Home > MLB > Mauer Signs, but Can Twins Afford Him?

Mauer Signs, but Can Twins Afford Him?

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Joe Mauer: now a Twin through 2018.  Price tag?  $23 million per year, beginning in 2011.

Is he worth it?  Absolutely.  To the Yankees, Red Sox, or Cubs.  Whether or not Mauer can justify the type of contract that the Twins are dropping on him is going to depend heavily on how well his team around him performs, as ESPN’s Rob Neyer pointed out on Brian Kenny’s radio show last night.

While I prepare my position, why don’t you try to answer this hypothetical question: what is the dollar value of a World Series championship to the Minnesota Twins?  Literally: if the Twins could buy a world series title, how much would they pay for it?  This is not an open-market hypothetical, but rather, an even trade between the MLB and one of it’s clubs.  If the team’s payroll runs in the $70-$100 million range, it’s obviously worth more than that.  That’s just the amount the team can spend in order to do baseball-related business for a year.  The reason team’s have payrolls is because they are trying to chase playoff wins and titles within financial reason.  All teams (owners) would be willing to go in excess of their budget for playoff appearences, and most would be willing to go in excess of that for wins, but you can’t guarantee your organization anything by spending for the sake of spending.  If you could, like you can here: would you pay double your payroll?  Triple?  Quadruple?  All are reasonable answers.

If the Twins quadrupled their payroll in a one time lump sum to by a world series title, they’d be spending about $300 million on that title.  Mind you, that doesn’t guarantee a bunch of playoff berths along the way and the revenue that comes with it, that’s just one title.

At $184 million over eight years, what are the Twins really getting if they don’t deliver a title while Mauer is here?  It’s probably safe to assume that in some years, Mauer will be the difference between the Twins missing the playoffs, and the Twins making the playoffs, in which case, his annual salary will pay for itself (by way of revenue) when that occurs.  Other years, that will not be the case, and the Twins could have been financially viable with or without Mauer.

Mauer is home-grown in Minneapolis, which has sentimental value, but has little to do with this contract assessment.  For a small market team like the Twins to come out on top of this deal, they really do have to win it all before Mauer ages into “just a guy.”

Does that mean this deal is bad?  No.  It was an obvious opportunity to take.

The pressure is on the organization now to deliver on this investment.  But if instead, the Twins had just let Mauer walk for the same type of contract in a large market (probably a bit inflated by competition among three teams who could afford it), the issue for the Twins would be directly about financial viability in the AL Central and not about the World Series.  It would have been about trying to scrape together enough wins to make the postseason in a crappy division.  The opportunity cost saved by not signing Mauer may have dried up after just consecutive years of not making the posteason.  And, of course, there’s no actual opportunity to go buy a championship.  Paying for elite talent that you developed is about as close to that as you can get.

To justify this contract, a string of playoff appearances, nor a single Pennant surrounded by a bunch of near misses in the postseason is good enough.  The Twins need Mauer to stay healthy and then Mauer needs the Twins to remain loaded with talent.  A failure on either the health end of the payroll end could send the Twins spiraling into debt.  But until that happens, the threat of that kind of contract failure will be distant.  In the immediate sense, the Twins have the superstar of the American League under contract through age-35.

They’ll be competitors every year that Mauer plays 140+ games.  And they have a lot of time to make it all work: develop young talent, trade off other pieces in a year where the team struggles, build from within, and above all win.  Mauer will keep them in the hunt, so long as it’s realized that being “close” is no longer enough.

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