Now that we've learned the concrete salary figures for 2010's arbitration-eligible Twins players, we have a more clear picture of how the team's payroll will shape up this year. More specifically, we now know how much the Twins will be spending on the six relievers who can reasonably considered locks for the bullpen. It's a hefty amount:
Joe Nathan: $11.25M
Matt Guerrier: $3.15M
Jon Rauch: $2.9M
Jesse Crain: $2M
Clay Condrey: $900K
Jose Mijares: $450K
So the Twins will be spending more than $20 million on relief pitchers, and that's before we even include a seventh reliever who is likely to round out to the group. If Francisco Liriano takes that spot -- which seems a reasonable guess at this point -- the bullpen's price tag will rise over $22M. That represents a marked increase over last year's Opening Day bullpen budget, which was around $17 million.
The bullpen is obviously an important unit for a ballclub and it's good to see the Twins pumping resources into improving this part of the roster after some shaky times over the past few years, but with raises coming across the rest of the roster over the next couple years, you can bet one of Bill Smith's top priorities will be cutting costs in this department. It just probably isn't feasible to continue paying millions of dollars to nearly every member of the bullpen, which is a big reason many people were viewing Crain (who is likely to be the team's fifth option out of the 'pen this year) as a non-tender candidate.
What does this mean? It means that the organization will be counting on guys like Anthony Slama, Rob Delaney and Alex Burnett to take strides forward this year and establish themselves as legitimate options to take over spots as soon as next year. Barring a trade, Nathan will stick around through 2011 or 2012 and continue to command a high salary, but by next year we might see him supplemented by low-cost young players like the ones mentioned above -- along with Neshek and Mijares -- while the expensive veterans such as Rauch, Guerrier and Crain move on.
This would give the Twins a great deal more flexibility to spend on other areas, namely the rotation, which figures to get significantly more expensive over the next several years. And so, the progression of the organization's closest relief prospects will absolutely be worth monitoring over the course of the season.