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Updated: January 17th, 2011 9:26pm
Even with in-house bullpen options, Twins destined for top-7 payroll

Even with in-house bullpen options, Twins destined for top-7 payroll

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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On Monday, the Minnesota Twins watched as Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes -- the final two of their four key free-agent relievers heading into the offseason -- fled to Toronto and Oakland, respectively.

Rauch reportedly signed a one-year, $3.75 million deal, and Fuentes a two-year deal likely worth at least $4 million annually.

Add that to the three-year, $13 million deal signed by Jesse Crain with the White Sox and the three-year, $12 million contract inked by Matt Guerrier with the Dodgers and the Twins' four free-agent relievers will earn an average of $16 million per year collectively, beginning in 2011.

A steep price? In some ways, yes, but $3-5 million per year is the going rate for established, veteran relief pitchers.

And $3-5 million is also a reasonable price for peace of mind in the seventh and eighth innings -- a luxury the Twins aren't currently guaranteed to have heading into the 2011 season.

If the season began today, the Twins' roster would look very similar to the one that won 94 regular-season games in 2010 before being swept out of the ALDS by the New York Yankees.

The biggest changes are the additions of middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka and possibly first baseman Justin Morneau for a full season, the subtraction of shortstop J.J. Hardy, who was traded to Baltimore at the winter meetings, and the loss of the aforementioned veteran relievers.

Carl Pavano remains a free agent, but the right-hander is making progress on what will likely be a two-year contract to remain in Minnesota -- probably in the range of $8-10 million per year. It's possible a deal could even be announced within the week.

Yet, if the season started today, the Twins' offseason activity would be considerably less aggressive than division rivals Chicago and Detroit.

A sign of complacency by general manager Bill Smith and company?

Not exactly.

As of Tuesday -- following the signings of Alexi Casilla ($865,000, avoiding arbitration) and Jim Thome ($3 million), and including Nishioka ($3 million) -- the Twins have about $82.5 million tied up prior to arbitration hearings.

Those arbitration-eligible players are Francisco Liriano, Matt Capps, Delmon Young, Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins, who combined to earn approximately $8.5 million in 2010.

On Tuesday, teams and arbitration-eligible players around the league exchange dollar figures, with arbitration hearings beginning on February 1. The Twins traditionally reach settlement agreements with players prior to hearings, and it wouldn't be shocking if they reached deals as soon as Tuesday afternoon.

Realistically -- and these are just educated estimations -- Liriano's salary could increase from $1.6 million to $5 million, Young from $2.6 million to $5 million, Capps from $3.5 million to $6 million and Slowey from $470,000 to $1.8 million. Perkins will likely earn around $700,000.

Give or take.

That's approximately $18.5 million, bumping the team payroll to roughly $101 million.

Pavano's presence would lift it to about $110 million.

Not to mention, the Twins still need to fill out seven other roster spots with players already under team control -- Brian Duensing, Jose Mijares, Alex Burnett, Matt Tolbert, etc.

Those players are likely to earn an average of $410,000 each. That's another $2.8 million.

$113 million.

Crain, Guerrier, Rauch and Fuentes combined would have pushed the payroll up near $130 million.

To put that figure into context, the Twins opened the 2010 season with a $97.5 million payroll -- a figure that ranked 10th behind the Yankees ($206 million), Red Sox ($162 million), Cubs ($146 million), Phillies ($142 million), Mets ($134 million), Tigers ($123 million), White Sox ($105 million), Angels ($105 million) and Giants ($98 million).

In 2009, the Twins' $65 million opening-day payroll ranked 24th, and the 49% increase from 2009 to 2010 was by far the biggest jump in baseball.

With that in mind, the Twins' offseason blueprint likely doesn't stem from complacency, but rather self-imposed financial constraints.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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