Three years ago as the Twins began playing at Target Field for the first time, they had the 10th-highest payroll in baseball at $98 million.
They won the division and then lost to the Yankees in the playoffs.
In 2011 that payroll went up to $115 million, dropped to $100 million in 2012, and the team missed the playoffs both years.
This year the payroll has dropped to about $73 million, 23rd among 30 teams as the Twins try to rebound from two seasons totaling 195 losses.
The promise of a higher payroll because of increased revenue has faded into the sunset only three years after Target Field opened.
Does it mean another season of 90-plus losses for Minnesota?
Not necessarily, but one wonders if the huge decrease in payroll will take the Twins to a new level, or a new lower level.
“Payroll doesn’t mean winning and (a lack of) payroll doesn’t mean losing,” said Dodgers general manager Tom Colletti last week.
The Dodgers took on $260 million in contracts last year but still didn’t make the playoffs.
Minnesota’s payroll will be its lowest since the last year at the Metrodome when it was $65.3 million.
The Twins have three players making the major league minimum ($490,000, not counting meal money of $108 a day on the road), five more at $497,500 or less, and a total of 15 players at $525,000 or lower.
Joe Mauer ($23 million) and Justin Morneau ($14 million) will make 50.6 percent of this year’s payroll.
When the season began Monday against Detroit, the Tigers’ starting rotation was making $43.825 million, the Twins’ rotation $10.025 million.
Even Kansas City ($80.5 million) and Cleveland ($82.5 million) in Minnesota’s division have higher payrolls. Detroit is at $149 million and the White Sox at $124 million.
Part of the reason for Minnesota’s lower payroll is that the 15 players at $525,00 or below have an average age of 26.
Maybe the youth movement will work out for a franchise that hasn’t won a postseason game since 2004 or a postseason series since 2002.
Attendance at Target Field dropped by about 5,000 per game in 2012 and will likely take another tumble this season if things don’t improve in the win-lost column.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Twins can play better with a much lower payroll, a payroll dominated by two ex-MVPs who must lead the way in 2013.
Who are these guys?
When the Twins came north last weekend, there were some unfamiliar names on the roster. Here’s a look at some who have never played with Minnesota, or played very little.
The starting rotation includes Kevin Correia, 32, who was with Pittsburgh in 2012; Mike Pelfrey, 29, with the Mets in 2012; and Vance Worley, 25, with the Phillies last year.
The Twins are counting on all three to come through in 2013.
Outfielder Wilken Ramirez is a 27-year-old refugee from the Detroit organization who has played 35 games in the majors. He had 15 home runs, drove in 59 runs and hit .276 at Rochester, the Twins’ AAA team, in 2012.
Eduardo Escobar, 24, is a switch-hitting infielder who came in the Francisco Liriano trade last summer.
He hit .217 in 151 at-bats with Rochester in 2012 and .227 in 44 at-bats with the Twins. He did have four homers and drove in 55 runs while hitting .266 in a full season with the White Sox AAA team in 2011.
Ryan Pressly, 24, is a right-handed reliever who spent four years in the Red Sox organization.
He’s never pitched above the AA level. He was 5-3 with a 6.28 ERA in A ball last year, 2-2 and 2.93 in AA.
Josh Roenicke, 30, was 4-2 with a 3.25 ERA in 88 innings at Colorado last season. He has pitched 158 innings in five seasons at the major league level, pitching also with Toronto and Cleveland.
Pedro Florimon, 26, is the team’s switch-hitting shortstop and had 137 at-bats with the Twins last season, hitting .219. He drove in 27 runs in 83 games at Rochester last year.
Aaron Hicks, 23, is the center fielder and is trying to make the jump from AA ball where he hit .286 last season, drove in 61 runs and had 21 doubles, 11 triples, 13 homers and stole 32 bases. He’s also a switch-hitter and has good speed.
In a win over Baltimore at Fort Myers last week, Hicks made a great diving catch of a liner and then made a strong on-target throw to second to double up a runner.
In the same game, Miguel Sano, the team’s highly-regarded 19-year-old prospect, went 1 for 5, scored a run and drove in a run. At 6-4, 240, he’s the same size as Tiger star Miguel Cabrera.
Three of the newer players are switch-hitters, giving manager Ron Gardenhire a chance to make some lefty-righty switches in his order.
Proof it’s a small world
One of the best things about spring training games is the opportunity to talk to fans from Minnesota. It seems you run into people who know people you know.
Last week in a game with Baltimore, I turned to guy next to me and asked where he was from in Minnesota.
“Princeton,” he answered. “You’re kidding,” I said. “No,” he said, “I’m from Princeton.”
Turns out that Jim Sanden and his wife Darlene are big Twins fans and were in Fort Myers for a couple weeks. Darlene keeps a scorebook for each game.
If you’re driving to St. Cloud in December on Highway 95 west of Princeton, theirs is the house on the south side of the road with all the Christmas lights that delight people year after year.
Three days later, at a Red Sox game with the Twins, a conversation began with a woman who had on a Twins shirt. She is a retired teacher from Wayzata who is from Slayton, Minn., a small town near Tracy where I was born.
Further conversation revealed that she was a classmate of a retired Princeton teacher, had sold a house to a retired school counselor from Princeton, and was related to the grade school principal I had in fifth grade 60 years ago.
I asked if she knew who the football coach was at Slayton when she was a senior. She nodded her head when I mentioned my friend Ron Stolski of Brainerd, the all-time winningest coach in Minnesota who also coached in Princeton.
The world has become a lot smaller.