The Twins will field a team with the highest payroll in the history of the franchise. A large chunk of that payroll will be paid to Joe Mauer for the contract that he signed at the beginning of last season. Nick Nelson of Nick's Twins Blog wrote last week about the Mauer factor in regards to this offseason. If Mauer had still been unsigned right now, there would be much more to worry about as Twins fans.
The question can be raised, as the dust settles from the Twins offseason, is this the best team that the Twins could compile for their 2011 campaign? There are many factors that have to be taken into account including: payroll, free agents, players under the Twins control, etc.
Here are some of the headlines that helped to shape the offseason, thus far:
Salary dump on the Orioles: The Twins are already might be fielding a team that has a higher payroll than the Pohlads wanted to spend next season. By being able to dump the salaries of JJ Hardy and, more importantly, Brendan Harris on the Orioles the Twins were able to clear up some extra cash flow. That salary dump allowed the Twins to spend money on other parts of the roster (see below).
Speaking Japanese: Tsuyoshi Nishioka was the first big move that the Twins brought into the fold for next season. A paradigm shift had been made with the middle infield of the Twins. There would be new faces in new places with Hardy traded, Punto signed elsewhere, and Nishioka/Casilla finding permanent roles up the middle.
Thome's close to home: With Justin Morneau's health still a question mark for next season, the return of Thome could be seen as just as important as he turned out to be during last season. His veteran presence will be welcomed in the clubhouse and all Twins fans will be excited to watch him chase his 600th homerun. He turned down more guaranteed money with the Rangers because he is closer to his home with the Twins.
Pavano's free agent value dropped: After Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies it was made clear that Pavano was the best available starter on the free agent market. Something happened from the time Lee signed until last week when Pavano rejoined the Twins, his value seemed to have dropped. There had been speculation of Pavano wanting a three-year deal and upwards of $11 million per year. The contract that he ended up with (2-years, $16.5 million) was far below his initial value and that might have been the only reason he was able to be brought back into the fold for next year.
The bullpen conundrum: As I wrote about last week, there are going to be some unknown faces in the bullpen for the 2011 Twins. This is directly related to the amount of money that the team has tied up in Joe Nathan and Matt Capps. The Twins are paying to have two closers on their team next year and that means that there needs to be money saved somewhere. That somewhere just happens to be the rest of the bullpen. There are a variety of arms with some big league experience but the bullpen will now be the focus of fans for the rest of the offseason and into Spring Training.
Is this the best team the Twins could put together for next season?
Only the future will be able to answer this question. The middle infield will have to prove itself. Danny Valencia will have to avoid the sophomore slump. Health issues with Nathan and Morneau will have to play themselves out. The young guns in the bullpen will have to show that they belong.
Other than that, it should be business as usually at Target Field in 2011.