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The Twins should have big money to spend this winter

Last year’s MLB free agency period went off the rails. And this year’s free-agent crop is partly to blame. With so many good players available this winter there was a belief last year that some teams weren’t as aggressive as they typically would be in pursuing good players.

Good news for the Minnesota Twins: After spending a franchise record amount of money on their team payroll in 2018, there’s plenty of cash coming off the books for next year.

Just in time for a shopping spree.

Based on some amateur calculations (mine), Minnesota should have a little more than $70 million worth of spending room before raises are granted. Some necessary arbitration raises will cut into that spending flexibility, but there’s also no real ceiling on spending. Maybe the payroll number goes up enough to offset the raises? Twins fans can hope, anyway.

Even if payroll just goes back to the 2018 start-of-season level between $128 million and $129 million, there’s big money to spend this winter.  Note: The start-of-year payroll number also ignores the fact that the Twins traded Major Leaguers for minor leaguers in some cases this summer, saving a little coin in the short term.

Other contracts to consider:

Joe Mauer hasn’t yet made public the decision on his playing future. Whatever happens there, the Twins aren’t forced to do anything; His $23 million salary is off the books.

Running total: $23 million

Ervin Santana was the ace two years ago and offered next to nothing on the mound last year. That’s a bummer for Santana and for the Twins. In any case, he had a $14 million option for 2019 that could have automatically vested with enough innings. As it stands, it’s hard to imagine the Twins’ front office agreeing to pay that this year. They paid him $13.5 million last year, so let’s consider that the “savings” if they decline his option.

Running total: $36.5 million

Brian Dozier was traded away and hadn’t done a whole lot for the Dodgers until Monday, when he drove in the first run of an eventual extra-innings win for L.A. Here’s the short version of the story. He played hurt, had a down year, and made the Twins look shrewd for not committing big money and multiple years to a contract extension for the popular second baseman.

The Twins will need a second baseman next year, since either way Dozier was going to be a free agent this winter. Ditto for Logan Forsythe, the guy who replaced him in Minnesota. Dozier made $9 million this year in the final season of a very team-friendly 4-year contract. Let’s consider that total the “savings” by letting him hit free agency.

Running total: $45.5 million

Logan Morrison broke out for 38 home runs in his final season with the Rays and was one of the surprising free agents to be left out in the cold when spring training began. The Twins made a small bet on his breakout and signed him to a cheap contract to be a lefty DH and first baseman.

Morrison hit the ball hard and didn’t have much to show for it, then he got hurt, had surgery and his season was finished. The final stats look bad. The Twins paid him $6.5 million last year and have an option for this next year and they’ll likely be tempted to pay the $1 million buyout to get out from that contract. Let’s assume they’re not taking that 2019 option and call the “savings” $5.5 million.

Running total: $51 million

Michael Pineda signed a “rehab contract” last winter and the Twins paid him $2 million for the year, even though he never pitched an inning. They weren’t paying for the 2018 innings; the Twins were paying for the rehab and recovery — and for the right to pay him a modest wage of $8 million next year. They were basically betting that a good pitcher would come back a good pitcher a year after Tommy John surgery. The gamble makes sense, and we should factor it into our funny-math accounting here. Net result of Pineda’s 2018 and 2019 salaries: -$6 million.

Running total: $45 million

Addison Reed had a bad first year in Minnesota. Part of that can be blamed on an injury, I’ll guess. And his track record of success made the 2-year contract look good for the Twins at the time he signed it. Performance aside, Reed will get a quarter-million-dollar raise this year as part of the agreement.

Running total: $44.75 million

Phil Hughes was an ace for the Twins in his first year in Minnesota. Then he signed a contract extension and eventually his career was consumed by a shoulder injury that sapped his velocity. Bad luck for Hughes, and a bummer for the Twins, too.

Last season it looked pretty clear that Hughes wasn’t going to get back to his old ways. And when a fastball pitcher loses the heater, the odds are stacked against him. So the Twins traded him to the Padres along with a top-75 draft pick. In exchange, Minnesota got a prospect you probably hadn’t heard of and some salary relief, a reported $7.25 million. A penny saved is a penny earned, so let’s just simplify things and consider the value of the salary offset as “savings” in this case. (This gets more complicated with the draft pick and accompanying slot bonus pool money, since there’s theoretical surplus value with that pick, but it won’t be realized for years — and the actual value of spending more slot money is spending more real money.)

Running total: $52 million

Ryan Pressly had good stuff and looked like he was starting to figure it out. Then the Twins traded his year-plus of team control to the Houston Astros and he transformed into a relief ace. (How did that happen, Twins?) Now, Minnesota won’t have the opportunity to give him an arbitration raise this winter. “Savings” value of his 2018 contract, technically.

Running total: $53.6 million

Eduardo Escobar was a smiley guy with a big bat and defensive versatility. The Twins traded two months of his services for some interesting prospects. He could still return to Minnesota in free agency this winter, but the point is that the Twins don’t owe him anything right now, and they did at the onset of last season.

Running total: $58.45 million

Lance Lynn signed late, had a dreadful April and later got things back on track. Eventually he got traded to the Yankees for two interesting prosepcts, including slugger Tyler Austin. He’ll be a free agent again this winter.

Running total: $70.45 million

This “savings” will need to go to paying some arbitration raises and filling more than a couple roster spots. I think the Twins could stand to add an ace starting pitcher, two more bullpen arms, and of course they’ll need to fill out their 25-man roster for the start of the season.

The point is that if the Twins want to spend some money and make a splash this winter in free agency or a big trade, they should have the room to do it.

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