Even without external additions, the Twins were in line for a healthy bump in payroll next season, with newly arbitration-eligible players and those already under contract due salary increases. The acquisition of J.J. Hardy and the retainment of Carl Pavano only add to this escalating figure. As Joe Christensen noted on his blog yesterday, the Twins' 2010 payroll is already approaching $90 million, and we're not even halfway through December yet.
With these recent additions (not to mention some in-season trades that brought on extra salary), and with the Twins demonstrating an increased willingness to spend on the international market in the draft, fans might be falling into a false sense of security. The club's move to Target Field certainly jolts their ability to spend -- and that's been made clear by the aforementioned aggression in various avenues -- but it doesn't suddenly turn the Twins into a large-market team. A $90 million payroll in 2010 would already represent an increase of roughly $25 million (nearly 40 percent) over the payroll they sported on Opening Day 2009. That's pretty impressive in its own right, and I'm not sure I'd expect much more in terms of added salary.
In fact, we might already be seeing the Twins making some moves to trim salary in the face of these major increases. Yesterday, in order to make room for Pavano on the 40-man roster, the Twins elected to designate Boof Bonser for assignment. That the Twins decided on the arbitration-eligible Bonser rather than, say, the less expensive and less useful Bobby Keppel, would seem to speak volumes. Bonser, who missed the '09 season after undergoing shoulder surgery but was apparently recovered and ready to pitch in September, has been a frustrating pitcher whose results have never matched the quality of his stuff, but he'd shown promising flashes after moving to the bullpen late in 2008 and it's tough to view this move as anything other than money-driven.
I suspect that the Twins are finished addressing the rotation. There's almost certainly not enough money left to sign an established, reliable starter, and I'm guessing there will be enough suitors for the low-risk/high-reward/injury-prone breed (Rich Harden, Ben Sheets, Erik Bedard, etc.) that none of them will come particularly cheap. (Although, if any of them do, the Twins have enough depth that they'd in excellent position to take a flier on one.)
Meanwhile, although at least one hole remains in the Twins' infield and several attractive options remain on the market, I'm beginning to lose faith in the notion that the Twins will actively pursue any of these options as I look over the team's financial particulars. The prices for which players like Marco Scutaro and Chone Figgins have signed thus far suggest that quality infielders like Orlando Hudson and Adrian Beltre might be had for relative bargains, but these players are still likely to cost upwards of $5 million annually and I'm just not sure the Twins have that much left to commit, particularly considering that the Joe Mauer situation still needs to be worked out.
At this point, it seems likely that the Twins will either end up snatching a bargain player like Joe Crede later in the offseason, or trading for a relatively inexpensive solution from another club (a package deal for the Padres' Kevin Kouzmanoff built around Glen Perkins would seem to make a lot of sense, for instance). But if you're expecting any big splashes in the high-profile free agent market, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment.