stadiums, publicly subsidized or otherwise, are generally for the benefit of whomever owns the club.

    It reminds me of a situation from a play I saw in Chanhassen; The Producers. They realized that by making a flop of a Broadway play, instead of a hit, they could actually make more money.

    I see this not necessarily as a strategy in pro-sports, but as a consideration. If your team loses every year, and you have few fans, but still find a way to make money, is this a bad thing for the owners? I would say based on attendance numbers, the payroll has driven more fans to the ballpark. Fans make the money, wins do not, necessarily (lest the lack-thereof eliminate fans).

    So while there is a bigger payroll today, maybe it could be less next year and the Twins could have the same amount of fans, and wins, but a higher-revenue ballpark keeping the owners happy while the fans may not be.

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