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Updated: August 12th, 2012 10:17pm
Mackey: Blaming payroll for Twins' shortcomings is a lazy excuse

Mackey: Blaming payroll for Twins' shortcomings is a lazy excuse

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Criticizing the Minnesota Twins for not spending more money on payroll has become a popular local narrative.

But it's time to get something straight.

Payroll -- or a perceived lack thereof -- has absolutely nothing to do with why the Twins have lost more than 160 games since the beginning of last season.

Payroll -- or a perceived scaling back of -- is a lazy excuse.

The Twins opened their final season at the Metrodome in 2009 with a $65 million payroll. That figure increased by more than $30 million, to $98 million, in the first year at Target Field.

The Texas Rangers won the American League pennant that season with a payroll of $64 million.

After winning 94 games and reaching the playoffs in 2010, the Twins entered 2011, for better or worse, believing they'd contend once again, which is part of the reason why ownership agreed to bump the payroll to $113 million. The other reason, obviously, had to do with packing 40,000 people into a new ballpark for every home game.

The 2011 season ultimately turned out to be one of the most disastrous in franchise history.

Meanwhile, the Rangers won the American League pennant again, this time with a $92 million payroll -- or $20 million less than the Twins spent.

Only nine teams entered the 2012 season with payrolls over $100 million, and the Twins' payroll was just shy of that mark. The Twins didn't "drop" the payroll in 2012. They raised it for 2011 because they mistakenly thought they would contend. And ownership will likely raise it again, if needed, if the Twins are in contention down the road.

That said, taking a step back from the $113 million mark prompted many fans, media members and bloggers to criticize ownership for being tightwads when the team clearly needed more help via free agency if they had any hope of contending.

But the Twins' problems have nothing to do with how much money they are or aren't spending. The focus should be on how they are spending the money.

Yes, Joe Mauer ($23 million) makes a lot of money. But the Twins have $11 million tied up in Nick Blackburn, Jason Marquis and Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who have acted as anchors for a ship already halfway under water. Another $20 million is locked up in injured pitchers Carl Pavano, Scott Baker and Matt Capps, who have combined for 91 innings and an ERA over 5.00.

Signing Edwin Jackson wouldn't have pulled the Twins from double-digit games under .500 into a playoff race. Same for C.J. Wilson, who clearly wanted to pitch for a contender anyways.

And anyone who believes the Twins should be expected -- or even have the resources -- to spend with the Angels, Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies and others is living in a fantasy world.

On what planet should the Twins -- ranked 15th among 30 MLB teams in TV market size -- sit anywhere other than on the fringe of the top 10 payrolls in baseball?

In what wild dream should the Twins -- who collect approximately $29 million per year in TV revenue -- have the resources to spend the same amount of money on payroll as the Angels, who bring in $150 million per year in TV revenue, or the Dodgers, Yankees or Red Sox, who all bring in even more?

In what universe should the Twins -- ranked 29th among 30 MLB teams in local cable/satellite subscriber rate, which is the driving factor for television revenue -- be able to spend their way out of poor drafting and other personnel mistakes?

In what galaxy are the Twins -- one of 14 teams to open a new ballpark since 2000 -- unique?

Four of the last seven World Series winners had payrolls under $100 million. And of the 16 teams currently in playoff contention, 10 entered the season with payrolls under $100 million. Eight of those contending teams entered the season with payrolls under $90 million.

Target Field has allowed the Twins to spend between $95 and $100 million instead of $65 million. People who believe $95 to $100 million isn't enough to field a contender are misguided. And people who think the Twins should be spending more than $95 or $100 million on a regular basis are operating under a false sense of entitlement.

Minnesota isn't New York. The Twin Cities area isn't New England. Minneapolis isn't Philadelphia. Minneapolis isn't even Detroit. It certainly isn't Dallas or San Francisco.

Again, the focus should be on how management can spend better and more wisely -- pumping more money into keeping pitchers healthy and less money on replacement-level players like Marquis, Blackburn and Nishioka.

Expensive mistakes and injuries have put the Twins in their current state. Not lack of payroll.

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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