Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cost Relief

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

TOTAL: $20.65M

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.

8 comments:

Josh Johnson said...

Great post, Nick.

I really like Alex Burnett. I think he could be a great setup man someday. I also really like the college pitchers the Twins have drafted over the last couple years. Ben Tootle, Billy Bullock and perhaps even Carlos Gutierrez all have great upside. I'd imagine Tootle & Gutierrez are better suited for the bullpen than the rotation.

Hopefully someone steps up.

David said...

Kudos to both you guys--Josh and Nick--for your posts. Excellent observations.

If the Twins' farm system is loaded in any particular area, it's with power arms ideally suited for relief. (Yeh, I know we've got some stud outfielders in the system, but not to the depth the pitching goes).

It's a matter of the law of averages, really. With so many good prospects (and to your lists I would add guys like Loek van Mil, Andrei Lobanov, etc.), all you need is a 20-percent success rate to have an outstanding--and inexpensive--bullpen. I wouldn't be surprised if five of the seven guys projected to be in the bullpen this year--Guerrier, Crain, Rauch, Condrey, and Liriano--are gone next year, replaced by Neshek, Duensing, Slama, Delaney, and Burnett joining Nathan and Mijares.

Anonymous said...

I agree, we have a lot of potential bullpen arms plus excess starters who will be moved there. Remember how everyone was worried when the Twins were going to lose their closer (Everyday Eddie) and primary setup man (Hawkins) after 03? Pen came back better the next year.

One of the other (potential) advantages the Twins have is that Rauch, Crain and Gurrier can be offered arbitration next year and, when/if they decline, the Twins will get draft picks. Elias projected rankings for this year (from mlbtraderumors) had Rauch a type A and Guirrier a type B and Crain just missing.

Anonymous said...

An awful use of resources.

TT said...

I think it is obvious that, in the long run, the Twins are going to have to have young cheap players replace some of their veterans. I don't know why it matters whether that is in the rotation, the bullpen or the lineup.

In fact, the bullpen is the place where veterans are probably most valuable. Auditioning young arms for the bullpen can cost you a lot of games.

My guess is that, in the short run, the Twins budget is going to go up for a couple years. They have a team with championship potential and a new stadium that will generate a lot more revenue for a while.

But four or five years from now, my guess is that they are going to have to substantially cut back to average out some of that spending. When that happens, there will be a lot of angst among fans who got used to the inflated payroll from the opening of the new stadium.

At that point, the Twins are going to have to surround the M&M boys with the next generation of young stars who are mostly earning major league minimums. The bullpen will be the least of the challenges.

Nick N. said...

Ben Tootle, Billy Bullock and perhaps even Carlos Gutierrez all have great upside. I'd imagine Tootle & Gutierrez are better suited for the bullpen than the rotation.

These guys all have promise but are almost certainly more than a year away (although I do see Bullock as a potentially fast riser). It's encouraging to see the Twins focusing their draft efforts on high-upside hard-throwers rather than the usual breed of control pitchers. Not that the latter doesn't have value, but it's been a while since we've seen guys who can fire the ball like Bullock and Tootle in this system.

One of the other (potential) advantages the Twins have is that Rauch, Crain and Gurrier can be offered arbitration next year and, when/if they decline, the Twins will get draft picks. Elias projected rankings for this year (from mlbtraderumors) had Rauch a type A and Guirrier a type B and Crain just missing.

Great observation.

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