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Updated: December 5th, 2012 10:11pm
Mackey: Top-heavy payroll would be 'recipe for disaster' in GM's eyes

Mackey: Top-heavy payroll would be 'recipe for disaster' in GM's eyes

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

NASHVILLE -- Despite a dip in attendance and, we can assume, revenues at Target Field last season, Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan doesn't appear to be handcuffed by payroll restraints this winter.

Indications are Ryan has permission to operate under similar payroll guidelines as last season when the Twins opened the year around $98 million.

The Twins currently have approximately $70 million tied up in guaranteed contracts for next season, so even if the ceiling is, say, $95 million -- and, to clarify, there is no fixed ceiling, per Ryan -- that leaves a good chunk of money to spend.

So, why are the Twins -- desperate for starting pitching and eager to compete for division titles again -- noticeably out of the mix on the two top free agent pitchers on the market, Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez?

For one, it takes two to tango -- Greinke is reportedly being pursued by playoff-contending teams with money to spend. Sanchez probably wants to play for a contending team as well. The Twins ran into this "two to tango" problem last winter as well, coming off a 99-loss season.

Perhaps the main reason, however, why the Twins are swimming in the same end of the pool as Joe Blanton, Joe Saunders, Francisco Liriano, Brett Myers, John Lannan and other mid- to bottom-of-the-rotation starters is due to Ryan's roster-building philosophy.

"We're looking for quantity, and we're looking for quality," Ryan said Wednesday in the Twins' executive suite at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. "If you can get a combination of that, you're doing well.

"It gets a little dangerous to start putting such a high percentage of your payroll into three or four guys on a team. That doesn't work. ... I think that's a recipe for a disaster. ...

"If you've got 50-60% of (payroll) wrapped up in three or four guys, historically that has not worked. I don't think it ever will work. That's my own philosophy, and it's not anything other than probably baseball common sense."

Don't scoff. Ryan might be onto something.

Over the past 10 seasons, the most money any World Series winner has committed to its top three players is 44% -- the 2012 Giants (and perhaps the streak goes longer, but the 1500ESPN.com research team stopped at 2003).

Last season, the Twins' three highest paid players -- Joe Mauer ($23 million), Justin Morneau ($14 million) and Carl Pavano ($8.5 million) -- accounted for roughly 46% of the team payroll, which still falls into Ryan's philosophical comfort zone.

Hypothetically, if they were to enter the Zack Greinke sweepstakes (and they won't) and pay him $18 million per year (a figure that might be less than he eventually gets from a contender), then Mauer, Morneau and Greinke would take up $55 million of what could be a $95 million payroll (58%).

What about Anibal Sanchez? He certainly would give the Twins' rotation a boost, plus he's only 28 years old. Well, he reportedly has five-year offers on the table and recently set his demand at $90 million over six years, or $15 million per year (55% of payroll when added to Mauer and Morneau).

Sanchez was the No. 4 starter on a very good Tigers team that went to the World Series. Does he really deserve top-of-the-rotation money? This scribe thinks he doesn't.

Of course, Morneau's contract comes off the books after next season, and the next highest-paid player on the roster behind Mauer and Morneau is Josh Willingham ($7 million), so the Twins will have more flexibility after 2013.

When asked if he believed Mauer's contract was a hindrance, Ryan said, "I don't think it is," adding, "We can blame a lot of things on injuries and so forth. I'm not blaming our lack of success on Joe Mauer. There would be people in this industry who would tell you he's measured up to that contract."

That last part is absolutely correct, despite the perception of the anti-Mauer crowd. According to Fangraphs.com, Mauer's performance last season was worth $22.5 million.

So even though it's natural to want to throw buckets of cash at the problems that have festered with the Twins over the past two years, it appears Ryan's payroll and roster philosophy fall in line with other successful teams.

That doesn't dismiss the fact that the Twins still need a ton of pitching.

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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